Blue Monday Motivation ~ Wise Words To Live By

Grab a drink and browse through the motivational quotes below at your leisure! xox

Hi Everyone and Happy Monday!

As you may know if you’ve read some of my recent posts, 2019 was an incredibly difficult year for me. Although it gave me some of the happiest moments of my life (namely the birth of my son, Dorian), it was also an incredibly trying year, comprised of severe anxiety, some unexpected loss and frequent depression, a feeling I had never truly experienced in my life before. 

As I mentioned, I began seeing a psychiatrist in 2019 for the first time in my life, and she recommended that I try mindfulness and meditation in my daily life. I found these practices worked very well for me, and along with them, I began to accumulate motivational quotes on Instagram and Pinterest that made me feel more positive and optimistic. 

Today, on what is typically called Blue Monday, I’d like to share some of these quotes with you all. These are the words that kept me going on really hard days, and I hope they bring some light to your day too. xox

  • “You have been on a long journey from the stars. Even the courageous need to rest.” – Jeff Foster

“Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight.” – Traci Lea LaRussa

^ Story of my life in 2019 to be honest.

  • “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no trouble, noise, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” – Lady Gaga

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’” – Iain Thomas

“Just because you have a failure, it does not mean that you are a failure. So fail proudly, gently, beautifully.” – Tamara Levitt

  • “‘You sent that music into my cell. Why?’ Rhysand’s voice was hoarse. ‘Because you were breaking. And I couldn’t find another way to save you.’” – A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

“I am broken and healing, but every piece of my heart belongs to you.” – A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

  • “If I wanted to talk, he’d listen. If I didn’t want to, he would let it go. It had been our unspoken bargain from the start–to listen when the other needed, and give space when it was required.” – A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

“She is a mermaid who thrives in the eye of the storm, with the energy of lightning bolts and the strength of crashing waves; she cannot be stopped.” – J. Iron Wood

  • “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.”
  • “My darling girl, when are you going to realise that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Alice Hoffman

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The First Book Reviews of 2020… And a New Initiative!

Hello dear Readers!

My apologies for the radio silence here on the blog during the end of 2019. As you might already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, I had a baby in October 2019. That means that the end of 2019 was what people have been calling the “fourth trimester” of my pregnancy journey, and the first three months of my son’s life. I wrote recently about how chaotic and difficult these first three months were for me, but I am proud to report that I am feeling back to myself now and have settled into a remarkable and wonderful bond with my son that I truly can’t imagine my life without! 

This means that I am also feeling up to reviewing books now that my writer’s voice is coming back. I did manage to read many books during my first three months with my son, but I didn’t have the energy to review them at the time. Ironically, I was able to read 56 books in 2019 (Remember when I set my Goodreads goal to 1 book back in the beginning of 2019 because I was so afraid I wouldn’t have much time to read at all? Haha!), which I am very pleased about, but I haven’t set myself a specific goal for 2020 because, of course, having a baby is something that takes up A LOT of time! That being said, I have managed to finish some books in 2020 already…although, some of them have been children’s books that I have read to my son. This got me thinking, though, that maybe it would be a worthwhile endeavour to review some children’s books here on my blog and on Goodreads because, despite the fact that they are short and quick to get through, not all children’s books are created the same and there is a lot to be said about them. I thought perhaps parents might find it interesting to read these reviews when deciding which children’s books to spend their money on, and so I decided that it’s high time to start a new reviewing initiative here on my blog, focused completely on my thoughts (and occasionally my son’s too) on the children’s books that are now a huge part of my life. I’m going to call this new initiative JNG & Dorian Lee Review and I hope you will all enjoy it! 

Below you’ll find a few recent reviews, of both “adult” books and children’s books I’ve gotten through recently… And, as always, thank you for reading and continuing to support my humble efforts on this little space of the Internet! xox

The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. MacDonald

A lot stranger than I expected it to be…and a little bit muddled all around. But still somewhat entertaining!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Christmas on Primrose Hill by Karen Swan

Pure Karen Swan magic! This heartwarming, hilarious, sexy and sweet novel is an instant favourite! Absolutely perfect to cozy up with during the winter season!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Perfect Present by Karen Swan

This is a very different type of book for Karen Swan, but I loved it! It was full of mystery and intrigue, and although I didn’t always like Laura as a main character, by the end I grew to love her. 

