Mental Illness in the Family: Several Books

Mental illness in the family is the topic of several books worth reading.

However you define mental illness—or whatever substitute term you prefer—it’s often found within your own family, as it has been in mine. Below are four nonfiction books worth perusing.

Remnants of a Life on Paper: A Mother and Daughter’s Struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (2013) by Bea Tusiani, Pamela Tusiani, and Paula Tusiani-Eng

The authors describe Pamela’s struggles with BPD. Pamela’s “remnants” in question are from her journals and visual art, culled posthumously.

At the age of 20 Pamela was diagnosed with severe depression. She wound up having multiple hospitalizations and 12 ECT treatments. According to Dr. Lloyd SedererThe Huffington Post, it was after this that Pamela finally received the more accurate diagnosis of BPD. She then proceeded to be admitted to other intensive programs.

Sederer: “Pamela was well into her journey of recovery when a series of treatment program and medical errors conspired to kill her. The awful irony was that she did not take her life, but irresponsible, stigmatizing and poor residential and medical care did.”

All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness (2015) by Sheila Hamilton

Hamilton’s husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder only six weeks before he took his own life.

“Mental Illness often masks itself as selfish, anti-social behavior. It waxes and wanes, especially in higher functioning people,” Hamilton writes (Huffington Post). He’d gone deeply into debt, for example.

She has held herself partially responsible. “I’d propose one more stage of grief to Kubler-Ross’s list in the case of suicide; forgiveness…In accepting responsibility for my part in David’s death, I was able to understand his sense of futility, the level of his psychic pain, and his unwillingness to face his illness. I forgave him. I forgave myself. And in doing so, I’ve been better able to understand his decision.”

The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (2017) by Gayle Brandeis

The book’s title takes its name from the documentary Brandeis’s 70-year-old mother Arlene was working on “about the rare illnesses she thought ravaged her family: porphyria and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

“Whether they were psychosomatically induced or not,” states Kirkus Reviews, “Arlene attested that the illnesses had been repeatedly dismissed or misdiagnosed by the medical community; even the author herself admits to suffering, as a teenager, from a combination of malingering and factitious disorder.”

Melissa WuskeForeword Reviews: “Brandeis’s mother committed suicide one week after Brandeis had a baby. Those deeply contrasting experiences set the scene for the opening of this memoir: a daughter going through her mother’s things, trying to make sense of her death.”

And this quest winds up involving a “compulsive, contagious need to know her mother and herself.”

The author’s two sons were both afflicted with schizophrenia. “For his son Kevin, that struggle ended in suicide, and the heartbreak of that experience (among others) permeates every impersonal date and statistic in the book with sorrow and rage” (Shelf Awareness).

A brief explanation for the title, per Publishers Weekly:

This resounding rebuke to scornful attitudes toward the mentally ill takes its title from a notably insensitive 2010 email exchange between high-level staffers of Scott Walker during his run for Wisconsin governor. Using that moment as a touchstone of indifference, Powers…weaves a dual tale of the personal and the political…

The people who do care are usually the loved ones, of course. Shelf Awareness: “For the families of the mentally ill…caring about ‘crazy people’ is a necessity. In roughly alternating chapters, Powers allows us to watch his sons grow up, dealing with the challenges of incipient schizophrenia as well as tragic events that shape their young minds. All the while, Powers movingly relates the joys of raising creatively gifted children.”

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