Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Book Review: The Valedictorian of Being Dead

I was recommended this one by a friend and I had to get it because it's basically about an unconventional course of treatment to help with major depression. As someone who really struggles with depression and anxiety, but also suicidal ideation, I'm really interested in ways to fix that because the thought of feeling like this forever is completely unbearable.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead - Heather B. Armstrong
Armstrong shares her story of living with debilitating depression and the radical treatment she underwent to cure it. For years she controlled her depression with a mixture of prescriptions, but when their effects start fading, Armstrong experiences an 18-month period of deep depression fueled by suicidal thoughts. Scared of what will become of her and the possibility of losing custody of her daughters, Armstrong opts for a month-long experimental treatment. One of only 3 people participating, she receives 10 doctor-administered treatments, each of which induces a coma that leaves her brain-dead for a short period of time. 

I don't know if my review is going to be as helpful for you because I'm deep into depression myself so I think I'm looking at this book in a different lens than a person who isn't depressed, or at least who hasn't experienced depression like this.

I will tell you that her writing is rhythmic and I found myself pouring through the pages easily because it really felt like I was listening to someone tell me a story versus a robotic memoir without personality. This has personality. Interestingly, I didn't find Heather to be likable. It's funny how even when I'm down I still pull it together but I feel like I'm dragging across the finish line. I didn't get that sense from her and that's where it comes in that I think I'm seeing things in a different lens. My other quip is that I don't feel like we got the whole story, like we maybe only got bits and pieces. It feels like big things happened before she got to this point and if we knew what those were we could see her depression like she does. It feels like there is an assumption that we know who she is at the start of this and I didn't, I didn't know she had a blog and I am still not real sure what she does for a living. We know her dad wasn't awesome, but her mom and step-dad are supportive and helpful, but it feels like a weird dynamic we never know about but seems like maybe we should know something about it. Aside from that she is funny, you can relate to her comparisons and she does a good job at comparing facets of her depression to common things we're all familiar with so you can kind of understand what it's like.

The procedure itself seems absolutely awful and I knew after her second or third session that this is not something I would ever consider. The risks seem incredibly high for a maybe result. Oh! Biggest eye roll of the book is her constant reference to the size of the needle for her IV. Good grief. I get blood drawn a LOT and I have IV's a LOT and I need a special team from the hospital to do my IV's because my veins are just the worst now and the needle she had is not harrowing. It's a needle. We've all had it, calm down.

The ending of the book leaves you feeling hopeful, and it's interesting to look at it as a whole once it's done. Forget all of the fluff and filler, but all of the procedures she had and the entire path to get there, and it's really interesting what people are willing to do in order to not feel depressed anymore. I think it's an interesting read particularly if you're someone who isn't depressed but you know someone who is. We all do and we all have at least one person we're annoyed with when they always flake out on plans or always looking like a mess, and we wonder what their problem is. A book like this might give you a different perspective on what life might be like for them.


Anonymous said...

I really want to read this book soon. I followed Heather when she first started blogging, back before blogging was a thing, and her story is an interesting one. She is definitely an acquired taste. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Lauren said...

I've now heard of this book and her story, a bit, but I had no idea who she was before. I think it would be a different reading experience if you're depressed yourself or not. I'm sure I'd find some things to relate to, but this is definitely not a means of feeling better that I'd ever want to try! haha