What if you woke up one day, living with a family member who had changed into an entirely different person? What if she were an older sibling you had always admired and strived to be like? And what if you were an insecure preteen when it all started? What would that do to your life?
In Nothing Like Normal, after an idyllic childhood, the strains of adolescence send one sister spiraling down into a mental breakdown, leaving her younger sibling and family to cope with the aftermath. The author must face her fears, while navigating the ups and downs of her own volatile teen years, and find her truth or be pulled in the same direction as her former mentor. Her struggle to survive and move forward on a journey of self-discovery will resonate with anyone who has known the heartbreak of mental illness in their family, while inspiring hope and healing as well.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Nothing Like Normal Martha Graham-Waldon relates her experiences in growing up with a mentally ill older sister. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a creative and talented young woman who is afflicted with schizophrenia in a time with there was little they could do about the disease. The author takes us through her life with her sister and family, showing us how the disease affects all aspects of family life, wounding not only her sister, but everyone around her.
Throughout the narrative, the author gives helpful tips for those in similar situations that she has learned in dealing with her sister. Whether or not the situation applies to you directly, the book is worth the time to read as it gives us a better understanding of a little-known and misunderstood disease.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Nothing Like Normal is the story of one woman’s poignant experiences dealing with her schizophrenic sister. Raised in an average middle-class family—with both parents, two boys and two girls—the author details her life both before and after the mental illness rears its ugly head. She tells how her sister, two years older than the author, goes from a loving, fun, and very creative young woman to an unpredictable, out-of-control, and hurtful stranger, embarrassing and devastating her family and friends as she sinks further and further into the black hole of a disease that even doctors don’t fully comprehend.
Nothing Like Normal is a must read for anyone who wants a better grasp on how to deal with mentally disturbed people. The book is short, but packed full of useful information, in addition to a touching and heartbreaking tale of one family’s struggle to help and protect someone they love, but can’t understand.
Kathy Cat and Martha Mouse
Kathy Cat and Martha Mouse lived together in a great big house.
It was always the two of us. The “little girls” they called us.
As close as we were, we were far apart, too, different in so many ways. She was brave and outgoing. I was quiet and introverted. She had long, dark hair that she almost always wore down, tucked behind her ears and flung behind her shoulders. She wore “hang-ten” T-shirts like a uniform, a different one each day. She was dark and beautiful, like an American Indian. Somehow that tiny bit of our Cherokee ancestry was born out in her. In junior high once, a boy signed her yearbook, “To the best Indian girl I know,” and we wondered about that.
She was all right till the bump of adolescence sent her careening over the edge. I lost her to a cruel illness that invaded slowly, taking her over her bright mind.
This is not only her story. It is the story of a family that was close and then came apart. It is also my story. The story of someone who was in second place, following behind her until I found my own way.
The vortex of my past has sucked me in. Memories flow from a wellspring of dreams…
I followed behind my sister. She was my leader, my mentor, and the one who showed me the way. We raced into the backyard after elementary school with joyous abandon.
Skipping to the swing, I jumped on and glided carelessly up and down while she headed straight to the tetherball, whacking it powerfully with her fists. Her strength and great athletic ability instilled in me an appreciation for fitness that I carried to this day.
We were best friends for a time, allies within the family, playmates, and confidants. On Saturdays, they would drive us to Seal Beach to attend the Peppermint Playhouse, a wonderful place where we studied ballet, art, and drama. Kathy had a flair for acting and reveled in the musicals we learned and performed there. We sang the themes to “Hello, Dolly,” “What Simple Folk Do,” from Camelot and Man of La Mancha as we romped gleefully around the house.
“I am I, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha, my destiny calls and I go!”
She could memorize and recite the Bill of Rights, or a scene from Hamlet, with equal flamboyance.
“I challenge you to a duel, to the death immediately in the throne room!”
We had a magical childhood. Although we lived in the city, our parents fostered in us a love of nature through wilderness adventures from a very young age. Some summers we hiked in the High Sierras, carrying our gear on backpacks and on pack mules in the backcountry near Yosemite. Tuolome Meadows, Silver Dollar Lake…
Those places were etched upon my memory as clearly as the old photos still hanging on the wall.
As the youngest family members, Kathy and I got to ride on the pack mules when we tired of walking, flopped over on their packs under the bright blue sky beneath the silhouette of white tipped mountain peaks. During our rest stops and at the end of the day, I rubbed my face against the long nose of Chocolate Charlie, the burro who carried me so loyally during the day’s travels. We waded in icy lakes and streams, baked biscuits in stone ovens, and wrapped and cooked fish in the large leaves picked at Skunk Cabbage Meadow.
We were hiking with another family on a hot summer’s day and we stopped in a meadow to rest, drink tepid water from our canteens and fortify ourselves with trail mix or gorp, as we mountaineers called it. I wandered off the dirt path and down to the creek below, which beckoned me with its pleasant gurgling, mixed with the call of bathing wild birds. Crouching down beside the high grass and summer flowers, I took the little wooden boat I had fashioned out of driftwood, with large leaves for a sail, from my knapsack. I launched it into the water again and again, watching the current carry it from eddy to eddy.
I soon lost track of time.
Returning to the trailhead, I was startled to find that there was no one there. In the still silence of the meadow and trees, I began walking up the trail with tears running down my face–obediently blowing the whistle strung around my neck that dad had insisted I always wear. After a while, I saw him hurrying down the hill toward me and he led me up the incline to the waiting group where my mother was beside herself with worry.
At the tender age of five, no psychological damage occurred, and I suffered no resulting abandonment issues from this experience. If anything, it reinforced in me a sense of self-reliance and resourcefulness that I have come to rely upon over the years.
Kathy had her own adventure when she encountered a rattlesnake in the path and bravely steered around it. As a Campfire Girl, she would draw from this incident to name herself “The Brave One” and later she would turn to this well of courage to battle an even more ominous internal adversary.
On a later trek, hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I led the pack down the trail, skipping merrily ahead and drawing from the inexhaustible wellspring of energy of my seven years. We stopped to rest in the shade of hollows of shale carved out of the canyon walls, sipping from our tin canteens and munching on our trail gorp. The golden sun reflected brilliantly off the rocks while we rested and reveled in the magnificent view, at one with nature and united as a family.
© 2015 by Martha Graham-Waldon
This was not your normal read but it did keep me very interested. If you don’t know anyone with this horrible disease by the name of Schizophrenia, you have no idea what someone goes through. This book does give you an insight on what a person is faced with having this disease and watching someone you love having it. I recommend reading this book, it will give you a new way to look at this particular disease. ~ DRC Promotions READ FULL REVIEW
A compassionate guide to dealing with mental illness in a family member. This beautifully written memoir invites us into the life of a family struggling with mental illness in one of its members. Written from a sister’s point-of-view, the author shows the turmoil, confusion and grief of watching a beloved sister fade away from schizophrenia. This memoir is a compassionate guide spoken from the heart of a loving sister. It offers hope that the best way to honor a loved one struggling with mental illness is to survive and thrive in your own life. It is of particular value to those who love someone who has been diagnosed with mental illness and those who serve the mentally-ill population. Beyond that, it is an enlightening and engaging read for those who those who love real stories about real people. ~ Kathleen Pooler, Reviewer and Author of Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse