Posts Tagged ‘Mental Illness’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Clare B’s Picks

December 22, 2014

I read both fiction and non-fiction.  I prefer books that have rich characters, who feel like people I know by the time I finish the book.  Here are the best books I read in 2014.

Ten Things I've Learnt About LoveTen Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler
Alice is a wanderer, unable to decide on a career.  She has a strained relationship with her family, but has returned to England to be with her father during his final days.  Daniel is a middle aged homeless man on the streets of London, who uses found items to make small, transient art pieces.  He is also searching for the daughter he has never met.  The chapters in this amazing debut novel, alternate between Alice’s and Daniel’s voice, as events lead them inexorably towards each other.

The Death of SantiniThe Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy returns to his troubled relationship with his father in this excellent biography, where he also explores the dynamics between he and his siblings, particularly his sister Carol.  In the prologue, Conroy says that he has been “writing the story of my own life for over forty years…but I must examine the wreckage one last time”.  He does, using soaring language, and descriptions that are both tragic and hilarious.  The picture Conroy paints is not always pretty, and at times he is especially brutal in describing his own actions.  However, Pat Conroy is the ultimate storyteller, and that amazing talent shines in this retelling of his life.

March, Book OneMarch, Book One by John Lewis
I am not generally a fan of graphic novels.  However, this is perhaps the most powerful book I have read this year, and I think the format is an excellent way to describe the Civil Rights struggles.  Congressman Lewis recounts his early meeting with Martin Luther King, which led to his commitment to the non-violence movement.  Illustrator Nate Powell’s images help bring to life the incredible bravery and determination of the young men and women who risked their lives to right the horrible wrong of segregation.

The Other TypistThe Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
New York City in the 1920s:  women’s roles are changing, Prohibition is in full swing, and crime is hidden right in front of you.  Odalie Lazare is the new member of the typing pool at a police precinct.  Beautiful, mysterious, sometimes charming, sometimes cold, she fascinates the staid, reliable typist, Rose Baker.  Odalie pulls Rose into her world of intrigue with the promise of friendship and excitement.  Told in Rose’s voice, this satisfying tale will leave you asking, “what just happened?”

Guests on EarthGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, arrives at Asheville, NC’s famed Highland Hospital, in 1936. Her mother has died, her father is unknown. she is alone, abandoned and has virtually shut down.  Dr. Carroll, the hospital administrator, and his wife, a concert pianist, take Evalina under their wings.  Part patient, part ward of the Carrolls, Evalina lives at Highland on and off over the next several decades, as she struggles to find a life for herself.  Smith has not only written a well-crafted novel, but she has also explored the changing attitudes about mental illness, and its treatment, using the factual story of Highland Hospital and the tragic fire that killed its most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Zelda has a cameo role in the novel, providing a fleeting, but enduring influence on Evalina.

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Marbles : Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me : a Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

March 21, 2014

Ellen Forney is a successful comic artist in Seattle, Washington. She embraces the creative life and all it has to offer. One day, her therapist clues into her constantly “jazzed” state and refers her to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, her creative life was being fueled by a manic episode. The psychiatrist diagnoses her with manic depression as they go down the DSM-IV checklist of criteria. This shatters Ellen’s perception of herself and her future as an artist.

She struggles with coming to terms with a disease that has a terrible grip on her. At first she resists being medicated but when the mania finally bottoms out into a deep, dark depression, she finally concedes to the much feared and maligned gold standard: lithium. The side effects are harsh especially for an artist so in tune with the world around her. Memory loss, tremors, weight gain are just the tip of the iceberg. Her psychiatrist switches her to different medications although Ellen is not being 100% honest with her psychiatrist about her more than occasional use of marijuana. Eventually, through much trial and error they find the right mix of medications.

Luckily, Ellen has supportive friends and family. She does a great job holding on to whatever she can when her life is at the lowest. She still manages to swim a few times a week and reads books from her childhood to occupy her mind without overwhelming herself with the paralytic depression that encompasses her. She looks closely at the lives of many great artists who very possibly suffered from mood disorders and looks at their art with new eyes. She studies intensely the link between mood disorders and creativity.
This is a beautifully written and illustrated graphic memoir about Ellen’s journey to find the balance she once disparaged as boring, but needs so that she may exist as an artist.

