A Book Of Light: When A Loved One Has A Different Mind
Jerry Pinto’s ‘A Book of light: When a loved one has a different mind’ brings to focus stories of living with a loved one battling a mental health disorder. It’s a must read if that’s your story too. It may make you feel less alone.
Much as I hate the self-righteous and patronising memes that keep popping up on Facebook, there’s one close to my heart. This is it: ‘You don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s personal life. Be kind’.
I thought of that when I read A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind, a collection of essays and stories by several writers, edited by Jerry Pinto, on growing up or living with people who have minds not the same as those we define as ‘normal’.
In this small collection, I found two essays by people I knew at work and still call friends. While the stories they tell of their mother and their father respectively were long over by the time I worked with them, the fact remains that I hadn’t a clue that they had grown up in circumstances different from the usual middle class life. And from what I read of the other stories and essays in this collection, it’s easy to gauge that what we call ‘the usual middle class life’ is not necessarily usual. It’s just an image we project while we hide the things we believe would make us unusual.
How unusual can unusual be? Very bizarre, as the stories these writers tell us. One writer speaks of how, as a little girl, she had to hide from her mother who was waiting for an opportunity to harm her. Another writer, as a young man, spent his life caring for a mother who may have been schizophrenic. In another essay, a boy heaves a sigh of relief when his bipolar father who is often violent walks out of the house and does not return; but he keeps a weapon handy in case his father does return. Then there’s the case of the young woman who finds the love of her life and just a few days before the wedding, realises that he’s lost himself. And there’s the writer who, as a child, had an uncle who lived beneath the staircase of her home because her father flung him out of the family house – because he was ‘mad’.
No, there is nothing ‘usual’ about the way these writers have grown up and lived. And yet, there is nothing very unusual about it either: many more people than we can ever guess have lived or are living like this.
Jerry Pinto is the author of a book called Em and the Big Hoom, about growing up with a mother who was bipolar. It is brilliantly written, neither self-pitying nor sentimental, and it prompted many people to write to Pinto or talk to him and share stories of their own lives in the midst of uncertainty about a family member’s mental health.
For many people, Pinto writes in his introduction to A Book of Light, the fact that he talked about his mother’s condition at all helped them feel less alone. And this was what prompted him to compile true stories like his own in this collection, A Book of Light. This, and the fact that mental health needs to be discussed. Not only as a matter of health policy, though that is vital. But also because disorders of mental health affect us as well as the people we love.
Though some essays are no longer than a couple of pages, A Book of Light lives up to its promise: it shines a light on disorders that many of us would hide in the dark corners of our lives. But it also shines a light on the fact that the people we tend to be ashamed of are people. They are different from us, yes, but they are still our loved ones – though sometimes it’s impossible to love them, however hard we try.
There’s little to learn from these essays in terms of caregiving, medication and doctors. But the stories – all true, all honest – about depression, bipolarism, possible schizophrenia, and various other unnamed or undiagnosed disorders, do show us something we need to know. That talking about the mental health of someone close to you makes sense. That the more light there is on this subject, the better for us all.
Featured image courtesy: Pixabay