Tag Archives: books

Hyperbole and a Half – An Accessible Introduction to Depression

Hyperbole and a Half

Let me start by asking when is the last time you laughed? I mean really laughed?

A friend of mine recently passed on a book recommendation to me. She said it was both hilarious and reminded her of me, so I looked into snagging a copy at my local library. I quickly found myself eighty fifth in line to check a copy of that book out which immediately confirmed – this sheezy must be good!

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is a book by Allie Brosh inspired by her already (rather popular) blog Hyperbole and a Half.

The book itself seems to act as something as a (very loose) memoir with several hilarious stories about her own childhood, the behavior of her eccentric dogs (something any dog owner can associate with) and her desire to learn more about herself and what makes her tick.

Let me just say, the dialogue itself is funny, but the real clincher here is the series of illustrations that go with it, creating something akin to a book with an identity crisis (am I a book or a web comic?).

While funny enough to make me cry from laughing so hard, I wouldn’t suggest this book to you for that simple reason alone.

Allie Brosh’s book takes an interesting turn when she spends a chapter describing  her experience with depression. While I find this chapter extremely relatable (knowing very well what depression feels like myself) I was both intrigued by her continued usage of funny illustrations to help her descriptions and analogies hit home and the way she actually describes depression and how the people around her reacted to her situation.

I would say this book is about 80% light and hilarious, with 20% (maybe even less) focus on serious topics (like depression). Because of this I was immediately struck by how this book makes a great introduction for people who aren’t familiar with depression, coming at the topic initially from a comedic standpoint and then really digging deep to convey what depression feels like and how difficult it can be to convey to others.

While this book is in and of itself great (I will definitely buy a copy, I loved it) I think it would make a wonderful tool for anyone who is trying to reach out to someone either with depressive symptoms who wont address them, or to help gently explain to others what living with depression is like before having a more serious conversation about the subject.

I feel like people are always asking, “how can I bring up the subject of [depression/mental illness] in a positive way with the people around me? how do I know how my [co-worker/family member/friend] will react?”

Well, one answer might be to give this book a read and share it with the people around you. After they’ve read it, you could ask what they thought about the portion about depression, and I can see this really helping to create a dialogue between people (especially young adults, teens) on the topic.

Depression can feel like a very heavy, intense topic, so being able to approach it in a smart, fun way (sandwiched between two hearty portions of comedy) makes a discussion about it more accessible to a wider audience.

As I mentioned, this book has a lot to offer and I was very impressed by how something seemingly silly could offer up something profound.

You can check out Allie Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half here, and you can find her book at your local library or at amazon.com (where the image in this post came from) here!


DSM-5 Draft Criteria Open for Final Public Comment

I don’t know about everyone else but I have a hunch this is typical: when first receiving a psychiatric diagnosis I inevitably wanted to know where the names and criteria of these disorders came from. I was led directly to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; version 4 (also referred to the DSM-4). This is the book that holds the categorization and criteria for diagnosing an inexplicable range of mental illnesses.

Well, the DSM has been under revision lately, and the latest draft of the new version (DSM-5) can be found at the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 Development page. May 2nd through June 15th is the last opportunity for the public to submit comments on the draft (posted on the website), and after that we will be able to watch the final proposals posted to the website (without the ability to comment) until it is published.

Many things have been changed (though some only minutely), but bipolar disorder (as well as borderline personality disorder, and major depressive disorder, to name a few) is something that has had some tweaking done.

Have you checked out the website yet, or the changes made to the criteria for bipolar disorder? Most notably, increased energy/activity has been added to the symptoms of mania/hypomania, which I think is a big step in the right direction. Had this been considered an indicator ten years ago, I am certain my diagnosis would have happened much more quickly.

Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified) is now NEC (not elsewhere classified) which seems a bit silly to me to keep changing the name when people already have a hard time understanding these sorts of disorders. However, there are a few subcategories of NEC and a couple of “pace-holder” sorts of subcategories which may prove useful to some.

Mixed episodes are now proposed to be categorized by a manic or depressive episode (whichever is the dominant episode) with the label ” with mixed features” tagged onto it. The criteria is much more specific, and I’m not sure if this change is really for better or worse. Personally, I find mixed episodes to be some of the most confusing states I’ve ever experienced, so I don’t know if I believe the new criteria will make them easier to spot or will just exclude mixed sorts of episodes that don’t meet the full criteria for being “mixed features”.

Anyway, this is just a taste of the revision, and since we are approaching the end of the commenting period I’d definitely urge you to take a look at the website, you can find Bipolar and related disorders here, and consider shooting a few comments their way if you feel so inclined!

