Title: Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Memoir of Love and Madness
Author: Michael Greenberg
I read this immediate after reading An Unquiet Mind and can definitely say it gave a different perspective to how privilege can earn one a safer place in the world when suffering from metal illness, that disease that often makes social pariahs of its sufferers.
Whilst Jamison’s account of her manic-depressive illness was cushioned by the stability of home and subsequently the safety of her medical world, Michael Greenberg’s daughter in Hurry Down Sunshine has an entirely different experience. To be fair in making the comparison, Jamison’s background made her steely in the face of her illness, and she did throughout her high school and undergraduate years deal with it on her own.
Greenberg recounts the summer his fifteen year-old daughter Sally had her first psychotic episode, and how his family came together in dealing with this. His telling is scarier than Jamison’s because unlike Jamison, who had her first real psychotic episode at twenty-eight, Greenberg’s daughter Sally has hers at a much younger age. Greenberg describes his daughter’s progression towards her psychotic episode in such a steady manner that as soon as the reader realises that she may well have a mental illness, the author and his family are pulling together in support of their bright fifteen-year old as she tumbles into the world of hospitalisation and medication.
What makes the tale even more harrowing, though still remaining humorous in parts, is the author’s uncertainty about the extent of her daughter’s illness, which is compounded by what appears to be a haphazard way of dealing with mental patients in the institution where her daughter ends up. I suppose I was comparing it to the very knowledgeable Jamison and the manner in which her psychotic break and subsequent hospitalisation went – all very smoothly, but not for Greenberg and his family.
Greenberg’s family situation also adds to the disorder that accompanies her daughter’s illness that summer. Living and writing in a rundown apartment in New York – with a nebulous living arrangement between him and his wife and their landlord. Compounded to all his troubles is the sense of desperation in his lack of sufficient knowledge about the illness, and in having to put his entire trust in the health system regarding his daughter’s treatment. It’s an honest evaluation of what most families probably go through when mental illness, often without symptoms or cause, strikes families.
By the end of a trying summer that entailed therapy for his daughter, a drug treatment that virtually wipes out his savings, and a real absence of a good post-hospitalisation medical support system, his daughter returns to school – better, but not entirely cured. Greenberg deals with the anxieties of that summer with good humour, and at the end with some acceptance of his daughter’s illness.
The book reads like a simply telling of ‘this is what I did last summer’, but there’s a really terrifying revelation to the options, or lack of, that await people who find themselves in Greenberg’s situation.
I enjoyed this as much as, if not more than Jamison’s book simply because there was a grittiness to the entire subject that hinted at an unsheltered reality in facing up to mental illness.