In A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes: Naming and Shaming Mental Health Stigmas, author Lucy Nichol invites us to join her in breaking down stereotypes until we’re ready to say “Stigma? What a load of old shit!” I loved the no-BS tone, with expletives liberally strewn throughout (any time an f-bomb is dropped by page 7, chances are I’m hooked). As a Canadian I enjoyed all of the British slang, even when I didn’t know what the actual words meant (like what the hell is a moggy?). The levity serves to emphasize points like “Ugh, she’s doing my head in. She’s such an overactive thyroid. Nope. Never heard that one.” Besides tackling the issue of stigma in general, she takes a closer look at self-stigma and the harm that it can cause.
Any child of the 80’s is as likely to feel the same connection to Lucy as I did when she dropped fun little tidbits like bike shorts with the neon stripes down the sides, Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky, and party lines, and then fast forward to sashaying onto the dance floor with earrings from Claire’s and a Smirnoff Ice in hand. Despite the ocean dividing our youths Lucy is definitely my peeps!
Lucy shares her own experience with generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and displays a self-deprecating sense of humour throughout. The reader is left with the sense that the various anecdotes have not been tidied up or sanitized for the sake of the book, but rather represent an authentic look at the author’s life and escapades. She pokes fun at her anxiety-driven thoughts, such as suspecting she might have HIV because her gums were bleeding.
She touches on the bullying and discrimination she experienced at work in the past, although for legal purposes the details and setting are changed. She writes: “You think it shouldn’t be happening. Maybe it’s not even happening, because you’re a grownup. This kind of thing only happens in the playground, surely? … But adults are just as capable of bullying as children.” This resonated powerfully with my own experience of workplace bullying. Suggestions are given on how to pursue a bullying complaint.
The first ten chapters of the book are titled as a particular stereotype and the corresponding reality. Some of these include the hypochondriac/the poorly mind, the psycho bitch/the 1 in 4, and the happy pill-popper/the girl in recovery mode. Lucy challenges the ideas that having a mental health condition makes one “crazy”, and “crazy” behaviour is indicative of mental illness. She also provides a balanced look at what medications can and can not do.
Lucy writes about learning how to deal with the reemergence of anxiety symptoms. She tackles some of the various “shoulds” around dealing with anxiety, with such giggle-inducing lines as “You do not have to practice feng shui while wearing white linen pants and listening to Enya”. She also covers the therapeutic work she’s done on understanding how her anxiety developed. She concludes with the ways in which she had used her experience to promote positive change, including being a Time to Change ambassador and writing for Standard Issue magazine.
The book is visually delightful with photos from various photos in the author’s life as well as excellent illustrations by Jo Neary. It is a fun read with an important message, and anyone who lives with mental illness is likely to recognize pieces of themselves in Lucy’s story. This book is well worth a read.
A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes is available on Amazon.
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You can find more about mental illness stigma on the Stop Stigma page.