Don’t Get Too Excited by Jen Epstein Book Review

Don’t Get Too Excited is a collection of humorous personal essays by a woman living with OCD, anxiety, and more. Epstein opens the book by discussing her first signs of struggle growing up as a child in the 1980s. She learned how to read later than her peers and struggled with her fine motor skills, such as tying her shoes. 

Childhood OCD and A Learning Disability

Because her parents both worked in the mental health field, they immediately noticed her struggles. She went to therapy and testing where she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a learning disability (specifically, perceptual impairment). While her parents were attentive to her struggles, they tended to hyper-focus on them, which made her even more self-conscious about her abilities.

Because Epstein’s father was a psychologist, she was able to chat honestly with him about her irrational fears. Whether she was discussing her fear of electric fences or her uvula falling out, she had informal “sessions” with her father after she moved in with him when her parents divorced. 

OCD essays

As a teenager, Epstein went to a high school program in Israel where she enjoyed herself and got English awards. However, after graduating and returning to the states, she felt lost. The essays are packed with self-awareness and insight into Epstein’s own behavior. She is able to look at herself through a humorous microscope.

Despite her struggle transitioning back to the states after high school, Epstein goes on to achieve success. She received a master’s degree in media studies and works as a project manager for a nonfiction media company. She lives in New York City, and one might think she has the dream life if not for her obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Navigating Adulthood with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Panic Attacks

Her compulsive tendencies included tapping, checking, and more. Epstein would tap the burners on her kitchen stove over and over to make sure they were shut off before leaving her apartment. Her routines even made her late for work, and the emotional stress manifested physically into skin rashes and heart palpitations. The physical symptoms of emotional problems are a lot more common than many might think, and I was grateful Epstein touched on that.

anxiety washing machines

One thing that stood out to me was how hard Epstein was on herself. Despite her high level of self-awareness, she writes:

“If I had been smarter, I wouldn’t have chosen to go off my meds. Or I wouldn’t have gone off them cold, but would have weaned myself off them gradually and contacted my psychiatrist before making this decision.”

Who hasn’t stopped taking their medication against the advice of their doctor? It’s less about being smart and more about being frustrated: I am taking the medication prescribed to me. I am still miserable, and now I have all these side effects. Let me just see if stopping the medication will change things even though I know my doctor will not agree…

Stopping a medication cold turkey and/or without supervision is, of course, dangerous. A lot of us have done it, though. Where Epstein chided herself, I saw a stubborn powerful woman who refused to give up.

For example, Epstein views herself as “emotionally fragile,” but she continually pushes herself to improve. She starts therapy, tries different medications, and even goes off to Costa Rica for a ten-day trip despite her high levels of anxiety.

The trip serves as exposure therapy in a way. She almost cancels several times, but she survives the trip, albeit with a questionable level of enjoyment. Her adventures are hilarious, and her ability to look at her struggles in a humorous light was the best part of the book.

anxiety essays

The Intersection of Physical and Mental Health Problems

When Epstein begins to discuss life in her thirties as a woman who struggles with intimacy and body image, I was definitely hooked. While the backstory in the beginning of the book is necessary, I enjoyed reading about her life in the present day the most.

Epstein deals with physical health problems in addition to her mental health struggles. After getting surgery for kidney stones, she hired a nutritionist and personal trainer. Although she struggles with contamination OCD, panic attacks, and more, she has good friends and an improving relationship with her mother. Above all, she refuses to give up and continues working on herself.

Throughout the book, Epstein analyzes her behavior through a lens of humor. She writes honestly and hysterically with practical advice through lived experience. Despite the sometimes summary-heavy chapters, her ability to laugh at herself is what kept me reading. It’s a relatable book for anyone with OCD and anxiety.

ocd authors

The author of Don’t Get Too Excited is a neurodivergent writer, activist, and worker bee who lives in New York. Jen Esptein lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She holds a BA in communication arts and an MA in media studies. After 14 years of working in the media industry and doing project management, Epstein is taking a little break to focus on her writing projects and volunteering as a mental health awareness advocate. She’s currently looking to make a career transition into the non-profit sector and world of community organizing. So if you have any leads, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you dropping her a line.

📖 You can purchase her book at Indie Bound or on Amazon.

About the Author:

Josie Thornhill is a freelance writer and psychology student. She writes nonfiction, poetry, and tinkers with a semi-autobiographical novel. You can read her work at Grief Dialogues, Ang(st) Magazine, Dark Marrow, and more. Stay connected with her on Instagram.

Firefly Magic: Heart-Powered Marketing For Highly Sensitive Writers Book Review

Firefly Magic: Heart-Powered Marketing For Highly Sensitive Writers is a nonfiction book on marketing for writers published in 2018 by Lauren Sapala. Sapala is a nonfiction and transgressive fiction author. She is also a writing coach who specializes in coaching introverted, intuitive writers. She wrote about her struggles with addiction in her autobiographical fiction series, the West Coast Trilogy. In that trilogy, West Is San Francisco is my favorite and definitely one of my all-time favorite novels.

