CHAARG Book Club: First, We Make The Beast Beautiful

My mom actually recommended First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson to me about a year ago after reading a review on the book that said it was a refreshing take on destigmatizing mental illness, specifically anxiety. As someone who faces generalized anxiety disorder, I was super interested + grabbed a copy immediately.

I won’t lie, this book took me nearly a year to read. I took a long pause in the middle of the memoir because it seemed to actually trigger my anxiety, which makes sense with the author’s random, somewhat chaotic writing style. On top of that, the book gave me more “anxiety about having anxiety” – those who are challenged with anxiety often experience anxiety about having anxiety [it’s a vicious cycle].

You’re probably wondering – why did you pick it back up? Well, 1] I was in a better mental space, 2] despite the first half triggering anxiety, I was actually enjoying the read + it was offering a significantly different perspective on anxiety than most of the *self-help* type books that I dive into + don’t find useful to my particular journey, + 3] I needed to find out more about this metaphor to make my own beast beautiful… + find out what this meant ; ).

I am so glad that I ended up completing it. For those who are challenged with anxiety + don’t love traditional *self-help* books or if you resonate with more research based writing, this book is for you. OR — if someone you love suffers from anxiety, this book is an incredible resource to help you better understand them. I truly do think that this book is helpful on so many different levels, even if you have to take a short break in the middle of reading it.

Below are my three largest takeaways + a few discussion//journaling prompts inspired by the book —

Mental illness can seem extremely isolating + this book helped me realize that I am not alone in facing anxiety. Not only is it filled with the hard facts about how many people face challenges with anxiety [aka one in thirteen people across the globe], but Wilson also shares her own personal experiences with mental illness as well as collections of other anxiety sufferers’ opinions, anecdotes, + advice. From how others explain what mental illness “feels like” to stories about how to explain mental illness to your loved ones.

The entire theme of this book is to learn to “make your beast beautiful.” Mental illness really can be seen as a beast that we work with + experience every, single day. Sarah Wilson explores the idea of making the beast beautiful/shifting your perspective rather than trying to bring down the beast. The reality is that mental illness may never be completely cured, but in the meantime, we can shift our perspective to see it as useful, a part of us, a “cute” little habit, etc. — anything that resonated with you! There are also plenty of tidbits that help you shift your perspective throughout the book.

One of my favorite examples was a study run by Dian Fossey on a tribe of gorillas. She discovered that a couple of gorillas in the group actually had anxiety disorders. As a part of her research, she removed the anxiety-ridden gorillas from the group… a couple of months later, the entire group had not survived. Her research shows that anxious individuals are necessary for survival in the group to sense danger early on, find food, etc. Of course, this isn’t what our current day requires, HOWEVER, there are still advantages to have someone anxious as part of your group or team!

There are practical ways to cope with anxiety that don’t include endless amounts of meditation, journaling, or even finding a cure for it. From finding your “non-negotiables” [more on that below] to tailoring your spaces + schedule for your anxiety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to control your environment to make yourself as comfortable – mentally + physically – as possible! If you’re hot, you would turn on a fan, right? Anxiety should be no different. If you’re living in mental discomfort, choose to make a change in your environment to ease the way you’re living. For me, this means routine, getting enough sleep, + making plenty of time to wind down before bed.

#1] What is a beast, or challenge, that you’re currently facing that you could change your perspective on + see from a different angle?

#2] The book talks about the history of anxiety + how anxious people are actually necessary as a part of society [see the gorilla example above!] – when is a time that your anxiety was useful?

#3] Flip the switch — many of the symptoms of anxiety mimic those of excitement [butterflies in your stomach, racing heartbeat, etc.]. When is a time when you thought you were anxious, but it could have also been viewed as excitement?

#4] This book does not end with Wilson overcoming her mental illness + living happily ever after. She still experiences plenty of anxiety, but she has learned to live with it. What are 3 things you can do daily to cope with anxiety?

#5] In the book, Wilson talks about “non-negotiables” aka things that ease your anxiety/mental illness that cannot go undone. These could include things like exercise, sleep, meditation, etc. + can also include more particular things like showering before bed. What are your non-negotiables?

Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone who either #A] suffers from anxiety/mental illness or #B] genuinely wants to know more about mental illness. There are so many stories + tidbits that anyone can take away to improve their own mental health + shift your perspective.

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