May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Mental illnesses look differently for each person who experiences them, and authors from many different walks of life have put their stories into words, giving listeners a chance to see themselves or to better understand the experiences of others. Here are six books by women that explore ideas and themes around mental illness.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang, Narrated by the Author
In this essay collection, Esmé Weijun Wang writes about her experience with Schizoaffective Disorder and the stigma she has faced because of her condition. With each new essay, she shares the unique challenges that she faces on a daily basis. Her writing is so clear and vibrant, giving listeners something new to think about and ponder over in each essay. As someone who doesn’t have Schizoaffective Disorder, The Collected Schizophrenias challenged me to examine my own prejudices and perspectives about mental health. This audiobook quickly became a favorite and was one of my most gifted books in 2019.
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon, Narrated by Karen Chilton
One day, Autumn’s sister Summer disappears, just like that. No matter who Autumn talks to, no one seems to take Summer’s disappearance seriously, not even Summer’s boyfriend. As we follow along the twists and turns of the novel, the mystery of Summer’s disappearance grows all the more complicated as Autumn is forced to face family secrets and the trauma of her past. Karen Chilton’s performance had me hanging on her every word, impatiently waiting to find out what happened next.
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi, Narrated by the Author
In this series of essays, Bassey Ikpi shares her experience with Bipolar II. Through the collection, we follow Ikpi as she swings back and forth from manic to depressive, often harming herself and others in the process. From there, we follow her journey through diagnosis and the aftermath. Ikpi’s narration makes her journey feel very real to the listener, hitting home the struggles of finding the right method of treatment. I’ve rarely listened to a book that so clearly communities the realities of coping with this condition and fighting just to put one foot in front of the other.
Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, Narrated by a Full Cast
In her debut novel, Mira T. Lee examines the lives of two sisters as they experience the struggles and heartbreak of their complex relationship. Miranda, the older sister, tries to care for Lucia as she experiences the ups and downs of her mental illness. But Lucia often feels smothered and belittled by Miranda and leaves her to make a life of her own. Through the years, the sisters find and lose each other again and again, illustrating how mental illness affects both Lucia and the people who love her. A full cast gives each different perspective a unique voice, rounding out each character and making it easy for the listener to switch between points of view.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, Narrated by the Author
Like the subtitle says, Furiously Happy is a funny book about horrible things. In her memoir, Lawson shares her struggles with crippling anxiety and depression. While the people around her see her as an upbeat, cheerful person, inside Lawson feels like she’s fighting just to keep her head above water. Read with Lawson’s characteristic humor and wit, Furiously Happy tackles a difficult topic with courage and grace.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, Narrated by Shvorne Marks
Queenie’s life seems to be going just fine, thank you very much, until her boyfriend says he wants her to move out. From there, Queenie spirals into a pattern of self-destructive behaviors, all the while reassuring her friends and family that she is completely, one hundred percent fine. Queenie’s journey to addressing her own trauma, going to therapy, and learning how to care for her mental health gives her a new perspective on her life and makes her a more confident and self-assured woman. Shvorne Marks quickly became a new favorite narrator as she beautifully performs Queenie’s story, sucking me in from the first few minutes.