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Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love

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The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he sa The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from "The Producer" to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to Bellevue Hospital. So begins the story of Zack's freefall into psychosis and his desperate, poignant, often darkly funny struggle to claw his way back to sanity. It's a journey that will take him from New York City back to his Kansas roots and to the one person who might be able to save him, his tough, big-hearted Midwestern mother, nicknamed the Bird, whose fierce and steadfast love is the light in Zack's dark world. Before his odyssey is over, Zack will be tackled by guards in mental wards, run naked through cornfields, receive secret messages from the TV, befriend a former Navy Seal and his talking stuffed monkey, and see the Virgin Mary in the whorls of his own back hair. But with the Bird's help, he just might have a shot at pulling through, starting over, and maybe even meeting a woman who can love him back, bipolar and all. Written with raw emotional power, humor, and tenderness, GORILLA AND THE BIRD is a bravely honest account of a young man's unraveling and the relationship that saves him.


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The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he sa The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from "The Producer" to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to Bellevue Hospital. So begins the story of Zack's freefall into psychosis and his desperate, poignant, often darkly funny struggle to claw his way back to sanity. It's a journey that will take him from New York City back to his Kansas roots and to the one person who might be able to save him, his tough, big-hearted Midwestern mother, nicknamed the Bird, whose fierce and steadfast love is the light in Zack's dark world. Before his odyssey is over, Zack will be tackled by guards in mental wards, run naked through cornfields, receive secret messages from the TV, befriend a former Navy Seal and his talking stuffed monkey, and see the Virgin Mary in the whorls of his own back hair. But with the Bird's help, he just might have a shot at pulling through, starting over, and maybe even meeting a woman who can love him back, bipolar and all. Written with raw emotional power, humor, and tenderness, GORILLA AND THE BIRD is a bravely honest account of a young man's unraveling and the relationship that saves him.

30 review for Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    4.8, manically rounded up, up, up!! I’ll tell you, my socks were officially knocked off. The better to run and keep up with this guy. Never mind, I'll grab my pogo stick, whee! It's faster and more fun. But it's not a whee for Zack, a public defender in New York, who ran through the city half naked, talking to strangers who he was convinced were part of the reality show he was starring in. That manic run led to his first stay in the psych ward and the diagnosis of bipolar. I don't know where to st 4.8, manically rounded up, up, up!! I’ll tell you, my socks were officially knocked off. The better to run and keep up with this guy. Never mind, I'll grab my pogo stick, whee! It's faster and more fun. But it's not a whee for Zack, a public defender in New York, who ran through the city half naked, talking to strangers who he was convinced were part of the reality show he was starring in. That manic run led to his first stay in the psych ward and the diagnosis of bipolar. I don't know where to start. This is a phenomenal account of a man's voyage through insanity and back. Actually, I'm sort of manic myself when I think of this book. It was an intense read that has me going all boing boing boing with glee. Maybe it sounds weird to be all boing boing and bouncy about a guy going through hell. But I’m not celebrating his craziness, I’m celebrating his story and the way he tells it. I love everything about it: The way he pulled me into his life and kept me captive. The way he’s self-effacing. His energy and passion and perseverance. And I’m just blown away by his honesty, wit, and self-awareness, as well as his willingness to put himself out there. I feel totally privileged that he let me hang around in his head. I think it’s also his New York style that appeals to me—it’s sophisticated, direct, funny, and has what I call an East Coast vibe. He has been a stand-up comic, and I happen to think that good comedians are basically geniuses. And on top of all this, he’s a great writer. Watching him go off the rails was super upsetting for me, but so what? Imagine how he feels. His fear of what he might do, his terror at his skewed reality, his stays in hospitals with scary patients and padded rooms, his taking meds (most with nasty side effects) in the hope of silencing the demons—all of this is unfathomable. With each new episode, he gets better at trying to head it off. As I read along, I was rooting for him to beat the clock: Come on come on, get the meds before you go insane again! He calls in his saintly, loving mother and together they weather the storm. His mom, wow, she’s always there and she’s one cool dude-ette. His stays in the psych wards are brutal. He even compares them to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “My initial certainty that I was being videotaped was buoyed by the fact that the place looked exactly like the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: white walls, inmates wandering around drooling, belligerent patients tackled and injected.” He also says: “Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave. People screamed all day and night.” After taking meds that start calming his mind, he wants to resume regular life. Easier said than done. Friends treat him weird. This is the sad part, the sad truth: If he had cancer, everyone would be sympathetic. Because it’s mental illness, they act scared, distant, nervous. People pour out the sympathy if a friend’s body is betraying them, but it’s a whole different story if it’s their mind that is betraying them. Another reason I like this memoir is because I’ve never heard anyone explain so well what it feels like to be psychotic. He happens to be really really good at describing his breaks with reality. I’ve always been interested in mental illness, and I’ve had to care for people who have had psychotic breaks, so this was actually a cathartic read for me as well. But besides the story of his mental illness, Zack also talks passionately about his work. He is the best kind of lawyer: he helps the big-time underdogs—especially those who have mental illness and end up in prison because they can’t function, let alone navigate the system. He is relentless, and sometimes his energy and passion turn him into an obsessive insomniac that leads him right into a psychotic episode. He describes a few of his tough cases, making interesting and sobering comments about our judicial system. I got an up-close look, and the picture isn’t pretty. Zack’s early life was as a poor person in Wichita, Kansas. His father, and later, a step-father, were disasters, but his mom was wonderful. Zack paints a vivid picture of how rough their lives were. His mom, too, ended up helping the underdog—she teaches young gangsters how to read. Zack describes her with much affection. She was there beside him during every one of his episodes. What I ended up realizing was that not only do I love Zack’s story and the way he told it, but I also love how cool (and good) both he and his mother are. You may be wondering about the intriguing title. Zack’s mom nicknamed him Gorilla because he had so much black hair on his back when he was born. Zack at some point nicknamed her the Bird. Love the book title, love the nicknames. In fact, I loved every minute of this book. It stirred me up and made me hop onto my pogo stick. I hope this memoir gets more visibility. Right now it’s one of my favorite secret gems. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Petra-masx

