To start of this review I’ll disclose something important to the contextualization of my understanding of this book. When I was thirteen I was diagnosed with general anxiety and major depression disorder, and in the subsequent years I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar II. For most of my teenage years I was in and out of inpatient hospital stays and was taught the nitty gritty of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) so much so I could practice it in my sleep. So to say the least, Rock Steady‘s subject matter is something I’m far too familiar with.
Rock Steady isn’t so much a memoir or a linear story as much as it is a self-help book by Ellen Forney, sharing the things she’s learned since her diagnoses in her 20s on how to become the best version of yourself you can be while living with a personality disorder. Forney is Bipolar I, so most of this comes from her experiences with that, but as someone who has lived with and experienced many different kinds of mental illness, I can say the tips in this can really be used for anyone experiencing an array of different mental health issues.
The great thing about Rock Steady is that it finds a way to approach all these topics that most people find so taboo, with joyful earnestness. This isn’t about curing you, it’s about helping you understand it and live with it the best you can. It’s never preachy or demonizing of the way in which people choose to deal with their illness, but it does impart a lot of important wisdom on ways to work and live with it. Forney shares personal stories and semantics of her illness to make the reader feel comfortable. She’s not a stuffy doctor or a patronizing onlooker. Forney is someone who knows the struggle first hand and wants everyone to have a toolbox of things they can turn to in order to be able to understand their illness, as well as see that there’s a life worth living beyond diagnoses.
There’s a lot more text in this than in most graphic novels, but the way in which it’s presented, along with cute and clever doodles, really helps to the ground the book and make it easier to understand. Pretty much every piece of text is hand lettered, which again adds a very personal layer to the story and makes it easier for readers who are just beginning to understand their illness to feel safe and understood while reading.
My only complaint with Rock Steady is that it really didn’t teach me anything new. If you’ve been in the mental health system for most of your life, you’ve already heard everything in here a million times before: Sleep is important. Take your meds but don’t double up when you forget. Breathing techniques and mindfulness galore. But I do realize that this would be really helpful and comforting to people who have just been diagnosed or family and friends of people who have recently been diagnosed. It’s an important tool. I just can’t say that if you’ve been living with mental illness and getting treated for it for over a decade that there’s anything new besides a few clever tricks on how to remember to take your meds.
Rock Steady is a great tool that can be referred back to faster and easier than a DBT workbook, and it can take your hand and show you a rich and varied life of living with mental illness. It’s not new information though — it’s old info being repackaged in a more approachable and personable way. That being said, if you or someone you love has just been diagnosed, this is a great tool to understand and learn from for the rest of your life.
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