BOOK REVIEW: Amazing Disgrace by Grace Campbell

This debut book from Grace Campbell has changed my life, to be honest. I didn’t know I needed it, or that I’d relate to it so much, but Amazing Disgrace has made me really reflect on the normalised shame I feel most days of my life and has helped me to question why it is that I feel it in the first place.

Amazing Disgrace is a candid, humorous and introspective reflection on Grace Campbell’s personal experiences of shame, with chapters drawing upon the big guns like romantic conquests, rejection, sexual assault and mental health. Sounds serious, but also expect gags about fanny farts, avoiding potential Tories at house parties and being a bodyguard for her dad when she was a kid. In between her anecdotes, there’s witty observations observed of a culture we women buy into as part of an unspoken social contract when we’re toddlers. I can honestly say I hadn’t thought too deeply about it until Campbell started pulling out examples left, right and centre. I was floored. I mean, when you think about it, shame is indoctrinated into little girls’ heads across pretty much all cultures and it taints, very toxically, the way they grow up to value themselves and value other women.

I now see shame as this dirty little secret, which is bequeathed from one female generation to another. We don’t choose to carry it, in fact, most of the time we don’t even know we are carrying it, because it’s so inherently coded into our behaviour and our attitudes. But why? Who decides what is shameful? (*coughs* THE PATRIARCHY *coughs again*). And why are we still pandering, sacrificing our own pleasure and sanity in the process, to keep these shame police happy in 2021?

These are the questions asked by Grace Campbell, who has a charming voice and a very unique story to tell as the daughter of infamous “spin-doctor” Alastair Campbell. This woman is unashamedly herself from the outset: sex-positive, political, intelligent, hilarious and surprisingly very vulnerable, opening up about the kind of experiences we all have as young women, but very often fail to articulate. An example of this is when she looks back at a history of accepting shitty behaviour from men and throws down some hard truths, before asking us readers to hold up a mirror and face our truths, too:

“Mostly I was ashamed that I didn’t back myself more, that I didn’t know this wasn’t acceptable. But the truth is, I was in a bad place and I didn’t rate myself enough to say no to just a bit of attention. That’s what happens when we don’t rate ourselves highly- we self-destruct. You’ve done that, too, right? For my sanity, I hope your answer is yes.”

p. 20.

This book has made me resurrect my journal and, honestly, when I deliver my comprehensive write-up on the revelations I’ve had during this pandemic in my next session, it will be my therapist’s wet dream come to life.

For that, I thank Ms Campbell.

There are also a few other things I thank her for, things that I absolutely loved in this cutely illustrated lil’ book that I will definitely be passing onto friends:

I love her celebration of female friendship groups and how they can provide the same sort of value, if not more, to our sense of self than romantic relationships. I totes relate to this and have genuinely wondered on many occasions how I would still be standing were it not for the lovely interventions of my fab friends when I’m up shit’s creek or about to make a very bad life decision at a house party full of strangers that don’t have my best interests at heart. I love her ability to talk about how messy anxiety and depression can be, and how utterly normal it is to consider medication for such ailments. Again, I can’t commend her enough for using her platform to bring awareness as to how common these illnesses really are and how important it is to try whatever it is that works for you, in order to recover.

What I admire the most about Grace Campbell is that there’s no hiding behind a performance for her readers: her life is her literal material and she delves into it with a bravery that has me shook. There’s no attempts of beating around the bush or ignoring the elephant in the room: Amazing Disgrace literally reads like a very personal journal with no censorship or conformity, in order to try and seem palatable to a universal audience. I love Grace Campbell’s frankness about people. There’s frequent jabs at the stiff upper lips of Etonians, middle-aged white men oblivious to their privilege and stale conquests who make you feel like shit for a bit, but serve their ultimate purpose when you’re going through a glow-up, as a solid reminder of what not to settle for.

On the surface of it, I shouldn’t relate to Grace Campbell at all. I’m a brown 26 year-old girl living in Bradford and my dad is nowhere near as influential (thank god?!) as her father. I assumed I wouldn’t relate to her shenanigans on account of the fact she’s white and has grown up with privileges I couldn’t dream of ever having. She proved my judgmental British-born, Bangladeshi blooded ass completely and utterly wrong.

