Safe, Wanted, and Loved by Patrick Dylan is a memoir about the author’s wife’s experiences of mental illness, how that affected the family, and the difficult journey in the direction of recovery.
The book’s powerful opening line is the author’s wife, Mia, saying “Pat, I am going to prison.” At that point, she was first demonstrating indications of psychosis. The book then moved forward in time, with sections at the beginning of each chapter moving back in time to earlier points in their relationship. I thought the pacing of this was quite well done, hooking the reader’s attention at the beginning and then gradually filling in more bits of backstory to give a view of Pat and Mia’s lives beyond just the way they were affected by mental illness.
The family then faced the issue of how to get proper care for Mia as the psychosis worsened. For people who haven’t dealt with this kind of thing before, this will likely be eye-opening, and for those of us who’ve been on the patient side of things, it’s interesting to see the family member perspective.
Once Mia did end up getting treatment, there was confusion about her diagnosis, which continued for much of the book. The reader is taken through the trial and error process of finding medication that would be helpful for her. Her treatment team’s approach with meds struck me as strange; in a separate post, I’ll address the issue of doctors sometimes relying heavily on benzodiazepines to manage problems that those drugs don’t actually treat. It wasn’t until finally getting diagnostic clarification, which required going not just out of town but out of state, that she was able to find the right medication to keep her illness under control. Mia’s journey is a good example of the challenges so many people with mental illness face trying to get the right diagnosis and the right meds for them.
The issue of medication side effects came up at different points in the book, including people asking Mia if she was pregnant due to medication-induced weight gain (yup, been there, done that). There were also some more severe effects that necessitated stopping the medication. I thought there was a good balance of presenting the pros and cons of medications and weighing particular side effects against the benefits of the associated medication. The book also got into the family’s hesitancy around medication, even while they recognized the necessity for it.
I thought the book was really effective at capturing how frightening psychosis can be for loved ones who don’t understand what’s happening, especially if the unwell individual becomes paranoid about family members. Difficult issues like involuntary treatment and police involvement also came up. The reader learns about psychosis and psychiatric treatment as the author shares his own journey of suddenly being faced with having to learn about these things.
Mia’s illness had a significant impact on the family, and the book explored all of the challenges that the author, his and Mia’s children, and other family members faced in trying to cope. I thought the author’s openness around this was a real strength of the book. I also appreciated that the author was very clear about differentiating the illness from Mia herself, and recognizing that it was the illness causing challenges for the family, and Mia was not to blame for that.
While stigma comes up at different points throughout the book, it’s addressed more explicitly in the epilogue. The author explained that protecting his wife from stigma was very front of mind in deciding how to handle things when she first got sick. However, when they did disclose, suddenly other people were disclosing their own experiences, which is very consistent with my own experiences of disclosure. One of the book’s key take-home messages is that we need to talk more about mental illness and break the taboos that stigma has imposed.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent book. It was well written and demonstrated strength through vulnerability. This would be a particularly valuable read for family members of people dealing with mental illness, but I think it could also be really helpful for people who have a mental illness to see the family member perspective. And more generally, I think the more books out there talking about the reality of mental illness, the better, because people need to hear real human stories to counteract the stereotypes.
Safe, Wanted, and Loved is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.