Reading as an Occupation: What I read in May.

I definitely have a FOMO when it comes to reading. After I finish a month of reading some captivating books, I think to myself, am I missing any other books that would leave me speechless?! I should start a support group.

The month of May had solid reads that taught me how to deal with life after COVID (worksheets included!!), about the experience of individuals with sensory processing disorder, and the thought processes and needs of individuals with schizophrenia.  

Shaping Your New Normal by Michelle Green

Post-COVID, are we ready for the “new normal”? How can we tangibly deal with this change? What exactly does the “new normal” look like and how can we reclaim our pre-COVID life in this post-COVID era? Shaping Your New Normal helps navigate this post COVID terrain…and there are free worksheets!!

Recently, I heard of the term re-entry anxiety, and I completely related to this new type of anxiety connected to getting back to a “new normal” after minimally interacting with others and reorganizing our mind around what is possible.  Now, with vaccines available, our relationships are changing again, and we are also attempting to reclaim our hopes, dreams, and in many cases our livelihood. It can be stressful! To meet these new expectations, structure and guidance is needed and Shaping Your New Normal: Navigating Your Life after the Global COVID-19 Pandemic  by Michelle Green provides that level of support!

The cover provides a visual representation of how we can handle this new normal in a manner that will allow us to “make lemonade out of lemons”! To begin, looking at COVID from a glass half full perspective, Green looks at the impact of COVID on areas such as pollution and wildlife, which benefited from the change in human activity. This lesson of perspective is a common thread throughout Shaping Your New Normal. While Green helps the reader get a new perspective, she uses one chapter to acknowledge the devasting impact of COVID on our lives and then sets forth the blueprint to rebuild our lives with a well-thought out and highly detailed and supportive plan.

Green begins with helping the reader understand the impact of their values on the healing process. Without addressing our own values and beliefs, what is important to us, we will be unable to focus on the future. Our values and beliefs are the foundation of the healing process, and they must be acknowledged. Green provides exercises that will allow the reader to determine what is important in their life to start the healing and growth process.

Once values and beliefs are determined, Green begins the rebuilding process, which involves challenging our natural inclination towards negativity. Over the past year, negativity has been all around us and we are many times at a point where our only perspective is a negative one. There is no way forward if we are unable to look at our situations in a positive manner and realize the opportunity for growth. Green provides thoughts and exercises to also assist the reader modify their perspective towards a more positive arc.

The remainder of the book is a solid plan for growth and achieving one’s dreams, with a focus on setting measurable and realistic goals, methods of achieving those goals, addressing obstacles that may impact the achievement of those goals, and establishing an action plan. Each area has a variety of actionable worksheets that are easy to complete and provide a concrete plan to achieve your goals in this post-COVID era. The book also has an example of each worksheet completed to guide the reader and links to each worksheet here: Supporting Documents | 360You

One worksheet that struck me was the Wheel of Life, where one rates major areas of one’s life. The worksheet is completed frequently during this book and it is a great measure of progress in the important areas in one’s life. I was also impressed by SMARTER goals realizing the importance of have tangible rewards during the goal implementation process.

Shaping Your New Normal is an excellent resource for reclaiming your life in this post-COVID era. Because no two people are alike, having the opportunity to design a plan that is unique to each person makes this book a great tool.

This is a book that can be uses in a mental health OT curriculum class to teach students how to support clients that are experiencing difficulty transitioning into a new way of life following COVID. Some questions and activities to consider:

  1. How can the Wheel of Life worksheet be used to address a client’s progress in their current life situation?
  2. How are SMARTER goals different than SMART goals and what is the impact of adding a reward to goal achievement?
  3. Create an action plan for a client that would like to return to the workforce after 1 year of unemployment. Where would you start and why?

Rating: 4 out of 4. Highly recommend this book. The premise of the book is to navigate life post-COVID. The framework of the book can really be used to achieve goals on a whole, not just post-COVID.

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Is there such a genre known as psychological thriller lite? If so, I would file this book under this genre with a touch of a sensory processing disorder experience text. A few pages in, I was hooked on character of Fern Castle, a librarian, with outright diagnosed sensory processing disorder (the author actually calls it that!) and hints of Autism (the author does not say this outright, but the description of the character heavily implies this diagnosis). Fern is described as an individual who is quite literal, requires structure, and takes researching materials to new heights.

