Take a piece of blown glass or a fragile porcelain doll, hold it in your hands and gently place it on a glass table. Within the pieces of this glass the delicate workmanship, the craftsmanship of the doll needs to be handled with care, gentle precision and calm in order to prevent it from cracking, chipping or shattering. The mind is fragile and something simple or more complex can shatter a person’s life, cause their mind to be unable to function in the read world and sometimes even revert into their own. Dave Elder knew from the age of three that his mother’s mind was delicate, often hard to reach her inner most thoughts and hoped that she would someday return and be his real mom. Adopted and never really wanted and accepted for being who she was his mother spent most of her young years apologizing for being “a bad girl.” Children make mistakes but living your life always afraid of being chastised would take its toll on anyone. So, when growing up with his older brother, two years his senior, and then a new brother coming home little did Dave know that things would drastically change and not for the better. Expecting the Broken Brain to Do Mental Pushups brings the reader into the world of mental illness, the seriousness of it and what happens when a young child has to deal with his mother disappearing right in front of his eyes. How do you explain nervous breakdown? How do you explain shattered nerves? How do you deal with mood changes and how do you explain to a young child that his mother will never be normal? There is no physical cause of a nervous breakdown. It is a period of a “period of mental illness, usually without a physical cause, which results in anxiety.”
Growing up could not have been easy as the author explains his relationship with his family; his father’s struggling to support three sons and a wife who was constantly in the hospital and a young boy that just wanted to understand. With a friend whose father seemed unstable yet not really comprehending what it meant to have shattered nerves, Dave spent much time trying to understand the causes of his friend’s father’s agitation and hoped by the time he entered High School to understand even more. A mind is just as fragile as a piece of blown glass and can shattered into millions of pieces that remain unseen. Whereas glass, tiles, plates, cups, dinnerware, candlesticks, picture frames or even a simple toy can break just by falling to the floor or being flung across a room and landing on a cold hard surface or table, a mind can snap, break and shatter and the end results are sometimes often unseen. Dave’s mother’s troubles began after the birth of her third son. Often hearing voices and needing medication to have a somewhat normal day he lived in constant fear of what would happen next.
Throughout the book we learn more about Dave and hear his inner most thoughts and reflections on his mother’s illness and the world around him. The drug scene is quite prevalent in his writing as he reflects on the many different people that he partners with in his career as a songwriter and musician. Learning that some need to escape reality and use drugs or other means of enhancement in order to deal with everyday issues and life is definitely eye opening. Some cannot seem to even write a song or relate their message without the help of some hardcore drugs or alcohol. Tempted and lured into the scene the author seemed to stand hard and steadfast by his own convictions and not succumb to what some might say as peer pressure or the thoughts of others just to fit in. Disconnected from his family for long periods of time, trying to understand the rationale behind his mother’s behaviors and illness sent him to do research about Freud and Jung coming away with new perspectives that would help him learn more about mental illness.
Added in he relates the Berkley drug scene, the situation so many mentally ill faced with funding being cut to facilities and many being turned away and forced to live on the street, the author reminds the reader of a time when other issues were in the forefront and the care of so many placed more than just on the backburner. Added in his reaction to the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest enlightened him to what these patients endured and sent him to reflect more on what his own mother had been through. Going back to his family and learning more about his mother, brothers and his grandmother’s illnesses were next.
“Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder (or a group of disorders) marked by severely impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to filter sensory stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors, and other features of their environment. Most schizophrenics, if untreated, gradually withdraw from interactions with other people, and lose their ability to take care of personal needs and grooming.
The prevalence of schizophrenia is thought to be about 1% of the population around the world; it is thus more common than diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. In the United States and Canada, patients with schizophrenia fill about 25% of all hospital beds. The disorder is considered to be one of the top ten causes of long-term disability worldwide.” Free Dictionary. com. What happens when you hear voices in your head? How does a person control hearing others who are talking to them, fighting with them and trying to control their actions and thoughts? The author describes his own experiences in trying to understand these plus violent thoughts within Chapter 10. Focusing on the reasons behind his mother’s illness would not provide the real answers but the views of others that did not really comprehend the gravity of what this disorder really was and is. Reverting to the fact that his mother considered herself a “bad girl,” is not getting to the root of the problem just masking it. The author adds within this chapter more information about his friend D, his relationship with his brother and more about his family. The research about the times was extensive and the information about many famous stars enlightening and invaluable. Learning about his relationship with a woman named M is quite revealing and helps the reader to get to know the author as a kind and compassionate person who tries to help others.
Medication can do many things if not given in the proper form or dosage. As his mother began taking certain meds for schizophrenia other side effects came into play. When she stopped taking them she heard voices, exhibited dangerous behavior and his older brother needed to take her to get her meds changed. Becoming more involved he spoke with her doctor to learn more about her medication and perhaps how to help deal with her illness. Learning more, researching, asking questions and seeing a program on television would create more of an overall picture and understanding for Dave. Learning to understand the differences between psychiatric and psychological problems helped clarify things even more. As you read chapter 13 the author shares his research, insights and better understanding of the meaning of the term Broken Brain and how to apply it to his mother. Sharing her medical history and childhood helped clarify not only to him but the reader the root of the problem and his understanding about the voices heard in her head. The story continues as the author shares what he learned about M who is Bipolar and how he was able to finally help her along with her doctors. The final chapter will tie it all up for the reader as the author relates to everyone what he learned and what he hopes you, the reader will take away after reading this book. The end result is that he finally has a firm understanding of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and remembering others that dealt with drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. Genetics play an important role as to who we are, our health and much more as he learned. Take the journey along with Dave and then read the two poems at the end that will enlighten you even more. Told in his own voice straightforward, honest and in detail from the start age 3 until the present author Dave Elder shares his insights, knowledge, research and his love of his mother, brothers, grandmother and family with all of us. Take that piece of porcelain or glass with those intricate designs and place in on a special shelf and remember to protect it always.
Fran Lewis: reviewer