What Doesn’t Kill You: Fifteen Stories of Survival, edited by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, is “a hopeful book. Its hope, however, is not the cheap kind peddled by the masters of self-help. It’s the kind of hope you can only find when you let the old delusions go and learn to dance with your fears” (as Dermendzhiyska writes in the Foreword).
The book is divided into three parts: "Struggle," "Self" and "Striving." Each essay is unique and describes an extremely different experience. Below are four that resonated for me.
A. J. Ashworth, in her powerful essay, "Eight," describes the panic she felt as a child that she was going to die, a feeling she relives over and over as a debilitating anxiety in adulthood.
Kate Leaver’s essay, "A Disappearing Act," not only tackles her personal battle with an eating disorder, “I was essentially trying to kill myself in instalments,” but she explores the wider relationship people have with food and why women especially bow to this pressure: “We teach girls to diminish themselves and how we treat women’s bodies as though they’re public property.”
Rory Bremner describes ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in his essay, "ADHD and Me," as “[his] best friend and [his] worst enemy.”
In his essay, "No Cure for Life," Dr. Julian Baggini debunks striving to live life as if in a fairy tale. “The goal,” he writes, “is a life well-lived” and not, necessarily, to live happily ever after for it is “only good to be happy when we are happy for good reasons.”
This is an extremely powerful collection and not always entirely comfortable to read. Personally, it made me revisit some past experiences and feelings, which wasn’t always easy, but paradoxically therein also lies its power; it made me realise that there was hope for me too. Whether or not you or a loved one is dealing with mental illness, I would highly recommend this collection.
About the reviewer
Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online, as well as in print and in various anthologies. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020. She tweets @laurabesley