"The Naked Bird Watcher"
by Suzy Johnston
Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which, like the toad ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head!
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Overview of "The Naked Bird Watcher"
The Writer and Broadcaster, Muriel Gray, comments "Since Ms Johnston's primary goal was to help others gain an insight into mental illness and combat stigma and help others who might have felt alone and unique in their distress, for that very good reason alone, the book is worth its weight in gold.
In an engaging, informative and often amusing autobiography, what continually shines through is the author's consistently positive outlook and her refusal to be ashamed of losing what she describes as 'the battle of percentages' in developing manic depression. In this candid and honest description of one person's experience of living a full and varied life whilst coping with a serious mental health problem, the author gives a vivid but lucid insight into the torment that is mental distress, while highlighting the importance of good psychiatric treatment, support and self management as the vital aids to recovery which will be of immense value, help and reassurance to many.
A personal and poignant story of recovering from the symptoms and disability of severe mental illness. Now living a full and varied life whilst dealing with manic depression, the author has been an inspiration to many - highlighting the importance of good psychiatric care, support and the value of self management.
The dramatic and poignant true-life account of depression, mania, suicidal thoughts and self-harming which is unfolded in "The Naked Bird Watcher" is amplified by Suzy's mother's account of her daughter descent which appears in her own story of the same events in "To Walk on Eggshells" by Jean Johnston (ISBN 0954809211), there is now an unusual and rare insight into mental illness - insight from both the patient and her carer. The two books together tell the story of women on a loving journey of support, determination and life-reclamation after the devastation of a downward spiral of bipolar disorder (former term for this psychiatric condition was "manic-depressive illness").
About the Author
Suzy Johnston writes, advises, promotes and publishes on mental health awareness issues. She is seen as an emerging respected voice within the mental health fields both nationally and internationally. Suzy is also an accomplished musician - playing both electric/acoustic guitar and is a composer/songwriter. For relaxation she enjoys reading with a wide and diverse taste in literature, plays a variety of sports. When spare time allows, she enjoys painting in acrylics.
Reflecting on the times of crisis and hopelessness in her life as well as the vibrant student life she led, the author writes: "We all have mental health and for one in four of us medical intervention will be required to deal with some form of mental distress - be it mild or severe. ALL of us will know someone who has been so affected. We hope that our books offer some insight and understanding into mental illness - giving hope and reassurance to those it affects and guidance to those who work within the profession. But make no mistake - my life is not all doom and gloom. Like many others - it is happy, it is funny, fulfilling and no, I wouldn't want to change it."
"I play guitar in a band, enjoy reading and smoking the odd cigarette. I like hanging out with my friends and have a tendency to fall off bikes I also happen to have manic depression - b*******! My life us made up of many facets and whilst manic depression is a major influence, it is still only a part of me. True, there are times when life feels bleak and hopeless, but I have learned over the years, there IS light at the end of the tunnel. So I will continue to play my guitar, see my friends and deal with a condition that has shaped my personality; teaching me how important it is to value the good in life."
Excerpt from 2nd Edition of "The Naked Bird Watcher" by Suzy Johnston
(Copyright Suzy Johnston & The Cairn © 2004. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
The sanity birds glided seamlessly through my dreams arcing high into the air on the updraft then swooping low over the churning sea. Again and again they completed their circuits, assured in their ability to navigate with wind's currents, revelling in their speed and dexterity, spreading reassurance through my body and calm through my veins.
Then one bird fell, Screaming, it dropped from the clouds, its body smashing into the hungry sea. Then another. And another, until the screaming was unbearable and even the clouds hurried to leave. The sky filled with death and a dark, slick mass coated the sea that reeked of evil. I sat bolt upright...
It bothers me somewhat that I have absolutely no recollection of the first three years of my life. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could remember every instant from being born and taking your first breath of detoxified hygienised air, to seeing your parents for the first time, to realising that bladder and bowel control were realistic targets with valuable social overtones and not just a way of gaining your parents' attention? No one bothered to tell me at this time of conscious revelation (or if they did I was too busy discovering my toes to pay attention) that life increased in complexity as one increased in years.
Review of "The Naked Bird Watcher"
What an amazing book! What a courageous writer! How many of would be willing to share so fully and honestly our irrational thoughts and behaviour? Our ignominy? Our failures? Our pain, degradation, struggle, tragedy and pitiless depths of cruel suffering and despair?
How wonderful that Suzy is able to balance the "downside" of her troubled times by sharing with us also the moments of her success, her joie de vivre, her loving and supportive relationships and her great creativity and talent. In this way we are treated to a "real" and truthful perspective on the life of someone suffering "bipolar" or "manic-depressive" symptoms and experiences. For history relates that bipolar-afflicted people are often amongst the most talented members of our society.
The first thing that struck me about "The Naked Bird Watcher" was the lack of organised structure to the text - not even a title for any of the 21 chapters. However, fortunately the writing is so good and the story so gripping that it is not too difficult to read the book from cover to cover as a continuous dialogue.
The value of this book to people suffering from depression, mania, hypomania, psychosis (nervous breakdown), paranoia, suicidal thoughts, feelings and impulses and self-harming behavior, is absolutely immense. It is a powerful tool for breaking down the barriers of low self-awareness, secret shame, lack of insight, miscommunication and misunderstanding that surround and compound the pain, suffering and tragedy of mental illness.
The author lets us into the secretive world of self-loathing, "putting on an act" and rock-bottom self-esteem that lie at the heart of the manic-depression cycle. Low self-esteem is the fertile seed-bed for a nightmare world of hatred, isolation and unchallenged irrational thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
A talented writer
As I read "The Naked Bird Watcher" I found it hard to believe that this eminently-readable, dramatic, entertaining and, at times incredibly funny, book had been written by someone who is still on constant medication and who has been through so many serious episodes of severe mental dysfunction. The book is well-written - at times emotionally charged and at times quietly reflective, but always "gripping" and lively.
(Review by Dr. Michael Meredith - a UK Stress Management Trainer , Healer and ex-sufferer from bipolar disorder)
Discussion of Mental Health Issues Raised by this Book
Depression: Subconscious Death Wish, Self-sabotage, Self-destructive Negativity & Self-hatred
2nd Edition of the mental illness autobiography "The Naked Bird Watcher"
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