Book Rant

Posted on January 18, 2006

I am mad. Really, really mad! Not mad in the way that Sarah is mad at lots of things, but mad at one thing in particular: a book. A book I haven’t even read, but just its mere existence is maddening!

And I realize that the very fact that I’m so mad, I’m blogging about it, and that might cause the blasted book to get more attention than it deserves (ANY attention is more than it deserves – can you see how mad I am?) makes me even madder!

So DON’T GO THERE! I will not post the link to this book, because I want it to disappear from the face of the earth, and a book has to really, really, really get under my skin to make me (who is NOT in favor of censorship) wish death on its very literary (and I use the term loosely) reality.

Okay. [deep breath] Let me start at the beginning.

It started with an e-mail. The subject said “[TITLE] by Jewish Author.”

Now, I’m Jewish. I’m an author. I was intrigued. So I opened it.

That was a mistake.

It was a news release about a book that was published back in 2002, and apparently has been promoted with spam-like e-mails, such as the one I received, and flyers posted on walls.

First off, the flyer thing? NOT a good way to promote a book. But that’s not important. Nor is it particularly important that the publisher of this book is an e-publisher who will publish pretty much anything and everything you send them. And although it’s HIGHLY unfair, it’s also unimportant (except perhaps to my fragile ego) its rank is higher than Destined to Choose. Those rankings are always misleading anyway, right?

Second, why am I getting this e-mail? Am I supposed to go out and buy the book? (NOT likely – did I mention it made me mad?) Is it just because I’m Jewish and an author? Or maybe just because I have a working e-mail address? Maybe that’s unimportant, too.

Third is why I’m mad, and is the MAIN reason for this post.

The book is allegedly a memoir, allegedly non-fiction (though I reserve judgement on that), and is about a woman who grows up in a family where the parents have a mental illness. That part doesn’t make me mad. Lots of kids grow up in families where one or both parents are dealing with a mental illness, disorder, addiction, or other difficulty, and while this DOES affect the children and DOES affect the family dynamics, said families CAN also deal with it in a healthy way. And even when the parents don’t, the children can still grow up and deal with their histories.

It can be painful and hard work and take years of therapy. But even that isn’t what made me mad.

What made me mad was THIS:

What happens to children of the mentally ill? This is from the e-mail I received, the book description on the (e)publisher’s website, and the description on Amazon. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It gets worse, trust me.

The description of “what happens to children of the mentally ill” includes the following: psychological imbalances, haunting, madness, twisted, incomprehensible, fearful reality, madness (again), brutality, abused, neglected.

The description on the publisher’s site continues, talking about the target audience: The depth of understanding into family dynamics of the emotionally disturbed will aid not only the practitioners [in educational and psychological communinties] but also their current and future patients. Schools and universities are another audience for [TITLE]. This rare glimpse into living with the mentally ill offers insights not gained through standard textbooks.

Where do I even start with how WRONG this is?

Let’s start here: the use of the term “the mentally ill” is obsolete and has been for well over ten years. If you use it, please stop now. It is offensive because it defines people by their illness. We don’t say “the cancerous” or “the heart-diseased” and we really shouldn’t even say “the diabetic.” Instead, we say “cancer survivors” or “people with cancer” or “people with heart disease” or “people with diabetes.” We should also say “people with mental illnesses.” They are people. They are not their illness.

Further, it is common knowledge – or it darn well should be – that every, EVERY mental illness from depression to schizophrenia to OCD to social anxiety is a brain disorder. It is a chemical imbalance. Most cases can be treated with medication; some are aided also by behavior/talk therapy. Those cases that cannot be treated with medication are due to the unique chemical imbalances of those brains involved or the still-evolving understanding of brain chemistry and how medications affect it, not because of a lack of chemical or biological cause of the illness itself.

This book perpetuates the fear and misunderstanding of those with mental illnesses, and leads readers and potential readers to believe that ALL or at least MOST children of parents with mental illnesses will endure a horrific, nightmarish childhood. This is simply NOT TRUE.

Children endure horrific, nightmarish childhoods for all sorts of reasons: abuse (having nothing to do with mental illness), pedophiles, messy divorces, death in the family, domestic violence, bullies, religious extremism and/or fundamentalism, and so on. Yet this book attempts to say that “children of the mentally ill” are doomed from the start.

Not just this one child. All children. The book description says so itself: “What happens to children of the mentally ill?” THIS does.

But that is wrong. WRONG. Oh, so very wrong. THIS is an (alleged) memoir of one person’s childhood, who cannot possibly speak for all children who grew up with a parent who had a mental illness.

And to add insult to injury, there is nothing that indicates there’s anything about this book – or author, who only goes by her first name – that’s Jewish, despite the “Jewish Author” teaser in the e-mail subject line.

It’s maddening. And not in the mentally ill sort of way, but in the this-book-is-likely-to-cause-great-harm sort of way. Because now people with mental illnesses have even more reason to be afraid to speak up. And this book wants society to become even less tolerant.

