Author: Ellen Forney
Publish Date: November 6, 2012
Publisher: Gotham Books
Catalog ID: 978-1-592-40732-3
Author website: http://marblesbyellenforney.com
Guest review by Leandri Hattingh, Grey House Cartoons
I have always been empathetic with sufferers of ill mental health, more so than many of my medical colleagues. Diagnostic and treatment limitations aside (for the moment), I believe these conditions remain stigmatised in modern medicine and, sadly, often by practitioners of such medicine. Since my exit from clinical practice in mental health care however, I’ve become less sensitive to these matters over the years.
Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir, “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me” has sparked in me a renewed insight, understanding, and empathy for those suffering from mental health disorders. In this book, Forney confronts intriguing questions such as “how can my personality suddenly be spelled out in a medical text book, and what does that mean for my individualism?”, “will I stop being creative if I’m medicated?”, “is smoking pot really messing up the management of my condition? Is it worth giving up?”, “are all (truly great) artists crazy?”, and ultimately, “is a balanced life boring?” Questions which are particularly relevant to Forney as a professional artist, but would also find resonance with most people confronted with the diagnosis of a mental disorder, and who face being subject to mood and mind altering medical treatment.
Forney’s four year struggle to find the correct combination of drugs highlights the limitations in current mental health treatments – notwithstanding the challenges of patient compliance in the face of a perceived loss of autonomy, as is illustrated by the recurring question over cannabis use, and whether this should be revealed to the mental health care practitioner.
The graphic format lends an immediately visceral and emotive quality to the content. It gives new meaning to the old adage of a picture speaking a thousand words – and more. I’d like to suggest that comics are especially suited to the expression of mental health concepts which are abstract and complex at the best of times. One example is Forney’s depiction of the various types of mood disorders (as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)), which could easily serve as a useful educational tool in the mental health care practitioner’s office.
The drawings are eloquent, the varying styles smartly depicting the contrasting mood states characteristic of type I bipolar mood disorder, and the excerpts from Forney’s sketchbook reveal intimate insights into the painful struggle inflicted by uncontrolled bipolar mood disorder.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in or confronted by bipolar mood- or other mental health disorders, or in the comic as a medium for reflection and story telling. I would particularly recommend it to those not interested in these things: you may just be enlightened; try it!