The Gift – Edith Eger

Hope. It’s what lit the fire within my soul when I read The Choice and it’s what made its flame shine even brighter as I made my way through The Gift. Hope that I can do the work that I know I need to do in order to address the pain and trauma I’ve experienced. Hope, because if Edith Eger can do it then so can I. Hope, which Dr Eger defines as “the awareness that suffering, however terrible, is temporary; and the curiosity to discover what happens next.”

One of my takeaways from The Choice was a desire to have the opportunity to be counselled by Dr Eger, a survivor whose experiences, compassion and insight combine to allow her to get to the root of a problem before she lovingly guides you towards the you that you’ve been stifling under layers of pain, anger, [insert relevant adjective/s here], and paralysing what if’s. You may never have the honour of sitting across from Dr Eger in her office but this book is the next best thing.

All therapy is grief work. A process of confronting a life where you expect one thing and get another, a life that brings you the unexpected and unanticipated.

If you’ve already read The Choice then you’ll be familiar with some of the stories of Dr Eger’s life and those of her patients that are included in this book. You’ll also find stories that will be new to you, which help illustrate the points Dr Eger makes as she hands you the keys that will help you unlock the prison of your mind.

To heal doesn’t mean to get over it, but it does mean that we are able to be wounded and whole, to find happiness and fulfillment in our lives despite our loss.

Twelve keys are presented in this book. Dr Eger addresses the prisons of victimhood, avoidance, self-neglect, secrets, guilt and shame, unresolved grief, rigidity, resentment, paralysing fear, judgement, hopelessness, and not forgiving.

At the end of each chapter you’ll find ‘Keys to Free Yourself’. These consolidate what you’ve learned in the chapter and can be used to facilitate your own healing. Some require you to use your imagination. Others provide prompts that you can use in journalling. Then there are some that would be ideal to work through with a therapist.

I like to remind my patients: the opposite of depression is expression.

What comes out of you doesn’t make you sick; what stays in there does.

This is one of those books where it would have been much easier to have highlighted the passages that didn’t speak directly to me. While I discovered the gems in this book in the order Dr Eger has presented them, you don’t need to do this. Each chapter is its own lesson, so you can take what you need when you need it. I know I will be rereading this book from cover to cover in the not too distant future but I also anticipate I’ll be spending more time on specific chapters over time.

Although healing from pain and trauma is serious work, that doesn’t mean there aren’t smiles to be had as you make your way through this book. Currently, my favourite smile-inducing quote is about taking charge:

Don’t be Cinderella, sitting in the kitchen waiting for a guy with a foot fetish.

You could dive into this book without having experienced The Choice but I would recommend reading them in the order of publication. While you can apply the lessons to your life without knowing Dr Eger’s own story, they’re enriched by this knowledge.

Because I know what Dr Eger chose to share in The Choice, I trust her when she outlines what she found helpful. I also can’t give myself an out, claiming something is too difficult, when I have witnessed someone I now have such admiration for working through unimaginable pain and trauma to find freedom.

I now recognize that the most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket. No matter how great our suffering or how strong the bars, it’s possible to break free from whatever’s holding us back.

It is not easy. But it is so worth it.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, grief, gun violence, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This practical and inspirational guide to healing from the bestselling author of The Choice shows us how to release your self-limiting beliefs and embrace your potential.

The prison is in your mind. The key is in your pocket.

In the end, it’s not what happens to us that matters most – it’s what we choose to do with it. We all face suffering – sadness, loss, despair, fear, anxiety, failure. But we also have a choice; to give in and give up in the face of trauma or difficulties, or to live every moment as a gift.

Celebrated therapist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Edith Eger, provides a hands-on guide that gently encourages us to change the imprisoning thoughts and destructive behaviours that may be holding us back. Accompanied by stories from Eger’s own life and the lives of her patients her empowering lessons help you to see your darkest moments as your greatest teachers and find freedom through the strength that lies within.

The Choice – Edith Eger

“Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

Sometimes a book will find you at the very moment you need it. This is one of those books. I’ve previously marvelled at the resilience of some other remarkable human beings who survived the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel. Viktor Frankl.

Joining them is Edith Eger. A survivor whose courage both astounds me and gives me hope. A woman who will be occupying the space in my heart that she has made bigger with her compassion. A touchstone for the times I feel like I don’t have the strength to survive my own pain.

