Looking for an intensely-personal, brilliant, and insightful graphic novel about mental illness?

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Cover of Marbles, by Ellen ForneyLooking for a book that will make you cry one page and laugh the next? Easy to read yet highly thought-provoking? Includes musings on serious topics while slightly scandalizing you with TMI (yet relevant) information about the author’s sex life?

I would like to recommend Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, by Ellen Forney, to basically everyone. Written as a graphic novel, with both the text and the illustrations by Forney, Marbles is at once deeply personal and highly relatable to almost any reader with a mental illness. Forney relays a variety of situations guaranteed to feel familiar to anyone who has experienced life with an ‘invisible’ disability, from depression to Forney’s own bipolar disorder – arguing with your checkbook over the price of medications, dealing with the side effects of medications, the search for a low-impact yet successful treatment plan, and even the work toward finding a balance between accepting your mental illness while holding onto your life before diagnosis.

On the other hand, if you do not have direct experience with a mental illness, yet are looking for a way to increase your own awareness, or perhaps better understand a loved one, I would still recommend Marbles. Although Forney’s story is only an individual tale of her personal circumstances, and thus she cannot speak for the entire community of people with disabilities – invisible or visible – she speaks with a genuine intimacy that will at least offer readers a very real glimpse into her life with a mental illness.

Forney’s story is proof that people with disabilities can be successful, despite how hard it can be to overcome societal barriers and stigma around disabilities, and to find the right treatments that work. One of the specific struggles Forney experiences is the inner-debate over whether or not taking medications will impact her creativity, upon which she had built her entire career as an illustrator and cartoonist. Eventually, Forney comes to the conclusion that she will ultimately be more capable of being productive on medication than not, stating, “For now, I just have to trust that being stable won’t mean I can’t do my work.”

Another issue Forney grapples with is deciding whether or not to tell others about her bipolar disorder, and how to go about doing so. Describing this internal conflict, Forney says, “Not saying anything feels like I’m hiding something. Like it’s shameful…Plus, I just want them to know who I am.” Accompanying this reflection are comical illustrations of reactions Forney has received over the years, which personally was one of my favorite parts of the novel.

In addition to Marbles, Forney has created two comic books – I Love Led Zeppelin and Monkey Food – and collaborated with Sherman Alexie on the novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. She is also a contributor to the Seattle-based magazine, The Stranger. If you would like to learn more about Ellen Forney, or her graphic novel, Marble: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, you can check out her website.