Tag Archives: Autobiographies

Book Review: The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare

A few weeks ago, I heard about The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare in a foster care and inspirational memoir group on Facebook. I decided to check it out and it sounded great. Having been in a psychiatric hospital myself and having endured some controversial treatment there, somehow I was drawn to this book. Maybe it’s because I want to be reassured that it could’ve been worse. I don’t know.

Synopsis

“Nobody knew what was going on behind those doors. We were human toys. Just a piece of meat for someone to play with.”

Barbara O’Hare was just 12 when she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, Aston Hall, in 1971. From a troubled home, she’d hoped she would find sanctuary there. But within hours, Barbara was tied down, drugged with sodium amytal – a truth-telling drug – and then abused by its head physician, Dr Kenneth Milner.

The terrifying drug experimentation and relentless abuse that lasted throughout her stay damaged her for life. But somehow, Barbara clung on to her inner strength and eventually found herself leading a campaign to demand answers for potentially hundreds of victims.

A shocking account of how vulnerable children were preyed upon by the doctor entrusted with their care, and why it must never happen again.

My Review

The story begins with Barbara’s early childhood memories of being abused by her Dad and step-Mom because of being a “dirty tinker”. The abuse unfortunately only continues oce Barbara is cared for by Edna, a woman renting her father’s house while he’s working off-shore. Barbara from there ends in a children’s home, where she tries to run away, so she’s placed in The Cedars, a locked children’s facility.

There, Dr. Milner meets her and tricks her into going into Aston Hall. Once there, she’s tied down, drugged and abused regularly throughout her eight-months-long stay. Barbara discovers that the other girls on her ward share two things with her: most come from The Cedars and all don’t know their biological mothers. What struck me as interesting was the dynamic between the girls while not in “treatment”. They were pretty typical girls, forming cliques and friendships and bullying one another.

When Barbara is on leave with her father and yet another of his girlfriends, she confides in them and they decide to get her out. They get Barbara into an approved boarding school, which is a lot better than the hospital but still very strict. Barbara yearns to meet her biological mother and tries to escape the school to find her. Her father than moves her to a girls’ hostel, where she is free to go as she pleases. She eventually goes on a search for her mother, which ends in disappointment.

I must say that it’s not too clear throughout the book how the hospital affects Barbara long-term. She does explain in a chapter about her ongoing PTSD symptoms and risk-taking behavior (possible dysregulation from complex PTSD).

Most people in the Facebook group said that they didn’t like the ending of the book. I had no problem with it though. I mean, I didn’t feel Barbara’s appreciation of her father was all that warranted given his early abuse of her, but then again he did get her to escape Aston Hall.

Overall, I really loved the book. It was a pretty fast-paced read and I finished it within a few days.

Rating: five out of five stars.

Book Details

Title: The Hospital: How I Survived the Secret Child Experiments at Aston Hall
Author: Barbara O’Hare
Publisher: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: Feburary 9, 2017

Book Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

I have published a few posts that were inspired by my reading of the book Believarexic by J.J. Johnson already. I didn’t share many opinions on the book itself though. Early this morning, I finished the book, so I’d like to post a review. This review contains some spoilers.

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer has to force her family to admit she needs help for her eating disorder. But when her parents sign her into the Samuel Tuke Center,
she knows it’s a terrible mistake. The facility’s locked doors, cynical nurses, and punitive rules are a far cry from the peaceful, supportive environment
she’d imagined. In order to be discharged, Jennifer must make her way through the strict treatment program – as well as harrowing accusations, confusing half-truths, and startling insights. She is forced to examine her relationships, both inside and outside the hospital. She must relearn who to trust, and decide for herself
what “healthy” really means.

Punctuated by dark humor, gritty realism, and profound moments of self-discovery, Believarexic is a stereotype-defying exploration of belief and human connection.

Review

This book is an autobiographical novel. The author describes this quite poignantly at the end of the book as “true make-believe”. What this means is that the author did really get inpatient treatment for her eating disorder in 1988 and 1989, but the details and characters may’ve been changed or simplified. I haven’t yet checked the bonus material, so I cannot be sure whether some of the pretty intriguing events in the book did really happen. For instance, one of Jennifer’s fellow patients is signed out by her parents because they don’t believe the program is working. They decide instead to take her to an orthodontist to have her mouth wired shut. Even though this book takes place in the dark ages of the 1980s, I find it hard to believe such a procedure would be legal even then. I do still see the stark contrast between psychiatric treatment then versus now.

