In January, six of us gathered together over zoom to discuss the book Checking In by Michelle Williams. In the book, Michelle Williams, Grammy Award winner and most famous for her membership in Destiny’s Child, describes her decade long battle with depression and anxiety. The book description begins with “I need help.” She very vulnerably describes her lowest point, when she found herself planning her own funeral, and her process seeking professional help. Throughout this journey, she often describes the importance of “checking in” with herself, God, and others.
During our group’s discussion, we talked about how Ms. Williams very openly discusses her journey recognizing depression, struggling with low points, recovery, and now working to maintain her own health. A few helpful quotes from the book we discussed include:
Ms. William’s process of checking in was insightful and built on her experiences over the last decade. When she was depressed and her fiancé would offer to help her with tasks at home, she interpreted it as an insult. Reflecting, she said “depression [was] changing everything to lies.” (p. 123). However, “When we’re checking in with ourselves, we can root out the beliefs behind our thoughts and the thoughts behind our emotions.” (p. 34)
On page 77, she describes her check in process: “Just choose one situation with one person” and ask:
Ms. Williams also makes an interesting distinction between transparency and vulnerability. With transparency, “there’s still a little bit of control…I don’t risk anything when I respond that way.” However, with vulnerability, we are “offering the truth freely…you don’t have that kind of control, sometimes it’s not pretty.” (p. 172-173). However, her overall point is that vulnerability allows more for freedom to exist and acknowledge our own struggles. It means being truly open about what is going on in our lives and minds which can ultimately promote better understanding of ourselves, and hopefully, greater healing.
Finally, a large part of Ms. Williams life and overall healing process was rooted in her Christian faith. She focuses a lot on the downfalls of holding grudges and not forgiving ourselves or others. She states:
Please join us for our next Ramsey County Book Club! Find more information at: https://www.namiramseycounty.org/bookclub.html
Five of us got together to discuss the book The Weight of our Sky by Hanna Alkaf. It describes a teen with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who is trying to find her way back to her mother during the race riots in Malaysia in 1969. She believes she harbors a djinn inside her which compels her to complete an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping or else be threatened with horrific images of her mother’s death.
**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**
We started with a discussion about the geography of southeast Asia and the political and racial climate in Malaysia during the 1960s. The book is set in Kuala Lumpur, a very densely populated city in Malaysia which shares a border with Indonesia. The racial conflict stemmed from differences between the Malay and Chinese people and resulted in the devastating killings of hundreds of people.
We also discussed our own understanding of OCD: a mental illness characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors. OCD often occurs in conjunction with, or exacerbations by other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. In this month’s book, the main character’s compulsive behaviors are tightly linked with her spiritual and cultural beliefs evidenced by their connection with her djinn. A djinn is a supernatural being in Islamic mythology and theology.
Each participant shared their thoughts about how cultural and spiritual beliefs can affect an individual’s understanding of mental illness and their ability to seek mental health services. We agreed that spiritual beliefs, while important, may stigmatize mental illness or wrongly attribute symptoms to spiritual occurrences or wrongdoings. This may also influence how those around people with a lived experience of mental illness view their symptoms, further adding to the stigma.
Join us on July 15 for another rousing discussion. It will be on the book, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. Click here for the discussion questions. We hope to see you there!
Author: Kayla murphy
Kayla, a volunteer with NAMI Ramsey, is a fourth year medical student at the University of Minnesota planning to apply to psychiatry residency.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter for blog updates!