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Conversations to Help Break the Silence: 3 Books About Mental Illness That I Recommend

Who knew that Jane Pauley has bi-polar disorder? Or that mathematical genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash’s first psychotic break was as late as 30 years old and he achieved remission 30 years later? Or why a loved one with schizophrenia disorder says “I’m not sick—I don’t need help”?

These three books –“Skywriting,” an autobiography by Jane Pauley; “A Beautiful Mind,” a biography about John Nash by Sylvia Nasar; and, “I’m Not Sick – I Don’t Need Help,” a non-fiction book on how to help someone with mental illness accept treatment, by Xavier Amador, PH.D—are about mental illness and all are different “reads.”

The thread through all of them and what interests me most, is how people live with brain disease.

Pauley’s memoir with the subhead—“A Life Out of The Blue”– tells a story of self-discovery and an extraordinary life, an accidental life for 30 years as “America’s most-loved girl next door TV co-anchor,” she writes. She barely touches on her midlife diagnosis of bi-polar disorder in the book.

When she does, she reveals times of depression, unexplainable crying bouts, shyness, but when the camera is on her she was at the top of an anchor’s game!

To the reader it seems Pauley just gets on with it (with psychiatrists and meds), written in a breezy manner. All the while it gnaws at her that she “appears to be someone I knew I was not: Whether anyone else knew it or not…I did. That’s one too many.” Her ultra-successful career and marriage despite manic-depression cheered, enlightened and, sometimes, baffled me. My take is, it’s possible to live a successful life with bi-polar disease.

“A Beautiful Mind.” Whoa! This deeply-researched, interesting and extraordinarily moving award-winning TOME on a genius’ life without and with paranoid schizophrenia disease is not breezy.

But first I take a swipe at The New York Times Book Review quote on the cover…”’A Beautiful Mind’ tells a moving story and offers a remarkable look into the arcane world of mathematics and the tragedy of madness” (1998). Madness? Tragedy?

The word mad has been used to mean insanity or dementia since the 1500s! But over the past couple centuries, it’s been used more as a general descriptor of a concept or personality than as an indicator of mental illness, according to “The Changing Vocabulary of Mental Illness“ The Atlantic, Cari Romm, (Oct. 28, 2015). Your doctor no longer says you’re “going mad.” Bravo!

Shame on you, The New York Times. Tragedy? For whom? The mathematics world? Nash? No, he came through, won a Nobel. It was a life lived to the utmost, interrupted, yes. He is a survivor of brain disease in my eyes. The possibility encourages me!

That said, Nash’s first 30 years as a math genius takes up half the book. If you’ve never gone beyond high school algebra, just learning about mathematics to solve world problems is fascinating. Nash in his 20’s in the late 1940’s to late 50’s was eccentric, displaying some of the characteristics of schizoaffective disorder—grandiosity, detachment, isolation. He undergoes a full psychotic break in 1959 for 30 years with periods of remission. His caregivers – wife, mother, sister, friends, academic colleagues, even unknown Princeton math students—believe in and fight for him. He comes out in his 60’s in remission!

But, one of his two sons is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. There is no escape from genes. And Nash and his wife Alicia spend the rest of their lives taking care of him.

Now, about my personal experience. When my 19 year old son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia I was unable to help him accept treatment. He was a highly capable student at a good university with learning and musical interests. Then I found “I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help!” which helped me understand what goes through the mind of a seriously mentally-ill individual in denial and how I should react. To my friends and the public with loved ones with mental illness, this is the self-help book to read.

“I thought he was being stubborn, immature,” says Dr. Amador about his brother with a brain disease, “my accusations and threats to prove him wrong made him angry and defensive. My natural instinct to confront his denial was completely ineffective and made things worse. We got caught in a cycle of more confrontation and denials which pushed us farther apart. The end result was always that he walked away angry. And then he would relapse and end up back in the hospital.”

Read this my fellow public with and without loved ones with mental illness and learn what to say, how to cope, how to see results, what to tell your friends.

If you are in CRISIS and need help:

CALL: 2-1-1 or 1 (800) 273-TALK

Andrea is 1 of 100+ Boca Brave women. She’s is  an advocate and speaks out about the challenges people with brain diseases face in America.

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Andrea Gurvitz

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