Sometimes, I find that characters have been oversimplified in terms of them being either good or bad. Dr. Prakash, Jennifer’s psychiatrist, is nice from the beginning to end, whereas nurse Sheryl aka Ratched is bitchy and controling throughout the book. Still, some characters make quite a transition through the book, and there are incredible twists and turns.

The book starts out a bit triggering with for example the hierarchy of eating disorders being quite extreme. Nonetheless, this book is clearly pro-recovery. At the end of the book, the author encourages people who even have an inkling of an idea that they might have an eating disorder to seek help. As may’ve become clear through some of my previous posts inspired by this book, Belieivarexic led me to some interesting insights.

Book Details

Title: Believarexic
Author: J.J. Johnson
PUlbisher: Peachtree Publishers (eBook by Open Road Media)
Publication Date: October 2015

For more information on the book and its author and for resources for people with eating disorders, go to Believarexic.com.

Books #theprompt #WotW

This week, the prompt over at Mumturnedmom is “books”. I’ve also been doing a relatively great amount of reading this week, so thought I’d choose it as my word for the week too.

Books were a significant part of my life growing up. Both my parents used to read to me and my sister from an early age on. My father would read us comic and picture books such as Winnie the Pooh. He’d use these weird voices for the characters, which I always hated. As I got older, he read me a children’s book of Greek mythology. My mother read us the likes of Annie M.G. Schmidt, a very famous Dutch poet and children’s book writer.

I learned to read at around age four or five. My mother made little books for me with one or two words on each page. She used rub-on letters so that the print was clear and large enough for me, being partially sighted, to read it. There were books themed “house”, “school” and many others but these are the ones I remember. Later, I’d borrow large print books from the library children’s section, but many had too small print and yet were too easy for me in terms of vocabulary.

As my vision got worse and I had to learn to read braille, my interest in reading books decreased. I’d still read the odd children’s book, but most of the time, I’d stick to the library for the blind’s audio magazine for children age five to nine. I don’t think I read many audio books at the time, and as I said, I didn’t like reading braille.

As I got older, the gap between my potential and my reading ability widened. From fourth or fifth grade on, my parents began insisting I read books even if the school hadn’t assigned it. They probably felt the school underestimated my abilities and cut me too much slack. I remember at one point in fifth or sixth grade being up till what in my memory seems like the middle of the night because I still craved my goodnight kiss and my parents refused to give me one until I’d read a certain number of pages. My parents also tried to positively stimulate me to read. For example, I at one point had the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in braille and, to show me he was taking on a challenge too, my father decided to read the book in English at the same time that I read it in Dutch.

I never became an advanced or avid fiction reader. In high school, I hated having to read adult literature. In reality, I didn’t start enjoying middle grade fiction until I was at least fourteen. By then, while all my classmates were reading young adult or even adult literature, I enjoyed every book written by an author named Caja Cazemier I could get my hands on. I still enjoy reading her books.

In high school, I read exactly the amount of Dutch and foreign-language literature I was required. I got many literary novels from my parents, but still have only started on a small percentage and finished only the humorous ones. One of the main reasons I didn’t end up majoring in English at university was the vast amount of fiction reading required. I was in fact scared when, having singed up for linguistics, I was sent an at the time quite popular literary novel to read in prep for freshman introduction. It was also said that humanities department students would frequently hear this book mentioned during lectures. Fortunately, the linguistics majors didn’t have to read this book after all. Either that, or I dropped out soon enough for the book never to be mentioned in lectures when I was in attendance.

Perhaps paradoxically, as a teen, I had the ambition of writing books when I grew up. I wrote a few, very autobiographical attempts at children’s novels. My most successful attempt is a half-finished novel called The Black Queen about a high school student whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis. It was one of the less (though still somewhat) autobiographical novels I wrote, and for once it was never my intention of having people “get me” through it. I still someday want to finish this book. Unfortunately, as I started writing mainly in English, I lost my ability to write fiction due to my relatively poor vocabulary and sense of style.

I still don’t particularly enjoy fiction. I do have a few children’s and teen fiction books on my to-be-read list, but the majority of what I still want to read, are autobiographies or non-fiction. This week, I have been reading Angels at Our Table by Ann Breen, a book of stories from families with children with Williams Syndrome. I also started reading Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose. It’s a very humorous guide to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion also relevant for people with other mental illnesses.

