My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘self-help books’

Books About Bipolar and Other Fun Topics

I love reading. Always have – except for the period when a major depressive episode stole it from me –https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-qp. I’m never more than two feet away from a book or, at this point in my life, an ereader. Reading is how I explore the world.

So naturally, in trying to better understand my disorder, I read about it. And because I’m interested in psychology in general, in addition to books about bipolar disorder, I read about other mental illnesses as well.

Let me share some of my reading with you.

For sheer delight as well as profound insights, try Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Amid the hilarious stories of life in her other-than-typical family are insights into depression and social anxiety, along with a manifesto of defiance – the will to be, well, furiously happy.

The other easily approachable book is Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. What started as a humorous blog grew into a book (with quirky illustrations) featuring two chapters in particular, “Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two,” which are about as good as writing about depression gets. A second book, Solutions and Other Problems, was scheduled but has been postponed indefinitely.

And while we’re on the subject of funny books about mental illness, there’s Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor, an anthology edited by Jessica Azar and Alyson Herzig.

Perhaps the best-known book in the field of bipolar disorder is An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison. In it, Jamison deals openly and honestly with bipolar disorder, particularly with mania and psychosis, along the road to becoming a doctor herself. She has also written Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character, about the famous modern poet, but I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t comment.

Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, by Dyane Harwood, is another recent book that I haven’t read yet, either. But I know Harwood’s writing and expect it to be a stand-out, as well as the only book I know of on that particular topic.

Other books on bipolar disorder include Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar by Natasha Tracy.

For books about depression, the definitive work is The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon. A thorough examination of depression, including the author’s own, it is practically a reference book on the topic, though much less dry than that makes it sound.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, by William Styron, is another classic on depression that I really ought to read, but haven’t yet because I’m not that fond of Styron’s writing. (Sophie’s Choice is his best-known work.)

For mania, I recommend Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir, by Mark Vonnegut, M.D. The son of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the author deals less with his celebrity father, instead focusing on his saving-the-world-style mania during his pursuit of an M.D. degree.

Other books that I can recommend include:

  • My Lobotomy, by Howard Dully, a memoir of a boy who was lobotomized for no particular reason other than the fact that his stepmother hated him, and the difficulties he encountered in and out of institutions.
  • Ten Days in a Mad-House, by Nellie Bly, early undercover journalism at its finest. (I wrote about her experiences in one of my earlier posts: https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-hG.)
  •  Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Jeffrey A. Lieberman, a history of the development of the field from the buried memories days to the biological understanding of today.
  • The Man With the Electrified Brain: Adventures in Madness, by Simon Winchester (who also wrote The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary). Despite the title, this is not about electroshock treatment, but rather dissociative states.
  • Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life, by Maria Ross; and My Life Deleted: A Memoir, by Scott Bolzan. These books, about a cerebral accident and amnesia, respectively, don’t speak directly to bipolar disorder, but I found them interesting as accounts of rebuilding one’s life after a significant mental condition.

And for an opposing point of view, if you must, there’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, by Robert Whitaker. Once you’ve read the title, you pretty much know how the book’s going to go; I don’t recommend this anti-psychiatry screed.

What books do you recommend? Which have helped you?

Read Your Way to Sanity

As reported in Smithsonian magazine, “Doctors are now prescribing books to patients with depression, hoping that reading will help them find connections.”

Here’s the link, but I’ll hit the high spots for you. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/doctors-are-now-prescribing-books-to-treat-depression-180948211/?no-ist

First, let’s note that this is third-hand information – from the U.K. National Health Service to the Boston Globe to the Smithsonian. (Fourth-hand, if you count this blog.) Many of the details and even the explanation of the concept may have lost quite a bit in the transitions. But here are the basics:

 If your primary care physician diagnoses you with “mild to moderate” depression, one of her options is now to scribble a title on a prescription pad. You take the torn-off sheet not to the pharmacy but to your local library, where it can be exchanged for a copy of “Overcoming Depression,” “Mind Over Mood,” or “The Feeling Good Handbook.” And depression is only one of over a dozen conditions treated.

There are also books prescribed for other conditions including, I presume, bipolar disorder. And they sound a lot the old self-help books of the sorts we read in the 1970s, of the Women Who Are Ambivalent About Women Against Women Against Feminism sort (h/t The Bloggess for that awesome title).

Back then I was diagnosed with depression, and back then the Common Wisdom said, “Depression is anger turned inward.” Now that we know more about brain biochemistry, neurotransmitters, and such, advice from a book called “Mind Over Mood” is not likely to be all that much help. And God spare me from anything called “The Feeling Good Handbook.”

Of course the Brits’ prescriptions are not actual bibliotherapy, which is a real thing, defined by  The American Library Association thusly:

The use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. Ideally, the process occurs in three phases: personal identification of the reader with a particular character in the recommended work, resulting in psychological catharsis, which leads to rational insight concerning the relevance of the solution suggested in the text to the reader’s own experience. Assistance of a trained psychotherapist is advised.

This is a much better idea, but again, it’s advisable to check the publication dates on those books. The extremely popular book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was written before anyone really knew about the genetic and biological components of schizophrenia.

I’m sure there is modern fiction that would be useful in bibliotherapy. Personally, I think that the Dementors in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books provide as good a description of depression as I’ve ever heard:

[T]hey glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. … You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.

Rowling herself has spoken about the connection:

It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different. I think [dementors] are the scariest things I’ve written.

As for me, I find insight into mental disorders primarily in nonfiction – though not necessarily in books with a psychiatric or psychological perspective. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon is, I think, essential for any collection. It combines the author’s own experiences with historical, cultural, philosophical, and other ways people have thought and written about depression.

Generally, though, I prefer memoirs of people who have lived through or with the conditions they write about. Although my diagnosis is bipolar disorder type II, I also read memoirs about people with other conditions. There are many similarities of experiences, symptoms, feelings, and other aspects that I find familiar or helpful.

Being an ardent bibliophile as well as a psychiatric patient, I believe in the potential of bibliotherapy. Being a former consumer of self-help books, I sincerely doubt that genre will do much good.

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