Friday, March 20, 2009

Summer Darkness

“On July 5, 1996, my daughter was struck mad”. That is the first sentence of Michael Greenberg's harrowing memoir Hurry Down Sunshine. Greenberg's book chronicles the psychotic break of his fifteen-year-old daughter Sally. He is unsparing in his description of Sally's breakdown and hospitalization, and also of the strains it puts on his relationship with his current wife and his ex-wife, who is Sally's mother, as well as on his own mother and his older son.

Father and daughter are unusually close, so her descent into madness is devastating for Greenberg. Her mania is so extreme that she needs hospitalization and powerful psychotropic drugs to control it. Her family grasps for other explanations. Did she take LSD or Ecstasy? Is it just a teenage phase she's going through? But they all eventually have to come to grips with the reality of her manic depression and its treatment. As any parent would, Greenberg relentlessly and guiltily examines his past for ways he may have contributed to her illness. One day, in effort to understand how Sally feels, he even takes a dose of her meds. He describes how he feels ”as if I have been relegated to a bit part in the drama of my own existence and, moreover, I have missed my cue to step onstage”.

I think that losing a child to mental illness must be a worst nightmare for many parents. All of a sudden the traits that you found quirky or charming or creative become just aspects of the psychosis. Greenberg, a freelance writer by profession, must have taken notes as the events unfolded, because his descriptions are so detailed and crisp. His prose manages to be both unsentimental and heartbreaking. This book is a tough read, not because the writing is unclear but because the story of Sally's 'summer of madness' is so hard to bear. But I recommend it to anyone who wants understand the impact of mental illness on both patient and family.

1 comment:

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