“Are you worried that if you really immerse yourself in marketing and selling your work, that you’ll lose touch with the deeper reasons behind your writing?”

-Lauren Sapala

Firefly Magic: Heart-Powered Marketing For Highly Sensitive Writers

Book Summary

firefly magic: heart-powered marketing for highly-sensitive writers by lauren sapala
Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala

Sapala starts out Firefly Magic by addressing the root of the problem for most highly sensitive writers. We tend to think that marketing for writers is a slimy endeavor. Images of a sleazy salesman may come to mind, but she implores us to rethink how we view ambition and integrity. Because highly-sensitive writers are “emotionally-centered, empathic, intuitive…” we tend to think that marketing goes against our integrity. However, Sapala is here to show us it doesn’t have to be.

She helped me re-frame how I view marketing in my mind. It doesn’t have to be a fancy ad campaign. I don’t need to obsess about the color scheme of my website or the font on my social media photos… which I do… to the point where I feel paralyzed with the fear of making a mistake that will ruin my writing career.

“You don’t have to know everything before you start. You don’t have to spend money you don’t have. You don’t have to have an aggressive ad campaign or social media strategy that aims to reach a million people. Instead, you can play around with pumpkins and purple lights. You can take a few fun pictures of your book and post them on your Facebook page. There. You just did it. You just marketed your book.”

-Lauren Sapala, Firefly Magic: Heart-Powered Marketing For Highly Sensitive Writers

I enjoyed Sapala’s honesty about her writing process and the overwhelming feelings she felt when trying to market her novel Between The Shadow and Lo (an installment in the West Coast Trilogy) . It gave me a boost of confidence to know that successful writers have also felt overwhelmed by marketing and were able to overcome it. I loved when Sapala talked about her messy rough drafts because it gave me a little glimmer of hope to know that one day I can finish the hopeless pile of papers that I call my novel.

Marketing For Writers Isn’t A Slimy Endeavor

One thing that surprised me was discovering my unhealthy attitude toward money. Chapter 5, “How You Feel About Money = How You Feel About Marketing,” really blew me away. Sapala helped me uncover that my parents’ attitudes toward money were imprinted on me and that was affecting me to this day. The truth is that I don’t think I deserve money. It makes me cringe. It feels wrong to have extra money.

My attitude toward money would affect the way I market my book and, it already affects the quotes I give my clients as a freelancer. Do I feel like I deserve to be successful? Truly? No, I don’t. And whenever I have thoughts about publishing my book and making sales, I feel guilty. Is it wrong to want success? Is it wrong to want to make a profit, however small, off my writing? No and no. I’m still unlearning some unhealthy beliefs about money and marketing for writers, but I wouldn’t even know those unhealthy beliefs were there if it wasn’t for Firefly Magic.

Firefly Magic is full of insight and practical advice on marketing for writers. What I’ve touched on is only the tip of the iceberg.

➡️Have you read Firefly Magic? What did you think?

About the Author:

Josie Thornhill is confessional writer and psychology student. Find her creative writing at @angstfzine @rhythmbonespress @griefdialogues. As a freelance copywriter, she’s written for Your Tango, Health Storylines, Eight Palms CBD, Everyday Mental Wellness, NOCD, Your Happy Place, and more.

Grief in Art

“I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else. My son died. And I was hurt, but I watched my hurt, and even relished it, a little, for now I could write a real death, a true loss. My heart was broken by my dark lady, and I wept, in my room, alone; but while I wept, somewhere inside I smiled.”

-Neil Gaiman

This quote by Neil Gaiman has been a favorite of mine for years. When Adam died, I remembered the quote and thought, Of course Neilman wasn’t glad his son died. He tried to see a silver lining. At least, his portrayal of grief will be authentic and true to life.

  • But what do we do when we feel as though our own expression of grief is well, cliche?

When Adam overdosed for the first time, I remember hearing my scream in my own ears as I ran around the house trying to find the Narcan. My scream reminded me of women in horror movies because it was the only time I’d heard a scream like that before: one that makes your toes curl. The scream ripped through my body without my permission.

Later, when I wrote about the experience, readers asked, “How could a girl screaming analyze her own scream while it was happening? Wouldn’t she be too worried to analyze her own scream?”

I had no answer for them except that it was the truth. While I scrambled to find the Narcan, the narrator in my head analyzed everything that I was doing.

When Adam died over a year later, a police officer pulled into our driveway to notify the next of kin. I screamed and fell to my knees (even typing that out feels cliche although, again, it’s the truth). Like before, I thought of people in movies falling to their knees because it’s the only frame of reference I have for that type of trauma. My knees hit the gravel and I thought: Oh my god. Trauma is this cheesy. I did scream and fall to my knees.

