Nearly two year ago I shared this review for Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness as part of a Random Things Blog Tour. Now, during Mental Health Awareness Week, I felt it fitting to share it with you again. Every now and then a book comes into your life that you know will only make it better. This is one such book.
When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came closer to his experiences with nature and, in particular, birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.
The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience. Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.
In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, How explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites you to discover these extraordinary effects for yourself.
‘I can’t remember the last book I read that I could say with absolute assurance would save lives. But this one will’ – Chris Packham
Even as I sit and write this I can hear a chorus of birdsong outside. It is a constant source of comfort to me and so to take it to the next step, to spend time learning about these wonderful creatures and identifying them seems completely the right thing to do. It’s funny, but now that I think about it I can relate a great deal to what Joe talks about in Bird Therapy. Birds are naturally soothing (unless of course you are in a Hitchcock movie). They can make us stop with their sound and their beauty… and it’s almost like pausing and taking a breath. Our destructive thoughts are interrupted and for a moment nature takes over, grounding us in a way that is incredibly hard to do in the world we are living in today.
I think in so many ways Bird Therapy is a very important book. There are frustratingly still so many issues behind discussing mental health, a stigma that still exists. It take a great deal of courage to put yourself out there and I am always inspired and in awe of those who can talk about their personal experience with mental health.
So who is Joe Harkness? Well if you are already someone interested in birdwatching then you may well have heard of him. I hadn’t until I was invited to take part in this blog tour. He works as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator, a challenging and stressful job. He is also a very talented writer and has been writing his Bird Therapy blog for over three years. Joe is very honest with his own health issues and this honesty is incredibly moving. To witness, through this book, his absolute rock bottom and see how he has come back is incredibly inspiring. Yet is an incredibly upbeat book, filled with fascinating facts and information (and even tips on how to bring Bird Therapy into your life too).
It is beautifully written and the overpowering message for me was the importance of reconnecting. Reconnecting with nature, the world around us and with ourselves. I have read many books on coping with mental health issues and this seems to be a common theme. That at times we just need to stop. The world is racing along at high speed, everything is instant and then gone in a heartbeat. No wonder we are struggling to keep up. But do we really need to? The answer is no. The answer is to find your happy place. A place where the brightness overpowers the dark. This will then help us to cope with all the other stuff that life throws at us.
Throughout my own recovery from mental health issues I found solace in the garden. I love the peace and quite, the routine of planting, weeding, and if it all goes wrong then I know that nature will recover. There is always a fresh start (otherwise known as spring). Joe has found his solace in birdwatching and from his despair something truly wonderful has emerged. He is incredibly knowledgeable in what he writes and there is so much in this book that many people can relate to. He reminds us of the simple pleasures of looking at the worlds around us.
Yes this is a book about birdwatching and mental health but it’s also a fascinating read about human nature. Even if you have no desire to become a watcher of birds there is something in this book that will move and inspire you. Even if you don’t suffer from mental health issues then this book will still delight in it’s celebration of nature and it will give you a better understanding of those who do suffer. Because statistics show that each and everyone one of us either suffer or know someone who suffers form mental health issues – even if we don’t know it yet.
This is an absolutely stunning read inside and out. The illustrations were a wonderful addition too. When I read the synopsis for the book and saw the cover I thought Bird Therapy was something very different and very special. Now that I have read it, I would say it most definitely is.
Thank you for sharing your experience Joe. It truly was a wonderful read.
Bird Therapy is published by Unbound. and is now available in hardback, paperback, eBook and on Audiobook.
Thanks so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this original blog tour. Bird Therapy will hold a treasured spot on my bookshelves.
About the author
Joe Harkness has been writing his Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. He has written for Birdwatch magazine. The Curlew and the i newspaper, among others. Joe also speaks about his experiences and has recorded three ‘tweets of the day’ for BBC Radio 4. He works as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator and has worked with vulnerable groups for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.
You can follow Joe on Twitter at @BirdTherapy
You can also read more on Joe’s blog on the therapeutic benefits of bird watching here