“What was the likelihood my adopted daughter would have my father’s hazel eyes and my mother’s mental illness?”
In this fiercely candid memoir, Dr. Pruchno, a scientist widely acclaimed for her research on mental illness and families, shows how mental illness threatened to destroy her own family. Not once, but twice.
As a child, she didn’t understand her mother’s episodes of crippling sadness or whirlwind activity. As a mother, she feared her daughter Sophie would follow in the footsteps of the grandmother Sophie never knew.
Prologue (January 2011. Sophie is eighteen years old.)
As Sophie opened the front door, I was hit by a blast of frigid air. She
picked up the three white plastic garbage bags she had hastily stuffed
with her clothes and makeup, her toothbrush thrown in as an
afterthought. She turned to look at me, her hazel eyes dancing with
excitement. And then my daughter walked out of my life.
I watched as she descended the steps, her ponytail bouncing to the
rhythm of her stride. Slipping on a small patch of ice, she steadied
herself as she advanced toward the waiting car. In the moonlit darkness,
I barely made out the car’s driver, her latest
can’t-live-without-him boy, the twenty-one-year-old heroin addict
she’d met just weeks ago in the psychiatric hospital. The tip of his
cigarette glowed as he moved it to his mouth and then away. The smell of
rancid tobacco from her clothes lingered. As the car pulled away, its
one working headlight cast a shadow on the snow-covered driveway and its
muffler scraped the pavement. Shivering, I closed the door.
The antique clock my husband Josh’s great-grandfather had handcrafted
chimed eight times, its mellow peal signaling Sophie’s departure. The
odor from the fish I’d fried for dinner still hung in the air. While I
wished she would change her mind and reverse the few steps she had
taken, I knew she would not. This was, after all, the child who made one
frightful decision after the next and never looked back. No, once
Sophie set her mind to something, there was no turning back.
I glanced at the abstract image of the colorful neuron we had hung
proudly on our dining room wall. Sophie had painted it for her senior
art project just months ago. Her art teacher insisted it was good enough
to be displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not only was Sophie a
talented artist, she also was lauded as an up-and-coming actress and the
poetry she wrote was exquisite.
Sophie’s dog Dunkin shot back his big ears. He barked as he raced from
the living room window to the dining room window and then back again,
trying to alert me to the dangers awaiting her, beseeching me to stop
her, to make her come home. Travis, our black Lab, took his cue from
Dunkin and added his raspy yelp to the ruckus. As the car drove down
the street, Dunkin howled.
Josh’s soft tenor continued explaining the complexities of an algebra
problem to our son Aaron. I sank into the blue leather sofa in the dimly
lit living room, feeling hollow and bereft. Travis rested his head in my
lap. My body shook uncontrollably as I sobbed into his thick black fur.
I hadn’t experienced this mix of abandonment, fear, and sadness since
my mother’s suicide nearly thirty-six years ago.
Excerpted from "Surrounded By Madness: A Memoir of Mental Illness and Family Secrets" by Rachel Pruchno Ph.D.. Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Pruchno Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Rachel Pruchno Ph.D.
Rachel Pruchno is Director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging and Endowed Chair, Professor of Medicine at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University. Dr. Pruchno has been the Principal Investigator on numerous research grants funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Aging, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Retirement Research Foundation, and the Cleveland Foundation. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, authored 10 invited book chapters, and co-edited Challenges of an Aging Society: Ethical Dilemmas, Political Issues. She has served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist, a leading scientific journal, since 2011. She is married with four children, two of whom are dogs.
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