My Favourite Quote:

“This was what it was to be a mother, she saw – pride and fear intermingled with something fierce and tender all at once. Something complicated, something universal, but uniquely theirs all the same.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

My First Book of Animals / Colours / Numbers by Emma Hill

This collection of introductory books for young children is really conveniently designed, but not altogether relevant. 

The physical construction of the book is quite ingenius, since the fold out style means that the books can be propped up on the floor beside your baby or even within their crib, allowing them the opportunity to look at the bright and vibrant pictures on their own and independently. These books are also a lot of fun to read with your child because they provide an opportunity to elaborate on the animals and colours (for example, “Orange is Mummy’s favourite colour!”), and to actually count out the numbers. I also decided to tell my son the words for the animals, colours and numbers in French as well as English, so there is an opportunity to incorporate second language learning into this reading experience.

That being said, I did feel that the selection of objects in these three books was not really that relatable or relevant to my child. For example, pages about “six toy soldiers” or a flower being the selection for the colour pink, rather than an object that is consistently pink such as a flamingo, seemed a bit random and made me think that my son will not necessarily grasp a full concept of colours or numbers from these books. I prefer some of the books I’ve seen that focus on objects that children see in their every day environments as they are easier to refer to and seem to teach more relevant information.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel

This children’s book is really funny and cute! I found it to be a lot of fun to read with my son because it is short, with a simple concept. The text/font is also extremely large, and I feel that older children around the ages of 1 to 2 years will be able to follow along with the story very easily. The colours are also vibrant but not overwhelming, as Kimmel chooses to mainly use whites, blacks and oranges and avoids bombarding the reader with too many colours.

My one critique is that I don’t think this book is interesting enough to become a classic. It’s sweet and adorable, but nothing overly special, so I don’t think it will go down as a memorable story in my household.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG (& Dorian Lee)

Girl (& Baby) with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk ~ Struggling Through the Fourth Trimester

Let’s talk about how hard the “fourth trimester” really is.

I have to start out by apologizing for the fact that I haven’t done any writing on this blog for around the last three months. As you probably know if you’re a regular reader (thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my green heart!), my baby boy, Dorian Lee, was born on October 1st, 2019. The circumstances surrounding his birth weren’t exactly favourable or easy, and it most likely won’t come as any surprise when I say that my first three months as a mother were incredibly difficult. Perhaps this was to be expected, given my ongoing struggle with intense anxiety throughout my pregnancy (and indeed, throughout my life), but I hadn’t quite prepared myself for just how hard it would be in those initial weeks and months. 

My difficulties, surprisingly, had nothing at all to do with my newfound identity of mother. I did experience a few moments of insecurity, most definitely, but I was overcome by this profound love for my son that eclipsed most other feelings. At this moment in time, I can confidently say that being a mother is the most incredible role I have ever possessed, and I cannot even fathom how I could’ve considered myself happy before Dorian was born. I love him like I have loved nothing else in my life and I am so very proud to be his mother. I think this is a role I will have no problem defining myself by as long as I live.

My struggles mainly presented themselves in the days after my C-section, when I experienced some serious complications. My psychiatrist and I both believe my weakened mental state resulted from side effects caused by the number of medications I was put on during my C-section (far more than is customary during that sort of procedure). Without going into too much detail, because I admit, it makes me nervous just thinking about those first days, I had to be rushed to the hospital by my husband and parents on two separate occasions, and I honestly did not believe I would come out of things in one piece. I have never felt so terrible, both physically and mentally, and I had no idea what to do. I just couldn’t find the strength to get through what I was feeling, and I felt lost, desperate and dejected. All I could think about was giving up, even though I had this amazing family all around me. I was not myself in the slightest and I felt like I was in a black hole that I would never climb out of.

Despite the fact that I felt this intense and all-encompassing love for my son, I couldn’t see far enough past the darkness to know how to take care of him. These feelings only lasted for around a week, but I had to rely heavily on my husband and family to look after Dorian while I put myself back together. I didn’t feel strong or proud whatsoever, and it still hurts to look back on that time…but now, at least, I have enough distance from the events to know that I was strong enough to ask for help and to dig myself out of a very hard spot. I hope that, in time, I can properly reflect on those days and feel more proud of how I handled myself and less saddened by them.

It is still hard for me to look at this photo of me and Dorian during my darkest times.