The e-mail I received? I bounced it, and added the sender to my spam list. The book? No thank you. Not in a million years.


  1. Sheyna

    Kate, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your viewpoint, and I agree that, depending on the circumstances there can be adverse – even severely traumatic – results for the children. That said, just because parents have a mental illness doesn’t mean the children will necessarily suffer.

    The part that sparked my anger was the “hook” question asked in the description on Amazon, in the promotion e-mail I received, AND on the e-publisher’s web site: “What happens to children of the mentally ill?” The description strongly implies that Jill’s story IS “what happens to children of the mentally ill.” Nowhere in the description and promotion is there a disclaimer that this is one woman’s story. If there WERE, I’d be much less upset.

    The other part that sparked my anger was the reference to “the mentally ill” and all the negative descriptions of “the mentally ill.”

    As someone who has been touched by those who themselves are affected by mental illnesses, and judging by your written support of them, I would think that you would take issue with how this book is described (how those with mental illnesses are portrayed) and promoted, too.

  2. Anonymous

    I haven’t read this book. I also am not a person with a mental illness. Mental illness does run in my family, however. I have a brother who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as a brother-in-law. It’s likely that my mother would be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I also have a good friend with an untreated mental illness.

    While still loving and respecting people with mental illness, I can still see how, depending on the seriousness of the mental illness, that being the child of a person with mental illness could (please note the *could*) be very damaging to the child. I don’t see how this person’s memoirs imply that *all* people with a mental illness are lousy parents. Having a parent who was psychotic would undoubtedly be a big problem, however. I frankly don’t understand why it is inspiring this intensity of reaction. There’s a big logical jump being made — “Mommie Dearest” didn’t imply that all movie star parents were abusive; nor does the existence of this book imply that all people with mental illness are lousy parents (my mother was great in many ways). Maybe the email you received made that implication, but nothing I saw on this blog or on Amazon gave the impression that the book was any more than one person’s story.

  3. Sheyna

    Joyce – you’ve got it. Unfortunately, those who are the least informed about mental health are the ones who are most likely to buy into the erroneous notion that all children of parents with mental illnesses experience the same thing described in the book. And with at least 1 out of every 4 people personally experiencing or being affected by a mental illness, combined with the significant (and positive) move toward mindful parenting, we know there are plenty of parents who have a mental illness and are doing a fantastic job with their children.

    Kai – the more we combat misunderstandings with truth, the more tolerant people will be. Or at least that’s my hope, no matter how disillusioned. 😉

    Spiritual – thank you for sharing that. While it appears (so far) that the majority of those who find a way to live relatively comfortably with their biological, chemical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental reality do so with some form of medication and/or therapy, you’re not the first person I’ve “met” who has made it through without that.

    You’re also not the first person who’s talked about a guide, helper, or similar companion who perhaps knows us better than we know ourselves and helps us reach what’s in our highest good. And are occasionally annoying in their perseverance.

    It tells me that there’s so much more out there when it comes to understanding what we define as “mental illness or disorder” and the intersection of chemistry, emotion, spirit/soul, and what a good friend of mine likes to refer to as “the great beyond.”

    Thank you so much for visiting!

  4. Spiritual Emergency

    Further, it is common knowledge – or it darn well should be – that every, EVERY mental illness from depression to schizophrenia to OCD to social anxiety is a brain disorder. It is a chemical imbalance. Most cases can be treated with medication; some are aided also by behavior/talk therapy. Those cases that cannot be treated with medication are due to the unique chemical imbalances of those brains involved or the still-evolving understanding of brain chemistry and how medications affect it, not because of a lack of chemical or biological cause of the illness itself.

    I’ve been actively researching the topic of psychosis/schizophrenia ever since I had a psychotic break a few years ago. It’s worth noting that when Eugen Bleuler coined the phrase “schizophrenia” he originally added an “s” to the end of it — even then, it was understood that the “disorder” had more than one face. I suspect that the absolute truth of the matter is the neurology as well as environment play a role, the actual degrees of which vary on a case-by-case basis.

    The primary focus of my explorations over these past few years have been on individuals who make a full recovery because that’s what I’ve done — without formal therapy and without any form of anti-psychotics. Unfortunately, recovery doesn’t sell well in the pharmaceutical market.

    Thank you for speaking up on the matter of “mental illness”. You are right — we are all human beings, first and foremost.

  5. Anonymous

    Thanks for saying this. I hit this very brick wall when I start talking about Pictures in the Dark – people assume its about the negative aspect of mental health, and go off on a rant 🙂

    Books promoted by spam are usually a bad idea anyway – I’ve got a press that’s harrassing me by spam for thier authors. Not a good way to do business.

  6. JoyceAnthony

    It is hard as it is to have an emotional disorder and convince people you CAN be a good parent. I believe the author of this book should have stated it was his/her experience but in no way reflected EVERY family that is in this situation. I do so dislike general statements 🙁

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