To read a book is to live an experience, to come closer to the meaning of someone else’s life, or to find your own experiences mirrored and feel less alone. And to have books opening conversations on emotional difficulty can work like an antidote for a range of vile feelings.
Here are a few books about living with mental illness and reaching for better mental health. Moving, unsentimental, honest, memoirs or fiction as well as advice from practising mental health professionals, these indian books strengthen and deepen our understanding of mental health.
All the books are in English. Know of similar books not in the list? Help along by letting us know in comments or DMs.
Author: Manjiri Indurkar
A memoir about childhood violence and secrets showing up in unprecedented ways in the life of a woman in her twenties, living away from home. The book chronicles how her mental health struggles manifest in her body, amid growing pressures of transitioning from a small town into a big city. It speaks to all survivors of abuse, offering up a tale of strength and resilience to eventually highlight love and acceptance as self-care.
Aren’t we always taught how we are supposed to be hairless? Hair on women except for their scalp is never acceptable. If you have been made fun of because of that beard-like hair, you hate it even more. The sense of relief that the hair pulling was bringing me aside, the reason I specifically went for the hair on my chin was because of the strong social conditioning.
The price of beauty is pain, after all. When I discovered my illness, I didn’t know anyone else who had it. Not a single character in popular culture was assigned this unglamorous illness. Some disorders are so invisible that you tend to not pay them attention unless they happen to you.
Author: Shreevats Nevatia
This memoir of a young journalist diagnosed as bipolar takes readers through the euphoric highs and drastic lows of living with the illness. The book recounts encounters of abuse as a child, being institutionalised, past loves, relating with fellow sufferers and illuminates the ride with vivid metaphors from mythology and music.
My childhood friends who I met in Bombay were perturbed enough by my gradual metamorphosis to be more forgiving.
Waiting for one of them at the airport, I felt the need to test the limits of my new-found asceticism. I sat cross- legged and began meditating outside the terminal. With no luggage, the Bombay constable found it hard to believe I was a passenger. He shooed me away with his stick. ‘This is no place for bums,’ he said. My actions were becoming harder to fathom and my misconduct was becoming harder to apologize for. I was making scenes in bars and on the road. It was prudent on the part of my two closest friends to take me to see a psychiatrist.
Author: Reshma Valiappan
An unusual, and personal account of somebody diagnosed with schizophrenia at 22. With parts in the form of emails and letters, and some written in a stream of consciousness and diary entries, the book paints an honest picture of teenage filled with frustrating diagnosis and chaotic treatment. Reshma Valiappan, also known as Val Resh, draws connections between labels, expectations of gender roles and youth and their lasting effect on our mental health along with a critique of the psychiatric system.
Imagine a system that still exists where they think someone like me is making it all up. Where a large group of people refuse to believe what I say but when a professional says the same thing it is taken as a fact or the ultimate truth.
AND THIS IS WHAT makes the schizophrenic feel hopeless, helpless and easily driven to take one’s life. This is the darkness we are put into when we already have enough on our platter….
None of us is prepared for madness, we just learn to deal with it… either we succumb and live in it or we struggle and live with it. None of us is prepared to be cured either, because these are two sides of the same coin. None of us is prepared to be healed because we have a constructed idea of what healing should be.’
Em And The Big Hoom, 2012
Author: Jerry Pinto
Between Em, A mother with a severe mental illness and a father, Big Hoom, being the dependable, solid figure he has to be, a family of four manages living in a 1 BHK of late 1900’s Mahim, Bombay. Jerry Pinto takes strands from his own experience of living with a bipolar loved one to breathe life into this much beloved novel.
‘After you were born, someone turned on a tap. At first it was only a drip, a black drip, and I felt it as sadness. I had felt sad before . . . who hasn’t? I knew what it was like. But I didn’t know that it would come like that, for no reason. I lived with it for weeks.’
‘Was there a drain?’
‘No. There was no drain. There isn’t one even now.’
She was quiet for a bit.
‘It’s like oil. Like molasses, slow at first. Then one morning I woke up and it was flowing free and fast. I thought I would drown in it. I thought it would drown little you, and Susan. So I got up and got dressed and went out onto the road and tried to jump in front of a bus. I thought it would be a final thing, quick, like a bang. Only, it wasn’t.’
