first, we make the beast beautiful by Sarah Wilson

Monday, April 27, 2020 Permalink

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 by Sarah WilsonFirst, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety
by Sarah Wilson
Published by Macmillan Australia
on 28/02/2017
Genres: Non-fiction
ISBN: 1743535864
Pages: 320

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

1. Decision-fatigue.

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.

3. Self-soothing

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?

  • Sanch @ Sanch Writes
    April 27, 2020

    I’ve heard good things about this book and need to get my hands on it. I also recommend Happy Never After by Jill Stark – anxiety and depression and our obsession with needing to be happy/perfect.

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2020

      I heard her speak a couple of years ago Sanch and have had her book recommended by a few people now. (Perhaps I’ll think about it now I’ve ‘tried’ some non-fiction!)

  • Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid
    April 27, 2020

    I’ve gotten quite into memoirs and this one really rather tickles my fancy. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it at my local library. And side note, I have to work on the same things as you!

    • Debbish
      April 28, 2020

      Yes, I actually don’t talk a lot about the book in my review, but Sarah’s really honest about several periods in her life where she’s really struggled. It’s also useful / interesting to see that someone who is seemingly so high-functioning can be really suffering and literally ‘shut-down’.

  • Deb's World
    April 28, 2020

    A very interesting review deb and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts in a different way – thanks for that! #lifethisweek

    • Debbish
      April 28, 2020

      Yes, I realised I wasn’t going to be able to review the book without pondering some of the themes myself so figured I’d do a ‘what I took from the book’ kinda-review.

  • Laurie
    April 28, 2020

    Thank you for the good book review. I am running out of books on my stack and my biggest fear is of running out of things to read. This sounds like something I should read. I removed added sugar from my diet a little over a year ago (I do occasionally cheat, but it has to be worth it) for health reasons – high cholesterol. I am struggling with anxiety right now – join the club, right?

    • Debbish
      April 28, 2020

      Sarah’s I Quite Sugar program was huge for a while… I actually met her just before it really launched, at a blogging thing. I think she’d already hosted our first season of Masterchef, so was kinda ‘known’ but I hadn’t watched it. We chatted for ages because it was at a ‘drinks’ event and they’d specifically provided gluten-free options for me at one end of the bar so I was hanging out there and let her share (as I’m sure there must have been a stack of stuff too healthy for me to eat – veges and the like!).

      I remember being surprised when she released this book as it seemed a little left-field from where she’d positioned herself brand-wise. When I was on Instagram I followed her so knows she does try to live a minimalistic lifestyle and sticks to the basics. (Some of which she mentions in the book. ie. minimal clothes, fewer decisions to make.)

  • Vanessa
    April 28, 2020

    I can’t say I would read this because I can’t stand the IQS stuff – but at the same time, if telling a life story and their views, experiences on it helps someone – go for it. I think we learn a lot from memoirs and they’re underrated as a genre.

    • Debbish
      April 28, 2020

      I don’t ‘do’ the IQS stuff either. ‘Twas very cult-like for a while. I don’t even know if the program still exists. I know Sarah had a lengthy trip o/s last year.

  • Ruth @kanga_rue
    April 29, 2020

    It all resonates, particularly your point on decision fatigue. The non-action is definitely a major stress factor for me. And adjusting to this new “normal” has been relatively easy too… Tho I miss hanging out with you!

    • Debbish
      April 29, 2020

      I need to work on including more ‘routine’ in my days I think which will help on the decision-fatigue thing!

  • Denyse Whelan
    April 29, 2020

    I ended up buying it. I don’t like her much from what I have read and seen on TV (and via social media people who have known and worked with her) BUT I was wanting to understand more about anxiety when I was in the thick of it – 2016-17 i started. Her stories were for me quite fanciful and perhaps exaggerated, but hey they are her stories. Not mine. I didn’t finish it. But I can see why her introspection would draw many in. She used to write a column if I recall. Anyway, I say whatever we learn from others that helps us understand ourselves more is a good thing.

    Thank you for linking up for Life This Week. Next week the optional prompt is 18/51 Taking Stock #2 4.5.2020. Hope to see you there too. Denyse

    • Debbish
      April 30, 2020

      I found the IQS stuff a bit cult-like at the time I recall. And yes… some of it is a bit first-world problem-like. But I’d read Mia Friedman’s book a few years ago and found it less-relatable.

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