It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Overwhelmed by mounting pressures from school, home and life, 16-year-old Craig contemplates suicide. Planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, at the last minute he detours to the local mental health clinic hoping for a simple solution. What he finds instead, after a minimum five-day stay, is that there are no simple answers, just the support of family and friends and the belief in your own true self.

Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a charming, witty and heartfelt movie. Craig finds himself surrounded – and accepted – by a colorful cast of characters. His fellow patients are all struggling with their own personal demons but pull together and support each other, sometimes in surprising ways. There are a lot of funny scenes and quiet moments, and there are heartbreaking insights. It’s a story not so much about mental illness as it’s about finding a way to live again.

The Soloist by Steve Lopez

soloist1This is an unusual true story of a Los Angeles Times columnist who one day takes notice of a violin playing homeless man. Unusual is the music this homeless person manages to produce from a beat up violin with two strings missing. Even the columnist, who has little music knowledge, can tell that this raggedy seemingly eccentric individual must have had some classical training and education. Shortly after approaching Nathaniel, Lopez discovers that he is a former Juilliard student, living on the streets suffering from untreated schizophrenia. The homeless musician stirs something unshakable in the columnist. As Lopez begins to try and improve Nathaniel’s life -by getting him off the streets and back on medication – he finds that Nathaniel has irrevocably changed his.

I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma who was a guest on Garrison Keillor’s radio show last week. I stopped to really listen to this world renowned cellist and was able to imagine Nathaniel Ayers playing in the same orchestra with him over 30 years ago. The Soloist had the potential to be a very depressing read. Instead, it was a hugely wonderful story.

Madness by Marya Hornbacher

Although Marya experienced strong signs of manic behavior at age four it wasn’t until age 24 that she was finally diagnosed with the most severe type of bipolar disorder. Marya takes you through her “crazy” life up until her diagnosis. The tales of her episodes are surreal but the stories of how she copes with them are even more so. She stabilizes her moods with massive amounts of alcohol (starting at age 10) and other drugs. She distracts herself from her mania by focusing on food obsessions (anorexia and bulimia) as well as “cutting”.

Madness was very insightful, clearing up some of the stereotypes of mental illness and being institutionalized (nothing like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). This was a fascinating and fairly fluid book considering the disorganized nature of the topic. Marya Hornbacher is also the author of the best selling novel Wasted chronicling her struggle with anorexia and bulimia.