Mental Illness, Brain Disease, and Societal Pressures: My Top 5 Books on Brain Matters by Lisa Martens
As a former epileptic, my favorite books center around mental health and brain disorders. One condition often affects the other: Schizophrenics simply have different brains than so-called “normal” people. But where does the physical problem end and the mental problem begin? Is there even a difference, or are they constantly informing one another? Here are my Top 5 books on brain matters:
- Wintergirls by Louise Halse Anderson – (Fiction) Anorexia has broken the hearts and bodies of many teenagers in our society. Wintergirls shows one teen girl’s struggle with the disease after her best friend dies. This issue has an abnormally high fatality rate, probably because the logic is so airtight, so cyclical. It is true, without a doubt, that our society makes huge demands on girls to be thin. It’s easy for a young woman to feel that, given the standard for beauty, that she is supposed to starve herself to be loved. This book is relatable even if you do not have an eating disorder. But! Trigger warning if you are in recovery. This book could potentially cause you to relapse. You’re beautiful the way you are!
- Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan - (Nonfiction) What happens when something is wrong with your brain? Like, physically wrong with your brain? Sometimes people don’t believe you. Sometimes people search for a psychological cause to a physical problem. That’s what happens here in Brain on Fire. This is nonfiction and chronicles the journey of Susanna through a rare brain condition. The book is also a call to action: Susannah was cured because she was lucky enough to have great insurance, a supportive family who never gave up, and more resources than most of us have. What happens to those who have this rare condition, but are wrongfully diagnosed and institutionalized, possibly forever? Like Plath’s character in The Bell Jar.
- Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely – (Fiction) This book, though fictional, centers around the very real abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Although the main characters are far more wealthy than I ever was as a child, all the pressures are there: to be perfect, to be an adult, to reconcile having been abused with your sexual identity. Aiden, the main character, struggles to understand that he was abused, and that he is not homosexual. His good friend Mark was also abused, but is genuinely homosexual. Both boys struggle with the guilt of feeling like they ‘deserved’ or ‘asked for’ this abuse to happen to them. This book reminds us that sometimes even the most affluent, supposedly privileged people in our society can fall victim: Abuse and betrayal know no price tag.
- You Jump, I Jump by Annarose Russo - (Nonfiction) This book has an online community centered around it, and can serve as a resource for teens struggling with their own depression. The book itself is published by indie author Annarose Russo, who has used her own struggles with depression to inspire others going through the same issues.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – (Fiction-ish) The more I read this Sylvia Plath classic, the more I appreciate it. As a teenager, I enjoyed the strong female character, and the acknowledgment (finally!) of the extra pressures growing women go through. As I’ve learned more about the context and the time period, specifically the Red Scare, this book is all the more powerful. Sylvia lived during a time where ‘strangeness’ could easily be associated with ‘communism’, and the United States was on a witch hunt. Coupled with her own issues, the pressure to be the perfect woman, daughter, and writer must have been great. To be anything else would have been unpatriotic.
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