The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. - Oscar Wilde
I love books. I love them upside down and backwards. I once heard that reading books can save your life, and I believe this to be true. I've literally lay prone on the floor, alone, empty, beyond depressed - with nothing more between me and and suicidal ideation, than a book. Anne LaMott, Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver. Down on the floor beside me. Beseeching me to breath, read, breathe.
Oh, how I love books.
Here in Pleasanton our local independent bookstore, Towne Center Books, has a basket in front of the register counter. If you purchase $25 plus worth of books, you can pick out a free book from the basket. All the books in the basket are first edition advanced uncorrected proofs. No clean up. The story, as the author meant to tell it.
This week, I picked out a book by Cathy Lamb (an author I was unfamiliar with) - "Henry's Sisters," I don't know where to start with this book, nor where to end. There is deep, disturbing tragedy, there is extraordinary familiar love and bonds, both broken and mended. There is an ache inside when you read this book, and it is hard to tell if you are spending more time laughing or crying, as you go from page to page.
But here is why I bring this book up now, on this blog.
The book deals with mental illness as a (constant) peripheral part of the story. We see Clinical Depression, Episodic Deppression, OCD, Food Addiction, and more.
One of the main characters is institutionalized for a period of time, a critical part of understanding who this character is.
And so today, I want to give kudos to Cathy Lamb, who, in the paragraph in the book discussing the institionalization - told it like it was, without cleaning up or softening the reality of her point. I share it with you now, and ask you all - those who are mentally ill, and those who are not - to challenge your own perceptions about what being institutionalized makes you think about a person.
I've been hospitalized ten times.
And I am here, now, writing this blog post, because during my darkest hours, I was somewhere, while not ideal, it was safe, and I could not hurt myself.
Here are the words from the character Isabelle in the Cathy Lamb's book, "Henry's Sisters":
I wasn't excited about being hospitalized for depression. The mental illness stigma sticks like tar and feathers to people, which is patently ridiculous. You get help for diabetes, no problem, poor thing. You get help for cancer, what can I do to help you dear?
You get help for mental illness? People begin to steer clear. They are blockheaded, insensitive morons who will never get past their own flaming ignorance, but they peg you in a hole, treat you with annoying kid gloves, condencension, and/or like they think you're a weak, perhaps dangerous, eternally sick whack job, unsafe or unhealthy to be around. It's beyond their miniscule minds to accept that people with mental illness get better all the time. All the time.
My hospitalizaiton had to be done to save my own sorry life. So I did it.
And I am still here because of it.
Somebody doesn't like that?
* * * (End of quote from book.)
So, right off, I can say I am not as angry as this character is, and not as enraged at those who perpetuate the stigma associated with mental illness. I think it comes from ignorance, and sad to say - we are all, in one way or another - ignorant about something. Ignorance has nothing to do with intelligence level. It is simply a part of the human condition.
We can do something about it though. We can strive to learn and take misconceptions and turn them upside down. Just as Cathy Lamb has done in the lines in her book, above.
So BRAVO Cathy Lamb.
Hand in hand, we'll tell the truth, and soon enough the world will listen. I truly believe that. I do.