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Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir Hardcover – October 5, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1 edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343794
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kcorn TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mark Vonnegut, son of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., first wrote about his struggle with mental illness in The Eden Express. His newest book has an updated focus, written from a seasoned perspective, with doses of humor which make the book very engaging. To get a fuller perspective about how the newer volume fits into Mark's life, I'd strongly suggest reading The Eden Express first. No, it isn't necessary, but does add perspective and a historical comparison between views about mental health in the 70s and now. It also makes it easier to grasp Vonnegut's changed views of mental health diagnosis and treatment.

By Mark Vonnegut's own admission, "craziness" ran in his family and manic depression affected at least four generations of the Vonneguts - and maybe even more. Alcoholism also seemed to be a common theme, with his great-grandfather drinking when he needed to escape from the voices he heard in his head. His maternal grandmother went through periods of psychiatric hospitalization.

When he wrote The Eden Express, Mark believed he had schizophrenia and was even formally diagnosed as schizophrenic. But he later decided that he actually had a form of bipolar illness, characterized by periods of mania as well as depression. Perhaps that is the prime reason his new book has more of an emphasis on bipolar illness. Vonnegut now questions the vitamin therapy which he credited in The Eden Express for much of his recovery. He has revisited that treatment option, noting it didn't work for many others.

Having read The Eden Express, I was eager to find out what had happened to Mark Vonnegut in the years since its publication. As it turns out, he'd not only gone to Harvard Medical School but became a practicing physician, all described in detail in his latest work.
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Format: Hardcover
JUST LIKE SOMEONE WITHOUT MENTAL ILLNESS ONLY MORE SO is Mark Vonnegut's follow-up to The Eden Express, his 1975 memoir of a series of psychotic breakdowns in his early 20s.

This is memoir also, of perseverance, told through a collection of thoughts, vignettes, and longer pieces. Vonnegut writes about attending Harvard Medical School (of twenty programs he applied to, his only acceptance); a passage describing his first patient death, alongside a staff nurse, reminded me how often nurses guide doctors-to-be through that experience. He writes about his practice as a pediatrician, including criticism of contemporary healthcare and the health-insurance industry. He includes passages about his own childhood -- his weirdly prescient (and mentally ill) mother; his plainly weird (and genius) father (before he was successful and famous); the orphaned cousins his parents took in and raised as his siblings. He describes a medical mission to Honduras. He examines marriage, fatherhood, being alcoholic ... and a fourth psychotic episode, wherein he takes us inside his mind as it breaks down.

Each chapter opens with a personal photo or sample of his own artwork, and he includes bits of advice about sanity and sobriety throughout, for example: "It's possible within any given moment of any given day to choose between self and sickness. Rarely are there big heroic choices that will settle matters once and for all. The smallest positive step is probably the right one."

Vonnegut is curious, optimistic, fun, philosophical ... and this gentle memoir is highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This book will make you smile, smirk, chuckle and laugh out loud. It will also make you wince, perhaps in recognition, but certainly in sympathy. Because Mark Vonnegut's road to finding some measure of peace in his sixty-three years of life has been filled with bumps, collisions and countless stretches of "under construction." One would think that being the son of a famous author like Kurt Vonnegut would have made for an easy and charmed life. Nope. As it turns out mental illness ran in Vonnegut's family on both sides probably back three or four generations. With a family history like that, it's not surprising that Mark Vonnegut cracked up in his early twenties, the first of at least four major episodes in his life which each time left him hospitalized and scrambling to find purchase on a sudden downward slide. The last time it happened, Vonnegut had reconstructed his life well enough to have gotten into Harvard Med School and had successfully completed an internship and residency and was already well established as one of the top pediatricians in the Boston area. Alcohol and prescription drugs (Xanax) played a part, and denial played perhaps an even bigger role.

Mark Vonnegut has written only one other book, a memoir 35 years ago. The Eden Express, an insider's tale of mental illness, was a smashing success, enough to finance the author's med school and buy him a house. I must have read the book, probably soon after it came out, because my brother said I lent it to him years ago. But I can't remember it at all, so I'll have to find a copy and read it again. Since I'm a few years older than Mark Vonnegut, I guess I'll just chalk my forgetfulness up to age. Because I love this new book.
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