    A 2.5 book upgraded to 4 because of insights. Very thought-provoking. I finished the book despite long periods of boredom. The author's descriptions of his psychosis were interesting as were his observations of his job and clients - he is a Public Defender. He made me think, which is what I like best about books, when he said that he did his job because he didn't believe much in choice. He didn't believe that many people chose to be dreadful people or to go to prison, but that their life and the A 2.5 book upgraded to 4 because of insights. Very thought-provoking. I finished the book despite long periods of boredom. The author's descriptions of his psychosis were interesting as were his observations of his job and clients - he is a Public Defender. He made me think, which is what I like best about books, when he said that he did his job because he didn't believe much in choice. He didn't believe that many people chose to be dreadful people or to go to prison, but that their life and their frame of reference often because of their upbringing and environment, was all skewed. The most amusing and intriguing part of the book was that some bipolar (as the author is) and schizophrenic patients are convinced that they are the stars of their own reality shows and therefore everything that happens, in and out of a mental ward, is due to the producers decisions. The staff and people in the street are all actors, and the star is being fed lines and situations, they are only playing their part. "This is a distinctly modern phenomenon", he says. True, you couldn't imagine it happening in, say Victorian times. There was one other uh-huh moment, that is when the author is writing about his grandiose, irresponsible and thoroughly dislikeable father (very unlike the author whom I liked a great deal) when he says that his father has taught him the distinction between sanity and lucidity. The author lost both of these when he was psychotic, however his father was lucid - he spoke in sentences that people could understand and 'was generally on the same page as everyone else', but was he sane? A man who was forever thinking up Hollywood films he was going to do and musicals from Bruce Springsteen he was going to produce, when essentially he was a bum. Interesting that, thinking of lucidity and sanity. Because of such interesting points to ponder, the book gets 4 stars. If I was rating it on enjoyment it would have been 3, barely. Notes when reading the book Bait and switch, all tell and no show. I picked up this book because two of my favourite reviewers raved over it. I'm just over a third of the way through and feel that the title should have been "Gorilla and the Bird: A memoir of my Mother's love and loves, her life, my grandmother's life, my grandfather's life and oh yes, madness, which we will get round to discussing at some point". If it doesn't pick up in a few more chapters it's going to be the first dnf of 2018.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    His mother nicknamed him gorilla when he was a child, because he had a very hairy back. He called her the bird. This is a story of the devastation of mental illness, it is also a story of a mother's fierce, abiding love for her child. Mental illness ran in their family, but Zack had no clue the havoc this would cause in his own life. A public defender, overworked, overburdened, way to many people, with too many problems, the mentally ill, all came to rest on his shoulders. To relieve his stress, His mother nicknamed him gorilla when he was a child, because he had a very hairy back. He called her the bird. This is a story of the devastation of mental illness, it is also a story of a mother's fierce, abiding love for her child. Mental illness ran in their family, but Zack had no clue the havoc this would cause in his own life. A public defender, overworked, overburdened, way to many people, with too many problems, the mentally ill, all came to rest on his shoulders. To relieve his stress, he drank, smoked pot, and taken together it was more than his mental state could bear. He broke. Years, in and out of various hospitals, we get an inside look at private institutions and state run institutions. A look at a young man suffering terribly in what should be the prime of his life. This is told in a very humorous, and self deprecating manner. Some of the things he does, think when in the midst of a manic epidode, are funny, and I felt okay laughing because of the way he was Tell ng his story. Scary for him too, but his mom was always there, if not in person, then a phone call a way. She grounded him, loved him, talked to him, and helped him, along with his psychiatrist to find ways to recognize when he was on the edge. So while parts of this were very poignant, other parts were very hopeful. I admire this young man, able to tell his story, make his private ordeal public. Admire his mother, who pulled him out of himself, time and time again. Lastly, this is a novel of hope, daring to love, to risk oneself, put oneself out there, not knowing what would happen. Good stuff here, stories like these make us aware of the huge, personal cost of mental illness. ARC from Netgalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    A high 4 stars. Gorilla and the Bird has a raw honesty that really comes through in the audiobook. Zack McDermott is Gorilla to his mother who is Bird to him. McDermott comes from Wichita, Kansas. Despite an economically challenging childhood, his uncanny intelligence, his mother’s unwavering love and support, and massive student loans allowed him to became lawyer. Soon after starting work as a public defender in Brooklyn where he represented clients with serious mental health issues, he had a ps A high 4 stars. Gorilla and the Bird has a raw honesty that really comes through in the audiobook. Zack McDermott is Gorilla to his mother who is Bird to him. McDermott comes from Wichita, Kansas. Despite an economically challenging childhood, his uncanny intelligence, his mother’s unwavering love and support, and massive student loans allowed him to became lawyer. Soon after starting work as a public defender in Brooklyn where he represented clients with serious mental health issues, he had a psychotic episode and was diagnosed as bipolar 1. His memoir moves back and forth in time between his childhood and his life as an adult with a serious mental illness. There is much I liked about McDermott’s memoir but two things really stand out. First, he gives voice to a person with a serious mental illness in a way that makes who he is so much more than his illness. When dealing with people with serious illnesses, it’s easy to forget that illness is not a person’s defining characteristic. McDermott is ridiculously articulate, funny, insightful and crude — and unfortunately he lives on the precipice of ever potential psychotic breaks. Second, I was in awe of his mother and their mutual love and respect. Bird is a superhuman force in McDermott’s life and the lives of many teenagers to whom she has been a teacher. Fortunately, McDermott gets this and pays homage to her throughout the book. She’s not a martyr or a saint; she’s just awesome in the true sense of the word. Thanks to Debbie for nudging me a few times to read this one. Well worth it. I especially highly recommend the audio.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    That was brave. Zack McDermott holds nothing back in this painfully honest memoir that is also a love letter to his most deserving mother, who may be the living embodiment of a saint. This covers everything: insomnia, ideas spiraling out of control, bizarre behavior, manic episodes, drugs, judgement, support and crushing fear. He tells his story of living with and fighting against mental illness with self-deprecating humor and a truly affable tone. The last thing I expected to encounter in these That was brave. Zack McDermott holds nothing back in this painfully honest memoir that is also a love letter to his most deserving mother, who may be the living embodiment of a saint. This covers everything: insomnia, ideas spiraling out of control, bizarre behavior, manic episodes, drugs, judgement, support and crushing fear. He tells his story of living with and fighting against mental illness with self-deprecating humor and a truly affable tone. The last thing I expected to encounter in these pages was true humor, but it is there, and there is a lot of it, especially back in Wichita at the family Christmas. As an underpaid public defender living in the city, he is not only likable but relatable. Very intelligent and an excellent writer, this guy is your friend from college or your neighbor growing up; he has risen above his circumstances but still has love and loyalty for his beginnings, he works and parties hard, but he is empathic and kind. He’s a guy trying to do the right thing. This becomes an inside look at bipolar disorder, as the author explains how all of these moments (from manic episodes to psychiatric hospital stays) feel to him, and he does so with unexpected clarity and understanding of how it looks to everyone else. The result is sometimes funny and very often heartbreaking. An achievement to be celebrated beyond his triumphs, is this thoroughly readable true story that drags this ugly disorder out into the light. Well done, Gorilla. May you carry on helping others, may you continue to feel well, and may you realize your work in these regards honors the incredible example set by your mother. I hope you own that and celebrate that in sharing your story, you are a light in the dark. 4.5 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    [4.5] This book is a gift to those of us who want to better understand mental illness. McDermott writes about his bipolar episodes with power and impressive clarity. Reading about his psychotic breaks and depression is painful (especially the hospitalizations) but he balances these descriptions with infusions of warmth and humor. This memoir is really a homage to his mother, the Bird, whose grit and love save the day. Wonderful and illuminating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    As a public defender in New York City, Zack McDermott worked with seemingly crazy people every day at Legal Aid, little knowing that he was on his way to a psychotic break himself. Soon he’d covered the walls of his apartment with marker scrawl and fully taken on his stand-up comedian persona, Myles. Convinced that he was in a Truman Show-style reality show, he ended up half-naked and crying on a subway platform. That’s when the police showed up to take him to Bellevue mental hospital. McDermott As a public defender in New York City, Zack McDermott worked with seemingly crazy people every day at Legal Aid, little knowing that he was on his way to a psychotic break himself. Soon he’d covered the walls of his apartment with marker scrawl and fully taken on his stand-up comedian persona, Myles. Convinced that he was in a Truman Show-style reality show, he ended up half-naked and crying on a subway platform. That’s when the police showed up to take him to Bellevue mental hospital. McDermott takes readers on a wild tour through his life: from growing up with a no-good drug addict father and a Superwoman high school teacher mother in Wichita, Kansas “a baloney sandwich throw from the trailer park” to confronting his demons via multiple mental hospital stays and finally getting medication and developing strategies that would keep his bipolar disorder under control. His sense of pace and ear for dialogue are terrific. Despite the vivid Cuckoo’s Nest-style settings, this book is downright funny where others might turn the subject matter achingly sad. It’s a wonderful memoir that should attract those who don’t normally read nonfiction. (An explanatory note: “Gorilla” is McDermott’s nickname and “The Bird” is his mother’s; she’s the real hero of this book.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave. 3.5 stars. An intimate and often humorous look at the author's experience with bipolar disorder. Although I have close family and friends suffering from this disease, I learned so much about what it feels like experiencing it from the inside and not just seeing it from the outside looking in. Especially the warning signs that comes with lack of sleep was interesting and helpful. The author's stints in psychiatric hospita Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave. 3.5 stars. An intimate and often humorous look at the author's experience with bipolar disorder. Although I have close family and friends suffering from this disease, I learned so much about what it feels like experiencing it from the inside and not just seeing it from the outside looking in. Especially the warning signs that comes with lack of sleep was interesting and helpful. The author's stints in psychiatric hospitals shows us that maybe things have not changed in these institutions as much we would like to believe, but at least they provide somewhere where you can recharge until you are ready to face the real world again. The author shows us that he is more than just his illness, by sharing other parts of his life with us. I really enjoyed reading about his passion for his job as a public defender, and how difficult it is to try and help people if you are only allowed a few minutes with each. His desire to help people comes from his amazing mother, the Bird, who never gave up on her dreams and helps desperate people achieve theirs every day. I also enjoyed reading about his hillbilly family, who provided much comic relief. The big thing I got from this book though is that mental illness is something that invades all aspects of your life, and is something you have to life with every day.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Toni

