Let Me Not Be Mad
A. K. Benjamin
Pseudonymous A. K. Benjamin was a clinical neuropsychologist in a London hospital for years, using his education, compassion, and empathy to diagnose and treat patient after patient. In this tantalizing book, he begins as many have before him, by examining some memorable patients as case studies, his own thoughts and opinions running in the background. But as you keep reading, Dr. Benjamin’s own mind becomes more central, his own history of mental illness and a renewed unraveling haunting his every step. Yet it’s this experience, side by side with expertise, that demonstrates that humanity remains central rather than illness.
The Edge of Every Day
Marin Sardy’s family has been haunted by the presence of often-unacknowledged schizophrenia for four generations, tracing its way through lives and relationships. Sardy examines how she watched with confusion her mother’s absolute conviction in her delusions while also witnessing one family after another deny the existence of the mental illness whose evidence was all around them. Later, as she saw her brother struggle through similar delusions and denial, Sardy had to reckon with the cycle all over again. Yet this isn’t only a story of a family’s collapse, but also the complexity of its love, adventure, joy, and art.
Everything Here Is Beautiful
Mira T. Lee
Mira T. Lee’s debut novel is also about family and mental illness, alternating in viewpoint between two sisters, Miranda and Lucia, and their complex and sometimes exhausting bond. Miranda, the older one, remembers immigrating to the US with her pregnant mother, and she’s always needed to be the strong one, the responsible one, the caretaker. Lucia lives her life to the fullest despite her schizo-affective disorder—vivacious and highly intelligent, she’s capable of more than society tells her she is. When her manic phases lead her to drastic life changes, Miranda balks, but eventually, must learn to let go.
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
Novelist Yiyun Li emigrated from China to the US where she became a scientist before turning to creative writing and exploring the lives of others. But some years into a successful and award-winning career, the demons she’d tried to banish along with her past and her mother tongue caught up to her and she was twice hospitalized after suicide attempts. In this candid memoir, she explores both the depths of despair and the heights of comfort that she found amidst the words of other writers whose works inspired her. Not a recovery narrative, but a story of live with, and through.
My Age of Anxiety
One of the most prevalent of mental illnesses, anxiety is especially fun (/sarcasm) because it comes in so many shapes and forms, affecting different people in various ways, with no single or even simple cure. Scott Stossel’s own symptoms began when he was young, and in his quest to understand the condition, he uses both his skills as a journalist to document others’ battles to feel better and his own experience to delve into the complex symptomology and its traceable history through the ages. A deeply human condition, ultimately, Stossel also examines how people, himself included, have learned to handle their anxieties.
Turtles All the Way Down
Aza Holmes is trying desperately to hold it together, and has been for some time. With a self-inflicted wound on her finger that she never allows to heal, an obsession with the way her body lives as a seemingly independent and mysterious fauna full of bacteria and ever-changing cells, and a tightening spiral of anxiety, she nevertheless tries to lead a normal life. With a best friend, a cute guy whose dad’s disappeared, and a curious mind, Aza is always tiptoeing between okay and really not. There aren’t easy answers here, but a deeply relatable story of doing one’s best.
Reasons to Stay Alive
For years, Matt Haig has struggled with depression. In this book, he looks at both the symptoms—the panic attacks, the anhedonia (or the inability to experience pleasure), the insomnia, the sense of doom – as well as the various ways he tried to overcome them—from the pharmaceutical to the natural to the postural (i.e., yoga). Ultimately, what he’s found most helpful is human connection, the life and kindness he can offer and have offered in return, the support network of family and friends, as well as—similar to Yiyun Li—the deep catharsis of books. Relatable, and finally hopeful.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
Darius has never been to Iran, but when his grandfather becomes ill, the family takes a trip to spend time with his mother’s side of the family. Nerdy and brown in Portland, Oregon, uncertain of Farsi and too American in Iran, Darius feels like a square peg trying to fit into one round hole after another. Plus, how do you explain clinical depression and medication to grandparents who think it’s BS? But when the boy next door, Sohrab, decides to make Darius his friend, everything begins to change. It’s true—having even one supportive person can change a whole lot.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness each year, and of those, some 60% haven’t received treatment for it. The stigma against those of us with mental illnesses is still prevalent and constant, leading many to stay silent about what they’re going through. Mr. Rogers once said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” Indeed—and reading books about mental illness can help you feel less alone. The following memoirs and novels might just help spark conversations, too.
Featured image: @christinacorso via Twenty20