Book Review: I Didn’t Ask To Be Crazy (Sadee Bee)

I received a free copy of this book from the author via BookSirens, in exchange for an honest review.

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I Didn’t Ask To Be Crazy is a collection of poetry and personal essays focusing on mental illness; in particular, the author’s lived experience of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD.

I was drawn to this book due to my own lived experience of mental illness and Bee’s admission that the collection doesn’t stray away from being honest about the darkness that mental illness can bring. I like that she acknowledges that we can’t put a “positive spin” on all of our experiences, and that sometimes, things are just really shit.

Having that insight allows Bee to illustrate depths of mental illness that only lived experience can produce. There is a sense of genuine camaraderie and solidarity that provokes that “Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like!” response. This feeling of knowing that someone else in the world understands your struggles can be so powerful, so I’m very glad that Bee decided to share this collection with the world.


About the author

Sadee Bee

Sadee Bee is a poet and author residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her spouse and two cats. She has an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and she uses her writing to shine a light on the hidden parts of mental illness and the effects of childhood trauma. She also speaks to her specific experiences regarding trauma and mental illness as a black, queer woman in black communities. She knows that living with mental illness is never a straight line and she hopes to be a voice and advocate for those like her.


The book

This collection of poems and essays are written in an informal, conversational, almost diary-entry format. There are a few themes running throughout the book; most notably the notion of duality and disharmony. I particularly related to the battle or balance between sane/not sane, mask on/mask off, existing/living, and life/death.

“How can I be myself when I’m split between two realities?”

Sadee Bee

Bee explores the intersections between mental illness, womanhood, sexual orientation, and race. She also draws on her lived experience to explore the stigma around both mental illness in general, and around specific diagnoses, such as BPD. She also poignantly illustrates the internalised stigma we put on ourselves and the feelings of shame and guilt this produces.

I really enjoyed the author’s use of the personification of death and her relationship with “her”. She develops this by depicting the relationship as one of temptation; death is gentle and embracing, and to pull away from her is to cause herself pain for the sake of not causing her loved ones pain. I have been in this state of mind and I thought that this illustration of the battle against suicidal thoughts was insightful and powerful.

Later on in the collection, I was struck by Bee’s exploration of mental illness and identity.

“Depression has left me as a shell, I wish it would go away, Though, who am I without it?”

Sadee Bee

I know I have faced this scary realisation and it is surprisingly common, although not often discussed. When you have been mentally ill for a long time, it can seep into all parts of your identity, and the though we long to be “cured”, the thought of removing mental illness from ourselves opens us up to the very real fear that there will be nothing left of “us” when it is gone. It’s a difficult topic to discuss, so I was pleased to see the author was brave enough to acknowledge it in her work.

Another difficult topic raised in this collection is the dangerous concept of “resilience” in relation to mental illness. Resilience is often touted as a good skill or trait, but it can also lead to people bottling up their emotions, avoiding things, and masking to present themselves as being “okay” when they are really struggling. The idea of making ill people “more resilient” sounds good in theory, but really it just puts pressure on the individual to pretend they don’t need help. The author argues against this in her work and I am glad that she does.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this book and I think the author offers raw, genuine insight into the experience of mental illness. Her writing is relatable, which is sad, but also provides a sense of validation and recognition.

Of course, it must be said that some of the pieces might be triggering or upsetting to some, but I think that makes this collection even more important.

Mental illness isn’t a neat, aesthetic experience. It’s hard and messy and often brutal, and I think the author has done a great job of illustrating this reality.

Have you read I Didn’t Ask To Be Crazy?
Maybe you would like to recommend a similar book?
Or perhaps you’ve written one of your own?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
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