What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

It would be so easy to hear even part of Edith’s story and say to yourself that your pain is insignificant compared to what she has experienced but after reading this book I realise that would be a disservice to her. Edith doesn’t rank pain and would prefer your response to be one of, “If she can do it, then so can I!” For someone whose power was taken away in such a brutal way at such a young age, Edith’s message is that much more empowering and impactful.

I can’t begin to imagine how I would have fared if I had been in Edith’s place. What I do know is, like everyone, I have experienced pain and trauma. Through Edith’s story and those of the people she’s counselled, I gained insights into my own life. Light made its way into dark corners that are painful to look at and while there’s still plenty of work to be done, it no longer feels impossible. Now I just need to make a counselling appointment with Edith. 😊

I expected to ugly cry my way through this book and surprised myself when I didn’t. The tears came unexpectedly, when I started rambling about how extraordinary Edith’s story is to someone. I was doing fine, right up until I began to explain that Edith would not have survived had it not been for a loaf of bread. Then I lost it.

Any story that even lightly touches on the Holocaust is bound to include the depravity that humans inflict on other humans. What touched me so much about that part of Edith’s story was it showed me the beauty that can still live within people, despite the ugliness that surrounds them.

I loved the way this book was written. I often felt like I was in conversation with Edith, that I was sitting across from her in a comfy chair in a room with a fireplace warming us as she was telling me a specific part of her story. I ran the gamut of emotions as I was reading but the style itself felt very down to earth.

No one heals in a straight line.

One of my favourite takeaways is the way Edith explains trauma. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the long term impacts she has lived with and that alone endeared her to me. So often the message seems to be that once you have survived the experience it’s all sunshine and roses from that day forward. No, pain hurts and surviving the aftermath of pain hurts too.

Edith’s authenticity when she talked about experiencing flashbacks and nightmares decades after her initial survival spoke to parts of me I can’t even verbalise yet, but I know some of what I felt as I read those parts was a bubbling hope rising up within me. When I read her take on PTSD I actually stopped reading to cheer; what I have long believed was actually being said by someone else.

This is why I now object to pathologizing post-traumatic stress by calling it a disorder. It’s not a disordered reaction to trauma – it’s a common and natural one.

I can already see a time in the near future where I’m going to need to reread this book. Different things are going to speak to me at different parts of my life; I can feel it in my bones.

What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past.

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and be overcome by the need to book evangelise. Oftentimes it’s a wanting to shout from the rooftops, ‘Hey, you! Read this book! Then let’s talk about how much we both loved it.’ I also want to book evangelise The Choice but it’s coming more from a quiet knowing that this book can change lives. It’s a desire for people to get an infusion of compassion and empathy, to see in black and white what can happen when we don’t treat other humans like humans, and to make sure this never happens again.

We can choose what the horror teaches us. To become bitter in our grief and fear. Hostile. Paralyzed. Or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and curious part, the part that is innocent.

I’m in awe of Edith surviving Auschwitz at all. To see what she has done since, both in working towards her own healing and facilitating the healing of countless others? I don’t know enough words to be able to adequately convey the way that makes me feel. This is truly a remarkable woman and if you haven’t already, you really need to read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, eating disorders, grief, mental health, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1944, sixteen-year-old Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, Edith’s bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

In The Choice, Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since. Today, she is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD. She explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

Like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but exceptional in its own right, The Choice is life changing. Warm, compassionate and infinitely wise, it is a profound examination of the human spirit, and our capacity to heal.

Yes to Life in Spite of Everything – Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor Frankl, like anyone who endured the atrocities of the Holocaust, is someone I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. I’m in awe of the resilience and oftentimes almost unfathomable positivity of anyone who has lived through experiences I can’t even imagine.

What’s even more extraordinary is that the lectures Frankl gave, which are the basis of this book, were presented only nine months after his liberation from his final concentration camp.

With an introduction by Daniel Goleman and afterward by Franz Vesely, Viktor’s son-in-law, this book comprises three of Frankl’s lectures:

  • On the Meaning and Value of Life
  • On the Meaning and Value of Life II
  • Experimentum Crucis.

