“That’s Mental”: Bipolar II in Humorous Essays

I spent most of my life hiding my mental issues because I was desperate to fit in and didn’t want to be a social outcast. But now everyone knows about my mental illness and I choose to be a social outcast. It’s so much better this way. Amanda Rosenberg, The Nerd Daily

Look up author Amanda Rosenberg and these are the words she uses to describe herself:

Writer. British Chinese. Bipolar II. Love Island. Mental. No worries if not.

Regarding her new book, That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill, a series of brief essays divided into BC (Before Crazy) and AD (After Diagnosis), it’s “candidly mental but with jokes” (The Nerd Daily).

A less concise intro to the book (PureWow):

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.’

In a pertinent excerpt about mentally ill characters on TV (Salon) Rosenberg further notes:

I have nothing against white people playing characters struggling with their mental health. But when you’re a non-white kid and the only people you see on-screen are white, it seems like they’re the only ones who experience mental illness. Not just that—they’re the only ones allowed to have a mental disorder.

Mental health stigma, grief and loss, trauma, unhelpful advice offered by others, and the difficulty of taking mental health days are just some of the topics covered in Rosenberg’s book. Also, of course: medication and therapy. Nadia Bey, Affinity, alludes to an interesting facet of the author’s experience with the latter:

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.

Among the favorable reviewers is comedian Sara Benincasa, author of Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom (see my previous post):

Amanda Rosenberg writes in a very funny, wonderfully accessible way about her experience with bipolar II. She uses her experience as a jumping off point for advice that feels like it comes from a candid friend. Then, just when she’s got you comfortable, she punches you in the gut with a small snapshot of agonizing grief or a particularly evocative, elegant turn of phrase. Truly, this is my absolute favorite way for a writer to approach a tough subject, and she does it gloriously. May this book serve to make you laugh and to increase your compassion for all who live with mental illness. Perhaps you’ll even be kinder to yourself.

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