I have read many books about depression but I have never read such a wonderfully written, poignant and honest account of this illness which focuses on the effects of bi-polar depression on the family of the patient, Michael’s daughter Sally, rather than the patient themselves. That is not so say that Sally, her symptoms and recovery, are overlooked, and reading this book as a parent myself, I felt every sympathy for Michael. I come from a family which has been affected by depression for generations and I live in constant fear that my 15 year old son will present symptoms at some point. I hope not, and so far so good. But how would you cope if your child went mad overnight, which is what seemingly happened to Sally Greenberg, Michael’s teenage daughter.
Michael and his family suddenly have to deal with Sally’s apparent swift descent into manic depression and her extreme highs and lows. Behaviour which they had previously thought of as typically adolescent. This all changed when Sally was brought home by the police one evening after she had run into a busy road thinking she could stop the traffic. Sally was subsequently admitted for inpatient psychiatric care and then come the real battles. The family experience the prejudice and the stigma towards mental illness, the heart breaking affect of the strong anti-depressant and mood stabilising drugs that Sally had to take to get her back on the road to recovery and the overwhelming feeling of guilt that they should have spotted the early signs of psychosis earlier and somehow prevented the breakdown. Frightening stuff and Michael does not shy away from the problems experienced by the whole family as they come to terms with Sally’s illness and the realisation that she will never be the same.
Although I found this book to be a positive and intimate account of Michael’s experiences, don’t expect a happy ending. Bi-polar depression doesn’t go away overnight and the book ends with a summary of Sally’s troubled life to date which gives the reader an indication of the hard work, perseverance and self-awareness that people like Sally have to demonstrate just to lead a life. It is energy sapping just to read about it, but hopefully, this heart-warming story of survival will help people understand a little more about mental illness and it’s effect on everyone concerned and perhaps make them want to learn more.
A great read-*****
Michael and Sally talk to The Times March 2009