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The Discovery of a Daughter’s Manic Depression

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 The Discovery of a Daughter’s Manic Depression

A moving article in the times relating to Michael Greenberg’s (columnist for The Times Literary Supplement) discovery of his teenage daughters diagnosis of manic depression, covered by Christine Seib (03 03 09).

The article goes back to the summer of 1996 when as a father Greenberg thought his greatest worry would be that of too much male attention with regards to his teenage daughter.

Sally Greenberg was blossoming in every way. she was a girl that had always struggled with school, overnight she was eagerly digesting ‘Shakespeare’s sonnets, Bach playing in a loop on her Walkman, poetry pouring from her pen.’ However what a father saw as his daughters ‘intellectual awakening’ was the early indications of his daughters decline into manic depression.

This mental illness is typically characterised by ’stratospheric highs of mania and suicidal lows of depression.’ Notably. within the space of a few weeks Sally was ranting and raving at strangers with her delusions. She would run into oncoming traffic with the belief that she could stop cars. Her words became unclear as she would say them so quickly and her body would shiver uncontrollably.

Within those five months Greenberg’s daughter had gone mad. As Seib describes, Sally’s ’season of craziness is now the subject of a book by Michael’ “Hurry Down Sunshine” is the story of an ordinary family in crisis. “I felt like I was describing a storm that had hit our family,” he says now, at home in his elegant, bohemian Manhattan apartment. “It was like we were going along very nicely on our little boat and suddenly this wind comes up and the boat is ripped apart - and when the wind lifts we’re hanging on, each to our plank of wood, looking at each other across the water, quite changed, quite altered.” More specifically the book covers the affects of Sally’s first bout of depression on her mother Robin, Michael’s second wife Pat, Sally’s older brother Aaron and a tangle of relatives including Helen, his estranged widowed mother, and Steve, his brother, whose own unnamed mental problems led Michael to worry that such illnesses were inherited.

Michael Greenberg identifies mania as a scorching sun with “no shadow, no subtlety” that burns people caught in its rays. The book’s title was taken from the lyrics of a blues song by Champion Jack Dupree. “It’s about me wanting that sun to go down,” he says. Moving on and inorder to achieve a level of understanding, there is a need to have an overview of Sally’s childhood for any clues as to why this illness emerged. Michael had split up from Sally’s mother Robin then aged 6 years. Having moved to Vermont with her mother and going through all the usual strops young people go through, Sally returned to New York with her father and Pat, a choreographer. Essentially, it was the growing pains Sally experienced that made it difficult for her family to detect her illness. It has been suggested that from first grade onwards there were various difficulties encountered which did not sound like alarm bells ringing. Even though Sally had been dismissive towards her father, he simply put it down to a 15 year olds rebellion. He adds, “We have a high tolerance for the strange behaviours of the people we’re closest to. I knew Sally to be a kinetic, energised, really beautiful, amber-haired, charismatic, riveting girl … adolescence threw me; it threw all of us.” It was Greenberg’s second wife that suggested Sally needed help after she was brought home by the police for ‘acting crazy’, at this point the reader needs to understand that the sufferers of manic depression can die of exhaustion, and from that perspective Sally was put under sedation and locked in a padded room to allow the frenzy to pass through her brain. This was an extremely traumatic time for the family and for Michael, he thought he was losing his much loved daughter from the mental to the physical. Sally was able to leave hospital after a few weeks, she receives counselling and has juggled with medication, but well enough to return to school. It has taken a year for both father and daughter to consolidate their once close relationship.

The impact on Michael was such that it has taken him several years before he could write about the events that took place. Sally is now 27 and is comfortable in the knowledge that her father has chartered her manic episode.

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