Monday, July 26, 2004

the borderline between sharing personal experience and grief-stricken authorial self-indulgence

As I have discussed before, my ever-weak willpower is especially challenged in bookstores. Consequently, not only do I buy a lot of books, I buy a lot of bad books--books that I probably could have figured out were going to be bad if I had spent some time scrutinizing the book beforehand rather than succumbing so readily to a primordial buy reflex. Yesterday, as part of my efforts to be a more understanding collegiate instructor, I bought and began reading this book called Borderline Personality Disorder DemystifiedNote to clinicians considering writing a book about a psychiatric disorder: if you decide to have Chapter Two be descriptions of two cases of the disorder, to give readers a more concrete feel for what you are talking about, and you happen to have a sister with the disorder who met a tragic end, you might ask yourself whether you really have the distance to be able to write about that case in a way that will be useful to readers.

In BPDD, the author gives us twelve pages on his sister, including spending an entire page reproducing a poem that she wrote that includes stanzas like:

Because of the times--I'm me.
Because of the clime--I'm me.
Because of the pall, wrapped over the ball,
In spite of the pall, I am me.

Because there is caring--I'm me.
Because there is sharing--I'm me.
Because there is fate, indifference, and hate,
In spite of my fate, I am me.

The author spends two full pages specifically on his sister's death, which does sound truly awful, but you would think if there was a long account of a death in a book like this, it would be a death that was somehow closely connected to the person's having Borderline Personality Disorder. Instead: the sister was having dinner with her husband and children on her 43rd birthday, choked on a piece of food, excused herself quickly to the restroom, where minutes later she was found unconscious; she had suffered massive brain damage from the loss of oxygen, and spent twenty months in a coma before, after a court battle, her family was allowed to discontinue life support. Horrible, obvously. But it doesn't exactly provide much insight into the disorder.

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