I’ve been out of the blogosphere for the last eight weeks or so not because of a roadblock, but because I’ve been asked to write a book.
The thirteen-year-old daughter of one of my childhood friends suffers from a psychiatric condition. She’s a beautiful, athletic, and talented young lady. Her educational testing results show that she has an IQ somewhere in the “high gifted” range. But her behaviors can range from a little bizarre to gut-wrenching, and from there to dangerous and frightening. One phrase that seems to come up almost every time my friend shares a new anecdote about her daughter with me is, “You couldn’t make stuff like this up.”
Because diagnosis and treatment of the disorder are still controversial, there is very little reliable information available to parents, educators, and other “laypersons” who come in contact with children affected by the most severe form of this psychiatric illness. Children believed to have the disorder have died: some apparently from suicide, or from the unintended consequences of self-injury; a few at the hands of frustrated parents who resorted to abusive parenting practices; and a handful from the efforts of well-meaning professional therapists who attempted to treat children with untested, unproven therapies.
I believe that the story of my friend and her daughter needs to be told. I need to do a lot of work before I can tell it in the way that it deserves, however. My experience with pediatric mental health issues is limited, so I’ve spent much of the last eight weeks trying to digest scholarly articles on neurobiology and thick volumes of clinical psychology. (I’ve discovered that diagrams of the human brain and neural nets can be an excellent cure for insomnia.) My writing background is in fiction, not journalism, so I’ve been studying the memoir and science-medical writing genres in some depth. And both my friend and I share concerns about the potential effect that writing the book will have on her daughter, who is still a minor and who is still in treatment. We don’t want to traumatize her or impede her therapeutic progress by telling her story. So we intend to tread carefully.
The initial furor and fever of research is winding down. I’ve just about exhausted the resources and patience of my local interlibrary loan librarian. And I’ve learned that self-care is very important for those involved in caring for others. (Writing about my friend and her daughter, I’ve decided, can qualify in a sense as “caregiving.” I’ve become intimately involved with minute details of their lives; what happens to them next matters immensely to me. To write about someone is by definition, I think, to care.) So, in the interest of caring for myself by doing something that I love, I’ll be getting back out on the road of reading and blogging about short fiction – albeit with more modest goals than I’d originally set back in May. For the time being, I intend to read one short story a week and to blog about it.