Considering how prevalent mental illness is, why do so few bloggers talk about it?

The aim of this blog is to write about my experience with mental illness, developments in my life as well as issues in the field of mental health all the while keeping a feminist framework.

I hope you can take something from this blog, whatever that may be.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Like Bitter Medicine, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden depicts a very raw experience with severe mental illness. Reading this book made me realize how fortunate I have been with my own experience of mental illness and how lucky we are to have medicines that help (sometimes).
The story is about a girl named Deborah who is institutionalized in the 1960’s for her supposed schizophrenia (I say supposed because some doctors would diagnose her differently today, plus, how accurate are we really when we try to categorize the illnesses). This story can be considered feminist because of how deeply it delves into the lives and experiences of women. The novel chronicles the experience in a mental institution as she undergoes treatment which primarily takes the form of psychotherapy. She has a unique bond with her psychologist who is warm, caring as well as experienced. What struck me most was the way the doctor spoke of Yri, the ‘fictional’ world in which Deborah coexists. (I say ‘fictional’ because how can we say it is fake if it is experienced so vividly.) Her doctor does not tell her that she is disordered, that the world Deborah has ‘created’ is fictional and needs to be forgotten, but rather shows her that she is being controlled by that world and needs to get to a point where she can choose between ‘reality’ and the world of Yri. She goes so far as to say that she will have a choice and that she will not have to give up Yri if she does not want to. This blew me away, giving so much credit to a patient… if only more doctors were like this.
The depiction of her schizophrenia was moving, especially the time she spends in the world through a black and white lens seen through grey jail bars. She also demonstrates the connection people develop with their mental illness – how they can predict relapse and breakdowns but also the way you can develop emotional attachment to even ‘fictional’ characters.
The relationships between the patients and between the patients and the staff of the hospital were also interesting. An interesting dynamic developed surrounding the idea of failure. Twice in the book a patient is released only to end up returning to the confines of the hospital. The response of the other patients was telling. There was a mix of happiness in seeing an old friend but also animosity for what their ‘failure’ represented. Each time a woman was released there was so much meaning placed on their success; if one of us can overcome our illnesses and function and be happy, then maybe I can too. Their failure served to crush that dream.
I found the readability of this book questionable. I was really curious as to where the book would take me and I wanted to read it through because it was a book concerned with mental illness- a rarity. BUT, I found it a bit tedious. Yri is a difficult place to understand and many times I found myself skipping over sections so I didn’t have to decipher what was written.
I would recommend it for those who are looking to invest some time in a sometimes difficult to read book for a pretty good story and a really interesting and powerful depiction of mental illness.

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