In this slim memoir, John D.W. Macdonald relates events in 1972 when, in just 10 months, he inexplicably slid into schizophrenia and came back (permanently) with the help of electro-convulsive therapy.
As Macdonald methodically describes it, losing his mind began with an inability to make or follow plans, concentrate, or connect with people. Within months, he was unable to feel emotion or get out of bed. He describes these long-ago events without layers of distracting judgment or commentary, and his simple, matter-of-fact prose provides remarkable insight into mental illness. The reader understands completely why he becomes convinced he is Judas. At one point, the vivid descriptions bring strikingly to mind Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, whose own decline into (probable) schizophrenia around the same time inspired the band’s greatest music.
Unfortunately, though, the narrative is so focused that the reader can only imagine context – societal or personal – for this likable Brit’s breakdown. We get just a glimpse of his loyal friends and family, and the meditation community that offers persistent, loving support. He intersperses his poems within his account, but they add little to what is, essentially, a compelling short story.
Macdonald’s brief passages examining larger issues of mental illness are more successful. He became an advocate for marginalized people, and makes a compelling argument to re-evaluate our biases. Society at large invalidates people with mental illness, he observes, when it actually should welcome their insights. They have known horror, and can serve as a type of shaman to help all human beings cope with life’s scary, personal journeys.
The author uses his own experience as an effective jumping-off point to broaden our views of schizophrenia. People who have mental illnesses, and anyone who wants to understand these issues better, may enjoy this short memoir.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.