Review by Charlotte Boulton
Mental health can be a difficult topic to discuss, but Lucy Nichol approaches it with the right balance of humour, honesty and personality. A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes delves into Nichol’s own experiences with anxiety through each chapter focusing on a different common stereotype. Nichol explains away the stereotype with her ‘reality’; the stereotypical health-obsessed hypochondriac was one manifestation of her anxiety. The book aims to name and shame the damaging stigmas that surround mental health, which is no small task.
Nichol’s voice comes through amidst the candid, often emotional retellings of her experiences with mental health. She uses humour and maintains a casual friendly tone, almost as though you’re reading a note from a good friend. I enjoyed this tone and interspersed light-hearted moments, as it kept the book from feeling too serious or intense. It’s comforting to have jokes and pop culture references within a book that is focused on the negative impact mental health difficulties can have. In real life, we often need humour to help us through difficult times, and this is no different. It’s refreshing to have an author who gets the balance of light-hearted and serious right, especially in such a personal novel.
The book flows expertly between the stereotypes Nichol structures each chapter around, each leading into the next related one. At times she addresses the reader, bringing you into her experiences and encouraging you to empathise in some way or another. Chapters read almost as mini-histories as Nichol discusses her dealings with anxiety, with incredibly powerful descriptions of panic attacks and racing thoughts. It’s raw and real but doesn’t become too intense to continue reading; any readers dealing with similar mental health experiences should be cautious of their own triggers but shouldn’t be afraid to give the book a try. I particularly resonated with her discussion of how physical ailments are so often treated more seriously than mental ones, drawing attention to this unfairness.
Nichol gives some advice about employment law, as she discusses an incidence of bullying in the workplace, and useful tips for friends and family of people experiencing ill mental health. The advice is given in simple and non-judgemental terms and well worth taking a note of. Nichol imparts important lessons, such as only lowering medication dosage gradually, the impossibility of escaping your anxieties by globetrotting, and the differences between a relapse and a lapse in recovery. Her discussion of the recovery process is heartfelt and insightful; it isn’t a straight road, and that’s okay.
The final chapter details the pressure we all face striving for unattainable standards and how the world is slowly changing to relieve that pressure. Nichol ends the book with optimism about her continued recovery, which is brilliant to read as throughout the book you really come to root for her successes in the battle with anxiety. My favourite quote of the book summarises what recovery is all about, and what I expect writing this book was about for the author: “It’s about liberating myself. It’s about loving myself”. I’d recommend this book to anyone struggling with mental health and the stigmas attached to it, or to anyone who wishes to know more and understand the people with mental health difficulties in their lives better.