    If you know someone with a mental illness and have tried to understand their dilemma, this memoir is the perfect explanation. Zack grew up with a great mother, who he nicknamed, "the Bird" but father figures were another story. His grandparents, especially his grandmother, were a solid foundation he could seek for solace , love and home cooked food. Since education was important to his Mom all three siblings graduated from college. Zack, called the "Gorilla" by his mom because of his hairy body, If you know someone with a mental illness and have tried to understand their dilemma, this memoir is the perfect explanation. Zack grew up with a great mother, who he nicknamed, "the Bird" but father figures were another story. His grandparents, especially his grandmother, were a solid foundation he could seek for solace , love and home cooked food. Since education was important to his Mom all three siblings graduated from college. Zack, called the "Gorilla" by his mom because of his hairy body, went on to get his JD and practice law as a public defender in Brooklyn, N.Y.. Stress in this job combined with inherited bipolar genes, most like from his Uncle Eddie and back, contributed to Zack's first meltdown or panic attack. He bravely takes us through his years of conscious mania, but unable to stop the disease from overtaking his mind and letting him think normally or even to sleep. Enduring several psychiatric hospital stays, some where he feared bodily harm, his mom was always there to support him and bring him calm to reenter the world. I strongly recommend the audio, read by the author, in his own strong and entertaining voice. A story of pain and suffering, told with intelligence and humor, straight from his beautiful heart and mind. You'll fall in love. Tremendous.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    The story opens mid-psychotic breakdown. Zack is convinced, and I was almost convinced right along with him, that he is in the middle of some huge reality TV cast walking the streets of New York. Being in the head of someone mid psychotic breakdown was eye-opening and done very well. But its not just the story, but the way it was told that made me turn the pages faster and faster. The author clearly has a talent to bring out the funny in situations. ”Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like tr The story opens mid-psychotic breakdown. Zack is convinced, and I was almost convinced right along with him, that he is in the middle of some huge reality TV cast walking the streets of New York. Being in the head of someone mid psychotic breakdown was eye-opening and done very well. But its not just the story, but the way it was told that made me turn the pages faster and faster. The author clearly has a talent to bring out the funny in situations. ”Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave” So yes, there are many funny moments in the book, but this is still a look at mental illness, so it was also at times heart-breaking seeing Zack struggling again and again to grasp and understand his disease. Now his mother was a force all on her own. Not just in his life but in the lives of her students. ”To call the Bird a teacher would be like saying Obama was a civil servant” As a teacher she was drawn to the degenerates, high school dropouts and parole enforced students. Its no surprise that Zack chose to become a Public Defense lawyer working with the dregs of society on a daily basis. I think what will stay with me is the fact that once Zack had his first psychotic breakdown and recovered it did not mean he was “cured”. This was (and I am sure still is) an ongoing struggle that he had to make peace with. This is an excellent memoir balancing mental illness with humour in it’s telling.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ericka Clouther

