Most Useful “Mental Health Books” I’ve Read

I’ve been mulling a post of this sort for a long time–maybe as long as I’ve been blogging–but never really got up the courage to write it. This will be far from perfect and probably emotional, but I thought that it’s a good time to share. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m sharing here a list of books (with commentary – I always have commentary!) that I have found useful on my mental health journey.

The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum DepressionThe Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions to Living with Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman

I read this book and then shared it with my husband and my mother while I was going through a serious bout of perinatal depression during my pregnancy with my second daughter. It is very simple and easy-to-read, mostly written in bullet-point format, which makes it perfect for when you’re in the midst of dealing with the day-to-day business of depression. Most of my depressive episodes have been perinatal in nature (postpartum, during pregnancy, during weaning, etc.) and I read this five years ago so I’m not sure how much translates to other types of depression. HOWEVER. I will say that for me, it validated how I was feeling. I read the whole thing, nodding to myself, “THIS IS HOW I FEEL.” I was able to hand it to my husband (who was doing a wonderful job of supporting me, btw) and say, “Read this and you will understand me better. THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL.” He had already implemented many of the strategies in the book, but I felt like it enabled me to explain to him more accurately how I was actually feeling, which I can only imagine helped him cope with the craziness of our life as we battled through. I’ve since recommended this book to many people and will continue to do so. It has to be the single most useful book I’ve read on the subject.

31312The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

Despite the title, this book is useful and enlightening even if you don’t consider yourself to have “anger issues.” I’ve struggled myself with depression and anxiety, though in my earliest, undiagnosed times I did express myself through anger. I read this years on, though, and found it illuminating in a couple of ways that have really stuck with me. First, the book describes anger as a secondary emotion, meaning that it is an emotional reaction to some other, more basic emotion. For example, if I’m angry because my husband “got to” sleep in, it’s an emotional reaction to me feeling overtired or overburdened. This lesson then taught me how to cope. Instead of being resentful and mad at my husband, what I need to do is communicate to him that I feel overtired and need a break. I started doing this sort of thing and it has had a huge beneficial impact on my own mental health and in our relationship. This was one of those books that was full of practical lessons for me – which I think, partly, I may have been open to because I’ve gone through years of psychotherapy and self-analysis. For this book to be useful to you, you have to be able to recognize your own faults and willing to implement practical changes.

23878688The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

At first glance this doesn’t seem like a book that’s “mental health” focused, per se. And it’s really not — but what it did for me was allow me to better understand myself and my husband, and therefore to better accept myself. I learned that people show and feel love in different ways, and that’s ok. Rather than seeing differences between my spouse and me as failures or defects on my part, I learned to appreciate and understand myself. Ultimately, this was and continues to be a huge help to me in battling through bouts of anxiety and depression.

The Temperament God Gave Your SpouseThe Temperament God Gave Your Spouse by Art and Laraine Bennett

This is another one that is indirectly related to my mental health journey, but has been crucial to my own self-acceptance. Anyone who understands and has experienced the feelings of utter worthlessness that accompany severe depression knows that it’s important for long-term recovery to continually work on self-acceptance. I learned to understand myself and my own communication styles better, as well as my natural emotional tendencies (the “temperament”). A basic self-understanding is key to being able to implement the cognitive behavioral techniques I’ve learned in my many hours of counseling.

36235186100 Days of Mental Health by Paul Green

This is a very different book from those described above in that it is literally a 100-day journal of Green’s mental state. Truth be told, I did not finish the book; I couldn’t. I found that his descriptions so accurately reflected the unpredictability and pain of living with a mental disorder that it was slightly triggering for me. Coupled with the fact that I was reading it just about the time I was weaning my third child (a very sensitive time for me emotionally), I couldn’t emotionally handle reading about his struggle. I remember very clearly a description he writes about depression being like having 1,000-pound rock on top of you; no one would expect you to get up if you had a literal 1,000-pound rock on top of you, but that’s not the case with depression. It’s so often unseen, and sufferers are expected to just get up and live life as normal – except to them, the rock really is there. I recommend this book to anyone who is living with a relative or friend suffering from depression, as a way of potentially understanding their loved one. It won’t perfectly explain everyone’s situation, but it just might grant some insight.

