Book Review: The Words We Keep by Erin Stewart

A few weeks ago, I was looking for something new to read and decided to look on Bookshare whether authors I’d previously enjoyed, had had books released that I hadn’t yet read. It turned out Erin Stewart had. The Words We Keep was already released a few months ago, but I hadn’t yet known about it. Its blurb immediately appealed to me, as I am myself a mental health consumer and I love poetry. Here’s my review.

Summary

It’s been three months since The Night on the Bathroom Floor–when Lily found her older sister Alice hurting herself. Ever since then, Lily has been desperately trying to keep things together, for herself and for her family. But now Alice is coming home from her treatment program and it is becoming harder for Lily to ignore all of the feelings she’s been trying to outrun.

Enter Micah, a new student at school with a past of his own. He was in treatment with Alice and seems determined to get Lily to process not only Alice’s experience, but her own. Because Lily has secrets, too. Compulsions she can’t seem to let go of and thoughts she can’t drown out.

When Lily and Micah embark on an art project for school involving finding poetry in unexpected places, she realizes that it’s the words she’s been swallowing that desperately want to break through.

My Review

This story is told entirely from Lily’s point of view in first person perspective. I like that, as it shows Lily’s innermost thoughts and experiences through her own eyes. Interspersed are Lily’s made-up words (which took me a while to figure out weren’t actually real English words) and her poems. These aren’t particularly excellent, but they definitely give me a glimpse into her world too. Besides, my poetry as a teen (or even now) is probably worse.

Even though this book deals with heavy subject material, I really wanted it to be a feel-good read too. In this sense, some of the twists I didn’t see coming, disappointed me a little, but they were also important to the overall story.

I really liked Erin Stewart’s writing style of alternating between storytelling and such vignettes as poetry or Lily’s made-up words.

Overall, I gave this book five stars on Goodreads, but I would’ve given it 4.5 stars if Goodreads did half stars. The reason is the disappointment I felt at some of the plot twists. This book really gave me a bit of a book hangover.

Book Details

Title: The Words We Keep
Author: Erin Stewart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: March 15, 2022

#WeekendCoffeeShare (July 23, 2022)

Hello everyone on this fourth Saturday of July. I’m joining #WeekendCoffeeShare today. It’s been a few weeks. Let me share what’s been going on.

If we were having coffee, I’d ask how your weather is. We haven’t had an official heatwave here, as we had only three days of daytime high temps above 25°C. Then again, on Tuesday, the temperature reached 39°C. That’s not a record, for your information: the Netherlands’ official all-time heat record was reached three years ago and it was almost 41°C.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that, on Monday, I took a trip into town with my staff. I had to get some toiletries and new baby wipes (which I use for cleaning my claying supplies). I also went into Action, a discount store, actually looking for origami paper. I didn’t find any, but did buy some clear stamps, a stamping pad, blank cards and alcohol ink. As it turns out, I will most likely only be able to use the alcohol ink for my clay, and I’m not 100% sure how, as it contains glitter. I mean, that may damage my pasta machine rollers, so I may need to only roll by hand when I’ve used this alcohol ink. I might find other uses for the other supplies. I was thinking of starting up simple card making again. Now my past self is laughing and telling me “No!” in a firm voice at the same time, but I’ve already decided not to invest any more money into it. If I can’t do this at all, that’s €4,95 wasted, but some people at the day center may still be able to use my supplies.

If we were having coffee, I’d share that I’ve been loving coming up with some ideas for my polymer clay. I’ve also been watching a lot of YouTube tutorials. I’m still not actually crafting much, but that will hopefully change soon, as I managed to blend three different intensities of the same color green that I intend to use for a unicorn. Let’s hope this unicorn turns out great!

If we were having coffee, I would share that I really need to mind my food plan again soon. I am still just overweight as opposed to obese, but I do need to watch out that my weight isn’t creeping back up. On Monday though, my sister and her family will be here for a belated birthday visit and we’re going to order pizza I think. That will be the fourth time in a month that I’m either eating at a restaurant or ordering takeout. After that, I’ll seriously watch my diet. I’m already trying to make sure I’m not having too many treats. For instance, yesterday I was hungry mid-afternoon and decided to have some carrots rather than going for my licorice. I think that counts for something.

