BOOK REVIEW: MonsterMind by Alfonso Casas

MonsterMind: Dealing with Anxiety & Self-DoubtMonsterMind: Dealing with Anxiety & Self-Doubt by Alfonso Casas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: October 12, 2021

This comic offers a clever and insightful look at the voices inside one’s head. The use of cute graphic depictions of fears, doubts, and past traumas – along with lighthearted narrative analogies – allows the reader to explore the subject matter in a manner that is neither dry nor anxiety-inducing, in and of itself. This apparently autobiographical book shows how a comic artist, beleaguered by the monstrous occupants of his own mind, goes from being overwhelmed to learning to manage his mind.

At the end of the book there are a few pages of tips, both for dealing with one’s own anxieties but also for interacting with others who have intense embattled minds. It’s a book that may even be more beneficial for individuals without crippling issues themselves, but who know or love such individuals. The use of graphic depictions and adroit portrayals of anxiety may help individuals who haven’t faced severe issues to gain a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of those who do. Having said that, these “monsters” will be familiar to everyone on some level, though for many that that level doesn’t necessarily interfere with living their lives.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a gentle and amusing introduction to the topic of the runaway mind. It’s delightfully drawn and amusingly told.


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BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Mental Illness by Carlin Barnes and Marketa Wills

Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders for Family and FriendsUnderstanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders for Family and Friends by Carlin Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book is a concise overview of mental illness for individuals who don’t know much about the subject, and who may hold misunderstandings about mental illness and the mentally ill. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. If you’d like to know more about the variations in particular disorders or about relatively obscure conditions, you’ll probably find this book doesn’t meet your needs. The book advocates for doing away with the stigma associated with mental illness and having a better idea of the nature of mental disorders.

The book has fourteen chapters that are mostly logically organized. I say “mostly,” because chapters three, ten, thirteen, and fourteen deal in unique situations facing specific demographics (children / teens, the elderly, women, and professional athletes, respectively.) I’m not sure why these are spread out with topics that have a tighter logic interspersed in between them. I also am not sure why there is a chapter specifically dealing with professional athletes. Mind you, I understand the author’s argument about the unique mental health risks afflicting professional athletes and retired pro athletes. However, it seems like there are other careers that create unique problems (e.g. air traffic controllers) that touch more lives. Given the fact that an important part of the author’s message is about how those with mental health issues are frequently misunderstood and stigmatized, it seems like if one had to pick one career group to represent in the book, one would find one that is bigger and more relatable (e.g. military personnel, cops, social workers, therapists, or even poor / unemployed people.) If it was done to appeal to the general readership’s interest in celebrity, it’s a fail.

Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage by discussing what exactly a mental illness is, how it can be distinguished from the quirks that we all have in varying ways and degrees, and what the various causes are. Chapters 4 through 9 are the heart of the book, and present information on various mental illnesses by type (i.e. mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse, respectively.) Chapters 11 and 12 discuss suicide and mass shootings, both are worthy inclusions.

The chapters discuss the clinical criteria for various ailments (which often seem arbitrary, but that’s part of the need for such a book – to give readers an understanding of the difficulty of diagnosing the mentally ill.) There are brief case examples included throughout to help the reader recognize the signs. That said, there isn’t a lot of room to deal in the tremendous levels of variation seen within given disorders.

There is an appendix with resources and links. Otherwise, there isn’t much ancillary matter in the book.

I would recommend this book if you are looking for a quick overview of mental illness with some presentation of typical examples. Particularly if you want a handy convenient guide without a lot of searching about. [Which is to say, I don’t think there’s a great deal that one would get from this book that one wouldn’t find doing some internet research.]

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BOOK REVIEW: Crazy for Alice by Alex Dunn

Crazy For AliceCrazy For Alice by Alex Dunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Ben has a secret and keeping it sends him into a depressive spiral. He’d had almost everything going for him. With his high IQ, he was sailing through school on his way to a top-tier college. He was also an athlete of local renown on the swim team. The only source of consternation in his life was a deadbeat drunk of a father, and the fact that said father recently passed away. Ben was in the car accident with his father, and was the last one to see him alive. Fortunately, Ben has an older brother who’s a cop, Gavin, who looks out for him and tries to keep an overbearing mother at bay.

After an attempted suicide via wrist slashing, Ben is institutionalized. It’s during this time that he drops into a coma. While he’s not conscious of the real world, his consciousness takes up residence in a place he calls “Gray World.” Besides being monochrome, Gray World exhibits the characteristics of a dream. The laws of physics, cause & effect, and consistency of space and time are all freely violated. Ben soon meets a girl named Alice who is initially cautious about him. Over time, the two develop an increasingly close relationship. Then Ben comes out of his coma.

In the real world, Ben is obsessed with getting back to the Gray World to rescue Alice. It seems that all the residents of Gray World are individuals suffering severe depression. The problem is that Ben only has a first name and a probable city of residency. Of course, to his mother, brother, friends, and doctors, this obsession is a sign that Ben’s depression has migrated into a full-blown delusional psychosis. His mother, terrified of losing him, treats Ben as a prisoner. Gavin, while well-meaning, feels the need to prove that Alice was just a dream.

I enjoyed the story and also found it to be thought-provoking. The characters are well-developed enough to care about, and the reader can see how each of the key players is trapped in his or her behavior—behaviors that are sub-optimal. At one point, I thought that it strained credulity that Ben took so long to realize he needed to play along to get some space for his search. He kept being forthright about his intentions to find Alice, and this just made his mother more nervous and smothering–and made Gavin more insistent. But it occurred to me that Ben’s ego as a genius kept him in that state. He wasn’t used to being challenged in his understanding of the world, and reacted to it poorly. He had a need to be right that overrode his capacity to recognize what those around him wanted to hear. His mother was trapped by fear into an increasingly suffocating form of love. Gavin, the most emotionally stable of the trio, thinks he can force Ben to accept an understanding of reality through the brute force of reason—missing that being right might not be as important as being compassionate.

I’d recommend this book for fiction readers. It’s written for the YA (young adult) market, but is intriguing for adults as well.

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POEM: Mind Gravity: or, The Heft of Mental Putrefaction

depression-in-bed

Gravity pulls her head down into the pillow.

Like tar through a garden hose, thoughts flow.

Thoughts weighty, not freed of mass and matter.

As stuck in time and lost to reason as the Hatter.

Thoughts arise because they’re lighter than air.

Hers fell sodden, a lead balloon in the state fair.

The infection arose from a single putrid notion.

One drop floating free to fester across an ocean.

That she wasn’t enough. Enough for whom? Enough for what?

Unanswerable questions that congealed into a sluggish pus.

They say truth has weight, but truth lifts one to fly free.

What pulled her head to pillow was the mass of negativity.

As her thoughts hardened into a slag, devoid of truth or reason.

She summoned the strength for a search in her final season.

She scoured the four corners of the Earth for a fabled cure.

But it lie in a place close at hand, but vastly more obscure.