What's Normal? Narratives of Mental and Emotional Disorders

By Carol Donley; Sheryl Buckley | Go to book overview

Editors' Commentary on Narrative

THE WRITER Scott Sanders describes storytelling as "the most human art," which serves us in many ways, from creating and sustaining community to helping us see through the eyes of people different from us. Through narrative, women can try on the experiences of men and vice versa; young people can vicariously experience what it means to be old; people of different races, classes, cultures can get a chance to walk in each other s shoes, however briefly. The sane can get into the narrative of the manic-depressive or the paranoid schizophrenic or the clinically depressed, and can get a taste of their experiences.

All of us have our own life stories which give us our identities, placing us in our families, our religious and social communities, our jobs, our own histories. Illness and disability change our stories; mental problems may seriously disconnect us from who we are (were) or may certainly redefine that identity, telling a different story. Families dealing with Alzheimer's disease in a loved one recognize how radically that story may change.

Good stories, Sanders says, teach us how we ought to live. They "educate our desires." They can "lead our desires in new directions—away from greed, toward generosity; away from suspicion, toward sympathy" (Utne 55). Because most narratives move in cause and effect patterns, they show us how our present actions and words produce effects, some of which we might not have anticipated. Whether we are reading the children's story of the "Fisherman and His Wife," or the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the play Oedipus Rex, they teach us to choose wisely and carefully what we do and say. And stories help us cope with despair, with suffering and death; they can comfort and console and offer hope; they give us models of how others have coped.

For all these reasons, narratives "teach us how to be human" (Utne 56) and thus are essential for our understanding of each other. Especially in the health care professions, where the patient may be referred to by symptom or diagnosis (i.e., the schizophrenic, the neurotic, the manic-depressive), narratives remind us there is a whole complex person with a life story in which this particular illness may be just a small anecdote. Labeling closes down our thinking.

-xiii-

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What's Normal? Narratives of Mental and Emotional Disorders
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Literature and Medicine ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Editors'' Commentary on Narrative xiii
  • Part One - Clinical & Bioethical Perspectives 1
  • The Meaning of Normal 7
  • From Madness, Heresy, and the Rumor of Angels- The Revolt against the Mental Health System 17
  • From the Flamingo''s Smile- Reflections in Natural History 30
  • From Rewriting the Soul 39
  • From "On Being Sane in Insane Places" 54
  • From Love''s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy 61
  • Three Stories from Cases in Bioethics 68
  • Part Two - Narrative Perspectives 85
  • Section One - Children & Adolescents with Mental Disorders 93
  • Silent Snow, Secret Snow 95
  • The End of the Party 110
  • From Girl, Interrupted 117
  • From Equus 125
  • Section Two - Mental Disability (Retardation) 135
  • Two Stick Drawings 137
  • From Joe Egg 139
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own 146
  • From of Mice and Men 156
  • Average Waves in Unprotected Waters 165
  • Lily Daw and the Three Ladies 173
  • Section Three - Women''s Experiences with Mental Disorders 183
  • Three Poems 185
  • From like Water for Chocolate 187
  • From Faces in the Water 189
  • The Yellow Wallpaper 201
  • The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window 215
  • The Avalanche 218
  • "No Name Woman," from the Woman Warrior 219
  • Three Poems 229
  • Section Four - Mens Experiences with War Trauma, Including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 233
  • "1919" from Sula 235
  • Night March 241
  • Mental Cases 249
  • From Ceremony 250
  • From Mrs. Dalloway 257
  • Section Five - Men … Mental Disorders 269
  • Panic 271
  • King of the Bingo Game 273
  • "Cash" from as I Lay Dying 281
  • Gogol''s Wife 285
  • The Tell-Taie Heart 295
  • From the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge 299
  • Section Six - Alzheimer''s & Dementia 301
  • To You My Mother Lost in Time 303
  • From My Journey into Alzheimer''s Disease 305
  • From in a Tangled Wood- An Alzheimer''s Journey 325
  • Two Poems 340
  • A Wonderland Party 343
  • Notes on Contributors 345
  • Permissions Acknowledgments 350
  • Index 354
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