You will hate this tip if you, like me, find it pretty challenging to get through even a short New Yorker article much less an entire book. "You're assigning homework??? In a pandemic???" I am not assigning homework. I simply needed a topic I could bang out in less than 45 minutes and I've been meaning to tell you about some good books for a while now, so here you go:
Start with An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Jamison. Kay Jamison is one of the top experts on bipolar disorder in the world. She literally wrote the book (with a coauthor, but let's ignore him for the moment) on it -- an 800 page textbook entitled Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression. (The title of this book, I should note, has a massive claim built into it, that all recurrent mood disorders are linked rather than that there is a distinct difference between depression and bipolar). Anyways, An Unquiet Mind is her memoir about her own journey with manic-depression (what the DSM would call Type I Bipolar), and it's an incredible literary work as well as groundbreaking in the honesty she is offering as a clinician herself.
Darkness Visible, by Willian Styron. Another classic. Styron is best known for his book Sophie's Choice. This is a memoir about his lifelong struggle with some really dark, really psychotic levels of depression.
The Collected Schizophrenias is a collection of personal essays by Esmé Weijun Wang. One of my favorite things about this book is how much she goes into the sociology around mental illness -- the special stigma reserved for schizophrenia and psychosis, the blurriness of diagnosis, the ways in which privilege allows her to navigate mental health systems in ways that are not possible for those with less privilege, the various ways those of us with serious mental illness make our peace with our symptoms and live and function even in the face of psychosis.
I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying, by Bassey Ikpe, is a painfully detailed collection of personal essays about living with bipolar 2. As someone who shares that diagnosis this remains the book that actually hurt the most for me to read because it so exquisitely conveys the particular feel of my own mental illness: the disorientation, confusion, unreality, and enormous variety of pain and symptoms that someone might experience in the course of living with it, especially before diagnosis.
Marbles by Ellen Forney is a wonderful graphic memoir about bipolar disorder. If you like it she has a wonderful follow up graphic self-help book, Rock Steady, for folks with bipolar which is full of amazing tips and tricks.
Don't want to read a book? Fair enough. I offer up Halsey's entire discography for you on the topic of bipolar disorder. (Yes, she has bipolar disorder). She has an entire album called "Manic", y'all, and she doesn't mean it like hair coloring. Check out "Gasoline" for depression and "Honey" for mania.
If visual art is more your thing, consider Mark Rothko's late work in the years leading up to his suicide. If you're ever in London visit the Tate Modern's collection of his late paintings or if you're ever in Houston check out the Rothko Chapel.
I know most of these recommendations are focused on mood disorders especially bipolar. Even if bipolar's not your thing or psychosis sounds weird and scary (especially if that), they are all worth reading, listening to, and looking at if you are interested in the lived experience of mental illness.
I'll do some more book/art/music recommendation issues, but that's all for now, folks.
If you have your own favorites that you'd like to share, you know what to do: smash that reply button!
See you next week