Recently, I was looking through old files for a project I’ve been researching and happened upon a children’s book that Jill and I worked on several years ago. With Kate moving to Tampa, it was a timely find.
The book, I Just Don’t Understand, was based on a phrase that Emma used a great deal when we tried to talk about Kate’s mental health struggles. At the time, Kate was going through puberty and Ben had just left for New York — this was 2009. Neither twin understood why their sister would be loving one minute, borderline abusive the next, and destructive the following.
In developing the book, which Nicholas illustrated, we created the character of “It” to separate Kate the person from her disorder and diagnosis. “It” helped us cope with the mood swings and shifts that bipolar and its rotating companions brought.
The book got some interest from one publisher, but it never made it to shelves. One factor, the publisher said, was the drawings were not sophisticated enough. We didn’t want them to be, and we appreciated Nicholas’ insight into his sister.
The second factor, and likely deal breaker, was that the story did not end on an upbeat note. Two readers who saw the book before we sent it off made that remark, and so did the publisher. We resisted making changes, because that would not be true to our story or the stories of others we’ve read about and met.
While I get that happy endings are what test best, this story isn’t one you wrap up neatly with a bow. An illness such as bipolar is an ongoing, lifelong struggle that is chronic, not cured. You learn how to manage it; you don’t want “It” to manage you.
Kate has spent the last six years learning how to deal with her situation. The process took multiple hospitalizations as well as intensive therapy for all of us. Now that she’s left the nest and is living just outside Tampa, Jill and I decided to share the book with anyone who can use it.
So when you get the chance, download the PDF here — it's only 5 MB — and start a conversation with your family and friends. Increasing understanding about mental health issues is critical for individuals, families and society as a whole.