The best books about psychosis

4 authors have picked their favorite books about psychosis and why they recommend each book.

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Inferno

By Catherine Cho,

Book cover of Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

This memoir of postpartum psychosis is not for the faint of heart, but is an absolutely necessary addition to the motherhood literary canon. In beautiful prose, it charts the author’s increasing mental instability following the birth of her son. These are the types of stories that should be shared more frequently to reduce the stigma of perinatal mood disorders. 


Who am I?

There is a dearth of books that span the emotional journey into motherhood. An old adage directs authors to write the book they would like to read, so I kept that in mind as I began the journey myself. Throughout my pregnancy and postpartum experience, I was often surprised by perfectly ordinary occurrences that aren’t often discussed. There is a hush cast on anything that isn’t purely nurturing and romantic, which means that mothers who encounter unpleasantness are blindsided, and consider themselves aberrations. I wrote my book as honestly as possible to normalize the normal and to offer myself as a compatriot to those mothers. 


I wrote...

My Body Is a Big Fat Temple: An Ordinary Story of Pregnancy and Early Motherhood

By Alena Dillon,

Book cover of My Body Is a Big Fat Temple: An Ordinary Story of Pregnancy and Early Motherhood

What is my book about?

My Body Is A Big Fat Temple, a memoir of pregnancy and early motherhood, follows a writer as she debates having children, miscarries, faces morning sickness, uncertainty, physical impairments, labor, breastfeeding, the “baby blues,” the heartache of not loving her son as she thinks she should, parenting through a plague, until finally (basically, mostly) blossoming into her new identity.

The undertaking of creating life is airbrushed to preserve the ideal of motherhood and exacerbated by a culture that dictates what women can do and how they should feel. We don’t get the full story, so mothers with unromantic experiences feel like aberrations, and worse, alone. This is why the voices of women matter. The voices of mothers matter. Here’s one to remind you of the important things.

The Woo-Woo

By Lindsay Wong,

Book cover of The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family

Wong's book is a gut-punching yet hilarious memoir about the Chinese immigrant experience and the searing impact of mental illness that left me with an overwhelming it-could-have-been-worse feeling. But seriously, the value in books like these is they make those in truly terrible situations know they aren't alone. That itself—that feeling of being seen—can keep one going. This book also reminded me of the importance of setting boundaries with family members--a lesson I could have used far earlier in my life. Yay for Wong, a beloved Canadian writer and writing instructor, for triumphing (like Lizzie) in the end! 


Who am I?

Hi, I'm Bev Katz Rosenbaum, a young adult novelist whose fave topic is (surprise, surprise) dysfunctional families! I'm also a longtime fiction editor and writing instructor who loves to dance and hike in her spare time. Am trying to like yoga and meditation but am failing miserably.


I wrote...

I'm Good and Other Lies

By Bev Katz Rosenbaum,

Book cover of I'm Good and Other Lies

What is my book about?

I'm Good and Other Lies, my latest novel, is about Kelsey Kendler, a teen who's finally about to head to college and get away from her crap family members when COVID-19 comes along and she's suddenly stuck with them 24-7.

Muses, Madmen, and Prophets

By Daniel B. Smith,

Book cover of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity

Hearing voices is considered a symptom of schizophrenia and can quickly lead to hospital lockup, medication, and being shunned by society as “mentally ill.” In this fascinating account, Smith reveals the truth about this experience we call “madness” – hearing voices is actually a normal human experience across history and culture. Poets, religious visionaries, people spending time alone or grieving – even Freud, Gandhi, actor Anthony Hopkins, singer Lady Gaga -- all heard voices, and anyone under the right kind of stress can hear voices. The problem only arises when people hear distressing voices and have nowhere to go for help other than being treated as ill by a doctor.


Psychiatry made the catastrophic mistake of calling homosexuality a mental disease, and for many decades LGBT people were abducted, confined in hospitals, drugged, tortured, and killed for the mental crime of being different. Today people who hear voices are also…


Who am I?

I was an imaginative and sensitive kid – growing up in the confusing oppressions of the US south and raised by parents who are themselves trauma survivors. When I started to go into altered states, hear voices, withdraw in frightened isolation and drift towards strange beliefs, I was forcibly locked up at Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco. I was drugged, put in restraints and solitary confinement, and told I was schizophrenic and would never live a normal life. Today I don’t take medication, work as a therapist teacher, and advocate, and have joined the international patients’ movement working to change an abusive and misguided mental health system. I am not anti-medication, but I see psychiatric meds for what they are – tranquilizers, not treatments, tools not solutions. We need compassionate approaches and caring communities for individuals suffering from a psychotic crisis like I was. I am also the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs.


I wrote...

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

By Will Hall,

Book cover of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

What is my book about?

We need to realize that it is our world that is crazy, and those of us who lose our minds might just be having a sane reaction to an insane situation. We need to listen to the voices of people diagnosed with mental illness, not push us into the shadows. Today I’m deeply inspired to see more and more people questioning what it means to be called crazy in a crazy world, and believe we can push past the failed treatments of pharma and psychiatry and bring in a new way to respond to “madness.”

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness reveals the human side of mental illness. In this remarkable collection of interviews and essays, therapist, Madness Radio host, and schizophrenia survivor Will Hall asks, "What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?" More than 60 voices of psychiatric patients, scientists, journalists, doctors, activists, and artists create a vital new conversation about empowering the human spirit by transforming society.

Brain on Fire

By Susannah Cahalan,

Book cover of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

I read this during my first retail job, post military. My job was nothing compared to the protagonist’s role at the New York Times, but I could relate to her sense of urgency. She needed to push herself; to always exceed expectations even if it was causing her physical/emotional pain.

People called her a drama queen or even a self-centered bitch. That was why the diagnosis of a brain illness was, in a way, a happy ending. She wasn’t a bad person; she was just sick and needed help (or at least an ounce of compassion from her superiors.)

This is a great book for anyone who feels like the world has gone to crap; maybe it has, or maybe it’s all in your head. Either way, you’re not alone.


Who am I?

During my time on this earth, I have done everything and nothing. I’ve traveled the world during my time in the military, but all that made me want to do was work a normal retail job, with normal scheduled hours. Now that I reside in a limbo where there is a creature inside me that can only exist via my writing and art. And I’m certain I’m not alone. I want to inspire retail warriors, minimum wage heroes; anyone who spends their days rattling around in their own head, I dare you to turn the salt shaker and release the superhero inside.  


I wrote...

Dakota Son

By Mary Ramsey,

Book cover of Dakota Son

What is my book about?

Ever feel like you’re having a bad day? Sean Foster has been having a day since the moment he exited the womb of a teenage mother who abandoned him at the hospital, to the day he was given a life-changing diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. He was adopted and grew into a normal teenager with self-esteem issues (and the body of an Olympic athlete.) With all the opportunities, a compromised immune system shadows his life over his head like a cloud of impending doom. Among other things. 

The Fault in our Stars meets Fight Club, in this deeply psychological look into the life of a terminally ill bullied teen who has more power than he ever realized.

Insomnia

By J. R. Johansson,

Book cover of Insomnia

Every once in a while, when I’m under a lot of stress or experiencing emotional turmoil, I struggle to sleep. At one point a few years back. I went more than a week where I was only able to sleep around an hour or two per night. Needless to say, I was not myself. I love how this story explores the importance of sleep, the long-term effects of not getting a solid amount of it, and what it’s like to lose large chunks of time that you can’t account for. Plus, stalking. There’s a lot of fascinating psychology in this story, along with a best friend whose sense of humor brings valuable comic relief to the situation. Yeah. Another must-read!


Who am I?

I’m an author of Young Adult Fantasy fiction. When my oldest was six, I started reading Harry Potter to him. It was such a bonding experience that we both cherish. We still talk about the stories, even though he's all grown up and lives away from me most of the time. The thing about fantasy is that stories set in worlds or with people that don’t actually exist make it easier for us to swallow deep meanings, storylines with which we can identify, and that crawl deep down into our souls and nest there. It’s not just about escaping into a fantasy world, but about finding human experience in otherworldly situations and characters. 


I wrote...

Water So Deep

By Nichole Giles,

Book cover of Water So Deep

What is my book about?

Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is drowning on dry land. No one knows what’s happening to her, and she’d like to keep her evolution from human to mermaid a secret, but the truth is getting harder and harder to hide. From her adoptive family, from her friends, and especially from the irresistible James Phelps.

When Emma’s brother disappears on her watch, James is the only person she trusts to help her save him. But even if they can save her brother, nothing can prevent her return to the sea. Whether she likes it or not, Emma is changing—unable to breathe without yielding to the tide—and it's only a matter of time before she's forced to surrender forever.

Valis

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Valis

VALIS—Vast Active Living Intelligence System—is one of PK Dick’s most inspiring, and at the same time, depressing, novels. A bizarre film leads a rag tag group of friends to even more bizarre adventures. They meet a 2-year-old Messiah who cures the protagonist’s psychosis. Any more would be spoiling the plot.


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the interface of biology and the mind, and between the mind and usually invisible worlds. Both Philip K Dick and the medieval Jewish philosophers labor mightily to unpack and communicate realms of the imagination residing in science fiction as well as Hebrew Bible prophecy. Likewise, the influx of Eastern religious practices and beliefs have pointed to areas of consciousness previously unknown to the West.


I wrote...

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

By Rick Strassman,

Book cover of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

What is my book about?

After completing his groundbreaking research chronicled in DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman was left with one fundamental question: What does it mean that DMT, a simple chemical naturally found in all of our bodies, instantaneously opens us to an interactive spirit world that feels more real than our own world?

When his decades of clinical psychiatric research and Buddhist practice were unable to provide answers to this question, Strassman began searching for a more resonant spiritual model. He found that the visions of the Hebrew prophets--such as Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel--were strikingly similar to those of the volunteers in his DMT studies. Carefully examining the concept of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, he characterizes a "prophetic state of consciousness" and explains how it may share biological and metaphysical mechanisms with the DMT effect.

Down Below

By Leonora Carrington,

Book cover of Down Below

This slender, 70-page memoir of a time in which both one woman and the world went mad is a beautifully-rendered portrait of psychosis. Written decades after the episode, Down Below describes the British-Mexican surrealist painter Leonora Carrington’s psychotic break in 1940, the circumstances of which were themselves aptly surreal. As a 19-year-old art student in London, she had fallen in love with the celebrated (and married) artist Max Ernst, and run scandalously away with him to a farmhouse in Provence. After Germany invaded France, the Jewish Ernst was arrested, leaving Carrington so intensely abandoned and shocked by unfolding history that she vomited repeatedly.

She began to unravel as she wandered her way out of France, eventually entering Madrid, which she perceived “as the world’s stomach, and that I had been chosen for the task of restoring this digestive organ to health. I believed that all anguish had accumulated in me…


Who am I?

I’m an author and journalist who has published eight books and written for The New Yorker and the New York Times, among other publications. I was diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my twenties. “Anxiety is a shapeshifter; it visits me in unfamiliar guises,” I wrote about the disorder, and that has been indisputably true throughout my life and career.


I wrote...

A Brief History of Anxiety...Yours and Mine

By Patricia Pearson,

Book cover of A Brief History of Anxiety...Yours and Mine

What is my book about?

“If only more psychology were written with the literate intelligence of this book. It is a weaving of stories that accomplishes a great deal: cultural analysis, psychological insight, and personal reflection. If you are ever afraid of the dark, crowds of people, heights, and the insanity of your fellow humans, as I am, you may find comfort here.” Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

Chimera Shakes

By Chuck Regan,

Book cover of Chimera Shakes: The Ontological Crisis of Jasper Hobbes

Okay, so the title already has you frowning. Stay with me here. This indie ebook novelette had me smiling, nodding, and ooo-ing. I loved the brave way the author attempted something new and, well, left field. Because this is a lot of left field…

Our main character is a hitman. Or is he? He’s a werewolf. Or is he? I loved every paragraph of this story’s prose. But it was this “what’s really going on here?” aspect that had me smiling all the way through. It reminded me of Mad Max: Fury Road—because you can watch that entire movie as a psychotic episode on Max’s part. Same with this book. Leaves you guessing until the last page while keeping things fun along the way.


Who am I?

