When You Run to the Rock for Rescue

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683961017.

Gene: Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady, which is a follow up to…
Sarah: Marbles.
G: But this graphic novel is more… advice-y?
S: Yeah. So Marbles was her autobiography about how she figured out she had bipolar. This, years later, is about how she has managed her bipolar. It tells how she has gotten her shit together and how she hopes you can get your shit together, too. It’s based on a lot of work she’s done, and it’s also based on a lot of success that she’s had.
G: It has are other options that she hasn’t explored personally, too, but she’s really clear about what specifically works for her.
S: And she interviews people. I really liked that she interviewed people from a Somali-American health project about how a person’s background and community can really affect what kind of help it feels like you’re allowed to ask for.
G: It was interesting, because it’s local, too, and we know what the Somali health project is because we live in Seattle. I assume that’s not a unique thing, but it’s our thing.
I don’t know exactly how to start talking about this book. I know people who have bipolar disorder, I’ve talked to them about it, a lot of this rings true for me. The thing that I related most to was some of the self-care stuff in the book, which I do when traveling.
S: Yeah.
G: Specifically for my fear of flying, which I manage with a lot of breathing, recognizing when my body is ramping up, and I’d never thought that it’s also a way someone might recognize that they’re heading into a manic episode or a depressive episode, and how much other people have to watch themselves.
The breathing exercises recommended for them were the same as mine, plus just taking time for yourself — it all seems really generally applicable to everybody who has something that troubles them, who has to figure out how to deal with their bodies.
S: Yeah. She talks about the percentage of the population that has bipolar, and it’s not a huge number, but I feel like not only do you want to have this book available for people with bipolar, there’s a lot of overlap with other illnesses and there’s a lot of advice here that’s going to work for people with a variety of issues. You can pick and choose what’s useful to you. There are some things that are much more important for people with bipolar. The chapter on sleep and insomnia is a big issue for her, but I know tons of people who have that problem for other reasons. I think her advice could work for them, too.
G: The insomnia stuff was great. No screen time near bedtime, have a routine…
S: …to let your body know it’s time to chill.
G: She gives a sense that things might change for you, and that you might have to readjust even after something works for a while. Which I’ve had to do around my sleep schedule — the same things don’t always work for me. And that feeds into my fear of flying and my jet lag. When I’m on the road, when I’m doing speaking gigs, it can be just go go go. I have to recognize that I need to take time for myself, that I need to make sure I get enough sleep, otherwise I’m hosed.
S: She talks about finding your warning signs, about red flags — when you know the shit is going down — but also about red flagpoles, which are the circumstances that often lead to your red flags, the things in your life like travel, a big change, or a loss.
G: Reading about seasons as a flagpole, I realized I’ve heard of that before. But being on the outside of it, I don’t get it, so having that reiterated to me was good.
S: And she’s not saying that it’s definitely going to happen, she’s not saying you’re doomed in this circumstance or that, she talks about it in terms of if you know that’s coming up, do all that you can to buffer yourself. You could apply that to your normal life stresses. If you know that going to visit your parents is hard on you, why don’t you make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet before you go so that you’re not all jacked up on sugar. The equivalent of that, but for bipolar.
I’ve got to say, the other thing I really like about this is that there are lots of books on how to manage all sorts of different conditions that are written by doctors, that are written by people with backgrounds in medicine and pharmacology, and they all have good tips, they all know the symptoms and how to manage them, but they haven’t lived it, so they can’t talk to you like a peer would. Because Forney is not only talking about how to deal with medicine, what pills you need to take, etc, she’s also talking about how to make sure you don’t forget to take it, here’s how you take it when you go on the road. She gets into… I think this was in Marbles, too… when you get a diagnosis like this, especially a diagnosis that kinda changes how you can live your life, and changes it when you’re fairly young, that’s a big psychological blow. I didn’t anticipate my life was going to be like this. I didn’t think that I was going to be limited in this way. It can be really hard to take.
G: For some people it’s that the whole this isn’t fair thing. Other people don’t need to worry about this.
S: That’s really baked into the whole book, I really appreciate that.
G: Whereas I liked the pictures.
S: Yeah, the pictures are so good, too.
G: I like the little personal anecdotes, I like the way the pages are laid out, almost like slides for a meeting, an image for each idea. Every page feels very organic, the way the information is packaged. Sometimes there’s a little doodle, sometimes more than a doodle.
S: She’ll go from a cartooney expression to show someone feeling emotions, then switch to more realistic drawings to talk about actual events in her life. She has these great, funny, entertaining ways of talking about… on this page on the importance of having lots of coping tools she has a drawing of a utility belt!
G: Like Batman’s utility belt, but featuring pill dispensers, red alert flags, mood trackers, and compressed sunlight. And a grappling hook, because everyone needs a grappling hook. And tissues.
S: Oh, man, that page on how to cry in public! I think that’s applicable to everybody, I think we need to print that out and have it available in a lot of places.
G: I did that the other day. I can’t remember why.
S: The whole thing is put together in the pattern of an acronym. Other books have acronyms like SMART, but hers is SMEDMERTS! Which she admits is long and unwieldy, but she draws a mascot, a little pig/gremlin creature.
G: It looks like something Elise Gravel might draw.
S: It’s a way to remember the tools you can use to stay Rock Steady. And the book has an index, so you can find what you need when you need it.

Radical Compassion

Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories About Mental Illness by Darryl Cunningham. Bloomsbury, 2011. 9781608192786.