39331472Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley

Regular readers might remember I recently reviewed this book here on the blog and commented on how the mental health aspects of the book particularly struck me. Ms. Tyley later told me that people who have undergone therapy are part of her target audience (though the book, I think, does have wider appeal). I won’t rehash everything I said in my original review, but I will say that it’s one of the best fictional portrayals of intensive therapy (futuristic techniques notwithstanding!) that I’ve read. It speaks to the depth of personal struggle, the variety of forms mental illness can take, and the incredible effort it takes to commit oneself to therapy and to implementation of the techniques learned. Therapy, in many ways, is just the beginning – if you can’t take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life, recovery remains out of reach. This book illuminates so much of the struggle without being “a mental health book.”

The Private War of Corporal HensonThe Private War of Corporal Henson by E. Michael Helms

I won a free copy of this book via Goodreads giveaway a few years ago (Goodreads tells me I read it in November 2015), and I am forever thankful. The semi-autobiographical novel follows Corporal Henson, a long-time PTSD sufferer from his time spent fighting in Vietnam. He is persuaded to participate in a PTSD support group for veterans and we follow him through his struggles to come to terms with what he experienced at war, how that has haunted him for decades since, and how to move ahead with his life and allow himself happiness. The greatest takeaway for me was perhaps a glimmer of understanding of what life was like for my maternal grandfather, who suffered with undiagnosed PTSD for 53 years (!) after fighting with the US Army in the Korean War; beyond that, it illuminated for me how his mental illness may have impacted the lives of his wife and children (my mother included). I don’t know his full story or theirs, but I felt like reading this book provided me with just a nugget of understanding and resulting compassion for their collective struggle. Because, I know, mental illness doesn’t only impact the person who is ill: it has far-reaching consequences for others, especially close loved ones; this reality alone provided most of the impetus for my efforts at recovery when I was at my lowest points.

So, those are my books and the smallest window into the struggle my family and I face as I continue to struggle with mental illness and accept it as a part of our life. St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill, pray for me and for all of us who suffer!

Book Review: Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley

I’ve probably said a million times that one of the things I love about being a book-blogger is the opportunity to read new and interesting books by indie authors. Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley is a perfect example of why!   
Spaghetti Head

I received an ARC of the book from Sarah after weighing in on her book blurb via Twitter and I’m SO GLAD I volunteered to take the few minutes to comment on her blurb and get to “meet” Sarah, and through her, Nell and Sid/Cyd.

This book truly defies classification. There are sci-fi elements, as it’s set in the future with all sorts of new technology and gadgets — some of it scares me, to be honest. I’ve read and blogged a bit about AI before – freaks me out. No doubt it takes a lot of creativity to come up with the future world and all it’s accompanying technological advances (which, truthfully, seem mostly plausible).

Beyond sci-fi, there’s the whole post-apocalyptic thing – which really is two-fold. First, there’s the new world order and governance structure (The System) that comes about. Tyley creates an entirely new system of world government, taking gender, technology, and–she seems to argue–inevitable power struggles into account. Along with this, she adeptly brings to life the societal structures and shows us how people actually live in this new world order. The second and equally important part of the post-apocalyptic story: what was The Disaster? This Tyley does equally well. It’s introduced very creatively, weaving the backstory seamlessly into the action of the story. It’s also very believable — I think most readers are at least vaguely familiar with the natural phenomenon (no spoilers!) that Tyley employs to bring about the destruction of the Earth as we know it. It was one of my favorite parts, a super important and fully-fleshed out history for what could easily have been treated as an afterthought to the story.

Sci-fi, apocalypse… what else? Romance! Motherhood! Relationships! These are central themes without being so overpowering that the book would only appeal to women. The book has so many angles to it that I think it could be universally enjoyed.

The parts of the book that are most memorable and with which I identify the most involve mental health and mental health treatment. Nell attends a multi-week mental health “retreat” of sorts to help her deal with her inner voice and unravel the “spaghetti” in her head. The mental imaging techniques used in the treatment would be AMAZING if they truly existed – I couldn’t help but wonder what my own treatment would look like with such techniques available. Having experienced a significant amount of intensive mental health treatment, I also felt that Tyley’s portrayal of therapy techniques, as well as the characters’ varying paths to recovery–including how much effort they must expend, even when treatment is “over”–were spot-on just like so much of the rest of the book. It’s believable and really realistic.

Overall, there are so many complicated aspects to the novel that Sarah Tyley weaves together flawlessly. I am impressed by the creativity and depth of knowledge she demonstrates in writing such a complicated and yet utterly relatable story, not to mention the incredible amount of effort it must have taken to put that story into words and edit it to a point where it reads so smoothly!

Five stars!

