Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this e-book through Sage’s Blog Tours.
“It was just a cheap prank. I walked back to my car and I could see the group of them, the gun-nuts and whoever else, walking out of the woods, having a great time at my expense. I could have easily pulled the rifle out of my car and put the fear of God into them, or even killed one or two, but with all the moral training I had gleaned from my family and some church attendance, that option was the last thing on my mind.”
In 1985, on the cusp of junior high school in an Alberta suburb, Leif Gregersen seemed to be destined for a relatively normal life. He was a good student and a model air cadet, likely headed for a career in the Canadian military. His home life was pretty good, although his father drank a bit too much, and his mother suffered from depression, and sometimes attempted suicide. Unfortunately for Gregersen, he had inherited both of these problems from his parents, and soon his normal teenage life began spiralling out of control. He started to drink heavily and suffered from black moods and lack of impulse control. Taken individually, these behaviours seemed relatively normal for an adolescent, but eventually no one could deny there was something more serious going on. Through the Withering Storm chronicles Gregersen’s descent into mental illness, and his struggle to cope with it in an increasingly hostile home environment.
Gregersen’s style is simple and straightforward, always clear if not elegant, though he sometimes struggles to find the words to describe experiences and delusions that are incomprehensible to the sane mind. This is not a book to be picked up for its stylistic strengths, but rather to gain an inside perspective of the experience of living with a mental illness. Gregersen recounts numerous events that do not paint him in a good light, but are illustrative of the kinds of behaviour that accompanies bipolar disorder. Gregersen’s reflections also show how the cultural stigma attached to mental illness not only impacts how the mentally ill are treated, but how they perceive themselves and one another. Though his own mother suffered from depression, Gregersen was, for a long time, unable to recognize mental illness in himself, and unable to sympathize with his fellow patients. Even when he was in a mental hospital, he was afraid of the other patients on his ward, convinced that they were dangerous and that he didn’t belong there. At only 78 pages, Through the Withering Storm focuses on chronicling the onset of Gregersen’s mental illness, with scant attention paid to his eventual successful treatment, and rebuilding his life. However, it is this recovery that gives Gregersen the ability to look back and help others to gain some measure of understanding of what it means to lose your mind.
Already read Through the Withering Storm? I recommend Brain on Fire by Sussanah Cahalan.