I’m fascinated by the dichotomy between humanity’s beauty and its penchant for visiting horror upon the world. This fascination drove me to write my own werewolf novel (and keep it true to the heart of the mythos). In no other genre/subgenre is human double-nature better explored than the werewolf one. From earliest times, these tales examined human complexity, mental illness, moral responsibility, the tenuousness of our understanding of reality. For me, a great werewolf novel is not an erotic romance or comedy urban fantasy. It’s a monster story: antsy, atmospheric, dark, violent, fraught. It's a thriller, not a swooner, with more in common with Jekyll and Hyde or Incredible Hulk than with Twilight (sorry Stephanie!). 


I wrote...

Black Marks

By Pete Aldin,

Book cover of Black Marks

What is my book about?

Jake Brennan thought the streets could hide him. He thought a werewolf’s sins could be erased.

Now Jake’s kind deeds have drawn the attention of his enemies. And he’ll need to embrace his dark side to save the woman he loves. If his dark side doesn’t kill her first...

The Divided Self

By R.D. Laing,

Book cover of The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

The Divided Self kick-started my search for the truth of the human condition. It taught me that I didn't have to follow the life laid out for me and that I was expected to follow. Through it I discovered that I was not the only person trapped in a world and struggling to make sense of the bizarre and contradictory reality around me, that lied and lied about existence continually. Further books by him reinforced this awareness of the illogic of it all, including The Politics of Experience, The Self and Others, and Knots. I was Brer Rabbit, caught in the honey trap of the tar baby and this book showed me that.


Who am I?

My passion and subsequent expertise in this subject have followed years of self-study and reading. I have tried to make sense of the conflicting views that the world has thrown at me, confusing me by each claiming to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (the seller's marketplace). The books in this series, reflect how difficult it is to be yourself and how much courage it takes to break free of your conditioning, parental or societal. It covers the necessary breakdown of the internal personality, so that a new you can emerge from the cocoon of the reassembled old you, butterfly-like.


I wrote...

Observations from Another Planet

By Tony Sandy,

Book cover of Observations from Another Planet

What is my book about?

My own book, Observations From Another Planet, is one of two collections of my own thoughts, where I have tried to understand certain behaviours of other people, carried out by them and the justification they give to their acts, including the lies they tell themselves about their motives for doing things as though life is a courtroom and they are afraid of being found guilty of the crime of life.

The Rag and Bone Shop

By Veronica O'Keane,

Book cover of The Rag and Bone Shop: How We Make Memories and Memories Make Us

Veronica is a professor of psychiatry with a special interest in psychosis such as schizophrenia and especially those that are seen in women after childbirth. These states of altered consciousness and the memories they produce give us insights into the nature of mental illness and the making of memories. The book develops as a series of case studies that are gently described in relation to the different brain regions that are involved in the experiences with a simple-to-understand diagram. Bringing together her clinical insights with beautiful perspectives from prose and poetry as well as from philosophers especially Henri Bergson, she makes a compelling case for memories being the core of what we as humans are.

Who am I?

I have been a doctor, psychiatrist, and brain researcher for nearly 50 years. I have treated thousands of patients, written over a thousand scientific articles, and given a similar number of lectures to medical and neuroscience students and to the general public. I have held many leadership positions in this field for academic groups both in UK and Europe and in 2009 I set up the charity Drug Science, to tell the truth about drugs and addiction.


I wrote...

Nutt Uncut

By David J. Nutt,

Book cover of Nutt Uncut

What is my book about?

Most people know David Nutt as the sacked drug czar. But my real life I am an academic psychiatrist and researcher who uses neuroimaging to study the brain so I can help understand how it goes wrong in mental and neurological illnesses, and so helps the search for new treatments. This book takes the reader on my journey from enquiring schoolboy, through my medical training into research and then becoming the government chief advisor on drugs.

This path has often taken me into controversial areas such as the safety of treatments for mental illness and the role of animals in medical research. I have been the subject of bomb attacks from anti-vivs and reputational assaults from anti-psychiatry groups. But my belief in science as the foundation of decision making has allowed me to overcome these and continue to do innovative brain research and pioneer new clinical treatments especially those using “illegal” drugs such as psychedelics and MDMA.

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