This book was sent to me by Two Roads in exchange for my honest opinion.
10.01.2019 / Two Roads (Hodder) / Non Fiction / Paperback / 304pp / 978-1473659711
Target Audience: Readers who want to understand mental health issues better. Whether it be their own, someone they know or just in general. Personal approach to NF.
About How to Survive the End of the World (When it’s in Your Own Head)
There are plenty of books out there on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, all-out nuclear war, or Armageddon. But what happens when it feels like the world is ending every single time you wake up? That’s what having anxiety is like – and How to Survive the End of the World is here to help you through the day, remind you that you’re not alone, and learn to laugh in anxiety’s face.
From helping readers identify the enemy, to safeguarding the vulnerable areas of their lives, Aaron Gillies will examine the impact of anxiety, and give readers some tools to fight back – whether with medication, therapy, CBT, coping techniques, or simply with a dark sense of humour.
‘Anxiety is a completely individualistic disorder: my experience will be different from yours, and yours will be different from the next person’s, and so on. But even if we are all fighting our own unique battles, we can fight them together. We can normalise a condition that is still seen by many as a weakness, or a character flaw. Through conversation and education we can help ourselves and others, because we are, quite frankly, fucking brilliant’ Aaron Gillies p4
Aaron Gillies’ How To Survive The End Of The World is a stigma-busting journal of dealing with mental health issues from inside the heart of the storm. Highlighting the complex idiosyncrasies of anxiety and depression through self-deprecating humour and raw emotional experience. This is not a self-help book, actively avoiding cliche textbook definitions and being more visceral in nature, this is a survival guide for those who need it and also an opportunity for people to understand anxiety better by walking in someone else’s shoes. Anxiety is a life-long condition that is not cured overnight, living with it is hard and AG is hoping that sharing his own turmoil may help those who are treading the same water.
‘Anxiety is erratic, unpredictable and fucking annoying, but the worst thing you can do is pretend that this isn’t happening’ Aaron Gillies p48
Aaron Gillies was diagnosed with severe depression and shortly after that, severe anxiety. Suffering panic attacks, crippling self doubt, evasive behaviour and worse, Aaron lives with his anxiety every second of every day. Getting to a place where he can talk about it without extreme discomfort was an endless series of trials and tribulations. Finding a safe haven of support online, Aaron began to write a blog about his experiences. He has since become a compelling source of insight into living with anxiety and when he isn’t incessantly mocking himself, he shares his wealth of experience. How To Survive is the fruit of his anxious labours and what a reading experience it is.
‘In a perfect world you would be allowed to turn up to work in your pyjamas, bring your duvet with you, and to watch Netflix while occasionally emerging from your blanket cocoon to steal biscuits. This has two drawbacks. First, an office full of people in blanket cocoons is a fire hazard and second, the tube is already packed enough without the added inconvenience of hundreds of duvet people. Things would be greatly improved by being able to wear a duvet in social situations: weddings, all sports ever, going to the cinema, going to the pub, job interviews, partaking in sandwiches, literally everything.’ Aaron Gillies p64
Aaron has that charming mix of hilarious self awareness and meaningful moments of clarity that help the reader connect with the subject of anxiety and the abundant flaws of the human brain. It is a very clever piece of writing with plenty of analogies, metaphors, analysis and turning of phrases (of various qualities and tones) to cut through the difficult subject matter. The writing is mainly Aaron’s stream of consciousness but folded in with arguments with his anxious brain, riffing with writing styles and various interviews. AG’s writing is approachable, relatable to many and has great momentum to go with a courageous reason for writing in the first place. AG doesn’t like people but he understands them from actively fearing them for so long, is slightly overwhelming being in his head but the copious amounts of deflective humour keeps it from getting too heavy.
When I wasn’t crying with laughter (actual tears!), I was moved and wanted to learn more. Discussing his personal knowledge and experiences of anxiety as well as addressing current psychological, physiological and sociological research about mental health and discussing it with other sufferers and professionals. (It was great to see Dean Burnett!). Each mental illness is unique and AG stresses the importance of using the internet safely and seeking the right doctor (it can take a few attempts) to help you. Aaron copes with his own anxiety by taking the piss out of it, a way to control his interpretation of it and its hold over him. Very much an ‘if you don’t laugh you will cry’ state of affairs.
Aaron is funny! Really funny! Bold, crass, satirical and ‘weirdly abstract’ whilst also being informative. I couldn’t get enough, I could easily quote this book all day. But Aaron hasn’t just documented his apocalyptic mind to get things of his chest, he has written How to Survive for those who need help. Those people with mental health problems that still don’t realise they are not alone. That there are communities filled with people similar to Aaron who want to help. Medical professionals who can assist and guide those who haven’t got a diagnosis, or any idea, about anxiety or depression. Numbers to call with people who don’t judge, or complicate matters, at the end of the line.
‘If only people knew that help is out there, just on the other side of this black fog. This alienation can be unspeakably damaging, so it is our duty as human beings to help each other. No blame, no hurt, no responsibility should be felt by a single person. That is not what this is about and if you have been affected, please know you should never feel that way. I mean, we can now order socks to our houses from our phone, so the least we can do is talk to one another’ Aaron Gillies p132
Putting aside Aaron’s consistent humour (though it is a great part), How To Survive is filled with fantastic insights and advice about how to figure out what you might be dealing with, who can help and how to get through it day by day. Advice ranging from getting out of your duvet fort to how to deal with being in public and even maintaining friendships or a job when you’d rather hide away forever. More importantly, how to avoid triggering panic attacks, or at least lessen them, by being more forward thinking and less present. AG isn’t trying to be patronising or obvious (he apologises profusely in that regard), he is talking directly to those who need it, talking to those who live with anxiety, directly or indirectly. Even if you don’t have any experience with anxiety, reading How To survive is a great source of knowledge to improve your understanding of mental health.
I don’t really talk about my own mental health very often because it is an area of my life that is best left in the background but anxiety was a big part of my life growing up. Getting married and having children definitely helped me because my life is so busy I don’t have the time to worry about myself anymore but I still chew my fingers and mouth to pieces all the time, a habit of a life time. How To Survive was a breath of fresh air for me, being able to take out my anxiety out of its box for a while and look at it in a different light. Mental illness is still dismissed and misunderstood by society, or even worn as a badge of honour among people who should know better, even in 2018. AG wants to humanise the disorder so those who ignore or mistreat it and those who suffer from a condition have a window into what the people who are really struggling are truly going through.
And that is the spirit of this book, considering your own limitations as much as other people’s, giving yourself a break and finding new ways to approach life. Just with a ton of profanity, crude jokes, astute observations and pokes at our culture thrown in for good measure. If you enjoy your NF with plenty of heart and a hell of a bite then How To Survive is definitely for you. More than anything, AG wants to take his duvet to work… but he would definitely settle for getting rid of the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding anxiety. Normalising a condition that effects 1 in 4 people either now or in the future. How To Survive is a huge step in that direction. A must read for anyone who wants a better understanding of mental health. I can safely say there isn’t a book currently out that is anything close to How To Survive, it is a one of a kind read for many reasons.
About Aaron Gillies
Aaron Gillies, aka @TechnicallyRon on twitter, is a comedian and writer. He has been featured in and written for The Poke, Buzzfeed, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, amongst many others, and has produced viral content from ‘Reasons my wife is crying’ to ‘a short guide to washing machine symbols’ and ‘a google autocompleted CV’. Aaron has written about mental health for many years in various publications.