A darkly-funny and deeply heart-wrenching novel, Sorrow and Bliss is a great account of a woman suffering with mental illness, and how it can feel like we are personally ruining our own lives.
Sorrow and Bliss follows a protagonist named Martha and her life with her husband, Patrick. The relationship turns strained and they ultimately separate due to Martha’s unnamed mental illness that completely overwhelms her life.
This book walks the fine line of being easy to consume, but at times quite difficult to read. The writing style, the colloquialism, and the relatability found me 100 pages down the rabbit hole before I knew it, but at times it was wildly uncomfortable to watch someone “burning her house down,” as she puts it. Especially when you can see parts of yourself in the character.
Martha as a narrator is relatable in the fact that she’s uncomfortably aware that she annoys those around her. Things like correcting other’s grammar at inopportune moments, pointing out people’s flaws to their faces, generally being disagreeable – she’s painfully aware that she is being unsociable, and that people are judging her for it, but she can’t stop herself from engaging in these behaviours – and then hates herself for being that way. It’s almost a compulsion to be unpleasant, and then mentally berating herself for it.
Her yearning to be normal and sociable is prevalent throughout the whole novel, yet she just can’t bring herself to do it.
“They could not tell that for most of my adult life and all of my marriage I have been trying to become the opposite of myself.”
At the same time, she’s desperate to make people she doesn’t know like her. Her entire self-worth is externally focused – the way others see her is the way she sees herself. She sees herself and judges herself permanently through the eyes of others, while also being completely ignorant of others’ feelings and wishes. On one hand, she’ll actively berate those she cares about, but be uber-considerate of strangers. She’ll strike up a polite, bantering relationship with the barista at her coffee shop, but quickly tires of it, and instead of just not engaging in that same behaviour the next time she gets her coffee, she’s so afraid of disappointing her barista with her lack of enthusiasm, that she completely shuns the café for a coffee shop further away and with worse coffee. She’s intentionally inconveniencing herself for the sake of an opinion of someone that she actually does not know, or care about on a sub-surface level.
But don’t we all do this sometimes? Or is it just me? I changed my gym once (albeit to a better, and closer gym) because I did a complimentary session with a personal trainer once and he kept trying to get me to rebook him (and guilt-tripping me for not having done it yet) when I wasn’t interested in rebooking with him at all. Eventually I got so uncomfortable that I just quit my gym. Is that the same? Should I have just explained to him that he wasn’t compatible with me as a training instructor?
The aggravating nature of wanting to grab Martha by both shoulders and shake her to reset makes you scrutinize your own life, and your own relationships with those closest to you.
You spurn her for sabotaging her own life and crying about it, but at the same time you feel for her because in a similar way, you too turn on sad music when you’re sad just so you can get sadder – and even cry. You too create fake arguments in your head about something that hasn’t even happened, but you imagine it would if the circumstances were right, and it changes your mood for the worse for the rest of the day.
Watching Martha make these mistakes makes you wonder why we sabotage ourselves so. There’s something so heart-breaking in watching people knowingly sabotage their life. It’s like watching a train on a track heading towards disaster, with no turn offs or adjacent tracks to divert onto. Watching someone wish their life was better while actively doing everything possible to destroy it.
As much as this book is about mental illness, it’s also about self-discovery, self-enlightenment, and a real naval gaze that makes us actively re-evaluate the way we treat others, and ultimately the way we treat ourselves. And the author, Meg Mason, makes us laugh while doing it.
A great read, especially for those who support others with mental illness, or deal with mental illness themselves. Mental health is often thought about in an up-close, tunnel-visioned view, especially if you’ve suffered with it yourself. This book is like looking at mental health through a window, giving us the wider view of how it affects our life decisions, our life paths, and the people and the world around us.