Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen - Ruby Walker

Summary:  When Ruby Walker was fifteen, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school drop out to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat.  Advice I Ignored answers the question everyone's been asking her since:  What happened?

In ten illustrated chapters, you'll learn how to:

-  Get out from under self-hatred
-  Gain a sense of free will.
-  Create your way through an existential crisis.
- Use exercise to beg your brain for endorphins.
-  Have an identity beyond "sad."
-  And more!

Full of embarrassing stories, honest advice, and fierce hope, Advice I Ignored is a self help book for people who hate help. And themselves.  (Summary from back of book - Image from - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  Why would a 40-year old woman who has never struggled with depression review a book on teenage depression?  The answer is simple: I have four daughters.  Right now, they seem to have the standard emotional ups-and-downs that come with having a uterus, but I wanted to be equipped to help them cope should they ever find themselves staring down the barrel of clinical or even situational depression.  And what better way to learn about overcoming teenage depression than from an actual teenager who overcame it!?!   I think that a depressed teen would be far more likely to read something written by another teen who has been there, done that than anything written by some stodgy old psychology professor.  Enter 17-year-old Ruby Walker...

After emerging from a cloud of anxiety and depression that enveloped much of her adolescence, Ruby Walker wrote Advice I Ignored with the hope that sharing her experience might help others find their way out of the gloom. Ruby's writing style is engaging, approachable, encouraging, and likely to appeal to a teen reader.  From an structural standpoint, I thought the book was well-organized. Each chapter contains an essay, a personal story, and step-by-step instructions on what to do when you have no idea what to do.  I liked that the sections were small enough to be read in bites, which was nice for this busy mama, but would be particularly helpful if the reader is struggling with depression and feeling overwhelmed. 
Over the course of the book, Ruby examines the various pieces of advice that are often thrown at people with depression, and elaborates on how they can be effectively employed.  To be perfectly honest, her wisdom belies her years and it kinda blew my mind a little.  She discusses specific strategies to reduce anxiety and combat negative self-talk, how to improve your brain chemistry, set realistic (achievable) goals, and how to be okay with just being yourself.  Ruby also talks about how stress and trauma manifest in different people different ways and gives practical tips for how to regain control of your life.  While this book is not and should not be a replacement for mental health counseling, I do feel like most of the advice given in the book is sound, helpful, and hopeful.  Read alongside counseling, this book might serve to reinforce some of the counseling advice a teen may have already received.

There was a lot to love about this book, but a few of my favorite Ruby-isms and lists were:  
  • There are ways of thinking that will make it better, and ways of thinking that will make it worse.
  • How to Gain a Sense of Free Will...and Finally Start Taking Showers Again.
  • Being a friend to yourself  means cutting yourself the same slack you already give to others.
  • Four Lies Your Trauma is Telling You and Why You Must Not Believe Them.  
  • When all is said and done, I'm the only person on this Earth who will be present in my life every moment until my very last breath.  Knowing myself deeply helps me connect to that life: through my relationships, my values, and through the face I choose to show the world.  And the more I know, the more I can be sure that face is true.
  • How to Acknowledge Failure, Find Solace, and Move On
  • Being a light means being kind when it isn't required, good when nobody can see, and refusing to accept suffering as the status quo.
Distilled down, Advice I Ignored offers important insight and a relevant message of hope: You are more than your depression.  Things will get better.  You are not alone.  And that is something I think we all need to hear. 

*An Important Note for Parents of (Younger) Teens*:  Ruby was sexually assaulted when she was six but repressed the experience.  In the book she discusses the moment when her childhood memories resurfaced (and she realized what had actually happened) and she writes about those memories in moderate detail.  Her experience was hard for me to read even though, sadly, it's not the first time I've heard a story like hers.  Some of the language in these moments is harsh, but I refuse to ask anyone to censor their trauma for my benefit.  The book also contains some more adult themes regarding self-harm and sexual preference.  Personally, I would encourage parents to read this book (or at least give it a good skim) before they pass it along to their younger teen.  Not only would it allow them to decide if the content is age-appropriate, but it would also give them tremendous insight into how their child might be feeling and what they, as parents, can do to help.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is some profanity (under 20 instances), some crude language and graphic subject matter (generally related to her assault), some discussion of the author's sexual preference (homosexual), self-harm, and the youthful self-exploration of her developing body (brief).  The author does provide a content warning (at the bottom of pg. 2) that indicates the chapters that discuss suicide/sexual trauma. (flashbacks that are italicized and can be easily skipped).    

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