The main thing that I discovered during this time is that I needed extra help…I needed to lean on my family, but I also needed support from my psychiatrist as well as medication to get my post-partum anxiety under control. Deciding to take medication meant that I also had to make the difficult choice to stop breastfeeding, and although my son is thriving and loving life now, it was so hard on me to make that decision. I know that everyone says “fed is best” and that is undeniably true (my son’s pediatrician has no concerns whatsoever about me formula feeding), but it still felt like a huge failure on my part. I really had to struggle hard to come to terms with the fact that my mental health is crucial to my ability to take care of my son, and what he needs is a healthy mother, moreso than a specific type of food. There was so much guilt associated with this decision, but again, I am coming out the other side with a much more optimistic attitude.

A very happy first Christmas!

I am pleased to say that now, over three months post-partum, I am feeling so great! I am settled in my home with my beautiful baby, and I am happier than I have ever been. But, this doesn’t mean that my anxiety doesn’t come racing in at certain times. This doesn’t mean that every day is easy breezy. It just means that, I know how much darker things can be and I am trying my hardest, every single day, to see the bright side. My initial experience of motherhood wasn’t rosy, and I would absolutely say 2019 was the hardest year of my life…but when I look into Dorian’s eyes now, after scraping through that darkness, I have never felt more light in my heart.

“The truest love that ever heart / Felt at its kindled core…”

All this to say, if you are a new mother and are struggling, just know, you are not alone and it is never too late to ask for help! You are a courageous, fierce woman for even having a child, so believe in yourself and rely on those around you as much as you need! You’ve got this, Mama! xox

Janille N G

Mummy with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk: The Woman’s Guilt, Part #1

Let’s talk about how it feels to not have undergone hours of intense labour.

If you’ve had a chance to keep up with my blog in the last few days, you’ll know that I recently gave birth to my baby boy, Dorian Lee. Well, here’s the thing…can I really say that I gave birth to him considering that he was born via emergency C-section?

This is something I’m struggling with at the moment and is the subject of today’s post. As I mentioned in my birth story, my experience of bringing Dorian into the world was not at all what I expected and did not go to plan (even though I didn’t even have a concrete birth plan to begin with). I had to consent very quickly to a C-section because my baby’s heart rate was dangerously low. Now, to be honest, I had always joked that I wanted to have a C-section because it would be easier than having to push an entire human out of my unmentionables. But, let’s be real, a C-section is major surgery and isn’t advisable if not completely necessary, and that’s what all of my friends and family kept reminding me. In the end, though, I had no choice but to have a C-section and it wasn’t a particularly easy one at that. 

Even though I am currently still recovering and feel bruised and battered in a lot of places, I do have quite a bit of guilt with regards to my birth experience. When my husband and I were leaving the hospital after my 2 day recovery, we actually ran into a man that we had one of our prenatal classes with. He was holding his adorable newborn and immediately asked me how my labour was. I explained to him that I had an emergency C-section, which he seemed really shocked by, but then he told me that his wife went through a 29 hour labour and my heart fell in my chest. How can I say anything to that when I was merely wheeled into an operating room and got to come out an hour later with a beautiful baby boy, no conscious effort on my part required? I felt embarrassed that I didn’t actually have to do anything physical or challenging to receive this incredible reward, and I almost felt that I somehow shirked my womanly duty or something like that. I didn’t have to push for hours, and that honestly makes it feel even more surreal to me that this sweet boy I’m holding in my arms is mine because it’s almost as if he appeared out of nowhere. 

I know, from speaking with my friends and family and especially my mother, that these feelings are totally unfounded. I had to make an incredibly difficult decision when consenting to my emergency C-section, and I had to fully surrender to my team of doctors and nurses at a moment that was overwhelmingly frightening and confusing. I truly feared for my baby’s health and safety, and for my own as well, and that is no small thing. So why do I feel like this isn’t as valid a birth experience as pushing for 29 hours would have been? Why do I feel that earning my motherhood badge requires going through a very specific type of birth? As I type these questions, I know how crazy it is to think this way and I know that, no matter how it happened, the most important thing is that my baby entered this world healthy and secure. I think that society plants in our head all these notions about what pregnancy and motherhood have to look like and how it should all happen, and that is seriously detrimental and can mess a woman up in ways that are profound and unfortunate. I for one think we need to do away with all expectations surrounding pregnancy, birth and labour, and motherhood, and remember that each person’s individual experience is valid in its own right and as long as it works for mother, child and family, it is absolutely perfect.

