Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, Executive Director, The Object Relations Institute For Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, New York, NY. Author of The Compulsion to Create (Routledge, 1993) and The Creative Mystique (Routledge, 1996)
Dolores Brandon’s book is a unique study in the poetry and intuitive psychological engagement of personal memoir. Brandon’s in-depth emotional capacities are highlighted in the overall process of mourning for the losses suffered by those she loves and yet yearns to separate from. The reader can follow the path of grief and rebirth along with the author and find a language to express their own individual grief and love process.
Thelma I. Hayes (now President Emeritus) was the founding president of NNAMI, the voice for the mentally ill, North Coastal San Diego County, California.
IN THE SHADOW OF MADNESS, a memoir by Dolores Brandon, has a literary quality, rare in books and articles written about mental illness—depression, bi-polar or manic depression, schizophrenia, panic disorder among them.
Seldom are we treated to the type of writing Dolores Brandon produced as she relates her Canadian family’s coping and surviving her father’s manic depressive illness. Most of the telling is in the author’s poetic form. Some is poetry we know, some is in French, most is in English. Other times she uses the lyrics of a song. The prose is the oral history her mother contributes.
The oldest of three daughters, the author begins the narrative even before she leaves her mothers’ womb:
“Once, inside, I remember the lights flashing bright, the walls of your belly—paper thin, your voice—a moist and delicate reed crying: ‘Don’t do it. I beg you, let me go.’”
Her father’s rage, building as his highs develop, often foretells the violence that will occur causing his hospitalizations. The early progression of these highs reveals a talented, creative man. However, his successes as an inventor, salesman, and performer are all short-lived. Little is said about his lows.
The resulting experiences and frequent moves are realistically told, without self-pity, and illustrated with family album pictures, including the grandparents as well as aunts and uncles. One of them always was there for the mother when she needed help the most. Only once does Dolores mention her sister’s and her stay in a foster home.
Those of us involved with an afflicted friend or relative eagerly wade through academic articles about the latest research, always looking for a breakthrough to relieve a patient’s and a family’s trials. Or we read, with the hope of gaining help, a case study of a person whose illness resembles whichever neurological brain disease our kin has.
Dolores makes us feel the spirit that keeps this family together. And it is generally the family that is the most important element, that best supports any victim of a mental illness.
In the end, it was a cancer that caused her father’s death. Ironically, the long, painful confinement assured compliance to psychotropic medications which were just becoming available in the ‘60’s and that he had begun to accept. The girls’ lifelong endurance of the affects caused by his mental illness was replaced by the anguish they experienced through the pain he suffered from his physical disease.
In her last chapter she reveals problems of the family after her father’s death. It may be that they had always been there but had been overlooked in order to solve those the father’s illness created. With her skills, I would like to have Dolores consider writing another moving story—a full account of what happened to her father’s survivors.
Abner T. Cunningham ( Social Worker, Chicago, IL)
Because the illness Dolores Brandon describes in her memoir appears in my family through the generations, I have read several books to help understand the experience, and to connect with others going through it, and as a social worker to broker this knowledge to others, both sufferers and helpers. Kay Jamison has written an autobiography dealing with manic-depression, and Jackie Lyden described life with her mother who suffered the same illness. Because so many of us in my family were afflicted I have approached each of these writings with the eagerness of an ‘insider’.
Ms. Brandon describes how it is possible to both be horrified by and love a parent at the same time, something that is difficult to communicate to people who have grown up in more ‘normal’ families. It is possible to enjoy and celebrate people who are also really demonic and complicate the lives of their children. This kind of love and optimism combined with a realistic view of the destructive rage of the afflicted person is a rare combination that seldom finds expression in any media, and is especially clear in Brandon’s spare and poetic style.
It is immensely encouraging to those of us who live with the illness and I would ask people in the helping professions to use it to further their understanding of such families and persons so as to avoid simplifications and reductionisms. There are blessings and curses in these mostly genetic inheritances that beg to be appreciated, and must be lived with in any event. Though we are farther along in the humane treatment of manic-depression than we were in the time when Ms. Brandon’s father was careening about, there is still much lacking especially in the so-called ‘objective’ approaches of ‘treatment’ that this book is a corrective for, and that makes this literary approach not only an adjunct to medicine and rehabilitation, but perhaps even a higher form of communication about the illness. Thank you for this wonderful work, Dolores Brandon!