Finding the Funny in Her Fury
Amanda Rosenberg tackles mental illness in her latest collection of essays.
What’s funny about depression, suicidal ideation, being bipolar II, and having anxiety attacks? If your answer is “absolutely nothing,” the Bay Area’s British comedy writer Amanda Rosenberg is out to change your mind. Her new book of collected essays, That’s Mental, gathers the dusty doom and darkest gloom of mental disorders she knows firsthand and blows them into the land of chuckles. Along the way, Rosenberg breaks down mental health myths and misconceptions with blistering honesty and brilliant empathy as she addresses therapy, diagnosis, medication, friends’ (bad) advice, dating, mental illness in the media and the workplace, and more.
Rosenberg works as a screenwriter and is an editor at Slackjaw. Her work appears in McSweeney’s, the Establishment, Anxy Magazine, GOOD, Huffington Post, Quartz, POPSUGAR, The Mighty and more.
Rosenberg writes that a person with bipolar II experiences similar mood disorders as a person diagnosed as bipolar I, but the swings from depression to hypomania and back are swifter, and the manic episodes don’t often result in hospitalization. In addition to parsing the fine-tuning of her bipolar condition, she stacks on her other disorders, suggesting in the book’s introduction, “I’ll leave you to find them in the book; it’ll be like an Easter egg hunt, only the eggs are rotten and it’s not fun at all!” Indeed, there’s no fun when reading about hypomania that causes her to sweat vociferously and feel falsely indomitable only to crash when reality, let alone depression, slides in. Nor are anxiety attacks that storm unannounced across her mind and leave her clawing at her chest and struggling to breathe a big yuk. Even so, Rosenberg is gifted at finding the funny in the fury of her Sturm und Drang stories.
Medication has helped, but comes in a mixed bag that requires patience, diligence, revision, and refusal to allow stigma to rule the decisions made. Chapters on mental illness depicted on television and in films and a tiptoe-style chapter addressing deep, longstanding conflicts with her parents read as mildly “surface-y.” Their subjects are so rich it’s easy to wish Rosenberg had gone long form and written extended essays on the topics.
Most valuable are words Rosenberg says in the intro she will not offer: words of advice. Instead, she makes herself a liar and offers valuable insights for people who share her condition and the people who live and work with them. She presents tips on what to say/not say to someone who is “mental,” offers advice on selecting a therapist, and suggests changes the media can make to stop perpetuating stigmas related to mental illness. She also includes reminders for everyone, including people experiencing mental disorders, to be compassionate and less judgmental, explaining: “We never chose to have a mental disorder — the same way people don’t choose to have diarrhea.”
That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill by Amanda Rosenberg (Turner Publishing Company, Nov. 6, 2019, 240 pp., $26.99.)
This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.