Most people will likely judge Grace for her relation to her father, as I unfairly did, but it’s refreshing and real empowering to see that she actually isn’t afraid of calling out anybody or anything. She isn’t living in the shadows, adhering to the strict protocol of appearing dignified and poised to perfection 24/7. She’s in her own limelight, talking about really difficult stuff, making the world her stage and being very brave in doing so. Thank fuck for that, or else she’d be denying us her fabulous Instagram stories and advice on “Politicians as lovers”.

Grace doesn’t hide her disdain for anybody, especially a certain Mr Tony Blair. I would say, actually, that she celebrates it. She remarks, at the beginning of the first chapter, “So, Tony Blair stole the thunder of my birth.” (p. 23) and then goes onto highlight every instance of this disgraced PM’s attempts to derail her childhood. This is how she begins her depiction of an entire childhood lost to media scrutiny and fears about the welfare of her family, as paparazzi took up residence outside their home and delivered their barrage of heated opinions on the Iraq war. After reading this, I felt like a right dickhead. It is so easy to write off somebody else’s experiences due to them appearing to have more privileges than you, but I’d never thought about what she had in relation to what it cost her. Things like her right to privacy or her relationships with her parents, which were inevitably strained by the bucktoothed allure of Blair.

Another reason I related so much to the book was that there’s a self-awareness that runs throughout the chapters, acknowledging the intersectionality of women and their experiences, the common grounds and the vast differences across socioeconomic backgrounds, racial identities, sexualities and beyond. As a brown female reader who is so used to reading the entitled perspectives of predominantly white men and women, who can’t really see outside of their own experiences, it’s been so wonderful to actually read a sincere voice who is reaching out to “other” readers and is capable of identifying, flat-out, why it’s so important to check yourself in today’s climate:

“Just because I know there are people out there with more privilege than me doesn’t mean I don’t have to acknowledge the power structures that I’ve benefited from… Checking your privilege is a good first step, but saying that isn’t enough. We can all do more to dismantle white supremacy.”

p. 63.

By the end of the book, I felt like I could have been Grace’s best mate if I’d just happened to live across the road from her or gone to her secondary school (also attended by Dua Lipa and Campbell won’t let you forget it). She’s the same age as me, of a liberal ideology (she hates Tories as much as I do, OMG!), a massive feminist and she’s gone through alarmingly similar situations with regards to having mental breakdowns whilst abroad and being sexually assaulted/treated like a Kleenex by far too many members of the Dickheads Club. On top of that, she’s at a point in her life where she just doesn’t give a shit anymore about playing up to other people’s expectations at the expense of her mental health. We love to see it.

I am a self-professed alcoholic bookworm who has spent a substantial period of her life falling into very similar traps as Grace Campbell. I am only now beginning to realise how futile it is, trying to impress everybody (especially when they’re not worth my fantastic drunken renditions of Whitney Houston) and I genuinely feel a relief at having accidentally found an ally through the pages of her debut book. This is an open invitation to Grace Campbell, which will undoubtedly be rebuffed (I don’t blame her, in retrospect, this is reading as a little bit stalker-ish but I’ve come so far so I can’t turn back), but when you’re up North for your comedy tour (definitely will be buying tickets), please let me buy you a cocktail and tell you how awesome you are? That is all, j’adore.

You can buy Amazing Disgrace here.

And you should most definitely check out her Insta for daily fabulousness, you will not regret:

2020 vision: a reflection of what’s been and a speculation as to what will come

A bathroom selfie from my first week at work, feeling indestructible!

Against all odds, I started a new job in November. It was significant and ultra scary after a year of unemployment, plus it had only been a few months since the final end of my master’s course. I was without direction and honestly lacking a sense of my own identity, with everything having changed so majorly. So it was pretty overwhelming, thinking about the fact I’d miraculously landed my first full-time job after the successful completion of uni. I got my own desk. I got my own laptop. I got my own telephone number on the company directory. It was surreal.

The commutes were great initially (let’s not talk about the train timetable changes in December…). The colleagues in the office were lovely and very patient with me. My family were supportive and encouraging, proud that I was settling in. It was really good.

However, the irony is that around the time I started the job, I stopped practicing all of the amazing self-care routines that I’d spent the summer creating. Yoga, healthy eating, daily workouts, hypnotherapy tapes at night, regular meditation etc. It was like, at the first sight of normality, I regressed into all of the bad habits that I knew had led me to ultimately feeling so low earlier in 2019. I threw myself into work whole-heartedly and did my usual self-destructive thing: juggling as much as humanly possible (finishing a distance-learning course alongside a full time job), working longer hours than I was contracted to (unpaid, might I add) and being silly enough to work straight through lunch breaks (taking no time to stop and do something recreational for myself). I bailed on plans with friends several times and beat myself up about it, constantly. I was drinking a lot of alcohol again and deeming it acceptable because I deserved it, after a hard day at work.