So, I’m throwing out my preconceived notions about what labour should be like and continuing to remember that I made a baby, he was with me for 9 months and I cared for him like no one else on this planet ever will, and he is here now for me to love, nurture and adore, regardless of how he got here!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk: My Birth Story: An Unexpected Emergency C-Section

“Even the best laid birth plans can go sideways.” ~ me, a few months ago

Let’s talk about how it feels when your birth story goes completely off the rails.

Remember when I wrote a few Real Pregnancy Talks ago about how even the most thorough and realistic birth plans can sometimes go awry? Welcome to my life!

Let’s begin with an exciting announcement… My son, Dorian Lee, has finally entered the world!!! On Tuesday October 1st, 2019 at 11:58am, he burst onto the scene with hardly any warning, weighing 6lbs 9oz. I was 3 days over 40 weeks at that point, so his arrival was definitely something my husband and I, as well as our family and friends, were very eager for. That being said, when labour got underway, everything happened sooo quickly and my head is still spinning from it all.

On the night of Monday September 30th, after walking all day with my husband on a 10k journey, I started to experience really terrible cramps in my lower back. I had been having some bleeding for a few days prior to this, but after a trip to the hospital’s obstetrical ER, I was told that this was totally normal and simply my body preparing for labour. I was, naturally, on edge about this though, and so when I started having more intense cramps on Monday night, I started to feel like I was moving into more active labour. By early Tuesday morning, after no sleep at all, my husband and I noticed that my cramps, or rather what we now realized were contractions, were lasting about 1 minute and were happening every 3 to 5 minutes. We decided to head straight to the hospital to not risk being too late.

When we got to the hospital and were admitted to triage, they started to monitor my contractions and examined me. I was only dilated to 3cm, and so not very close to the “pushing stage” of labour at all, but they began to see that my baby’s heart rate was dropping slightly every time I had a contraction. The doctors decided to admit me to the birthing unit so that they could continue to monitor the baby and hopefully move me closer to real labour. As I waddled over to my birthing suite, I started to feel a bit more anxious, but overall I just felt excitement that we were finally going to be meeting our son.

When we got into our birthing suite, we were told by our nurse that it would be a good time to consider an epidural. I was all for having one anyway, but the nurse explained that time was of the essence because if my baby’s heart rate continued to drop, I may need to consider a C-section and if I didn’t have an epidural done straight away, I would have no choice but to be put under general anesthetic if a C-section should need to happen. I of course wanted to avoid that, and I really was becoming fatigued by the pain of the frequent contractions, so I decided to have the epidural. Unfortunately, there was a bit of an issue getting the epidural to work properly and I had two separate doctors try to administer it, which was uncomfortable as I was still working through the seemingly non-stop contractions. My husband even fainted when they were trying to get the needle in…his first time ever fainting in his life, probably because of the insane amount of stress we were under and watching me undergo a tricky procedure multiple times until it worked. It eventually did work, though, and I felt blissfully calm and at ease as I settled back into my bed and realized that, yes, I was still having intense contractions but I couldn’t feel a single thing. This was the most peaceful part of my labour, when I felt the most confident and excited, and it’s also when my husband called our parents to tell them to come to the hospital. I was still only dilated to 3cm so we knew (or, I should say, we thought) we still had hours left of waiting for our baby boy.

Our parents arrived and came into the birthing suite to say Hello to us, and my mom stayed with my husband and I because I always knew I wanted her in the room to provide me with extra love and support. It was at this point that things started to happen really rapidly and the whirlwind began. The doctors were still noticing that my baby’s heart rate kept dipping whenever I had a contraction, so they thought it best to move labour along a bit faster if possible. They started to give me oxytocin to increase the frequency of the contractions and help me to dilate faster, and they quickly saw that I was dilated to 6cm within an hour of being on oxytocin. However, the doctors and nurses became very alarmed when they noticed that my baby’s heart rate was dipping even lower with each more intense contraction, and I remember my main nurse rushing into the room and saying that she was very unhappy with my baby’s heart rate and thought we should stop the oxytocin to give him a break. A resident doctor agreed with her, and so they stopped administering the oxytocin, but they also mentioned to me that I should consider giving consent for a C-section because they were that worried about what was happening to my baby. 

