My entertainment reading preference sits solidly in the fiction genre -- with the occasional venture into the void of despair that is real life (Non-Fiction). A popular meme clarifies my choice very succinctly: “Fiction: Because Real Life is Terrible.” The past year of isolation, reflection, and fear has seen many of us struggle with mental health, yearning for stories of hope and positivity. Knowing there is a gentle, warm light in the not-too-distant future is comforting. While on my own quest to preserve my sanity, I have learned about people who have struggled and overcome mental and physical challenges. Their stories have comforted me, and I hope will inspire you and your patrons.
One of my favorite podcasters, Tom Scharpling, recently released his memoir It Never Ends: A Memoir with Nice Memories! Tom is a comedy writer who has been involved in shows such as Monk and What We Do in the Shadows. He also has a long running podcast The Best Show. Tom is charming, funny, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music history which inspires to seek out new artists and rediscover old ones. His memoir, while full of funny stories in his trademark self-deprecating humor, also tells of his struggles with mental illness. It is a story he hadn’t told in his many years as a podcaster, as he was ashamed of it. The memoir has chapters in which he talks about hearing a voice in his head telling him he is unlovable, that he is undeserving, and the voice gets so strong that it compelled him, as a teen, to swallow a bottle of aspirin. He of course survives after a stint in a mental hospital, including electro convulsive therapy and a lifetime of talk therapy. It Never Ends balances difficult topics with truly funny moments about growing up in New Jersey, horrid concert experiences and an awkward encounter in an elevator with singer-songwriter Patti Smith. It Never Ends reflects Tom’s journey but is relatable to us all. Life’s tragedies and joys never end, so we should embrace what brings us happiness and purpose.
In Smile: The Story of a Face celebrated playwright Sarah Ruhl talks about surviving a fragile pregnancy with twins only to be left with Bell’s Palsy. Although doctors assure her that 90% of patients completely recover, she happens to be one of the outliers: part of the 10% that does not. Her struggles with the physical inability to smile at her newborns while dealing with postpartum depression, and balancing a demanding career, resonate with everyone dealing with physical and mental impairment while still attempting to meet all of life’s demands. We follow her desperate journey in search of a cure to her paralysis, researching various treatments and many questionable medical interactions, and the ensuing toll. Ruhl gives beautiful insights into the nature of smiling, beauty, and how we see ourselves and want to be seen.
Kelly Williams Brown brings us Easy Crafts for the Insane: A Mostly Funny Memoir of Mental Illness and Making Things. Williams Brown explores regaining her mental health with the help of crafting after dealing with a bad 700 days. Her bad 700 days includes her marriage falling apart, a parent dealing with cancer, and breaking three bones in unrelated incidents. This leaves Kelly in deep depression and ongoing medical care, through in her candid and darkly humorous voice, she describes her way though this depression with the help of crafting and self-care. This book really spoke to me, as I have found simple activities like coloring, origami, and cross-stitching to be very grounding, and Kelly gives insight as to why these activities can help pull us back from a dark place. Her insight on mental health is relatable, funny, and a must read for anyone struggling with mental health.
These are just a few titles available, but I have compiled a list of biographies and memoirs dealing with overcoming physical and emotional challenges. I feel optimistic that we are chipping away at the stigma surrounding mental health and physical barriers, and these stories may inspire more of us to reach out for help and realize there is a brighter tomorrow.