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How We Got Barb Back: The Story of My Sister's Reawakening After 30 Years of Schizophrenia Hardcover – September 1, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A moving yet down-to-earth portrayal of what's it like to live with a serious mental illness. Hawkins affirms the hope of recovery for millions of others like Barb." -Linda Rosenberg, MSW, President and CEO, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare

"What we see so vividly through these pages is that mental illness is treatable, the biggest obstacle being fear and ignorance." -Richard K Baer, MD, author of Switching Time

"Lives that seem so promising and so hopeful can be forever changed by mental illness, but How We Got Barb Back shows us that the change isn't necessarily forever and that there is so much reason to hope." -Alison K. Malmon, founder and executive director, Active Minds, Inc.

"This is a heartwarming story of a family's struggle to come to terms with severe mental illness and find hope and love on the other side. What it shows us, once again, is that most of what we think we know about mental illness is just plain wrong." -Mark Vonnegut

"This rare story should inspire America's 3 million affected families to keep the faith." -Patrick Tracey, author of Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia

About the Author

Margaret Hawkins teaches writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was an art critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than two decades. She is also a Chicago correspondent for ARTnews. Her essays have appeared in a variety of national publications. Her debut novel, A Year of Cats and Dogs, published last year to strong reviews and her new novel, How to Survive a Natural Disaster, publishes this fall.

Carolyn S. Spiro, MD is a co-author of Divided Minds.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Conari Press (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573244775
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573244770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,347,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As someone with a mental illness, I know only too well the stigma and discrimination that is a reality for people with mental illness. It is hard to believe that stigma would still exist in the age of the internet. People can get cutting edge information with the simple click of a mouse. But as anyone with a mental illness can tell you, the stigma is very real. This is true of all mental illness, but perhaps no mental illness is more stigmatized and misunderstood than the one this book discusses:schizophrenia.

This book tells the story of Barb (the author's older sister) and her battle with schizophrenia. Barb went from being a vibrant, funny, engaging person, to a ghost of her former self. She spent more time communicating with her voices, than with people in the real world. She was sullen and withdrawn and basically took herself out of life. She was unwilling to live the house. Nothing seemed to really phase her.

It didn't help matters any, that Barb's parents were both very cynical and distrustful of the medical profession in general, but especially of therapists and psychiatrists. They also felt deep shame about their daughter's behavior. Their method of coping was to simply ignore the problem. To make matters worse, the common belief about mental illness was that it was a sign of personal weakness and the result of poor parenting. If there was mental illness in a family, the sanity of the rest of the family was called into question. This made them even more stubborn and determined not to get help for Barb. Instead, they just overlooked her odd behavior and expected others to do the same. But they seemed blind to the impact Barb's illness was having on the rest of the family. On the one hand, you can definitely sympathize with the parents.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have a relative, through marriage, who has had schizophrenia so I was especially interested in the story of Barb. Really, it is the story of Margaret, growing up with an older sister whose increasingly strange behavior shaped the lives of an entire family. The story is told with a lot of kindness and love, and generosity towards Barb's parents, who did the best they could in caring for her despite their personal limitations. It is clear that the author believes that her sister would have been better off had her parents consented to medical treatment when the symptoms of paranoia and psychotic breaks began. We are, after all, a culture that has more faith in medicine than in anything else and Margaret's beliefs would be echoed by a lot of people - i.e. that Barb would not have spent 30 years as a quietly paranoid agoraphobic if she had been medicated, and that her parents were to blame for it.

The irony is, if Barb had been medicated from the 70's until now, there would have been nothing left of her mind to emerge! The drugs in use during the 70s and 80s would have destroyed whatever was left of her mind. That is precisely what has happened to my relative. He is an obese, blank, chain-smoking,TV-addicted institutionalized patient. His story has been repeated in many, many families. Drugs did not cure him, nor did they give him any kind of life. Drugs made him manageable in an institutional setting and that is all. Barb lived at home. She lived on her own schedule, ate only what she wanted, debated with her inner voices, played small power games with her overbearing father, and was LOVED by her family members. Was she so badly off?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a book I started reading and could not put down. It was such a fascinating story of a family both dealing with and denying, mental illness. It is beautifully written. The family members are so well described and nuanced, that I felt I knew them. The dynamics of the family were dysfunctional, but I believe the love was still there. This is a book which I found very helpful in understanding how schizophrenia is a disease, just like cancer or Parkinson's. However, it's effects are far more devastating to families. While some may argue that the father could have done much better in his treatment of his daughter and her illness, I came away thinking that he did the best he could in that time period. There weren't many effective treatments back then, and oftentimes the patient ended up in worse circumstances. As medicine progressed for the mentally ill, the father was by that time dealing with a wife who was ill. Care taking, just by itself, has it's own inherent demons. And yes, the father also couldn't admit to the mental illness of his oldest and much loved daughter. But it is a hopeful book, mostly because the sister with schizophrenia has a caring, and loving, brother and sister. If someone wants to know what an "angel" is, it is the family and care takers of people who need help.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not so much about finding Barb, but about how Barb's brother and sister sat back for thirty years while their parents allowed Barb to stay in her room at their house without any treatment for her schizophrenia.

The book is readable, but basically repeats the same thing over and over. The author wasn't really around her sister very much for many years while she was away from home at school. Later she lived in the same city but only visited infrequently. So she often writes, "I can imagine what happened.....".

My problem is separating my feelings about how Barb was allowed to vegetate for 30 years from my enjoyment of the story as a story. I cannot explain why she wasn't treated without giving away too much of the story. If you are interested in knowing how it all happened read the book. But if you want to read an insightful, memoir about how they got Barb back, read the last fifty pages of the book.
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