Safe, Wanted and Loved by Patrick Dylan
I’ve recommended a number of different books in this newsletter so far and they’ve had one thing in common, they were fiction. This book is not. It is a memoir written by a man whose wife suffered a sudden and severe episode of psychosis. Names and locations have been changed, Patrick Dylan is not the author’s real name, his wife’s name is not Mia, the family didn’t live where the book says they did and I guess many of the other characters are going under invented names too. But the scenes are real, devastatingly real, and the emotion and tension is stretched tight throughout.
If you’ve seen the person-stealing effect of mental illness close up you will recognize it here. If you haven’t, this book will be an eyeopener. Patrick tells his story in a voice that is immediate and sincere. Raw fear, confusion, compassion and determination jostle with each other. They are feelings you can share in.
Mia, under stress at work, became unable to sleep and convinced she was being videoed and would go to prison for a trivial mistake she might have made. She told Pat this after waking him at three in the morning. The next day she terrified her sister, telling her they had to contact the author of the children’s books because he had the ‘answer’. And so it began.
‘“Pat, we need to kill the dog,” Mia said in a calm voice. She was standing by the foot of our bed, our old miniature dachshund cradled in her arms…It’s the devil… He got inside her.” I started to look down, but she cut me off. “Don’t look into her eyes!” she shouted.’
There are wonderful doctors in this story, supportive school counsellors and threatening ones, brutally realistic police officers and intransigent health insurance companies. I’ve met them all during my years living in California. Patrick’s story has the supreme merit of being accurate.
He soon knows his way around the entire pharmacopeia of mind-blasting drugs the medical profession has at its disposal and soon realizes how primitive the whole science is. He sees the effect on his children and how they need help to cope. He learns that the only way to deal with the industrial medical complex is to be as heartless as it is, ‘‘’ And now I owe you $30,000. But I can’t possibly pay that…I know how this works. If my insurance were paying this they’d have negotiated reduced rates…I am going to write you a check for ten grand.”’ And Patrick finds out just who will stand by him, an outrageously otherworldly brother-in-law, and who will make his life even more difficult, a school counsellor who has to be talked out of calling child protective services.
Patrick’s declared motive in publishing his story is to bring mental illness out into the open and help people get over the shame and the feeling that they need to hide their sickness. Yet the book has enough instances of the kind of treatment families in this predicament can receive for it to be perfectly understandable why they would not invite it.
Patrick interweaves the story of Mia’s illness with a mini-biography of their lives together. Personally, I found these sections less compelling and I didn’t take up the invitation to listen to the songs referenced at the start of each chapter. Other reviewers, however, found the love story heartwarming and the music-listening rewarding. They do both add structure and relief to a roller-coaster-ride of a tale; a tale which has the added advantage of being written like a detective story. Will Patrick and Mia ever find out who the culprit is, the name of the disease, and will they ever overcome it?
This is not a depressing read. It’s emotionally challenging but also uplifting, and not in a soppy way. In the end the medication that helps Mia is alarmingly simple. No spoiler apologies here. You might not give this book a go if you thought it was going to be a tragedy. Although for many people with a mental illness the outcome is tragedy, or long, drawn-out misery and persecution, and that is something we should remember.