Before Alexi Pappas’ book, “Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas,” was released, I watched a New York Times opinion video featuring Pappas.
In the video, she asks, “What if we looked at mental health the same way we do physical health?”
Since I have struggled with a mental health issue, I think it’s important for people who have a platform to share their stories — if they feel comfortable and to the degree they feel comfortable — and was really interested in reading Pappas’ book, even though I have other books waiting on the to-be-read shelf.
I purchased the book from BookPeople, an Austin bookstore that featured Pappas for a virtual event called “BookPeople Presents: An Evening With Alexi Pappas,” which was held in January. Because of the pandemic, Pappas did a virtual book tour, and I found out about this event on Instagram. This was great for me, as I don’t live near Austin but was still able to take part in the event. It was cool to see her facial expressions, as she just seemed overwhelmed with emotion.
I asked a question during the event: Was it difficult to get so personal and share her message, or was she totally comfortable? She answered that it was harder to be vague than specific, and once she broke the barrier with her dad, it wasn’t difficult to share.
That makes sense: I think it’s harder to consider what the people closest to you will think if you talk to them about mental illness. You don’t want it to change their opinion of you. It’s interesting how mental health is still considered so different than physical health. I’m not a medical professional (of course), but I would guess that the mental illness itself can block someone’s ability to really see it clearly as a health problem that needs fixing and not a failure on the person’s part.
Pappas’ mom killed herself when Alexi was not yet 5 years old. She has some disturbing memories of her mom from when she was suffering, and she says in the video I linked to above and in the book that she never wanted to end up like her mom.
In her book, Pappas, who is my age, writes about her life — not only her struggle with mental health, but her childhood and growing up with her dad and brother, her college experience and falling in love with her now-husband, finding mentors, her experience at the Olympics competing for Greece in 2016, and more. In between each chapter is a page featuring a short poem.
Mentors are big for Pappas. Growing up without a mom, she found other women in her life who could help provide something that a mom typically would.
“A good mentor is a living example of the type of person you’d like to be, and you can learn from them simply by being in their vicinity and paying attention,” she writes (page 57). “And the older I got, the more my hunger for mentors grew. I was always on the lookout.”
While reading, I took photos of a few things I wanted to mention in this blog post, including the quote above.
One of them was the quote below, which wasn’t particularly about mental illness — it was actually after a story about learning cooking tips from a friend’s mom — but I think it fits for numerous life circumstances.
“Asking for help is a superpower anyone can have but only some people use,” she writes (pages 52-53). “It is brave to ask for help. Asking for help is the first step toward finding a mentor. Mentors can help us change our lives if we let them.”
She returns to the topic of asking for help later in the book. Asking for help with a mental illness can be different, because it’s not just about getting advice.
“Growing up, I had no problem asking for help. I spent my whole life unashamedly latching onto mentors and seeking out their expertise,” she writes (pages 129-130). “But in those cases, I only felt unknowledgeable or confused, not crazy.”
Pappas writes about the importance of talking about struggles, something I think is important in all aspects of life. I don’t think you need to share your struggles with everyone unless you want to, but I think it can really help to talk about anything that’s bothering you with someone.
“What’s funny is that after I finished reading my mom’s eulogy, I thought about Jerry Seinfeld,” Pappas writes (page 164). “I finally understood why his ‘show about nothing’ amounted to something quite significant. Because when you don’t talk about something, it becomes like hair in a shower drain: invisible for a while but building up over time into a slimy, obtrusive clump.”
Switching gears to running: In my post about this year’s Salisbury Half Marathon, I wrote about how I felt awesome during the race and about how I did afterward. I was several seconds faster at a half marathon in 2019, but I didn’t feel strong that day because I struggled in the heat. The 2019 time was faster, but that race felt like more of a failure than a victory.
Pappas shared the following after writing about having to change her goals mid-marathon.
“How you talk about your experiences will dictate how you feel about them,” she writes (page 261). “Reframing our goals and rewriting our stories are powerful tools. Nobody can tell us how to feel about something. We can make our shortcomings into something beautiful if we want to. How we label an experience can completely change how we perceive it.”
There were other quotes I took photos of, too, but really, I would just recommend reading the book. I enjoyed both the content and her style of writing.