The Psychopath Test

A friend of mine recently called to tell me she read a book about psychopaths and prisons and serial killers and psychiatry. She mentioned something about the DSM, which I found very curious (as I don’t normally attribute knowledge of that sort of thing with anyone without a slough of diagnoses under their belt).

She told me I should read it. It’s called The Psychopath Test.

“I am not a detective, not a psychologist, and I didn’t even score that well when I self-diagnosed with the DSM-IV.” P.153

Jon Ronson is known (to some degree) for his slightly sporadic journalistic style. He wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, if that gives you any clue. He fills The Psychopath Test  with a series of stories about his journeys to learn about psychopaths (also called sociopaths, if you’re not familiar) and he sprinkles the pages with his own anxieties… which is fun, because it becomes quite easy [for me] to relate to.

“Suddenly, madness was everywhere, and I was determined to learn about the impact it had on the way society evolves. I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn’t? What if it is built on insanity?” P.31-32

The conclusion I came to while reading this book is that psychopaths are very nearly the opposite of a bipolar individual. They experience a very narrow sliver of emotion, for the most part, and almost zero empathy. Being bipolar, I experience a very engorged range of emotions, and amounts of empathy that are almost overwhelming.

Whether you’re interested in reading about serial killers or psychopaths in general or not, that isn’t why I’d recommend this book. There are a few chapters that were absolutely mind-blowing, chapters that made me gasp, and chapters that made me have to set the book down for a moment to shake my fist in the air.

Even one, “I knew it!” was shouted, which is always a good treat.

The cover says, “a journey through the madness industry” and it is exactly that.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it (it is a pretty quick and easy read, and I don’t really read a lot anymore so that is saying something), but this book is all non-fiction, and written by a journalist. I just want to re-iterate that before noting a few of the subjects captured in this book:

  • the DSM and the sorts of diagnoses therein
  • conspiracy theories
  • experimental LSD treatment in the 60’s
  • the role of mental illness in the media
  • a man who feigned insanity to avoid prison
  • a cryptic puzzle
  • scientologists and their hatred of psychiatry
  • the possibility of the world economy being driven  (and destroyed) by psychopaths
  • the epidemic of childhood bipolar diagnoses

Personally, this book had a pretty profound effect on me. I filled the darn thing with sticky-notes any time I read something that resounded with me, and the pages are now bursting with a rainbow of mildly adhesive slivers of paper. I’m supposed to return it to the library tomorrow, but I don’t want to… I’d love to just read the darn thing over again!

“Practically every prime-time program is populated by people who are just the right sort of mad, and I now knew what the formula was. The right sort of mad are people who are a bit madder than we fear we’re becoming, and in a recognizable way. We might be anxious, but we aren’t as anxious as they are. We might be paranoid, but we aren’t as paranoid as they are. We are entertained by them, and comforted that we’re not as mad as they are.” -P. 211

Jon Ronson’s writing style reminds me a teensy bit of Chuck Palahniuk, it is fast paced and introspective while being informative (only this stuff’s true!) and interesting. At the same time, he covers a wide number of bases to get several different perspectives, so just when you think you can agree with some of the things he’s discovered, he’ll challenge your thoughts in a new way in the next chapter. If you’re looking for a good read, try picking up The Psychopath Test at amazon.com or your local library today!

Girl, Interrupted

After writing Borderline Between What and What I felt inspired to put Girl, Interrupted (by Susanna Kaysen) on my library list, since I’d never read it.

Girl, Interrupted was published in 1993, though many people are more familiar with the film based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir released in 1999, featuring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.

When it was released, I was obsessed with the film. In fact, I was obsessed with the film all the way up to the point where I was admitted to my first psychiatric hospital. After that, I felt like I was practically living in the story (though in a different time-line) so it kind of fell to the wayside.

The premise of the memoir begins in 1967, when Susanna Kaysen (who was 18 when admitted) spent two years in a psychiatric hospital.

I’m not sure what I expected, maybe a simple, chronological account of what happened, but what I read was so much more!

Every few chapters I’d read something that punched me right in the guts, something that I had felt or thought or said before. The pages are littered with post-it notes that I kept using to mark passages I liked, and now that I’ve finished I’m impressed with how much I marked. Kaysen doesn’t even have bipolar disorder (her diagnosis was borderline personality disorder) but there is definitely a little something for everyone in her memoir.

Here’s a little snippet of one of the first things that stood out to me because I said to myself, “ooh ooh, me too!” She describes one of the two “preconditions” that existed that led to her hospitalization.

