Who Am I by James Kelly: Book Review

Who Am I is a short memoir by James Kelly. He’s on Twitter as @of_illness. Its not an autobiography as it covers only one aspect of the author’s life. That sphere is the mental illness one.

Reading about bipolar disorder, depression, schizoaffective disorder, hypomania, hypermania and other mental disorders in a textbook is one dimensional. You see a list of symptoms being described. When you read a book written by a patient who has suffered from mental illnesses, you are being educated on the full dimensions on the mental disorder.

Mr. James Kelly has been honest and sincere with his writing. The truth will help people who need to be helped by understanding what the patient goes through. If you have a mental illness, or know someone who has a mental disorder, you should read this book. Even if you don’t know anyone who has mental illness, read this book. The knowledge can save a life or several lives.

People generally don’t recognize a person has a mental health problem. Unless you studied psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or mental health related subjects, you may never recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders. Someone may be displaying worrying behaviors and no one knows what to do. For instance, a woman has hallucinations of being stared at and she carries a weapon in her handbag to defend and protect herself. She talks to her friends about seeing monsters. She tells them she has a weapon inside her handbag and pats her bag reassuringly. Her friends have no idea what she is going through. She speaks in incoherent sentences. The beginnings and endings of sentences do not make sense. Its as if she drew out parts of her speech from a bag randomly. She isn’t drunk. She may be on recreational drugs but that is unlikely. She spends many minutes talking about the same subject. She has a lot of say about one subject, but her listeners can’t make head or tail about the message she is trying to convey. If they suspected a mental disorder or drugs, they might have persuaded her to talk to a therapist, social worker, or anyone who is an authority and able to channel her to the right professional help. That woman has been carrying a weapon in her handbag and going into crowds of people. Who knows what may happen if her triggers are activated and she thinks she has to use her weapon.

People need to pay respect to a mental problem. It is real, very challenging and requires professional treatment. The patient can not “snap out of it”.

This book is universal. Mr. Kelly has written about the schedule for a typical day in the psychiatric ward. No matter where you live and which system your country’s psychiatric wards use, the basic principals are the same. The psychiatric wards operate smoothly like clockwork.

Early in the morning the ward nurses go around the dormitory where the patients’ rooms are. They dispense medication to patients and watch them while they actually swallow their pills. Some patients are allowed to eat breakfast before medication, while others with physiological conditions have to take certain pills before food. This is essential. There have been instances when a patient may hide a pill under the tongue or between the inner of the lip and teeth. They drink some water to replicate the act of consuming the pill. When the nurse moves on to the next patient, they remove the pill and flush it down the toilet. There are standard procedures to catch these omissions. Which I shall not be boring you with a narrative.

After the morning medications, patients are encouraged to groom themselves to prepare to present themselves for the day. They they walk out of the dorm to sit in the large hall. Wards with specific activity rooms may be conducting sessions to engage patients in therapy. There are simple activities for patients to follow. During this rehab, they should not get stressed out with complicated work.

I used to be a volunteer who helped the Occupational Therapy (O. T.) staff to supervise patients as they did art, craft, “cooking”, board games, watching TV or socializing. If stationery or anything that could be a potential weapon was being used in the activity, we had to maintain a sharp watch. Generally, no patients may handle the pencil sharpener, scissors, or long strings. Even pencils could become stabbing tools so we had to ensure patients did not carry away pencils. Patients who were severely traumatized could not talk, respond nor walk steadily. O. T. helped them to focus on tasks and respond to the outside world again. I might write more about the psychiatric wards later. I had drawn some pictures of my experiences and posted them in Mental Health Comic.

When I read Mr. Kelly’s chapters on his stays in the psychiatric wards, I was teleported back into the time when I was volunteering in psychiatric wards. He described it as the way it was. The regular schedule offered external comfort to the patients whose inner world was wrecking them.

Mr. Kelly has written of many anecdotes that are interesting. He is a good story teller. I won’t spoil the surprises and enjoyment for you. He is a nice gentleman; sensitive, polite and stepping up to correct any social injustice he sees. He is quick to remind us of his orientation so that ladies don’t get any false hopes.

I was fortunate to be blessed with a bestowment of an impromptu meet-the-author chat with Mr. Kelly. He gave me an important bit of wisdom. Here is a summary of the gist of his advice – Never belittle yourself or your efforts. If you allow someone to step on your head, you’ll never be happy.

I’m including his nuggets of wisdom here so that I can remember it and search for it in the days and months to come.

Don’t be afraid to get this book. It is easy reading.

