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I'm Crazy is an autobiographical graphic novel illustrating various aspects of Adam Bourret's life story. In his unique visual account of his struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Bourett juxtaposes his story against the backdrop of the key relationships in his life: with his parents, his psychiatrist and his boyfriend.
In this graphic novel, Bourett manages to touch upon the ostensibly challenging aspects of living with a mental disorder: The subjective phenomena, including the blurry connection between hallucinations and reality, the anxiety involved in seeing hallucinations, and the intersubjective phenomena, including the encounter with the stigma surrounding mental disorder, the difficulty involved in disclosing and relationships with others.
The book starts out with Bourret's vibrant illustration of the internal dialogue as he tries to bring himself to share his story of obsessive-compulsive disorder with his boyfriend. Through skillfully combined sketches and words, he wittily conveys the predicament involved in 'disclosure', the challenges of which await many people with a mental disorder. On the one hand, his desire to be very honest and very close with his beloved boyfriend urges him to confide in his boyfriend with his 'secret'. On the other hand, he is afraid of disappointing him, given the clouds of stigma surrounding mental disorder. Even more dauntingly, he fears that his relationship may come to an end if he shares his story with his boyfriend. This ongoing internal dialogue turns into the key plot in the novel. We read how things unfold when Bourett eventually 'spills the beans' (also see the author's reference to chopping beans with mom.)
We also find out through his anecdotal account that Bourett had his first breakdown as a teenager and started seeing a psychiatrist and using anti-anxiety pills by then. The scene where he describes how he was diagnosed by his psychiatrist reveals a rather powerful message, which might very well have escaped mere prose: He opens up to his psychiatrist, she listens to him with frequent nods, acknowledging his account. After hearing his story, the psychiatrist tells him that he has OCD. This is where we see Bourret's puzzled facial expression. The next box over is a profile picture of Bourret, with OCD printed on his forehead. He says "...she had put her stamp on me, and with it the great sigh of relief. I wasn't a monster. I was just crazy" (Bourett, 2009, 23). From here on, until the end of the novel, we become confidantes to how his life unfolds after the diagnosis and how he deals with the challenging aspects of his condition with different kinds of obsessions, such as his hallucinatory belief that he is a pedophile, and a racist.
Bourret's attention to detail in his drawings enhances his ability to illustrate the intricacy of the phenomena he is dealing with. This way, he enables us to clearly discern a look, a glance, or a facial expression that convey the complexity of emotions that would otherwise escape a purely linguistic representation. The novel not only enables us to understand and imagine "what it is like" to have a mental disorder, but also proves the indispensability of the resources lent by visual arts in illustrating the diversity of the subjects' encounters with mental disorder.
© 2009 Serife Tekin
Link: I'm Crazy
Serife Tekin is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Philosophy, York University, Toronto