Every month we will be sharing a book we have found helpful- whether it has helped to lift us out of a dark place, build up our mental health toolkit, made us laugh or was simply too brilliant not to share. And we want you to get involved too! Let us know what you thought of this month’s book in the comments below or on social media (use the hashtag #ECBCBookClub).
Do self-help books actually help?
Journalist Marianne Power decide to put them to the test. One Sunday morning, hungover and feeling completely lost, she challenged herself to road test one book per month for one year, following their advice to the letter to see they could help her crack the code to achieving the perfect life.
And then, with Sunday’s hangover finally fading, while I re-read Feel the Fear for the fifth time, I had an idea. An idea that would stop me being a depressed, hungover mess and turn me into a happy, high-functioning person… I was going to do self-help.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this book when I started reading it. I was definitely intrigued, but I can sometimes find the whole self-help thing a little self-indulgent rather than actually helpful. More focused on positive marketing than positive influence. I expected this to be a naval-gazing tale of someone who needed to, for lack of a more sophisticated phrase, “check their privilege”. And I think Power herself (and her incredibly cut-and-dry Irish mum!) would be the first to say that, at points, this is exactly what this book is.
However, it delivers much more than that.
Warm, intimate, genuinely funny, a little ridiculous (naked yoga and walking over hot coals, anyone?) and totally honest, it is impossible not to engage with Power’s story on some level. As she works through the various self-help manuals, she reveals more and more of herself to the reader; from her childhood in Ireland, to her battle with skin cancer at 18, to her struggle with debt, self-doubt, lack of love life and simply feeling like everyone is settling down and leaving her behind in her 30s. I quickly found myself getting wrapped up in her quest, even joining in with some of the activities she has to do (I made a Pinterest Board inspired by The Secret… I am still waiting for someone to park my dream car in my parking space!).
However, things aren’t all happy epiphanies and life-affirming revelations. Her self-exploration leads her down darker, messier paths too, and it soon becomes apparent that the changes some of the books are encouraging her to make are not always changes for the better. After nearly 9 months of total introspection, she ends up in more debt than before, physically ill, detached from her loved ones, and more feeling lost than ever before.
“My self-indulgence had grown with my self-help consumption. I started to see how self-help can be dangerous from someone like me. I loved losing touch with reality… Self-help allowed me to do that with bells on”
Determined to finish her challenge and armed with books less focused on self-preoccupation and more on connecting with the world and others, she begins to shift her attention onto “being a good person rather than a happy one”.
Overall, Help Me! didn’t really deliver the deep, critical insight into the self-help industry I had hoped for; however, I finished the book feeling lighter and more satisfied than I imagined I would. I think this is down to a combination of Power’s funny yet sincere self-awareness and her desire to want what we all want— to be truly and effortlessly contented. Whether you’re a self-help junkie or a bit of sceptic, this book is a great read (it would make a perfect holiday book!).
“Be honest. Be kind. See the funny side. Exercise. Laugh. Lighten up… Most importantly, though, have a cup of tea (or glass of wine) and remember this: You’re doing great. You really are.”