Gorilla and the Bird
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. This was it - his big dreams were finally coming true. 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, regain his identity, and rebuild some semblance of a stable life. 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.

Gorilla and the Bird Details

TitleGorilla and the Bird
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 26th, 2017
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
ISBN-139780316315142
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Health, Mental Health, Mental Illness

Gorilla and the Bird Review

  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Rebecca Foster
    January 1, 1970
    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.)
    more
  • Jill Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    ----------"...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.
    more
  • Lindsay Williams (Bibbidi Bobbidi Bookworm)
    January 1, 1970
    Gorilla and the Bird is so much more than just a memoir about Zack McDermott's mental illness. This beautiful book is also a powerful statement about the strength of a mother's love with equally powerful statements about the American judicial system, racial prejudices, the lasting impact of parental neglect, and the importance of mental health awareness and acceptance woven throughout the text.Zack McDermott's memoir begins with the story of his first psychotic break, during which he (nicknamed Gorilla and the Bird is so much more than just a memoir about Zack McDermott's mental illness. This beautiful book is also a powerful statement about the strength of a mother's love with equally powerful statements about the American judicial system, racial prejudices, the lasting impact of parental neglect, and the importance of mental health awareness and acceptance woven throughout the text.Zack McDermott's memoir begins with the story of his first psychotic break, during which he (nicknamed Gorilla by his mother) ran rampant through New York City with the belief that he was being filmed for a pilot for a reality show and that everyone he encountered was part of the show. Throughout the rest of the book, he describes his overwhelmingly stressful career as a public defender, his childhood with a fiercely devoted mother and mostly absent father, the battles his mother fought in order to pursue her passion for educating disenfranchised people (mostly gang members) and the bonds she formed with her students, the clients he represented who had the cards stacked against them almost from birth, and the ways he dealt with his Bipolar Disorder and psychotic breaks, which include stays in psychiatric hospitals.There are so many elements to this book that kept me from being able to put it down unless I had to. First and foremost, mental health awareness is one of my most passionate causes. Although I have never experienced anything close to what McDermott has experienced, I have lived with depression for several years now. My depression is under control with medication, but I found myself relating to much of what McDermott says about suicidal thoughts and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. For example, he says:I’ve never stood on a subway platform and not thought about what it would be like to throw myself in front of what’s coming. But I found myself standing a few inches closer to the edge, listening a little more closely to the question that the train was asking of me. I knew I wasn’t going to stick my neck out on my own, but what would I do if a kid on a scooter bumped me from behind? I was pretty sure I would tighten my core and push back with the full force of my hamstrings at the first brush of contact. But I was less sure than I’d ever been. So I guess I was approaching something like fairly suicidal. But do you get to claim that if you’d never cut, jump, or load the gun? Feels a bit dramatic.I have never read another comparison that better explained my own thoughts when I was at my lowest points, prior to seeking help. Furthermore, when he says: For all the lip service people in my office pay to the notion that mental illness is no different than cancer or diabetes, I couldn’t help but think that Teresa from the immigration unit probably wouldn’t have been sent packing after returning from chemo if she'd forgotten her note. Would they even have asked her for a note or would her new short hair and the fact that she was standing upright be proof enough that she was fit for duty? The note rule didn’t feel like the fulfillment of a bureaucratic requirement; it felt like a request for proof of sanity. McDermott made an incredibly important point about the way mental illnesses are viewed by others. His book is one that brings valuable awareness to the idea that mental illness is still viewed differently from nearly all other illnesses, despite the fact that they are no more of a choice than anything else that manipulates some aspect of our internal chemistry.Another important element to Gorilla and the Bird that made me want to shout its virtues from the rooftops is the Bird herself, McDermott's mother.Wow.As a mother myself, I understand the depth of the love she has for her children, and I know why she was willing to drop everything in her life to be there for McDermott when he needed her. But, my goodness...the Bird has to be the strongest woman I have ever encountered in a work of nonfiction. McDermott doesn't write about her with overflowing praise, but by simply telling his readers about the things she did for him and the