So-Called Normal

A Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience

Non-Fiction - Memoir
304 Pages
Reviewed on 11/13/2020
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Author Biography

MARK HENICK’s TEDx talk about the stranger who saved his life has been viewed millions of times, and is among the most watched TEDx talks ever. Mark has appeared in hundreds of television, radio, print and online features about mental health. As host of both his So-Called Normal podcast, and the Living Well podcast for Morneau Shepell, he has interviewed well over a hundred experts, celebrities, and public figures about mental health. Mark previously served as the youngest ever board director for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the youngest president of a provincial Canadian Mental Health Association division in history. Mark’s various roles at CMHA have included frontline clinician, program manager, and most recently as National Director of Strategic Initiatives. Presently, Mark owns a boutique mental health media consulting firm, and he is a high-demand international keynote speaker on mental health recovery.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

So-Called Normal by Mark Henick is a memoir of the author's struggles as he is forced to endure mental health issues as part of his daily life. From childhood Henick is at odds with his family, first his philandering father and then his subsequent step-father, Gary, a man with a short fuse, a wicked temper, and the physical strength to tear Henick and his brother Ray down. The emotional abuse is equally frightening and Gary uses scare tactics, intimidation, homophobia, and manipulation to solidify control. Around the age of twelve Henick's mental health issues began to impact his life both in and outside the home, and he traverses them with mixed levels of support and success. His clinical depression and anxiety intensify and a string of unfortunate events dot his journey. Therapy, psych wards, and suicide attempts culminate into one fateful encounter that changes the trajectory of his life.

So-Called Normal is an engrossing memoir, written with the flourish generally only found in fiction as Mark Henick narrates his story in the first person. I think the standout for me was the way he was able to shift through the story in an organic way, allowing a reader to grow along with him as he matures. His sister Krista having nerves of absolute steel make for moments of levity in a narrative that is frequently sad and intense. His mother's love for her children and her fallibility toward the men in her life, and her own fears and insecurities, develop a woman that is deeply layered and authentic. On the literary front, the story is well written and tight. There is a moment when a now older and married Henick is able to close the door on a tumultuous childhood in a heartbreaking scene of farewells. Overall, this is a beautiful book, and where I would normally say that the memoir will be treasured by the author's descendants, in the case of Mark Henick I can confidently say this will also likely be treasured by the strangers who read it. Highly recommended.

Joanie Chevalier

In his memoir, So-Called Normal, Mark Henick takes us through his childhood and his depression, from being the youngest at a psych ward to the moment when his life changed forever after meeting a stranger. I was captivated by Mark Henick’s heartfelt and honest story. I felt so many emotions as I read. I felt uncomfortable, wowed, apprehensive, sad. I cringed when he described the time he really hurt himself. I cried when I read about his sadness, loneliness, and confusion. My stomach fluttered with anger as I read comments from family about his mental illness: “Why can’t you just get over this whole depression thing?” “You should be able to shake these feelings off,” “Be a man,” “You’re not special.” Stuck in a vicious cycle with hospital visits, therapy, and medications, Mark Henick felt he was lacking the practical knowledge to get better. Until one day, when he most needed it, a stranger stopped and noticed him. No, not just noticed, but really listened. And then he reached out his arm and embraced Mark at just the right time…

Mark Henick tells us in So-Called Normal that he didn’t feel people appreciated the amount of pain and loneliness he felt, and often times he felt fake. I cried when Mark talked about his loneliness. I think everyone has dealt with loneliness, but it is ten-fold when loneliness turns into thoughts of killing yourself. Mark acknowledges that “being suicidal was not how so-called normal people were expected to cope with the stresses, mistakes, and disappointments of life, but that reaction was becoming normal for me.” How Mark Henick evolves with his mental illness will be an encouragement to others. Whether you are learning to live with depression yourself or living with someone who has a mental illness, Mark’s story will encourage and inspire. I would like to see So-Called Normal by Mark Henick on every mental health professional’s bookshelf, available for learning and lending. A real-life moving story I won’t soon forget.

