My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I struggled to read the first few pages of “Madness: A memoir”. Not because it was badly written and not because it didn’t grab me. Because it was describing the time the author attempted to sever her own arm – in visceral detail.
This book offers an honest insight into a troubled brain and the severe consequences that can occur as a result – an insight that isn’t often shared but should be. Despite the fact that I got slightly squirmish whilst reading the first few pages, I was determined to keep reading and am pleased I did.
Essentially, Richards tells it exactly as it was (as much as she can remember, anyway). She takes the step that very few have taken and tells the truth. About her hallucinations. Her suicidal thoughts. Her self-harming. Her decision to see a therapist. And then a (largely unhelpful) psychiatrist. Her frequent hospitalisations. Her battle with finding the balance in medications. And, eventually, her path to recovery.
Richards writes in a beautifully descriptive and accessible way that lays her experience on a table for you to not observe from afar but actually take on board yourself and feel.
“The Cold Ones are severe. Unrelenting. Psychopathic in their gleeful execution of pain…They prefer to whisper – criticisms and threats.”
“garrotte garrotte garrotte the world will spin you into obsidian oblivion keep the fires burning watch yourself muddy red”
There are glimmers of hope and joy scattered throughout the book as well that make you feel so grateful that Richards was able to recognise those moments are joyful and experience some reprieve. Those moments mostly took the form of music, books, travel, and cats.
“Mog, the new foster kitten, is phytophilous. Succulents and cacti, previously in pots on the living room window-ledge, are this morning dug up, dismembered and scattered over the floorboards…The big fat cat (Her Royal Greyness) is not impressed with the new addition to our family.”
“This is the time for studying music theory and astronomy. I love the words of music: portamento, glissando, richochet, spiccato – a kind of onomatopeic poem.”
“Madness: A memoir” does not shy away from describing, in detail, the experience of living with mental illness – as it shouldn’t. If people are to truly understand mental illnesses, exposure to real-life educational stories is the key. I’ve studied psychology for six years now and I know I personally always found it easier to understand the intricacies and complexities of a mental illness when I could get my hands on a case study. This book is one that everyone should read to help open up people’s minds to the often invisible and hidden suffering that others live with on a daily basis.
Does this sound like a book you would like to read? What are some other excellent portrayals of mental illness that you’ve read?