Rae Earl isn’t a doctor, but she lived it all: anxiety, phobias, eating disorder, OCD, psychosis, self-harm, time in a mental ward, and more! And what she didn’t have, like clinical depression, her mom did.
So Rae writes from a life-long experience of suffering, dealing, and finally thriving with mental illness. My focus on this series for teens is on mental fitness, not disorders, but I wanted to include the book Your Brain Needs A Hug because Rae, well, Rae is hilarious. She’s seen it, experienced it, and has a self-deprecating sense of humor that anyone, teens and adults, can learn from and admire. She also has great advice on keeping your brain in tip-top shape.
“Looking after your head is not a selfish act. It’s an act of someone who wants to survive and contribute to the world they live in.”
Although Your Brain Needs A Hug certainly highlights mental problems that can face teens, that’s only half the book. The other half is a friendly understanding of how the brain works, funny stories, and advice on dealing with your own brain and the brains of your friends and family in a healthy, happy way. Plus, there are amusing and compassionate illustrations by Jo Harrison that highlight much of what Rae is trying to impart. These illustrations are cheerful in tone but still impart important messages. Dr. Radha is also part of the pages, chiming in from time to time to explain a point in more detail- both add to the book.
The book begins with a short history of how messed up Rae was as a child and teen. Messed up because she was very ill and not being identified as needing help, and not receiving treatment for her various mental health issues until much later. She explains one of her problems was ‘catastrophizing’, or the ‘broken express elevator of bad thoughts’ that would send her into a mental spiral. In giving some serious and (often seriously funny) examples, Rae explains that she is being so honest because she’s OK now. She found ways to cope, ask for help, and give herself a break.
“For my part, let me spill my guts and fill in what some people call the “treatment gap” a bit. That’s the space between you feeling bad and you seeing a doctor…Not everything here may be relevant to you but spread it around if it’s not. If it doesn’t affect you, I can almost guarantee it affects someone you know. Mental health problems are not rare, and they don’t discriminate. Mental well-being and keeping our brains healthy, resilient, and in a good place is relevant to us ALL. You will help everyone if you spread this message on.”
Which is an important point. Even if you think your teen is perfectly healthy. They should still read Your Brain Needs A Hug and understand where their sibling or friend is coming from and hopefully be more compassionate, or encourage them to get help if needed. The advice sprinkled throughout the pages is modern and relevant to all of today’s teens.
“You look around and everyone else seems to have it sorted. People are being hilarious on Twitter and you’re not. There are sharp cheekbones and incredible eye makeup all over Instagram. Everyone is having a brilliant time and you’re lying in your bedroom waching ‘Cruel Intentions’ on Netflix AGAIN.
(This is all my experience by the way.)
It’s all nonsense of course, because the biggest secret you’ll never get told is that 99 percent of us think we’re d*cks, and everyone is struggling. Fear of missing out is not a new thing. There are probably ancient cave paintings of a Stone Age man sitting at home looking sad in front of his campfire while the rest of his friends are out clobbering mammoths.”
(edited for GeekMom)
Your Brain Needs A Hug delves into different mental health problems one by one with Rae’s personal experience and advice, always encouraging those in a similar boat to seek out professional help (like she has.) The stories are so honest and although it’s terrible that anyone had to go through what she did, she has the credibility teens will appreciate:
“Trust me. Self-harm creates more problems than it ever solves. I thought self-harm was helping me to survive, and get through all the pain and rage I had inside me. But it was a short-term fix, and short-term fixes don’t fix long-term problems. And in my case, it has created another long-term issue. Scars.”
But throughout the tough revelations, her humor lightens the mood, and the reminder that Rae survived and is doing well will keep anyone optimistic about their own (or a friend’s) journey:
“To recover from any eating disorder, you are going to need professional help. I did. And once I got it, I was able to work out what the REAL problems were. This enabled me to build my self-esteen…and to REALLY enjoy my life- regardless of my size. And my weight fluctuates. I don’t look in the mirror most days and think, ‘YOU SEXUAL GODDESS,’ but even on my worst days I do think, ‘Yeah, I’ll do. That’s fine.'”
Then Your Brain Needs A Hug covers topics that are for everyone:
“Self-esteem is basically fangirling/fanboying yourself on a constant basis without even knowing it.”
“Even with the most locked-down settings in the history of the internet, social media is your online tattoo.”
Sex and relationships:
“Sometimes the most difficult thing about a getting-the-hell-out relationship is getting the hell out.”
“There’s an old Chinese proverb- ‘When you plan your revenge, first dig two graves.’ That’s because keeping a massive grudge in your head is just not good for your mental health. Try to let it, and the person, go. Imagine waving them off at an airport, watching them go to another country. No. Don’t imagine the plane crashing. Think nice thoughts.”
Drugs and Alcohol:
“Even if you’re feeling well, your brain is too finely tuned (like a magnificent orchestral harp) to have extra chemicals to cope with.”
Her chapter on dealing with parents compares types of parents to breeds of dogs and their temperaments and how to manage them. She then goes into depth about helping someone with a mental illness, and finally, Rae even includes a list of pop songs that are good for all situations and ways to boost your mood and help through hard times. (Called Dr. Pop), plus a list of resources beyond this book for more help and awareness.
It’s obvious Rae has written this book out of deep compassion for our teen’s brains. But I encourage parents or anyone really, to check out Your Brain Needs A Hug. We could all use a little Rae in our lives:
“You deserve more…And if you’re currently telling me you don’t-you’re wrong. I’m right. Please repeat NOW sixty times, ‘I’ve just been speaking to Rae and she thinks I deserve more. She is totally correct.'”
I would also like to confess that I have said only good words about this book due to the warning on the copyright page (in tiny print after all the library codes):
“This guide is protected by universal warm vibes of brain calmness and occasional bursts of joy. Any attempt to upset this book by saying unkind words about it may result in bad tunes on the radio, showers on your picnic, and worst of all, people giving you melon as an appetizer.”
Your Brain Needs A Hug is highly recommended for 14 and up: Cursing, sex, drugs, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, it’s all in here, but presented in a non-traumatizing way. Parents read it first before passing it on to your kids.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.