As a child, David Lovelace tried to understand and cope with his mother's erratic behaviors and perplexing mood swings. His father also displayed prolonged periods of exuberance, followed by weeks and months of lethargy and inactivity. In time, Lovelace learned that his parents suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition he shares with them and a younger brother. Scattershot is his haunting memoir of living with persistent mental illness as an adolescent, adult, son, and sibling.
The author traces his parents' history with exacting detail, giving us a sometimes clinical but always sensitive portrayal of their formative years. In college, his mother was labeled schizophrenic, a diagnosis that she maintained for the next 40 years. Her course of treatment included electroconvulsive shock, hospitalizations, and medication, sometimes leading to remission but never lasting stability. His father, a minister, was an intellectual devoted to religious philosophy and teaching. Driven by eccentricities and frequently overcome by career and family burdens, the elder Lovelace was never able to conquer his sense of despair. David both embraced and fled from his parent in what was a paradoxical search to help and extricate himself from them.
The author's own psychiatric problems emerged in late adolescence. It took time for him to realize his course, fighting irrational thinking, impulsivity, impaired judgment, and more than a few precarious situations. For years, he used drugs as a form of self-medication while he pursued odd jobs and failed relationships. Like his parents, he sought and received professional treatment, which he still requires to sustain a peaceful existence with his wife and children.
The recurrent themes in this book deal with a son's ambivalence toward his parents and the burden of overcoming a lifelong malady. Lovelace writes: "I know our disease. I deserted my family and ran from it. I denied it three times and refused it. All that drama may seem pointless and sad but it taught me. I know the empathy borne of despair; I know the fluidity of thought, the expansive even beautiful mind that hypomania brings and I know this is quicksilver and precious and often it's poison." After reading the book, you believe with confidence that he has come to grips with his fate and resolved the demons of his past. His is a remarkable story about where he came from and the ordeal, past and present, of looking life square in the face.
© 2008 James K. Luiselli
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 6 books and over 200 journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.