After reading this post about the movie “Dangerous Minds” I will without doubt see the movie one more time. When I saw it the first time, I probably did not understand the implications and importance of it, and I did not even know it was based on a true stories. I have been very interested in true, inspirational stories the last two years, since it gives me so much energy to read them. Maybe that is the way I survive as a psychologist, hearing tough stories all the time? Somehow, I need to counteract it with good, to feel more balanced inside.
I wanted to use some of the space on this blog for recommending books I have read. This time it is the books from a man from the Netherlands, who writes about his experiences while caring for his wife with cancer. The book (love life) has been translated to many languages, and was also followed up by a book on how he managed after she died. It is not the typical tale of a man regretting not spending more time with her, but a tale about how hard life can be in reality. It is a book with many shades of grey, and you realize that life is often more complicated than what we want to think.
Introduction: When successful 30-something Stijn meets the free-spirited Carmen they fall madly in love and embark on a passionate affair. Soon, they also make it down the aisle and even though Carmen knows Stijn has an unfaithful streak, she decides to take him as he is. They work together in advertising in Amsterdam and when they have a baby girl; their happy lives couldn’t be more perfect together.
It’s the calm before the storm because next comes Carmen’s diagnosis of breast cancer. Though she tries to stay strong for her family, her mastectomy and chemotherapy puts a strain on Stijn who is unable to cope. Caring for his sick wife, he begins to lose his passion for her and eventually ends up falling in love with another woman, Roos whom he’s been seeing on the side.
Kluun’s wife Judith died from breast cancer at 36 years old (2000). He wanted to express his feelings for his late wife, so he used his experience to write his first novel Komt een vrouw bij de dokter (Love Life) 3 years later in 2003. He then wrote the sequel De weduwnaar (The widower) to talk about his move to Australia with their daughter after Judith died.
I have read both books and can recommend them both. I have not watched the movie, but I want to do that, too. I liked it so much since it was brutally honest. It is a tale from a man who has a hard time with his feelings, and therefore makes choices he wish he hadn`t done. It is still a tale of the bond of love, and how forgiveness and acceptance can make strong people do amazing things. It is even harder to read, since it is based on a true story. She was far too young when she died, and such an incredible woman. I sat with tears in my eyes several times, and had to read through it as fast as possible.
I love reading, and the last months I have read some good “based on a true story” books that really gave me some wonderful insights into the human mind. I want to write a bit about the wonderful book I never promised you a rose garden, because it really captivated me. It wasn`t just the fact that it was well written, but it gave such an acute feeling of being there with the main protagonist, that it almost felt like watching 3D-movie. The book has also been shown as a movie, which I have not seen, but I can assure you that the book is really worth it, even if the film wasn`t (generally books give you something that easily might lack in movies, the persons thoughts, ideas and way of seeing the world. You must use your own imagination more).
Here is some information about the author:
Joanne Greenberg (Helen Green is the alias she uses for the book)
“I wrote [I Never Promised You a Rose Garden] as a way of describing mental illness without the romanticisation that it underwent in the sixties and seventies when people were taking LSD to simulate what they thought was a liberating experience. During those days, people often confused creativity with insanity. There is no creativity in madness; madness is the opposite of creativity, although people may be creative in spite of being mentally ill.”
– Joanne Greenberg
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a fictionalized depiction of Joanne Greenberg’s treatment experience at Chestnut Lodge Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, during which she was in psychoanalytic treatment with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. The book takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at a time when Harry Stack Sullivan, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Clara Thompson were establishing the basis for the interpersonal school of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, focusing specifically, though by no means exclusively, on the treatment of schizophrenia.
It is useful to keep in mind that Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann were by this time renowned for their work with severely regressed patients, some diagnosed as schizophrenic and others who were not so easy to categorize, using nothing in their treatment scheme except psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy. Though the use of medicating drugs was in its infancy in those days and most psychiatrists were using electroshock therapy, sleep therapy, and other bizarre forms of treatment, both Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann resisted these practices and treated their patients, as they themselves would have like to be treated were they suffering from a similar state of collapse and confusion–as though what they really needed was someone to talk to.
It should be noted that they apparently enjoyed extraordinary success in their work, if “success” is indeed the right word, by the measure that many of their patients–like Joanne Greenberg herself–eventually left hospital for good, never to return. Today, when there is so much currency about the presumed causes of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders–that they are genetically determined, for example, and that it is irresponsible to deprive such patients of the drugs that are now available to them–one wonders if it would be possible–indeed, if it would even be permitted–for people like Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann to work with patients the way they did 50 years ago. Whatever the cause of schizophrenia might be–and nobody, despite what some claim, actually knows what it is–the treatment still depends on people like Frieda Fromm-Reichmann who are willing to sit with them hour after hour, day after day, and year after year for however long it may take to see them through their ordeal. As a young girl, Joanne Greenberg suffered from an ordeal of her own which her family only gradually began to realize was getting worse. At the age of 16 she was taken to Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium in Rockville, Maryland, where Frieda Fromm-Reichmann became her therapist. Her treatment experience lasted from 1948 to 1951. Ms. Greenberg remained in outpatient psychoanalysis with Dr. Fromm-Reichmann until 1955, by which time she was attending college. Their relationship not only served as a vehicle for Joanne Greenberg’s remarkable recovery, but was also the source of a friendship that continued until Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s death in 1957. In fact, Joanne Greenberg, her mother, and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann had intended to collaborate on a book revolving around Joanne’s treatment experience, but Frieda died before the plan could be executed. A few years later, Joanne decided to publish a book about her experience on her own, an account that many believe demonstrates a measure of courage, literary power, and immediacy that is unparalleled in the literature on this rarefied and near-impenetrable subject.
As every psychoanalyst knows, the success of any treatment experience is never the result of one person, but the consequence of a collaboration between the two principals: a clinician who possesses the sensitivity and unflappability to contain whatever manner of experience a patient is capable of, and a patient who possesses the courage, grace, and determination to face whatever demons her history has dealt her. Clearly, Joanne Greenberg’s account of her trial is the story of two such individuals, and her courage to write such a book is an inspiration to us all, patients and clinicians alike.
In her presentation, Ms. Greenberg spoke informally about her relationship with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann for the first time before a public audience. She used the occasion as an opportunity to revisit her experience at Chestnut Lodge and to share it with those who are endeavoring to work with people who may be suffering a similar ordeal.
The author, Mr. Greenberg, really have a wonderful way of describing her inner life, that makes it all so alive. Sometimes I had to stop and just soak in the words, feeling the pleasure through my spine as I read through them again. There isn`t many books that give me that feeling, but some of the descriptions were so poetic and at the same time intelligent, that I was really moved. The interesting thing is how the work with the therapist is so closely woven together with her experiences. This adds extra spice to the story, there are so many wonderful metaphor, chilling, because you know they were so much more for her when she lived in the schizophrenic confusion. It was real pain, and the blood on the walls were her way of describing it.
If you are somewhat interested in the psychology of the mind, this will NOT be a disappointment!