As a result of numerous stressors, predominantly ones designed by yours truly, I felt quite low during my last week at work and had a bit of a spontaneous cry at the office. I was exhausted. I also began to realise that even with numerous drastic changes in my life, for the positive, I was still feeling not so great. I think I’d felt guilty for a few weeks, constantly telling that internal voice to shut-up and stop being sad. I was starting to get my life together, so why was I feeling so bad? Why was it that, even with gratitude leaking out of every pore, it was still possible to feel so horrible and possess such a cripplingly low self-esteem? It turns out that depression and anxiety don’t just disappear overnight. They’re not purely situational diagnoses’ and they sure as heck defy sense. You can have all the components of a perfect existence under your belt and that won’t make a difference, if you have depression and/or anxiety. This is the sad truth yet when acknowledged, it can also be a liberating one. Sometimes resistance is futile and its more empowering to accept that you’re not where you want to be just yet, but you will be some day. That’s enough. Whilst I’d made undeniable progress in my journey to recovery, there was still so much more left to overcome. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay! There’s no bloody deadline date! It’s a lifelong commitment to preserve myself and be less of an asshole, where possible. I have to learn and I have to grow, yet to do both I also have to suffer sometimes because life can’t just be rainbows and butterflies. Humans aren’t infallible- they break and they bend and need to go through stressful environments and situations in order to take a stronger form.

Over Christmas, a busy period of time spent catching up with a never-ending conveyor belt of family faces, I realised that I had to commit to change. It was so nice to be able to savour the time with loved ones and it gave me a much needed reality-check in time for the new year. There’s no point putting so much time and effort into self-care if it’s only being done in an opportunistic window. You have to fight to change your lifestyle and to ingrain the practices that keep you grounded into your daily routine, at any cost. You have to appreciate your efforts, whether they bloom into what you wanted or fail, because at least you tried.

So my goal for 2020 is to really push for balance. A career is great but not without down-time and personal commitments. I want to manifest a vision of strong physical and mental health, confidence in my abilities as a writer and singer, an abundance of financial gain (earned through persistence and hard work) as well as an improvement in self-worth. I want to see my friends and truly treasure them, so that they go to bed every night with no doubt that they are loved and cherished. I want to finally accept that I am deserving of respect and that I am entitled to space from people and situations that are toxic.

2020 will also be the year I finally make philanthropy a priority. I want to give time and whatever resources I possess to various causes, local and beyond. It is no secret that our world is riddled with social and environmental concerns that need to be addressed with activism, fundraising and awareness. I want to be part of that fight and I want to be part of some positive change, even if its for only one person.

Those are my intentions. Those are my primary focuses in 2020. Though things are looking and feeling pretty scary, I am determined that things are going to get better.

On a final note, despite all my woes in 2019, I also have to acknowledge that it was a year of many victories, even if I didn’t have the capacity to truly appreciate them at the time. I:

  • Handed in my master’s thesis with minor corrections (literally grammar and punctuation changes were suggested).
  • Started a very candid and open conversation about mental health, which has been extremely challenging in previous years. I received lots and lots of supports from loved ones and strangers, far and wide.
  • Got to spend a lot of quality time with my family for the first time in many, many years.
  • Went to therapy and also overcame my aversion to medication, trying antidepressants at the recommendation of my amazing GP.
  • Started blogging again, making an active effort to post on a weekly basis.
  • Read, and enjoyed, way more books than in previous years.
  • Completed a distance-learning course in Mental Health Awareness.
  • Bagged a guest spot on a website about female worth.
  • Graduated again.
  • Started an enjoyable job that actually has some relation to the degree I did.

I mean, that’s pretty damn impressive for somebody who had effectively given up on life and spent around 6 months physically unable to leave the house. If that’s what I managed whilst fully incapacitated, I can only wonder how much potentials this year holds!

I hope that I will look back at this post in the future and feel some gratification, in knowing that I acted on all of this. I also hope that you, dear reader, will be doing all that you can to manifest a brighter 2020 for yourself and your world💜🌍