Trigger Warning: Amelia Marie Whalen’s Everything You’ve Ever Done deals with mental illness and the unintended consequences of leaving mental issues unattended. One of the key players in the book also contemplates suicide. If you or someone you care about has suffered through such issues, proceed with caution.
Disclaimer: Spiritual views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of The Writer’s Scrap Bin, its author, or its readers. Remember to be respectful and civil in any discussion which may come from the review of Whalen’s book; trolling, bullying, and other abuse of this blog and/or its members will be result in disciplinary action against the individuals perpetuating it.
Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction—and richer, too. Today’s book proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our lives can be as tumultuous, heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and adventurous as those we read about in novels and see in movies. We break hearts and have our hearts broken; we make plans only to have them fall apart; we suffer tragedy after tragedy; we overcome trauma and come out the other side stronger than ever. All the while, we remember to find joy in the little things and seek to receive and give unconditional love. The book I am exploring today covers these trials and gifts of life and much more. For this post, I am reviewing Everything You’ve Ever Done: A Memoir of Unconditional Love and Spiritual Discovery by Amelia Marie Whalen.
Amelia Whalen and Dave both struggled with rocky childhoods. Amelia came from a broken home built by teenaged parents who, though they loved Amelia, could not make things work together. Her mother died when she was a child, and her heartaches did not end there. Dave grew up in a family plagued by drugs and weakened by infidelity. By the time Amelia and Dave enter each other’s lives, they have constructed solid foundations from their troubles and found release in creative—sometimes even off-the-wall—activities, such as rock climbing (Amelia) and music (Dave). The relationship, while passionate as a result of their headstrong personalities, seems to be a match made in heaven. The unconditional love and dedication they have for each other, even with all their fights and obstacles, shines in every aspect of their lives as they go from dating to living together and, finally, marriage.
In their third year of marriage, everything changes. Dave changes, and Amelia isn’t the only one to notice. Friends and coworkers grow uncomfortable around him as Dave becomes more unpredictable, negative, forgetful, apathetic, and aloof. Dave is no longer Dave. He is now “New Dave” and, to borrow the author’s words, the “Big Trouble” has put a wedge between him and Amelia. The worst part—the part with which Amelia can’t reconcile or make sense of—is that Dave denies the change and passively and consistently refuses to address the issue.
While she still loves Dave and Dave loves her, Amelia must do what is best for her. But what could that be? Should she stick it out or start all over? With the help of rock climbing, music, close loved ones, and the universe, Amelia undergoes the self-reflection needed to understand what she has to do. Even then, Dave does not stay out of her life forever. He brings more stress into her life and, while she loves him deeply and is heartbroken without him, she knows that he will continue to hurt her, especially if he goes on refusing help.
Can they make it through these trials together? Will Dave get the help he needs? Can Amelia learn to be happy without him, or will they reunite? Most importantly, will their unconditional love be enough to pull them through their troubles?
Part memoir and part autobiography, Whalen’s Everything You’ve Ever Done has affected me emotionally about as much as Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall. The effect may be even stronger now, knowing that the story is real and that Amelia and Dave truly struggled through such hard times. It’s not a read for the faint of heart. Heartache, anxiety, desperation, and even suicidal thoughts fill this book to the brim with emotional turmoil.
The writing is clean, simple, and easy to grasp, but by no means is this book a quick read. Whalen crafts her story masterfully and beautifully, and it is this mastery which makes for a slower read than one would expect. I had to take several breaks throughout my reading in order to emotionally and mentally recuperate; I could feel her struggles so deeply that just reading about the ordeal drained me. I grew a connection to Amelia so strong that I could not help but to go on the same emotional roller coaster as she does in the narrative.
The structure, while mostly chronological, seamlessly slips in memories from before the current timeline of the book. These memories slowly reveal crucial details to Amelia’s background, Dave’s background, and the background of friends which leads to the realization of Dave’s condition. In a narrative already packed with emotional and spiritual turmoil, Whalen manages to make these revelations at intervals which do not further overwhelm the reader.
Everything You’ve Ever Done is about more than Dave’s downward spiral and Amelia’s pain while trying to help him. Amelia explores paths of healing and spiritual growth, from her many rock climbing adventures to her month of carefree abandon and homelessness to appointments with a social worker who helps her learn to take care of herself while she’s taking care of Dave. She works hard to become a stable, independent woman without her self-destructive husband. She forms new friendships, constructs a support network with existing friends, and rises to a new level of spiritual completion.
This book may resonate with me more than the average reader. I struggle with mental health issues and many of my loved ones do as well; for one close loved one, the issues reached a self-destructive level which harmed those around him and, while he’s doing better now, we still have to take things day by day. Much of what Amelia and Dave experience strike a nerve with me, and that connection made me even more eager to finish the book.
With that in mind, anyone who has their own mental health problems or try to help loved ones with such problems will really appreciate this book. For those struggling with mental illness, it helps to put into perspective the effects our choices have on those closest to us. We can grow empathy for our supporters by reading Whalen’s story, and Dave’s deterioration drives home the urgency to get help as soon as possible. For those having to watch their loved ones go through mental illness, a kindred spirit can be found in Amelia. It helps to know that you are not alone in your experiences or unjustified in feeling how you do; you may even find the spiritual guidance you need to navigate through these difficult times.
Everything You’ve Ever Done is not only for people with mental illness or who have loved ones with mental illness. Anyone having a hard time will find inspiration and strength in Whalen’s tale. It’s not a “how to” guide for handling your woes, like Murphy’s Remedy, but readers will take away a mixture of sadness and hope from Whalen’s narrative of unconditional love and faith in oblivion.
Overall, I found no faults with this book. The people seem well-represented, Whalen focuses on the key players of her life during this time, and she gives enough details without wandering into the tediously-unnecessary. I caught a few proofreading errors sprinkled throughout the text but, to be honest, only an overly-perfectionist English major would notice. I don’t recommend this book for those extremely-sensitive readers because of the emotional weight of the subject, but I feel that it is a wonderful read because of that weight.
To buy Everything You’ve Ever Done by Amelia Whalen, follow this link to the book’s Amazon page.
I want to take this time to leave a couple resources for mental health here. The first is a link to the National Institute of Mental Health website. The second is the link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. I apologize for not having any resources outside of the United States; if you know of any, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Know of any books you think I should read? Want your book review on this blog? E-mail me at email@example.com or message me on Fiverr for more information.