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The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

by Tracy Thompson.

Apr 1996
Review by Barbara Pilvin and Harriet Shelter for the NAMI Literature Committee.

"The Beast is back. It is called depression, and my experiences with it have shaped my life....These days, however, the Beast has been cornered--which is to say that he escapes from time to time, but I have some control over him." With these words in the prologue, Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer finalist Tracy Thompson starts her fascinating account of a lifelong struggle with this baffling and terrifying disease.

A native of Atlanta, Thompson tells about her childhood, adolescence, and newspaper career in an unusually honest manner. Like all good newspaper writers, she has a clear and graceful style. She moves rapidly in her story from a near-fatal accident at thirteen that left her with facial and emotional scars, through high school and college at Emory University, and into a successful newspaper career.

Her career began at an Atlanta weekly and progressed after two years to the Atlanta Constitution. At 29, she won a fellowship to study legal affairs writing at Yale Law School, and she finally joined the Washington Post on its federal court beat in 1989.

Thompson, who writes candidly about her family and childhood, believes there were many signs of affective illness along the way: her father's moodiness and inexplicable outbursts, her mother's fundamentalist religion drenched with guilt, her grandmother's whining and demands for attention. Her relatives simply did not believe in mental illness, and they blamed the entire syndrome on unwise decisions, malingering, and sinful laziness.

As Tracy Thompson's career in journalism advanced, her self-esteem lagged, grounded in an old-fashioned view that true happiness could only be found in marriage. This search for "validation" through marriage led her into a relationship of several years with an older man whose wife had recently died, leaving him with two young children. Even though he was controlling and an expert at put-downs reminding her constantly that she was "defective," he did recognize the seriousness of her symptoms and steered her into capable professional hands.

Thompson's description of her two weeks in the psychiatric ward of Washington's George Washington Hospital will evoke vivid memories from families and consumers. Her account of self-criticism is, at times, overwhelming, albeit a welcome relief from the many other accounts by depressed persons that dwell on their victimization and the failures of everybody around them. The author unsentimentally advises depression sufferers to participate in their own treatment, one step at a time. She is articulate, well-informed, open, and many times quite funny.

Now happily married to a physicist, Thompson discussed only briefly at the end of the book her present life on Prozac, with a good therapist, and with daily self-set goals. This is a polished book, a first-person account of depression with an entirely fresh and valuable outlook on the "Beast."

NAMI RDS No. 094. The Beast: A Reckoning With Depression by Tracy Thompson. G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1995. 228 pp. $22.75.

The Life Planning Workbook--A Hands-on Guide to Help Parents Provide for the Future Security and Happiness of Their Child with a Disability After Their Death, by L. Mark Russell and Arnold E. Grant.

Review by William Zaccagnino for the NAMI Literature Committee.

This book is a hands-on guide to help parents provide for the future security and happiness of their child with a disability after their death. In fact, it is also a guide for spouses, siblings, or others who feel a responsibility to provide for a disabled person in their estate. The book provides excellent service to all of these people.

Life Planning is very well written. The authors ask the relevant questions and give good answers to clarify where there may be doubt. The details included ensure that the parent or other person filling out the workbook--and those who will later use the information--can have reasonable comfort in dealing with the comprehensive array of issues that are a part of life.

The workbook provides the means to develop a letter of intent, perform a financial-needs analysis, prepare for a meeting with an attorney, and organize an estate plan. It even provides a more advanced section for financial professionals to help them understand the approaches taken by the authors in the various tables included in the book. Together, these sections provide a comprehensive collection of information covering the medical records, life habits, financial needs, and personal relationships that are relevant to the disabled person's life and to parents, siblings, and his or her children. The authors avoid assumptions: not every sibling will want the responsibility of caring for a disabled brother or sister; every medicine doesn't work for everyone; and every therapist is not right for everyone.

It is important to note, which the authors do, that the book is not a substitute for formal legal or financial preparation by professionals. The information collected by the reader needs to be assembled into documents that will stand a legal test. However, the book can serve as a vehicle for the reader to think about the many details of the process, assemble the information in one place, and be fully confident that when he or she visits the professionals, the information will be at hand and the resulting legal documents can be held in similar confidence.

This workbook is an excellent tool for parents or others responsible for a disabled person to provide some assurance for that person's future security. It is also an excellent companion publication to Planning for the Future (also authored by L. Mark Russell, and currently on the NAMI sales list).

The Life Planning Workbook--A Hands-on Guide to Help Parents Provide for the Future Security and Happiness of Their Child with a Disability After Their Death, by L. Mark Russell and Arnold E. Grant. Evanston, IL: American Publishing Company, 1995. 272 pp.