There comes a time when many of us
say to ourselves, I hope I dont end up like my mother, (or father- whatever
the case may be). Day after day we
memorize their behavior, and come to know so well who we dont want to
emulate. Years later, we are devastated
to find that we have in fact become them despite all our efforts. Perhaps this is not so bad if your mother
simply has a tendency to be bossy, or a neat freak. These are personality quirks we can live with. On the other hand it can be frightening if
she is an alcoholic, a manic-depressive, or a schizophrenic.
Imagine growing up in a household
where your mother was unable to care for herself--let alone a family. Where she would cry for hours at a time, or
yell uncontrollably for no apparent reason, and make frequent trips to mental
hospitals. Some of us do grow up this
way, including radio talk show host Mike Feder. In his book The Talking Cure, we see in a tragically comic
way the implications this had on his development as a person. We are able to witness the gradual evolution
of his own mental illness, and see how it affects his relationships, career,
and even his ability to care for himself.
The book begins with the birth of
Mikes little sister; the girl that was thought to be the reason Mikes mother
Ruth went crazy. After her birth Ruth
fell into post-partum depression, and was never the same. Its easy to see where a childs logic would
make the sister the evil one for causing this. Sadly though, Mike did think this as a child and separated
himself from her; having no real brother- sister relationship. Mikes father left when he was three years
old. This too had a profound emotional
impact on him, as it would on anyone Im sure.
Despite infrequent visits, Mikes father was rarely a part of his life.
Like many tortured souls one needs
some form of artistic expression.
Mikes gift was his ability to tell stories. He was able to make people laugh at his crazy life, and many
people could relate to him. This
perhaps saved him from himself, for it was his major outlet. Feder walks us through his life making sure
not to leave out any embarrassing moments (which youll have to read for yourself). Although his life is for the most part
tragic he is able to relay it in such a way to the audience that we laugh. Perhaps it is easier for all of us to look
back on our lives that way.
Mike grew up having a stern
psychiatrist sitting in as a father figure, looking to him for advice and
approval. This first of many doctors in
his life was crucial in getting Mike to leave the house of his mentally ill
mother. A step that is hard for many to
take because of lingering feelings of guilt, and responsibility.
Mike went to college and almost
lived a normal life. It wasnt until he
was in his first marriage that he began to fall apart. Ironically his first wife, Carol, was a
graduate psychology student. She had a
very detailed picture of what she wanted her life to be like. Mike was to become an English Professor like
her father, and wear tweed jackets while smoking a pipe. This didnt seem like such a bad thing to
him at the time because he thought he was in love, and would do anything to
please Carol even if it meant becoming some one he was not. He continued seeing a psychiatrist and
wanted him to meet Carol. They
immediately disliked each other. Carol
soon convinced Mike that he was fine and no longer needed to see a shrink. This would soon lead to his anxiety attacks,
and the end of his marriage. He never
spoke to Carol again. In between
marriages his life was a roller coaster.
He worked ridiculous jobs, and continued battling with his own
mind. This would provide ample topics
for his story telling.
During his second marriage he gets
a job at his favorite radio station, and eventually gets his own show. He talks about his crazy family, failed
relationships, and noteworthy mishaps on the job. Every one agrees he is a great storyteller and he develops a
loyal following. In addition to the
radio show he would go to various venues to tell his stories in front of live
audiences. Although this was extremely
therapeutic to him he was still struggling with his manic depression. With his second wife, Susan, he fathered two
children, but this marriage too began to fall apart; and took some interesting
twists and turns that the reader might not expect. He does the one thing I thought he would not do-leave his
kids. Its hard to imagine him doing this
knowing the emptiness he felt when his father left him. Things do change for the better, but Mike
hits bottom before this happens, and must check himself into a mental hospital.
Mike Feders life at times seemed
like a struggle just to stay afloat. We
get a unique look at his life and all the variables that affect his mind. There is obviously a lot more to his memoirs
than what I have summed up here, but it is better told by Feder who can make us
laugh at his misfortunes.
This book would be beneficial to
those who themselves are struggling with a mental illness, or friends and
family members of some one who is sick.
I would also recommend it to those studying or practicing psychology or
psychiatry. Feders life takes so many
surprising deviations that it was hard for me to put this book down.
© 2002 Courtney F. Young
recently graduated from Dowling College, Long Island, NY majoring in Fine Arts
and minoring in Philosophy. While
planning her next step, she maintains her mental health by surfing.