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Best New Books of 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 12, 2013

Here it is! My favorite blog post of the year. It is difficult to narrow down my favorite books of the year to only five, but here is a sample from all over the library. As you can see, I have wide ranging interests, so you never know what I might stumble across to share with you!

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
This book combines the suspense of a crime drama, the anxiety many of us feel about going into the hospital, and a serial killer into a frightening edge-of-your-seat tale! This is the true story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who was implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients during his career and was finally arrested in 2003. The most terrifying aspect of the story is how he managed to be so successful as a serial killer.  For more information read a review of this book or check out the author’s website.

Nobody by Jennifer Barnes
Have you ever felt invisible, overlooked, or unimportant? Of course, it is all in your head. But what if it wasn’t? What if you COULDN’T be noticed? Meet Claire, a Nobody who does not know she is one. Until the day someone tries to kill her.  But how can he notice her when no one else does? And why would anyone care enough to want to assassinate her? With a nice mix of Sci-Fi, action, and romance this is a fun read.

Suspect by Robert Crais
This is a must read for any mystery, action thriller, or dog lover! A new favorite, this book grabbed me from the first pages as it brings together two damaged souls: a cop and a former war dog. Both are recovering from devastating injuries. Both have lost their partner. Can Scott and Maggie help each other heal? And will they ever be able to protect and serve again? You cannot help but root for this duo as they fight to solve the mystery of Scott’s partner’s death.

The Elite by Kiera Cass
The second book in Cass’s dystopian series (after The Selection) immerses you in political intrigue, romance, and … reality TV? Torn between two loves, America Singer is vying for the hand of Prince Maxom even as she is drawn back to her first love. But this prince doesn’t woo his princess in the way you would expect. He selects his bride through a televised competition. Think “The Dating Game” meets “The Real Housewives!” A fun read and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WWII by Mitchell Zuckoff
Two stories are woven together in this suspenseful retelling of a tragic and heroic rescue effort from WWII.  The book begins with the November 5, 1942 crash of a US cargo plane in Greenland. The rescue effort saw another plane crash, and the vanishing of a Grumman Duck amphibious plane. The modern day quest for those lost men and the retelling of the months long rescue is a riveting tale. What made it more special is describing the book to my grandfather, an Army lieutenant throughout war, and having him recall hearing about these lost men over 70 years ago.

Poppet by Mo Hader

July 16, 2013

poppetSomeone, or something, is causing patients to harm themselves at the Beechway High Security Unit. The patients believe that the ghost of a long dead dwarf is responsible, but A. J., the senior nursing coordinator, is looking for a more earthly cause. His suspicions fall on a recently released young man, Isaac, who was found guilty of killing his parents 10 years ago. A.J. continues to investigate these odd incidents against the wishes of his boss Melanie. She just wants the problem to go away and since Isaac has been released from her hospital, she believes the problem is no longer hers to worry about. Complicating the issue is the fact that A.J. and Melanie have recently become involved with each other. When A. J. discovers that Isaac is following him and Melanie, he enlists the help of inspector Jack Caffrey despite Melanie’s insistence he not involve the police.

Caffrey is also working on an unsolved crime, that of a young woman who went missing over a year ago. Caffrey’s boss is ready to scale back the investigation, but he is not ready to let go. He understands all too well the feelings of the young woman’s mother, who cannot lay her daughter to rest when she has no body to bury. Caffrey has been haunted by the disappearance of his brother years ago.

Hayder has written a host of wonderful characters into her new book. The inmates at the hospital are very creepy, but not unrealistic or unsympathetic. A. J. is such a likeable character you are rooting strongly for everything to work out for him. I was also very happy to see Flea, the police diver, return. She is one of my favorite characters in the last few years. Hayder left much unresolved between Caffrey and Flea in her previous books, Skin, and Gone, so it is good to see them working together again.  Start with Ritual if you’d like to hear their entire story.

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

June 13, 2013

Susannah Cahalan was 24 years old and a reporter for the New York Post when she suddenly started developing strange behaviors.  She went from manic highs to extreme depression, paranoia, and eventually, seizures.  She consulted several doctors, including a psychologist, a neurologist, and even her gynecologist.  Each gave her a different diagnosis or were unable to find any answers.  One said that she was drinking and partying too much. None of them were able to stop the symptoms from getting worse.