These lectures focus on suicide, forced annihilation and concentration camps respectively. With such difficult content I had expected this read to be quite depressing, but there’s hope running through even the darkest of themes. Given the author’s belief that we can find meaning regardless of our circumstances, this hope felt particularly appropriate.

This meaning, Frankl asserts, can come through “our actions, through loving, and through suffering.” Meaning doesn’t only come from work. Illness, physical or mental, doesn’t necessarily equal loss of meaning. Suffering can be either meaningful or meaningless.

Some of the early text read the way some university philosophy lectures I’ve attended felt, where I was anxious for the lecturer to get to the point, but these sections were the groundwork for what was to come. Frankl gives examples of patients he treated and people he encountered in concentration camps, and these provided the answers to ‘how does this theory apply to real life?’, which is something I always seek.

The third lecture was the one that I found most insightful. Building on the two previous lectures, Frankl discusses his thoughts on the “psychological reactions of the camp prisoners to life in the camp.” Learning how this lecture specifically related to his own ability to find meaning was inspirational.

It can be tempting, when someone talks about the importance of your attitude or finding meaning in suffering, to get into ‘yeah, but’. Yeah, but how would they feel if they were in my situation? Yeah, but what qualifies them to speak to me about suffering? It’s hard to ‘yeah, but’ when the person you’re hearing it from is Viktor Frankl.

While Frankl specifically says that no one’s suffering can be compared to anyone else’s I still find it difficult to think of any of my experiences, not matter how painful they are for me, to be comparable to those who have been subjected to concentration camps. After reading this book part of me wants to admonish myself for having a whinge about any problem I face. However, the overwhelming takeaway for me is if people like Viktor experienced what they did and still managed to find hope and meaning, then it is always possible for me, no matter what comes my way, to change my perspective.

To say yes to life is not only meaningful under all circumstances – because life itself is – but it is also possible under all circumstances.

Content warnings include death by suicide, descriptions of concentration camp experiences, euthanasia, mental illness and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Just months after his liberation from Auschwitz renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl delivered a series of talks revealing the foundations of his life-affirming philosophy for which he would become world famous.

Despite the unspeakable horrors in the camp, Frankl learnt from his fellow inmates that it is always possible to say ‘yes to life’. This profound and timeless lesson is amongst many in this remarkable collection now publishing in English for the very first time.

A Short Philosophy of Birds – Philippe J. Dubois & Élise Rousseau

Translation – Jennifer Higgins

Illustrations – Joanna Lisowiec

If we pay attention, birds have plenty to teach us, whether it’s their adaptability through unpredictable weather or their patience during the time of their ‘eclipse’ plumage, when some species that are moulting are unable to fly and are at their most vulnerable, allowing themselves to grow stronger before soaring once again. They live in the present, they are curious and willing to take risks.

While this book doesn’t reference many specific philosophers or philosophical schools of thought, which I expected a book with ‘philosophy’ in its title would, it does encourage introspection. A reflection of your own life, the way you spend your time and what you place value on. In short chapters this quick read touches on various lessons birds can teach us. Courage, freedom, beauty, romance and death are all mentioned.

description

Often when I read books that have been translated it can feel like I’ve missed something vital that would have been captured in the original text. I didn’t experience that feeling here so commend Jennifer Higgins on her translation of the text into English.

I have a number of birds of different species that visit me each day and I love watching their behaviour. I’m in awe of the level of trust they afford me and it delights me when I discover something new about their individual personalities. I didn’t think I could appreciate them any more but some of the facts included in this book astounded me. Take the bar-tailed godwit, for instance:

In spring, the godwit migrates to make its nest in the Arctic. By tracking one of these godwits with a satellite tag, researchers have discovered that they are capable of covering the distance between Alaska and New Zealand – over 7,000 miles – in one go. That equates to flying for a whole week at forty-five miles per hour. Consider, too, that the godwit weighs just 250 grams. What’s more, during this non-stop flight, the godwit rests by allowing only one half of its brain to fall asleep at a time – thereby enabling it to fly continuously through its sleep.

I really enjoyed Joanna Lisowiec’s illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. The flamingoes and duck were two of my favourites.

description

If I were to nitpick I’d tell you that when facts were stated I would have liked to have seen these backed up with references, such as when it’s mentioned that crows’ brains have “twice as many synaptic connections as that of any mammal.”

