The author of Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love is a public defender who routinely helps defendants with mental illness navigate the legal system — until he has a psychotic break and ends up in a locked mental yard, from which his mother, the Bird of the title, manages to extract him and helps him manage his illness, the complicated health options for bipolar disorders, and the sometime funny, sometimes tragic mishaps along the way to recovery. Because the author of this memoir is the patient himself, he makes it clear that, except in his worst moments, he understands quite clearly what is happening to him, even when he can’t control his behavior, which makes the story that much more poignant.
Tag Archives: mental illness
Haroon Moghul’s autobiography, How to Be a Muslim: An American Story, is at its best when it keeps to the personal story, how the author describes being thrust into the role of professional Muslim as an undergraduate (because of 9/11) — even as he struggled with his faith, his relationship with his family, and his American-ness, not to mention his mental illness.
The more sweeping historical and political descriptions I could have done without, but the personal struggle is engaging and a reminder that a carefully composed public identity can hide much suffering.
The Vegetarian is the story of an apparently entirely unremarkable woman who suddenly stops consuming animal products (the title should really be The Vegan) and pretty soon stops eating altogether only to be treated with amazing brutality by her unloving husband, her brutal father, and, sadly, the medical system. Only her sister stands by her despite the callous exploitation of the situation by her husband. It’s all very dark, hopeless even, with an especially gloomy view of the position of women in society.
Bottom line: don’t read this if you feel a little down, but what a masterful story.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things is a collection of essays and real-life stories by the author, who shares her struggles with depression and a host of other psychological ailments in a voice that is in turn hilarious and poignant. I thought the personal memories were told in a wonderful manner, discussing mental illness with welcome openness. The humor parts I did not think so funny! Many seem aimless and others seemed off-mark to me.
Imagine Me Gone is the story of a family with a father and son with severe depression and for me the best part of the story was how the other family members manage to hide the problems from each other and to the outside world, and continue to believe that all will be well. That said, no touch happens in the story and more patient readers than I may enjoy it more than I did.
I just could not understand the point of Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering. The author’s thesis is that mental illnesses, although varied, may well have a common cause, and that the cause is the “capture” of the title, that is, a disordered processing of stimuli by the brain, influenced by powerful past emotional events. (isn’t it convenient to have such a broad definition, which can be mapped on almost anything?)
In any case, the author then proceeds to describe many literary and historic events in this light, in the process turning almost any deviant behavior into mental illness, and claiming to illustrate the vague claim. He’s a good storyteller but, as I said, I just did not get it.
Reading backwards from Love Story, With Murders, Talking to the Dead debuts Fiona Griffiths as an independently-minded detective who is able to see links between seemingly disconnected activities, and is not afraid to act on her hunches, whether or not she has cleared them with her superiors (usually not). I enjoyed this story more than Love Story, With Murders: fewer faux-pas, lots of snarky side-comments, but still a hefty and unnecessary dose of fashion-conscious commentary. I doubt that Fiona cares much about what she wears!