Friday, July 30, 2010

Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg

I get scared reading books that feature characters that suffer from bipolar illness. Well, that's not quite right. The truth is that I am both afraid of and drawn to reading about this subject, as if by conquering my fear and moving closer to this thing, I can capture a bit of the person whose bipolarity kept her at an unbreachable distance -- my mother. Although I believe some deep part of me, perhaps at the cellular level, will never forget the way her catatonic-like depressions and her raging manias impacted me, for the most part my mind reacted to the terror in the same way countless others have faced trauma -- by erasing it from my memory.
Maybe the only thing as frightening as growing up with a bipolar mother is discovering that your child has the disease. In Michael Greenberg's, "Hurry Down Sunshine," he tells the story of his troubled teenage daughter, Sally, and her descent into bipolarity. From the outset Greenberg tells his story with an unflinching honesty. When Sally's illness first comes to a head, Greenberg must hospitalize her and he struggles to navigate the health care system in order to find an appropriate setting. Greenberg details the ups and downs of the course of Sally's disease, and in doing so he looks back at the difficulties of Sally's childhood, as well as those of his mentally ill brother.
As Greenberg's story progresses, he shows how Sally's illness comes under control, with the help of drugs and therapy. In the end, though, she relapses. With his words, Greenberg paints a picture of his daughter, and we see Sally as a gentle and vulnerable person at the mercy of her bipolarity.
The stories we tell ourselves, especially when those stories involve difficult relationships, can be incomplete; I know the story my childhood memories tell me about my mother is. I think I'll carry Greenberg's lovely image of Sally with me as a reminder of just that.

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