I’ve mentioned it a zillion times so you may be aware I don’t read non-fiction. I had heard however, a lot of good things about first, we make the beast beautiful by Sarah Wilson. And given everything happening at the moment, it seemed like a good time to dive into the beast-infested waters.
Wilson is of course known best for her I Quit Sugar initiative, program and books. For some reason I’d thought she’d separated herself from that movement but it’s mentioned a bit here. Although this book was first released in 2017.
First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety
by Sarah Wilson
Published by Macmillan Australia
Sarah Wilson—bestselling author and entrepreneur, intrepid solver of problems and investigator of how to live a better life—has helped over 1.2 million people across the world to quit sugar. She has also been an anxiety sufferer her whole life.
In her new book, she directs her intense focus and fierce investigatory skills onto this lifetime companion of hers, looking at the triggers and treatments, the fashions and fads. She reads widely and interviews fellow sufferers, mental health experts, philosophers, and even the Dalai Lama, processing all she learns through the prism her own experiences.
Sarah pulls at the thread of accepted definitions of anxiety, and unravels the notion that it is a difficult, dangerous disease that must be medicated into submission. Ultimately, she re-frames anxiety as a spiritual quest rather than a burdensome affliction, a state of yearning that will lead us closer to what really matters.
The biggest problem I usually have with memoir / non-fiction type books is the structure. They always feel a little ‘all over the place’. It’s an issue I recognise well as it’s something I experience when I try to tell any kind of story about my own life events. There’s always a thread worth pursuing which takes me back to something else. Our lives unfold, I realise, in ways that are rarely linear.
I’m not going to review this book in my usual way. There would be soooooo many quotes I could draw upon (see image below). Wilson’s writing is easy and accessible. It feels as if we’re having a conversation and her prose are very much how I (would) like to write.
What I loved
1. No A-ha moment
Wilson doesn’t have the answers. She tells us that from the beginning.
2. It’s not just me
She decided to share her story, not BECAUSE she has the answers, but so others experiencing anxiety and related issues know they’re not alone. When I used to blog about dieting (mostly my failed attempts), the most common comments I got were from those who could relate to what I was saying. There’s relief in knowing we’re not alone.
3. Embracing our messiness. Or at least accepting it
In essence—or at least my take is—Wilson suggests we ‘accept’ our anxiety and learn to live with it. We befriend it (as we’re similarly told to accept our bodies and so forth). We can still attempt to change or manage our behaviour, thoughts or feelings (though meditation and habits etc); but it should come from a place of acceptance.
4. Scientific-ish yet relatable references
Wilson references a lot of philosophers, innovators, creatives, motivational speakers and those from popular culture. She talks about the fact she’s thirsty for information and it certainly seems that way.
5. The Something Else
Wilson talks about The Something Else: something we aspire to be or have… something we yearn for. I could very much relate to this. She talks about wanting more ‘connection’ but for me it’s more a sense of lost or thwarted potential. The ‘Someone Else‘ perhaps? It’s a constant gnawing in the back of my mind of something not-yet-done. A reason I should be discontented. Unhappy.
6. Relativity and privilege
Those who struggle with anxiety might—in fact—find their situations improved in moments of increased crisis or when ‘control’ is taken from them. And this is very much me now. When I first heard of the Coronavirus I was nervous about what the world might become. I had visions of some sort of apocalyptic world. And then, I worried about death. My mother’s and mine.
Yet for the last month or so I’ve actually been very calm about the whole thing. I mean, the world is a mess and there are so many lives affected. It’s certainly tragic. But I’m reminded I do surprisingly well in emergencies, when the rubber hits the road.
Just weeks ago we worried about stupid things. They’re now put into perspective.
Things I need to work on
I’ve talked about this in the past as a couple of podcasters I listened to mentioned it. It’s the reason Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg wear the same thing every day. Or other famous peeps eat the same breakfast. If you struggle with anxiety it can be worsened by having too many options and choices.
I am often completely incapable of making the smallest of decisions. And the why? I’ve talked about this before as well…. my fear of making the wrong decision.
Wilson discusses this and quotes (someone I can’t remember) who reminds us we rarely regret a decision made. It’s usually an action NOT taken that tortures us into eternity.
2. Little habits
I’ve tried to do this before and attempted 30-day challenges to build healthier habits. To ditch things I dislike, or add things I’d like to include in my life. Wilson talks A LOT about meditation. Interestingly she tells us it’s something she doesn’t do well but she recommends it nonetheless. It’s more she suggests about sitting quietly and letting our minds rest, opening them for thoughts that would usually not be heard.
I’m a great self-soother when I’m sad, anxious, depressed, happy. Generally I turn to food. Which, I do realise is not the best choice to be making and why I’ve battled with eating disorders for much of my life. I’m not good at ‘sitting’ with my pain / thoughts / feelings but conscious that there are possibly other ‘things’ I could do to calm my thinking and stop the escalation in its tracks. I’m not sure yet what they are. (Taipei on my phone is something I tend to use, but perhaps I need to take up knitting or jigsaw puzzles or something!)
I know the moment I press publish on this post I’ll think of some really insightful things I forgot to include, but as you can see from my notes (until I ran out of space on the piece of paper at hand, so switched to turning over page corners), there was A LOT of stuff in this book that leapt out at me. I guess I’m hoping the things at the front of my mind, those I’ve covered here, are those that most resonated.
first, we make the beast beautiful by Sarah Wilson was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and currently available.
I received a copy of this book for review (and surprisingly, reflection) purposes.
Or download the audiobook:
Does anything jump out at you here? Can you relate?