A Legacy of Madness: Recovering My Family from Generations of Mental Illness

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Overview

Dorothy Winance 'Dede' Davis had worried, fussed, and obsessed for the last time. Her heart stopped beating in a fit of anxiety, soon after her wobbly legs gave way. In the wake of his mother's death, Tom Davis knew one thing: Helplessly self-absorbed and severely obsessive compulsive, Dede led a tormented life. She had moved from nursing home to mental institution in recent years, but what really caused her death?

The story of a loving family coming to grips with its own ...

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A Legacy of Madness: Recovering My Family from Generations of Mental Illness

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Overview

Dorothy Winance 'Dede' Davis had worried, fussed, and obsessed for the last time. Her heart stopped beating in a fit of anxiety, soon after her wobbly legs gave way. In the wake of his mother's death, Tom Davis knew one thing: Helplessly self-absorbed and severely obsessive compulsive, Dede led a tormented life. She had moved from nursing home to mental institution in recent years, but what really caused her death?

The story of a loving family coming to grips with its own fragilities, A Legacy of Madness relays Tom Davis's journey to uncover, and ultimately understand, the history of mental illness that led generations of his suburban American family to their demise. Investigating his mother's history led to that of Davis's grandfather, a top administrator at one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country; his great-grandfather who died of self-inflicted gas asphyxiation during the Depression; and his great-great grandmother who, with her eldest son, completed suicide one tragic day. Ultimately, four generations of family members showed clear signs of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcoholism—often mistreated illnesses that test one's ability to cope.

Through this intimate memoir we join Davis on a personal odyssey to ensure that the fifth generation—he and his siblings—recover their family legacy, by not only surviving their own mental health disorders but by getting the help they need to lead healthy, balanced lives. In the end, we witness Davis's powerful transition as he makes peace with the past and heals through forgiveness and compassion for his family—and himself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rutgers journalism professor Davis examines the problems that plagued his family for four generations. Peering into the past, he opens this family history with a vivid recreation of the day his mother died, ending her 30-year battle with mental illness: “I had had many of the same impulses as my mother and grandfather, enduring years of eating disorders and obsessive compulsiveness. I wanted to know why we were the way we were, and whether there was some family curse that I was failing to stop.” Probing childhood memories, he recalls his growing awareness that something was wrong with his mother, yet too young to comprehend her illness or the “drunken antics” of his alcoholic grandfather, an administrator at a large psychiatric hospital. At age 10, his suspicions were confirmed when he saw a movie with scenes of Howard Hughes’s obsessive-compulsive behavior: “That’s Mommy! I wanted to say.” Stunned when he learned that his great-great grandmother and her eldest son committed suicide on the same day in 1928 and that five years later his great-grandfather died of self-inflicted gas asphyxiation, he felt he had discovered “some lost treasure” and began the intense research that led to this haunting, soul-searching book. He paged through newspapers and reference books while interviewing more than 60 family members, psychiatrists, friends, and family acquaintances. (Nov. 1)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616491215
  • Publisher: Hazelden Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/3/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 999,653
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Davis is the Jersey Shore regional editor for Patch.com and an adjunct professor of journalism at Rutgers University. This is his first book. He lives in Metuchen, New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    highly recommended

    it is unbelievable how a mental illness goes from one family to another. This has been passed down for generations. By Tom writting this book, he has helped himself and his children. Thank goodness he has a very understanding wife.

    His father has finally gotten to know happiness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Important read about mental health

    A must-read to help understand mental illness and its devastating impact on families. Davis is a veteran journalist who has emerged as a leading authority in covering mental health issues and has dedicated his blog to mental health. Davis writes with great clarity and detail about his mom's struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and alcoholism. He delves into his family's history and the tragedies of how failing mental health has cascaded through prior generations. The author also recognizes his own issues, those of his siblings and the steps taken to protect his children's mental health. If anything, the book encourages those needing help to get it and helps remove some of the stigma that was associated with seeking help and the tragic consequences of not getting help. Culturally, American's have started to recognize the need to address mental health (health insurance parity laws, DTC advertising for behavioral medications, clinical evidence about the connection between mental and physical health). Davis' book is an important statement for mental health advocates, patients and families who are struggling to understand how to deal with mental health problems.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 13, 2013

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    Posted January 27, 2012

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    Posted May 5, 2011

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    Posted November 13, 2011

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