The story surrounds Fern, her twin sister Rose, their mom, Rose’s husband Owen, Fern’s acquaintance Wally, and a host of minor characters that play a major role in Fern’s life. The story really has two major plot lines, one of which involves a death. Though a death really takes the story to the psychological side of things, it does not weigh the story down because Fern is hilarious in her frankness. I honestly listened to this book as an audiobook, and I was feeling guilty because I could not stop laughing at the antics of Fern and yet a death was involved. Think Eleanor Oliphant, but funnier. Yes, funnier.

On a more serious note, one area that was enlightening was Hepworth’s description of Sensory Processing Disorder and ways to address Fern’s needs. For example, I am going to research this further, but one solution for her auditory hypersensitivity was Bluetooth headphones that allowed her to talk to another individual also wearing a Bluetooth headset. This allowed her to drown out the noise, while being able to speak to another individual. Is this a thing? Fern’s sensory issues and how she experienced her various hypersensitivities were throughout the text and were well done. The occupational therapist is me felt proud to have such respect for the condition!

The characters in this book were well-developed. The plot itself was strong and for the most part, believable. It is clear that Hepworth did her research to build Fern’s character and she addresses the death in the story by weaving quite a web. Once consideration is there a couple of parts of the plot line that may make others think twice. But I accepted it because the majority of the story was well done.

Rating: 3.75 out of 4. Highly recommend this book. This would be a great book club pick for a group of Occupational Therapy or Speech Therapy practitioners to pick apart!

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays By Esmé Weijun Wang

One practice area in occupational therapy that I have little to no experience in is mental health. While I have worked with individuals with mental health as a comorbidity, my focus has always been primarily on their physical dysfunction. I have addressed mental health issues, but tangentially. With this treatment gap, I decided that I would make 2021 a year of learning more about addressing the needs of our mental health clients. Enter The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays. This book came up in my Instagram feed one day and I quickly acquire it to read due to my limited experience with clients with Schizophrenia. I was excited to learn more.

Wang brings you into her world explaining her varying levels of psychosis. She is quite candid, and this was a learning experience for me. Her focus on her journey with mental breakdowns, medications, and hospitalizations gave me a perspective that I was never exposed to in physical disability settings. She explains her teenage and college years, which provides a level of insight that I think many educators should internalize. It was difficult to read of the lack of support she experienced at Yale and the journey to graduating from a college following her issues at Yale.

Other levels of understanding that this book afforded me was learning of the lived experience of individuals who were admitted to mental hospitals against their will, the clinical nature of their stay, the stripping of their rights, and their mental anguish. I remembered reading in the medical charts of clients a few lines of a hospital stay due to psychological issues, not realizing what leads up to and what was involved with that admission. Wang does an excellent job of bring that experience forward.

Wang also provides information on the how to address the rights of individuals with a mental health diagnosis and how we can be more caring and understanding with our clients. There are some considerations with this book. With this being a book of essays, Wang jumps from topic to topic rapidly with no real connection between the essays. The positive aspect is that the essays are beautifully written and provide important information. However, it can be overwhelming to keep track of the various tracks of thought.

Another consideration is that her explanations of her experiences seem highly insightful, and she seems to have a clear memory of many of her hallucinations and delusions, which some professionals have mentioned is not the case with individuals with psychosis.  The level of clarity she provides of her experiences does not mirror what other individuals with the same diagnosis have faced. As someone who does not have years of experience in a mental health setting, I cannot attest to the differences. However, this would be a good point of discussion for clinicians who do have that experience. Finally, she does present herself in a light of superiority to others. Some may say that is positive self-esteem which can be viewed as a good quality. However, this thought process is throughout the book and others may question this level of superiority.

Some questions and activities to consider:

  1. Wang provides a list of her diagnoses over the years. What are they and what symptoms does she provide that solidifies each diagnosis according to DSM criteria?
  2. Are there inconsistencies in Wang’s current diagnosis and how she presented her experience? If so, what were they? If not, provide support that her presentation matches her diagnosis.
  3. What are your thoughts of Wang’s various hospitalizations? Were her experiences different or the same as you expected?
  4. What has Wang’s experience taught you as an occupational therapy practitioner? How will you apply what you learned from her experience in your clinical practice?

Rating: 3 out of 4. I recommend this book. Anyone that provides that level of candor about their lived experience must be commended. This book will provide knowledge on many levels and has many points for discussion.

Should I have FOMO when it comes to reading? What books should I be reading?!

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