    In the text: The memoir is very well written. McDermott has a clear talent for language and is exceptionally smart. His personal story about mental illness is very interesting. He conveys his personal experiences in a very raw and emotional manner. It's riveting throughout. During the period of the memoir, he's an attorney and a public defender. The things he writes about the legal system are extremely important and well-expressed. I'm not sure what the solution is outside of legislation and bett In the text: The memoir is very well written. McDermott has a clear talent for language and is exceptionally smart. His personal story about mental illness is very interesting. He conveys his personal experiences in a very raw and emotional manner. It's riveting throughout. During the period of the memoir, he's an attorney and a public defender. The things he writes about the legal system are extremely important and well-expressed. I'm not sure what the solution is outside of legislation and better mental health facilities, and Congress is currently under siege by a party that does not care about these issues. He's no longer practicing. The way he writes about his mother and other important people in his life is very touching. It's definitely a love story too. It's just a very good memoir. Outside the text: I know the author from law school in Virginia. I also know other people with bipolar disorder, who when they are not in the midst of a full-blown episode, are really nice people. In law school, he regularly went out of his way to be rude to me when presumably he was not in the midst of an episode. The harassment came in the form of emails to our entire section, yelling at me in the school, and destruction of my property. Additionally, he definitely had some serious breakdowns in law school before the NYC subway incident that he's left out of the story. While the author gives the impression of being very honest in the memoir, the omission of the law school breakdowns makes me wonder what else he is leaving out to conceal his character. I can relate to a lot of what he writes. When we were growing up money was definitely an issue. I lived with my grandparents for several years, and when I lived with my parents we ate a lot of pasta with nothing on it because it was cheap. In my case, no one in my family owned a house, but I was fortunate in that my parents rented in a good school system. In my case, it was my stepdad who was my "Bird." He has since passed away. Working hard at school and ultimately going to law school was supposed to be the way out. I also thought that (at least eventually) I'd find a way to really help people and do something meaningful with my degree. I also went to work as an attorney in New York City after law school, and it was extremely stressful. Many of my coworkers and I were at a minimum borderline depressed, and some sought out treatment and medication. Life knocked me down repeatedly too and it's a struggle I can relate to in general if not in the particulars. Reading the memoir makes me sadder that this person and I had really negative interactions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stacey A. Prose and Palate

