Don’t think that this definitive book has to be non-fiction. For those fierce fiction writers, what would be your genre-defining book? What would its title be? Who would be the major characters? Where would it take place? For the non-fiction writer-goddesses out there, what is your main area of expertise? What topic keeps you up at night? What story did you see in the New York Times or the local paper that you just can’t help thinking about during a quiet period in your day?
I’ll tell you about my (imaginary for now) book that I can only hope one day defines a sub-niche of a sub-niche of a genre. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder shares many of the symptoms of schizophrenia (voices, hallucinations, delusions, social isolation), but it also includes an affective (mood disorders) component. After my diagnosis, I read many of the most popular memoirs written by women who dealt with at least one mental health issue. An Unquiet Mind (Jamison), The Center Cannot Hold (Saks), Prozac Nation (Wurtzel), Marbles (Forney), I read them all.
The one thing that was missing from this treasure trove of hard-fought experience and wisdom were the tales of women of color with a mental health issue. Yes, women of color have written about their battles with mental health over the years. But when most people who have knowledge on this topic get asked about the best mental health memoirs written by female authors, the same names inevitably come up: Kay Redfield Jamison. Elyn Saks. Elizabeth Wurtzel. Susanna Kaysen. Jenny Lawson. Carrie Fisher. None of them look like me. Most of them have financial resources and support from loved ones that I could only dream of.
There are plenty of mental health memoirs by WOC that are more than worth reading. But the women who read these memoirs (I include myself in this number) have to do a much better job of seeking out new and different perspectives. I’m not saying that a mental health diagnosis won’t devastate a cisgender woman who’s white, wealthy, and well-educated. But we need to hear from authors from all walks of life. I hope to one day be an author that puts her book into the ring of mental health memoirs written by strong, unflappable women.
My Must-Read List: Mental Health Memoirs by Women of Color
1. Willow Weep for Me: by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (depression)
2. My Body Is A Book of Rules: by Elissa Washuta (sexual abuse, bipolar disorder)
3. Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia - by Stephanie Covington Armstrong
4. 72 Hour Hold: by Bebe Moore Campbell (bipolar disorder)
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