Mark Vonnegut on Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So
I wrote Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So because I was increasingly annoyed with my younger self, who had wrapped up everything with a bow. You can try but you don’t just get to get over mental illness at age twenty-five, go to medical school, write a book, get married and call it a wrap.
In the seventies I was in so in love with the medical model I almost thought I had invented it. "No shame. No blame." I was thrilled to not have my health be dependent on the sanity of society or the wellness of those around me. I was magnanimous about not wanting to credit insight or hard work or circumstances like the kindness of others. Now, the medical model has morphed into "Shut up and take your pills." What passes for care is medication, medication, and more medication, the purpose of which is only incidentally and occasionally to help the patient get a life.
Much of mental illness is genetic, but I’m now quite sure there are people with more or less the same genetics I have who never go crazy and others who never get well. As a kid who wrote a little and painted a little and played a little music, I certainly didn’t want my mental health riding on anything as flimsy as my creative abilities but, among other things, I’ve come to see that a willingness to write, paint and play music is more than a little important to progress and just trying to keep my feet under me.
It was the feeling that good things had happened to me in spite of myself, that I had a rich life that showed itself in my house and how I practiced pediatrics and how we lived as a family that made me want to write Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So. I’m grateful to the gritty clench-jawed kid who wrote The Eden Express, I think it’s an excellent book, but I’m glad I’m not him anymore.
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From Publishers Weekly
Two not unrelated challenges--being novelist Kurt Vonnegut's son and suffering episodes of schizophrenia--shape, but don't confine, this mordantly witty, slightly subversive memoir. Vonnegut (The Eden Express) weathered a scruffy childhood with his as yet obscure dad ("I'll always remember my father as the world's worst car salesman") and was hospitalized for three bouts of psychosis in his 20s. He recovered and went on to Harvard Medical School and a successful career in pediatrics--then a fourth psychotic break upended him 14 years after the first one. (Taken to the hospital where he worked, he found himself greeting colleagues while tied to a gurney.) Vonnegut vividly conveys the bizarre logic of the voices and delusions that occasionally plagued him, which he finds not much nuttier than what passes for normalcy. (He's especially incensed by the insurance bureaucracies he thinks are ruining medicine.) His father's son, he writes with a matter-of-fact absurdism--"The patient who just died lies there quietly and everyone else stops rushing around trying to do something about it"--champions misfits, and attacks the system. All his own are Vonnegut's hard-won insights into the value of a humble, useful life picked up from pieces. Photos.
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