The making of a mental health book.

Since YOU ARE NOT A ROCK launches in North America this week, I wanted to share about how we got here and what goes into a book like this.

Everything begins with sticky-notes. I had a seething mass of constantly evolving sticky-notes that helped me layout the structure of the book before I began writing. I don’t have those notes anymore—they’ve been taken over by ideas for the next book—but I do have a rock. That rock up there in the photos is the actual rock I borrowed from a neighbor’s garden the day I came up with the title. I no longer remember which neighbor I borrowed it from so it’s on permanent loan but I’m sure they’re excited it’s become an important cultural artefact.

I picked up that rock because I wanted to make a book cover with it. YANAR was going to be a self-published e-book. That would’ve been the easy route to take. As I mention in the book, I’m only able to sit and write a book because I take care of my mental health now but having it in print was also a direct result of me putting these skills into practice. My tendency in the past was to always do everything on my own. Because getting a book published would require the involvement of many other people, my initial reaction was to charge ahead on my own and skip all of the uncertainty and challenges that would come with getting a first book published and collaborating with so many people. When I recognized that urge to go it alone, I committed to not publishing this book unless it was published by a publisher. I put the rock in a drawer.

I’m happy I didn’t take that route and you can now literally grab this book off a bookstore shelf, you can hand it to a friend, you can steal it from your partner. By whatever means you came to have this book in your hands, I’m thrilled it’s there.

The driving purpose behind all of my work has always been to make mental health accessible to the largest number of people possible. Even with all of the digital tools we have at our disposal, books are still such an efficient way to pack in a ton of awesomeness and pass it around the world. This book is already out in six languages, with Korean out this month, Mandarin on its way this year, and now the North American version, published by Penguin, is on bookstore shelves this week.So I want I want to send a huge thanks to my editors and the rest of the team at Penguin, as well as to my amazing agent Hattie Grunewald and the team at Blake Friedmann, without whom I would’ve had no clue what was happening or how to go about doing any of this.

That photo above is me at Stanford presenting on the Compulsion Journey to an audience of healthcare professionals and patients. It became the exercise at the end of Step 7 in YOU ARE NOT A ROCK. The Compulsion Journey is a useful way for a professional or an individual struggling with relapse to understand the complete system around the relapse, so we can make simple changes that prevent it from happening again in the future. It was through doing presentations like that, using the exercises in workshops, sharing ideas on social media, and working with people one-on-one, that I was able to get feedback to refine the book into a more useful tool.

This book didn’t come into existence in a vacuum. My own experience of recovery from a bunch of mental illness diagnoses and then learning how to take care of my mental health and prevent relapse was the spark for this book but what’s in the book is there because I’ve had the opportunity since 2012 to speak with so many people around the world about the challenges they run into with mental illness and then with implementing changes in their lives to overcome it. I’m immensely grateful to everybody that shared their ideas and experiences in the book. THANK YOU to everybody that’s been doing the hard work of improving their mental health, that have shared that journey with me, that have reached out with questions and feedback on the exercises and concepts in the book.

Many hours of writing and rewriting went into YANAR. Being completely honest: I began writing this book on a beach in Portugal but you do not need a beach to write a book. You don’t even need a beach to read a book but it does help.

I banged out most of the manuscript at my desk in Toronto. Before starting on this, I was fortunate that I’d been working on my own for awhile and I’d already had to learn how to work independently. When I explain that I work for myself, I often hear people say that they couldn’t do that or they’d be too distracted to write a book. If you think that, this is a great book for you to read! Focus is en emotional fitness skill. Of course you don’t have it if you’ve never practiced it.

I had to learn how to focus when I first began to work from home. I was accustomed to seeing home as a place that wasn’t for work, so I had to teach my brain some new tricks. At first, I would only work at home for short periods of time and then go to a coffee shop or a co-working space where others were working. I gradually increased the amount of time I spent working at home, constantly pushing my limits and pushing myself to produce no matter what my brain threw up. Like with building any capacity, I got better at working from home and I needed to work around others less and less.

If you notice your brain throwing up some beliefs that are interfering with pursuing your dreams, question whether those beliefs are helpful to you. If not, get new ones that will support you better! Step 15 in YANAR is all about that.

I’m a rereader—I like books that I can come back to again and again. I also like books that work on multiple visual levels, so I want to get something from a book when I flip through it. That might be all I need to get that reminder I wanted. That’s why this book is filled with quotes and drawings. That’s also why there are so many visual exercises in it–you can take the ideas out of the book and scatter them throughout your life to act as signposts on this journey of change you’re taking. This is mean to be a bit like the Boy Scout Field Guide I had as a kid. You can crack it open anywhere and there’s a handy knot or instructions on how to build a shelter during a winter storm (inside your head).

But don’t only see these images as decoration, especially the exercise examples. There’s very practical purposes to getting stuff outside of our heads and turning it into systems and maps we can navigate. I can’t emphasize this enough: DO THE EXERCISES and translate them into changes throughout your life.

Mental health and fitness is no different than physical health and fitness. It’s all about making sustainable changes and challenging choices. It’s all action. You can read a book about running marathons or swimming or weightlifting and it does nothing to you or for you. Only if you apply that knowledge in practice will you see any results. Mental health is exactly the same. I can give you instructions on how to swim. I can give you instructions on how to accept intrusive thoughts, how to build healthy relationships instead of pushing people away because you’re afraid of abandonment, or how to cut out procrastination compulsions that are holding you back from doing the things you care about in life, but those instructions are useless if you don’t take action.

There’s one other thing I want to touch on, and that has to do with how I recognized there was a need for this book. That happened because I was very, very sick and discovered the limited supports available for recovery from mental illness and the maintenance of great mental health. It should not have been necessary for me to discover those gaps. My life had come to a crashing halt and I had to get a bunch of mental illness labels stuck on me before I recognized that I have mental health and need to take care of it the same way I take care of my physical health and fitness. You don’t need to wait for that to happen to begin taking care of your mental health. I hope you write a mental health book that’s entirely about how awesome your mental health was and how extra awesomer you made it.

Don’t make illness a prerequisite for health. For too long, that’s been the standard approach with mental illness. It hasn’t worked.

Mental health is a practice we can all bring into our lives. It’s the practice of being yourself while having any thought or feeling. That’s practice only you can do. I hope this book makes that practice more accessible to you.

You can buy YOU ARE NOT A ROCK on Amazon by clicking this link.

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