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After Her Brain Broke: Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity [Paperback]

Susan Inman
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 2010
Susan Inman's memoir describes her family's nine year journey to help her younger daughter recover from a catastrophic schizoaffective disorder. "Highly recommended" by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey author of Surviving Schizophrenia and described by him as "...one of the best accounts I have read of serious mental illness as told by a mother." From the introduction, Michael Kirby, Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Ella Amir, the chair of the Caregiver's Advisory Committee state "Susan's heart wrenching account is an important reminder of the work we still have to do to ensure that people with mental illness and their families get the same treatment and respect that individuals with physical illnesses receive. It is also testimony to the devotion and dedication of families, which sadly often comes at the expense of their own well-being" Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. Stephanie Engel said "Susan Inman has written a much needed book about her experience as a mother coming to grips with her daughter's devastating mental illness. Other parents will recognize and take comfort from her courageous and persistent efforts to learn what is known about psychotic illnesses and their treatment, while holding tenaciously to her own personal knowledge of what it means to be a loving, humane and thoughtful parent. Believing in one's own instincts as a parent in the face of expertise, myths and prejudices is a monumental task, and Ms Inman does it with grace and conviction." Emergency room physician and international best selling author, Dr. Daniel Kalla said "After Her Brain Broke is a harrowing, heart wrenching, and ultimately triumphant story of one family's struggle with a child's mental illness. It's impossible not to be moved by Susan Inman's honest and touching account of her daughter's sudden descent into mental health turmoil and the family's long hard battle to overcome it. A must read for families coping with a mental illness, and a wonderful eye-opener for those of us lucky enough not to have been affected."

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Review

I suffer from depression and have been treated for it for more than 20 years. My problem is anxiety -- not anxiousness, but overwhelming unchangeable anxiety, mind-numbing anxiety that has its physical side which I'll tell you about in a moment.

About 15 years ago I had a very good lesson, one which I'll never forget. I had been doing very well on a single medication but I insisted I change. It happened this way.

I was interviewing a famous American psychiatrist (not so famous that I remember his name) who, during a station break, asked me what medicine I was on. I told him Elavil Plus which he snorted at derisively, saying, "That's the old tin lizzy of medicines, you should be taking Serzone." So off to my doctor, Melvin Bruchet whom I credit with saving my life by diagnosing me correctly and early, demanding a prescription for Serzone.

"You dumb bugger," he replied (he's nothing if not candid), "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Indeed I had been doing well with one very minor side effect, but I was not to be dissuaded. He gave me the prescription, then said, "You must stay off Elavil Plus for three weeks before you start Serzone; I hope you're prepared for what might happen."

"Not to worry, Mel," I said, "Wendy and I are off for two weeks in London and Paris so there's no pressure." Mel did not seem convinced.

The first day in London, in late October, was unseasonably hot, but I'd not gone two blocks before I started to shiver and I went into a Tie Rack and bought a scarf. We got near our destination and I was so cold I went into an Irish wool shop and bought a heavy wool sweater. By the time we got back to our hotel I was shaking all over, yet my body was drenched in perspiration. Then I started to cry. And Wendy had two weeks nursing ahead of her. It was not a pretty sight and when I got home, needless to say, I immediately and sheepishly got hold of Mel, and went back to my Elavil Plus. UBC Writing Centre- More courses begin in March.

I had learned a couple of lessons. Mental illness is not to be toyed with. And perhaps more importantly, its hallmark is irrationality. Another time, when I had a bad bout of anxiety, deep down I knew that I wasn't dying of liver cancer but that rational voice was completely and effectively shut down by the voice of gloom, the voice that eradicates rationality. And once again a doctor had to calmly make me see that I did not have cancer, and was not dying.

'A ridiculous hell'

I'm fortunate that I am able, thanks to medicine, to function effectively. Most mentally ill people can get help and thus be able to function. Susan Inman's daughter Molly has not been so lucky. She is schizophrenic and Susan tells of the family journey that took place through Molly's teens and early twenties in a highly readable though disturbing book called After Her Brain Broke: Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity.

A lovely line sums up the journey: "Life is a ridiculous hell and I'll just navigate narrow pathways of duty before chaos claims us all."

Schizophrenia is not well understood even by doctors, be they family physicians or psychiatrists. Molly bounces around between lay health workers and numerous doctors; good advice and bad advice and lots in between. She develops Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The sufferer experiences repeated obsessions that interfere with her ability to function. This meant the entire family had to deal with a volcanic nightmare always just around the corner.

I have a grandson who suffers from Prader-Willi disease, which is caused by an abnormality of genes, thus incurable, and he has OCD big time. He focuses so severely on, for instance, the place we’re going to eat, that if the place is closed an all but unstoppable tantrum results. I constantly am overcome with admiration how my daughter and son-in-law deal with this ever-ticking time bomb. They have also had to deal with the boy's younger sister who had to, somehow, understand that she couldn't behave as her older brother did. She is, God bless her, now 14 and an integral part of the family support system.

BC healthcare's troubling symptoms

After Her Brain Broke, I must tell you, is a Vancouver chronicle, and the inadequacies of the healthcare system are eloquently bared in a book that is free from whingeing complaints but which will leave you wondering how we can know so little about dealing with what, sadly, is not that rare an illness.

