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NAMI Bookshelf: October 2007

NAMI Bookshelf books: October 2007

Still the Monkey: What Happens to Warriors After War?

By Alivia C. Tagliaferri

(Ironcutter Media, 2007)

This is a war story that is actually many stories in one. It is an easy-to-read historical novel that educates about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s appropriate for Veterans Day or any other time.

A survivor of the Vietnam War, Dennis Michaels, struggles with PTSD throughout the narrative, recalling experiences in the Mekong Delta and along the Demilitarized Zone. His flashbacks coincide with a series of conversations with a young Marine hospitalized at Walter Reed Hospital, who lost both legs in Iraq, whom he is trying to help as part of program sponsored by a nonprofit organization.

They are bonded by common experiences. Their old lives ended as soon as they arrived in a war zone.  Their new lives were born in violence and death. Both men returned home gravely wounded.

"Do you want to live?" a doctor asked.

The ultimate paradox of life is that people begin to die the minute they are born, but the answer to that simple question may be the pivotal moment in beginning the journey home.

The novel educates about PTSD, in a way that is vivid, enlightening, and readily understandable. At one point, Andy Taylor, the Iraq veteran, recalls the story of a buddy stopped by police for driving 100 mph on a highway and switching three lanes while going under an overpass. The police saw it as reckless driving, but in a different place, it was a reflex action that had been linked to survival.

"He was so used to gunning the pedal going under overpasses and making sure to be in a different lane coming out the other side than he was going in, that he forgot where he was," Taylor explained. "It was something we learned in Tikrit…to avoid snipers and insurgents in RPG Alley. They used to sit up there and fire down on us."

A solider may leave a war zone, but the mind may not.

Alivia Tagliaferri was inspired to write the book in 2003 after spending time at Walter Reed Hospital helping to manage video crews that documented visits by celebrities to wounded veterans. Before then, she had never seen the reality or consequences of war.

"I will never forget the far-off look on the faces of the amputees who sat out on the hospital porch in their wheel chairs," she writes.  A few months later, she met Dennis Butts, the Vietnam veteran whose stories provide a basis for parts of the narrative.

"War is war. It doesn’t matter where it’s fought or even when. It’s all the same," Butts told the author. It doesn’t matter whether one is talking about Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq—or the second war that ends up being fought in the mind upon the return home.

From the title, "Still the Monkey" means to seek calmness. Buddhist masters who teach students the art of meditation liken the human mind to a monkey. "Left unchecked, the mind may swing back and forth from branch to branch like a wild monkey in the jungle," the book explains.

"Still the Monkey" is a reminder to "stay in the present, to still the mind, to keep the monkey from swinging too far to a branch of the past, or to a branch of the future."

It is an art, not a science. For veterans returning home to the present, recovery may require many skills and the support of others. This book can help others understand.

Use this link to purchase Still the Monkey now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.


The Bipolar Disorder Answer Book

by Charles Atkins, M.D.

(Sourcebooks, 2007)

This book provides easy-to-read answers to “More than 275 of Your Most Pressing Questions” that consumers and families have about bipolar disorder. Organized in 16 chapters, questions include:

  • What are symptoms of bipolar disorder?
  • Does bipolar disorder run in families?
  • Are there specific risk factors?
  • How do I know which treatment is right for me?
  • How important is medication?
  • What are relapse prevention strategies?
  • Is there a cure?
  • How do you minimize disruption in education when your child has bipolar disorder?
  • How does a woman manage medications for bipolar disorder when pregnant?
  • Should I disclose my bipolar disorder at work?
  • Are there advantages to having bipolar disorder?
  • How can I limit the impact on my spouse?

One suspects that the number of questions about the illness may in fact be endless. Not surprisingly, Dr. Atkins recommends NAMI’s Family-to-Family Education Program in his “Survival Tips” for families and friends.

Use this link to purchase The Bipolar Disorder Answer Book now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.


Get It Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track

by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, Psy.D., ABPP.

Alpha (January 2, 2008)

"Read any self-help book with a natural skepticism," this one proclaims. Too many self-help books expect a person to be the sole cause of their difficulties.  This one is more pragmatic and recognizes depression as a medical illness. Its strategies provide tools, but not cures, in seeking to break cycles of withdrawal and inactivity. It includes exercises, but is more than a workbook, offering practical tips and real-life stories as illustrations.

One size does not fit all. Some strategies may seem self-obvious; others may come as revelations. They include: "Structure Your Day Like A Child’s"; "Think Like an Athelete"; "Know When Your Brain is Lying to You”; "Break Projects into Steps"; "Learn to Say No"; Distinguish Between Depression and Low Self-Esteem"; "Expect to Cry"; "Watch What You Say"; "Accept the Limitations Caused By Depression" and "Allow Time for Positive Results."

The book won’t be published until January 2008, but can be pre-ordered.

Use this link to purchase Get It Done When You're Depressed now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.

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