It was at that moment that I had no choice but to fully surrender to the doctors and nurses. This was something I had no problem doing because I have always had complete confidence in my team and the hospital. My husband and I chose early on to go to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for our care because we believe it is one of the best hospitals in Canada, if not the world, and so I told the nurse and doctor that I had no birth plan whatsoever other than to follow their advice completely and let them do whatever they felt was appropriate and needed to be done to keep me and, especially, my baby safe. After telling them this, I was given the forms to sign to consent to a C-section and was told that they would continue to monitor the baby’s heart rate but that at least they were ready to perform a C-section if necessary. I settled back into my bed and got ready to wait and see what would happen next. Somehow, the uncertainty didn’t phase me at this point as I had decided to place my trust in the doctors and nurses and let them guide me through the experience.

But then, what I thought for 9 months was going to be a relatively average birth became an emergency. Not 5 minutes after I signed the consent forms for the C-section, about 4 doctors and nurses ran into my birthing suite frantically. I was so confused because I had just been told that we would be monitoring my baby for a little while yet, but apparently his heart rate had dropped so low that they were extremely concerned. I was told that I was going to be taken for an emergency C-section immediately. Although I had maintained my composure up until this moment, I instantly started to cry. I honestly believed that my baby was going to die. I can’t explain why I felt this way, but I just had this ominous foreboding come over me, and I burst into tears, asking the nurse if there was a risk that my baby was already dead. She assured me that everything was and would be fine, but I couldn’t control my fears and I continued crying as they wheeled me into the operating room. My husband trailed behind with one of the sweetest and kindest nurses we had met who helped him get prepared to enter the OR himself. This meant that I was brought into the OR alone, and my nerves started to overwhelm me as the team lifted me onto the operating table. 

Everything was a frenzy in that operating room. I had never had surgery before this (other than having my wisdom teeth removed, which I consider pretty standard) and so I had no idea what to expect, but I definitely thought it wasn’t normal that at least 10 doctors and nurses were running around, rushing to get me prepped and saying things like, “We need to get this baby out now!” I kept asking the anesthesiologist to assure me that I wouldn’t feel anything because I was still weirded out by the epidural not working the first time around, and he administered a few different types of medications, as well as laughing gas, to ensure that I was completely calm. This meant that I was delirious and loopy, though, which only made me more aware of the frantic preparation around me and convinced me further that my baby was in serious danger. I have never been so scared in my entire life, and I remember fighting with everything in me to stay awake, not faint, and maintain control of my sense of self so that I could vigilantly watch out for my baby. After another 30 to 45 minutes of surgery, which involved hearing minute details of the doctors putting my organs back in place and stitching me up, I was free to move to the recovery room and finally hold my baby.

There is nothing better on this Earth than holding the adorable Dorian Lee in my arms, and although my birth experience was not at all what I expected it would be, it is so very true that having your baby with you at the end makes everything worthwhile. I would undergo a hundred more surgeries to have Dorian Lee beside me, and at the end of the day, I know I made the only decision I could to keep Dorian safe and sound. That’s all I need to think about to remind myself that, C-section or natural birth, all that matters is that my baby boy is healthy and here with me. I guess this all just goes to show that, particularly when it comes to children, you can’t always plan ahead or obsessively control every aspect of life…you often need to just go with the flow and let life’s little miracles run their course to beautiful fruition. And, I think we can all agree that Mr. Dorian Lee is pretty beautiful, isn’t he? 😍😍😍

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

The Book I Have Avoided for Years ~ #JNGReads Wide Sargasso Sea

This year has been an incredibly challenging one for me, what with being pregnant since the first week of 2019. This particular time is especially challenging, as I am over 39 weeks pregnant and anxiously await my baby’s imminent arrival. 

So, what would compel me as a fierce lover of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë (I even have a Currer Bell tattoo!) to read what would naturally be a very difficult novel like Wide Sargasso Sea right before going into labour? I have no idea. Maybe I felt it was the last big hurdle I needed to overcome before the peaks and valleys of motherhood…a test of strength and will, perhaps? It’s also short, so I was definitely hoping I’d finish it before my baby arrived (spoiler alert: I did…he’s still not here). I can’t give any other explanations than those. 

A bit of backstory, though… I once had a vehement fight with a fellow student about this novel when I was in fourth year university. He started to go on and on (before a totally unrelated class, might I add) about how disgusting Edward Rochester is for locking Bertha in his attic because she isn’t even actually mad. I asked him what evidence he had for this because, while Brontë’s portrayal and Rochester’s treatment of Bertha is problematic in some ways (I’m mature enough to accept that), there’s still nothing in the text that says Bertha doesn’t have the issues Rochester claims she does. Well, this colleague of mine said that wasn’t what it portrayed about her in Wide Sargasso Sea…and then I went into a whole rant about how one author’s interpretation of another author’s text cannot be taken as an authority over it and said I didn’t give two figs what Jean Rhys said about Rochester or Bertha (my colleague was quick to retort, “Her name is Antoinette!”) because she wasn’t Charlotte Brontë. I told him I would never read this glorified piece of fan fiction and, admittedly, our friendship was rocky after that. 

Now here we are more than 5 years later… And I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about? This is the novel that has spawned tons of literary criticism? This is the prolific tale of Antoinette Cosway Mason that is so lauded in academic institutions everywhere?

I’m undoubtedly biased, I own that fact, but this story was just not all that impressive to me. I didn’t feel any connection to Antoinette or her voice whatsoever and I also felt indifferent toward Rochester’s narration. The story didn’t drum up any sympathy in me and I don’t feel like I learned anything from it or as though it enlightened my understanding of Jane Eyre at all. There simply wasn’t enough meat to it, and I have to say that I expected much more…I expected to be violently moved by it, either in a good or bad way, but instead I felt indifference. I expected to rant about it to my husband, to feel angry and enraged by it…or I expected to be changed by it and to feel this desire to go back to the original text and revisit things. Instead, I closed the back cover and shrugged my shoulders, thinking, “So what?” There was one moment, cited below, that made me reflect briefly on Rochester’s treatment of Bertha in Jane Eyre, but it was too short and easily skimmed over, to me, to warrant an entire novel and years of academic study. I found myself wondering why I resisted reading something, for so long, that would prove to have so little impact on me. 

“‘Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?’

‘Because I wished it. Isn’t that enough?’

‘Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn’t wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn’t looking…’” 

I find myself thinking that Rhys’ other works must be better than this. Again, I’m sure I’m biased, but I feel that maybe academics have latched onto this story to try to understand a mysterious, shrouded character without realizing that there isn’t that much insight offered in these very few pages. 

Anyway, I finally read Wide Sargasso Sea so go me! I only wish I knew why it mattered so much that I did. 

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk: The Waiting Game

“I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting.”

~ The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

Could this be the last photo of me as a pregnant woman? When will my baby decide to join us?

I am nearing the end of my journey. I am just over 37 weeks pregnant. This means that the baby in my belly, who has lived there for what feels like forever but has really only been a short piece of the grand scheme of my life, could arrive at any time. It is perfectly safe at this point if that happens, and while I am excited for him to finally be out here with my husband and me, I am also terrified of this moment. When I lie in bed at night, sleep drifting slowly in, I feel my chest clench and my heart race, imagining him lying in his little bassinet beside our bed. Everything is about to change.

So, I am waiting, for this boy that I have never met but who is going to be the most important person in my life. I am constantly assessing every symptom I feel, on red alert for any traces of contractions, any weird sensations that could mark his impending arrival. But, at the same time, I have no idea when he will choose to actually join us. Will it be tomorrow? A week from now? Will he wait until even after his due date? No one can tell me, not even my incredibly qualified doctor. And so, I wait.

I waited a very long time to meet my husband – 22 years to be exact. I had no serious relationship before him, and I very acutely felt before meeting him that I was waiting to find that special someone, that no one before him was quite right. Even that experience, though, feels comparatively insignificant as I sit here waiting to meet my son. This is a child that my husband and I created together, that is completely made up of parts of us, and it is surreal and scary and fascinating to think that, when he does come into the world, it will be entirely because of us. We are responsible for him in so many ways and will be for the rest of our lives.

Is this our final photo as a twosome? We wait, not so patiently, for our son to make his appearance…

I am not a patient person. I think most people who know me would in fact describe me as very impatient. In this case, however, I have no choice but to practice patience and let my son do what he needs to, in his own time. I, personally, pride myself in never being late for anything, so I am hoping he takes after me in this sense and will join us at least by his due date. But again, what influence do I have over this? None whatsoever. So, like one of my favourite characters and a great example of beautiful motherhood, Clare Abshire, I will do the only thing that I can…sit here…waiting.

