The Thing Inside My Headby L Chaber
"Human life is suffering but Sybil Macindoe suffered more than
Key Themes: family struggle, mental health institutions, anorexia, depression, extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder, Child and development psychology, Family Psychology, Abnormal Psychology,Mental Health Services, Memoirs, Autobiography, Coping with Eating Disorders, Coping with Death & Bereavement
"Human life is suffering but Sybil Macindoe suffered more than others with a severe and complex mental health problem, known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Anorexia Nervosa. It was an extremely distressing and handicapping condition for both her and family that ultimately led to her tragic death. This book provides some insight into both the experience of Sybil as well as that of her carers and professionals. We can all learn from her narrative and from the different perspectives of her family and carers. I felt moved by her experience and was left wishing that she could have taken advantage of the newer developments in treating OCD. The impact of OCD on the family is often hidden. Her family’s observations and narrative are extremely balanced and provide a cautionary tale for sufferers, carers and professionals alike. There is lots of information and self help material about OCD but this book is a valuable addition to our knowledge about OCD and Anorexia Nervosa and its impact on others."
David Veale, Consultant Psychiatrist in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, South London and Maudsley Trust and the Priory Hospital North London.
Tehran, spring 1978: Into the political maelstrom of Iranian revolutionary activity is born a severely premature baby, Sybil Macindoe. Where and why will this child’s life end tragically twenty years later? Sybil, crucially, is separated from her mother by the Iranian medics, and when she finally goes home, her isolated and inexperienced parents struggle to manage her care as events crescendo around them. Her mentally unwell mother, an American academic and feminist with a troubled background, cannot cope. The same toxic mixture of ingredients will threaten Sybil’s survival throughout her young life: bad genes, adverse environmental triggers, family dysfunction, and inadequate medical institutions. Her mother traces these interacting influences as Sybil grows up later in fundamentalist Qatar and then immigrates with her family to the UK, where a mixed array of mental health institutions deals unevenly with the ‘things in her head’anorexia, depression, and an extreme version of obsessive-compulsive disorder that includes bizarre religious fixations. So that readers may draw their own conclusions, her mother’s confessional narrative is interwoven with other viewpointsof carers and administrators, family members, friends and especially the raw diaries of Sybil herself, intelligent and bewildered, generous and paranoid. This memoir pays tribute to Sybil’s brave struggle, is instructive for anyone involved with the onset and treatment of mental illness, and also tells an eventful and moving family story.
About the Author
Born a New Yorker, Lois Chaber was absorbed in a conventional academic career as a scholar/teacher in Eighteenth-Century English Literature until she was lured away to the Middle East in the mid-1970s by her third husband, a dynamic New Zealander. There, they experienced first-hand the turbulent triumph of Islamic fundamentalism in this oil-rich region and eventually left with Sybil and her younger sister Molly for London, where Lois has taught for a decade in a small American university. Various family misfortunes reached their climax in 1999 with Sybil’s tragic suicide, which compelled Lois to begin her memoir. A life-long anxiety/depression sufferer, Lois presently benefits from her psychotropic medicine, Quaker meetings, good literature, purring cats, the Jane Fonda Workout, and many rewarding relationships. She is committed to supporting various mental health charities.
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This book is a searingly intimate history of one young woman's struggle with OCD. It also is a love story, written by the family that loved her. The extraordinary attention to detail brings the reader so wholly into Sybil's story that reading the book is, at times, painful. It makes real what it can mean to live with OCD. Although the National Health in England is different from the health care system in the U.S., our U.S. system becomes increasing complex, raising ever higher barriers to good care, not unlike what was experienced in Sybil's case. More than anything, the book presents OCD as a very serious disorder worthy of our attention. It confirms that a family's intervention is critical and needed on an ongoing basis to assure that proper care is received. This was done for Sybil. At the same time, the book acknowledges that families reach a physical limit of time and energy and need the reassurance of knowing that this is inevitable and not a failure on their part. The book also serves as a guide to parents in helping the well sibling/friend to manage her feelings at the loss of the sibling/friend to OCD. Childhood, once idealized as a carefree time, now is known often to be stressful. This book fills in more of that picture. And the over-riding presence, presiding over every page, is Sybil's own, sweet voice.
I went to High School with Lois, Sybil's mom. I remember her as a driven hardworking alto sax player. She was two years my senior, so I wouldn't have known her at all except that she was best friends with a close neighbor of mine, and we all spent a rough year in band together getting used to a new director. Recently we reconnected through a common friend, the daughter of Mr. Goldberg, my Latin teacher at Hicksville High School. This personal connection gave Lois's book an added intimacy for me, but it would have been a compelling read anyhow. None of us are really prepared to be parents, especially not of troubled kids. Somehow most of us catch a lucky break and our kids muddle through. Not so for Lois and Sybil, and for Neil, Sybil's dad. This book is mostly about Lois, who is troubled in her own way, about how unprepared we all are to be parents, about how little help is available for us when we reach the limits of our ability, and about Sybil. For me the best sections are where Lois lets Sybil speak for herself from her own diaries. Sybil is sensitive and troubled. She sees and tries to fix it, but is unable to repair her own situation. We fall in love with Sybil, find ourselves rooting for her as she confronts her demons, the convoluted mental health system with its many wonderful caregivers, and her family's well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful efforts. It tears us up as we see her concluding that her death is the only solution to her problem, and that only her own death can release her family from its troubles. The book may be more formal or stilted or academic than it needs to be, but the power of the situation speaks through from every page. Curl up with it in front of your fireplace and read it as the wintry blasts or overflowing rivers circle around outside.