“I was having a problem with patterns. Oriental rugs, tile floors, printed curtains, things like that. Supermarkets were especially bad, because of the long, hypnotic checkerboard aisles. When I looked at these things, I saw other things within them. That sounds as though I was hallucinating, and I wasn’t. I knew I was looking at a floor or a curtain. But all patterns seemed to contain potential representations, which in a dizzying array would flicker briefly to life. That could be… a forest, a flock of birds, my second-grade class picture. Well, it wasn’t -it was a rug, or whatever it was, but my glimpses of the other things it might be were exhausting. Reality was getting too dense.”

Susanna Kaysen, Girl Interrupted (page. 41)

This is a phenomenon I’ve been subject to my entire life, and I have often had a very difficult time describing it to doctors and nurses, even other people with bipolar disorder. They aren’t hallucinations, just objects acting or looking like another object, so I’ve never made a big deal out of it. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an account of it!

Anyway, her writing is amazing, and her ability to describe the indescribable is equally as amazing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a personality disorder, mental illness, or anyone who knows someone in either of those categories. Heck, even if you’re just curious to know what this sort of world is like, check it out!


Thanks to the Seattle Public Library I’ve finally had a chance to read Carrie Fisher’s new memoir, Shockaholic, that came out in November.

Boy was I pleasantly surprised!

For those of you who don’t know, Carrie Fisher (known primarily for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars) is amazing. Not only is she a celebrity living openly with bipolar disorder, she has struggled with addiction, a bizzare childhood, and any number of roadblocks that most average folks wouldn’t even dream of. She is also a wonderful comedian, which is instantly apparent in her writing.

Fisher recently underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy (also known today as ECT, previously known as “shock treatment”) to combat her severe depressive bipolar episodes, which is where the title of this current memoir originates.

I’ve been researching ECT on and off for a while at the request of my psychiatrist. I’m not able to take most traditional  medications for bipolar disorder because I have an extremely sensitive body chemistry, so it is possible that I may be considered a perfect candidate for ECT at some point. Carrie Fisher discusses both the benefits and drawbacks of her treatment, in addition to the interesting situations the combination of her celebrity and bipolar disorder have gotten her into, and how she coped. After that, she muses over her relationship with her father.

Her last memoir, Wishful Drinking, was great, but I couldn’t help but wish it was more organized. In my opinion, Fisher’s writing mimicked a manic episode, complete with tangents galore. I was really hoping her next piece would be a little more organized, and that’s exactly what I found!

Shockaholic is great! It is everything I wanted and more. Thoughtful, insightful reflection, both deep and honest, and the perfect amount of humor.

I would highly recommend this book to any Fisher fan or person diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Please keep in mind though that there is some dark humor (necessary, considering some of the dark subject matter), and the topic of death is a common theme throughout, so consider yourself forewarned. These elements, however, only contribute to some deep and extremely frank, hilarious accounts from a bipolarite. I love it!

The Musings of Carrie Fisher

First of all, I must say that Carrie Fisher has been one of my favorite celebrities since seeing Star Wars for the very first time. Not only did I desperately want to be Princess Leia, but in my younger years with my long brown hair people told me all the time that I actually looked like Carrie Fisher.

Well, perhaps there is a reason I’ve gravitated toward making her my own personal hero for so long: Carrie Fisher also has bipolar disorder.

I didn’t know it for a long time but was thrilled when I found out because she suddenly became even more of a hero to me. We have a lot more in common than I originally thought.

In her book Wishful Drinking published in 2009 she touches on a lot of subjects. Her celebrity, her childhood, a past struggling with alcohol abuse, and being bipolar (among other topics).

I read this one again fairly recently. Carrie Fisher’s writing style is humorous and organic, often flowing from one thought to the next without much structure to keep topics separate from one another. I found myself often wondering at the end of a chapter how I got there (the end being nowhere near the beginning) but being humored all the same.

Personally I wish the was more. The stories are so amusing and absurd that I feel like there is a lot more than what she gave us in the book. If nothing else, this is a fun and open look at some very difficult topics and one can get a real grasp on her quirkiness. I love it.

Carrie Fisher’s newest book, Shockaholic, came out today.

The title is a reference to the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, once called “electroshock therapy”) treatments she has received for her bipolar depression.

On the Today Show this morning I saw her admit that, though she has had some side effects in the area of memory from the ECT, she is extremely satisfied with the results she’s had from it.

Even so, she does not suggest the treatment lightly.

Unfortunately the library system here doesn’t have it yet, and I went to the bookstore but alas, I am poorly financed at the moment and it will have to wait. What I do know is that it is about the same size as Wishful Drinking but I am excited to get any more information from Carrie Fisher’s perspective, even just a nugget!