“Without you I’m workin’ with the rain fallin’ down

Half a party in a one dog town

I need you to chase the blues away

I’m waitin’, waitin’ on a sunny day

Gonna chase the clouds away

Waitin’ on a sunny day”

~ “Waiting on a Sunny Day” by Bruce Springsteen

Janille N G

Girl with a Green (and Very Impatient!) Heart

Understanding the Science of Stress ~ #JNGReads ~ A New Non-Fiction Favourite

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – Paradise Lost, John Milton

I have always loved this quote from Paradise Lost. I have it written down in several notebooks, typed out on a sticky note on my laptop that I frequently scroll over, and even had it framed on the wall of my room when I lived with my parents. From the time I first read it, back in second year university, it became a sort of mantra for me, providing me with comfort and reassurance that even if times seemed particularly bad and I felt incredibly stressed, my mind was strong enough to control those feelings and to get me through whatever stressors I encountered.

But, what I have learned in the last year is that (sometimes…often) the mind isn’t enough. Robert M. Sapolsky has a similar quote in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: “To a certain extent, our perceptions and interpretations of events can determine whether the same external circumstances constitute heaven or hell…” The crux of Sapolsky’s text, though, is that the mind isn’t always strong enough to overcome external circumstances and put them in perspective and, what’s more, sometimes the mind isn’t even capable of doing this sort of heavy lifting if there is a disorder or disease (such as depression or anxiety) that prevents it from doing so. To believe that the mind can persevere in all instances and actually change one’s perspective on reality 100% of the time is foolhardy and naive, and probably was incredibly detrimental to me back in university and had adverse effects on how I would learn to cope with stress as an adult. The point being that understanding stress and the science behind it is no simple task and certainly can’t be reduced to the belief that the mind, if persistent enough, can get a person through anything.

I don’t often read non-fiction books. In fact, I rarely read them, if ever. However, it seems that this year I have done a lot of reading of non-fiction and the main reason for this is that I have felt empowered and motivated recently to finally try to understand my anxiety. When it became evident, towards the end of my first trimester of pregnancy back this past March, that my anxiety was going to be made much more severe by my pregnant condition, I knew (partly because my doctors were telling me) that something had to give and that I needed to get a better handle on my anxious condition once and for all. Not only for my baby’s health, but also for my present and future well-being and overall happiness. Part of this process has involved seeing a psychiatrist and learning about meditation and mindfulness techniques. Part of it has been about exercising as often as possible and forcing myself to go out and interact with my friends and family members even when I don’t feel up for it. But, I have always been an avid learner, a true student at heart from the moment I entered my grade one classroom, and so I felt that I wanted to supplement my doctor’s appointments and daily activities with reading material that would allow me to come to grips with feelings I have had for my entire life. I never have put in the effort to truly understand my anxiety in this way, and I immediately picked up the self-help book Let That Sh*t Go by Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal hoping that it would be a quick and easy read that would at least help me feel a little bit better. It certainly did and it was good, but it wasn’t anything truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering and it didn’t by any means fundamentally change my perspective on anxiety. I next delved into a book recommended by my psychiatrist, Mind Over Mood, and this was of course a huge eye-opener to me in that it taught me the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy and worked wonders to help me reframe my insecurities and fears and better manage my heightened emotions. What I felt these two books lacked, though, was an explanation of what was going on in my brain, of the chemical, biological and physical mechanisms that were clearly contributing to my anxious state and probably had been since my birth. It was a desire to get to the bottom of these internal processes that led me to pick up Sapolsky’s book.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is easily one of the best books I have ever read, of any genre or category. (That’s right, I’m putting it right up there with Jane Eyre although it is, naturally, a very different text!) I was utterly blown away by Sapolsky’s work, and as someone who has never studied psychology and who only studied science up until the end of high school, I was thoroughly impressed by how accessible and relatable he made the scientific explanations in this book. This type of text could easily become overwhelming, but Sapolsky is very careful to keep things manageable for his reader, and he even infuses dry humour, jokes and wit into the text (especially in his often unexpectedly hilarious footnotes, which are a must-read in themselves). He of course uses terminology like “glucocorticoids” and names of “catecholamines” like “epinephrine” and “norepinephrine” often, but he uses them so frequently and explains them so thoroughly that the reader gets the sense, by the end of the book, that these concepts aren’t all that incomprehensible. 