    "I looked forward to the Bird's visits, but there were only two hours per day during which she was allowed. Every minute of every visiting opportunity, she was there. Ten minutes early, lined up at the door, ready to go through security -- she was there. She didn't panic, Not in front of me.... She wanted the staff to know I was not the man they saw. "This is not my son," she'd say. "This is my son," and she'd flash photos she'd brought with her of me looking "normal". To humanize me -- to let t "I looked forward to the Bird's visits, but there were only two hours per day during which she was allowed. Every minute of every visiting opportunity, she was there. Ten minutes early, lined up at the door, ready to go through security -- she was there. She didn't panic, Not in front of me.... She wanted the staff to know I was not the man they saw. "This is not my son," she'd say. "This is my son," and she'd flash photos she'd brought with her of me looking "normal". To humanize me -- to let them know not to discard this one. He is loved. He's coming back. Help him." • • • EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I do not make that disclaimer often but I stand by it and list Gorilla and the Bird as another one of my Top Reads of 2017. Zack McDermott is a bright, hilarious, kind attorney who works in New York. He also lives with bipolar disorder. This book is a powerful, heartbreaking look into what it is like to live with mental illness and a gorgeous testament to the limitless love and devotion of an incredible mother who never gave up on her son or the children she took in and mentored. Zack was working as a public defender (whose clients were often mentally ill themselves), when he had his first complete psychotic break. He would go on to be hospitalized several more times, becoming painfully aware of when he was losing his grip on reality and slipping in to madness. The candor and authenticity with which he writes regarding his illness was incredibly compelling and his mother's unwavering support of him was one of the most inspiring things I have read in a very long time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    While I thought the memoir was well-written and a great way to get a better understanding of psychosis, I was almost more interested in his mom's story. Can we get a book about Zack's mom?!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Caity

