Mommy I'm Still In Here is a straightforward memoir about a family with two bipolar children. Kate and her husband Mark live in California with their three children. First their eldest, Chloe, starts showing erratic behavior and powerfully shifting emotions when she is a junior in high school. She sees many therapists and mental health professionals. Eventually she explains that she has been hearing voices, and the diagnosis of bipolar is confirmed. Eventually they find the right balance of medications and treatment to stabilize her, and although it is never easy, Chloe manages to graduate high school and starts college. However, her younger brother Michael starts misbehaving, using alcohol and drugs. He becomes steadily more out of control, to the extent that his parents worry about their own safety and that of their daughters. His doctors want to put him in an inpatient program but Kate and her husband resist. They go through some episodes that scare them all, but they eventually find a good program for him. It is difficult because he is on the border between being a juvenile and being an adult, and he also has both substance abuse and bipolar problems, which makes getting treatment very difficult, because most of the programs would not treat the bipolar until the substance abuse issues were dealt with. McLaughlin's memoir explains the challenges facing parents in seeking treatment, although it says nothing about the battle with health insurance, and since during the time period of the memoir, they build a whole new house, the reader gets the impression that paying for treatment is not a major problem for the family. However, that does not mean that it is an easy journey -- far from it. McLaughlin goes a good job at explaining how difficult the experience was. She uses her journals and calendars from the time to reconstruct the day to day flow of events, and this gives her memoir a stronger sense of reality than most others.
Aside from being a memoir of a family's experience of the mental illness of two children, which is in itself unusual, the book is distinctive for its frank depiction of how difficult Chloe and Michael were to deal with. Their illnesses not only made the two young people suffer, but led them to be angry, hurtful, and very suspicious. Inevitably, Kate often feels hurt, angry, and even resentful of her children's actions, even if those emotions are short-lived and her feelings of concern and love overwhelm her more negative feelings. For example, she says that she was ashamed of Michael's drug use and her inability to prevent it (132). We also see the difficult relationship between Chloe and Michael, who become unable to even be in the same house together. These powerful emotions are hardly surprising, and of course most of the time family members will be able to discount the uncharacteristic behavior of those with the mental illnesses. Nevertheless, they are difficult to talk about and so McLaughlin's readiness to talk about them openly is admirable. This memoir will be revealing and possibly familiar to many people who have lived with a mentally ill person in the family.
The writing is vivid and the chapters are short, so this is an easy read even with the difficult subject matter. Recommended.
Link: Author website
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.