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Paperback Details
  • 08/2023
  • 9798218263485 B0CFTCNLRP
  • 94 pages
  • $18.00
Sarah Erin
Secrets Make You Sick
Sarah Erin, author

Adult; Poetry; (Market)

Secrets Make You Sick is a poetry collection that candidly explores the intricacies of severe mental illness and subsequent trauma. It delves into the sense of self, the highs and lows of Bipolar Disorder, the effects of Complex PTSD, and the many layers of grief. *The topics addressed in this collection are highly sensitive. please read at your own discretion and take care of your heart.
Mental health poet Erin (author of Beyond the Table) turns anguish into art in this searing, frank collection of twenty concrete poems that explore the experience of living with bipolar disorder and PTSD. In "Hazel Nuts" she writes that "the mixed episodes” of the disorder “prompt an eclectic concoction of mood swings / a manic high / which usually results / in a refreshed ginger hair color / and / a crash." Through the rise and fall of rhythm, each poem immerses readers in the swirling, tossing, reaching, floating, and plummeting existence, in indulgences (“Chips, dip, and alcohol”), moments of bleak clarity entwined with sex (“liar, liar pants off entire-ly”), and emotional extremes (“panic-induced chill swells over my body and encapsulates / my soul”), all often followed by an unwilling numbness.

Erin's verses strip away the desensitizing connotations of terms like “mental health,” instead digging into the emotional reality of bipolar living and a host of dynamic, wide-ranging traumatic experiences, recounted in language that slices, stings, and illuminates. "Panic & Other Bedtime Stories" delves into visceral bouts of panic attacks, with electric language and jarring enjambment. "Ap Parently Not" captures the haunting grief of being a mom for a night, and the urgent "Live, Laugh, Lamictal" takes on the façade of composure, revealing the unmedicated truth and inner turmoil that “ordinary house guests / aren't supposed to see.” Other threads touch on mental health consultations, distrust, abuse, identity crises, bodily shame, eating disorders, self-harm, and what it feels like to “have a case of hypersexual psychosis manifested in the most detrimental way.”

This raw collection commences with a ballad of self-introduction pulsing with rage, and culminates in a tribute to the alter ego "that resides at the bottom / of my wine glass." The fluidity of this collection propels readers through the accounts of a pained past and present afflictions, sweeping to a conclusion that sounds a note of hope and renewed faith in professional help.

Takeaway: Raw, powerful poetry of life with bipolar disorder and PTSD.

Comparable Titles: Mary Lambert’s Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

Matthew Mill - Reedsy Discovery

Secrets Make You Sick is a stunningly candid exploration of the darkest facets of mental health, from crippling trauma to gut-wrenching grief and the soaring highs and plummeting lows of bipolar disorder, told through Erin’s vignettes and anecdotes. Each poem is presented in the same fragmented structure Erin utilised in Behind Her City Eyes, where thoughts spiral into one another, and words and phrases are left dangling for emotional impact.

Erin’s searing honesty and willingness to bring pertinent issues to light deserve great praise, but they shouldn’t diminish her outstanding writing ability. The language is wonderfully evocative, and she uses imaginative imagery to paint her emotions, particularly in ‘HAZEL NUTS’: “that depressive stash of takeout containers/-their branded napkins to match/creating an art exhibit on my bedroom floor.” However, arguably, the most striking moments come when she dispenses with metaphors, instead opting for strikingly powerful statements, such as in the heart-breaking ‘TRIGGER WARNING’. 

Despite the serious nature of the topics she tackles, Erin utilises some brilliant gallows humour throughout, none more so than in ‘GRIPPY SOCKS’, which documents the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt: “just risked my whole existence/but god forbid/I risk a fall.” Her sharp sarcasm walks a delicate tightrope, often veering into justifiable anger, which flows through the myth-busting FREUDIAN F*CKERY’, a real highlight where Erin brilliantly slays misguided misconceptions. 

Despite the deeply personal nature of Erin’s poems, the stories and messages they convey will resonate with readers afflicted with similar mental health problems, potentially providing some solace that comes from shared suffering. More importantly, Erin’s poems show how not to treat people in certain situations and how seemingly throwaway remarks can fester. Erin isn’t craving sympathy but showcasing the power of understanding and humanity. 

Erin’s greatest strength is how she crafts a distinctive voice for each poem, breathing emotion into the stories she tells. Her delivery is unique, embodied by the opening of ‘LIVE, LAUGH, LAMICTAL’: “I leave my scattered sanity displayed/like out-of-date holiday decorations/that ordinary house guests aren’t/supposed to see.”

The unfiltered nature of Erin’s poems may be upsetting for some readers, but she should be commended for her bravery in etching her soul onto the pages, letting the reader trace her scars. Creating conversations poetically and emotionally, Erin is more than an excellent writer; she is a role model. 


Natalie Soine for Readers’ Favorite

Secrets Make You Sick by Sarah Erin delves into her personal experiences and emotions. She explores themes such as family, loss, mental health, body image, and the struggle for self-acceptance through heartfelt verses. The poems touch on topics like resilience, eating disorders, and the complexity of dealing with personal trauma. Sarah opens up about her struggles and how she's coped with them, sharing raw and unfiltered emotions that resonate with the reader. From the loss of loved ones to the challenges of dealing with societal expectations, Sarah's poetry is a poignant and honest reflection of her life's journey. While some of the subject matter may be heavy and somber, there's a sense of hope and determination in the poet's words.

Sarah Erin’s willingness to share her struggles adds a layer of authenticity to her work that is both relatable and deeply moving. Through her poems, Sarah takes readers on a journey through the highs and lows of her life, offering an unfiltered view of her world. The themes tackled in this collection are not easy ones to address, but Sarah approaches them with grace and candor. Her writing style is emotive, and her words have the power to evoke a strong emotional response in the reader. The poems are a blend of vulnerability and resilience, capturing the complexities of life's challenges and the human spirit's capacity to endure and overcome. I appreciate learning from Sarah that “Loss can be a catalyst for many a mental illness” and Secrets Make You Sick.

Winner Fall 2023 Book Fest Award

Honorable Mention Distinction 

Paperback Details
  • 08/2023
  • 9798218263485 B0CFTCNLRP
  • 94 pages
  • $18.00