    I devoured this audiobook that Zack McDermott narrates himself. His memoir is a gritty look into the thoughts and experiences of someone with Bipolar Disorder. This book is as much about self love and acceptance as it is about the love between McDermott and his family. My favorite parts all involve simple dialogue that is familiar to those of us who have cared for someone struggling with mental illness. It is such a unique story, but it sheds light into the similar experiences that many young pe I devoured this audiobook that Zack McDermott narrates himself. His memoir is a gritty look into the thoughts and experiences of someone with Bipolar Disorder. This book is as much about self love and acceptance as it is about the love between McDermott and his family. My favorite parts all involve simple dialogue that is familiar to those of us who have cared for someone struggling with mental illness. It is such a unique story, but it sheds light into the similar experiences that many young people must navigate. The stark contrast between New York City and Wichita, Kansas parallels the binary nature of Bipolar Disorder, making this book more of an experience rather than a read. When I wasn’t listening to the book, I was wishing I was. I will re-read this on paper just to experience it again and in a different way. I highly recommend this book. In terms of books about mental illness, it may only be second to The Bell Jar on my list of favorites.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This is a fantastic memoir by a public defender with bipolar disorder, who occasionally experiences intense psychotic episodes. Zack McDermott is an excellent storyteller and onetime aspiring comedian, so this book will pull you right in, keep you rapt and sometimes make you laugh, despite its sometimes heavy subject matter. The beginning of the book throws readers right into McDermott’s first psychotic episode: having met with a producer about his comedy routine only a few days before, he walks This is a fantastic memoir by a public defender with bipolar disorder, who occasionally experiences intense psychotic episodes. Zack McDermott is an excellent storyteller and onetime aspiring comedian, so this book will pull you right in, keep you rapt and sometimes make you laugh, despite its sometimes heavy subject matter. The beginning of the book throws readers right into McDermott’s first psychotic episode: having met with a producer about his comedy routine only a few days before, he walks out of his apartment convinced that he is in the middle of an audition. He wanders New York City for hours, acting wacky for the cameras, until the police pick him up and take him to the hospital. Over the next couple of years, he’s hospitalized several times, struggling but eventually learning how to keep his disease under control. He is supported throughout by his mom “the Bird,” a rock star teacher of underprivileged teens who is there for her kid no matter what. The book also traces McDermott’s childhood – growing up poor in Kansas City with a single mom putting herself through school – and includes a fair bit about his work as a public defender. (I enjoyed those bits a lot; they are as no-holds-barred as the rest of the book.) McDermott would probably make an excellent novelist, because he turns his life into a compelling story, with humor and sharp dialogue alongside a gripping plot. I read it very quickly, and it’s one of those books that’s hard to review in part because when I return to look at something in the book, I start reading it again. It seems to me that, despite some dark subject matter, the author chose to put an optimistic spin on his life in the book; an essay published the same week includes some of the same material but also discusses trauma that’s absent from the memoir. It seems like the book’s happy ending is true as far as it goes, but also isn’t the whole story. Probably no memoir is. At any rate, it’s an excellent book. And without ever appearing to have an agenda (the author seems more upset about the way poor people of color are treated in the criminal justice system than anything that happens to him), the book challenges the stigma around mental illness, as well as the notion that a serious mental illness will inevitably ruin someone’s life or end in tragedy. I definitely recommend this one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Pennylope

    Trying to put my thoughts together on this book and struggle to say more than: "read this." It hits all 3 of my top reading categories: memoir, mental illness, public defense. But the way that McDermott writes about his mental illness (with shockingly stark clarity even during his psychotic break) and about his career in public defense makes this a must read in my opinion.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Long

    One of the best memoirs about bipolar disorder that I have ever read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maya Sophia