After picking up Challenger Deep, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite books on mental illness, Psychiatric Tales. It was the first book by Cunningham, and was several years in the making. His art and storytelling are still developing, but his talent absolutely shines through. He writes about his experiences as a psychiatric nurse, each tale dealing with a person with a different type of mental illness — the symptoms, the effects on people’s outlook, and how their lives are changed. He especially highlights how stigma can make the experience far more difficult. His compassion and kindness tint his straightforward tellings, and then in a final chapter he talks about how he, too, dealt with mental health issues that changed his career plans. A bittersweet aspect of the book for me is that since Cunningham is in the UK, all of the people he works with are getting medical care, no matter their income or background. This is not a given for people in the US, especially for those with mental illness and dementia.

Ordinary Heroes

Something Terrible by Dean Trippe. Iron Circus Comics, 2016. 9780989020756. 32pp.

Trippe tells the story of something terrible that happened to him in his childhood in crisp and expressive four-panel pages that are nearly wordless. The sexual abuse he suffered is indicated in only two frames: in one showing him and his abuser as shadows, and in another with his underwear on the floor, the threats he heard written underneath — “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your family.” He goes to the police and endures a court case, but his true turning point is watching a Batman movie that shows the hero’s origins in a terrible childhood loss. Trippe sees that he can turn his pain into a way to become a hero. He still struggles as an adult, especially with the fear (constantly reinforced by TV police dramas) that he’ll end up abusing someone, which he depicts as holding an imaginary gun to his head. He eventually finds a way to live his life as his own sort of hero, including an epilogue on how hard it was to have to repeat his story so many times after its initial publication. The story is brief and tremendously powerful. Trippe wrote it primarily for people who had been abused, but I think his message about the power of fiction will speak to others as well.

Food 101

Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Our Edible World by Julia Rothman with help from Rachel Wharton. Storey Publishing, 2016. 9781612123394.

Gene: This is totally the book for you.
Sarah: (laughs)
G: There is so much in here about food and cooking — goodness and drawings and amazing stuff. The part in the beginning that I love so much is where Rothman is talking about how hungry working on the book made her.
S: Oh, yeah?
G: She had to go out and try food. She wants the book to inspire you to experiment with cooking and be more curious about what you’re eating. Chapter one is a timeline of food history that looks like a board game.
S: Oh, yeah.
G: 1700, the Earl of Sandwich, 1686, the croissant is born in Austria. Ice cream cone invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904. With nice little drawings of everything.
S: I think there were several foods that first appeared in the US at that Word’s Fair, because the fair is where people try out weird new food!
G: First sushi restaurant in America, 1966. In California!
S: Wow! I guess in Seattle back then there were Japanese restaurants, but it was only sukiyaki.
Continue reading “Food 101”

Philosophy-a-Day

Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness by Tsai Chih Chung, translated by Brian Bruya. Anchor Books, 1994. 0385472579.

Sarah: I picked this book up originally because I was interested in Zen. This is by a Taiwanese author who took the great works of Zen and translated them into vernacular language, into modern Chinese, and made them into comics. And the comics are just great.
Gene: Oh, man! This is a very Asian cartooning style.
S: Yes, it seems very Chinese.
G: Did you ever see that book by Lat that First Second published?
S: Yeah!
G: It looks like this, a little bit. Lat’s from Indonesia. And there’s a certain style of Korean and Japanese comics that this reminds me of, too.
Continue reading “Philosophy-a-Day”

Wait, where’d I leave my heart?

Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words by Wendy MacNaughton. Chronicle Books, 2014. 9781452113890.

Gene: This is Meanwhile in San Francisco: A City in Its Own Words.
Sarah: Oh, the cover’s cool.
G: I’ve had this book for years — I love it. (There’s one like it on New York as well that’s called Hello New York.) This is by Wendy MacNaughton. She wandered around San Francisco, drawing the city. It reminded me of a book of drawings we both liked, Tokyo on Foot. MacNaughton records people’s own words, sometimes by overhearing them, sometimes by talking to them. It’s very fun. There’s a giant fold-out map inside the dust jacket…
S: …that show San Francisco at the center of the solar system.
G: Floating around it are Oakland, New York, LA and the Sun. That’s how San Francisco sees the universe. Isn’t that brilliant?
S: Yes.
G: Here’s the table of contents, done as a map, with arrows pointing to different areas of the city (with corresponding page numbers).
Here are some pages about the MUNI. They don’t seem to be watercolors, they look more like marker drawings?
S: The MUNI driver says, “We get paid about $30/hr. $1 to drive, $29 to deal with people.” That’s like a thing I used to have hanging over my desk.
G: The librarian version of that?
Continue reading “Wait, where’d I leave my heart?”

Finding Your Way, Finding Your Way Home

You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis. Koyama Press, 2017. 9781927668405.

Eleanor Davis started biking from her parents’ home in Tucson back to her home in Athens, Georgia, carrying only a tent, a sleeping bag, her clothes, and enough food to get to her next stop. When people asked her why she was doing this, she told them either, “My husband & I want a baby, so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.” or “My dad built this bike & I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!” She didn’t tell them that she was having trouble with not wanting to be alive, but that she felt good when she was bicycling — that was true, too. She recorded her journey in black and white pencil drawings as she traveled.

Throughout the trip she pushed her body, biking up to 50 miles a day even though her knees really hurt. (She iced them when she could.) She saw amazing natural beauty, passing through farmland, desert, cities, and ghost towns. She explored a lot of our border with Mexico and witnessed the harsh treatment of people trying to cross it. She biked her way through both depression and euphoria. All along her journey she met kind people who fed her and inspired her to keep going. (The people she met in Alpine, Texas, were particularly amazing.) As she said early on in her trip, “I’ll push myself really hard until I get very strong. This has always been my only plan.”