If we were having coffee, I would resist the urge to rant about my appointment with my psychiatric nurse practitioner and the care facility’s behavior specialist on Tuesday. It was really frustrating, but I’m not ready to share the details. I would instead refill your cups and ask you how you are.

The Wednesday HodgePodge (July 20, 2022)

Hi everyone. I haven’t posted in a few days, because I was too tired from the heat. It’s still quite hot here, but I feel okay now. Today, I’m joining the Wednesday HodgePodge. Here goes.

1. Last time you drove more than 100 miles from your home? Where did you go?
I don’t drive, but I’m assuming riding in the passenger seat counts too. That being said, the last time my husband drove more than 100 miles with me in the car, was probably eight years ago when we went on a short vacation to the Black Forest in southern Germany. We drove in our Kia Rio, which we later found out deserves its acronym, “killed in action”, because shortly after that trip, the car crashed on the highway and my husband could just about move it onto the shoulder before it completely malfunctioned. We thought we had the problem fixed, but it developed the same problem that had caused it to crash back then again half a year later. Needless to say we sold that car. We’re thinking of going back to the Black Forest this September, but my husband has a really small car now, so he might want to replace that one first.

2. Something that drives you batty?
WordPress’ ever-increasing number of ads on free sites. I hope at least that, since I have a paid plan, they aren’t displaying on mine.

3. Do you feel like you’re “on track”? For what?
In my blogging life, I don’t feel as though I’m “on track”, but maybe that’s just my feeling. I mean, I really would’ve wanted to write at least as much this year as I did in 2021 and, up till the month of June, I was keeping up nicely. Now though, I’m not.

Similarly, I have a ton of craft projects waiting for me to finish them. Not that there’s a timeline for those to keep track of, but it does sort of feel as though I’m losing track anyway.

4. Your favorite car snack(s)?
Licorice and winegums (gummy candies).

5. Something you’ve done recently “on the fly”?
Nothing really. I plan most of my activities at least some time in advance. That being said, I do buy things impulsively at times. Does that count? In that case, going to Action (a budget store) in town and buying some random craft supplies last Monday. The trip into town was planned, and I had sort of planned to go to Action too, but I hadn’t planned to buy any of the things I ended up buying.

6. Insert your own random thought here.
Yesterday, I had a review with my nurse practitioner from mental health and the behavioral specialist from my care facility. I could rant about it here, but I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to say that, after it, I finally concluded that, screw it, I’m ready to face whatever it takes to get real help for whatever it is I’m facing mental health-wise, be this trauma-related or a personality disorder or whatever.

Mental Health and Creativity #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone. For my letter M post in the #AtoZChallenge, I’d like to talk about mental health as it affects my creativity and vice versa. There’s a common stereotype, and it isn’t entirely untrue or so I’ve heard, that people with severe mental illness are also often particularly creative. At the same time, autistics are commonly thought of as especially unimaginative. Now I indeed don’t have the most vivid imagination, but I wouldn’t say I have aphantasia (the inability to form mental images) either. I wish I were more imaginative and able to create things in my mind’s eye than I am though.

Anyway, my mental health is interconnected to my creativity in that, when I am depressed, I cannot usually put the effort into doing anything creative. For years while in the mental hospital, I struggled to write even one blog post a week. Now that I’m more stable, I at least find myself able to write almost daily. Still, I notice that my crafting ebbs and flows with my mood.

I also experience a huge flow of ideas sometimes, but am not always able to put them into action. For example, I have been wanting to craft a polymer clay squirrel for weeks and did indeed mix the colors I wanted to use for it, but I haven’t actually gotten down to starting on the sculpture itself.

