Letting Go, by Emma Woolf

Letting Go is the kind of book which makes you feel like you aren’t alone. It’s the kind of book that could quite easily become your mantra, your guide to life, your bible: it’s already become mine. It’s the kind of book that will set you up for a journey of self-healing that might just change your life entirely.

We all know what loneliness feels like. Whether you’re newly single and missing the hugs of your former beau or you’re attending lectures on your own because you haven’t yet bonded with anybody on your course, it can be a distressing and intolerable emotion, but it’s often short-lived. The loneliness that is attached to a mental illness is something else altogether. It may be 2017, but stigma is still there. It’s there in the hushed sighs of parents who don’t understand why you haven’t got out of bed for the third day in a row. It’s there in the glazed expressions of tutors as you attempt to explain the searing anxiety that prevents you from attending class. It’s there in the behind-your-back eye rolls of friends as you decline a takeaway and fix yourself some lettuce leaves instead. This is the kind of loneliness that tears you up inside, because it feels like nobody understands and nobody ever will.

You simply feel agonisingly alone.

And then something changes: you watch a film, listen to a radio programme, talk to someone about how you feel. Or you read a book, you read Letting Go, and suddenly you realise you aren’t alone. Not really. Because there are people out there who know exactly what you’re going through. Woolf, like so many others, gets my perpetual sense of inadequacy. She understands my suffocating perfectionism and my crippling lack of self-esteem. She shares the fear of the unknown, the fear of something new, the fear of change. Knowing that there exists at least one person who has been through the same tears, tests and traumas as you have is life-changing, because it alters your perspective. Where previously you felt hopeless, you now feel hopeful. Where you felt lost and confused and directionless, you now know the steps to take in order to reclaim your life. And more than that, you start to believe that you actually can reclaim your life, because if somebody else can, if somebody else can claw their way out of the deep dark pit, what’s stopping you?

Woolf preaches self-love without making you cringe. In our society, self-care is illustrated as selfish; taking time for yourself is self-indulgent and wrong, and truly loving yourself is completely taboo. I think Letting Go is realistic about all these things. The book recognises that they aren’t easy practices to engage in and they aren’t easy states of mind to achieve, but they are fundamental to our happiness. You have to love yourself enough to forgive and accept yourself. Forgive your past mistakes and recognise that they are not the be all and end all nor do they have the power to infringe upon your happiness. At the end of the day you are only human. You are not perfect, and neither is your body. But you mustn’t starve yourself in this quest for the ideal: you will always think you could be leaner or taller or curvier or stronger, but the fact is your body is yours and it allows you to do incredible things, things which are unmeasurably more meaningful that the number on a scale.

I guess the title is a major spoiler alert to what the primary message of this book is, but I’ll say it anyway: let go. Let go of broken hearts and broken dreams, illness and ailments, mistakes and misadventures. This book has taught me that letting go of the past can give you a new realm of life. It can free you of lingering and destructive emotions – guilt, regret, anxiety – and clear the way for a brand new you to take form. This is a book which opened my eyes to a world where I could be free of my eating disorder, free of the anxiety and depression and obsession that it brings, and instead, be free to live.