Given the majority of the birds discussed reside in the Northern Hemisphere (unless they’re migrating) I was unfamiliar with the behaviours of some of the specific birds, although I could easily compare these with the birds native to Australia that visit my garden.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and WH Allen, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The greatest wisdom comes from the smallest creatures.

There is so much we can learn from birds. Through twenty-two little lessons of wisdom inspired by how birds live, this charming French book will help you spread your wings and soar.

We often need the help from those smaller than us. Having spent a lifetime watching birds, Philippe and Élise – a French ornithologist and a philosopher – draw out the secret lessons that birds can teach us about how to live, and the wisdom of the natural world. Along the way you’ll discover why the robin is braver than the eagle, what the arctic tern can teach us about the joy of travel, and whether the head or the heart is the best route to love (as shown by the mallard and the penguin). By the end you will feel more in touch with the rhythms of nature and have a fresh perspective on how to live the fullest life you can.

On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back – Stacey Dooley

I’ve followed Stacey’s career from fashion loving teen travelling to India through to the professional journalist she is today, watching and rewatching every documentary each time they’ve aired on television. When I first heard she was releasing a book I was so keen to get my hands on it ASAP. I read the blurb and immediately thought of DVD Special Features. I imagined Stacey’s book as a combination of Deleted Scenes and Director’s Commentary, but it was so much more.

What I love about Stacey’s work with social issues women face around the world is that she gives you information about emotionally loaded topics in a thoughtful and respectful way. You don’t just get to hear her opinion; you learn about people whose lives that issue directly effects as a victim, their family and friends, along with any officials in the area or perpetrators that are willing to be interviewed.

Stacey and her team focus on some locations and issues that I was vaguely familiar with and others that sadly I had practically no knowledge of. In this book Stacey delves into issues relating to prison, immigration, drugs, child abuse, femicide, high-end to low-end prostitution, trans prostitution, abortion, child sexualisation, murder, war and survival. Your heart will be broken and warmed by the womens’ stories. For women who have had to survive such horrendous circumstances in their past and oftentimes present as well, their courage and resilience are extraordinary and inspirational. It’s up to you as the reader to form your own opinions about what’s presented to you and whether that will change your mind or not, but you cannot walk away uninformed. I hope you also walk away with your empathy enlarged.

Whenever someone starts talking politics my brain goes into standby mode so I was really surprised that Stacey could explain political issues to me, including what Obama stood for versus Trump, and I not only heard her but I understood what she was saying. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never understand American politics. However Stacey explained policies and the way people are affected by them in such a down to earth way that I knew what she was talking about and if she’d done nothing else in this book, she’d deserve a medal for that alone!

Having seen most of the documentaries that Stacey refers to in On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back I could picture the people and scenes she was referring to, as well as hearing her voice in my head as I read. I was enjoying reliving some of my favourite documentaries with additional information and insights, yet wondered how well this book would translate to readers who have been living under a TV-less rock and hadn’t seen any Stacey documentaries.

Then I came across a chapter featuring [Shock! Horror!] a documentary I had never seen before! In hindsight I’m pleased about that because not only do I have a documentary to watch in the very near future 😃 but it also gave me another perspective on this book. I found it didn’t matter that I didn’t have previous knowledge of this documentary. The writing sucked me in and in a way I felt like I was watching along as Stacey described what was happening. I understood the need for a documentary on that topic to be made in the first place, the experiences of the people interviewed, information about the political atmosphere at the time in that country and Stacey’s own view.

While watching the documentary prior to reading each chapter is certainly not a prerequisite it is nice to be able to put faces to names. If, like me, you find gaps in your documentary viewing experience I expect that you’ll come away with a viewing list to complement what you’ve read. While there are currently some of Stacey’s documentaries available for viewing on the BBC website I would love to see (if it doesn’t already exist) all of the documentaries mentioned in this book available for viewing at a central location.

I found I liked the same things about Stacey’s approach in her writing that I do when I watch her on television. She’s so down to earth. There’s at once a sweetness and strength to her manner. She knows what she believes but isn’t close minded when she hears opposing opinions; she’ll weigh them against her own to determine if what someone else thinks changes her mind or strengthens her own views. Whether she agrees or disagrees with someone she treats them with respect. She asks the questions you want the answers to but aren’t sure if anyone will have the guts to ask.

