It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
These two graphic novels portray what it’s like to have bipolar disorder. When I was a graduate student (specializing in clinical psychology), I took an entire course on mood disorders taught by a brilliant clinician who is herself a manic depressive – that was quite a unique experience.
There’s A Dark Dark Wood Inside My Head
Written and Illustrated by: b. wing
Published by: Kubrick, 2009 ISBN: 978-988-18494-4-1
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I bought this book in Taiwan during a layover several years ago. I was taken by the unique cloth-type book cover and the strange illustrations I found within the pages. In the Foreword, the author indicated that she suffered from a lot of allergies which manifested when she was only two years old. It does appear that she is allergic to most everything ranging from deodorant to lobsters to nice people.
In fact, her doctor told her that she is physically healthy, but that “It is your brain. Something wrong with your brain.” I did balk a little at this one, because the brain is still part of one’s physical constitution. It sounds as if there is the message being conveyed that it is all “in one’s head” – which is one of the pervasive myths and misconceptions about mental illness. Regardless, I withheld my judgment and went on reading, mainly because it is a beautifully illustrated book, no doubt about it.
It’s not really a graphic novel – no panels, no thought bubbles – just strange art on paper. I realized as I was reading that the book may not have been edited by a native English-language speaker because I found a number of editing errors and awkward phrases, but I felt that it added a measure of authenticity to the narrative. While it was not explicitly articulated (the depression, that is), the artist attempted to portray what was going on in her head, as seen below:
and this one:
I felt that the design and layout (not to mention typography) could be better, since there are occasions when the text could not be read amidst all the colours, safely concealed behind the paints. Things took a turn for the strange when the protagonist described a girl who spoke to her – it isn’t clear whether this is simply a voice in her head, an imaginary friend, or a real person. This is more like a stream-of-consciousness kind of illustrated novel that requires suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t really say much, hardly any plot, but the darkness in one’s head, the dislocation and confusion are palpable and keenly experienced.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me
A Graphic Memoir by: Ellen Forney
Published by: Robinson, 2013 ISBN: 147210689X (ISBN13: 9781472106896)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I haven’t read any of Ellen Forney’s comics before this memoir, so it was a joy reading through her exuberance, her enthusiasms, and quite painful reading through her waves of depression that seemed never-ending.
When Forney was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, she experienced both a sense of doom, while at the same time being initiated into the folds of the tortured artist, the creative geniuses with a touch of mania. This is a topic that fascinates me because I have written a book chapter on high creatives and emotional vulnerabilities and what it is like to live in the in-between. And so reading Forney’s memoir is like walking into very familiar territory that is known to me, especially since much of my research has to do with the psychology of creatives.
Like most high creatives, Forney refused to be medicated as she felt that much of her “bright white flashes” could be attributed to this touch of madness – and that taking medication is tantamount to giving up, or selling out, or joining the ranks of the boring, the staid, the ordinary. It took a very sensitive psychiatrist to convince her that it is for her well-being that she seriously consider taking pills to stabilize her mood swings that will only tend to get worse and uncontrollable as she gets older.
Forney was also meticulous in her note taking, as she keenly observes her own mania, and records her fluctuating states of being. She read a great deal, especially during her depressed states. Perhaps unwittingly, on top of the cognitive behavioural therapy she was trying on herself, she was also applying a bit of bibliotherapy – as she immersed herself in comfort books: novels that she enjoyed and took refuge in as a child as she lost herself in The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Mary Poppins just to cite a few.
I found the entire narrative to be tight, cohesive, and compelling. I particularly enjoyed how she illustrated her musings on creativity brought about by her own research into how it is defined and measured:
Since I teach creative thinking skills to teachers and the Singapore Army, I feel that her book and her art would provide a different layer to defining and discussing creativity. Evidently, her journey was arduous and painful and in some occasions, debilitating. She is very fortunate to have a very supportive mother whom she loves and is very close to, and an army of friends who let her be. I also found that I enjoyed Forney’s voice, her self-deprecating tone, her infectious enthusiasm, and her zest for living. For a book about depression, this is surprisingly uplifting – and definitely worth a read.