An evocative debut memoir of a psychiatric nurse.
Sollars studied psychology in college in the 1960s but never thought about a career in nursing, as the idea of blood and sickness made her stomach churn. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. government, recognizing the shortage of nurses and social workers, offered funding for anyone who was interested in those professions. As a single mom who was dissatisfied with the jobs she’d held, Sollars applied for social work. She scored high on the test only to find that the funding was in limbo and that she might have to wait two years before she could begin her schooling. Her father encouraged her to train as a nurse for psychiatric patients. Sollars began her training, and within her first two months, she witnessed a patient’s psychotic break. Many of the events that she relates in this book would unnerve most people—such as patients self-harming or experiencing hallucinations—and although she was frightened at times, Sollars impressively held out, working to help tortured individuals whom other people wished to forget. The author shows how the taboo against mental illness was all too real; early on in her career, for example, she faced people who didn’t want to admit that their family members were suffering from illness and instead chalked up their behavior to drug use. Sollars, however, wasn’t willing to stand by and do nothing about this. Instead, she wrote a proposal, later approved, for a program to help family members understand their loved ones’ conditions. Sollars demonstrates her commitment to her patients throughout each chapter of her memoir, and her accessible language and detailed scenarios reconstruct the horror, surprise, empathy, and confusion of working in a mental illness ward. At the same time, Sollars never sensationalizes her patients. In many ways, her memoir is a remarkable timeline of the treatment of mental illness in the past 40 years, and it’s a triumphant account of her boldness as a mother, nurse, and woman. At a time when mental health is in the forefront of conversations about our health care system, her story is one of hope.
A remembrance that beautifully underscores the severity and complexities of mental health issues.