She gets to the heart of the issue and the people she’s interviewing. You can tell she has a genuine fondness for the girls she encounters and her friendliness appears to open people up to having real conversations with her about difficult and painful things. Scared or not, she gets on with it. As a viewer and now a reader there’s just something innately likeable and relatable about this woman and when you watch her documentaries it’s easy to think, ‘Yeah, I reckon Stacey and I could be mates if we ever met’.

While you may see the problems presented in this book and feel overwhelmed by their enormity, ultimately this book is a call to action. You are left to consider the power that you have to make a difference. To borrow some of Stacey’s words, what she’s doing in this book and her documentaries is raising awareness and presenting “what’s going on in the world so that people can make up their own minds about how best to fight back.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I’m left feeling inspired!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Put yourself in their shoes.

In 2007, Stacey Dooley was a twenty-something working in fashion retail. She was selected to take part in the BBC series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts which saw her live and work alongside Indian factory workers making clothes for the UK High Street. This sparked her series of hugely popular investigations, establishing her as one of BBC3’s most celebrated presenters.

Through the course of her documentary making, Stacey has covered a variety of topics, from sex trafficking in Cambodia, to Yazidi women fighting back in Syria. At the core of her reporting are incredible women in extraordinary and scarily ordinary circumstances – from sex workers in Russia, to victims of domestic violence in Honduras.

In her first book, On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back, Stacey draws on her encounters with these brave and wonderful women, using their experiences as a vehicle to explore issues at the centre of female experience. From gender equality and domestic violence, to sex trafficking and sexual identity, Stacey weaves these global strands together in an exploration of what it is to be women in the world today.

Abandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World – Mathew Growcoot (editor)

I love abandoned places photography so much! This book was no exception. The photography itself was brilliant but the subject matter was everything for me. There’s just something about abandoned places. They have a strange combination of the overwhelming sadness of something cast aside, nostalgia of what once was and a haunting beauty of what the elements have transformed the structure into, and I can’t get enough of them. Like losing myself in a fire’s flames, I get mesmerised by these places.

When I saw my first abandoned house photo I had a lightbulb moment. Weird as it may sound these are my fantasy buildings. I would love to buy an abandoned house like one of the ones in this book, ensure it’s structurally sound and then leave the outside as close to the state that I found it in as possible. I’d restore the interior, bringing back to life the character it once had, but the outside would remain as is. It would be my “don’t judge a book by its cover” dream brought to life.

I don’t expect this would make sense to most people but I love the idea of people walking up to a building that looks as though a gust of wind could bring it down and then stepping inside to the enchanted world of my imagination, with the requisite hidden rooms and the library of my dreams. Hmm … one day …

So, back to this book. It was gorgeous and my biggest decision now is whether to keep reserving it over and over at the library or buy my own copy because I have to look through it again and again. As you page through, you’ll be taken on a journey around the world through abandoned homes, recreation, rooms, journeys, society and industry.

I could easily say they were all my favourites but there were particular photos that stood out to me. The children’s playroom in Pennhurst Asylum, Pennsylvania, USA, with sections of a painted merry-go-round on the cracked wall and a wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room. The operating chair in an unnamed mental asylum in Italy, creepy in and of itself. Who knows how many peoples’ lives and minds were irrevocably changed in that room laying on and most likely strapped to that chair. Okay, so I may have a teensy morbid interest in old asylums.

There’s also an abandoned two storey mansion somewhere in the USA with eery clouds overhead, trees in the background and a curtain on the second floor that’s not quite closed, so it’s very likely a ghost is peering out at you. There’s a merry-go-round at the funfair somewhere in Italy and a lonely ferris wheel at Chernobyl, Ukraine. There’s also churches, shopping malls, planes, cars, motels and rooms overtaken by sand. The whole book is just amazing. I will never get tired of looking through it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the empty magical theatres of Detroit to the lost playgrounds of Chernobyl, there are places across the globe that were once a hub of activity, but are now abandoned and in decay. With nature creeping in and reclaiming these spots, we are left with eerie crumbling ruins and breath-taking views of deserted places, that offer us a window into past and capture our imagination. Abandoned showcases the very best photographs from around the world documenting this phenomenon.

More immersive than a museum and more human that a lecture, abandoned photography has given the world an exciting way to look at our history and the places we have long neglected.