Due to my autistic obsessiveness, I can perseverate about a particular aspect of my craft for a while, then lose interest completely. Some autistics have special interests that last for years or even a lifetime. I don’t. In my case, I am really lucky that I still enjoy polymer clay pretty much everyday nine months after having started the hobby. I do tend to change which aspect of it I’m most interested in though. Right now, of course, it’s mixing colors.

My creativity impacts my mental health in a positive way, in that I find in it a means of distracting myself from my anxious or depressing thoughts. When I accomplish something in the area of my creativity, it is a true mood booster. Conversely, of course, when I experience frustration while crafting, it can have a negative effect on my mental health.

Where I Think I’ll Be in a Year’s Time Based on My Current Daily Actions #Write28Days

Hi everyone. Welcome to day four in #Write28Days. Today’s optional word prompt, “nesting”, didn’t quite speak to me. I also wasn’t really inspired to write any sort of in-depth personal growth article. Rather, I picked up a collection of journaling prompts called The Self Exploration Journal and chose a prompt I hadn’t used on this blog before. It asks us to reflect on where, based on our current daily actions, we can expect to be in a year’s time.

Now I know that my future is in God’s hands, not mine. I have no way of knowing where I will be one year from now. That however doesn’t mean that I can’t take daily actions to hopefully live a healthier and more enriched life. Today, let me share some things I’m doing to take care of myself and some things in which I could still improve on and what I think these will mean for my future.

First, last month, I started on a healthier diet. It’s been a rocky road and I’m still struggling to find my balance on it. During the first week, I felt like I was just eating lettuce and carrots and was disappointed that I’d lost only 0.5kg. Now, I think I’ve found a better balance, but I might’ve swung slightly too far to the other side again. After all, this week, I had a sausage roll for lunch on Wednesday and a cheese roll today. I still am losing weight (or at least, I had a maintain this week). Based on my overall daily actions, I can expect to probably have lost a few kilograms next year, but I can’t expect to be anywhere close to a healthy BMI. Then again, that isn’t my goal.

Given that I hardly walk or exercise in other ways lately, I can’t expect my physical fitness level to improve. It’ll probably have declined by next year.

Mental health-wise, I can expect to still be in treatment and take my medication as prescribed, but I can also expect to still be quite vulnerable. Of course, I am always hoping that the next med tweak or change of treatment will be the thing that’s going to help me stabilize forever, but I have to be realistic: that’s not going to happen.

In the creative department, I can expect to experience ebbs and flows. I will probably have improved my polymer clay craft, having explored mixed media. I will likely still be a blogger, publishing several posts a week at least.

Given that, even though I look at other living places almost daily but haven’t actively decided I want to move, next year, I’ll likely still live in my current care facility. I’ll likely still be married to my husband too.

In summary, I can’t expect anything major to change for the better in the coming year but I am hopeful that I won’t make a turn for the worse either. I am hoping for slight improvements in the healthy eating and crafty departments. And, of course, I do really need to get my behind off the chair, but we’re talking current daily actions and that’s not happening right now.

House Inspection

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is to tell us about a time someone showed up at your front door. Since I no longer live in regular housing since moving into the care facility, no-one ever shows up at my front door unexpectedly and, if they do, the staff will open it for me. When I still lived with my husband though, several times, people would show up at my front door unexpectedly. Not salespeople, thankfully. However, my experiences with the housing corporation were so bad that my husband actually asked me not to open the door. I always reflexively did anyway.

One time, the housing corporation, or I’m assuming some technical company sent by them, showed up when I did expect them. They were supposed to be repairing our gutter, but asked a ton of questions about where the problem was located and what kind of gutter we had. I had no idea and the people said they couldn’t just climb onto the roof and have a look. I called my husband to inquire, but he didn’t answer the phone, so they left without having done anything. This encounter led me to get into a mental crisis.

The first time the housing corporation showed up unannounced was in early August of 2017, just two weeks after the gutter repair guys had showed up. They came to ask us to weed the path behind our backyard. I had no idea there even grew plants there, but, under pressure, agreed to ask my husband to do it within a couple of weeks. Apparently, the back neighbors had been complaining, since I don’t expect the housing corporation to come out from the town to check on our tiny village house for no reason.

