Sunday is International Literacy Day. While I hope no one needs the encouragement of a designated day to read, take this opportunity to read (or listen to) something longer than a blog post or magazine article: a book.
There are hundreds of books on various aspects of mental health that would be of interest and edifying for readers of this blog. One of the most affecting types is the memoir of someone who has struggled with mental health issues and recovered.
Here are a few recent ones that may have escaped your notice:
by Bassey Ikpi
Available in Paperback, E-book, Digital Audiobook, Audio CD
Bassey Ikpi hasn’t written a standard memoir. Instead of chapters in a single narrative, she had broken up her reminiscences into individual essays that cumulatively tell her story. Neither is it a standard mental health memoir, beginning near the point that her bipolar disorder II began.
The book begins with: “I need to prove to you that I didn’t enter the world broken. I need to prove that I existed before. That I was created by people who loved me and had experiences that turned me into these fragmented sentences, but that I was, at one point, whole. That I didn’t just show up as a life already destroyed.”
Among the memories she collects are of learning that her grandmother died from dementia, that “her brain had melted into just a few memories by the end,” that she had “died of a broken brain.” Of watching the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch accident that killed teacher Christa McAuliffe from her classroom, though she states that she recalled it happening in 1984, “a year of disappointment and heaviness and worry and everything in my brain switching from steady and somewhat okay to enveloping me in a sadness I didn’t understand.”
It’s easy to imagine the former traveling spoken word artist with HBO’s Def Poetry Jam reading these lines. (You can if you buy an audio version of the book.) They have a resonance that a clinical study of BPD lacks.
by Shaun David Hutchinson.
Simon & Schuster, 2019
Available in Hardcover, E-book, Audiobook
Brave Face isn’t just a memoir of depression or of being LGBTQ in the 1990s but of the flawed ways Shaun David Hutchinson attempted to cope with being gay and depressed. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat or justify his conduct, and in an introductory “Content Warning” he warns the reader that it will get ugly.
Along with describing past drug and alcohol use, homosexuality, and petty theft – of which he’s not ashamed per se – Hutchinson says, “I’m also going to talk about depression, about cutting and burning myself, and about my attempted suicide. I’m not ashamed of those things either, but they might be tough for some of you to read, and I want to make sure you’re aware of what’s coming.”
It’s common enough for people with mental health issues to attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol that there are several terms for it, including dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders.
He also warns of his former “internalized homophobia” and that he was not a noble figure. “It’s fine to hate teenage me a little, but trust me, no one will ever hate that arrogant little prick more than he hated himself.”
However, he also promises that “no matter how dark it gets along the way, I’m working on this from the light at the other end of the tunnel, and I’ll be waiting for you there.”
Edited by Jessica Burkhart
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Available in Hardcover, Paperback, E-book
Life Inside My Mind doesn’t begin with an introduction, as is customary in anthologies of this sort, only a dedication: “This collection is dedicated to any readers who have ever dealt with any form of mental illness. May you find comfort and strength through the experiences shared in these pages.” It’s enough.
Though the front cover doesn’t say so, these 31 contributors all write young adult novels – including Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely and its sequels), Kami Garcia (co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series), Ellen Hopkins (Crank), and Francesca Lia Block (the Weetzie Bat books) – all of whom have experienced some form of mental health issue.
The idea is to reach young people who may be experiencing early stages of mental health problems – such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum, Tourette syndrome, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia – and reassure them that they are not alone and that it is still possible to live a full and productive life.
BIO: Stephen Bitsoli writes about mental health, addiction, literature, and politics. A former journalist and lifelong avid reader, he loves learning and sharing what he’s learned.