Surrounded By Madness: A Memoir of Mental Illness and Family Secrets

In wake of mom's mental illness, Rachel becomes psychologist and adopts kids. Surprise - daughter has same disorder as mom! Rachel discovers how to cope successfully with mental illness.

Biography, Ebooks, Health, Memoir, Nonfiction, Parenting & Family, Psychology, Self Help
Page Length:
250 - 500 Pages
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Interview with Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D.

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Why did you write the book?

Close to 14 million people in the U.S. experience a mental illness severe enough to cause problems in their daily lives. For every person experiencing a serious mental illness there are family members who suffer as well.

As a child I watched my mother struggle with manic depression. As a mother, I fought beside my adopted daughter, diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. For years, stigma and shame made me keep my mother's and my daughter's illnesses secret.

When my 18-year-old daughter stopped her treatments and ran away with a heroin addict, I knew there was nothing I could do to help her. In my grief, I started writing our story.

Hoping to learn from the experiences of others, I read dozens of memoirs written by people with mental illness and memoirs written by the parents and children of people with mental illness. Each memoir told the same story: turmoil, more turmoil, and then a happy ending. Sometimes the person with mental illness had extensive and expensive contact with the healthcare system, care well beyond the grasp of most people. Other times the recovery was so unbelievable I wondered whether a serious mental illness had really been evident.

I tried to reconcile the stories these memoirs told with the facts that I, a psychologist, knew about mental illness. Where were the memoirs written by people like me -people whose loved ones were homeless, in jail, or dead? Surely I wasn't alone.

It was then that I realized I needed to tell my story so that other families struggling with mental illness would understand they are not alone and that hiding mental illness is destructive.

Surrounded By Madness is the product of a 3-year journey. I worked with a writing coach who helped me understand narrative arc and an editor who helped polish my writing. The comments of my several rounds of early readers helped me learn how to tell my story.

I hope reading Surrounded By Madness encourages families struggling with mental illness to tell their stories and that it helps people who have not had direct contact with mental illness to understand the challenges mental illness presents to family members.

Rachel Pruchno

RACHEL PRUCHNO is Endowed Chair, Professor of Medicine at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine and Director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. She has been the Principal Investigator on numerous research grants funded by various federal agencies, published nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, and served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist, a leading scientific journal, since 2011.
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