Anthology of real life accounts of caregivers – Edited by Jerry Pinto
Many readers of Em And The Big Hoom reached out to the author with their own experiences of living closely with someone with mental illness and agreed to share their story widely. Personal accounts of their painful, tumultuous, thriving, powerful struggles with the human mind within family relationships, gave shape to this collection.
Excerpt from MY MOTHER THE PROFESSOR
By Leela Chakravorty
As her only child, her daughter, I knew I meant the world to my mother, Professor Reema Chakravorty. I just couldn’t be sure what that world was like. I was, depending on her mood, a daughter, a friend, a bitch, a whore and in her last days, her nurse, her nanny, her doctor.
I was born on a chilly winter morning in a small town in the foothills around the Kanchenjunga peak. My mother told me that she did not experience any labour pains. Sometimes she told me I caused her unbearable pain. She returned to her mother’s house when her pregnancy was advanced, as was the custom, but she said no one knew that I was due. I don’t know how this was possible since she also told me that her sister had said, ‘I will kick your bulging belly and kill your child,’ when she got tired of fetching and carrying for her. But I got used to contradictions. And I got used to not contradicting her.
ADVICE FROM MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
Author: Dr Shyam Bhat
Who among us has ever escaped heartbreak? Star psychiatrist Shyam Bhat draws on his professional expertise to explain the science of the universally felt emotion.What happens at a biological level in the mind and body, why our thoughts follow a certain process and most hopefully – what it takes to heal- the book takes an optimistic approach to answer such questions.
…I have seen heartbreak in countless people who have come to me suffering from feelings of sadness and pain, and I experienced these same emotions in myself, and wondered – what is the strange nature of this experience that even the most rational mind cannot seem to change?
The pain of heartbreak is mysterious. It comes from the deepest reaches of our being, our mind, our body and our soul, and when we learn to deal with heartbreak, both to heal and then to love again, we discover the best part of us.
As a psychiatrist, I have learned to take this emotional experience seriously, for it is at the root of a great many emotional disturbances.
Author: Sonali Gupta
A clinical psychologist draws on her work experience to help identify the difference between stress, anxiety and panic attacks and to manage each. It includes case studies to observe different factors contributing to anxiety- at work, in relationships, in social life, among many spheres. Written in user-friendly, non-theoretical language, this work is a guide to taking charge of one’s life by working through one’s fears.
Twenty-seven-year old Marissa is a bubbly, happy-go-lucky girl heading communications and branding in her company. She reached out to me because she feels that she is failing at ‘adulting’. Quick to defend herself, she says, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the most hard-working employees in my organization. My bosses love me, and I have just got a promotion. But when it comes to staying in touch with friends, paying bills, meeting people and taking care of myself, I’m such a failure.’ …Marissa is exhausted by the pressure to do everything she needs to. She’s worked for the past 12 years; at age fifteen, she landed her first job as an intern at a magazine. She’s worked every summer since then until she landed her first full-time job, having been raised by working parents who emphasized the importance of giving back to society. Despite her supportive parents, and an understanding boyfriend, Marissa can’t sleep, binge-eats, and is totally disillusioned with her life.
Author: Anna Chandy
The author, the chair of Deepika Padukone’s Live Laugh Love Foundation, shares her personal stories of living through ups and downs, trials and tribulation, and the emerging resilience and beauty. She also delves into a technique called ‘transactional analysis’ to help unravel mental health issues, as a way to transition from pain to wellbeing.
My mother continued to dissolve in tears and histrionics while my father continued to retreat to his room. I felt sorry for Amma when I saw her cry, and heard her say that no one loved her. And I felt angry with Appa: why did he have to upset her so? At other times, I felt for my father. What must it have been like for him to live with someone so manipulative? Had he too felt that he didn’t belong in her family of aunts, cousins and the like? Was he lonely, living in this large house, relegated to the role of provider and not much else? Did he feel humiliated knowing that his in-laws, in fact, our entire community, talked about his failed marriage, his wronged wife, and his ungrateful daughters? The situation escalated to a point where it had to be brought to a conclusive end.