    I adored this memoir so much, I flew through it in two days. Zack was a public defender who was very familiar with one side of the criminal justice system, including how severely mentally ill people are treated and dealt with, when he first experienced psychosis as a result of his bipolar I disorder. I thought the way he described how he experienced psychosis was eye opening and fascinating. That kind of thing is extremely hard to understand as a person who has never experienced it, but he did a I adored this memoir so much, I flew through it in two days. Zack was a public defender who was very familiar with one side of the criminal justice system, including how severely mentally ill people are treated and dealt with, when he first experienced psychosis as a result of his bipolar I disorder. I thought the way he described how he experienced psychosis was eye opening and fascinating. That kind of thing is extremely hard to understand as a person who has never experienced it, but he did a wonderful job showing me what it could be like to experience psychosis, at least from his perspective. It was so interesting how he could flip from the legalese side of things to the mentally ill patient side of things and his insights about those two sides were thoughtful and interesting. Lastly, I just adored his relationship with his mother and the bit that he spoke about his wife and her role in his life. His mother in particular is an incredible human being and her capacity for empathy and her dedication both to her son and in her work as a teacher was inspiring.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill Elizabeth

    ---------- "...there is a real, and very important, distinction between sanity and lucidity" ---------- I have long been fascinated by stories about mental health and the myriad ways our brains can betray us. It always seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal - when you cannot trust yourself to be yourself, what on earth can you trust? In this amazing story, Zack transitions from a successful Public Defender helping those who cannot help themselves to a man suffering from a psychotic break who cann ---------- "...there is a real, and very important, distinction between sanity and lucidity" ---------- I have long been fascinated by stories about mental health and the myriad ways our brains can betray us. It always seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal - when you cannot trust yourself to be yourself, what on earth can you trust? In this amazing story, Zack transitions from a successful Public Defender helping those who cannot help themselves to a man suffering from a psychotic break who cannot be trusted to take care of himself. The transition is a startling one - it happens in the flip of a page (in reality, several weeks), and the shift is both inexplicable and terrifying. As the book unfolds, his family and childhood history are gradually explained and the shift seems less inexplicable - but never any less terrifying. ---------- "It all felt too good. I knew I was flying too close to the sun. But that's the problem with feeling good - nobody ever says 'I feel really good. No, like really, really good. I need to stop feeling this good - time to change something here.'" "'You will be okay' means you're in an abyss right now, and I got nothing for you. You never get step-by-step instructions for emerging from the abyss." ---------- Zack's journey (he's the eponymous Gorilla) is brutal and heart-breaking. Equally so is the effect that it has on his mother (the Bird). The ups and downs are a roller-coaster ride into, through, and out of hell, as Zack undergoes commitment at multiple facilities - each of which is a hell of its own. This is not a tale for the faint of heart; it is stark and depressing and scary to see how someone's brain can turn on them and take them down such a long dark tunnel. It took tremendous courage to write this memoir - courage that Zack and his mother obviously have in spades, since they've survived thus far. It's a darkly beautiful testimony to survival and the strength that people find within themselves when life derails their carefully constructed world so completely, leaving a trail of devastation a mile wide behind it... Here's hoping they both manage to regain - and, most importantly, retain - their footing along the way. My review copy was provided by NetGalley.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Constance

    By the time Zack approaches his third hospitalization, you can feel your heart breaking for him. He's already had to hold his head up and return to his work as a public defender after treating his coworkers to increasingly manic, then psychotic behavior. His memoir starts with a madcap romp through New York City; he inserts himself in a soccer game, raps with four brahs on a corner, sees Daniel Day-Lewis, and winds up losing his clothes on the subway. Nothing seems weird to him because they ever By the time Zack approaches his third hospitalization, you can feel your heart breaking for him. He's already had to hold his head up and return to his work as a public defender after treating his coworkers to increasingly manic, then psychotic behavior. His memoir starts with a madcap romp through New York City; he inserts himself in a soccer game, raps with four brahs on a corner, sees Daniel Day-Lewis, and winds up losing his clothes on the subway. Nothing seems weird to him because they everyone is just an extra in the movie he is starring in--literally; he is the real life Truman. His anchor throughout his journey in and out of madness is his mother, a dedicated teacher who deftly handles at risk youth in her work in Witchita, Kansas, and her son's diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Mental illness is not for the weak of character. In many ways, this is a love letter to McDermott's mother, aka, the Bird. McDermott does an amazing job of presenting how things begin to skew in his brain, as he becomes increasing agitated, thoughts racing, unable to sleep, his ideas are epic. He is a superhero with superhuman speed, talent, and acumen. He also delivers an affecting portrait of his job helping those most unable to help themselves navigate the legal system. The author's sense of place is palpable--whether it's the city streets or visiting his old stomping ground in the "'ta." His wide eyed portrayals of his white trash relatives and his estranged, low life father who is forever "getting his head of his ass," are brutally, and sometimes comically, honest. It's an inspiring story. The Bird's example of achieving her own dreams (a BA and MA) while working full time, balancing bad husbands and three children certainly impacts Zack and gives him courage in facing his illness and treating it as such.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    I am so passionate about this book. Even when it ended I felt so invested in Zack’s story. a very touching memoir. I love The Bird and her unconditionally love her patience her dedication. We need to as a society become invested in mental health, it shouldn’t be such a stigma. I really appreciated the company The Gorilla worked for too. I was left hoping that each company or business any of my loved ones worked for would allow them the time that they would need to focus on their health. This is I am so passionate about this book. Even when it ended I felt so invested in Zack’s story. a very touching memoir. I love The Bird and her unconditionally love her patience her dedication. We need to as a society become invested in mental health, it shouldn’t be such a stigma. I really appreciated the company The Gorilla worked for too. I was left hoping that each company or business any of my loved ones worked for would allow them the time that they would need to focus on their health. This is a book I urge you to read. I’m a fan of Zack McDermott and I am rooting for him.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mollie

