Walks On The Margins
Told in two voices: Kathy Brandt and Max Maddox
An artist’s palette contains many colors and within these colors some envision images, pictures and scenes that either comprise events in their lives or what they think should be part of their lives. Manic Depression is defined as: Manic-depression: Alternating moods of abnormal highs (mania) and lows (depression). Called bipolar disorder because of the swings between these opposing poles in mood. A type of depressive disease. Not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders. Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they are gradual. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment. For example, unwise business or financial decisions may be made when an individual is in a manic phase. Bipolar disorder is often a chronic recurring condition. A serious condition if not treated can create tragic results. Author and mother Kathy Brandt creates another picture using a tapestry of designs within this poignant memoir to describe her son Max, his fight with Bipolar Disorder and his hope to create a clearer and more lucid palette of colors. Take this journey and be aware that it might be disturbing at times within the walls of mental institutions, offices of different psychiatrists and into the mind of one young man whose thoughts and words will be clearly presented to readers as he roams the streets, lives life in the danger zone and sometimes under bridges.
Max encountered many different doctors with their very own take or viewpoints on his illness. Many were just grasping at straws and often too concerned with the insurance companies guidelines to pay for his care rather than his care itself. Sending him home with what some might say a smorgasbord of medicines to choose from and take, Max made some strides but not always positive. On page 44 Kathy shares an in-depth and inside view of bipolar disorder, it definitions, how it affects the brain and what causes his illness. Adding in that many figures in history and prominent stars on the screen have this disorder allowing readers to learn that Robin Williams, Winston Churchill and even Teddy Roosevelt dealt with this disorder and look at their individual successes in life.
Creating a world of his own within his own mind Max shares with readers his reality of life. Every scene is filled with many different colors, destructive images, and violent outbursts and through it all Kathy was there to support and try and rescue him from himself. Art is his passion, his catharsis, and his salvation, which would take him into a world that would be calming, filled with colors, different emotions and allow him to be himself. Even his graphic description of an easel and the “disruptive turpentine smell,” that he loved, the 22 colors spread into a rainbow and how they controlled him. As Kathy explains in her narrative his mood swings, depressions and how he just wanted to feel his belonged. At times we hear Max wanting to share his feelings with his family but having difficulty releasing his anger, his fears and hopes. A series of incidents described in Chapter 7 highlight just what happens when Max’s illness overtakes him and tries to win. Delusional behavior, paranoia and finally another confinement seems to be the order of events in his life. From the start he enters another program and then one phone call will change it all as Kathy introduces the reader to Nolan, Max’s father and we learn of the disconnect between them and his stay at North Western Hospital. Dreams that took him into different worlds, scenes in his mind that crossed between reality and blurred vision Max’s road to recovery was long, hard and not without pain. Sleep eluded him at times; colors filled his head forming images of death, destruction and despair. Doctors and medical staff unfeeling, dispassionate, and cold you begin to wonder why he would even submit himself to the indignities. Police and ambulance escorts, phone calls that were left unanswered, wandering the streets and a mother who would never give up. Mercy Psychiatric Hospital was where it all began but we progress to others and after 12 years with bipolar, drug and alcohol abuse he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Defined, as “Schizoaffective disorder is a condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — and of mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression Schizoaffective disorder is not as well understood, or defined, as are other mental health conditions. This is largely because schizoaffective disorder is a mix of multiple mental health conditions that may run a unique course in each affected person. Untreated, people with schizoaffective disorder may lead lonely lives and have trouble holding down a job or attending school. Or, they may rely heavily on family or live in psychiatric group homes. Treatment can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with schizoaffective disorder.” Mayo Clinic
Wards filled with patients that were violent and laws that were passed to protect these people. IN 2003 the New Freedom Commission on Mental health declared: “ the mental health care a system in shambles. “ But, nothing changed as Kathy moved forward to learn more watching and understanding why her son did not want to be placed in one of these facilities. Read pages 87- 93 to enter his world and understand why.
There is so much more that I learned about Max and this illness that I can share with readers from Chapter 13 where I learned about the many different medications, the various drugs that he sold and became addicted to and terms like Purple Kush, psilocybin which turned him on and hopped him up, you can feel his body change, tense and the situations described in this chapter will make you shudder. Learn the term Candy Junkie and they do not mean snickers.
Commitment did not only mean confinement. Taking Lithium was supposed to help him feel better but one scene where his mother takes him to her place of work, gives him a massage and releases his tension is heartbreaking. One man named Tony hears a mother’s voice, understand her pain and hopefully help. Forgetting appointments, more medications and the end result of how some families help, others lie to cover up what their loved one is doing this book will give you a much better insight into this illness that taking a course in it would.
Suicide watches, making sure her son’s apartment was safe, taking him to lunch and making sure he would not disappear, Kathy Brandt lived her life in so many different worlds. The most compelling chapter is the one that describes taking Max to her office and relating the ten most important things to remember in life. “Pretend you’re not afraid,” or Remember to eat and sleep and finally Know that Max and I will get through this.” A mother’s voice and a son’s hope. Hospitals that are poorly staffed underfunded and doctors poorly trained, this story takes readers into the heart of what needs to be repaired in our health care system. A twelve-week course would not only help Kathy but others dealing with family members with this disorder. Understanding is one thing but learning how to deal with the illness and having others for support paramount. Learn more when you read chapter 18. Doctors that were late irritated Max and he felt that they were disrespecting him. Lithium is said to be the best choice of medication by the American Psychiatric Association but there are other meds too. Read this outstanding memoir told in two voices so that you enter the world of this young man learning about the disorder through his eyes and then listen to Kathy as she struggled, fought and would never give up. How has his life changed? Where is he now? What has he accomplished? These questions and much more about both authors will only be answered when you read Walks on the Margins. The edge and area immediately adjacent or next to the border of a paper is how a margin is defined. It is where there are no words, a blank space and it is as if you are not part of what is on the paper. Walking on margins: Max seemed to always be on the outer perimeter and never within the space filled with other artists or friends. He never felt that he would be accepted, his margin of reality or truth hard to find and many times he has crossed the “margin of civilized,” or even accepted behavior. Will he ever have a normal life? When will he walk within the larger space and find himself inside? One heartfelt memoir that is straightforward, honest and definitely a must read for anyone that has a family member dealing with this disorder and for everyone else to learn more about it and understand. A great book for mental health specialists to read.
Fran Lewis: reviewer