5 Books About Mental Illness Recommended by Anita Levesque
Anita Levesque is a web and graphic designer, a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father - bipolar; brother – C-PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – C-PTSD; boyfriend - clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders and Anita lives with C-PTSD. The goal with her website, http://mentalillness-doyouknow.com is to focus on personal experiences rather than articles by doctors and medical professionals who haven't experienced mental illness. Anita writes articles for several websites on topics such as OCD, Addictions, Suicide, PTSD and more. She resides in Stoney Creek, Ontario and interests are photography, reading, music, learning, spending time with her family. She is taking Psychology/Social Work and Counselling Skills online programs. We asked her to recommend 5 books on mental health issues and we had an interesting conversation about these books.
You work as a volunteer and ambassador for various mental health organizations. Tell us more about your involvement in these.
I started out with Healthy Minds Canada; participated on their Bell Let’s Talk team, facilitated a workshop at a school, represented HMC at a first responders’ fundraising run. Sick Not Weak I’m an ambassador; I share information within my community, participate on the SNW team in a fundraiser One Brave Night for Canadian Mental Health Association. National Network for Mental Health started as a volunteer position as a web designer, then received a paid contract for a year, now I’m on the board of directors as Director of Web & Communications. The other organizations I share various content from their pages, I write articles for mental health blogs.
Why do you feel so strongly about speaking out on mental health issues?
I feel it’s very important that everyone is aware of mental health issues and how it affects your everyday life. We’ve come a long way since the 80’s and 90’s, people are including mental health into their conversations more, but more work is needed.
The first book you recommend is Save-My-Life School: A first responder's mental health journey. Please tell us why you picked this one.
Natalie Harris and I are friends, we first met on Twitter during a PTSD Chat, in 2014, and kept in contact since. We support each other with our endeavours.
What makes a paramedic's point of view so interesting when it comes to mental illness?
A paramedic’s point of view with mental health is needed, especially today, as more and more paramedics and first responders are experiencing mental health issues caused by on the job situations. They are very important in communities and need their health protected just as they protect others.
What do you think about this author's writing style? She seems to not sugar coat things, but also includes some laugh-out-loud moments.
Natalie writes from the heart and shares experiences and is very real. This is how she relates to her readers and gets people to understand the importance of mental health.
Next up is Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes. What did you like about this book?
As with Natalie, Clara writes with emotion and reality. This book is a different perspective, a troubled home-life, which I can relate to.
"In a world where winning meant everything, her biggest competitor was herself." Do you think this rings true for a lot of people with depression?
Absolutely! When you live with depression, you’re fighting with the voices telling you, you can’t do this, you’re not good enough for that. It’s a constant battle within yourself.
Clara channeled her anger, frustration and raw ambition into the endurance sports of speed skating and cycling. Do you think that is a healthy way to deal with depression?
Yes, I do. Firstly, participating in the speed skating and cycling motivated Clara into doing something positive, something she loved doing. Secondly, it helped elevate her issues, as exercise helps you feel good. Exercise also helps you gain confidence, become more social and a better way of coping with your depression.
Clara grew up in a very dysfunctional family. How much of an influence do you think that had on her mental health?
Being in a dysfunctional family has a huge influence on your mental health. I can relate to Clara, high expectations from our fathers and as a result, we rebel. If there is a lack of emotion within the family, you are most likely going to find it elsewhere. The words from her father was carried with Clara all her life, to the point of drinking and let to depression.
Your next recommendation is: The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond by Clint Malarchuk. Why did you pick this book?
I chose this book because Clint is also a good friend of mine and I saw him and his wife Joannie speak in my city, Hamilton Ontario a few years ago. I felt so connected to his story as it relates to myself and my husband (my husband lives with mental illness as well)
This book is also about a famous sports star. Do you think that fame and glory can worsen mental struggles?
I believe it could worsen mental struggles as there is more pressure while being in the spotlight.
After his almost fatal accident, Malarchuk turned to alcohol. Why does alcohol often play such a large role in the lives of people with mental health struggles?
Alcohol hides all the problems associated with mental illness, it masks it, so the person doesn’t have to deal with it.
The fourth book on your list is My Courage to Tell: Facing a Childhood Bully and Reclaiming My Inner Child by Laura Corbeth. Why do you think this is an important book to read?
I found this to be a very important book for me, as it really gets deep into childhood issues and how it affects you mentally. This is a situation where it’s not always about physical abuse but mental abuse, which happens more often than you think.
Laura forgot many of the things her brother did to her, until she had to deal with him again. Why, do you think, did this happen?
When you have experienced trauma like Laura had, you block everything, hide events, so you don’t have to deal with them. Eventually something will occur where reminders of these past events with arise. I experienced this after witnessing violent domestic abuse all my childhood and now I live with C-PTSD.
Siblings are usually expected by parents (and society) to have unconditional love for one another. Why is this often not the case?
It depends on your family situation; some siblings are closer than others. It wasn’t until my father passed away that my brother and I finally have the close relationship we should’ve always had; we now have that unconditional love. Sometimes siblings are “taught” to go against each other or there’s a competition on who’s better than the other.
What, do you think, is the best approach to deal with a toxic sibling relationship?
I will use my brother and I as an example. Our father had us going against each other; if I did something wrong, he would have my brother side with him and taunt me. As he did while I was at work one day and my back window of my car was broken to pieces, I know it was them because I saw my father’s car down the street.
Our last book is Playing With Fire: The Highest Highs And Lowest Lows Of Theo Fleury. What made the deepest impression on you when reading this book?
He knows what happened to him was wrong, he kept talking until someone believed him and others started talking, saying it happened to them too. After everything Theo went through all his life, he overcame it and is now helping people in similar situations.
One reviewer said: "It's hard to believe Fleury survived his own life." Do you agree?
Yes, I do agree. When you live with trauma of any kinds, you will want to end the pain. People will drink too much, do drugs too much, gamble too much, they will lose everything, some will even attempt or take their own life. You must have the determination to keep going; those who keep going find a reason to and, in most cases, it’s to help others in similar situations.
After walking away from it all, Theo wasted 6 years of his life. Why, do you think, did it take him so long to decide to make a change?
In Fleury's case, substance use, sex and gambling helped him to avoid his feelings of self-hatred, to avoid the traumatizing memories of abuse, to avoid his feelings of abandonment and neglect. He knew that stopping would likely bring these feelings and memories to the forefront and talks about how he didn’t feel ready for that or capable of dealing with whatever might surface.
All of your recommendations were autobiographies. Why?
I feel people will understand mental illness much better through an actual story of those who have and are living with mental illness. When people read these stories, they see how real and painful mental illness can be, how it can be overcome, dealt with and live happy, normal lives again.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website is http://mentalillness-doyouknow.com and my social media links are on the website.