We see health professionals contradicting themselves, which is hardly helpful with any disorder but calamitous in Molly's case.

We see the impact on a family that deals with Molly hating them, suspicious of everything, and almost totally unable to function. Then Dad is hit by a rare cancer in the eye. And through this Susan soldiers on.

The ending is, comparatively at any rate, a happy one; Molly picks up much of her lost education and falls in love with a highly understanding and loving young man.

This tale is by no means critical of all help in the field. Indeed there is much good. What it does point out is the inconsistencies and the enormous difficulties they entail. And what it particularly underscores is the complaint I often make. If physically ill people were treated by the system as the mentally ill are they would be storming the legislature with bricks and pikes.

Second class patients

This is Rafe, not Susan speaking. The physically ill are subsidized by the mentally ill.

How?

The majority of mentally ill people are afraid to seek help because of the horrible stigma still attached to it. This means any system that wants to help the mentally ill must seek out them out rather than rely on them to come to the system. Governments won't seek out the mentally ill -- especially this one -- because that would raise health costs and that'll never do. Those who suffer in silence, then, subsidize those who don’t.

Let me close with this not about After Her Brain Broke. Sad and often tragic though the story is, one always gets a feeling of optimism; not irrational optimism that all will be great, but a feeling that it will be better. It's a story of great courage by each member of the family, very much including Molly.

It's a book I urge you to read. [Tyee]

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee running every other Monday. -- The Tyee, March 5, 2010


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very validating June 2 2010
Format:Paperback
As a person with Bipolar Disorder, I found this book very validating and appreciated how the book went into great depth about day-to-day life with having a mental illness. I especially appreciate the great detail she went into in her daughter's experience with medications. The author has a balanced view about medications and indeed, they are an important part of recovery; however, as was shown in the book, it's not as simple as 'getting treated' and living happily ever after; there is lots of trial and error and often just as many ups and downs as with the illness itself.

I found this book was very insightful and learned things I had never read before. I was interested to see how this illness affected the family, and applaud Susan for being so proactive in her passion for educating people on mental illness and promoting support for other families.

Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A powerfully moving and disturbing account, written by a mother, of her family's struggle to save their youngest daughter from the onslaught of schizoaffective disorder.

Susan Inman's story deals with the loss that accompanies having a family member suffer from a severe mental illness. It is heartbreakingly familiar to all who have lived it. The subsequent lack of awareness, even in the upper levels of professionals working at hospitals and in the field of mental health, is frighteningly common.

Finally, a book that tells it how it is. This is what families and the ill individuals go through every day in Canada and their frustrations, as well as those of the professionals who get it and are trying to help in a flawed system.

It's a reminder that if 'it takes a village to raise a child,' it will take a herculean strength and determination to educate that village on how to raise a child coping with severe mental illness.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down... May 12 2010
Format:Paperback
I work in the mental health care system that Molly and her family travelled through. Once I started to read the manuscript, I could not put it down. I found it to be a very courageous and very personal account of one family's experience with the emergence of serious mental illness in a beloved family member.
Inman outlines their struggles with an underdeveloped and fragmented health care system, where a comprehensive and well-organized continuum of support through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from mental illness is not yet available. Her sense of vulnerability and frustration were palpable through the chronological account of the unexpected challenges they encountered. Yet we also saw the incredible strength of family bonds that held close and nurtured the individual family members as they tried to find the help they so desperately wanted and needed. Where help was not available, they created it. They connected with others in similar situations and constructed a new system of support for themselves and for those who would come after them. Inman, and others like her, having found themselves in desperate circumstances, used their strengths, skills, creativity, and sheer determination to effect change in the system from the outside. She has continued to be part of a movement
that is working collaboratively with consumers, policy makers and health care providers to design a better mental health care system.
A tragedy and a love story with a beautiful ending of hope and inspiration for a new and different future.

Dr. Anne Howson, PhD
Psychologist
Vancouver Coastal Health
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
After Her Brain Broke is an insightful first-hand account of a journey through schizophrenia from the perspective of a mother.
Through her personal account, the author illustrates how schizophrenia affects both the sufferer and his or her family. Ms. Inman's story not only describes the mother's relentless struggle to help her daughter Molly, but constitutes a very valuable resource for families struggling with having a member suffering serious mental illness. Throughout her book, Ms.Inman demonstrates the importance of establishing a collaborative relationship between mental health professionals, community resources and the consumers' families.
Susan's account reveals how parental involvement and education on mental illness is crucial and, in many cases, this knowledge is what can provide families with the necessary tools to collaborate with the professionals in the treatment plan. The author advocates for approaches that educate, empower and mobilize families.
Ms. Inman's experiences in navigating the mental health system highlights the need for adopting an approach that involves the family members in the treatment. Molly's progress with those mental health professionals whose approach involved the family as part of the treatment, challenges the misguided view that some mental health practitioners have about blocking any family involvement in the treatment of consumers. Susan's account constitutes an eye opener to the deficiencies that still pervade the mental health field where some practitioners' poor training in serious mental illness can result in poor management practices for their clients and serious obstacles for their progress. This account leaves the readers wondering how come unprofessional behavior is not accountable.
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