Eventually the seizures were so severe she ended up in the emergency room.  Not knowing what was causing any of her symptoms, they decided to admit her to the epilepsy ward where they could at least monitor her seizures.  Cahalan eventually spent over a month in the hospital before a neurologist figured out she was suffering from an extremely rare, only recently discovered form of an immune disorder which caused swelling, or encephalitis, of the brain.   How this was discovered and treated is described in the second half of her book.

Cahalan decided that she would write her own story, Brain on Fire, after she returned to the newspaper.  Because she had little memory of what happened, she went over the medical reports and films of her time in the hospital and compared them with her diary.  She also interviewed her family, friends, and many of the doctors involved in her treatment.  What they said was so different from what she remembered it was shocking.

Cahalan was extremely fortunate because she was admitted to one of the premier hospitals in NYC, which led to her case being referred to the doctor who had recently discovered this new disorder.  Had she been treated anywhere else in the country, or at a different period of time, she may have been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or some other severe mental disorder.  One wonders how many people admitted to psychiatric hospitals may have a rare or unknown physical rather than mental illness.  The author discusses this in the book, and states over and over how lucky she was to find not only a cause, but a successful treatment. Cahalan’s book was fascinating, although frightening.

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Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, by Brad Cohen

May 16, 2013

When Brad Cohen was growing up in the 1980s, few people had even heard of Tourette Syndrome.  None of his family and friends, not even Brad himself, understood why he burst out with loud noises at inappropriate times, or jerked his neck suddenly, or felt an overwhelming urge to knock his knees against things.

School was especially hard for Brad.  His teachers had trouble understanding why he could not keep still and quiet.  The other kids mocked and mistreated him.  Even after he was finally diagnosed with the neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome, it was an uphill battle to get people to accept him as he was.

With the help of a compassionate principal, Brad discovered that the key to helping people accept him was to educate them about Tourette’s.  Throughout the rest of his school days and years at college, he asked each new teacher to allow him a few minutes on the first day of class to introduce himself and explain about Tourette’s.  He always mentioned that he was open to talking about it and answering questions.  Many people did ask questions, and Brad’s natural friendliness and enthusiasm won them over quickly once they understood his situation.

Having seen the positive effects of educating people, Brad decided to become the teacher he had never had—one who meets his students where they are and gives them lots of acceptance and approval, no matter what their difficulties.

It was not easy; one principal after another turned him down, and the familiar heartache of rejection made him want to give up, but he kept going.  Finally, the twenty-fifth principal to interview him decided to look beyond the Tourette’s at the incredibly motivated and well-prepared person Brad was and is.

Mountain View Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, was so impressed with their new teacher that they nominated him for a state-wide teachers’ competition, which he went on to win.  The kids loved him.  Once they got the idea that Brad could not stop his “barking” and muscle tics—it was like blinking or sneezing, he explained—they just accepted them as part of their fun-loving, energetic teacher.  Whether he was dancing on his desk when his kids got 100 stars on their chart or making a giant bubble big enough to sit in by using a fan and a huge piece of plastic, he was always coming up with creative ideas to keep their young minds engaged.

This story is an inspiration to all of us who have ever faced a problem, difficulty, or disability that stands in the way of our dreams.  Brad Cohen is living proof that we can find a way if we keep on trying.
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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

January 16, 2013

When Patrick Peoples leaves a neural health facility in Baltimore, he believes that he has spent a few months there. In reality, he has been in the psychiatric ward for four years.

But reality and Pat do not really get along. So now, he is living in the basement of his parent’s home, being part of a movie directed by none other than God. And God will – naturally – provide an awe-inspiring and uplifting ending. Pat is convinced that this will include the end of “apart time,” and his reunification with Nikki, the woman he married… some time ago.

