National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Bookshelf: June 2009

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Closing the ChasmRequiem for Locusts
by Wendy Parciak (Two Canoes Press 2008 - 424 pages)

This is a novel about misunderstanding, confusion, love, heartbreak and suspense. It is informed by the author's real-life perspective as someone whose late sister lived with velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS).

Locust Street is a neighborhood where no one knows each other's names. It takes a "Freak Girl"-the daughter of circus performers-to pull them out and bring them together. The residents include a scolding, elderly woman, a painfully shy neurologist, a career-driven couple, their young child and a daydreaming teenager. Marzarita Zaferatos, whose illness has not yet been accurately diagnosed, forces them all to confront gaps in their lives, even as delusions fill her own world.

VCFS is the result of missing genes on a single chromosome. It can have up to 185 symptoms-including heart defects, cleft lip or palate and underdeveloped thymus or parathyroid glands. It occurs in one out of every 2,000 births. In some cases, psychotic features eventually emerge. Lack of connections inside a neighborhood may indeed be an allegory for structural defects in the brain and other parts of the human body. If so, the novel ends with a clear message of hope: i.e. , that one day specific identification of missing genes will lead to specific cures. Meanwhile, our understanding of the illness-and each other-can grow.

What is most remarkable about the novel is the authentic power behind the author's description of Marzarita's inner thoughts and of her family's relationships with her. "If her one-sided crawl was somewhat uneven, he didn't notice, didn't care, for she was his beautiful daughter," Marzarita's father reflects in a dream. "He did not want to hear about doctors and tests, weak muscles, operations and therapy. She need not be a high-wire artist or even a juggler. She was his beautiful daughter." More than anything else, this is a novel about love.

The Depression CureThe Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs
by Stephens S. Ilardi, Ph.D. (Da Capo Press 2009 - 277 pages)

A six-step program should not be labeled a "cure" when one considers how difficult diet and exercise can be under the best of circumstances. Six steps to be taken over time also don't help much in the middle of a major life crisis, with suicidal ideations. However, Therapeutic Lifestyle Change does offer a long-term prescription based on "elements from our evolutionary past." Together or separately, the steps can help prevent or manage depression.

  • A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vigorous physical activity
  • Abundant natural sunlight exposure
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Staying socially connected
  • Focusing on tasks to avoid excessive "rumination"; i.e., dwelling on negative thoughts

Each step has a physiological dimension, which is explained, along with practical tips. This is a good reference for self-help, but take the author's enthusiasm with a grain of salt and don't change your treatment plan without consulting your doctor first.