A mother recounts her trials caring for a son derailed by mental illness and substance abuse.
McGuire’s debut memoir begins with her pregnancy and ensuing marriage to boyfriend Jerry when both were college seniors in 1967. Sacrifices were made: the author surrendered her graduate school fellowship to move to Philadelphia, where her husband attended law school amid the births of their son, Ryan, and daughter, Liz. Though the family’s subsequent relocation to Los Angeles went smoothly, Ryan, an increasingly energetic child, became plagued by accidents, with one sledding injury cracking his skull when he was just 3. After divorcing Jerry, McGuire writes of wondering if this incident induced the brain trauma responsible for Ryan’s future battle with bipolar disorder, a condition that surfaced late in his collegiate years and worsened after moving to San Francisco, where heroin abuse took its toll. As this played out, McGuire emerged as a naïve, doting mother, easily swayed toward the enablement of Ryan’s dishonesty and self-destructive behavior—quick to hold her son blameless for his transgressions. “My love and concern for him often blinded me to the truth,” she admits. McGuire recalls the horror she felt when her son described “how great” heroin was and the bouts of paranoia that caused him to ride his bicycle up the California coast out of fear that his mental state would cause an earthquake back home. As her heartfelt and moving story descends further into the realms of despair and desperation, the author remains a beacon of hope and sets an amazing example for readers caught in a similar situation involving mental illness and a family member. While tracking Ryan’s cyclical behavior which landed him everywhere from psych wards and emergency rooms to rehab facilities and prison, McGuire continued to evolve with a new relationship and her daughter’s marriage. The author writes with a passionate flair, and she narrates the details of her family melodrama with conviction and a creative eye. Though hers was an all-consuming ordeal, McGuire finally wrested control of her emotional well-being and her life just as her son began to show signs of progress. A generous closing section of crisis counseling and referral resources forms a helpful coda to a harrowing family tale of sorrow, optimism, and recovery.
The bond between mother and child knows no bounds in this intense memoir darkened by addiction and bipolar disorder yet buoyed by love and possibility.