    I’m glad I read this. It gave me a lot of empathy for people struggling with severe bipolar disorder and psychosis. Being that it’s subtitled “a memoir of madness and a mother’s love,” I wanted to hear much more about his mother. It seemed like some other side stories received unnecessary attention and his relationship with his mom got pushed to the sidelines. That said, I’d recommend it. A unique topic and a story worth reading.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Renee Smith

    I won this on the Goodreads giveaway. It was really interesting, having dealt with Bipolar people myself. I really liked it. His conversations with all the imaginary things were often funny sometimes sad. I found this book very good. When it is out you should read it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I hope the author is doing alright, and that he’s still married! So hard to live with a severe mental illness.His mom is an amazing person as well! Great title too! The author, a public defender,show cases how our court system works against poor usually minority males.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alyse Stolz

    I loved this book. Definitely somewhere in the 4.5 range for me. I’ve never heard a more detailed, honest, and generally relatable telling of what it is like to experience mental illness. The details about the manic episodes and psychotic breaks and living with bipolar disorder was so fascinating. Zack MacDermott does an incredible job of telling his story, taking the reader inside his brain, and knocking down any boundaries that most people put up when it comes to their mental health. Also, can I I loved this book. Definitely somewhere in the 4.5 range for me. I’ve never heard a more detailed, honest, and generally relatable telling of what it is like to experience mental illness. The details about the manic episodes and psychotic breaks and living with bipolar disorder was so fascinating. Zack MacDermott does an incredible job of telling his story, taking the reader inside his brain, and knocking down any boundaries that most people put up when it comes to their mental health. Also, can I just talk about how much I love The Bird? I’m seriously obsessed with her. Like I would freak out and jump for joy if I met her IRL. Talk about the world’s most bad ass mom. Highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone! I see this book doing amazing things to help normalize what it means to live with a mental illness. It’s just one hairy guy’s experience, but it’s really beautiful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julia Siwierka

    I am not claiming to know his experience, however, having lived in Wichita for 4 years, there are so many aspects of his time here that speak to me in many ways. Naturally, his mental health experiences were eye opening, and I am grateful for having the chance to feel his thoughts through this book. But the lives described in Wichita are so real to me and explain so much about him, the Bird, and their care for one another, as well as how the environments around them exasperated some of their fee I am not claiming to know his experience, however, having lived in Wichita for 4 years, there are so many aspects of his time here that speak to me in many ways. Naturally, his mental health experiences were eye opening, and I am grateful for having the chance to feel his thoughts through this book. But the lives described in Wichita are so real to me and explain so much about him, the Bird, and their care for one another, as well as how the environments around them exasperated some of their feelings. I’ve loved hearing stories from fellow Wichitans who work with the Bird, and yes, she is just as caring and kind as she is portrayed.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ivana

    This book was truly unputdownable! There were a few times when I had to remind myself that this is a memoir and, holy shit, this actually happened to this guy. There's something about his unbridled honesty and his humanity that made me feel intimately linked to him and the Bird. I really can't recommend this book enough. It'll be one of those I'll re-read as the years go by. Thank you, Zack, for writing this book. I, too, am better for having read it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kaci Kennedy

    4.5 stars rounded up The author’s mom is amazing. Multiple times while reading I cried beautiful tears in response to how his mom responded to her son during his journey.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    So beautifully written and such a powerful illustration of how amazing mothers are. Wowza! It feels weird to say but I cannot over-estimate how much this book taught me about mania, mental illness, and the legal system. Equal parts emotional and informative.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steve Horowitt

    This memoir has instantly become one of my favorites. Fast and furious, intimate and frenzied, I loved taking this journey with Zack and Bird. I literally could not put this book down.

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