a18- Book Reviews: Unfuck your Brain: Using scent to get over anxiety, depression, anger, freak-outs and triggers

By Faith G. Harper, 2017, Microcosm Publishing

Review by Kathy Labriola, Counselor/Nurse

“Dr. Faith” is a psychologist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. She initially wrote a bunch of terrific self-help zines for people struggling with depression, anxiety, and/or addiction. These zines were eagerly utilized by lots of people in radical political scenes , and many found their way around the country. They were published as a series by Microcosm Publishing in Portland. Oregon, who eventually persuaded Dr. Faith to expand them into a book, which became “Unfuck your Brain.” And she has written quite a few new zines, on a broad range of useful topics: masturbation, coping skills, sex and relationships, “adulting,” PTSD, developing healthy boundaries, “woke parenting,” BDSM, and more.

“Unfuck your Brain” is short and to the point, because Dr. Faith’s mission is to give people practical tools to tackle many mental health challenges and to cope with the insanity of modern life. Its brevity is one of its strong points, because when someone is in crisis, they need help right away, and they don’t have time to read a 300-page book full of lots of non-essential filler. Not one word of this book is gratuitous. It gets right down to the business of helping you figure out what the fuck is wrong and how to reverse this negative spiral.

The book starts with a comprehensive but very accessible description of how human brains work, and how trauma and other problems affect how our brains function, or more accurately, how they malfunction. Each chapter discusses a different issue, such as anger, grief, addiction, depression, and anxiety. You gotta love the chapter headings, including “Why is my brain such a big hot mess?” and “The Asshole Amygdala” (that part of your brain that turns memories into emotions and creates trauma-related triggers, among other things), “Take Action: Name that Bastard!” “Am I just in a bad mood, or do you suck?” and “The Platitude Bullshit People Say that Doesn’t Help.” In each chapter, she explains what is going on in your brain with each specific problem, and then provides advice on various approaches to help people feel better as quickly as possible.

The section on Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) provides the best explanation I have ever seen of this debilitating condition. Even more importantly, it describes effective and innovative strategies for reducing these painful and exhausting symptoms, and becoming calmer and more functional.

The section on addiction is refreshingly devoid of judgement and the usual shaming of the addict. And Dr. Faith provides a very balanced assessment of abstinence-based programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as harm reduction and other non-traditional approaches to substance abuse and compulsive behaviors.

Some of the problem-solving approaches she suggests are self-care strategies, including getting more exercise, eating nutritious food, sleeping, playing music, spending time in nature and with supportive friends, and mindfulness techniques like meditation. Others include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs, herbal medicines, counseling, recovery group meetings, and alternative healing techniques such as harm reduction, acupuncture, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

There are many other books out there on depression and other mental health conditions. However, this book was clearly written for our alternative radical community, by someone who obviously understands our worldview and our needs. And unlike most other authors, Dr. Faith talks in plain language that anyone can understand, and has a lot of compassion and respect for people struggling with mental health problems. And she does not push a specific agenda. Instead, she provides great information on a wide range of choices, and encourages each person to find their own path to healing.