The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris

deepest wellThere are many facets to stories of childhood trauma, and many layers. As we see in Nadine Burke Harris book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, trauma is no stranger to anyone: if we haven’t experienced ourselves, we know a loved one who has had experience with or witnessed it. When I read this book, I could not help but think of the children who are now separated from their parents at the borders and of children fleeing Syria. There are many places where trauma is a fact of life, and the inner city can be one of them.  WHO recognizes that social conditions are important factors in health, and the all contribute to our total health. Nadine Burke Harris’ in The Deepest Well, gives a gripping account of her exploration of the link between adverse childhood experience or (ACE) and toxic stress. She is a social innovator in public health and serves a vibrant community, in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point (BHP). She describes the challenges she faced personally and professionally when she opened the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) as well as her attempts to have ACE and toxic stress, recognized as serious issue in children’s health, which included getting pediatricians to use screening protocols for ACE in pediatric assessments.

Burke Harris, a pediatrician with a Master’s in Public Health, writes with compassion and balance about connecting the stress of her patients with their emotional and physical well-being. When offering free pediatric care to children via her clinic, CYW, in BHP, an area that is on the extreme end of San Francisco’s social and economic inequality, Burke Harris saw clear relationships between the trauma that the community’s children experienced and their emotional and physical health. Toxic stress can, and often does, manifest itself in disease and poor health. Her examination discusses how poverty in the inner city can result in greater incidence of poor health with difficult living conditions, more exposure to violence, and untreated mental illness. While San Francisco’s median income was above $100,000 in 2016, City-Data shows that 31% of residents of Bayview Hunters Point live below the poverty line as of the last U.S. Census.

Poverty contributes to trauma, but Burke Harris reminds her audiences that trauma crosses all socio-economic boundaries. She tells us not only the stories of the children that she treated, and still treats, at the BHP Center, but also about her personal journey of trauma. Trauma does not stop in the wealthier neighborhoods. Helping overcome childhood trauma depends on your caregiver. There are engaged and nurturing caregivers in every community, just as there are neglectful caregivers in any community; however, if you live in inner city poverty, your chance of seeing violence randomly outside the home is likely. In one of Burke Harris’ case studies, a teenage boy, recovering well from childhood abuse, sees his best friend is killed on the street in front of him. Understandably, this incident is a setback for his health. The children Burke-Harris treated suffer from multiple adverse reactions, and have debilitating physical and psychological challenges ranging from asthma, obesity, failure to thrive, to stunted growth.

Although Burke-Harris’ accounts of traumatic experience can be shattering, such as the boy who stopped growing at age four when he trauma is exclusive to inner city poverty.  Burke Harris reminds her audience repeatedly that toxic stress is an issue in any income bracket. Bringing this to a wider audience, Burke Harris shows us that society suffers when it ignores childhood trauma.

Thankfully, something can be done to help children (and adults) suffering from toxic stress. In fact, according to Burke Harris, part of the antidote to toxic stress is truly integrated health treatment including a combination of healthy relationships, counselling, meditation, exercise, and nutrition. The  caregiver and their response to trauma play a huge role, but, sadly for those in underserved areas, so do  the resources available to the child.

Though the subject matter is tough, the book and its author are inspiring, positive and passionate. This title comes as a hardcopy, eBook and is also available as an audiobook narrated by the author, which I highly recommend.

Watch Dr. Nadine Burke Harris here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk or find her book at your local library in audio, eBook or hardcopy: Burke Harris, Nadine. (2018) The deepest well: Dealing with the long-term effects of childhood adversity. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

(Submitted by J.Wile)

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Calvin by Martine Leavitt

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Calvin is a brilliant 17 year old who has procrastinated much too long on his final English and biology projects. Recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he decides to undertake an epic pilgrimage across Lake Erie along with childhood friend Susie and the hallucination of a 10 foot tiger named Hobbes to convince Bill Watterson to write one more strip of Calvin & Hobbes.  Thoughtful and heartfelt. (Submitted by Meghan W).