The other time was in September of 2019. My husband had scheduled the final inspection of our home for the 26th, when I’d be at the care facility and he’d be home alone. However, they showed up a week early when I was home alone. I was sleeping when I heard the doorbell and felt I had no time to dress into my day clothes, so quickly ran downstairs to open the door.

I told them they were a week early, but they insisted they take a look around “now that we’re here anyway”. After their inspection, they asked me to sign a document. I initially refused, but they insisted I am a renter too (I was). Then they asked: “Can you read?” I explained that I can, but not print, since I am blind. “There’s nothing to worry about in this document,” they told me. In my overwhelm, I signed and sent them on their way. My husband did complain about the way they’d treated me this time and it was my final reminder of why I want to never live in regular housing again.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Desperate Yet Determined #WotW

Hi everyone. What a week it’s been. I’ve been swinging between despair and determination, sometimes experiencing both at the same time. Let me share.

Last week, I was in a very depressive, dysregulated, suicidal state. I finally managed to tell my assigned home staff about the nature of the “monster” in me, ie. my suicidal thoughts. She decided to E-mail the current behavior specialist assigned to my care home asking her for help in finding me someone to talk to about this. I mean, I have my nurse practitioner at mental health, but I cannot seem to get it through to him how I’m truly feeling.

I also E-mailed my nurse practitioner, only to get a response saying we’ll talk about it on the 23rd. Well, that was the final straw for me and I’ve pretty much decided I’ve had it with treatment with him. I mean, I know I should have called the team, but it’s not like this is the first time he doesn’t pick up on my signals, be it in E-mails, on the phone or even face-to-face. Our talks have pretty much been meaningless forever. Honestly, the only thing he’s helped me with is getting the right medication, the topiramate, for my nightmares.

This week, I’ve been swung back and forth between the thought that truly there is no hope for me and the thought that, maybe, if I stand my ground firmly enough, I will be able to access the right help somewhere.

I’ve also been ruminating over those two years I’ve been in treatment with my current mental health team. My nurse practitioner told me a year ago that “we could search half the country for a suitable therapist but that wouldn’t make sense”, adding that we’re stuck with each other (as if it was something he hadn’t just decided on himself). Half a year earlier, he wanted to refer me to the specialist autism center, but that got shoved off the table for a reason I was never told. I have been saying for all of the two years that I’ve been in treatment with this team that there are two things I want to work on: my trauma-related symptoms and seeing if I can lower my antipsychotic. Neither has even remotely been started yet. After two years, I’m done.

I am not so naive to think my nurse practitioner is actually going to give in and actually help me find someone else this time around. I have a tiny bit of hope focused on the behavior specialist for my care home, but not much. Even so, I’m pretty sure I can get by with no help from any mental health professionals at all. It won’t be easy on me or my staff, and that’s one reason my staff might pressure me to stick with mental health. Thankfully, so far they don’t.

On the physical health front, I’ve also been swung back and forth between despair and determination. After thinking kind of wishfully that my abdominal discomfort was almost gone last week, it returned on Saturday and has been pretty bad all of this week. Nonetheless, my GP wants me to stick to my current regimen of one magnesium tablet (laxative) per day for two more weeks and have the staff call back to evaluate then. I was pretty upset yesterday when I heard this. Now I’m more resigned to the idea that there’s no hope for improvement of my symptoms.

Overall, right now, despair is taking over, but thankfully I’m not actively suicidal right now. There must be some tiny flame of determination in me somewhere.

How was your week?

Word of the Week linky

Not the End

My mind is exploding with chaos. So many thoughts, feelings, wishes, voices, dreams and visions float through it. It is so overloaded I am tempted to give up. Through the chaos, I can hear the monster speak. “Give in,” it lures, “go to the clouds.” I can almost picture the heavenly realm, the place the monster is trying to get me to go to, in my mind’s eye. I cry out: “No!” I am bombarded yet I stand. I won’t give up. This is not the end.