Mr. Kelly wrote an acknowledgement to thank readers. I feel I should thank him. For sacrificing his anonymity to write his book. For braving the dated social stigma of being associated with mental illness and writing about it.

I took this photo to show I bought the book.

Who Am I
Who Am I? By James Kelly.

You can buy the book “Who Am I” from

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Mental Health Comic #56

Mental Health Comic #56:

This male teen patient knew a tactical move to get visitors to bring in a beverage.

As per hospital rules, only members of the patient’s family, are allowed to bring in food and drink for them. This male teen improvised to make the volunteer his family member, so that they would be persuaded to buy orange juice from outside and bring it in for him. It is not so simple. The ward’s nurses will check against their register of every patient’s family members’ names. If a name has not been registered as a family member, that person is not allowed to give food and drink to them.

Mental Health Comic #55

Mental Health Comic #55:

A male teen patient felt he had excess phlegm and was constantly spitting. He asked for a spittoon.

The second drawing showed an undergraduate who enrolled to do her practical as an intern in the hospital. She wanted her mother to accompany her to boost her morale, and confidence. She was dressed in shorts, because it was her first visit and she wasn’t aware that some patients with disorders are uncomfortable with seeing flesh.

A patient spits into a spittoon.

Mental Health Comic #54

Mental Health Comic #54:

This comic is different in that it was drawn based on a random person who was doing some actions that suggested he may be having a mental problem. The other comics in this series were drawn from volunteer work in psychiatric wards of a hospital.

Man seen at a cafe in a shopping mall.

This man was bare foot. He was constantly checking the floor and rubbing at a spot. Then he would several feet away, and look at a sheet of crumpled blank paper in his hand. He would return to the same spot and rub at it with his hand. He repeated the same routine several times. Then suddenly, he changed. He lifted his backpack and bounced it up and down a few times, seemingly to estimate its weight. He placed it down on the floor. Then he picked it up and continued to do the same action, of estimating the weight of his backpack.

Mental Health Comic #53

Mental Health Comic #53

Small talk with patients.

The drawing on the left shows a patient when he was upset. The drawing on the right shows a group of patients with an adult volunteer. They talk about how the patient mentioned his appreciation for the medical treatment which he received.

Mental Health Comic #52

Mental Health Comic #52:

A female teen patient has selective mutism. She chooses to be mute as her response to cope with her challenges. She faces stress from er home and school. She withdraws by not responding to the stimuli in her environment. She is interested in painting and shows initiative by painting her pictures. She has painted a tree. Another painting was like an abstract, of black spots on a pink background, like spots on a cow.

A female patient with selective mutism and a male patient with ADHD.

The male teen patient has Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder. He is talkative and has difficulty focusing on his tasks at hand. He comes into the children’s ward for short stays for around a fortnight each time. During a recent stay while I was volunteering in the ward, he wanted to make origami paper boxes, to bring home as gifts for his family. He wanted to show his achievements in the ward. We used colored construction paper to fold a stack of boxes.

Mental Health Comic #49

Mental Health Comic #49

Patients may interact with one another…

Patients love to keep small items of personal belongings about them. The small tokens are comforts and luxuries which remind them they are special. Some patients who lack personal items, may steal from those who have them. The nurses in the ward conduct checks in the dormitory where the sleeping quarters are. They check each patient’s bed, to ensure they don’t hide items there.

There are patients with poor eyesight, or blind patients. Sighted patients may tease their fellow patients who are helpless without sight. Patients are counseled on what is acceptable behavior.

Mental Health Comic #48

Mental Health Comic #48:

This features schizophrenia and OCD.

Schizophrenia and OCD.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder. The patient believes in a thought which defies logic. The drawing shows a patient washing his hands repeatedly because he believes his hands are stained with germs. In his sleep, he even repeats his hand washing routine. He sleepwalks around, while moving his hands in the washing action.

Obsession with a thought or action can also lead to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The patient spends a disproportionate amount of time, or all his waking hours, engaged in an activity. He believes this act is necessary, or something dangerous will happen. For example, if he doesn’t wash his hands, he might catch an infection and die. At different points of time, he is aware that his obsession with that activity is illogical, but he can’t help it to  stop and break the loop. His behaviors follow a closed loop with his obsession. He needs help from a professional therapist.

Nurturing Thursday Mental Health comic 3

This is the third in the series on Mental Health. I’m using this series to participate in Becca’s Nurturing Thursday blog ring, because I can’t think of a better series yet. Wen I do, I’ll work on a theme which is more positive and nurturing than this one.

Patient says he wants to go home.

The doctor, nurses and medical staff are preparing to deal with this situation.