Staying Sane

A Struggle of Survival

Non-Fiction - Health - Medical
249 Pages
Reviewed on 09/04/2018
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Author Biography

Emma Volesky was born in Helena, Montana. She has been diagnosed with three severe mental illnesses and has fought them throughout her life. Finding inspiration to write her book about her struggles and successes was one of the biggest accomplishments that has ever come to her. She now resides in Everett, Washington with her boyfriend and her Australian Shepherd Rev. She uses her time advocating for mental health.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival is a nonfiction coming of age memoir written by Emma Volesky. Emma first experienced hallucinations when she was eight years old. She watched, horrified, as sticks danced around her bed at night, and formless white shapes crawled up the walls. Were they real? She had no way of distinguishing what was real and what was a hallucination. Her aunt had committed suicide before Emma was born, and while she had been diagnosed as having depression at the time, she was also, like Emma, bipolar. Living with mental illness was a continuing struggle for Emma as she was growing up, despite the love and acceptance of her parents and six siblings. There were the mood swings, the intense episodes of hyperactivity and the endless humiliation caused by the inappropriate things she would say at social gatherings. Most of all there was the pain, unending and so unbearable that suicide often seemed to offer the only relief. Emma would be hospitalized on a number of occasions. Sometimes it was necessary to help her survive her need to destroy herself, but other times, it was to adjust the dosages and combinations of the different drugs that kept her mind balanced.

In Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival, Emma Volesky shares her story of living with mental illness, a condition she didn’t ask for yet she bore the stigma throughout her years in school. While many of us ruefully remember just how cruel kids in school can be to the odd one out, Emma’s experiences were particularly awful, and I could empathize with her desire to run out of class and her growing hatred of the educational process. This was particularly saddening as Emma’s love of reading and scholastic aptitude made her a natural for academic pursuits. Fortunately for us, she’s also a gifted writer who lets us see her world so vividly. It’s not always an easy ride, but, overall, I couldn’t help but feel her strength and determination coming through on every page of this most illuminating and honest memoir about living with mental illness. I’m especially looking forward to reading more works by this talented author. Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival is most highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival is a specific look at the trauma of mental illness, penned by author Emma Volesky. In a frank discussion of the condition, the author reveals that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at an extremely young age, and uses the form of memoir non-fiction to convey episodes from her life and how difficult it has been to live with it. Written as a message of solidarity for other young people, to show that there are others going through the struggle who make it to the other side and become successful people, the account is honest and upsetting but also cautiously hopeful in its presentation.

Books like this are so incredibly important in an age where mental illness has become a buzzword, yet nobody truly stops to understand and empathize with the condition. Emma Volesky bravely tells her story, explaining the problems she experienced from an extremely young age where she had no idea what was going on, and going some way to empathize with her parents too and what they had to cope with when she was only seven. From there, the well-written prose takes us on a harrowing journey that comes to life, through different doctors and crippling medical experiences that show the realities of being prodded and poked, often to no avail. Overall, Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival is exactly what its title promises; a frank look at combating seemingly uncontrollable mental illness. It is an important read that everyone should be aware of.

Lorraine Cobcroft

Emma Volesky is an inspiring and courageous woman. Different from birth - in ways that must have caused her parents deep distress - she was to later be noted in records as the youngest person in Montana to be diagnosed as bipolar. Clearly, she has lived though hell, but she has lived to tell the tale, and to give others hope, strength and guidance. In Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival, Emma relates her story from diagnosis of bipolar at age eight, to triumph and hope at age 18. Staying Sane puts mental illness under the microscope, offering us inside knowledge of the journey of survivors. Emma Volesky concludes her story by relating the joy she feels speaking publicly about her illness to offer support and help to others who suffer and to their families. She talks of her hope for the future she came so close to never living to see.

Emma writes honestly and in detail, with extraordinary courage, strength and resilience, holding nothing back. She writes well, bringing characters and scenes to life. Staying Sane lays bare all the horror, embarrassment, and painful emotions Emma experienced growing up. It gives us a peek into the lives of her parents and siblings, and their suffering as they struggle with Emma's often disturbing behaviour, and with the awful hurt those who love the mentally ill endure. It speaks volumes about social attitudes, exposing both the cruelty and the kindness Emma experiences from teachers and peers.