Vincent Dublado

So-Called Normal is Mark Henick telling his truth and no else’s, which is why this memoir is rich in brave realities. Henick does not speak for anyone else, but what he tells will reverberate and is an important realization to those who have been in the same situation or know someone who has traversed a similar path. He chronicles the turbulent youth that leads him to try to take his own life one night by climbing onto a bridge. Somebody heckles him to jump, and with his heart thumping, Henick lets go. At that time, he knows that his life will end soon, but it was merely a near-death experience when another reasonable soul pulls him to safety. Now he looks back at his life, collecting the many misshapen and scattered stones of his childhood that he now uses to build a house on rock.

The events of that night stuck with Mark Henick and will be forever etched in a special place in his memory, but even more for Mike Richey, the man who saved his life. So-Called Normal is an inspiring story of change. Henick tells his realities with vividness and adherence to the facts. You can feel the drama and intensity of his worsening mental health just by reading about his self-conflict on top of the bridge. His word choices reflect his bleak vision of existence, as he sees nothing around him but the negative: the rusty fences, the mangled lines of barbed wires, the layers of gray paint, and a bridge that will soon crumble to the ground. This is Henick learning to struggle, and his story is worth reading to remind you that you can overcome. He tells you: This too shall pass.

Foluso Falaye

From attempting suicide as a teenager to becoming a mental health advocate, Mark Henick shares his story about how he fought depression and lived to tell the tale. While coping with being told to be a man and dealing with the defective mental health care system and his own demons, Mark attempted to jump to his death but was caught and saved by an empathetic stranger, which became a turning point for him. The "stranger in the light-brown jacket," as Mark calls him, became a reason to do the same and help others who may be feeling suicidal or depressed. So-Called Normal includes Mark Henick's thoroughly detailed and expertly written journey through sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, high school romance, bullying, depression, suicide attempts, and finally finding a way to heal and grow.

This is a book that will make you feel, no matter your preconceptions about mental illness. I did not have to understand why Mark felt like he did to perceive what he went through, which is all that is needed to share in someone's pain. So-Called Normal made me understand that the greatest battle is fought within and it has a better chance of being won when everyone is involved and supportive. I commend Mark Henick's bravery and openness in delving into and sharing about a dark phase in his life to help people in similar situations. The book contains some potentially traumatizing and triggering elements that readers are advised against reading if they start to feel distressed by them. So-Called Normal is a testament that anyone facing depression can improve greatly and go on to achieve amazing feats.

Tammy Ruggles

So-Called Normal: Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience by Mark Henick is a dynamic memoir that is hard to forget. But besides taking you on his personal journey, he also makes room to help others who may be in need of it. He's a prominent resource for those living with mental health issues. In this book, Henick begins his odyssey in Nova Scotia, where he almost succumbed to suicidal urges brought on by anxiety and depression. He was on a bridge ready to jump. But of course, he didn't go through with it. While one person urged him to jump, another used calm to catch him and reel him back in. This happened when he was an adolescent, and it was a pivotal moment in his life.

The author uses his own life to lay the groundwork for what can result from a broken home, unaddressed mental and emotional needs, and hopelessness. But he acknowledges that each person's experiences are unique and that no two recovery stories are the same. As you read, you will begin to understand the events and experiences in his life that led to his personal turmoil, but the memoir doesn't stop there. Henick also illuminates his road to recovery and shows his readers how they too can meander through their psychological forests and come out better on the other side. Healing is possible with the right help, and this book is a powerful tool to help others find their way out of the darkness. So many people are skeptical of so-called experts because most experts have never experienced depression or suicidal ideations, but that can't be said of Henick, who has walked that walk and lived that life. So-Called Normal: Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience by Mark Henick is a must-read for those living with mental health issues or who care about someone who is.

Sigal Abergel

So highly recommended! Mark Henick is an amazing writer, with resilience that is so very inspiring. An important read for anyone who has experienced or knows anyone who has experienced abuse, divorce, depression or other mental health issues- so basically for all of us.