The Existence of Amy - Lana Grace Riva
Synopsis: Amy has a normal life. That is, if you were to go by a definition of 'no obvious indicators of peculiarity', and you didn't know her very well. She has good friends, a good job, a nice enough home. This normality, however, is precariously plastered on top of a different life. A life that is Amy's real life. The only one her brain will let her lead.
What is it really like to live with mental illness?
An insight into the reality of life with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression.
My Thoughts (along with some of my favourite quotes):
“There are endless ways to engage in productive thinking. My brain rejects them all. It simply does not have capacity for those. It will of course argue it is being productive, but I fear it may have a distorted sense of what constitutes productive.”
Amy suffers from various mental health conditions, which late in the book are revealed to be depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Though it isn’t explicitly said, from the very first page you can tell that something isn’t quite right with Amy. Excessive hand washing, not wanting to touch the seats, pole or bell on the bus, mentally planning any situation that could happen whilst on the bus. Even from the first chapter I was drawn in from how scarily some of this related to my life. Though I’m not so bad anymore, public transport used to send me into a full scale meltdown. I’d be mentally planning any escape routes should the worst happen, and my head would also be running through every horrible scenario that could see me in danger or get killed. Even just thinking back to this is making me anxious.
The book is a true representation of how people with mental health conditions suffer. I myself am a serial canceller. Not just because of my chronic pain (though that is easier to blame), but a lot of the time it’s down to my mental state. When Amy’s colleagues start taking her up on why she’s cancelling again this is something I connected with very quickly, though I can imagine a lot of people reading this who don’t have a mental condition who would, like Amy’s colleagues, just think she’s making excuses or being lazy.
“It's just not as simple for me as it is for other people.”
The book is told from Amy’s perspective the whole way through. It’s interesting as in some parts there’s very little conversation with other people, and it’s mainly just running through Amy’s thoughts and process of thinking. Some of her thinking process becomes conversation, but with the negative voice in her head who’s trying to hold her back when she wants to break free of her safety net and try something different.
“Am I ever going to be able to properly function as a human being?”
As part of Amy’s job, her and some colleagues take a trip to Sydney, Australia, to their partner office over there. Obviously from England this is a LONG flight and when it was first brought up by her colleague Sally, I thought to myself ‘nah, Amy won’t be going on that trip’, but to my complete surprise she did. I think this was about the time I found myself getting a bit too emotionally invested in Amy and I felt so proud that she was taking this big leap into the unknown and going on the trip.
I think that the change of scenery helped keep her negative demons at bay a little bit whilst they were away. One of the people who I think keeps Amy going is her colleague (and friend), Ed. Ed is just the loveliest friend that I think anyone could ask for and I did at one point think that their relationship would develop into something more serious. I was pretty shocked to find out that Ed was already married! This was about the time when the book started to really mess with my emotions.
When Ed leaves to live in Singapore with his wife, that’s when Amy hits rock bottom. She ends up taking a lot of time off work and completely disconnects herself from the outside world. This is when, naturally, people start to worry about her. Nathan, who she works with, is the person who comes to her rescue - an unlikely character as in Australia she overheard him slagging her off to their other colleagues about how unreliable she is at turning up places.
I don’t suffer from OCD, but I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who suffer with it through this global pandemic we are in. Especially with people like Amy and her excessive hand washing to try get rid of any germs that she might have come into contact with. I feel like the term ‘OCD’ is used quite loosely by a lot of people.. “This makes me a bit OCD”, “Tidying up brings out my OCD”, “I’m really OCD when it comes to cleaning”. People using the term like that really upsets me. They’re essentially belittling those who have the condition - which can be completely debilitating and can ruin your life. Having OCD sounds like an endless and mentally exhausting fight, and I don’t think a lot of people realise just how serious it is.
“I don't want to cause anyone pain. But the magnitude of pain I feel within myself is so overwhelming. Being in my current existence hurts. It hurts so very vastly there are no words that exist to truly depict its measure. I feel so drawn to just making it stop, regardless of any consequences.”
The Existence of Amy was a powerful and thought provoking book. It’s relatively short - I read it in one sitting and I think it should be read by everyone, mental illness or not, to step into the shoes of someone who’s struggling. I found July to be quite a low point for my mood, which I’m putting down to being fed up with shielding, lockdown and every day looking the exact same and I didn’t realise how much I needed a book like this until I’d finished it. The book has a positive ending and I felt empowered by that to go and look after myself a little bit more. When you’re stuck in the midst of a mental illness, you think there’s no way out, but books like this make you realise that you can always seek help and make a recovery.
The only thing that stopped me from giving it 5 stars was that I was left wanting more towards the end. Everything seemed to happen so fast and I wish the book could have been a little bit longer and go into more depth about Amy's recovery.
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