Through the Labyrinths of the Mind Review

By | Wednesday, June 01, 2022 Leave a Comment
Through the Labyrinths of the Mind is a comic anthology that came out late last year from Cloudscape Comics. In it, fifteen creators share short stories about a variety of mental health issues, from depression to dementia to OCD. According to the text on the back of the book, "their comics range from starkly honest memoirs to symbolic slice-of-life-fiction and even fairy tales, but whatever the genre, all the stories speak truth to the creator's struggles."

Not surprisingly, I've been thinking a fair amount about mental health lately. I've had struggles of my own since college, but I'm also very aware that their severity pales in comparison to others and, moreover, I have enough priviledge that I have a number of resources available to help me if I need it. The past few years -- between COVID and, well, everything -- have been particularly harsh for a large number of people. I've had difficulties myself that have been more wearying and burdensome than anything I've experienced since college, but I don't doubt for a second that people with fewer resources or safety nets have had it much, much worse. I try to make a point of regularly reaching out to folks who I think might be able to use a little extra support with whatever priviledge I can spare. And that's where Labyrinths comes in.

One of the problems with mental health issues is that we don't have any good language for discussing them. Sure, there are labels like "post-traumatic stress disorder" and we can list some of the symptoms, but that doesn't really get to the issue. If you have a physical ailment, like a broken bone, we can point to a chart and say, "This one bone right here is in two pieces separated right at this point." Huamnity has been dealing with this kind of stuff for millenia -- we know how to diagnose those issues, how to explain them to others quickly and concisely, and how to treat them. Mental health issues? We've been trying to address those for, what? A few hundred years at most? Not only do we not know how to "cure" those types of issues, we often have trouble diagnosing them much less explaining the issues. We often rely on metaphors, and Labyrinths includes many.

Masks, brain gremlins, cursed shadows, fuzzy black masses... they're some of the metaphors the creators here use to explain a variety of mental conditions. Those terms probably don't resonnate with you on their own -- again, we don't have the language to really discuss mental issues -- but in the context of the stories, they make sense. And they help to illustrate some of the issues that people often have trouble communicating. Saying "I'm depressed" for many (probably most) people will be seen as a temporary state; like they feel bad right now because they failed their final exam but they'll get over it by the weekend. But if you describe being depressed in terms of being curled up in an empty room at the bottom dark, nearly endlessly spiraling staircase of a negative dimension guarded by a multi-headed demon in the depths of the earth, that's an entirely different ballgame! It's a metaphor that helps to highlight the perpetual bleakness and darkness of the situation; it helps to give context and gravity to people who have never experienced anything like that before.

I often have trouble reviewing anthology collections. Obviously, with a number of different creators, there are some stories here that strike me more than others. Some have better stories, some have better art, some have better ideas. However you might define "better" in any of those cases. So how can you review the book as a whole with so many different people contributing wildly differing works? In this case, they're all solid. And since they all tackle different mental health issues from different perspectives, it's a very useful book right now. It could help put a name to some as-yet-unmentioned issues you've been dealing with, it could provide metaphors that allow you to communicate or understand some of these issues more, it could simply offer a bit of consolation that you're not the only one dealing with shit right now.

We're in a time now where lots of people need help and don't have access to it. We're in a time where lots of people, even if they're normally very empathetic, have to focus on their own survival to the point of being unable to even offer assistance to others. Empathy and compassion seem to be at record lows. People all over the world are going through a massive crisis right now, and it's laid bare many of the underlying societal problems we're usually able to slide past. So right now, any source that offers any sort of help is worthwhile.

I hope things are going okay for you right now. I really do worry about a lot of my friends and family who I suspect are hiding a lot more issues they're dealing with than what they even tell me in private. Whether you're looking for someone to say "it's not just you" or a metaphor to explain what you're feeling or even just a label to identify what you're going through, Through the Labyrinths of the Mind is worth picking up for only $20 CAN.
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