When asked to write about a book, author or character that has given me an insight into my own mental health I realised that there were actually two ‘sets’ of books I read that give me awareness of my mental health issues; classics such as Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair and psychological thriller/suspense fiction by authors like Steven King and Dean Koontz.
For me it isn’t the self help books or specific mental health stories that impact on me but the fiction I read when I am relaxing. For me it’s the books where the most horrible, restrictive and hopeless situations take place that give me an opportunity to penetrate into my own mental health.
False Memory by Dean Koontz is a book that makes me question how I would cope. It’s not one of those happily ever after stories, it’s about coping through the worst imaginable and unimaginable situations in life. It is the kind of story where, when I am reading it, I find myself associating with the main characters Martie “...optimistic nature, formidable coping skills...” and her friend Susan, and actually seeing strengths in myself!
It is supposed to be a book to escape into, to scare yourself for entertainment's sake, but I find myself analysing how I might cope in the same situation and find, surprisingly, that I think I would survive. The New York Times has called Koontz’s writing “psychologically complex, masterly and satisfying.” and I call it scary and strengthening.
Although it would probably be best if you don’t read this book if you already have a fear of psychiatrists. ‘False Memory’ is about a couple and their seemingly normal life, where Martie helps her agoraphobic friend Susan to weekly therapy sessions but then exhibits worrying signs of a mental disorder herself. At the same time Martie's partner Dusty is dealing with his brother Skeet’s irrational mental behaviour.
“...these four characters are involved in something much more than a sinister coincidence. It’s a fear... more horrifying than anything you can imagine. It’s the one fear you cannot escape, no matter where you run…no matter where you hide. It’s the fear of yourself...” – Koontz website
To me False Memory is about realising that things do change, that bad things may happen, that not everyone is nice, but that there are strong, kind people and that in a crisis, like with anxiety attacks, you are probably not going to die.
Although from the start we are aware of Susan’s agoraphobia we are led along by a seemingly ‘normal’ but supportive Martie and her experience with anxiety. I realise I don’t want to become like Susan, it’s like a warning to act now and I also recognise that a support network is not about how many people you have but how well the people in your mental health network understand and support you. Most of the characters go through varying degrees of anxiety and I can see and recognise myself in some of the situations, although they are thankfully much more extreme than I have had to deal with they do delve into the workings of the mind.
“She recognised the absurdity of her fear, but this awareness did not diminish her anxiety. Terror courted her, and she stood hand in hand with panic... Performance of this familiar, humble task restored her mental balance. The little blue bag and its warm contents anchored her to reality. The weird incident remained troubling, intriguing, but it no longer frightened her.”
This excerpt comes close to describing my own anxiety attacks and reminds me what I have learnt through CBT, talking therapy and reading self help books. The realisation and remembrance that I can anchor myself in reality and talk myself through what is happening.
Am I unusual or do we all love a bit of escapism and at the end of the story find ourselves imagining what we would do in the characters shoes? I see my own hidden strengths and imagine that, although as terrifying as it would be as the main character, I think that I could cope, I could get through it, I could survive. After all if we start to think about how we might act, think or speak in a given situation we are, after all, thinking about our behaviour and that is a huge part of mental health.
So however many days I may have negative thoughts about my own mental health this book, among many of its genre, actually reminds me of survival, endurance, hope and possibilities.