Monday, September 04, 2006


I started reading the book Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, a former best seller and soon to be a major motion picture. It's a memoir that tells of his unhappy childhood and dysfunctional family. It's funny in parts but also very sad, and it makes me wonder: what is it about dysfunctional families that makes people want to read about them or watch movies about them? I mean, this is hardly the first best seller about troubled years growing up. Angela's Ashes, a huge hit a few years ago, told of a childhood so miserable, with alcoholic and neglectful parents, that I had to quit reading it about a third of the way through. Memoirs of a Geisha was another one that told of such unspeakable cruelty to a child that I almost stopped reading it, but the writing was so beautiful I kept on and finished it. Most of us probably remember, too, Mommy Dearest, the Joan Crawford tale. I know that not every book can be uplifting, but why does cruelty to kids make for such popular reading?

Another thing in this book that strikes me is its portrayal of a woman with OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. She is so afraid of dirt that she washes and washes her hands, to the point where her hands are red and dry and cracked. This part of the book takes place many years ago, before the development of some of the modern anti-depressant and anti-obsessive drugs such as SSRI's (Prozac, etc.) and is a reminder of how truly horrible mental illness can be. I remember case reports in my medical school psychiatry readings about people who would wash their hands an entire afternoon, unable to stop. Can you imagine what that must be like, wanting to stop doing something repetitively but unable to do so because of some weird inner compulsion that won't let you quit? It would drive you, well, crazy.

I can only imagine what it must have been like with no medications for the more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Even with meds nowadays we still don't always do so well with them; with no meds it must have been a nightmare. No wonder Freud and his contemporaries had to come up with such detailed theories of the psyche; they were powerless to treat mental illness by any other way but psychotherapy. Modern psychiatric medicine isn't perfect, but it has undoubtedly helped many people.

P.S. If you want to read an excellent post about what it means to be a mother of a special needs child, read The Surreal Life by Dreammom.


Anonymous Kelley said...

Well, I was trolling around on the internet a few nights ago after the kids went to sleep when I stumbled across something on a message board that linked me to your site, only that message told me I was to hate you and give you a ton of grief. Just wanted to say I really, really enjoy reading what you have to say. Hope you don't mind if I stick around.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Kelley, I was also reading various websites and saw some less-than-nice comments about your blog by someone who I have since learned is a very, VERY unhappy woman with a lot of sad skeletons in her closet. I'm glad that she undoubtedly increased your traffic here (which kind of backfired on her - LOL). I for one think you're a very well-versed, interesting blogger :-)

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite thing to read is a good memoir. At least you know if the person can end up writing a book, that they have overcome their difficulties, at least partially. My life has been easy and privileged, my parents loved me and treated me well, I went to college and met and married a nice man, we have great children that we love very much who will be off to college soon and the cycle will probably repeat itself. For some reason though, I am absolutely fascinated by alcoholism, poverty, gang activity, domestic violence, and child abuse. My oldest son is the same way; we have watched Cops together since he was small and we love to watch the Lockup series on MSNBC. I wonder why this is...


9:21 AM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Thanks, Kelley and anonymous. It's a little disheartening to hear there are people out there who tell others to hate someone. Don't they have better things to do in life?

Liz, I don't understand it either.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Kris said...

I read Running with Scissors and found it disturbing in a can't put it down kind of way. Then I thought I'd check out the book on tape as read by Augusten himself and the reminder that it was his life made it so much more disturbing. Much different (and sadder) book with his voice to it with inflection in all the right places.

1:38 AM  

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