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I Thought I Could Fly: Portraits of Anguish, Compulsion and Despair

Evoking empathy, as noted in the introduction to this book, is much harder than simply evoking sympathy. It’s easy to make someone’s story seem sympathetic. It’s much harder for you to get to really feel the other person’s story, not out of a sense of despair so much as a sense of understanding and appreciation.

That’s what this heartfelt book accomplishes by wandering into the fields of mental illness, so often misunderstood, so often stigmatized and dismissed. This book provides first-person accounts of people with emotional disturbances and mental health issues, and does so in the best short story-telling tradition. Each story gives us a glimpse into the life of another person, a person who is living a life few of us can imagine. Each narrative is paired with a black-and-white photograph by the editor, who is a mother of a daughter with bipolar disorder.

The book contains 36 such vignettes, many of which will touch your heartstrings. The challenges faced by people who live daily with a mental illness are simply not contemplated by most of us. This book brings us face-to-face with these challenges in an engaging and inspiring manner. At the end of the it, you feel like you’ve gained real insight into the depths of mental disorders and how people deal with it every day.

Because each story is relatively short and the book is illustrated with exquisite photography, it’s an easy read. Some will find the photography as moving as the stories themselves, and you can count me among them.

If you know someone in your life who grapples with a mental health issue, or just wondered what it must be like to wake up every day dealing with a deep, dark depression, this is a book worth your time. I will recommend it to everyone who asks me what it’s like to experience a mental illness, because it paints a picture far more clearly than almost anything else I’ve come across.

Softcover, 144 pp.

I Thought I Could Fly: Portraits of Anguish, Compulsion and Despair

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John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2016). I Thought I Could Fly: Portraits of Anguish, Compulsion and Despair. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
Published on Psych All rights reserved.