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The Reading Residence

Book Review: Working the Double Shift by Christine Motokane

I bought Working the Double Shift on Kobo about a month ago, but didn’t read much of it because I hadn’t installed Adobe Digital Editions on my new computer so had to get out my old one to read. A few days ago, I decided to see if the Digital Editions file was small enough that I could download it on my mobile Internet connection, and it was. I finished the book within a few days and have been fascinated by it.

Synopsis

Working the Double Shift is a raw honest autobiography from a young woman with autism. Feeling that the current books on autism were not a fit for her, Christine decided to write a memoir covering different topics as well as the emotional process of a person with autism. The book covers her journey from birth to college and how she learned to find her voice and path in life as well as interventions and approaches that worked for her. This memoir also brings awareness to different social issues regarding autism and adulthood.

My Review

I’ve read a few books by adults with autism spectrum disorders, but all were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at an age I haven’t even reached yet. Christine Motokane was diagnosed with classic autism at age four. This does provide a different perspective, as she got intervention early on and didn’t have to go through life undiagnosed and unsupported. In this sense, I can to some extent relate, as I too got supports early on, albeit for my blindness.

Motokane describes her school life really well. She describes her difficulty with transitions from elementary school up until college. She also describes her anxiety about even the utterance of the word “independence”. When speaking at a conference as a young adult, Motokane meets a professional who speaks about interdependence being more important than independence. This resonates with her and it does with me, too.

Motokane’s anxiety about independence is shown through a variety of behaviors, such as her difficulty handling menstruation and her “immature” interests. I can relate to these. I find that finally this book clarifies that anxiety about independence is not necessarily about low self-esteem, but can also be related to fear of transitions.

Throughout the book, Motokane talks about her sometimes unhealthy attachments to and relationships with various support people in her life, and her issues with making friends particularly in middle and high school. Her high school is public, but like mine, it was populated by upper-class kids. In addition, Motokane faces the challenge of being one of only a few Asian-Americans in a predominately White school. Then again, her race doesn’t seem to play an important role in her experience of exclusion, since she mentions it in passing. Fortunately, by early adulthood, Motokane discovers a group of people she does fit in with.

A really important skill Motokane describes learning is self-advocacy. In childhood and most of adolescence, she simply goes with the goals set forth by her parents and support team, although she does show some resistance (for example, by vandalizing the communication diary between her aide and her parents). This is often seen as a “behavior”. As she grows up, however, she learns to stand up for what she believes in. Despite her mostly positive experience with behavioral intervention and her mother’s involvement in a pro-cure organization, Motokane is adamant that autistic people should not be “normalized”. She also feels that autistics should be able to find their own voice (and I assume she means this somewhat figuratively, also including non-verbal autistics). This is the main reason Motokane has written the book.

Book Details

Title: Working the Double Shift: A Young Woman’s Journey with Autism
Author: Chrisitne Motokane
Publisher: Xlibris US
Publication date: February 2014

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Favoring More Capable Autistics in Autistic Literature

I’m currently reading We’ve Been Here All Along, a collection of poetry and essays by autistics over age 35. I may post more about it when I’m finished, but for now, I want to talk about the bias in the publication: all autistics whose contributions I’ve red so far, are reltively capable, eloquent, language-type Aspies. This may seem logical given that the contributions are written, but I for one know of a few non-speaking autistics who can write. They don’t make it into autistic literature as often, but they exist. The bias favoring more capable autistics also a bit annoyed me. Where are those older autistics who aren’t parents or in relationships, don’t have jobs, and don’t live independently? We aren’t all Temple Grandin, you know? This bias is common in autistic literature, but it also perpetuates the myth that less independent autistics need their parents to speak for them.

I for one am a moderately able autistic, being in a relationship but not living on my own or ever having had a job. I so badly want to hear from other autistics who need intensive supports. Maybe that will dismantle the myth that only those who presumably can’t speak for themselves, need or deserve these supports. Then again, there is also the myth that those who need intensive support, shouldn’t speak for themselves unless they say what the staff want to hear. And then there is the idea that those who aren’t as capable and are still speaking for themselves, are more capable than they are. That in particular frustrates me, because this myth contributes directly to my likely not ever getting the supports I need.