National Alliance on Mental Illness
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A Compelling Memoir of a Cutter’s Descent and Emergence
By Katrina Gay, Director of Communications
Sharp: A Memoir
William Morrow (2012), $25.99
In his often unsettling memoir, Sharp, author David Fitzpatrick takes the reader through his life, starting with his early memories as a child in an Irish Catholic family and the abuse he endured by an older brother. Although cognizant of a family history of mental illness, Fitzpatrick does not seem aware of his own slowly spiraling condition, further abetted by abusive “friends” in college, drug use and an intense and difficult love affair relationship break up.
Not good at fighting back, intensely passive and increasingly self-loathing, he describes with powerful detail his psychiatric breakdown. Fitzpatrick found relief from his psychic pain through cutting, and then burning, himself. He takes the reader through a 20 year process of his attempts to find recovery.
The reader descends with Fitzpatrick, slowly and deliberately, and although often uncomfortable, is left with a deeper understanding of the gradual decline of his health, his brain illness and the darkness it bodes. This is a graphic telling, as one would imagine a detail of self-violence to be.
As someone who has read many memoirs, this one stands as unique. The challenge of recovery from mental illness, the intersection of hospitalization and our treatment system and the absolute necessity of friends and family towards this end becomes rich and evident. What appears to an outsider as a clear path and choice is marred by a sick brain’s inability to reason, discern and choose. Fitzpatrick reveals the myriad of sometimes unusual mental health care providers, psychiatric drug and side effect realities, multiple in- and out-patient programs and relationship roller coasters with friends and family.
Added to this is the intense questioning of self and esteem that so often accompany a mental illness that create further barriers to his ability to embrace health and recovery. Fitzpatrick helps the reader understand this—how someone can actually be afraid to give up their mental illness, because it is all that defines him: “That was who I was–I had my illness and nothing else.”
Finally, and seemingly miraculously, with the help of a talented psychiatrist, lots of life experience, a family that never deserted him, friends who surface along the way and a fine-tuned medication plan, Fitzpatrick manages to emerge and find life. In Sharp, the reader is able to better understand the wreckage that often remains after a prolonged illness such as this when even the concept of hope is ungraspable. Relearning, with encouraged small steps and a talented health care professional, how to live and imagine a well life—how vulnerable one is to a back slid—is humbling and, at the same time, inspiring.
Never hesitant and certainly not reluctant to reveal the details of his experience, Fitzpatrick writes with necessity and manages, despite the grim events, to reveal encouragement in a fresh, not sentimental, fashion. His story, and the reader’s experience, are authentic and help one understand how “a normal life” can be so challenging and yet so sweet when found.