Friday, August 19, 2022

Book Review: In Our Blood

I don't think I have to tell you that I specifically picked this book out because any book about someone's personal mental health journey automatically interests me. As soon as I saw this and learned a little more about her story, I knew I had to read this. 

In Our Blood - Caitlin Billings

When Caitlin Billings became a therapist, she did so with an intention to heal from her past. She wasn’t planning on a mental health relapse or an involuntary psychiatric hold. She was a mother now. A mental health professional. She thought the issues she’d faced in her past were dealt with, tucked away forever.

She was wrong.

Over the years, Billings contends with bipolar disorder while raising two children and fighting to regain her footing as a clinician. She feels she’s finally gotten a handle on her mental health when, on the cusp of adolescence, her elder child begins to struggle with disordered eating and depressive symptoms. Convinced that she is to blame for her child’s struggles, Billings pivots her attention to this new crisis, determined to keep it together for her family—but after it comes out that sexual abuse has taken place in their home, she questions her ability to protect her children and experiences a relapse. Amidst all this turmoil, her elder child also comes out as transgender, forcing yet another kind of reckoning. Billings must find a way to accept the many changes and unexpected challenges that have reared up in their lives—and, ultimately, to accept herself.

Trigger warnings: domestic violence, self harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, addiction, sexual assualt, incest, assault with a deadly weapon... I think I got them all. 

I started this one in the middle of the night (are you seeing a trend here?) and I really only intended to read a couple of chapters and pick it up in the morning. Fast forward three hours and I put the finished book down and I think I said, "wow" totally outloud for nobody to hear. Well, Twinky (my dog) did but he didn't especially care. Since finishing this book, I have recommended it to no less than 20 people because it just hits differently. I think those of us who are parents and trying to juggle being a mom, being a wife, keeping a career, and struggling with our own health issues, we put ourselves last. We don't deal with the traumas we've gone through, no matter how bad, because someone else needs us. Nobody has time for mom to break down. Moms are supposed to keep it together. 

I remember when I had Lucy, I came home an absolute wreck. I think everyone expected I would struggle, but when it was clear I was really struggling, everyone was quietly worried in their own way, but nobody actually knew what to do. I was going to therapy biweekly, I was seeing a psychiatrist for mental health medications, I was seeing what felt like a doctor in every practice to manage my complicated health situation, but still, nobody really knew what to do with me. I didn't fit the mould of anything, and amniotic fluid embolisms are rare enough that there is no blueprint on what to do with us. I remember those first three years being the worst, and more than once I thought about checking in somewhere, anywhere, because I wasn't doing well by any standards. I never did, and I truly regret that now. I'm nowhere near in those years, but I definitely do come in and out of really awful depression and I think almost daily about what's the point of being here? Sure, I've got my kids and husband, friends and family, but once you look beyond that... what's the damn point? 

So while I definitely can't relate with Caitlin in much of her personal story, I definitely know what that really dark and scary feels like. To be so close to the edge you scare the hell out of yourself, nevermind everyone else around you. 

A quick rundown of the book is Caitlin is a licensed clinical social worker, who leaves college with the goal of helping someone, somewhere. She goes into this thinking that while she's helping others, she could also help herself heal from the trauma she had endured, which includes an eating disorder, being held at gun-point, learning her child is transgender but also has depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts, all while she learns she actually has a bipolar disorder. I mean, what a whiner, am I right? Of course dealing with your own struggles brings shame, and I don't care how much we try to normalize mental health, people definitely give you the look once they realize what you're trying to manage. 

I just really loved this book. It's well organized, it's written as if your best friend is writing you a letter explaining where they've been, and at times you also feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. You're rooting for her and her family, and you just to fix it all for them. As someone who has a child who has struggled with many of these same issues, I absolutely knew what she meant when she described the helplessness you feel as a parent because you can only do so much. Trying to help them, and yourself at the same time is a monumental task. 

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. Caitlin Billings did an amazing job pulling all of it together, bringing us into with her, while also showing us that it's OK to get help. Actually, it's imperative to get help because nobody else can do it except us. The world around us does go on even when we're gone and taking the time we need to work on ourselves is the best thing we can do not just for ourselves, but our family and friends, too. She really hides nothing, she pulls the rug all the way back, so to speak and it's beautifully brave. 

A huge thank you to Caitlin Billings and PR by the Book for having me on this tour and sending me a copy. You can learn more about Caitlin on her website, but also on Instagram and Twitter. As always, I will always tell you to pick the book up as well. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health, this would be a great read for them. 

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