passion she has for helping her students in the classroom AND in life, readers can't help but see that the Bird is a truly remarkable woman with a backbone of steel and a heart of gold. This isn't to say that she's perfect. The Bird, like anyone else, has flaws and makes a few bad decisions along the way, and McDermott never tries to portray her as the perfect mother. However, readers still get the sense that there could never have been a more perfect mother for McDermott than the Bird.Throughout his discussions of his own mental illness and the Bird's dedication to helping others (especially him), McDermott also makes important points about our country's justice system. As a public defender in New York city, McDermott's clientele includes illegal immigrants, drug addicts, repeat offenders, homeless people, and those with mental illnesses...just to name a few. McDermott's choice to pursue his particular line of work, which pays much less and involves much more stress than his classmates in law school who pursued private law instead, put him in a very unique position with his clients. Through the students of his mother's that he knew when he was younger and his own experiences with mental illness, McDermott is able to see the injustices of his clients' situations in a way that many of his colleagues can't. His empathy for people that many others would immediately write off is incredibly admirable and caused me to look at our justice system in a different way myself.While telling his story, McDermott approaches the difficulties he has faced with a sense of humor that makes readers chuckle...and then immediately feel guilty for doing so...but the fact that he is able to talk about his journey in such a way proves that he has chosen to laugh at himself instead of lash out at everyone around him, as many others might have done. Meanwhile, he has used his story to help bring awareness to a wealth of different issues.Just...read this book. Not only is it absolutely fascinating, but it's incredibly enlightening and compelling. Read it. Go on. READ IT!
    more
  • Renee Smith
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Lisa Jablonsky
    January 1, 1970
    This memoir is great; it's compelling, engaging, it's funny and sad and then a little sadder too. There's nothing funny about a psychotic break, yet Zach writes with such humor, empathy and disdain for himself that you laugh, and cry with him, and for him. This could happen to anyone, it's a disease. Zach could easily be someone I knew from college so there was nothing foreign about it (other than a psychotic break); it was like reading about a friend, horrified that my friend was going through This memoir is great; it's compelling, engaging, it's funny and sad and then a little sadder too. There's nothing funny about a psychotic break, yet Zach writes with such humor, empathy and disdain for himself that you laugh, and cry with him, and for him. This could happen to anyone, it's a disease. Zach could easily be someone I knew from college so there was nothing foreign about it (other than a psychotic break); it was like reading about a friend, horrified that my friend was going through this. I walked away with a new understanding and a lot of empathy for people who struggle with being bipolar; it's a tightrope of managing medication and self care, knowing when to walk away, when to sleep and when to medicate. It could easily be me or anyone instead of Zach, it's a crap shoot. I wish Zach the best in life and a long career as a writer.
    more
  • Sandra Burns
    January 1, 1970
    This was really good, but sad too. Shows the power of love, determination, strength, and prevailing against all odds.This told the story of Gorilla, Zack, with his mental illness. How he overcame the worst of it, and how his Mom, Bird, was there for him always.Bird, showed him, never give up, keep trying, by her own life.
    more
  • lp
    January 1, 1970
    My rating of GORILLA AND THE BIRD: ten zillion stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book so much. Zack McDermott grew up poor and in a broken home in Kansas, became a lawyer, a comedian, a New Yorker, and after believing his life was being filmed for a TRUMAN SHOW-type TV show and stripping naked on a subway platform, he became a patient at Bellevue Hospital for severe manic depression. But he is none of these things in a typical way. His battle against his o My rating of GORILLA AND THE BIRD: ten zillion stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book so much. Zack McDermott grew up poor and in a broken home in Kansas, became a lawyer, a comedian, a New Yorker, and after believing his life was being filmed for a TRUMAN SHOW-type TV show and stripping naked on a subway platform, he became a patient at Bellevue Hospital for severe manic depression. But he is none of these things in a typical way. His battle against his own mental illness is hysterical, painful, and beautiful. The constant power driving all of his life stories, the things that makes him a superhero, is the presence of his funny, strong, huge-hearted mother The Bird. This book is bursting with love and sadness and self-awareness and wisdom and humility and I wanted to underline something on every page. And it's one of the funniest books I've read in a long time.
    more
  • Susan Shapiro
    January 1, 1970
    "Gorilla and the Bird" is Zack McDermott's beautiful personal bittersweet funny story of surviving mental illness with the help of his devoted mother (aka "Bird.") I laughed, cried, could not put it down.
Write a review