As someone who grew up with relatives with mental illness, I’ve been aware of the pain that goes along with many of the diseases we can’t see. A person who has a gushing, bleeding wound gets more sympathy than someone with a gushing mental wound, but the pain is just as bad.
Untreated mental illness prevents people from coping with their day to day lives. It also affects the people around them, but often the person with the illness finds it hard to see that. In my latest novel, California Thyme, the heroine has a mother who was hospitalized for bi-polar disease. The diagnosis came late, and Mandy remembers “her parents screaming followed by broken plates, jewelry flushed down the toilet, and slamming doors.”
As time goes on, Mandy is concerned about her own mental health. Unfortunately, mental health still carries a stigma, so much so that our returning veterans have trouble asking for help when they come home with the trauma of war stuck on replay in their minds. When Mandy asks her mother about her illness, Lola denies it:
“I know this is difficult, but I have to ask you a few questions…about…about your illness.”
“How’s your love life, darling? You know, a good man can make you feel so much better about yourself.”
“Lola. Please. Stop and listen to me. How did you know there was something wrong with you?”
“Darling. There’s nothing wrong with me. I…um…” Her voice faltered. “I simply had a hard time dealing with your father’s infidelity. Trust me. If there was anything wrong with me, I would have taken care of it years ago. That’s why I keep warning you to stay away from those Hollywood men, Amanda. They will only cause you trouble.”
“But you were hospitalized. You’re taking medication.”
“I went a little crazy after your father left. That’s all. The pills. The pills make life a little easier. I could give them up tomorrow. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Lola’s voice brightened again. “In fact, I may do that soon. I’ve met the most marvelous man. He owns lots of car dealerships and he’s filthy rich. He’s thinking of investing in a play.”
Fiction has provided me an avenue to deal with some of the issues I grew up with. There are many books out there that deal with mental illness as part of the story. Sometimes reading these stories can help people sort through their feelings about the disease and open them up for potential treatment. If you want to learn more about recognizing symptoms and what to do about them, check out the Mental Health America site.
What are some of the books you’ve read that discuss mental illness?