CultureBooks 6 Mental Health Memoirs Authored By Women That Feel Like A Comforting Hug

6 Mental Health Memoirs Authored By Women That Feel Like A Comforting Hug

Through candid documentation of their lived experiences, these women take control of their narratives, refusing to let mental health define them

In the past few years, the discourse around mental health and illness has grown substantially in the public sphere. While celebrities such as Deepika Padukone and Naomi Osaka have bravely shared their experiences across mainstream media, social media has helped encourage and amplify the sharing of lived experiences.

Because women have a distinctly different set of lived experiences than men, looking at mental health through an intersectional feminist lens involves passing the mic for women to share their narratives. Here are 6 memoirs that are honest documentation of women taking charge of their stories and refusing to let mental illness define them.

1. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

This memoir of ‘moods and madness‘ examines the author’s lifelong struggle with manic depressive illness and how it has informed her clinical practice as well as her personal life. Jamison, who is herself a psychiatrist, provides a rare insight into the mind of a person living with mental illness from the perspective of both doctor and patient.

books on mental health
Source: Amazon

Jamison constantly battles with finding her identity amid her mental illness – asking difficult questions about separating feelings from personality. With luminous and almost poetic prose, An Unquiet Mind takes the reader on a journey through the lowest lows of Jamison’s depression and the euphoric, chaotic highs of her mania.

The book also explores her complicated relationship with lithium and other medications for her condition, swinging between resentment and complete dependency, a common experience between user-survivors of modern psychiatric medicine.

Jamison’s work is a heartwarming tribute to the power of community and love for those coping with mental illness on an everyday basis.

2. I Want To Die But I Want To Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Sehee

Written in a conversational style, this book is a record of interactions between Sehee and her psychiatrist. Spanning several weeks, each of the sessions provides an insight into Sehee’s inner world and how she actively unlearns her deep-rooted beliefs about work, family, and appearances. The original Korean version has been translated into English by Anton Hur.

books on mental health
Source: Goodreads

Sehee writes about how sadness and self-pity serve as the path of least resistance for her, which is why she leans on them so very often. Her ‘light depression,’ is inconsistent, she might be going to bed happy but still waking up feeling distressed. It makes her put on a brave face at work but gnaws away at her self-esteem at the core, forcing her to constantly self-surveil. The experience is personal to her, yet also resonates deeply with the reader. Sehee’s candour and authenticity make this book an extremely comforting read. 

3. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Gottlieb’s book delves into the intricacies of both being a therapist as well as seeing a therapist during a difficult period of life. Over time, through conversations and reflections, her therapist helps her rekindle the same kind of self-compassion that Gottlieb enables in her clients.

books on mental health
Source: Goodreads

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone reassures the reader that they don’t have to go through life trivialising their pain and that it’s okay to ask for help. It helps shed the stigma around therapy and instead advocates for it as a tool for building resilience and self-awareness. By charting the course of her therapeutic progress alongside her four clients’, the author makes a therapist’s innate humanness even more accessible.

This book has the potential to make even the strongest sceptics believe in the transformative and restorative powers of therapy.

4. I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier by Shaheen Bhatt

I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier traces the trajectory of Bhatt’s depression from her pre-teen years to adulthood. Born into a famous Bollywood family, Bhatt delineates her experience growing up in the shadow of her filmmaker parents and her younger sister, Alia. In the book, she also opens up about her deep-rooted body image issues, mental health and struggles with alcoholism.

books on mental health
Source: Goodreads

Then there are snippets from her journals, old and new, providing a refreshing perspective into the mind and world of a depressive woman. Challenging our illusion of the permanence of love, beauty, health or relationships, she makes a case for an unconditional acceptance of one’s self with all its flaws. She compares herself to a weather-worn tree, still surviving and standing strong after the worst storms of darkness and despair have passed.

5. Shoot The Damn Dog by Sally Brampton

The memoir begins with a depiction of how isolating depression can get and offers itself as a way of connection. Moving back and forth in time, it weaves a compelling account of how taxing it is to live life with recurring depression.

books on mental health
Source: Amazon

Brampton builds a spirited and comprehensive narrative, leaving nothing out – the hospital visits, the suicidal ideation, the loss of love and employment.

Shoot The Damn Dog does not present a cure for depression, for it believes depression to be an ‘inexact illness.’

Instead, it finds solace in small acts of courage and daily rituals such as meditation, gardening, and exercise, that over time contribute to substantial improvements to one’s mental health. More importantly, it encourages the reader to find unique practices that might work for them in their journey with depression.

6. No Straight Thing Was Ever Made by Urvashi Bahuguna

Through this series of essays, Bahuguna presents a nuanced exploration of living with depression and anxiety disorder. The book is not meant to be prescriptive or one-size-fits-all, but it is meant for the reader to understand the new and constant ways one must adapt while struggling with a mental health condition.

books on mental health
Source: Amazon

The immersive prose takes the reader on a journey of negotiations with the self, with loved ones, with one’s professional life and with social media – all this while also grappling with one’s mind.

No Straight Thing Was Ever Made invites further conversations and deliberations about the political nature of mental health and challenges the status quo.

Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section

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