** Thank you to Sarah Tyley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: Mary Poser by Angel A.

So, I’m back with a book review! I’ve been busy with editing projects (SO exciting, I will share!), and I just can’t manage to find the time to edit AND blog at the same time. I have to trade off.

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In any case, Mary Poser is the first book I received from NetGalley, which I was really excited about. I read it over the summer, but I’m finally just getting to review it now. The NetGalley description is as follows:

The recipe for a warm and humorous story…

In a modest bowl of Nashville, gently place a girl who is Country music, Bible belt, and a steakhouse foodie. Then add a surprise portion of exotic and handsome Anglo Indian to the container who is a passionate Bollywood director, vegetarian and Hindu.

Stir vigorously on a bed of intense attraction. At first, the ingredients will seem to clash and separate.

Keep stirring…

Include a dollop of jealous boyfriend and a meddling mother. Splash in a serving of fun and mischievous friends.

Keep stirring…

Add a dash of crazy aunt and a minister father to keep the flavors working together. Sprinkle in even more complicated family members to taste. Cook on high emotions.

The secret ingredient that cuts through the sweetness is a final layer of shocking revelation that adds a surprising depth of flavor.

Finish with a twist of ‘Oh My God! Is she really going to do that?’.

Serve as tasty bite-size chapters in a novel dish of mayhem and madness  with a side of Country music and Bollywood dancing.

To be honest, I don’t love the description and I’m not sure I would have picked it up to read had I not received an invitation directly from NetGalley, which I had been wanting to join. Now, if you’re a regular reader here you know I don’t review books I don’t like, so you know the book had to be better than the description indicates or I wouldn’t be posting this at all. And it’s true – I’m really glad I got past the sort of silly description and read the book!

I like to read books that speak to reality in an entertaining and enlightening way, and that’s exactly what this book does. Through Mary’s journey of self-discovery and her struggle to be true to herself rather than live the life expected of her, the author examines issues of religion, stereotypes and prejudice, and mental illness.

Some my favorite parts of the book, because they taught me the most, were the parts where the aforementioned Anglo Indian, Simha Das, explains his Hindu beliefs to Mary Poser, the Nashville girl. Knowing virtually nothing about Hinduism, I found a surprising amount of commonalities with Catholic Christianity. Even more interestingly to me, the things I found common to Catholicism were often the things Mary found most unlike her Baptist faith (particularly in the realm of sexuality).

The book is full of references to common stereotypes and prejudices. I’m not sure whether it makes the story more or less believable that Mary’s family manages to deal with all the hot-button issues: race, sexuality, religious beliefs. Mrs. Poser, Mary’s mother, is the character who embodies the majority of the unsavory behavior. She is a stereotype, while believing and perpetuating every stereotype about anyone unlike her. She’s pretty much insufferable, and though she comes around at the end I find her redemption a little too convenient.

Mary’s personal journey forms the basis of the story and is the most compelling part of the book. It has a very powerful metaphor in Mary’s inability to cross a particular bridge, and is full of lots of insights about a young girl trying to figure out who she is and how to find her own way in the world. While the outward issue is that Mary falls in love with an Indian Hindu man in Nashville (the horror!), Mary’s inner dialogue reveals her struggle with mental illness, particularly anxiety and self-harm. She feels she has a role to fulfil in life and struggles to allow herself the freedom to break out of the mold her upbringing has forced her into. The author, I think, does a superb job of illuminating the inner workings of an anxious mind through telling the story from Mary’s point of view. My only grievance is that I’m not satisfied with the resolution. While Mary has moments of clarity, she seems unable to actually recognize her anxiety issues (for example, she chafes at being prescribed medication for anxiety when she sees a doctor for recurring stomach issues); similarly, I feel the self-harm (specifically, cutting) issue is inadequately resolved and not given the weight it deserves.

One thing that sticks with me all these months later (that I didn’t have to reread my Kindle notes to remember) is a discussion Mary and Simha have about using the term “busy” as cover for “unhappy” when asked how one is doing – as in, “How have you been?” “Oh, you know… busy” – because “busy” seems important. I don’t think it’s an expression I’m guilty of using in that context, but it has caused me to reevaluate what it is that I’m “too busy” for, to make sure those things that truly matter don’t get lost.

This one feels a little long-winded today, so I’ll call it a day here. I found the book entertaining, well-written, and to be an interesting cultural study. Best of all, I learned from it and it made me think – it was “edifying,” if you will 🙂

So, check it out! Info about the book and the forthcoming movie can be found at maryposer.com.

4 stars!

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy free of charge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!