Book Review: Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg
Book Review: Hurry Down Sunshine
This book was written by Michael Greenberg of his daughter Sally’s first psychotic break, an intense manic episode that led to a “diagnosis” of Bipolar 1. This book is his interpretation of the chaos that ensued. Michael’s brother Steve is also mentally ill and Steve is a part of Michael’s learning process. Sally’s doctor had mixed feelings on whether to diagnose her as bipolar. All of the doctors I have seen and even the ones I have read about are reluctant to label mental illness as bipolar.
Sally had her “breakdown” at 15, which is very young but not unheard of. A diagnosis of schizophrenia is more common in teenagers. Sally has delusions of grandeur and “high” thoughts, that she considers very astute. I relate to that. Her demeanor changed radically reaching to extremes. Michael and Pat the stepmother and her mother Robin work together to get Sally the help she needs. It required a stay in a psychiatric hospital and an intense drug therapy to end the cycle. It took months for Sally to get back to herself. When she finally came “too” it began a process that takes a lifetime to answer, “Who am I now?”
Pat is a choreographer and developed a “play” that mirrors Sally’s journey. It is a look from the outside and how the family is impacted. The book is her father’s journey, about how he learned to understand and cope with Sally’s illness. It struck me as odd that Michael’s brother’s life did not prepare him more for this life-changing event. You would think living alongside Steven would have helped him see the changes happening, but living with Steve’s illness for most of his life confused his acceptance of her change, by making him immune in some ways, but also the inevitable, “why is this happening to me?” I am in awe of Michael’s resilience and the rest of the family. I believe if Michael had failed in his resolve that Sally would still be trapped. He has my deepest respect.
I fell asleep reading this book, which I had to check out twice just to finish, it was as if I needed to rest from it. It is hard for me to accept anybody else’s bipolar description or story. It is like mine is less somehow? It limits me. I almost reject reading them, but I am also drawn to it. Even in high school long before my diagnosis and first “break” happened, I was drawn to figuring it out, probably because of my father’s schizophrenia.
I feel limited by others experiences, especially those looking in – they truly are outside. It is even more interesting and difficult to accept a counselor or doctor’s view. You just cannot put it in a category. It is indefinable. It’s like calling a Camaro a Chevy, it is one, but it is so much more.
I am confused by the bipolar diagnosis simply because the story never mentions Sally in a depressed state. Despair and disillusionment yes. I feel it was Michael who went through depression. I am almost jealous that Sally’s Michael stood beside her and still does. In fact, I am jealous but I am also proud of myself for my own endurance.
I found myself comparing my situation to this story. There are some parallels; the most basic is that there was a “break”. I find it interesting that the one named Michael played such a huge role. My own Michael lived through this but never with me, he never tried to understand. I had my own Pat, the one who put a different spin on it, one who was instrumental in opening Sally’s perspective. My Pat entered my life later on, years later but she was also the one to deliver “perspective”. My Michael had a brother who was “impaired” by cerebral palsy and his name was Steven. Sally’s Steven and their relationship are never mentioned, almost as if they were kept apart. I never got to meet mine; he passed a few years before I met Michael. It’s uncanny that Sally’s Steve was first diagnosed, had his first episode in 1966, the year I was born.
Though Michael mentions being Jewish, he doesn’t follow and observe his faith, that’s probably my misunderstanding, thinking all Jewish people are of Jewish faith, kind of like calling yourself “Catholic”. He encounters another Jewish family who is following their faith and is mystified by the disease also. In my life God was the only one I could truly count on. There are other differences of course; the other mental health factors in my life, the trauma to my first marriage and my subsequent divorce and my marriage to Bill. The children, the drug protocol, the hospitalization, Sally’s ability to re-enter mainstream society, all are differences. The immediate response in her case was made by others. In my case I turned myself in; I had to regulate myself through the first episode and always since then. I even checked myself into the hospital at one time.
Where are the mentally ill supposed to fall? Who will catch them? Why has no one been there for me? After the first few times I just stopped asking and expecting. Not having help, led to my independence through being dependent on welfare, which humiliates me, but I don’t have any alternatives right now.
We are both still discovering ourselves. I am glad that Sally has her father and family to sustain her. She has gone on to college and to work, marriage, and divorce, having had more episodes, but staying – staying, just staying. How great is that, to have staying power. In the end I found it comforting that both Steve and Sally learned to recognize the signs that episodes were beginning, that the therapies were not working and when to seek out help for themselves. I really want to meet all three of them. I would like to hear Sally’s story and Steve’s.
Perhaps the most relative parallel is the writing. Sally is always in her journal, just like me.
“When I told her I was writing a book about the summer of her first crack-up, she said, “I like the idea that you’re thinking so much about me.” Then after pondering it for a while, she added, “I want you to use my real name.” (the very last page, the very last thought p. 233)