Book Review: The Valedictorian of Being Dead

'Mummy blogger' Heather B. Armstrong's true story of surviving depression is witty, hopeful and eye-opening.

The non-fiction book is a realm I occasionally step into, purposefully, vowing to stay for a while. But much sooner than later, the urge to move on curls tendrils around my mind. It steals from my attention span and sows seeds of doubt, so I find myself packing up and moving again. Moving back home: to the much-familiar and comfortable realm of fiction.

The only exceptions thus far have largely been memoirs. I love a good story, rooted in reality or otherwise. And I’m not an oddity but part of the majority, it seems. All this is to say, a large part of why I got to the end of the book is its compelling narrative.

Image: dooce.com

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live is a first-hand account of author Heather B. Armstrong’s battle with debilitating anxiety and depression. For years, she’d controlled her depression with a mixture of prescriptions. However, their effects start fading and overcome by exhaustion, she plunges into an 18-month period of deep depression fueled by suicidal thoughts.

As a single mother with two young children, Heather’s desperation for a cure leads her to try a radical clinical trial. Over one month, she receives 10 doctor-administered treatments, each of which induces a coma that leaves her brain-dead for a short period of time. The science behind this is that it’ll give the brain a chance to quieten down and rest. This downtime otherwise eludes many of those with depression, feeding a destructive cycle as restful sleep is crucial for recovery.

Blogger Turned Author

In another’s hands, Heather’s story could read like a research paper in a science journal. The ones you know are informative and even life-changing, if only you could prop your eyes open at the technical bits. Heather overcomes this with humour and candor, creating a personal connection so it feels as if you’re catching up with a close friend over tea.

Her experience as a prolific ‘mummy blogger’ shines through, giving this book the elements of a highly readable story. There’s a likable and assorted cast of characters, each with their own distinctive personality. Chapters flow at a steady pace, enough to keep you reeled in, yet avoiding whiplash.

One review does point out that “she is…wildly inaccurate in her description of her IV placements before each treatment”. Not being a trained medical professional, I can’t vouch for factual accuracy. Heather does include a message from her doctor at the end of The Valedictorian of Being Dead, but it’s not stated if he proofread the book.

That said, I do recommend it to those grappling with anxiety and depression, especially parents. It’ll also provide insight to caregivers, or those struggling to comprehend the inner workings of someone with depression.

In short

The good: A humorous, touching and deeply personal look into living with depression. Will resonate with single parents, especially, and those with a loved one going through similar struggles.

The bad: Medical procedures described in the book may be factually inaccurate.

ARC provided by MPH Distributors for review.

READ: The 4 Best Malaysian Book Clubs To Join