4 Truths About Mental Illness

I have a mental illness.

Those five words are stark on the page. Despite so much growth in mental health awareness, a powerful stigma remains against mental illness. Is she psychotic? Is she dangerous? Why can’t she just get over it? Just a few of the questions that are bounced around when people come to conversations about mental illness and aren’t familiar with what being mentally ill really looks like.

Having had mental health battles for nearly 28 years and having been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, and re-diagnosed, I have some experience with what mental illness means. I’m not a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I live in the darkness much of the time. Here are four truths I’ve come to realize about mental illness.

1. My mind lies to me.

Depression and anxiety are pretty little liars. Because of my brain chemistry and thought patterns, I’ve set up a nice home for these liars in my mind. Improving my life means I have to rebut those lies on a daily basis and start evicting them.

2. Nature and nurture play roles in my mental health.

It’s not an either/or situation. My heredity and my lifestyle impact my mental illness. I’m predisposed to having a different brain chemistry because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. Life events have caused me to be more depressed, anxious, and to even battle manic episodes at times. We’ll talk more about those at another time. Also? I haven’t done myself any favors by feeding into negative thought patterns, digging deeper trenches in my neural pathways to feed into the depression and anxiety.

3. Taking medicine does not make me weak.

This truth has been a long time coming for me. I have been under a psychiatrist’s care for more than two decades, but I’ve fought the idea of treating my mental health like an actual illness for about just as long. As my dear father once told me, “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin. Taking care of your brain, and taking medicine for your mental health is just as important.” He was a smart man (I miss him so), and I’ve finally come to understand that using medication to help treat depression and anxiety is not wrong.

4. I’m not a bad person.

My severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder do not control my conscience or my character. They are liars. (See Statement 1.) I need to improve in different areas — as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a human being — but I’m not innately bad because of my mental health.

I know there are more truths here, but these are the four most powerful ones that I’ve realized to date. What would you add?

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Fiona Davis is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her books are rich in story, characters, and setting, checking all the boxes for a great read.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Davis’s newest publication, is driven largely by its setting: the New York Public Library, with two intertwined stories occurring 80 years apart.

In 1913, Laura Lyons lives at the newly opened New York Public Library with her husband and two children. As her husband maintains his job as the library’s superintendent and works on his novel, Laura advocates for her own dream of becoming a journalist and is able to enroll at the Columbia Journalism School. When she pursues her schooling and discovers the Heterodoxy Club, where a group of “new women” are vocal about suffrage, health care, and independence, Laura makes choices that deeply impact her family and future. A mystery unfolds at home, with priceless first edition books disappearing from the library stacks.

As Laura’s story unfolds, we meet Sadie Donovan, a single woman in 1993 who works at the New York Public Library. Just as her career as a curator takes an upswing, Sadie is faced with her mother’s death and a crisis at the library that strangely echoes the experiences of her grandmother, Laura, 80 years before. Sadie must grapple with a mystery of her own while learning more about her family’s history.

I really enjoyed this book – another five-star read for me. The New York Public Library setting is just perfect. I would adore living amongst those stacks! Can you imagine living in a library like that glorious institution? It would be heaven on earth for me!

All the Devils Are Here

When an author removes her characters from a beloved setting, does the magic of a series end?

All the Devils Are Here is the newest installment in the tale of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Three Pines. This book takes use away from that mysterious, beloved Canadian hamlet and places us in Paris, City of Light. This book is about family, secrets, and relationships. I loved the closer look at Gamache’s broken bond with his son, Daniel, and the continued father-son dynamic between Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvior. The novel’s mystery is multi-layered, and the details are brought to life with Penny’s gorgeous prose. While I missed Three Pines and its inhabitants, I can confirm, the magic doesn’t end for Penny here.

This was a 5-star read for me, and it brought laughs and tears. I can’t wait for her next book!

The Grace Year

Booklover Confession: I love a good dystopian novel. Give me a well-crafted fictional setting depicting a “perfect” society where the protagonist questions the rules, and I’m a happy reader. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett fits these requirements.

Tierney is a complex heroine and her fight to make life better for all women is full of characters and action that made me question what would happen next, as well as what happens to women in today’s society. I read this book in about 24 hours and enjoyed every minute.

The Vanishing Half

I knew The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was going to be a good read. I didn’t account for “good” not being a strong enough qualifier for how amazing this book really is. Bennett is a genius at telling stories, weaving together multiple points of view, and creating characters who jump off the page.

The relationship between twins has always fascinates me, and The Vanishing Half takes this relationship one step further – what if one twin chooses to abandon a part of herself that is inherent to them both? This book explores race, colorism, sisterhood, and gender issues with eloquence and an unflinching grace.

The Mothers

Friendship, love triangles, maternal relationships, and an undercurrent of religion and matriarchal observations. That’s what Ms. Bennett presents to us in The Mothers while gifting us with her beautiful prose and complex characters.

I felt empathy for each of the main characters – Nadia, Aubrey, and Luke – while reading this book. I felt for their decisions and their questions of what-could-have-been. The Mothers’ voices were strong as well, and I enjoyed how fully developed the supporting players were – like Nadia’s dad, Robert.

This is a character-driven novel about decisions, loss, and moving forward. A recommended read from me!

Followers

Followers is a cautionary tale that questions the right to privacy, the price of fame and financial security, and the desire to be loved. In a world driven by technology, I found some of the plot line to be almost too real – like some of these things Ms. Angelo describes could actually happen. (The irony of me posting a review on social media is not lost here.)

In Constellation, CA, in the year 2051, character’ lives are determined by the number of followers they have on a new social platform and the sponsorships they’ve agreed to. Marlow starts to question everything and proceeds on a journey to find answers.

In New York City, in the years 2015-2016, Orla and Floss want better lives for themselves, and they soon make decisions that will impact a greater audience than they anticipated.

Followers transitions from setting to setting with ease, as we learn more about Marlow, Orla, and Floss, as well as how the world changed so dramatically in 36 years.

I enjoyed this book and will continue to think about it, which makes it a solid 4⭐ for me.

Meg and Jo

A Modern Retelling of Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of the March sisters gets an update for the next generation in this delightful book. I’ve loved the story of Little Women since I was 10, so I have been eager to read Virginia Kantra’s book, Meg & Jo, ever since it was published. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed in it! Kantra accomplished the job of sharing the 21st-century struggles of women dealing with jobs, family, and love while still keeping the essence of the classic characters. Meg Brooke and Jo March are unique and yet universal.

I gave this book 5 stars and look forward to reading the sequel, Beth & Amy, when it’s released!

The quilt in this picture is made from squares sewn by my Great Great Aunt Alice. As you can see, it has been well-loved and used for many years.

Welcome to the United States of Anxiety

Celebrating the Release of a Great New Book by One of My Favorite Authors

**Book Review**
Jen Lancaster is the queen of witty self-reflection. I’ve loved her books since first reading Bitter is the New Black over a decade ago. She started as a blogger and then memoir writer who seamlessly crossed the boundaries into contemporary fiction and now, with her newest book, brings her social commentary to new heights with Welcome to the United States of Anxiety.

This is a great book, friends. As Lancaster walks us through how we’re addressing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the 21st century, she blends her craft of humor and storytelling with real-world issues and fact-based research. The result? A five-star read that made me feel like I’m not alone in my anxiety while watching the world’s events in 2020.