Monday, April 8, 2013

Annie's Ghosts, Helping Us to Understand Our Own

There are surely ghosts in everyone's family and often we don't encounter them or share them with others. In the book, Annie's Ghosts, A Journey into a Family Secret, author Steve Luxenberg shares the ghosts his family encountered when they tried to understand a secret their mother kept from them. In his journalistic trained character he explores records many of us will never see. He was determined to peel away the layers to understand his mother's reasoning for maintaining the secret of her sister who had been committed to a mental institution.

When his mother is faced with entering such an institution herself for an evaluation she is pleading with her children to not leave her there. For me this fear of losing one's ability to think rationally is very real. Following my final brain surgery there was a time when I lost my ability to communicate and think rationally. Understanding the mind and how it works continues to be a major scientific challenge. In the current budget proposal for our country they plan to direct millions of dollars to understanding better how the brain works. By mapping the process of the brain functions they may be able to pin point ways to alter the negative impacts and override some of them.

While Steve is able to delve into the outside appearance of what was labeled as Schizophrenia, can we ever fully understand what is going on in the brain of the person so diagnosed? As he questions, is the diagnosis a cover term which never really explains the symptoms being observed? When I could not communicate or reason for those few days of my life, I felt utter frustration and overwhelming fear that I would not regain those skills. The worst fear was of having to be committed to living somewhere away from my family and friends. Gratefully with proper medication the swelling in my head subsided and I did regain the skills needed to live a "normal" life.

The April issue of Ladies Home Journal has the article, "Let Me Tell You What It's Like To Have Schizophrenia" by Lisa Halpern. In her story she relates how this disease has complicated her life. Due to locating a doctor that understands her condition, good medical resources and her family support she has found a way to live a "normal" life outside of an institution. Sadly for Annie Cohen she was born in a time period and situation where she did not have these resources.

Last year Steve presented a lecture at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree on Saturday June 9. While he is not a "genealogist" he does possess the very skills that make a great researcher. He dug and he dug for this story, so he could present an accurate accounting of his mother and her family secrets. His speaking manner made me want to read the book itself to understand more fully how he worked. In reading the book I found much more than his working methods. My understanding of mental illness, how it is treated yesterday and today, the Holocaust, ethnic protocols, World War II military service, and how families protect one another has profoundly changed. Read the book and you will also be better able to understand!

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