When my daughter was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I began to research and learn as much as I could about the illness. I would read books, both clinical, and not so clinical, and everything I read and absorbed seemed to have something to do with mental illness. I was completely immersed in it, wanting to understand every little detail I could, I think because a part of me thought that if I could do that, it would somehow be just like getting inside my daughter’s head and being able to understand all those things that I had no understanding of and could not at all relate to. Then after my husband’s suicide, this expanded my need of understanding and I then would include anything suicide related into my reading repertoire, again trying to find that one grain of knowledge that would make it all make sense. When finally convinced to see a therapist regularly in dealing with my husband’s death, we began one day to talk about the things I would do for me, like what were my hobbies type of thing. My answer was immediately reading – “I am an avid reader, and read every night before going to bed” was my response. “That is excellent – what are some of the books you have read lately”, he asked. I rattled off all the books I had most recently read – “Intense Minds”, “No Time to Say Goodbye“, “The Bipolar Child”, “Cognitive Behavior Therapy: A Clinical Guide” etc etc. Feeling actually quite proud of myself that not only was I able to respond that I was indeed doing something for me when everyone around me insisted I never did, and showing my counselor that I was also becoming a well-rounded individual with a wide variety of knowledge. But then I saw his face, his face did not show pleasure, or did not indicate that I had at all convinced him of this, he seemed confused by my answer, and his question next to me only confused me when he asked “I asked what you did for you”. Now my face was one of confusion. “Hello? I just told you how I read to relax every night, and how well-rounded I am becoming, and what a deeper sense of understanding I am having of my world – why do you look like that is a bad thing?”

It actually took that whole hour-long session for him to explain to me that what I was doing was not actually doing something for me – it was not offering me an escape of any sort from the daily stresses and sadness I was feeling, I was still consumed, even in my ‘downtime’ my ‘me time’ was still all about mental illness. (Seems like a long introduction to my topic I know, but the point will become clear honest). So my counselor and I discussed this, and he suggested that I learn to read not for purpose but for pleasure. My homework was to go to the bookstore, find a book that was about nothing even close to my life, purely fictional, he didn’t even care if it was some uber trashy romance novel, but I was to get it, and then make that my nightly reading. It seems like a simple enough task, but I was in the book store and I felt literally drawn to the section I so often frequented, I’ll just walk over and see if there is anything new, and I left that day with a new book – a new book written by a girl who had Bipolar Disorder. I had failed my homework assignment. For those who know me, failure is something I do not deal with well, I am that annoying keener in the front row of class who wants the teacher to ask her the question – I know, very annoying. Anyway, I was determined to get an ‘A’ from my counselor on my homework assignment so the next day I went back to the store and did indeed purchase a completely fictional, easy read. What I found was I absolutely Loved It! I gained no insight, no new knowledge but I didn’t care, I had had a chance to breathe from all that knowledge, and all that suffocating stress that seemed to have become not only my life, but my respite time as well, so from that point on I promised myself to only read for pleasure – not purpose (at least on my ‘me-time’, I have not completely given up my quest for knowledge in my child’s illness, I just have found a balance).

Through this new found love of reading for pleasure, I discovered an author – Jodi Piccoult, you may have heard of her, but if not, you should pick up one of her books. They are extremely thought-provoking I find, and not with the typical endings we all have come to expect from movies and books etc. Anyway, House Rules, is a n Jodi Piccoult book, and I was about to buy it when I read the back and found one of its main characters was a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. So I put the book back, I did not want to fall back into my old habits, and it sort of felt like “well if I take this book, will it re-fuel that obsession”. Then I picked it up again, put it back, picked it up (literally, I stood there almost scared to touch it like it was the forbidden fruit or something). Then I thought – this is silly, I was not seeking a book for information, and I truly love Jodi Piccoult, I should not NOT buy the book just because of the character. So I bought it. I read it, and once I started I could not put it down. Partly because of course I have an interest in Asperger’s, but mostly because she was able to bring so much to that character, and I had a new appreciation and understanding for some of what I have read. I could relate to a lot of what his mom was going through, and could see similarities in how my youngest daughter reacts to having a sibling with an “invisible disability”, and at times recognized the difficulty my daughter must experience. I could not put the book down.

I thought afterwards, how wonderful that an author made such a ‘real’ character in a fictional story that is so relevant to our society today. And how wonderful that she did not disrespect those with Asperger’s (or any mental illness really) by giving her story that “After School Special” feel. You know ~~ where you end up believing that all Asperger patients are just misunderstood and really have a strong sense of love, compassion, and empathy somewhere just very deep down, we just need to know where to look for it. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but I do want to applaud Jodi Piccoult for ensuring a trueness to the illness, the characters, and the lessons that I hope everyone who reads the book may learn. She obviously did a lot of research, and from what I gather she spent a great deal of time with a girl who has Asperger’s and she based her character and his actions on what she learned from her, and I think, she did a great job. It would be interesting to hear from those who have deeper understanding and knowledge of Asperger’s if she hit the mark. Either way, I still felt I read for pleasure and not purpose, but I hope that others who pick the book up reading for pleasure, find the purpose of her words.

Submitted by Sarah Cannon

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