Apr 13, 2012

Side Effects and Baring Souls

YA Read

My lucky streak on reading great books continues and this morning I read tweet by Lady Krishna Asi from A Journey with Books about authors baring their souls through words. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to share a little of mine during this review.

Goodreads    Amazon 


High school can be Hell on Earth, a fact that Isaac Matthews knows all too well. How is a guy supposed to deal with Anxiety Disorder, adolescent hormones and college and career choices all at once?
On top of all that, he meets Grace—the beautiful, outgoing new girl who shakes his very foundation and grounds him at the same time.

What he does is try the medication that’s supposed to make him better, knowing that there’s a chance he could just get worse.

Warning: Side Effects may include increased heart rate, dry mouth, interrupted speech, elevated body temperature, and dizziness or lightheadedness upon seeing her smile.


Side Effects deals with subjects I'm personally familiar with both as a sibling and sufferer. Social Anxiety, bullying, insomnia, night terrors, depression…. There's no other way to put it but to say that the author nailed it absolutely from every point of view.

My younger brother suffered night terrors as a pre-teen. I was a bit too young to understand at the time, all I really remember was waking up during the night to screaming and my mother distraught at her helplessness. I remember there were hospital appointments and tests, and no one really able to explain why my brother couldn't sleep peacefully, not even him.

As a parent dealing with a child who has special needs related to social anxiety and misinterpretation of social setting, distress and unpredictable reactions, I also know that helplessness that Isaac’s parent’s felt. It’s heart breaking watching a child stumble through teen years with what amounts to iron chains around their neck.

I am what I call a functioning insomniac. I walk around in an almost permanent state of sleep deprivation, but I do walk and most people would never realise by looking at me or speaking to me that I don’t sleep. They probably think it’s the normal stress from caring for a special needs child, I just work too hard or sometimes I let myself go a bit(or more than a bit).

In reality, when I lie down at night my brain goes into overdrive, thinking about the future, the past, things I’ve done, have to do and worrying about things I forget to get to. Little blank spots that I’m sure should be filled with something. My blood feels like it’s bubbling inside my veins. I see shadows dancing and shifting shapes. I have to close wardrobe doors and curtains. I won't look directly at a window during the night for fear I will see something looking back at me. It’s irrational and I know that, but it’s something I am, as yet, unable to rid myself of.

The only time I do sleep is when my partner is around. Then I really do sleep, sometimes with a sleep aid and with dreams so vivid that I’m sure I’m awake. I know I toss and turn because I wake up twisted in sheets with a bird’s nest where my hair should be. Sometimes, I shout and I’ve even lashed out. The dreams aren’t always bad. Occasionally I’m at that spot on the cusp of sleeping and waking where I’m aware I’m in a dream and at those time, I find myself able to control the direction of the dream. At the same time, that kind of sleep isn’t restful.

This bleeds into my days in two ways. Some days the hours pass and I’m not sure what I’ve done with my time. I move through the day like a robot on auto-drive, not really seeing anything that’s going on around me. At those times I loose all sense of taste and eat for the sake of eating. Other times the world is crystal clear, like an image in 3D HD. At those times colors are brighter, smells and sounds are more acute. I’m hyper aware of everything going on around me. I become a whirlwind of activity and want to do everything, see everything and feel everything. I’ve stood on the edge of a cliff, or an escalator or behind a high rail and fought back the sudden and almost compelling urge to jump. Not because I want to die. Like Isaac in Side Effects, I rationally fear death. I have no desire to leave this life any sooner than I absolutely have to.

I often think it’s one of the reasons I read so much. I don’t come from a family who read growing up. We didn’t have bookshelves and I think I was probably the only one of two of us with a library card.  When I read, it moves along one word at a time, until the words meld together and seem to disappear from the page. I see images instead of words. While focused on that, everything else disappears too. I don’t have to think because the book is thinking for me. Writing is a similar experience and I have been know to read over work and have no recollection of writing it.

Over the last few years I’ve become a virtual recluse as one of my ways of dealing. Other ways are medication and counselling. Last year I saw my doctor more times than I saw some of my family. I’m sure from the outside to some people I simply look anti-social. It’s true in a way, I am anti-social. The idea of leaving the house fills me with dread, even if it’s something I want to do. The idea of being among people and knowing I have to talk to anyone outside my comfort zone is often times terrifying. I don’t make eye contact and I don’t like to be touched, shake my hand and my hand tingles as if dipped in ice water. Strangely, behaviors I have worked so hard to help my son overcome.  As a result, I’m usually late for everything or just don’t make plans unless I have to.

The only thing that does force me through my own anxiety is my son. There I have no choice. I set myself aside and do what needs to be done. At times even that can be like an out of body experience. It’s a continuous uphill battle and I know my issues are barely a drop in the ocean compared to Isaac’s. I’m a adult and I’m not in Highschool.

Side Effects an inspiring read and there were many times where descriptions of sensations and experiences felt so real and sharp that I ached for Isaac and his family. There are many people in Isaac’s life who wanted to help him and who wanted to make his life better. At the end of the day it was really down to him to find his reasons for moving forward and taking one tiny step at a time. 

This book is about determination, love, commitment and the strength of one young man who refused to be defeated in the face of nightmarish terrors and debilitating mental anguish.

It will be an eye-opener to anyone who reads it, both in how we often wrongly perceive the actions and motives of people around us and how they may be wrongly perceiving us. Side Effects is a beautiful and harsh look at how mental illness can hit anyone at anytime, even those who seem to have a good life and loving family.

A thought provoking, intense and extremely well written book, I recommend this for teens and adults alike.

Find Jennifer M. Barry

Blog    Twitter   Goodreads

For kids and teens dealing with issues of bullying, depression or any other issues mentioned in Side Effects or this post, please talk to someone. If you can’t talk to family or friends, please visit one of the sites below and speak up. There are people who want to help.

Ireland -- http://www.childline.ie/

United Kingdom -- http://www.childline.org.uk/Pages/Home.aspx

America -- http://www.childhelp.org/pages/hotline-home


  1. What a wonderful review. As someone who has battled anxiety for years, I can relate to everything you said. I'm totally going to read this book now, based on your review. Thanks, Carol!