Author Note: This article is part of a collection from the previously lost Bordering Bears website, and has thus been re-uploaded and archived.
I was sent a copy of Super-Women (Superhero therapy for women battling depression, anxiety and trauma) by Janina Scarlet a few weeks ago via The Book Publicist to review. The book itself is very eye-catching, and I love the fact that the women on the cover are of different sizes, ethnicities, hairstyles and religions.
Firstly, I asked to review this book because of my own experiences with mental health and the trouble I have, even now, moving forward with life, along with the issues that have come to light due to past experiences.
I was initially sceptical, after all how can a book get into your mind? How could some text on pages help me when numerous counsellors and psychologists have not? Even so, I figured it was worth a shot. Worst case scenario, I figured it’s written by the same woman who did Harry Potter Therapy and, as a Potterhead myself, hoped it would at least be an interesting read.
How wrong was I?!
Want to know where I started getting the “wow this is close to home!” feeling? Page 1. Page. Freaking. ONE.
There’s a poem about all the ways women are made to feel unworthy, such as with weight clothing choices, ethnicity, or even the emotions we feel. I read it several times before moving on because, yes, that is how we are made to feel. There’s so much judgement. Sometimes it’s like no matter what you do you simply aren’t good enough.
Intrigued, I continued on. Janina then discusses the other seven “superheroes” who are joining you in the book. She refers to all of them, and you, as superheroes, and even manages to accredit this by comparing a hero’s backstory, which normally contains trauma or tragedy, with our own backstories. I was able to see the link. I’m a Marvel lover, and their characters have their origin stories of things that happen and how they become heroes. We may be without fancy tech or superpowers, but Janina is right! To a degree we are all superheroes simply for being able to live with all the crap that occurred. Feeling bolstered, I read the stories for the seven other women, fictional people to make it feel like you’re not alone as you work through the book. Janina has even left space for your story. So I scribble down “Never as good as half-sisters, comparison to others, bullied severely, chubby, was single mum, BPD, anxiety, IBS” as currently I still feel too angered by some events to write it out fully, and, knowing I’d be writing this review, didn’t want to put anything that may cause upset from people.
The next section had me messaging Ash because of how close to home it was. It’s a triangle showing how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are connected. I was immediately able to see mine. Thoughts of not being good enough, feel criticized, angry, ashamed, behave defensively and potentially snap out. So simple, but not something we tend to think of. I considered in that moment how useful that triangle could be. Perhaps not during the feelings, as it’s hard for any person to focus then, but even to deal with it afterwards and to explain to people about the thought process that led to a disagreement or outburst.
Janina discusses burnout and coping strategies too. These are things I know all too well, and she describes them beautifully, with such care as to not make a person feel ashamed of exhibiting them. Self-harm, lethargy, snacking to make myself feel better, all common things that happen to myself and others dealing with mental health. Some of these are due to burnout, others to cope. Janina normalises it. It’s natural for this to occur. Doesn’t make it right, just understandable. Again, I feel validated.
The section on prejudice and the “amulet of vulnerability” is a hard one to read. I have been told previously that I deserved or brought about my own bullying. It sticks with you. Yes, even 18 years later those words stick. Reading this part is difficult as it did make me feel like that little girl again who didn’t know why this was happening or what I’d done to deserve it. Janina’s explanations about our vulnerabilities showing what we care about or where we have needs that weren’t met is spot on. Things that were said can cause an emotional reaction. She’s right that even by reading the table I experienced a lot of emotions. Sometimes all we need is that validation, to be told “no, you didn’t deserve how they treated you”, “no, it wasn’t your fault”.
She also mentions about one of the women feeling constantly negative, anxious, and on edge, except when there’s a crisis, then she is stable and able to assist others. I suppose I resonate with that too. Constantly worrying, expecting the worst. Yet in the midst of the current climate I don’t feel worried at all. It truly is bizarre, but it’s like I can override the anxiety if it will aid someone. This, as Janina puts it, is my superpower.
The next section discusses attachments and connections with others. I can safely say that, as an anxious attachment type, my needs haven’t previously been met by the majority of people. My problems lead me to feel like I am not good enough. Being told I’m too clingy, too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, to ‘just’ forget about things… they don’t help. These are all phrases that Janina has quoted within the section. Phrases I think of a lot because they all translate to “You are broken. You are damaged. You need to change who you are because it isn’t good enough!” This means the people of my past weren’t equipped to help me or weren’t willing. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to be bad to be toxic, they can simply have different beliefs or thought processes. It just happens that those are toxic to my mind.
My current relationship, however, is built on validation and support. I am actually able to laugh at and joke about my insecurities now, because they’re validated. I can say “I feel anxious, are we okay?” and not have that feeling cast aside. It is validated and responded to.
I love that Janina included support and attachment within her book. It’s taken me years to conclude that, just because I feel this way, I am not bad or undeserving. I think it could be wonderful for another person to be able to read, relate, and figure out what they need, without the years of negative attachments that I went through to get the same end result.
Janina also discusses how people can exhibit negative behaviour when trying to receive that validation. It makes me realise that some of the things I say and do may be about my own security, but the ways in which they are done aren’t healthy. Likewise, it also shows that others may come across brash or aggressive but actually they too want to feel validated and reassured. This is something I will keep in mind when communicating with others.
The section on avoidance hits hard but true. I do procrastinate as a means to avoid working on something I fear failing or doing not a good enough job on. I also procrastinate away from things related to issues from childhood. Janina suggests broaching out of the comfort zone just a little, by going out for coffee with someone if going out causes you anxiety, or to do even 5 minutes of work on the task you are avoiding. By gently nudging yourself in that direction, you may not be as afraid than if you plunge straight into what is making you anxious.
Self-compassion is another section of Super-Women that I found interesting. Janina explains that self-compassion is completely different to self-pity or self-indulgence, and how they are sometimes confused which can lead to a stigma of laziness or selfishness. I decided on reading this that self-compassion is something that I need to incorporate more when I start feeling like I’m struggling. Just a small chunk of time each day to do something cathartic, whether it’s a hot bath, a good book, going to the supermarket alone etc. Something that will help me mentally reset and be able to face the rest of the day.
There were some parts of the book I did find a little triggering, such as the discussion on gaslighting and how one character showed a belief that she was a drama queen, having been called it so often. This hurt and made me feel uncomfortable purely because I’ve been in her shoes, in relationships and around people who twist and manipulate until you think you’re going crazy and question whether you are bad or what you said. Reading that now, from the perspective of someone else, makes me realise just how big a red flag it is, and I hope that, even with the uncomfortable feeling, it could aid another into realising that the situation is not a healthy one.
Towards the end of the book there is a section where the other women express on how their experiences and knowledge can be used to help others. I think this bit is vital. Having a mental health problem, and the stigma you face because of it, can make you feel like you’re useless. Again, Janina validates people who struggle and also highlights how you can help others, even with something as simple as showing them that they aren’t alone.
I love the pages of support messages from real people. These are perfectly placed at the end to help motivate and give you confidence to try out some of Janina’s tips.
Likewise, she includes a final validation or honouring and celebrating who you are, bad bits and all, as well as a reminder that there may be setbacks.
The book finishes with a list of mental health resources that could provide very useful if someone is in a setback.
Overall, as you can tell, I loved this book. I think the way it’s set out is amazing. I didn’t feel alone. I genuinely felt like I was there with the other women experiencing the sessions alongside them. The suggestions are helpful, and the information was relatable. I’d advise anyone who struggles with mental health to have a look at the book.
You can buy Super-Women at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Super-Women-Superhero-Therapy-Battling-Depression-ebook/dp/B07TRQFXW8