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On Sanity: One Day In Two Lives

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

Powerful, important, sobering and yet surprisingly uplifting book, never has it been more vital to read both the Afterword and Afterthoughts.

These finally and substantially inform the whole, but before you reach this long, winding road of remarkable recovery which no one expected let alone dared hope for, you’re in for a haltingly stark experience articulated ever so eloquently with complete candour.

Told by both Una – the creator of the widely acclaimed BECOMING UNBECOMING – and her mother, now aged 72, it’s an illuminating, autobiographical aperture onto a very specific aspect of madness and one extraordinary, critical morning, after which the afternoon was all too inevitable.

On that afternoon we find Una and her mother sitting in the kitchen at the back of her mother’s big house, drinking tea, eating biscuits and reading the day’s newspapers.

“One of us waited anxiously for the medical team that assessed my mother under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act to decide whether to detain her. The other was relaxed in the knowledge that she’d been proved right about the global conspiracy against her (which the doctors were clearly in on), so neither of us was surprised when a doctor’s face appeared round the kitchen door to explain what would happen next.”

This house – originally Una’s grandparents’ – is almost a co-star of this comic. It’s the sole setting for its centrepiece and far more of a prison than the place where she is actually detained once liberated. Specific rooms play key roles, as does its layout and some sequences use its very floor plan as narrative panels. Another uses its staircase with its elaborate, angry red, wrought iron banister for a moment of conflict I suspect was imaginary. Others present full portraits of the hallway seen through doorways or of the rooms themselves and what is seen through a window. What you will find in the billiard room, presented with such sense of scale, will astonish you.

“After the brace of doctors had left, we waited for the police and ambulance to arrive. There were still four people in the house, but only one of us did not know that.”

So, what happened that morning?

The sad and unnatural schism between mother and daughter during her mother’s mental illness is quietly emphasised throughout. It’s there on that afternoon when one knows more than the other, but also during the entire main body wherein her mum is recalling that day and the world as she perceived it back then – the one she effectively inhabited.

The entire scenario was painfully familiar to me for reasons I touch on during my review of Darryl Cunningham’s PSYCHIATIC TALES which is an equally honest and important work and which sits proudly in our Mental Health Awareness Section alongside this, Terian Koscik’s WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, John Cei Douglas’ SHOW ME THE MAP TO YOUR HEART and so much more. That the section is proving so popular – that our customers care – I find immensely moving.

This comic is divided into three distinct chapters: the first few pages originally created in 2008 when there was no hope to speak of; her mother’s side of the story based on an oral history recorded over tea and biscuits (never underestimate the palliative power of tea and biscuits); then finally the Afterword and Afterthoughts. In the latter Una’s mother shares her current perspective including an episode which, again, ticked my own recognition box, and in the former Una herself provides context and makes an astute observation on what was not observed that day.

The thing, of course, is to cure mental illness. And if the drugs work then they work (eventually).

But understanding is everything in all aspects of life, and if we had more people in this world like Una who seek to understand, then we’d all be a lot closer too.
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