Book Review: “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful”

After a couple of months of leisurely reading in nice coffee shops, I’m pleased to publish my first book review. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did preparing it!

I was attracted to Sarah Wilson’s First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A new story about anxiety by it’s cover – the gorgeous bright orange against the blue, and the intriguing image of an octopus. What I discovered inside the cover was even more beautiful.

Sarah has a history of anxiety problems, and in this book she speaks honestly about her ongoing journey, sharing what she has learned along the way. Sarah weaves together her personal experience, scientific research, practical tips, and advice from other anxious folk, writers and mental health professionals in a way I’ve not seen elsewhere. It is clear that she has put a lot of hard work, along with her heart and soul, into this book.

Hailing from Australia, Sarah started out as a journalist, and went on to be the editor for Cosmopolitan. She hosted the first series of Masterchef Australia, and is famous for her work with the ‘I Quit Sugar’ movement.

Throughout her life, Sarah’s anxiety has taken various forms – insomnia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bi-polar disorder. She also has a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Disease. She has seen various mental health professionals and spiritual healers, tried numerous medications and as a journalist and writer spoken with a range of fellow sufferers, professionals and self-help gurus.

Her main message fits with what is often referred to as ‘third wave CBT’ approaches, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, compassion focused therapy and mindfulness. Sarah advocates sitting with anxiety, allowing it to be there, and learning from it. She talks about the need to stop “being anxious about being anxious about being anxious”, and to “stop fretting that you’re fretting”. This is something that my clients and I talk about often – the realisation that all this running around trying ‘fix’ anxiety only makes it worse.

One of the things I loved about ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful’ was Sarah’s refreshing honesty, her willingness to say I don’t have an answer to any of it, but this is what I’ve learned along the way. This may help you or it may not. Her style allows you to digest the information and make up your own mind – there is nothing ‘preachy’ about it.

Sarah even suggests that there are some advantages to anxiety, exploring how it may help to alert the rest of society to dangers they were not aware of, and how anxiety may fuel creativity. She talks about how anxiety has helped her own success – researching things in great depth, putting lots of energy and passion into her work, and making decisions based on the idea that her anxiety is a warning sign that something needs to change. “Anxiety is a sign we need to move and change our lives”.

As I am sure you can imagine, getting to a point where you can see anxiety as a ‘beautiful beast’ is a long and hard journey, but as Sarah says, “nothing worthwhile is easy”. She suggests various strategies to help us with this including meditation, diet, exercise, gratitude, having a good morning routine and developing distress tolerance.

The book is not only divided into traditional chapters but also numbered bullet points, which makes it easy to pick up and read a bit here and there. There are also quite wide margins if you want to make notes or highlights – my copy has ended up with quite a few post it notes sticking out of the sides!

This is a great read for anyone who has ever felt anxious or knows someone who is struggling with anxiety – surely this covers all of us, right?

You can find out more about Sarah Wilson here: