Author David Mark has written a new book. It’s called Piece of Mind: A Memoir of Folly, Melancholy and Madness and it is the story of an ordinary guy. Piece of Mind is David’s memoir about living with extreme mental illness.
Best-selling novelist David Mark’s first work of non-fiction is an excruciatingly honest account of living with mental illness.
This lyrical, raw and painfully funny memoir explores how it feels to house a monster inside your head: a slavering, seductive beast that whispers ‘kill yourself’ just when you start to think you’re happy. It’s the story of finding love and raising a family in the face of mania, depression, OCD, addiction, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, chronic anxiety and a genuine genius for self-sabotage. It looks at what happens to a person who hates themselves when they get everything they thought they wanted.
Piece of Mind deals with the reality of waking every day and choosing not to die. It’s about enduring. Keeping on keeping on. It’s about fighting for your life when death seems so much bloody easier. It’s about becoming a best-selling novelist and fulfilling your dreams and then feeling so utterly empty inside that an ocean of whisky isn’t enough. It’s about being a catastrophe of a human being whose debt levels look as though they have been written in binary code.
“ …real, raw, and delicious…”
“…a ‘no holds barred’ view of the torturous, debilitating, lonely world of being at war with your own mind.”
David says it’s about living, (and not dying) when your brain is under attack. It details his fight with depression, OCD, extreme anxiety, addiction, suicidal ideation and the reality of sabotaging your own existence time and time again. It’s also funny, uplifting and very, very real.
Now I am a big fan of David’s writing, especially the darker stuff, and I trust him to tell it how it is. I’m clearly not alone. Within days of David starting a crowd funder for this book he had raised enough money to bring it to publication, though it could use some marketing funding, too. There is clearly a lot of respect for David as an author and I’m thinking that after two years of lockdown, this might well be the right time to have a wholly honest, warts and all conversation about mental illness. It is a subject that interests me. I suffered from a long bout of clinical depression a few years ago and that one bout has altered my mental state profoundly. I also have a friend whose mental health kept me in a state of high anxiety for a long time, and left me feeling powerless to help and unable to intervene. So I’m curious about what David has to say about being in the midst of a living hell.
I am delighted that David has agreed to come on to my blog to talk about his book and living with the reality of a severe mental illness.
Tell us why you have written Piece of Mind?
I’ve always known that I could and that I probably should, but it’s always been too daunting an undertaking. Fiction is safer. Really, you have to be a special type of masochist to expose the inner workings of your own head and heart and soul to all and sundry. I guess I just felt it was time to actually practice what I preach. I believe in facing your fears and in being honest about who you are, what you believe, and what you feel. Not what you think, necessarily, as that’s a whole different thing, but what it actually feels like to be you. So that’s what I did. I made an agreement with myself that I would be entirely open and honest and wouldn’t attempt to put any kind of sugar-dusting on the truth of me or my conditions, and how they overlap and feed on one another and how they have consistently dictated the major happenings of my life. That all sounds a bit visceral and surreal, which is particularly apposite, given that’s how the book feels in places too. So does the guy who wrote it.
So tell us about the David Mark that has written this book.
43 years of mental illness. Chronic depression, mania, addiction, anxiety, OCD, alcoholism, hallucinations, hearing voices, suicidal ideation… I rather felt that I had some experience to draw upon, and given that I’m a writer by trade, I figured I might be able to help the uninitiated to understand a little more about how it feels to live with monsters in your head. That’s how it is, really. Mental illness is a matter of life and death, after all.
What has prompted you to write this book now?
I’m sober. I’m on the right medication. I’m in love with somebody who loves me back. I’m a novelist with a beautiful and peculiar family. I have never had a better support network in place to pick me up and sort me out in the event that delving into my own deep, dark places has an impact on my wellbeing and recovery. And most importantly, lockdown. It’s been a strange sensation watching the world go slightly off kilter. Those with mental disorders were, in many cases, the ones who fared quite well. We’re used to feelings of helplessness, rage and unbearable melancholy. A lot of people experienced those sensations for the first time and I suppose I wanted to write something that they could read and realise that they weren’t alone.
Who is this book for?
Everyone. People with mental illness can benefit from seeing how somebody else’s various conditions manifest themselves and they might feel less isolated as a consequence. And then those people without mental health problems but who are eager to find out more and to develop a deeper insight into how mental illness actually feels. It’s not a self-help book. I view it as a ‘walk-a-mile-in-my-head’ book. If that’s a thing.
What would your loved ones say about living with you?
Hmm. That’s difficult. My youngest daughter constantly tells me that I’m really weird but awesome, which is the best review I could wish for. My long-suffering partner has her own mental health challenges which I address in the book, and she’d probably say that I’m loving, attentive and dogged but that I live in Cloud Cuckoo Land and don’t know how to engage with reality. Given that’s exactly what I would say about her too, we could probably use a proper adult in the relationship.
Does it give you anxiety, putting this much of yourself into the world?
Yes, but I have a long history of taking those type of feelings and turning them into fuel. If something scares me, I make sure I do it. I’ve survived thus far by being more pig-headed than my demons. Stubbornness and a refusal to give in are the qualities that have kept me alive but I’m at a place where I hope that I don’t have to treat life like an opponent or as something to be endured.
You say this is not a self-help book, but you still reckon that some might find it helpful. Why?
Human beings are a mystery to ourselves. We don’t understand who we are as individuals, let alone as a collective. We’re all on some vague, directionless quest to find out what it’s all about, what we’re actually here for; what it feels like to be alive. That’s why we’re all so intrigued by one another. We’re desperate for insight – to understand what’s going on behind somebody’s eyes. Well, this book offers that. Reading it is probably about as close as you can get to looking out at the world through somebody else’s eyes. That might be a terrifying ordeal for some people. for others, I hope it’s illuminating. In my wildest dreams, I’d love for it to make some small contribution towards people being a bit gentler to one another: an increased awareness and empathy. Grandiose thinking is a side-effect of my mania, if you were wondering.
How do you feel now that you have written it – was it a cathartic experience?
Yes and no. It did me some harm, I’ll admit that. You can’t go splashing about in your own toxic memories and not feel a little tainted by the experience. But on balance, I think it’s done me some good. It’s hard to say. We have no calculus for what we’re supposed to feel like or how we’re meant to present ourselves to the world, so I can’t honestly say that it’s a positive thing that I now seem to spend more time feeling vulnerable and sensitive than I ever used to when I was in the grip of a mental crisis. Apparently this is all good, though there are times when I wish to goodness I’d never taken all my armour off.
When and how can people buy this book?
Described as “Lyrical and gritty, bleak and uplifting, dark and very funny.”
“Brave and honest and thoughtful” S. J. Watson
Piece of Mind is out on 24 September in e-book. Pre-order now from Amazon, and if you’re feeling really extravagant, or if like me, you believe that this is an important book to have available, you can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign which will help ensure it reaches as many new readers as possible.
David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy