by Therese Borchard
Center Street, 2010
Review by Alex Jenson on Aug 31st 2010
This is an excellent book. If that sounds like a one-dimensional appraisal, hang on, because I wanted to give this work its due, before I lay out a more critical analysis of what lies within its 240+ pages.
The opening thirty pages had my gut sinking a little with a feeling this was going to be another self-indulgent, painted-by-numbers vision of someone’s personal Hell - lots of egomaniacal tub-thumping through the flames as we reach the inevitable finale, with the Godlike author beaming smugly from ear-to-ear as she kicks the gates of hell shut and lolls across the freshly-cut grass back to the sunny paradise of everyday humanity.
Thankfully, what emerges after a slightly awkward, and at times unengaging opening, is a very compelling, intelligent, passionate, honest narrative. Part of the unattractiveness of the book’s beginning stems from the hopelessness that screams off the pages. It is a calculated risk on the part of the author, because some of the audience she hopes to reach -- the chronically depressed and suicidal -- may not find the mental strength to persevere to page 240.
Mental health recovery is an organic, lengthy process, which no amount of literary acumen will speed up. In short -- this book will not wave a magic wand and cure your ills.
What it will do is introduce you to a more reasoned, rational world where every conceivable facet of the mental health wilderness is explored.
This is a book about insight -- how the power of insight is the greatest power of all. Without self-awareness, everybody is lost, not just those who are stumbling through the deforested wastelands of a mental health diagnosis.
The writer’s journey has imparted her with a greater wisdom than she possessed before that journey commenced. It just so happens the journey is one of extreme mental distress, hopelessness, incarceration (hospital not prison) and suicidal ideation. For me, the epicentre of this work is the author’s self-realization that her suffering was a meaningful experience, because it tested her survival powers to the absolute limit, taxed every square inch of her brain and made her a more resourceful, determined and ultimately humble person, dedicated to finding a greater purpose in life beyond her own individual needs. That is what jumps out of the pages of this well-written book.
It humanises the debates, the illnesses, the highs, the miseries, the despair. It places mental ill health in its medical and societal context, but it delivers an important message; ultimately, the less we think about ourselves and plough our energy into being socially useful beings, the better our mental health will be. For those who live in the real world, that might seem overly idealistic, but on an individual level, it is possibly one of the greatest pieces of advice you will ever encounter.
She sometimes strays across the boundaries of conventional descriptive writing, but with the elasticity of her words Therese J. Borchard manages to get away with it just before you start to think she might be over-writing, because she has a dynamic, engaging, humanistic, witty style, punctuated with solid references, all glued together by attentive research.
Beyond Blue is penned by a sharp, indefatigable mind, with a great sense of humour. This is a certain type of book which is becoming more common in our increasingly mentally-enlightened times, but it stands out from the crowd. Its greatest contribution actually has to be towards that very cause -- mental enlightenment -- for sufferers, for casual readers, for medical professionals, therapists, psychiatrists. Most importantly, the book achieves what it sets out to do -- enlighten, inspire and offer hope to anyone who thinks that a mental health diagnosis is some kind of death knell to their worldly ambitions. In fact, this book proves that if you are prepared to dig deep and open yourself to new possibilities, it can be just the opposite.
© 2010 Alex Jenson
Alex Jenson writes about himself: "I have just successfully completed my training to teach English as a second Language. I am a published author and poet, a film school screenwriting graduate. I am working on my first feature length screenplay. I was born in the north of England. I am a big sports fan and I love running and playing football."