Friday, June 4, 2010

A Way Out of Madness: Dealing with Your Family After You've Been Diagnosed with a Psychiatric Disorder

A self-help manual for psychosis, this book has got to be unique. As a parent, I am not the intended target audience for this book. This book is aimed mainly at young people in their late teens or twenties who have suffered a mental health breakdown and now have to pick up the pieces, usually under the anxious eyes of their families. I gifted this book to my son and have been stealing time with it ever since.

I am relieved that this book was written because, to be selfish about it, it makes my job easier. The chapters' authors say what I have been saying to my son, but the difference is, they've been there and they are opinionated about the role of the family as a force for both good and evil. For every mother and father who is wondering why their child is still at home on the couch after several years, the advice given here will cause you to cheer. You don't have to risk the high Expressed Emotion of clumsily nagging your child to do something with his life. Your relative is finally hearing it from people who've been there at that age: "Get a job or go back to college," "realize that your family may not be the best support for you at this stage," "you're probably spending way too much time with "mother," "learn to set limits," etc. etc. etc.

It is clear from this book that whoever has suffered a psychotic break has been victimized on some level. The book urges people to acknowledge this, but move on, even if it means distancing yourself from family. It also lists ways in which families can abuse their powers over the individual, sometimes unintentionally, other times not. I, for one, am delighted that my relative is hearing it like it is. This book is written by people who were labeled, medicated, and had a rocky start, but they figured it out and moved on. Others may disagree, but I am of the opinion that most parents want their children to be independent - one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child is to encourage the child stand on his or her own two feet. Often, though, the labeled child is overly attached to the parents, unconsciously feeling that he or she must please us, appease us, and generally be there for us. This self-sacrificing is a problem and most likely the reason for the label in the first place.

I would love it if my son began to mentally distance himself from me as one of the many steps on his road to independence. He needs reinforcement from outsiders. Positive views about psychosis and mental breakdowns and what to do about it are hard to find in the literature. This kind of advice has generally been promulgated by doctors and psychologists, not consumers. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey has had a monopoly on this kind of advice for far too long. He is bleak. Do you want bleak for your relative? It is time for a fresh perspective that empowers the person to heal himself. Do yourself and your relative a favor by buying this book and do let others know about it.

You can buy it here.


  1. A definitely very "helpful" review at Amazon ;) Although I have no family left other than in my head, this book is at the top of my wish list, together with Whitaker's latest. I imagine it to be a great read, even if all you've got to deal with are the ghosts of your ancestors.

  2. It is a good read. One thing I didn't mention is that despite the chapters being written by different people, it flows. They are all on beat.

  3. "Get a job or go back to college,"

    I'm convinced full recovery cannot occur without the pursuit of some meaningful vocational purpose in life. Laying on the couch and mooching off your parents indefinitely doesn't qualify as a meaningful purpose.

    A persistent push may be required to inspire the affected individual. Obviously he or she must have recovered sufficiently to take this on. As a parent don't be surprised however when they finally make the move that you will be caught up in your own anxiety regarding the possibility for relapse nevertheless take a deep breath and let them go.

    My son after completing first year university studies with honours while still living at home had returned to the summer job he had last year (and which I helped him obtain). After a few days back on the job he announced that I was steering his life, was too controlling, and he felt it was time he had to distance himself mentally and physically and stand on his own feet. He quit the job, packed a bag, and boarded a greyhound bus leaving Toronto and heading to Vancouver.

    My immediate reaction was I wonder is he being sensible or delusional? I have concluded what he has done is the best thing for him. He hasn't experienced any symptoms for 18 months, has shown steady progress and accomplished a number of significant milestones. I believe he's simply flown out of the nest; something we have been discussing the benefits of for several months now.

    I suggest it's like birds. Parent birds feed them and nurture them and at the appropriate time they fly out of the nest or the parent bird pushes them out. You will know when the time is right. Push too early and they crash to the ground. Never provide the nudge and at some point they freeze through the winter or starve once you've flown south.

  4. Thank you for your insight. I can understand why the first reaction is to worry that they are showing signs of relapse, but I think from what it sounds like re your situation that your son is showing signs of independence. Most parents have a very narrow view of what a meaningful life is, or as the play I saw tonight expressed it, "middle class people respect conformity in family members," (the play was obviously British, but it struck a note.)

  5. "middle class people respect conformity in family members"

    Watch this, 10th and last part here. Makes one's blood run cold.


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