I also made a conscious effort to take my time while reading this book, not because it felt dense at all, but because it did feel heavy. I admit, it was an emotional read for me because I could so easily and fundamentally relate to the findings that Sapolsky examined; I became one of the test subjects he discussed because I recognized how my experiences fit into the results and conclusions. On the one hand, it was nice to know that there is a scientific explanation for why I feel a certain way, but it was also jarring and terrifying to be confronted with so much evidence and research to explain something that I have kind of taken for granted for my entire life. It made my anxiety feel that much more real and that much more difficult to ignore.

Chapter 15, thus, became an incredibly meaningful chapter for me as it investigated anxiety disorders and the personality types that lend themselves to these sorts of disorders. Needless to say, I checked pretty much every box, and that was, as I mentioned, both liberating and scary. There was this sense, as I read, that Sapolsky just understood ME, on a fundamental level, and again, while it was nice to know that I am not alone in any of my feelings, it was also emotional. It made me even more moved when Sapolsky began to call anxiety a “disease” and distinguished it from chronic stress as being rooted in “a cognitive distortion”. Sapolsky posits that, whereas chronic stress is normally a response to an actually perceived external stressor (whether physiological or psychological), anxiety can arise due to stressors that are entirely imagined. This is definitely in-line with my own personal experiences, and while I appreciated the understanding Sapolsky’s description provided to me, no one ever wants to hear that they suffer from a disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow, and I found myself realizing that I even exhibited anxious tendencies and behaviours as a young child (such as obsessive thinking and phobias) and becoming a bit saddened and melancholy about this. With my increased knowledge certainly came a better understanding of myself, but this wasn’t always a pleasant experience to be sure.

What I did gain, most definitely, was a better comprehension of the biology of anxiety and a greater appreciation of the fact that it is a physical, scientific condition rooted in the brain. I’ve always known deep down that my anxiety is not something I have very much (if any) control over, but it is easy to believe, when something is a mental struggle, that if you can just be stronger, you can get past it. That is, after all, what Milton suggests and that quote from Paradise Lost is still one of my favourites. What is important to remember, however, is that mental illnesses are in fact just as physical as clearly physical ones, and although I always had an inkling of that, Sapolsky’s book solidified it for me. It made it clear to me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, that I might not be able to conquer this all on my own, and that is okay. It made me realize that, just as I would seek help for a broken leg, there is nothing at all embarrassing or shameful about seeking help for a troubled mind. On the contrary, it is actually quite important and necessary.

I’d like to close my review with a few quotes that particularly spoke to me from Sapolsky’s text. I will never be able to explain myself the concepts he espouses (he is a scientist, after all, and I don’t claim to be), but hopefully these quotes will give you a sense for how he writes and what value can be derived from picking up this book. It is one that has undoubtedly changed my life in so many ways and I would not hesitate to recommend it to those who wish to get to the root of what their brains might be undergoing on a daily basis.

Quotes That Particularly Resonated with Me:

“Anxiety is about dread and foreboding and your imagination running away with you.”

“the distorted belief that stressors are everywhere and perpetual, and that the only hope for safety is constant mobilization of coping responses. Life consists of the concrete, agitated present of solving a problem that someone else might not even consider exists.”

“most things that make us anxious are learned…we’ve generalized them based on their similarity to something associated with a trauma.”

“For all anxious people, life is full of menacing stressors that demand vigilant coping responses.”

***********

“Find ways to view even the most stressful of situations as holding the promise of improvement but do not deny the possibility that things will not improve…Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the worst.”

“Find that outlet for your frustrations and do it regularly.”

“Have the wisdom to pick your battles. And once you have, the flexibility and resiliency of strategies to use in those battles…”

“Sometimes, coping with stress consists of blowing down walls. But sometimes it consists of being a blade of grass, buffeted and bent by the wind but still standing when the wind is long gone.”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

How to Dress Like High Lord of the Night Court ~ SS Sponsored Post

Hello dear Readers and welcome to another post sponsored by my husband, SS! As you may already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, my husband recently decided to read the A Court of Thorns and Roses … Continue reading