Mental illness is something that many people have but many don’t talk about. And after the year a lot of us had, if you didn’t have some presenting symptoms, you might now. And that’s okay. Mental illness isn’t something that you always start out with from day one. Sometimes a traumatic experience, like a global pandemic or watching a livestream of an attempted coup, may trigger a mental disorder. If you already have the genetic markers that may predispose you towards mental illness, anything your brain classifies as traumatic can cause your underlying mental illness to present itself. But that’s okay too. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean your life as you know it has to change. Some things may change, you may have to put new routines in place, but like I said, many have some degree of mental illness, from depression to anxiety to OCD.
If you’ve noticed that things are a bit harder for you now, or you’re struggling just a bit more, you’re not alone in that. And I collected these memoirs to prove it to you. These books detail the authors’ struggles and experiences with their own mental illnesses, laid bare for others to read and relate to. A heads up, a lot of these books deal with traumatic backgrounds like abusive family members, suicidal ideation, or death of a loved one. Make sure to read responsibly.
The Edge of Every Day by Marin Sardy
Marin Sardy’s family has schizophrenia. The Edge of Every Day tells the story of Sardy growing up in Alaska, watching her mother become consumed with the delusions schizophrenia can often bring, and then watching her brother fall prey to the same disorder before it claimed his life. Each chapter is self-contained, but together they tell the story of three generations of her family as well as calling into question just how mentally ill individuals are treated within our society.
My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel
Anxiety is something practically everyone has dealt with at some point or another. And yet, it wasn’t until 1980 that generalized anxiety disorder was included in the DSM. It’s still misunderstood today. In this memoir, Scott Stossel dictates his long battle with his own anxiety and breaks down the illness from the cultural, medical, philosophical, and experiential fronts. You learn about anxiety from Galen and Hippocrates, Burton and Kierkegaard, and many others. Anxiety is broken down to its base components and teach various coping methods that may help you out with your own struggles.
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
The struggle with mental illness, especially depression, can be portrayed with a bit of a whitewash, especially when it comes to Black women. They’re expected to be the strong caregivers of everyone. Meri Nana-Ama Danquah tells us her story of struggling with depression and the societal view of Black women. Her story of recovery is incredibly honest and provides a message of hope for those with similar struggles.
Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
After a dysfunctional and abusive upbringing, Terese Marie Mailhot ends up with a PTSD diagnosis to go with a bipolar II diagnosis. So she picks up a notebook and writes her trauma, a memorial to her mother, and coming to terms with her abusive father who had alcoholism and who was murdered. Being Indigenous just adds another layer on top of all of that, dealing with stereotypes and expectations others have about her people. It’s heart wrenching and raw, but also poetic and honest.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
Like a lot of other mental disorders, schizophrenia isn’t just one thing. It’s complex, and with these essays Esmé Weijun Wang makes that clear to others with schizophrenia and any outsiders looking in. Beginning with telling her journey to diagnosis, she moves on to how the medical community still isn’t sure how to handle the disorder and the different manifestations schizophrenia has taken over the years, and drawing on her experience as a lab researcher at Stanford helps her balance her personal experiences with the current research on the subject.
Back, After the Break by Osher Günsberg
Osher Günsberg is a well known Australian celebrity, greeting everyone with a cheery smile whenever he’s hosting. But the entire time he was dealing with severe anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, even going so far as to self medicate with alcohol. From there it was a downward spiral to being unemployed, divorced, and suicidal. But he managed to get his feet back under him and shares his story here, from his struggle to putting his mind back together and living with his illnesses.
Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall
“Too smart for your own good” is a statement a lot of us are probably familiar with. Pair that weird preteen girl energy with a small Arkansas town where it is believed that Jesus will cure all, it’s not surprising that Pershall struggled with issues like bulimia and anorexia growing up before having a manic episode at 18, resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. After attempting suicide, she realized that she needed help. Here she tells how her story built up, and the help she found, from DBT to medication to tattoos.
OCD is probably among the most constantly misrepresented mental illnesses. No, it’s not just wanting everything to be straight and neat, or all in a specific spot, or the CDO alphabetical order joke. There’s a lot more to it than the go-to jokes about it. And David Adam lays that all out, drawing from his 20 years of living with it as well as the science and history behind the diagnosis that would make someone fixate on not catching a blood transferred disease or eat a wall of their house.
2020 has been tough; 2021 is looking to be the same way, and it will likely have lasting effects on our collective mental health. If you’re struggling, it’s okay. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. You can also check out our piece on books that helped one contributor’s mental health, some uplifting books that may distract you for a little bit, and some audio books for more mental health awareness.