This Is What Mental Illness Feels Like: “Manic Kingdom” – A Book Review

03
Nov

There is no getting around it. “Manic Kingdom” is a difficult book to read.

Ostensibly based on a true story (which seems incomprehensible initially), this tale is raw, sometimes confusing, often upsetting.

It is also fascinating, irreverent, occasionally hilarious and captivating.

At times you want to take the book, slam it down, and scream: “ENOUGH!” At other times, the terror is so riveting that you read with eyes wide as saucers and can’t stop.

The story revolves around “Becka”, a university student trying to cope with the stresses of medical school.

(“Becka” is a pseudonym for the author, Eeks, and Eeks is a nickname for the author, Dr. Erin Stair.)

Becka is quirky. Reading about her foibles, mishaps, and relationship issues is entertaining at the beginning. Her character is relatable, her crackling, dark dry wit compelling.

But underneath the surface, you just know it: something sinister is brewing.

The cracks appear when Becka’s friend, fellow med student and roommate (“Chase”) morphs from ‘regular’ guy to wildly neurotic.

Becka becomes his chilling target.

Fearing for her own safety, she moves hastily out of their shared residence. But even within the security of her new digs, she remains agitated, traumatized and triggered by her friend’s alarming behaviour.

She begins to question her own mental health, her pursuit as a med student, the state of her life in general.

Overwhelmed, she leaves school. She flees to California. She enters into a relationship with a man (“King”), another colourful character.

Becka is transfixed by King, not unlike a cult follower. She becomes hypnotized by his nonconformity, his freedom, his abhorrence for waste and extravagance, his obsession with strenuous fitness.

All too soon, however, another terror.

Becka soon learns the truth about who “King” really is.

Can she flee another set of chilling circumstances? Survive losing trust and faith in yet another friend? Cope with more panic?

You will have to read the book to find out.

I recommend taking a few days to reflect on this tale once you finish it. It needs to ‘marinate’ in the mind a bit. And be prepared; there are vast conclusions and interpretations to be drawn from it.

That is its brilliance.

The term “allegory” comes to my mind as a way to characterize it.

I see this story as a representation, in the abstract, about how terrifying mental illness can be. The sensation, reading through certain passages, visceral: this is exactly what a mental health struggle feels like.

The “Manic Kingdom”, that hellish chasm people fall into when coping with a serious mental health problem, flailing, frozen, in a fog, losing their identity, personhood and direction in the process.

The initial implausibility of this book being “based on a true story” becomes clear on further reflection: a mental breakdown is unreal, is incomprehensible.

Furthermore, a breakdown can occur to anyone, in any walk of life, at any time – even to high achievers like Becka. Statistics show that a staggering one in four people will be affected.

That the mental health system is like some kind of mirage is also a shock. Help and guidance for those in crisis may be available. It also may not.

Individuals are often compelled to make serious, major lifestyle changes to heal themselves, and such was the case with Dr. Stair. So this tale is not only about woe. Enlightenment, healing and recovery is possible. In fact in the end, this tale is surprisingly hopeful.

I applaud Dr. Stairs’ bravery and courage in writing this book. She writes it in her own way with no apologies. She does not whitewash the state of the mental health system, the stigma, the terror. No sugarcoating here.

Initially reluctant to share her story, Dr. Stair is now steadfast that she will be silent no longer. The state of the mental health system, she states, is that dire.

With this book, she roars.

_____________________

Erin Stair, MD, MPH lives in New York City. She heads up Blooming Wellness, a holistic health website committed to “healthy recipes, advice for healthier skin & hair, fitness tips, stress reduction tips and many more gems of natural health wisdom.”

 

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 3rd, 2017 at 11:44 am and is filed under Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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