It can be overwhelming to learn how to live with mental illness. Self-care techniques, therapy, and medication can be useful tools if you have access to quality resources. But even understanding what resources are right for you can be a challenge. Luckily, as acclaimed comics creator Ellen Forney will remind you, you are not alone. The author of MARBLES: MANIA, DEPRESSION, MICHELANGELO AND ME is back with ROCK STEADY: BRILLIANT ADVICE FROM MY BIPOLAR LIFE. In her new comic, Forney provides endearing and useful guidance for managing mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

ROCK STEADY frames mental health issues concisely and honestly. In this organized comic, Forney successfully combines personal stories with well-researched guidance. The comic is very optimistic, and Forney offers excellent recommendations for different coping strategies. Additionally, ROCK STEADY takes a stance against stigmas surrounding bipolar and other disorders. As a result, ROCK STEADY is useful for personal support as well as social change.

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Drawing On Personal Experience

In MARBLES, Forney describes her own experiences with bipolar disorder. ROCK STEADY expands on the discussion, providing readers with more tools and resources.

Sometimes referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder describes the shifting between manic (extremely energetic) and depressed (extremely low emotions). ROCK STEADY neatly describes the various warning signs that can predict changes in emotion. For example, seasonal changes, a schedule change in your job, or a breakup might trigger a shift. However, unlike in many pop culture portrayals, these shifts aren’t just rapid mood swings. As Forney states, the full spectrum of mood disorders are “conditions where emotions are derailed for extended periods of time.” Indeed, ROCK STEADY is a clear guide for any number of mood disorders. As a result, Forney successfully acknowledges a variety of experiences, highlighting a full range of mood disorders in her comic.

ROCK STEADY gives readers a dynamic look at the array of mood disorders. In turn, readers can see that everyone experiences symptoms in different ways. By drawing from her own personal experiences, Forney humanizes the otherwise clinical sides of the subject matter. As a result, ROCK STEADY makes understanding mental illness more accessible. Indeed, mood disorders are not simply diagnoses. The effects and treatments of mood disorders have real-life consequences. For example, mood disorders can make it harder to maintain relationships or physical health. Forney’s work helps readers empathize with the challenges people face and find new ways to be supportive.

Comics and Mental Health

ROCK STEADY
Image courtesy of Fantagraphics.

Forney’s comically cheerful illustrations compliment her medical knowledge with insightful and simple design. Highlights include illustrations from Forney’s own journals. For example, Forney draws “a stupid ox in a stupid car” to express her frustration with the medication Oxcarbazepine. The ox, like most of Forney’s drawings, is actually quite cute. Forney’s charming and inviting artwork makes ROCK STEADY’s dense subject matter less intimidating.

Perhaps it is a result of the medium, but Forney deftly provides an enthusiastic resource for finding mental health tools. ROCK STEADY is affirming and calms fears associated with social stigma. The comic is matter-of-fact. Yet the illustrations lighten the tone and help readers connect with the material.

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SMEDMERTS: Tools for Better Mental Health

Among ROCK STEADY’s many silly moments is Forney’s acronym to recall the aspects of quality mental health care: SMEDMERTS. The list includes everything from sleep to meds to routine. Hilariously long, there is something catchy to the phrase. The small pig-like monster that happily accompanies the term is equally delightful. SMEDMERTS is important because, while humorous, it works. Forney’s comic articulates many important self-care tools, and it does so without shame. SMEDMERTS and the comic’s other insights remind readers to take mental healthcare seriously but have fun too. ROCK STEADY even suggests merit badges at the end of each chapter. These badges encourage readers to make the most of their self-care routines.

ROCK STEADY
Image courtesy of Fantagraphics.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice is Forney’s insistence that stability requires commitment. Managing mood disorders is a lifelong challenge. Many people use medication, while others rely on different resources such as therapy or strict sleep schedules. Whatever the case may be, doing the work to balance is hard. ROCK STEADY affirms that people with mood disorders can work towards stability. Moreover, the comic reminds readers with mood disorders that they deserve to feel better and shouldn’t give up on themselves. Forney even offers a mantra for readers: “I’m not alone, things get better and worse, I can do it. SMEDMERTS!”

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Tackling Social Stigma Through Art

Along with providing many useful coping tools, ROCK STEADY plays an important social role. Instead of reinforcing stigma surrounding bipolar and other mood disorders, the comic cuts through negative associations and shame. Indeed, Forney’s frankness gives ROCK STEADY a powerful edge. Forney presents nuanced information that humanizes the conditions. A common cultural belief is that people with bipolar disorder or other mood disorders are dangerous. The harmful stigmas around mental illness make accessing help all the more challenging. Because of this, it’s important that ROCK STEADY helps alleviate the fears and shame around mental illness.

ROCK STEADY
Image courtesy of Fantagraphics.

Some self-help books give the impression that a quick fix is all that is necessary. One trip to the therapist and you’ll be “cured.” Indeed, an accompanying stigma is that if someone just worked harder, they could choose to feel better. Unfortunately, these beliefs are not only misguided but also harmful. People with mood disorders do not choose to have them, nor can they just fix everything overnight. One of the best parts of ROCK STEADY is Forney’s assertion that managing mood disorders is part of life. She wants you to know that no one should be ashamed to get the help they need.

ROCK STEADY: Help is Out There

Forney does not rely on personal experience alone. ROCK STEADY includes a comprehensive index of resources. One particularly useful resource is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This organization assists both those dealing with mental illness personally and those supporting a loved one. The alliance has resources including how to find the right therapist, fight stigma, and get involved with helping others.

ROCK STEADY gives readers direction with kindness and humor. Forney faces the facts about mood disorders, but she makes sure to include room for encouragement. From help finding therapists to getting life on a more stable schedule, Forney’s comic is an excellent resource. ROCK STEADY sets readers on a path to balance and stability and uplifts those who are already doing the work.

Find your copy of ROCK STEADY here.

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