The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is quoted in today's New York Times: “I remembered something Marsha Norman said at Juilliard,” he said. “She said, if you want to write a good play, write about the thing that frightens you the most.”
As most of you know, I'm writing a memoir about Chris's and my journey through schizophrenia. I didn't set out to be a writer, this is my one literary bolt of inspiration, so sequels are not in the offing and I don't expect to be awarded a Pulitzer prize for great writing. My added value to this generally "misery memoir*" categorized genre is that I approach schizophrenia from an optimistic viewpoint; I expect full recovery for Chris (and me!) and I expect it to come from non-drug interventions. There is an exciting world of help that more people should know about that runs counter to the accepted wisdom today that schizophrenia is a brain disease that can best be treated by pharmaceuticals. "Schizophrenia" no longer frightens me because I learned how to understand its message, however, my initial fright provided the impetus to try to write a good memoir.
Holistic schizophrenia needs a lot more help than I can provide. The competition is almost all on the side of memoirists (see Henry's Demons* below) who promote the the idea that one day science will finally track down the cause of this "scourge." Our side needs to be promoted through our own memoirs showing that there is a better way to understanding. There are too many memoirists like Kay Redfield Jamison who set out to convince people that so-called mental illnesses are depressing, lifelong and purely biochemical in origin. We need more memoirists like Jane Alexander, author of Possessing Me: A Memoir of Healing. Now there's a positive message!
W.H. Auden had this to say about memoir writing: "Our sufferings and weaknesses, in so far as they are personal, are of no literary interest whatsoever. They are only interesting in so far as we can see them as typical of the human condition."
Many of you are probably already thinking about writing this kind of reflection. If you aren't, please consider doing so now. The public's s understanding of how to treat mental illness usually comes from a book or a movie that they read or watched. Together we can challenge the public view of schizophrenia.
*Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son's Story, by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn (Scribner, Feb. 1, 2011)
From Publishers Weekly
This sensitive story of a family's battle with schizophrenia looks at the ignorance and stigma that often accompany any mention of mental illness. When Cockburn, a foreign correspondent for the Independent on assignment in Afghanistan, learns his 20-year-old son, Henry, has been institutionalized after trying to drown himself, he tries to understand why his son has had a mental breakdown. The Cockburns, a tightly knit family, are severely tested by the pressures of a loved one undone by his mind and locked away for seven years in a mental hospital. Told in alternate views, both father and son write candidly of the illness, medications, and numerous hospitalizations, along with harrowing descriptions of visions and voices. This straightforward, unsentimental book, is a bold plea for more research and cutting-edge therapies to combat mental illness. (Feb.)
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What to do when the bright and gregarious child you have loved and nurtured suddenly takes to stripping naked and defecating in a neighbor’s yard? Or worse, what if he courts death via hypothermia by swimming in the frigid waters of a nearby river? What could possibly be worse? If that same young man adamantly denies that he is ill and stubbornly refuses all medication that might help him. As a parent you are helpless when your son repeatedly escapes the confinement necessary to prevent him from harming himself. If Patrick Cockburn’s wrenching account of son Henry’s illness is not affective enough, Henry’s guileless divulgence of his personal reality drives home the unrelenting anguish of the families of schizophrenics. More poignant still are the journal excerpts of Henry’s mother, whose nerves are palpably raw from being in the trenches with her son’s illness and a medical community unable to help him. The family Cockburn’s unique take—by allowing Henry a voice in this book—offers valuable insights into mental illness. --Donna Chavez