–by Laura Dennis, with much gratitude to Hilary Jacobs Hendel, to whom I owe both the title and content of this post
This is not a book review
Last month, I wrote a post previewing Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s new book, It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self. In it, I promised a review of that book, which Hilary was gracious enough to send me. This is not that review.
Let me explain. In real life (IRL), reviewing books is part of my job. My field, however, has nothing to do with therapy, psychology, trauma, or anything of the ilk. I’m a French professor. I review books about French literature and film.
When I agreed to review It’s Not Always Depression, I figured I’d follow more or less the same formula I do for any review. The only problem is, it didn’t work, and it wasn’t for lack of material – some of this stuff is gold! It’s that I found myself engaging with it much more at the level of the heart than of the head, which means this will be more the story of my experience than an actual book review.
Emotions upon starting It’s Not Always Depression
I picked up this book with a sense of anticipation. I read the forward and the first chapter in a single sitting, and was absolutely over the moon. I even e-mailed Hilary to tell her how eager and hopeful I felt.
Then I stopped reading. For days.
“No sense reading it now,” I told myself. “You’ll have plenty of time during spring break.”
That, however, was not the real reason, as my reading would eventually show. The real reasons are:
- “AEDP.” “The Change Triangle.” I’ve heard so many formulas and therapies from so many practitioners that I could line a path to the moon and back using only the empty shells of their words. All of them have come to nothing. Why should this one be any different? [This, by the way, if I am reading correctly, is a defense.]
- I didn’t want to hear it. Sometimes even thinking that I might have to think or write about trauma is too much. [This too is a defense.]
Emotions upon finishing It’s Not Always Depression
So, why did I pick it back up and keep on reading?
- I’d promised Hilary I would and that I’d publish this post this week. I rarely miss a deadline, even if largely self-imposed.
- I’ve talked with Hilary enough and read enough of her work to believe deep down that she’s the real deal. She’s not like those therapists who never even tried to walk a mile in shoes that looked anything like mine. Yes, there might be a little alphabet soup and yes there might be a tool with a catchy name, but the heart…and science…behind them is real. It was definitely worth a try.
- When I lowered my defenses and read what the book actually says, I could see Hilary is on the reader’s side whether she’s the parent or the child. She knows how hard life is and that most of us don’t mean to make the many mistakes we make. Plus she gets it. She gets trauma, she gets attachment, she gets pain and loss, and she genuinely wants people to feel better.
I finished it in two more sittings. Granted, I am a fast reader, but really, the book wanted to be read. I tried my best to do the exercises and use the tools – there are many, which is one of the major strengths of the book. So many “experts” tell us that we have to stay calm, centered, and connected to be effective. Hilary is one of the few therapists I’ve read who actually provides concrete ways to make that calm connectedness happen. Some, such as grounding or mindfulness, I’d already stumbled upon myself. Others, like the Change Triangle, were new. What’s really great is there are enough that the reader can pick and choose.
Using the tools IRL
Does this mean that I’m all better, that poof! I waved a magic wand and the secondary traumatic stress is gone? I’d be surprised. But at least I have a few more tools for when it rears its ugly head, and for that, I thank Hilary Jacobs Hendel.