Emma is to be commended for having the courage to write her story. It's a story that others affected by mental illness - whether sufferers or supporters of sufferers - should definitely read. It's a story that gives sufferers hope. It's a story that assists the depth of understanding required to offer genuine support. It's a story that hopefully will increase tolerance in society. It's a story that needed to be told. Mental illness will touch all of us one way or another at some point in our lives. We all need to understand it. Staying Sane should be compulsory reading for everyone - not just those directly impacted by mental illness.

Ankita Shukla

Mental illness is a struggle that takes its toll not only on the person who is suffering, but also on their friends and family. We often find ourselves at a loss in understanding the complexities of such problems. Several of us claim that there is no such thing as a mental illness; it's only a lack of common sense and an easy way to attract attention. However, Emma Volesky talks in so much depth about her bipolar condition in Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival that eliminates any or all shreds of doubt from the reader's mind. I had always wondered what goes on inside the mind of a person suffering any mental illness but not after reading this book. Emma has opened up about every gruesome, confusing, annoying, and conflicting detail that ran through her mind.

Emma struggled with her mental condition since early childhood. Her mood swings, violent thoughts against her own siblings, feeling that everyone was talking about her behind her back, and seeing strange white distorted figures are just a few of those symptoms. Normal everyday chores to which nobody gives a second thought pushed her towards suicidal thoughts. To her, death seemed like a getaway from each problem. She would get into trouble by acting on the thoughts in her head, but she lacked rational thinking at times like this. For instance, the idea of pressing a pillow on the face of her sleeping sister just to see what would happen appeared perfectly normal to her. The after-effects of executing such ideas, as expected, were always negative, which further pushed her into never-ending confusing thoughts. This was her "normal."

Before you discard this as a very dark book, think again. Yes, this is a book about the negative and dark parts of Emma's life, but it is also filled with the power of love, care, and family. After reading it, a reader would be forced to re-evaluate their take on life. They would be encouraged to think 'if she can do it, so can I.' Moreover, it is a memoir that would help in understanding mental illness. All our assumptions are validated and/or changed for good. I would recommend it to readers who wish to know more about mental illness, the people who are suffering with such conditions, and the families who are in similar situations.

Amazon Customer

This book is amazing as it takes you inside the daily struggle of a person with mental illness. Thank you Emma for sharing your story!

Amazon Customer

This book is amazing as it takes you inside the daily struggle of a person with mental illness. Thank you Emma for sharing your story!

Amazon Customer

Excellent book!

Amazon Customer


Amazon Customer

An excellent review of an individual experiencing mental illness from early childhood to adulthood. I could not set this book down once I began reading it!

Amazon Customer

This is a very honest view of Emma's struggles growing up with mental illness. It provides insight through the eyes of a child that most don't understand. Well done Emma, well done.

Amazon Customer

So proud of you Emma for all you've overcome and for helping others with this book. I'm proud to say that I know you and your wonderful family. I know you'll keep doing great things!

Amazon Customer

Emma is a wonderful young woman who has the courage to share her "struggle of survival." She does so beautifully in her book,
Staying Sane: A Struggle of Survival. I recommend it for anyone living with mental illness themselves, and for family and friends.

Worth it

This book is a book I would highly recommend to people who don’t have a clue of what it is like for a person with mental illness, it truly captures the depth of how chaotic the mind could be. Being a person who personally knows the writer I would say “she is one strong girl, who has been through more than what she deserves” this story of hers is one you should read. A truly inspirational person she is.

Meg Davis

This is a book that truly puts you in the mind of someone struggling with mental health issues. The story is told straight from her thought processes, and at times it gets difficult to read, as it is so honest and raw. I would recommend this book not only to those who have family members with a mental illness, but to everyone. We need more people like Emma to come forward with their stories.

Proud of you, Em!