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In a darkness by James Arthur Wechsler

In a darkness

by James Arthur Wechsler

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The author's son, Michael, committed suicide in 1969 at the age of 26, after a nearly decade-long struggle with some vaguely defined mental illness. Some of his psychiatrists (referred to not by name but by the appellation "Dr. First" "Dr. Second" "Dr. Third" etc. -- there were eight), called it schizophrenia. It looks more like schizoaffective disorder or bipolar to me, but who knows. The point is, in spite of various different kinds of treatment, several hospitalizations, Michael's great intelligence (he was a Harvard psychology student, but had to drop out in his third year due to his illness), and his parents' love and dedication for him and their willingness and ability to pay any price to get him what he needed to get better, Michael died.

The book was written over forty years ago and it shows its age. Although James felt that he and his wife were excluded from Michael's treatment, what with the HIPAA act and all, no modern psychiatrist, hospital or therapist would have permitted them to know as much about his treatment as most of Michael's doctors did. Mostly he was treated with talk therapy and not so much with medication -- the exact opposite of the generally practiced psychiatric treatment today. Etc etc. (James also mentions being investigated by the McCarthyites for his youthful Communist activities.)

But James Wechsler's pain, and his sense of failing his son, is universal, and modern-day parents of mentally ill children would totally identify with his frustration and anger at the mental health field. His ambigous reaction to Michael's death makes sense: he was torn between grief at losing his only son and a sense of relief that, at last, Michael at peace and no longer suffering. In fact, James said, in some ways Michael's action was "a triumph of courage."

You might compare this book to more recent memoirs about parents and their children's mental illness, like Danielle Steele's His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina about her son's bipolar disorder and suicide, and Paul Raeburn's Acquainted with the Night: A Parent's Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children. ( )
  meggyweg | Mar 27, 2012 |
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