Hey everybody! I have another busy week with 4 exams, but there's still plenty of guest posts for you lined up! :) Sorry that there was no post on Friday, I'm not quite sure what happened there, but in the mean time, Katie's back for the final time in this guest post series! For those of you who haven't seen Katie yet, you can find her blog- Katie's Lost and Found- here, as well as her other two posts (Book and Nail)
Over to her!
Mental Health in Literature
Ah, heavy right? I couldn't think of a better title, sorry. If any of you have visited my blog it's probably fairly obvious that this is a subject close to my heart. I'm hugely passionate about fighting mental health stigma and feel that writing, both fiction and non-fiction can go a long way towards that. You can't fail to notice the recent explosion in 'true life' style stories, documenting anything from munchausen's by proxy to post natal depression to sexual abuse. The tradition of mental health in writing goes back much further, however, Lady Macbeth and her infamous 'out damn spot' springs to mind.
Don't worry I'm not planning to take you back that far though! But i do want to skip back in time to one of the most famous examples, Sylvia Plath and 'The Bell Jar'. Written under a pseudonym as a work of fiction it is now considered semi-autobiographical, with names and locations changed. It tells the story of Esther, who rapidly descends into severe depression after leaving home for a month in new york. We follow her illness, treatment and recovery, in a time when opinions about mental health were very different. Whilst it is hard not to be distracted by the fact that Sylvia Plath famously committed suicide, it is a well written and informative look at the confusing and immersive nature of depression and the experience of suicidal feelings.
Next, if you'll bear with me, I'll spiral backwards to 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore. This is a short story and again fiction which draws strongly on personal experience. Written at the end of the 19th century it has strong feminist undertones and is highly critical of the way their mental health was treated at that time, particularly the idea of the 'rest cure'. Again it shows the the vicious cycle of mental illness and how it can take hold and spiral. It also shows how others actions can make things worse, even when they are well intentioned.
Next lets wander into the world of pure non-fiction, with a visit to Marya Hornbacher. She's written two books to date documenting her experience of mental health, as well as a novel and a self-help book. Though she's probably most famous for her first book 'wasted: a memoir of anorexia and bulimia' i want to talk about the second 'madness: a bipolar life' as that's the only one I've read. Marya writes with a brutal honesty about her experiences of undiagnosed bipolar, self-harm and institutional treatment. With a very expressive writing style she's very accomplished at drawing you into her mind and the turmoil there. It's a very good book but as it's pretty extreme i feel obliged to add a **trigger warning** for anyone who has suffered similar issues as it can be very graphic at times.
Finally (honest!), the opposite end of the spectrum, pure fiction. I thought quite hard about this, as so much fiction surrounding mental health is cliched and sensationalist and just generally a bit rubbish. What springs to mind, however, is a book that was very big a few years ago now: 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime' by Mark Haddon. It's different to the others in that it focuses on autism, though he's also written a second book 'A spot of Bother' about a man's experience of hypochondria, anxiety and dementia. It's harder for me to comment of the specific accuracy of these particular books, though reviews have been positive i believe, as I don't relate as much to the particular circumstances. They do resonate, however, in that they explain the complexities of living with mental illness, and the way in which thoughts can subtly separate from reality, as everyone else perceives it. They explore the motivations behind seemingly irrational behaviour, which is often one of the biggest causes of stigma.
Phew! Sorry this is loooong again, so I'll wrap it up. Firstly by pointing out that, whilst I think all of these jobs do a good job of portraying mental illness, they all portray very extreme cases and that doesn't mean someone isn't suffering just because they don't behave as dramatically. Secondly just a few honorary mentions that i didn't have enough words to write about: 'Asylum' by Patrick McGrath, 'Thirteen Reasons Why' by Jay Asher and 'The Lovely Bones' by Alice Sebold (which is not strictly about mental health but still). Plus probably several others I've totally forgotten.
Thanks for reading, and if you've gotten this far, well done!!!
Thanks again, Katie, it's been lovely having you around the blog! ^^ I'm sure we'll all hear from you on here very soon.
As for now, I have to run off and revise chemistry (I've been procrastinating a little...) but I shall see you all here again on Wednesday for a nail post!
See you then!
Exam Update: 10 down, 3 to go...