What comes to mind when you think of the term mental illness?
Do you think of individuals who are thriving, successful, independent, and happy? Or do you picture individuals who are locked away from society because of dangerous hallucinations and delusions? Either perception is skewed not only by preconceived notions of mental illness, but also by a lack of knowledge, education, and sensitivity. Mental health challenges can occur in any culture, age group, and socioeconomic class. Struggling with mental illness does not mean an individual will never “measure up.” We’re all susceptible in some way. Sadly, a lack of sensitivity and knowledge about topics involving mental health can lead to months, years, and even decades of isolation, pain, discrimination, and suffering. It is a painful reality.
That’s why Lee Gutkind compiled a great book of examples of the lives of those suffering from mental health challenges. His compiled work, Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Living with Mental Illness, awakens readers to the depths of the abyss for so many sufferers who are not only afraid to reach out for help, but who also struggle with the reality that their lives may never be free of pain and suffering. Each story outlines the barriers, fears, confusion, tribulation, and even danger of mental health challenges.
As a licensed child and adolescent therapist who has experience working with adults, my fear has always been that my clients are so convinced they are losing the “fight” that they not only decide to live a life of pure, unadulterated hell by giving into self-defeating thoughts and risky behaviors, but also that they give in to their suicidal or even homicidal thoughts. I have seen my fair share of adults, teens, and even children who have “given up” and have either decided to follow, or could not remain psychologically separate from, a path of destruction. Many of my child and adolescent clients have made statements such as “I want to kill myself, but I’m afraid I may hurt my family.” Sadly, I have even had cases where my clients have attempted homicide. In other cases, the suicidal urge is so strong that many of my inpatient child clients tried anything and everything to end the pain.
The cycle of hopelessness, pain, and sorrow is real in the lives of those suffering from debilitating mental health challenges. But how do we get society to understand the rawness and the realness of those living with and trying to cope with mental illness? For starters, we must educate through words. That’s what so many of the writers Show Me All Your Scars decided to do. Many of the talented writers in the book are able to put emotions, thoughts, and psychological turmoil into words.
As a writer myself, I was impressed by how each writer concisely described the experience of mental illness while also maintaining the integrity that is often missing from mainstream society when discussing this subject. There were some sentences or chapters that I felt were not needed to make the point, but overall, each writer portrayed their experience, their pain, their suffering, and their sorrow in ways that are relatable not only to those experiencing mental illness, but also to those working and living with sufferers. The book is simplistic, but not so simplistic that it blends in with similar books on the market.
Each writer provides the reader with a different story, a different illness, a different perspective, and a different battle of the mind. I must admit that although I have worked with clients of all ages and in many capacities for over 7 years within the field, I was glued to the pages. I felt that the book contributed to my understanding some of the challenges that many of my clients experience. Although society may have a general understanding of mental health challenges, a book like this provides the “color” that is needed in order to relate and extend compassion.
Although the book does not specifically provide resources for the reader to utilize or tips on how to cope, it is a good starting point for opening up a discussion about mental health. It is a good starting point for those who have been newly diagnosed, for those who are struggling with accepting a diagnosis, for those who are trying to support a loved one or friend, and for those who are seeking emotional solace through awareness of other’s challenges.
We all have scars of some kind. We should not be afraid to share our scars because of an inaccurate perception of what life and human beings should be. No fantasy and no positive thinking can erase the scars we all have. It is certainly healthy to reframe negative experiences and to search for hope within a painful world. But it is not healthy to ignore or “hide” the reality that life includes pain and that it also can deal us a bad set of cards sometimes. That’s why books like Show Me All Your Scars are educational in more ways than one.
Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Living with Mental Illness.
In Fact Books, June 2016
Paperback, 320 pages