This piece was written for yesterday’s Prosery. The idea of this challenge is to use a given line of poetry in a piece of prose. The line we were asked to use is: “I am bombarded yet I stand.”

In the above piece, I try to capture what it is like to be overloaded with depressive and suicidal thoughts. Yet, I also aim to make it clear that I am fighting back. After all, this is not the end.

#WeekendCoffeeShare (October 17, 2021)

Hi everyone. I’m rather late joining #WeekendCoffeeShare this week and I’m afraid there’s no coffee left. You can help yourself to a soft drink or a glass of water though. I also have chips in my cupboard. After yesterday’s crying fit over there only being the wrong flavor left, I decided to buy some myself. I did ask the staff to put them into a cupboard which they only have the keys to, but I’m pretty sure they’ll love to open it for you. Let’s have a drink and a handful of chips and let’s catch up.

If we were having coffee (or a soft drink and chips), I’d share that this week is still quite meh. Early in the week, I was feeling a little more optimistic at the prospect of starting my increased dosage of topiramate soon. I started it on Friday and so far, unfortunately, no change. I am grateful though for no side effects either.

Over the weekend, I’ve really been struggling. I landed in a bit of a crisis earlier this evening, but thankfully pulled myself out of it. I did E-mail my nurse practitioner and CPN at mental health to let them know I’m worried about deteriorating. My husband said I’m not, but the fact that I keep increasing my meds, tells me otherwise

If we were having coffee, I’d moan about my orthopedic footwear after all. The shoes squeak and, though I’m still not in terrible pain, I cannot walk for more than twenty minutes on them without them feeling horribly uncomfortable. Mostly my left foot, the foot on which I wear the AFO, starts to drag. I haven’t heard back from the physical therapist, but am pretty sure she’ll just say I need to push through.

If we were having coffee, I would show you all the soap I made for my assigned staff, the one who’s on sick leave. I heard last Thursday that she’ll remain off work until the middle of November or so due to among other things her needing to use up all her days off for the year or they’ll disappear.

Like I said yesterday, the soap contains vetiver, lavandin and clary sage essential oils. I decided to use a white soap base and no colorants, because I felt the scents would speak for themselves.

If we were having coffee, lastly I would share that my husband came by today. We drove to Subway for lunch. I dutifully wanted to get out my CoronaCheck app, but my husband told me to wait. As he expected, they didn’t ask us for it. The taco beef wrap I chose, was rather boring and I’m pretty sure the mince they put in it was vegetarian rather than beef. Oh well, now at least I know what not to choose next time.

How have you been?

Ways of Finding Inner Peace #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Yay, another post today in honor of #31Days2021 and #Blogtober21! The optional day 3 prompt in the 31-day writing challenge is “Peace”. I have been very much on edge over the past couple of days, so I really could be using a sense of inner peace right now. I am not too inspired to write, especially about finding peace. To get some ideas, I reread my list of activities that give me inner peace, which I wrote about three years ago.

The activities could be divided into several categories. Some are spiritual in nature, such as meditation. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, so I’d put prayer and Bible reading in this place now.

Others are physical, such as walking or exercise. I honestly didn’t think of exercise as an activity to give me inner peace right now.

Then there are the sensory activities. I have a lot more of those available to me right now than I had back in 2018. For example, now that I have a music pillow, I can not just listen to soothing music with headphones on or through speakers in my room, but through speakers integrated into my pillow. In addition, I obviously have my essential oil diffuser and my weighted blanket now, as well as still having my sensory cat soft toy and several other stuffed animals. I can almost create a sensory room in my own bedroom.

Writing is an activity that still helps me. So does talking to my staff. When I struggle with worries, writing them out just for myself, will not usually be enough, but sending an E-mail to my staff is.

Lastly, there are of course mental strategies for dealing with distress, such as radical acceptance, opposite-acting or “worry time”. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many cognitive approaches to finding inner peace helpful at all.

What strategies or activities help you find inner peace?