I should start by saying that Coming Undone needs to come with several trigger warnings. Reading the blurb and looking at the author photo, I decided to put myself forward to review this book for several reasons. One was that I vaguely recognised Terri White. The other was that it offered itself up as an account of someone who seemingly ‘had it all’, but who was dogged by mental health problems and trauma that she kept hidden from the world at large. As a Mental Health Worker myself, I think it is really important that stories such as this are told. That the world knows that mental health can affect everyone and anyone, whether you are someone in one of the most ‘at risk’ cohorts or are, as Terri White is, a successful and award-winning writer and editor.
But even as I felt pleased that such a story existed, I have to admit that some sort of unconscious bias led me to think that this would be a bit a surface level exploration of mental health. That it would probably be some pretty basic problems and some pretty basic solutions. That the stories couldn’t compare to those I hear at work. I was wrong. And that’s where the need for a trigger warning or seven comes in – in this book, White unflinchingly discusses her experiences of sexual abuse, her self-harm, her suicide attempts, her eating disorders, and her alcoholism. She does not hold back. At all.
More than anything else, she deserves huge praise for that. It really is an incredibly honest and open memoir, with no attempts at self-preservation or to hide the truth of her despair. It is also extremely well written. This is obvious from very early in the book, where the prose drags us through some really tough to read sections about the suicide attempt which led to Terri’s incarceration in a psychiatric ward. And the writing never dips below that quality. This is a hugely talented writer who is opening up about her experiences in a way that not many people with her platform do.
I initially wanted to read this book, though, because of the contradictions offered between such a successful magazine editor and the person who was drinking themselves to the point of being sectioned. It might be a personal thing, but I would have liked to have heard more about the work side of her life. I would have liked to have seen the positives and the hope that clearly exist in the story somewhere. Maybe those who are more familiar with her work are already well aware of that side, but it did seem to be something that was missing for the more casual reader.
Any Cop?: Despite that one niggle, this is still a book that I would highly recommend. Trigger warnings considered, of course. It would be lie if I didn’t say that this book left me emotionally shattered and that it is a very bleak read at times – hence my desire for more of the light and shade. But it is also one of the frankest depictions of a person’s mental health crisis, and the trauma that led to it, that I have ever come across. It deserves to be read.