Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness
edited by Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Boden

Brindle & Glass, 2012. ISBN 978-1-926-97296-1.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 01/10/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

Every essay in this collection is a courageous look into lives affected by mental illness. And all of them begin with inviting first sentences that entice you into wanting to know more. Thank goodness for that because the more we learn about mental health issues, the more we dispel the myths surrounding them.

It's so gratifying to know the authors are sharing their experiences in the world to help end the stigma, to let others know they're not alone and "help lift the veil of mystery" as Lenore Rowntree says in the introduction. Rowntree writes of her sister's childhood schizophrenia. Her sister Beth has also contributed a piece called "My Life as Beth."

Co-editor Andrew Boden writes of his brother who has schizophrenia and the difficulties of being his advocate within the medical system.

Joel Yanofsky, a Montreal writer, is so honest in his frustration with his son who has autism. Although there may be layers of resentment, it's the love that shines through in these essays. The writers love their sister, father or son despite the many heartbreaks and challenges that love was heir to.

The stories are heartbreaking for readers as well. In "The Last Call," Jill Sadowsky, an English tutor in Israel, writes of her son Doron. His name means "a gift." He had paranoid schizophrenia and took his own life three months short of his thirty-fourth birthday.

Sadowsky and her husband started a parents' support group to let others know they did not cause schizophrenia "no matter what society and some professionals may imply. Recognize the regret that parents have when they realize they never got a real chance to say goodbye to their child--Doron had disappeared into his illness so imperceptibly."

In "Atlas and the Cheese Cube," Catherine Owen writes a well-told essay about herself and other family members with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Her vulnerability is her strength as she describes the use of "self-talk in order to overcome some of its more debilitating manifestations."

It's the vulnerability in the so-called tough guys that is especially poignant. Scott Whyte, for instance, was discharged from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) "with a serious mental illness." He writes about post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder.

Whyte now works as an advocate for the mentally ill and the criminal courts in California. He also provides training on crisis intervention techniques and stress management to law enforcement personnel.

From the biographies one can see the work these authors are doing to end the stigma of mental illness. Much of that work is done in the form of education and hrough the process of writing about their remarkable lives.

Lenore Rowntree's writing has appeared in several Canadian literary journals, including Geist, The Tyee, The New Quarterly, Room Magazine, and Other Voices. Her play, The Woods at Tender Creek, was produced in 2010 as part of the Walking Fish Festival in Vancouver, and her poetry was included in the anthology Best Canadian Poetry 2010. She was shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award in 2009 for the essay "Flat Champagne," written about her sister's childhood schizophrenia. Rowntree currently resides in Vancouver, BC. Please visit her website to access a dialogue about the book, Hidden Lives.

Andrew Boden's articles on mental illness have appeared in Open Minds Quarterly and Other Voices. His stories and essays have appeared in The Journey Prize Stories: 22, Prairie Fire, Descant, Vancouver Review, and the anthology Nobody's Father: Life Without Kids. Andrew is vice-president and director of the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange, a Canadian children's literacy charity, and has helped build homes in Mexico. He currently resides in Burnaby, BC. Visit his website.

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