Review – Show Me All Your Scars

MENTAL WELLNESS

Show Me Your Scars: True Stories of Living With Mental Illness
by Lee Gutkind
In Fact Books, 2016
Review by Tijuana L. Canders
Apr 27, 2017

Mental Illness is often kept secret, or hidden in the ‘closet’ because of stereotypes and stigmas the world protrudes on the sufferer. Mental illness is also misunderstood which leaves the sufferer not only to battle the effects of their illness but also to feel the need to rid themselves from the mind-sets of others who aren’t educated to know that individuals living with mental illness can be valuable, viable, and productive citizens in the world along with the rest of the society.

Lee Gutkind a licensed child and adolescent therapist who also works with adults compiles stories from others dealing with mental illness in the book, Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Living with Mental Illness, in hopes to bring awareness and alleviate the painful reality of discrimination, and emotional sufferings from stigmas. As former US Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy writes in his introduction: “The only way for this to change is for people to share their truth. Total honesty is essential not only for recovery, but also for changing societal attitudes and enacting public policies.”

Each writer provides the reader with a different story, a different illness, a different perspective, and a different battle of the mind. The deeply personal essays are full of courage, resilience, and recovery shred the stigma of mental illness and challenge our indifference toward the ‘mentally ill.’ Show Me All Your Scars is an intense human exploration of the lived experience of mental illness. The book is beautifully written and displays hope to encourage others to dare to tell their story for the soul purpose of standing against their silence within themselves, in return changing the culture around them.

Trying to understand what it is like to be mentally ill or what it’s like to live with someone who is mentally ill is a challenge for all of us. After all, if one hasn’t “been there,” the behaviors of those living with mental illness can sometimes be annoying, scary, or embarrassing.

As a free-lance writer for the mental health and wellness professions I am a firm believer that we need to bring mental illness out of the closet. Once society starts to accept that it is truly part of daily life, maybe then we will begin to see the necessary changes needed to take place not just in research or medicine but also in our relational boundaries, holistic views and stigmas that will make it easier for the sufferer to live with some of these issues. My personal hope is that one day individuals who suffer from a mental illness can not only “show others our scars” as part of the process of living with mental illness, but that we will also “live with mental wellness.” 

Show Me All Your Scars is well-written, brave, and honest with unique stories to impart healing, encouragement, and stark realities of mental illness for the soul. The book is a poignant read for those who suffer from mental illness and for those who want to understand mental illness.

 

© 2017 Tijuana L. Canders

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW – Why We Write About Ourselves

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Why We Write About Ourselves
by Meredith Maran
Plume Publishing, 2016
Review by Tijuana L.Canders
Apr 10, 2017

Why We Write about Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and others) in the Name of Literature offers everything a reader might wish for from twenty diverse and talented memoirists, including some perennial favorites from the memoir genre.

Each author gets their own chapter, which begins with a sample of their writing and a brief and delightful overview of that memoirist’s career and contributions written by Meredith Maran, the book’s editor. There are also two boxed features: “The Vitals,” with biographical details and fun facts, and “The Collected Works,” which lists the author’s works. The heart of the chapter comes next – the memoirists’ answers to the key question of why they write about themselves, and much more. Each chapter ends with one more boxed feature – the author’s “wisdom for memoir writers.”

The memoirists’ reasons for writing about themselves were sometimes highly distinctive. For example, Ishmael Beah, child soldier and author of A Long Way Gone, said that writing about himself was a way of establishing his existence: “Apart from my passport, I had no physical objects or documentation to do so.” He also wanted to correct misperceptions about his country, Sierra Leone.

Although the authors gave reasons for writing memoir, all of the authors had one motivation in common: they wanted to write about themselves in ways that would resonate far beyond themselves. I was most moved by authors who said they wish they wrote the book they could have read when they were struggling. In her teaching, Anne Lamott turns that into a lesson. She tells her students “to write the book they’d like to come upon.” Sandra Tsing Loh said, “Whatever I’ve been through, I want to make it better for someone else.”

Every memoir is a story not just of the person doing the writing, but of other people in their lives. People who are flawed and complicated and human, but who may not appreciate being portrayed in all of their humanity. Each author grapples with this issue, and they come up with very different solutions. Edwidge Danticat worries about what her family will think: “I’d rather have relatives than a book…I try to tell my version, but if others object to it, I tell their versions, too.”

That’s now how A. M. Holmes sees things: “I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to tell the story the way I experienced it.” Pat Conroy explained why he will “always choose the writer over the person who suffers because of what’s written” because “If a story is not told, it’s the silence around that untold story that ends up killing people.” And several authors admitted that they often cannot predict how someone they’ve described will react. For instance, Jesmyn Ward said, “I wrote the memoir as a love letter to our family. She [her mother] read it as a condemnation.”

One of the reasons I wanted to write about this book review is that so many of the writers and readers on the site write about themselves, or enjoy reading people who write about themselves. Yet all of the authors in Why We Write about Ourselves who addressed the issue of blogging and tweeting insist that memoir writing was something different. James McBride (whose chapter includes a wonderful discussion of how writers of color are treated in the publishing industry) says that “memoirists have to speak of deeper things.” It is not just unedited spilling, either, of the sort you might do in your personal journals. As Cheryl Strayed said, “I’m not interested in confession. I’m interested in revelation.”

Why We Write About Ourselves is written with relevant expertise and can be used as a discussion platform at book conferences, writing groups or literature classes to give support to authors who desire to impact the world with literature and have always wanted to see their words in print.

 

© 2017 Tijuana L. Canders