In this debut memoir, a psychotherapist learns about herself while diagnosing a patient’s bipolar disorder.
The author treated a young woman named Robin Personette for 10 years before she discovered the patient was suicidal. Robin, a mental health case manager, suffered from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, but concealed suicidal thoughts from her therapist. In 2003, Robin—then 36 years old—finally confessed her obsession with suicide to DeVinney and agreed to hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). DeVinney thought her own professional rigidity had stoked Robin’s inability to communicate, so she decided to extend therapeutic boundaries and use a more personal approach. For example, she let Robin know how much she cared about her. Therapist and client eventually formed a closer relationship, and Robin recorded a CD of sad songs to share her pain. In turn, DeVinney responded with a CD she made especially for Robin. Part I of this dark account is aptly titled “Despair,” as it details Robin’s self-described “meltdown” when she could not stop thinking about suicide. Smooth-flowing chapters begin with the author’s professional point of view and end with “Robin’s Thoughts” about her treatment and life. Readers who are struggling to overcome or understand mental illness should appreciate Robin’s difficulties: she ended up in a hospital four times in eight months; her depression resisted ECTs; and her medication needed to be adjusted several times. In addition to worries about her health, Robin had to deal with such financial struggles as coping with bankruptcy and applying for disability. Readers interested in the mental health field should be intrigued by DeVinney’s sometimes clinical, self-critical voice as she recounts the challenges of treating a complex case: for example, not allowing Robin to become dependent on her. Once officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Robin began learning to live with her disease. Part II, “Deliverance,” becomes eye-glazing when some earlier details—like Robin’s obsession with sun-tanning—are repeated and her job search is drawn out. But for the most part, the author’s clear prose weaves a vivid, touching account of strength and tenacity.
An uneven, but affecting portrait of hope for those living with chronic mental illness.