Now, Pat may not be completely sane, but the world at large isn’t entirely rational either. Pat’s friends are convinced that he has cursed the beloved Philadelphia Eagles when he stops watching their games; Eagles fans taunt former Philadelphia player Terrell Owens who might be in the midst of a severe depression; his friend Danny – who for a long time didn’t talk at all – speaks to the dices when they play Parcheesi; his therapist seems to recommend adultery; his father goes through serious mood swings – sometimes because of the way Eagles play, sometimes, well, who knows why? – and then there is Tiffany, a strange bird who follows him whenever and wherever he is running. Is she scouting him, or what?

While Pat is looking up at clouds, constantly finding silver linings, he is haunted by what he has lost and his archenemy, Kenny G, the musician, who has the ability to show up everywhere, and Pat’s road to recovery is filled with “episodes” and setbacks.  But when things go wrong, he insists that this is how movies work and just before the happy ending there will be complications.

Will Pat get to experience the end of “apart time” and then watch the credits of his movie roll after a feel-good ending? Read and find out.

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The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

November 15, 2012

Part mystery, part historical fiction and part love story, The Gendarme is a short book about many things.  The story takes place in two timelines as the 92- year- old protagonist endures the short remainder of his life following the removal of a brain tumor.  Emmet is an American Turkish immigrant who lost all prior memory of his life after a head injury sustained during WWI. When his brain tumor is removed, Emmet’s memory seems to slowly return.

In his dreams, he is transported to the past where he appears as a gendarme forcing a group of Armenians into Syria during a grueling and violent death march. Emmet relives his crime, but also his unlikely romance with a young Armenian girl. This girl, forgotten in the aftermath of his injury, obsesses him once more in his old age, and as more is successively experienced in his dreams, he is driven to find out her fate.

While Emmet is pursuing his dream life, his real life continues in the contemporary world. As his mental state deteriorates, he eventually needs to be institutionalized, and his daughters are forced to make arrangements for his day to day care and support. In this timeline, readers experience his confusion in the sense that we, too, are unable to decipher what is real and what is dream or hallucination. Emmet’s fear and paranoia increase the more his dream life develops until he can no longer distinguish one from the other.

Mustian does not always make clear distinctions for the reader either. After finishing the book, I would periodically have to call yet another part of the plot into question until it was no longer possible to depend on any part of it. Even the events in the contemporary timeline are questionable. Reality deteriorates for Emmet while we’ve been following him, so we are drawn into his illusions just as he is. We know there is something from his past that has been unlocked in his memory, but we don’t know how much of it is real and how much of it is construction. The conclusion satisfies, but by then readers will feel themselves at the mercy of the same feverish impulse controlling Emmet in his increasingly irrational push to find what he remembers as the love of his life – and perhaps a type of redemption.

We can’t call Emmet an unreliable narrator because he isn’t the one telling story. However, the narration does objectively follow his perceptions and emotions, so we experience the story as Emmet does. You’ll just have to decide what to believe and whether questioning reality is always worthwhile.

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Sybil Exposed: the Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan

May 11, 2012

I’m of the wrong era to have been obsessed with Sybil and her multiple personalities, and have never read the book or seen the movies, but I always have an interest in reading books about mental health, and this one was recommended highly to me.

I think we all know the basic premise of Sybil: a young woman, while under psychiatric care, manifests some 16 personalities, ranging from Ruthie (a baby) to Peggy Lou (assertive and angry) to The Blonde (an optimistic teen.) The book was released in 1973 and helped popularize the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (then called multiple personality disorder.)

Author Debbie Nathan re-examines the famous case under a new lens, and posits that not only was the diagnosis a hoax but that Sybil’s psychoanalyst, Dr. Connie Wilbur, had been searching for a patient with multiple personalities to make her famous. Shirley Ardell Mason (referred to as Sybil in the resulting book and movie in order to protect her identity) was in her 20s when she began seeing Dr. Wilbur, and her condition quickly declined. Although Mason had always had some amount of psychological issues, the 16 personalities that developed over time came about only while under psychological supervision.

Nathan’s research into Mason’s story is extensive, and, although Dr. Wilbur’s case files are sealed, documents from the archives and library of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice are used to support Nathan’s theory. The resulting book tells an alternate history of the still famous story and discredits aspects of the field of psychology, especially as relating to multiple personality disorder. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and now have plans to go back and read the original book Sybil and then watch the 1976 version of the movie starring Sally Fields.

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