Dissociation hits, and I am not in my body but above, watching myself through a stack of scattered Polaroids. Time stretches, and I move in a series of clips:

  • Now she is looking in the back of the police car for Adam because he cannot be dead. He must be handcuffed in the backseat.
  • Now she is kneeling in the driveway screaming, “No.”
  • Now she is standing up and screaming at the police officer, animated and hostile.

I analyzed myself based on the stack of Polaroids because I was not there mentally or emotionally. Dissociation had removed me from the situation to protect myself.

When I wrote about how I analyzed myself moment to moment like that, readers who haven’t experienced trauma or dissociation didn’t understand. Dissociation turns you into a cold observer of yourself as way of protection. The observer scolded the girl: How could she fall to her knees like a widow onscreen? Why is her shock so unoriginal?

Because the responses to shock and grief onscreen (and in books) are often based off the experiences of real people. We laugh and roll our eyes at the “intense” or “cliche” films of widows when we’ve never been through it. When we have, we tremble at the scenes because we know now. We understand, and we hate that we can no longer smirk and grab another bite of popcorn. It isn’t a movie anymore. It’s our life, and we wonder how we found ourselves in this story.

Progress Report

There will come a time when you will be you again.

When you masturbate because you’re horny, not because you want to remember how it feels to relax.

When you don’t cry after every climax and ache all over, looking up at a ceiling that never yields his face.

When you stop changing the radio stations frantically, trying to find a song that doesn’t remind you of him.

When you stop taking 30 minutes to pick a movie because it can’t have a country setting or a tall man with brown hair or any mention of drugs or this and this or that.

When you no longer stare at the Red Bulls in the mini fridge while you stand in the checkout line, wondering if maybe you got one: would it summon his return?

No, that’s silly. But can he hear you?

No, that’s foolish. But can he see you?

No, that’s unrealistic. But you light a random candle you found in a wiccan store, hoping some unintentional magic will bring him back.

You turn on your essential oil diffuser, take your medication, and ease into downward dog. You go through the motions of supposed stable, peaceful, well-adjusted people.

You end up lighting a cigarette anyway and try to keep a lid on the overflowing rage. Are you mad at him? Mad at the universe? Mad at yourself?

my boyfriend overdosed
Photo by cottonbro

You want to fight anyone and everyone. You want to scream and howl and throw glass at buildings downtown until your fingers bust open. You want to find who is responsible, as if it could ever be one person, and strangle them until you see the light leave their eyes, the way his looked when he overdosed.

But all you find is your dazed reflection in the mirror.

So you shove his things in a box and put it in the garage like he never existed.

You cut your hair and dye it, so you look like a version of yourself he never touched.

You start a new job, enroll in a new school, and block all his friends because they won’t stop calling.

You pretend he is gone even though his blood drips down the walls of your bedroom every morning.

There will come a time when you will be you again, but it is not now. Not yet.

Stage of Grief: Anger

After work on Tuesday, I’m driving home in Adam’s truck when a sleazy man’s voice comes on the radio. He is the kind of man who wants to sell you a diamond ring for your girlfriend, the one from Shane Co with the never-ending radio ads.

“If the two of you made it through 2020, you need to-”

Before he says “buy her a diamond ring,” I mash the button of another radio station and screech, “WE DIDN’T! We didn’t make it!”

I bang a left turn and raise my eyebrows, surprised at the amount of rage that explodes out of me at unpredictable intervals.

my boyfriend died suddenly
Photo by cottonbro

I pull up to my sister’s apartment to avoid going home to an empty house.

“How was work?” she asks.


“Why? What’s wrong with them?”

A year ago, maybe two, I would respond with a quip about how stupid my boss or coworkers were. I didn’t have enough self-awareness to understand that I am the problem, not everyone else.

“It’s not them. It’s me. I’ve got shit social skills.”

She laughs. “I’m sorry, Jo.”

I shrug and dig my nails into my palm, trying to straddle the line between self-awareness and self-destruction.

Pro Tip #1

Don’t listen to your Spotify 2020 wrapped if your boyfriend died this year.

I know, why would you? You told yourself that it was a bad idea. How could you be so stupid?

It’s just that, well, it looks fun. The ad itself is so colorful. And you kind of want to know how many times you listened to The Vowels Pt. 2 by WHY? this year. Plus, it will probably just pull up The Strokes and The Shins, right?

None of the country songs he played in his beat up pickup truck that you actually began to like instead of tolerate. None of the sci-fi soundtracks you showed him, while you sped down the road in your silver Camry. To make it to work barely in time. Or fight over the sounds of the violin in film scores because you smelled whisky on him. Or because y’all weren’t going to be able to pay rent this month since you quit your job… again.

Don’t do it. Cause you’re wrong. The first song that plays will be the one he sang to you that day in May when you both decided to maybe, well… fuck it? Get married and start a family. And you will hate how cliche memories and grief and life are. But more than that, you will hate how much it hurts.

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