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Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

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I listened to this book as an audiobook. The subtitle describes the book perfectly – it is both very funny and very sad. Lawson suffers from depression and various other mental and physical issues. The title comes from her deciding to be “furiously happy” and live life to the fullest during the times when she’s able. I found the funny and horrible to be mixed very well–a serious chapter about depression followed by something bizarre about taxidermy raccoons.

Lawson isn’t for everyone; she has a very odd sense of humour and a rather foul mouth and is very frank about depression. But if you enjoy quirky humour and live with depression yourself or in a loved one, this is a great listen. Lawson is a true advocate for mental illness and she provides a very real look at depression – I was particularly interested in her description of how people with mental illness just don’t have the same amount of energy as “normal” people (she calls it the “spoon theory”) and how it is not treated like a disease–sufferers are told to get over it or just be happy while we would never say such things to people with physical ailments.  I laughed a lot and I really admire her philosophy of being furiously happy, I plan to try it myself! (Submitted by Gayle).

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Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I was excited to read this debut novel that was touted as having elements of Eloise and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, two books I love.  When reclusive novelist M. M. (Mimi) Banning needs to come out of her decades-long writing hiatus for financial reasons, her publisher sends Alice Whitley to L.A. to help her with whatever she needs in order to get her book finished. Alice’s main job is to be a companion to Mimi’s son Frank, whose IQ is “higher than 99.7% of the American public” and who dresses to fit into the old Hollywood movies he loves (top hat and tails, smoking jacket, monocle). With no friends his own age, Frank relies on his adoring but prickly mother and charming but unreliable handyman Xander for companionship. Alice is pulled into their eccentric lives and becomes part of this makeshift family full of secrets. Who is Frank’s father? Will Mimi finish the novel? What is Xander’s story?  I actually wanted to give all of the characters a good smack quite frequently, but they all – especially Frank – won my heart and I was sorry to say goodbye to them as I closed the book. The blurb from comedian Dave Foley sums it up: “it will delight both the thinky and the feely parts of your brain.”  (Submitted by Gayle).

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A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the aftermath of tragedy by Sue Klebold

Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999 who killed 13 people before ending their own lives, a tragedy that saddened and galvanized the nation. She has spent the last 15 years excavating every detail of her family life, and trying to understand the crucial intersection between mental health problems and violence. Instead of becoming paralyzed by her grief and remorse, she has become a passionate and effective agent working tirelessly to advance mental health awareness and intervention.” ~ Penguin Random House

Whew, I’m glad I’ve finished this book, though it has stayed with me for days, just as the Columbine tragedy did. Sue Klebold is a very brave woman who has salvaged what could have been a wasted life spent in despair and hopelessness. She has spent the years since the horror of April 1999 trying to deal with PTSD, while struggling through life with her remaining son and husband. She has devoted herself to understanding and promoting the necessity for researching brain health, and, without excusing him, tried to understand what happened to her son. (Submitted by SB).

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Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes

Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes is quite the eye opener. It reveals the unique lifestyle of a professional athlete and the challenges that it entails. Realizing that for a physical-based career, the greatest challenges could well be mental and emotional. Clara lays out her experiences of being an international athlete very truthfully and carefully. I would recommend this book to anyone thinking of a career in sports! (Submitted by Jamie).

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Jabbering with Bing Bong by Kevin Spenst

I laughed out loud and read aloud, relishing Kevin Spenst’s fantastic way with words. This is a book of poetry chronicling his upbringing in Surrey, delving into issues of religion, mental health, politics, culture, and the always interesting experience of growing up. I really enjoyed it. Kevin is a great speaker and I can’t wait to hear him share his poetry in person. (Submitted by Meghan).

Meet Kevin at Authors Among Us: Remembering the Past in Poetry and Prose at Guildford Library on Wed, Nov 4 at 6:30pm. Call 604-598-7374 to save your spot.

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