Mental Health Memoirs from the Sidelines
From a sister, a daughter, and a husband
Hello and welcome to a new era of Crooked Reads!
From here on out (or at least until I change my mind), the books recommended will fit a theme beyond “Ashley read them this month.” This first batch is, of course, mental health memoirs—is there any other genre I love more? But these are from people on the sidelines: the caregivers, partners, siblings, children, parents, and friends of those living with mental illnesses.
When we think about mental illness, we usually think only about the person experiencing it first-hand. We don’t really consider the weight that the people around them must carry every day. The fear of losing their person. The worry of genetics giving someone else in the family the same illness.
Mental illness doesn’t only belong to the sick one—it belongs to them and everyone who loves them.
Luckily, over the last few years, more books have come out from people on the sidelines of mental illness. They’re either memoirs or vignettes or calls to action—or all three wrapped up in one.
Here are three of the best mental health memoirs from a sister, a daughter, and a husband.
The Perfect Other: A Memoir of My Sister by Kyleigh Leddy
The only thing 6-year-old Kait Leddy wanted in life was a sister. When Kyleigh finally arrived, the two were inseparable—until Kait hit adolescence, suffered head injuries, and started to change in scary ways. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived a volatile life in and out of healthcare facilities while Kyleigh watched on with a mix of fear and annoyance. The day after Kait disappeared, Kyleigh went to school, expecting it to be another incident they would move past. But that didn’t happen. Kait was last seen crossing a bridge, but never on the other side. A body was never found.
The Perfect Other is a beautiful book about grief and loving someone who is mentally ill. Leddy’s work as a mental health advocate, especially with psychotic disorders, makes this an even more powerful book.
“You wish there was an adequate term for what you are—like orphan or widower—a term that says ‘I once meant something to somebody.’”
—Kyleigh Leddy, The Perfect Other
The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy
This collection of memories and conversations intertwined with beautiful essays about schizophrenia is just perfection. Marin Sardy’s mother lived in a world of delusions spurred by her disease, but never wanted treatment for it. Then her brother experienced the same things. The Edge of Every Day will give you whiplash as it bounces between childhood memory and adult thought, and it’ll leave you feeling a little bit fractured at the end.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach
Mark Lukach felt helpless as his wife had a psychotic break and spent twenty-some days in the psych ward. She gets to go home, but the depression lingers. When he asks what she wants to do one day, she says she wants to go to the Golden Gate Bridge and jump. My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward is about a relationship working through crisis. But it’s also a stunning mental health memoir told through the eyes of the caregiver, focusing on the despair of being on the sidelines.
I also wrote about how meaningful this book is to me in 2017. It was a few months into dating my soon-to-be husband and he came with me to a reading. With him sitting beside me, I finally realized how hurtful it is for him when my depression puts words in my mouth.
The other stuff
If there’s one thing the pandemic has made me think infinitely more about, it’s been how to balance my work brain and my home brain. These books about burnout, capitalism, and boundaries are comforting and also a little bit infuriating, but still good.
My friend Elizabeth at What to Read If is hosting a paperback swap in February! Sign up, get a random name and address, and send them a paperback from your shelves that you’re ready to part with. You’ll get one in return.
Elizabeth was also featured in Substack’s Grow series this week, if you’re into that sort of thing.
What I’m reading
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman, because who can resist a Klosterman book, especially one about the decade they were born in? This was my most anticipated book of 2022 and it is living up to the hype.
Play with Me by Alisha Rai is the best kind of brain balm after a long day. Steamy and short and, uh, steamy.
Poe for Your Problems by Catherine Baab-Muguira is such a neat concept: biography by way of humorous anti-self-help. I’ve been reading this bit by bit for months, and I’m loving it!
Ariel by Sylvia Plath for morning poetry reading time, a new ritual I’m trying out.
Next month, I’m going to share some of my favorite spicy reads. Prepare yourselves.
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