Yesterday I finished reading a very good book for young adults that deals with the issue of mental illness in a family. Running for my Life by Anne Gonzalez centers around Andrea and her family. Andrea is mandated to recieve therapy after an violent incident caused by her schizophrenic mother got child protective services involved. At first, Andrea resents having to see Samantha, and spends the first two months of therapy almost completely silent. Little by little over the course of the books she grows more trusting of Samantha, and begins to open up about past trauma in the relationship between she and her mother.
For her part, Samantha is a very supportive knowledgeable therapist. She’s probably one of the best therapists in a fiction book I’ve seen in a while. She gives Andrea space and respects her need to be silent at times. She sets boundaries with Andrea at times that it’s called for, such as making it clear that Andrea s should tell Samantha what’s upsetting her rather than angrily lashing out. She is very attentive to the changes in Andrea’s mood, when she is being overwhelmed or flooded by her emotions. She is consistent in helping Andrea calm down in these moments.
Towards the middle of the book, Samantha diagnoses Andrea with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting this diagnosis seemed to be a helpful thing for Andrea. Once she had a name for the disturbing feelings she had been having, she began to learn how to deal with it. I think Samantha gave a very good explanation of the disorder, made it clear that andrea wasn’t “crazy” and clearly told her the difference between what she was suffering from and a psychotic disorder like her mother had. She also gave Andrea clear tools to deal with being triggered.
Andrea doesn’t have only her therapist for support as she deals with sorting out her past relationship with her mother, and with her mother’s hospitalization and discharge. She has her best friend Margie as another support. Margie convinces Andrea to join her in starting running, in order that they might impress a couple of boys that they’re both interested in who are on the track team. At first Andrea is dead set against it, but then she finds that she loves running. Running seems to calm the otherwise almost constant emotional overwhelm in a way that nothing else can.
Between Margie, Sean, and Mathew, (they did end up hooking up with their crushes), Samantha, and her Dad, Andrea has all the support she needs to navigate the challenges of her inner world as well as what’s going on elsewhere. The heavier subject of Andrea’s therapy and mentall illness, is tempered by lighthearted teenage stuff like going on dates and hanging out.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with a mental illness, or their friends or family. In particular, I think that anyone who has PTSD and reads this book will know that they’re not alone. The feelings and thoughts that Andrea has about her mother’s unpredictability due to psychosis can be applied to any disorder that makes a family member unpredictable (and therefore untrustworthy at times) such as alcoholism, or bipolar disorder. Enjoy this book, and let me know your thoughts!