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.
American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System does a great job of describing how a lethal combination of civil rights decisions in favor of patient rights and a change in the funding approach for mental illness starting in the 1960’s, both stemming, sadly, from a more compassionate view of mental patients, emptied mental asylums straight, it seems, into the streets. It also does a good job of describing how individuals who could be treated are instead living without medication because their very illness suggests to them they don’t need it and live lives of misery and danger to themselves and to others. (Whether we need dozens of often repetitive pages to show us how dire the situation has become is debatable. Just walk the street of any large city.)
What the book does not do well is suggest a practical approach to reverse the situation. Mental patients are not a large voting block, nor are they viewed particularly fondly by the people who do vote, so simply stating that we must offer treatment to more people seems a little short-sighted. Since mental patients are costing enormous amounts of money (not to mention grief) to local institutions like police departments and hospitals, it seems that even tight-fisted citizens may be open to local solutions that can transfer costs from one function to another, better equipped to handle the needs of mental patients. And while the ability of patients to control their treatment is important, the author points out very reasonably that since we seem to be able to consign Alzheimer’s patients to euphemistic “memory centers”, we should be able to compel seriously-ill mental patients to receive treatment in a similar way. I would have liked more of a focus on solutions.