What is sanity? Am I sane? Are you? If so, what is insanity?
In Tanya J. Peterson’s Leave of Absence, we meet three people – Oliver, who is rescued from attempted suicide and ends up in a mental health facility for PTSD, Penelope, a schizophrenic, who he meets at the facility and befriends, and William, her fiance. Life has been normal to them up until a point where it has turned so violently against them that they haven’t been able to handle it. Oliver has lost the love of his life, his wife Maggie, and their son Henry. There is no reason for him to live when they are no more; this realization is too hard for him to bear. Equally hard is Penelope’s tryst with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, her idol, who is in her head and won’t shut up.
As the two ‘patients’ deal with life on an everyday basis and try to get themselves out of bed each day, we see more of where they come from. And, we see more of the people around them – the carers. As with every mental patient that has the sympathy vote of everyone they had once known, there is also their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. William’s old friends shun him, judge his relationship, avoid Penelope… people who he once thought to be educated and logical suddenly seem hostile and uncomprehending, encouraging him to end his relationship.
Dealing with the virtual loss of a loved one is very hard, especially when you can only see a shadow of what they once were, their disease debilitating and crippling to everyday life. Added to that are the pressures of a society that refuses to understand the fine differences between the umbrella term of ‘insane’. Myths surround diseases like schizophrenia – schizophrenics are violent, some say, some others feel they are dangerous to themselves, most others just avoid them. Ignorance surrounds problems like PTSD, most people have no idea what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how they can help.
Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. The descriptions of the people, the hospital, the routines, they are all very well thought out and consistent. The fabric of the book is taut, the threads on it interwoven and loose, very lucid writing.
(Image Courtesy: Inkwater Press)
People with mental illnesses are just that: people. with illness. Like you’d do with a physical illness, find out about it, help them with it, speak to them, hold them and reassure them of your presence as parent/spouse/friend/companion/acquaintance. And if you can’t be there for them, then begone!
Quote: “It was hard for both of them. But William loved her. It was a deep, all-encompassing love that didn’t just stop when things became difficult. When he looked at her, no just at her happy images in photographs, but at her, no matter how she was in the moment, he saw Penelope. He didn’t see a mental illness. He saw the whole picture – the woman he loved who happened to be experiencing something awful.”
“He was also very touched by the fact that she had thought so hard about him and had made such an effort to create something she thought would help him, No one had done anything like that for him before. He experienced an odd mix of grief and warmth and guilt.”
This post was written as part of the blog tour for this book that I’m participating in.