In the book, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, the protagonist Craig went through a bout of depression. While in the hospital, he discovers that he has tentacles and anchors. His tentacles are the things that bring him down, and the anchors are a solid force in his life. Some of the tentacles are his friends and his high school, and his anchors are his family and his art.
Craig worked hard to get into a high school, but after he got in, he realized the work load was too much. After the hospital, Craig decided to attend another high school. In the discussion, we discussed the stress that Craig put himself under while attending the pre-executive high school. One of our book club attendees talked about how high school is a place where people tend to not leave unless something bad happens.
Craig had a friend named Nia, who was dating his best friend. The book club discussed that she had positive and negative qualities. She was on medication and helped Craig not feel alone, but she also tried to use Craig.
In the book, Craig got numbers from people in the hospital, and the group talked about how he was put into an adult ward because the adolescent unit was being renovated. The book club talked about how the adults in the unit were positive influences, and Craig may have struggled in a teen unit.
The club thought that the catalyst for his change was making art. In the story, Craig created art for other patients, and he found a purpose for his life. A member of our discussion group thought the book was a good description of depression, and people who hadn’t had the struggle would understand it better.
This month, the Book Club read Dr. Birds Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos.
In this book, James Whitman finds himself overcome with suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, mania, and family issues such as abuse and his sister’s self-injurious behavior.
The book is written for older teens, and it poses questions such as if you feel yourself struggling, would you feel comfortable reaching out?
In the book club discussion, there was talk about how the teens were seen as more resourceful than the adults, as James was able to find therapy on his own to deal with the issues he was experiencing. James also found himself in an investigation about his sister Jorie’s expulsion from school. You could see James’s getting stronger and more vocal as the story went on.
James finds inspiration from Walt Whitman, and sometimes uses the famous author's writing to sum up his own thoughts, such as,
Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise
Would kill me
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of
Please join us for the next NAMI Ramsey Book Club! Find more information at https://www.namiramseycounty.org/bookclub.html
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
This month, our Book Club discussed Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. The book has two main themes, racism in the Deep South and mental health.
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Graphic Violence, Deaths, Anxiety, Alcohol Use, and Depression
Kay King, Community Educator at NAMI Minnesota, facilitated this Book Club discussion and provided discussion questions to guide the conversation.
One question prompted the group to discuss how many people still believe that people living with mental illnesses should just “snap out of it” and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” The causes of mental illnesses are not simple ones. Kay and the group discussed that we don’t know what causes a mental illness. We know environment, genetics, biology, brain chemistry, life experiences, and trauma can be factors. The present theory is that some of us are born with a predisposition and something puts it into motion (a second hit). That trigger could be something like trauma, poverty, deaths in the family, war, losses, other illnesses, the birth of a child, a lack of sunlight, major long- and short-term life stresses, etc. The group discussed what some of the triggers may have been for Hazel in the book.
Another question highlighted how Hazel’s husband, Floyd, could have been more supportive of her recovery from depression and alcohol-use disorder. In the book, Floyd is often saying something about thinking positively. After Hazel loses her son Davie, she becomes very depressed and turns to alcohol. Floyd thinks that Hazel can cure herself from her depression and alcohol-use disorder by positive thinking.
The group continued to discuss Floyd's response to Hazel's illness. Hazel is hospitalized in a place called Whitfield for her co-occurring disorder. Toward the end of the book, Floyd says to Hazel, “Do you want me to send you back to Whitfield? You know I could have you committed again.” The group discussed how Floyd could have been more supportive toward Hazel and some of the other things that he could have said to her. One of the things that Floyd could have said was, “I am worried about you. How can I help?” instead of threatening to send her back to Whitfield.
Miss Hazel in the Rosa Parks League is a very complex book, and the group enjoyed discussing it.
Join us on Thursday, August 19th for another rousing discussion. It will be on the book, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. We hope to see you there!
Author: Ann Resemius
Ann Resemius is an advisor on the NAMI Ramsey County board and has earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota.
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