I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True Review

I Know This Much Is True is a book that was published in the late 1990s by Wally Lamb. Someone gave me a copy that year and I was riveted by the story of these identical brothers and how one has developed full-blown schizophrenia and the other is functioning in his adult world, but emotionally paralyzed.

It’s a dark, sad, harrowing tale about life, mental illness, bad stuff that happens along the way — most of it not of our choosing. When I think about the paths that set these two brothers up for a terrible time in life it has nothing to do with choice, but who they were born to and how they were raised — and by people who had their own traumatic history wrought on them by their elders. The lot of these brothers feels generational, set in stone before their bodies and spirits ever entered. So many of our stories are already written before we are born.

So, this story is a downer. It is difficult to read and now the book has come to the small screen in a six-part limited series that brings the story alive. I had appreciated the book two decades ago and now, having studied mental health counseling for the past four years, I was ready to see this show and look at this story through a more clinical lens. No matter how clinical my eye, this story breaks my heart.

Mark Ruffalo is amazing as he plays both twin brothers. I understand that he shot the scenes as Dominic and then returned months later, weighing 30 lbs more, to play his brother, Thomas. The cast is strong all around, and I get the sense where one brother may be psychologically weak the other has strength and vice versa. Still, for Dominic, who promises his Mother to care for his schizophrenic twin brother for the rest of his days, we get a keen sense of the pain it is to take on such a role.

Each episode, I am actually horrified at what I am watching. It’s not really the mental illness that unfolds in the story, but the everyday catastrophes that we have difficulty facing let alone ever recover from. Our own lives are made up of those moments, people, episodes of difficulty and the way the story is told there is really no place to hide from the raw power of pain.

I do want to recommend this book/show to you. Yes, it is difficult. Certainly, during this pandemic, it may not exactly strike your mood, but it’s worth a watch. This is a six-part series, I am two episodes in. Yes, I am overwhelmed, but I am also riveted for the next episode.

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a newly published book that looks at one family, the Galvins. The parents of this family had 12 children together – ten boys and two girls – and six of the boys were mentally ill with schizophrenia. Often a scary mental health diagnosis, schizophrenia is a pervasive illness across the entire world. It is a mental illness that the field and society are trying to understand happens when a person has this diagnosis.

This is a compelling family saga, chronicling the family’s history right alongside the history of how mental illness has been treated in America and how schizophrenia has been understood historically and into our modern day. The Galvin family, given six of their children had schizophrenia, were a pioneering family in mental health research. Their DNA aided science in understanding the disease, treatment, and perhaps even the ability to stop it from ever taking hold. This family’s contribution to research in this area is undeniable.

However, I most appreciated the Galvin’s family story and how this tracks alongside illness progression. So often mental health illness cannot be understood or tracked in such a linear fashion, but the Galvin provide a backdrop for not only reading about the history of schizophrenia, but also provided a case study in how it appeared and functioned in real life in their family. Also, given six children were not schizophrenic, the cost and pain on other members of the family is an angle explored and given credence to, which is often the forgotten part of schizophrenia, i.e. how others related and/or involved are affected. Of course, with six children in one family sick with schizophrenia the impact was great on the children and parents who were not.

This book offers a difficult story of one courageous family and it is worth reading for greater understanding of the illness both from those who suffer from schizophrenia and those who suffer living with a loved one who does. It also provides a very good historical lesson on how mental illness is seen and treated, particularly a disorder like schizophrenia.

When I was working on the local crisis lines in my community, each week during my one four-hour shift, I took a phone call from a person regarding a person having his first psychotic break. What was described to me on these phone calls was harrowing, disturbing, and radical. I could not believe how pervasive the illness is nor could I understand what these people were now on a journey to face with their loved one for the rest of all of their lives. It is real and it deserves our curiosity so we can be better prepared to understand the illness and those whom suffer with it and their lived ones.