Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Shot in the Head”, by Katherine Dering - Brutally honest, can't-put-it-down-kind-of-book

By G.G. Burns, Book Review

I just finished an incredible book, "Shot in the Head”, by Katherine Dering about the Flannery family and the life and death of their dear brother Paul. Paul is blindsided by the onset of Schizophrenia in his late teens and like other families the disease impacts the entire family unit.  

Katherine does as excellent job describing the devastation we feel with raw emotion that puts the reader in the shoes of Paul as he is "institutionalize", then later released to a world of insanity much worse than his disease. 
"While picking up the pieces after Paul's Mother died, Katherine (and her eight siblings) learned how dysfunctional and fragmented the "mental health system" is. Along the way, her perception of her ill brother, Paul, changed as well."
Over the past 10 years, I have read dozens of books about “living” with serious mental illness, some by psychiatrists or psychologists, others by research scientist, family members or individuals impacted themselves. In all the books describing tragic deaths or suicides, none touched me in the way "Shot in the Head" did.

Perhaps it was because I had just left my fagile 84-year old Mother, who like Paul in his final days suffered with cancer in a nursing home. 

My Mother suffers not only with dementia, depression and social anxiety that has paralyzed her much like horrible neurological disorder, but she has also survived breast cancer this year. For years, she lived in fear of "what if a bad thing happens" and now it has. Just as Paul believed he was James Bond or he had been shot in the head. 

Another reason this book was so impactful, my son is surviving his serious brain disease with "no treatment" due to his civil rights to say no! Like Paul, he too believes he works for the FBI. 

I began reading the book on my flight home from Washington, D.C., in early September after attending the national NAMI conference, where I was delighted to meet both of Paul’s sisters, Katherine and Ilene. I believe our paths have crossed over the years for a positive reason, as I know Paul’s story will help mental health policy to change one day.

"Shot in the Head" also allowed me to develop humanity for those dying a slow painful death with “mental illness” and how at times we need hospice care, just as dying slowing with cancer. It brought me to tears and laughter   sometimes on the same page.

As soon as I read the last page, I wrote a note to Paul’s sisters on my iphone as my husband and I traveled north to Kentucky on I-75. My first message: “Thank you for writing your eloquently written memoir and for sharing Paul’s story.” My second message: “Thank you for inspiring me (and hopefully others) to write about the challenges we face."

The writing of Paul’s story inspires me to attempt the unthinkable  to write a book about my son because his right to deny treatment trumps his health. It will be a story of anosogosia or lack of insight of ones own illness is definitely not something one can easily find on a shelf or online.

Bravo to Katherine and Ilene for their efforts to help families like ours by creating Paul’s Legacy Project and for writing, "Shot in the Head"

It is a must read. 

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