In 2012 cartoonist Ellen Forney published Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me, a hand-drawn graphic memoir that detailed her experiences with bipolar disorder, and her struggle to achieve mental stability. The book was a bestseller, and widely praised as an unflinching exploration of mental illness, and the stigma surrounding it. Now, six years on, Forney is back with Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life, unleashing her talents and mining her personal experiences – including 14 years of mental stability – to the task of presenting a how-to guide to maintaining mental health.
It would be an understatement to say this book is comprehensive, from getting enough sleep to maintaining mindfulness, mood disorder Hall of Famers to a guide on stigma squashing, Rock Steady is chockfull of digestible tips to take control of your mental wellbeing. And despite being from her perspective and experience as bipolar, it has something for everyone, as the author puts it:
This book is for you, for me, + for anyone seeking balance in handling ups + downs, the crises + annoyances, + for just learning how rock steady.
Split into eight chapters, “Basics” covers outlines essential dos and don’ts, whats and whys, and the “KEY, KEY things” to maintain mental health. Using her ‘catchily’ coined SMEDMERTS (Sleep, Meds, Eat, Doctor, Mindfulness, Exercise, Routine, Tools, Support System – complete with a rocking mascot) Forney provides a basic, flexible structure of self-care that she builds on over the course of the book. “Coping Tools” lays out a bumper-pack of tips and tricks to keeping calm and mindful, from breathing exercises to journal doodling, while “Dealing With Meds” provides an honest discussion on the effectiveness of psychiatric drugs, coupled with exhaustive instructions on proper storage, schedules, consumption, and general best practice. And my favourite chapter, “You Have Company”, includes an extensive list of podcasts, magazines, shows and documentaries, message boards and forums, where like-minded people can be found engaging with mental health.
More than a book, this feels like a reference guide, to be kept on hand, earmarked extensively, and returned to for stability in times of stress, and yet devoid of all the stoic stuffiness the word ‘reference’ conjures up. Funny, engaging and light-hearted in tone throughout, Forney’s voice combined with her distinctive cartoon style makes the book immensely accessible. But it is also highly informative and indeed informed, Forney knows her stuff, and has delivered a book that couldn’t come sooner. This week across the UK the theme has been mental health awareness, and with the Mental Health Foundation’s research report revealing that last year three-in-four Britons felt overwhelmed by stress, it seems every one of us could do with some advice on how to rock steady.