Wellbeing Wednesdays: Brené Brown’s ‘Atlas of the Heart’ – a book review by Imogen Bowden

Our Wellbeing Wednesday post this week features a book review by Community and Wellbeing Rural Representative, Imogen Bowden. Here, she elegantly intertwines her thoughts on Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart with her own observations about emotion. Happy reading!

Cover of Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart

Emotions are the most powerful, beautiful, and deadly creatures in existence as far as I am aware. They build us up and bring us down, accompany every moment of life and occasionally leave us to the abyss of life without them to stew on their importance. This is how I have always perceived emotion – their own entity, a power unto themselves. I have loved to picture emotions as creatures, acting on us all and puppeteering us in their own puppet show. If you have not noticed, I am a slight fan of metaphor and personification. It has always allowed me to see and understand the mechanisms of the world – to bestow it all my qualities. But at the end of the day, emotions are not otherworldly beasts; emotions are simply apart of us in the most integral and intangible sense (also a bit of a fan of oxymoron (sorry)).

Recently I have been reading Brené Brown’s new masterpiece – Atlas of the Heart. When I say the pieces of the puzzle of my emotional life started to click into place, I mean I could hear the resounding thud as each sentence struck a chord of my life story. She has written this book in such a way that it can make clear to all their individual experience of emotion. But now I want to put my personal biases aside (or try to) and explain why it is I am driven to write this piece.

I have loved to picture emotions as creatures, acting on us all and puppeteering us in their own puppet shows.”

We all need to talk/write/read/sing/scream more about emotion.  

Because, at the end of the day, we need to try to describe our experiences of emotion and create a shared language that permits us to share these experiences with ourselves and with others.

This is possibly what struck me most about Brown’s writing – that I had such a limited understanding of my own emotions because I did not have the words to explain to myself what my own experiences are. And if we are unable to express and clearly understand our emotions and their effects on ourselves, there is no possibility of sharing our experience with others. In the beautiful words of Brown “Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning.”

In reading this book I have realised that I have always tried and turmoiled in my attempts to describe emotion but with the aim to distance myself from the emotion rather than to bridge the distance. I have always wanted to describe emotion as a way to finalise the experience, weighing down the emotion with fancy words so that it may be caged and controlled. Brown has taught me that language is the weapon of understanding emotion, not a weapon to neutralise.

This book also catalysed my epiphany that describing emotion to myself and creating that understanding for myself is not enough. Sharing experience and emotion with others through a discourse to create communal understanding is pivotal in the fight to end the human war against emotion. Brown calls us all to be …. Vulnerable. I cringe at the word; at the very emotion it evokes. But let me try to be vulnerable now and share with you the words that capture my vulnerability.

My chest is a locked cabinet, I unlock the doors and swing them wide. There sits my heart, visible to all; for some reason a wind is always blowing and the heart shivers. Why is it frightening. I used to believe that it was a trust issue. My heart is too exposed, and anyone may walk by and steal it, hurt it, break it. But maybe the bigger problem is that I do not believe that anyone really cares or will even bother to look/listen. Unlocking the door and having that vulnerability make no difference at all is perhaps what scares me most.

That is what vulnerability feels like to me.

I cannot recommend this book enough and whilst all I have said does near to no justice of Browns work, I hope that you are inspired to start some ponderance of emotion; that you take just a moment to think what language you use to describe emotion to yourself and how you can best share this with others.

Imogen Bowden is the Rural Representative for MUMUS Community and Wellbeing.

Wellbeing Wednesdays: Strength in Vulnerability, by Laura Gilbertson, Nicole Nguyen and Melinda McCabe

This week’s Wellbeing Wednesday post features a moving poem by Community and Wellbeing Committee Member Laura Gilbertson, who lyrically explains how strength grows from where we least expect it. Continue reading, to find a piece by Melinda McCabe and Nicole Nguyen from Monash Thrive. They offer resources available to students who are struggling and share some research on the barriers that young people experience in seeking help. We hope you find this week’s post helpful.

 I wake up and put my brave face on.

 Fill the angst with a broad smile.

 If people don’t know then it won’t be real.

 Just take it all home. You’re safe there. You’re ok there.

 What if I’m not ok?


 I still remember the first time I was vulnerable.

 The first time I took off my veil and revealed my true self.

 Paralysed with fear that the world would forever look at me differently.

 The world would finally see the ugliness underneath.  

 And yet, something strange happened.

 The world kept moving.

 My loved ones still loved me.

 Some, even, related to my struggles.

Something happened that first time I was vulnerable.

I feared weakness but found strength.

The strength to lean on others. The strength to reflect. The strength to grow.

I found strength in vulnerability.

Laura Gilbertson is a committee member for MUMUS Community and Wellbeing.

Admitting to ourselves that we are struggling can be really difficult. It’s hard to talk about, especially if we feel like talking about our issues will make them more real, more challenging, and make us feel like we are lesser. It can also just be difficult to open up to someone and to talk about what we see as our own personal weaknesses. 

Although sometimes scary it is important to talk about our problems, challenges, and struggles with others, whether that is a mental health professional or loved one. Talking through our issues with another can help us understand, reframe, and work to solve the issues we are facing. Getting help also helps us feel less alone and scared, where we often feel like we are the only ones experiencing these issues. 

Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic we know from peer-reviewed research that many people were struggling, in particular young people who are also trying to navigate the usual challenges associated with becoming an adult and all the worries and responsibilities associated with that. From just our own research here at the Monash THRIVE lab we know that throughout 2020 and 2021 an average of 25% of our students were reporting high levels of stress, and 29% reporting low levels of wellbeing. These numbers are concerning but we want to share them with you to let you know that if you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or sad, you are not alone and there is help available and people that care about you. 

A large-scale systematic review published in 2021 explored the main barriers to seeking help in young people. The most common barrier, affecting 96% of the studies explored, was a lacking understanding of mental health and negative perceptions of help seeking, followed by social stigma and embarrassment, feelings of trust (or more accurately ‘mistrust’) of mental health professionals and lastly, the fourth systematic and structural barriers such as access to these services and potential cost concerns. 

Seeking help early is critical to get the support you need as soon as possible and to hopefully prevent things from getting more serious and impacting other areas of your life such as your studies, career, and relationships. 

If you take away anything from this article, please let it be this:

If you are ever in need of help, reach out. Reach out to a friend, family member, your partner (if you have one), or a mental health professional. Just reach out as soon as possible.

You are important.
You deserve to ask for help.
You deserve help.
Your loved ones and mental health services are there for you, for you to use. If you don’t know where to begin, we have resources on how to go about reaching out for help on our website. It can be hard to bring ourselves to seek help, but it gets easier the more you do it.

Melinda McCabe and Nicole Nguyen are members of Monash Thrive, an organisation collaborating between students and researchers, with a focus on student mental health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing Wednesdays: Getting Better at Getting Better, by Shreya Mago

Welcome to our first instalment in 2022 of the regular segment, Wellbeing Wednesdays. This segment features work from our friends at MUMUS Community and Wellbeing. Today’s piece is from Shreya Mago, who expresses a perhaps familiar feeling of the pressure of self-improvement. Stay tuned for regular updates from C&W throughout the year!

Whether it be being surrounded by inspiring individuals, examples of incredible people in medicine, or general glamorised social media content, medicine seems to breed a sort of obsession for self-improvement and health. 

Its the type of self-improvement you read about in self-help books. The one that med students dream of achieving when they obsess over those “day in the life” or “how to increase your productivity” youtube videos. We’ve all done it, no shame or judgement here. 

What makes this type of growth so hard is not just the act of having to make that change. Of course, it’s already initially difficult to force yourself to not snooze through that 6am wakeup, hit the gym most days or meal prep on the weekends. But what makes this process of self improvement so much more difficult is our own minds, which seem to criticise us when we stray even slightly from our goal, and can sometimes struggle to accept that improvement isn’t always linear.

Medicine seems to breed a sort of obsession for self-improvement and health.

The 2020 lockdown was a time of self-focus and reflection for many. For me personally, I adopted, what was in my eyes, a healthy routine. I started waking up early, exercising daily, studying at more appropriate and routine times, and caring for my skin properly. But it was a slow process. Some days, I would be tired from forcing myself to wake up early all week and remain in bed for the better part of the day. Which is fine. It takes time for your body to get used to new activities. Only, at the time it didn’t feel fine. I’d be consumed with guilt and anxiety that I’d messed up my routine. After these feelings, there’d be increasing pressure to ‘fix’ things the next day. Do a harder workout, eat healthier, spend less time on my phone. I wouldn’t honour my body’s limits and I wouldn’t accept that adopting habits takes time. It’s not a perfect process, and even when something becomes a habit, it still may not happen every day. I ended up injuring my back and knees through the exercise I was doing, and was essentially told it was because I probably started doing too much, too soon, without giving my body time to adapt. 

Even then, I didn’t really process that maybe I was being too harsh on myself. In retrospect, perhaps if I had listened to my body and what was best for it, as opposed to trying to match my life to a perfect, morning routine highlight reel every day, I may not have injured myself. 

A couple years later, and I can say that those early wake-ups are now a pretty easy habit for me to stick to, and exercising most days doesn’t feel difficult. And sure, part of it is because it’s been a couple years now and I’m used to it. But even more so, it’s because I no longer put as much pressure on myself. If I sleep in, it’s because my body needs the rest to recover, and I don’t need to wake up feeling as though I’ve already wasted the best part of the day. 

Our own minds … can sometimes struggle to accept that self-improvement isn’t always linear.

I regularly see traits or habits in other people which I try to adopt. But I’m realising more and more that I need to go easy on myself. Some days, I’ll get it right. I’ll spend less time on my phone and I’ll read a chapter of a book and go to bed on time. Other days I spend hours mindlessly scrolling on my phone and not getting enough sleep. But this is also fine. It’s a process of learning, and feelings of guilt only hinder our ability to function. 

I can’t say that I no longer feel that guilt or anxiety, but I’m getting better at managing it. And I urge anyone who has felt this way to recognise that when you try to learn or improve yourself, ultimately you’re doing it for yourself. So why strain ourselves with harsh criticisms of everything that didn’t go perfect, and instead take things as a learning opportunity. Appreciate what went well in the day, what you achieved and what made you happy. And when considering what you could have done differently, rather than feeling that you’ve messed it all up, recognise that it’s a process, and when you get it, you’ll get it, and if you don’t today, that’s fine too.

Shreya Mago is the 2022 Co-Chair of MUMUS Community and Wellbeing