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Brain Scans and Brutal Honesty: A Review of Amanda Rosenberg’s “That’s Mental”

Reading Amanda Rosenberg’s new release, That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill, feels like talking to a friend. She gives you advice (although not without warning you that it’ll be “mediocre at best”), tells the truth without sugar-coating it, and doesn’t use obscure or harmful words that often confound understanding of mental health. That’s Mental centers primarily on Rosenberg’s experiences with bipolar II disorder, trauma, grief and stigma, and she writes in a way that is humorous and relatable and also real. Her approach to mental illness turns it from a subject that can be hard to stomach for many into something digestible.

Rosenberg is a British Chinese writer who serves as an editor for the humor publication Slackjaw, and her sense of humor certainly comes through in That’s Mental. In fact, humor is central to this collection; early on, she remarks that the mentally ill deserve to laugh because if they don’t they’ll die. This is reflective of how society as a whole has evolved to view humor – it is often used to broach difficult subjects, from female comedians joking about assault to everyday people punctuating painful texts and tweets with “lol”, even when they’re not laughing. While humor can be used to conceal or degrade, it can also be used to reclaim, and this is exactly what Rosenberg does.

 

“I will not inspire you,” she writes in the introduction. Here, she is referring to the idea that mental illness always has to be presented with an inspirational story, rather than as the fraught experience it can truly be. However, Rosenberg inspires readers in a different way – by being candid about her experiences as they were, not as they are expected to be. From asking readers to specify whether they’re talking about “one or two” when they call the weather bipolar to evoking images of a child holding up her own brain scans as proof that she’s “normal”, Rosenberg draws readers in with her conversational style and then strikes with beautiful, heart-wrenching passages.

The essays in this collection are split into sections that seem to reflect the progression of one’s relationship with mental health – Before Crazy (BC), After Diagnosis (AD), Medication – all examples of how life seems to change once you recognize that you may need help. When one experiences a change like this, it can be difficult to navigate, especially in terms of emotions.

With mental illness, there’s a sense of needing to have everything figured out or have the “correct” feelings. Rosenberg touches on this by mentioning how she pretended to be sad in therapy because it seemed to be what was expected of her, which contrasts with her pretending to be fine once her mental health began to decline. Another section that stood out was when she declared that she would choose happiness rather than laying in bed as a person with depression would – not only because it reflects how those without mental illness view mental health, but also because it reminds me of a past version of myself, living in a vicious cycle of trying to force myself to be happy and then beating myself up when I wasn’t.

Beyond the obvious appeal to readers who may have had similar experiences to Rosenberg, That’s Mental can serve as a great way to start a conversation about mental health by virtue of it taking a less grave approach. Sure, it’s a serious topic, but there is no need for it to be treated as if it can only be addressed in times of strife or tragedy. One of the great takeaways from That’s Mental is that no one is required to be an expert. Rosenberg and any other person who has dealt with mental illness may reach profound realizations about themselves and their lives through self-explorations, but they’re still just people. And the people in one’s life who may cause harm to them, whether due to ignorance or otherwise, are also people. The overarching idea that there is no perfect way to heal, live with or talk about mental illness is what makes this book wonderful.

So yes, you’re allowed to wonder whether or not you’re your therapist’s favorite patient, and you’re allowed to deal with what happens in your life through whatever means that suit you (as long as it’s safe) because there is no perfect way to be mental. In an interview, Rosenberg said she was writing the book that she wished she had. She reclaimed her experiences as hers.

That’s Mental just might be the book that someone else is wishing for.

Rating: 5 stars

That’s Mental was released on November 6, 2019. You can purchase it through IndieBound or other book retailers.

Featured image via Rosenberg’s website

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Nadia is a writer from North Carolina who aims to foster open discussion through writing. She is primarily interested in health, society, science, and the arts.

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