Mental illness isn’t sunshine and roses, but the seriousness with which it’s spoken—or not spoken—about has created a weird, hush-hush stigma that prevents people from seeking help or knowing how to help those around them. British comedy writer Amanda Rosenberg drives a bulldozer through that stigma in her debut essay collection, That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill.
Splitting her life—and book—into two sections, BC (Before Crazy) and AD (After Diagnosis), Rosenberg charts her own history with mental illness alongside broader reflections on the cultural implications of being mentally ill. Her essays are short and easy to read, with each passage truly earning its place in the bigger story.
After a mental breakdown, suicide attempt, stay in a psych ward and misdiagnosis of borderline personality disorder, Rosenberg received a later-in-life (but correct) diagnosis of bipolar II, which the National Institute of Mental Health broadly defines as “a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes.” Rosenberg describes her depressive episodes as feeling like her head is “clogged up with a toxic sludge,” while manic episodes mean she’s “impulsive and obsessive” and finds it difficult to articulate how she’s feeling. “Everything [is] CAPS LOCK.”
How was she not diagnosed earlier? Largely because, as a part British, part Chinese woman, she didn’t fit the archetypal “mentally ill” person (either a brooding, misunderstood straight white man or an off-the-handle straight white woman). The thing is, she reminds the reader, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. “It’s not just straight, white, ethereal-looking people who get depression. Asian people are depressed. Black people are depressed. Queer people are depressed. Trans people are depressed. People with disabilities are depressed.”