True Despair, True Connections

worthlessWorthless is the real-life story of young author Robyn Hennesy’s struggle with sexual abuse, eating disorders, bullying, depression, self-harm, criminal activity, and drug addiction. Told in a raw and practically unedited form (it feels like we are sometimes reading the quickly scribbled diary entry of a teenager) we are brought face-to-face with all the terrible and heart-wrenching moments of Robyn’s, and her twin sister Ashleigh’s, life growing up in Surrey, England. They are average young girls, who have ordinary aspirations and dreams.

This is all disrupted when, at age nine, the twins begin to starve themselves and worry about their weight so that they can continue to compete in Judo competitions. Then, at the ripe age of 10, they are sexually abused and raped by two boys in their local neighbourhood multiple times. In the process they never seek help because they are too afraid of what has happened to them. From there, Robyn’s life spirals out of control as she is continually abused, bullied by her classmates and friends, and then as she starts a long battle with drug abuse beginning with Ritalin and marijuana and ending with the king of all drugs, meth.

Robyn’s story is one that feels unreal at first. It’s hard to comprehend that all of these traumas could occur to such a young child in our modern-day world. Yet, through Robyn’s honest storytelling we are forced to wake up from our comforting assumptions to face the reality of what she’s been through. There’s no turning back from the horrors of Robyn’s life once you open this book. It must be battled page by page. In this way, Worthless puts its reader through the ordeals of the writer. However, surprisingly, it is not with pain and heartache that we continue to read, but with a sense of hope and a growing understanding of who this person is and why we are fixated on knowing her, helping her, and believing in her.

The book doesn’t preach to us that doing drugs or participating in criminal activity is bad. It merely states the facts of Robyn’s life, laying them out exactly as they happened. Robyn explains the illegal things that she’s done, such as taking drugs, setting fire to houses, and trespassing, yet we are more concerned with how our protagonist will recover from each situation. We may judge Robyn on the morality of her actions, but she doesn’t care. This is a release for her, and she refuses to hold anything back.

Robyn does keep one thing from us though. Up until the very last paragraph of Worthless, we don’t really know what the writer’s message is to us, or if she really has one at all. This makes for an interesting read, because we come along for the ride as opposed to spending the whole time judging what she has to say about what she’s learned from her life. She is not simply a writer but a human being. Her story is real. The last paragraph reads:

Life is short, so don’t waste it and don’t be afraid to be someone. We all make mistakes and we all fall down, that’s what makes us human. Life is tough but we are strong, that’s why we are here. So stand up for your rights and if someone is hurting you, ask for help! The storm may be fierce but it can’t last forever, so keep fighting for your happiness because one day, you will see that you were never really worthless…

In this way, Robyn has told us unapologetically about the trauma she has experienced and how she has healed through storytelling. Because of this reflection, embedded in real events, we are likewise healed.

I couldn’t help but think about my own battles with trauma, drug abuse, and mental illness, during my reading of Worthless. The memoir has a similar aim as my own writing project does. I’m currently writing a poem daily in order to raise awareness of how keeping healthy whilst experiencing a mental illness is a daily struggle, just as it would be for someone who is suffering a severe physical illness. Since starting the project I have opened up a lot about myself to the wide world of the Internet, and it took a lot of guts at every step of the way. But my ultimate goal has been to reach others who may be going through similar issues, and to help those who see people in their life struggling and who don’t know how to react.

So Robyn’s book struck a chord in me, as I see her as a fellow fighter in the same battle that I’m going through. Connecting with others by sharing my stories is in itself why I’m doing what I’m doing. It is clear that Robyn has a similar vision because of the fact that she tells us that she has “recently discovered her love of writing” and in writing this book she has realised that “although the past makes me who I am, it does not define me and I will never let it break me”.

Although the fact that I can relate to Robyn’s stories so much may seem the main reason why I feel so connected to this book, it is readable for a far more general audience. We all have suffered in one form or another, whether it be through depression, trauma, or heartache; it is the human condition (as Robyn explains) to fall down and to do our best to stand back up again.

man in hole
This is an illustration by Kurt Vonnegut of this kind of story arc (he calls it “Man in Hole”) where a character goes from being a normal person to rock bottom. When they recover, they end up a little better than they were originally because of the wisdom they gained in the process.

It’s the common story arc of a character beaten down, usually because they have a human flaw that we can relate to, and then triumphantly, against all odds, regain strength and a sense of purpose. We root for the underdog because we are them and they are us. I believe that Robyn is indeed all of us and we are all her.

Worthless, then, is not simply just a book. It is a language, a set of thoughts that would be our own were we to go through major trauma. In this way, I find Worthless to have more merit than anything else I’ve ever read; it’s more a part of me than any plain old novel could ever hope to be.

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