This beautifully crafted memoir about Carol Hebald's spiral into mental illness during the late 1930s through the 1970s touched me on a variety of different levels. My heart broke for the neglected and abused child. I longed to reach out and free her from the closet she was so often locked in, to show her the love of a mother when hers was unable and to whisk her away from the perverted men that stole her innocence.
In the book, Hebald graphically describes the increasingly frightening blur between reality and fantasy that fuelled her childhood imagination and served as her personal coping mechanism. As she grew into adolescent, acting became her life ambition, while providing her with an opportunity to create emotions she simply couldn’t feel in her real life.
In the midst of her promising acting career on the New York City stage in the 1950s and 1960s, she went from one therapist to the next. Instead of receiving the proper care and therapy she deserved, Hebald instead suffered a long string of misdiagnoses, medications, hospitalizations and shock treatments. In addition to treating her cruelly and often with contempt, her many therapists encouraged her to ignore her inner voice and what she knew was right. In the end, Hebald must learn to trust and exercise that voice.
In addition to telling a dramatic and moving true tale, this book also chronicles the many advances society has made since the 1950s - from abortion, to marriage to gender bias.
As a woman, I found it interesting to see how far we have come as a people since the start of Hebald’s book. Although I don’t consider myself a feminist, as I read the book I felt a strong sense of gratitude to the feminist movement for the life I am fortunate enough to lead. For example, it is no longer necessary for a woman to get married and have children in order to be whole and fulfilled. Unlike the therapist who encouraged Hebald to marry someone she didn’t love as part of her “therapy”, today we understand that men and women can be complete and fulfilled unto themselves.
I also marvelled at how far the mental health profession has come since the days Hebald was hospitalized. As someone who has also spent time on a therapists couch, I know that the methods and approaches to therapy have greatly advanced since the days when Hebald regularly saw a therapist. And, although I have never been to a mental hospital, I can only hope that today’s hospitals take a more enlighten approach to patient care, which includes treating them with the respect they deserve.
This moving memoir paints a vivid picture of the unique life of Hebald and allows readers to explore her painful world of mental illness. Although I had to repeatedly set the book aside for the sake of my own emotions, I couldn’t leave it down for long. Today, when I think about my mental health and well being, I can’t help but be grateful to strong women like Hebald who paved the way for the future of women, both as individuals and as patients in the mental health system.
Jamie Leggatt is a freelance writer from White Rock, B. C. , Canada. After keeping her struggle with depression a secret for nearly 15 years, she is now finding meaning and purpose by sharing her story with others. She founded the Canadian Depression Support Network to help others find information and support they need at http://www.depressionsupport.ca
Also, her blog, “Fighting the Darkness: My Secret Battle with Depression"
is where she shares her personal challenges and victories over depression.