Mental Shenanigans

At the end of 2021 I nominated MY FRIEND FOX as the best book I’d read that year.

Part parable and part memoir, this book, written by Melbourne-based author and stand-up comedian Heidi Everett, documents her mental health battles – what she refers to as ‘mental shenanigans’ – and specifically her time spent in a psychiatric ward.

The words made an impression on me chiefly I think for the manner in which they’ve been written. Wise, deeply moving and utterly poetic are three descriptions that come close to capturing their essence. The experience of looking deep into the abyss is conveyed in a style equal parts soul-nourishing and heart-breaking.

I can’t think of any better way to convey a sense of the magic of this text than hand over some extracts.

Brace yourself. Here we go

“Socially, our family was an island on an island surrounded by moats of jagged rocks and raised drawbridges. Traps that were loaded and set in childhood went off with the slightest nudge in my adulthood because the psychological hunters knew their quarry was a long-term project and were prepared to wait.”

“My eyes splutter open with the energy of a rusty old tractor. My body has been stuck in an unsolved Rubik’s cube for so long. I’m lying on the floor of my unit, where I folded up some weeks ago. The blue carpet surrounds me like the giant Pacific Ocean. Desiccated tear-soaked tissues fleck the surface like frozen whitecaps.

My island is a pillow, beached on a shoreline of awkward blankets. The tv gurgles noise, no particular channel giving any hint of any particular climate in this godforsaken latitude. I can see the numbers on the wall clock so it must be daytime. A blackened banana sits on the coffee table.

“My only meaningful human interaction is with my mental health caseworkers. ‘How are you.’ Is the medication working.’ ‘Do you need a new script.’ Never with a question mark. ‘Okay’ I say to each not-question. I came into this place with all the energy of a meteor. I leave a diluted shadow.”

I decide there’s something about human faces that takes all my energy to process. It’s like looking directly into the sun and working out why you can’t see afterwards.

I’m scared of every thought, every idea, every internal commentary I have. I constantly assess if it’s a good thought, or a bad thought. Is this helpful? Or is this not helpful? But as time passes I start to lose my vigilance. My thoughts have become my enemies. I must not think.

Confronting, tender and beautiful, this is a book for anyone who would like to connect with a life lived deeply; and for anyone that has ever battled for peace themselves.

Dark shades? Check. Funny lines? Check. This is the author performing stand-up –

Click HERE to get happy.

11 thoughts on “Mental Shenanigans

  1. Sounds fairly similar to a book I’m half way through called ‘Breaking Badly’ by Georgie Dent which is a memoir on basically worrying herself sick – and straight into a psych ward.

    But that’s not the most interesting part because I got to book from my local public library at Orion Shopping Centre. I went there looking for a book called ‘Nirvana: the true story’ by Everett True. They didn’t have it in stock and surprisingly said that they could purchase it and would text and email me when it arrived. I was completely shocked that they could do this. I almost felt bad when I received the text and email this week that it arrived but not bad enough because I’m going tomorrow to pick it up!!

    The public system might not be good when it comes to a psych ward but it goes alright when borrowing books!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Matt for the tip on the Georgie Dent book BREAKING BADLY (clever title!).
    After checking out a synopsis on line, I’ve just now placed a hold on it at my local library. It will make for some good holiday reading I am sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A little psych ward “holiday reading,” ey? That sounds like me and hubby at Christmastime. We like to watch things like Bad Santa, Krumpus, or even Dredd. Whatever’s the opposite of holidays.
    I watched the clip; she’s definitely funny. Childhood trauma never seems to go away, does it? I feel lucky that mine were kind of average and not enough to send me into an institution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is so much talk these days now about ‘mental health’.
      That is one of the problems with having a mind that can think for itself however. So many of us can’t get our minds to focus in the way that we would like all of the time.
      The only wisdom I can conjure on this subject would be being present in the moment and controlling ones thoughts seems to come more naturally for some people than others.
      And yes, the childhood brain is obviously where we really begin forming who we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. PS: The price is a little above my usual price, but I’m now following the author. I guess I could try my library for it. I’ve become such a turncoat where the library’s concerned!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad she’s talking about her experiences. Mental health was never really spoken about publicly when I was growing up. Another comedian who talks about her psych ward experiences and is pretty funny is Maria Bamford.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember going to visit a friend at Ipswich Psych ward when I was in my early 20’s and it was chaotic and scary. One guy wouldn’t eat his food because he was paranoid that the staff were putting poison in it. Basically everyone I spoke to was paranoid about who you were and why you were visiting. I was told that not many patients get visitors so I was freaking people out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s quite a story there Matt – one which I’d be so interested to hear more details about sometime down the track.

      How the woman in this video memorized all these lines and then rattles them off machine-gun like is equal parts impressive and, because of the pitch of her voice, irritating.
      Be sure to listen for the line – “So sit back and enjoy the plastic furniture and coloring books.”


  7. You have actually met that friend in person. I remember him calling me one morning and not making sense. I later found out that he had psychosis and was out of touch with reality. I went around to his house to find him talking to a dog like he was in conversation with a human. He had written a note called ‘Life’s Perceptions’ and it was just a bunch of rambling.

    So I called the ambulance for assistance and they called the police to arrive first and make sure it wasn’t a dangerous situation. I actually remember him going in a police car and the police letting him smoke a cigarette in the back seat if he remained calm. He was a big bloke and could potentially be a threat they thought. The whole morning was just scary and something you never forget. Then going to visit him in the Psych ward nearly every day for two weeks was also an eye opener.

    Liked by 1 person

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