So-Called Normal: A Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience

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In So-Called Normal, Mark Henick vividly and emotionally recounts growing up in a small town off the coast of Nova Scotia. In his young childhood, he is surrounded by generations of family and feels secure in the bonds of church, school, and his two grandmothers who ruled “one with fury and the other with grace.” But after his parents’ hostile break up, their poverty increases. And when his mother moves her family in with Gary, her new brain-damaged and volatile boyfriend, Mark descends into anxiety followed by depression. His older siblings flee, but Mark is stuck. As an adolescent, he becomes suicidal and the memoir describes his suicide attempts, several hospitalizations, and the often-inadequate responses to his crises by “the disjointed, inadequate, byzantine mental health system.” Gary is unsympathetic, demanding that Mark “be a man”; he resents when anyone other than himself receives attention. It is obvious that some of Mark’s mental illness is a direct result of his living situation, but no one seems to recognize that.

Although he couldn’t always articulate it then, the adult Mark is spot-on with his descriptions of how his emotions and rationality were challenged: “Not all my worries were entirely irrational. I just couldn’t tell which ones were […] I had no way of knowing if my logic had been skewed by the distorted way in which I had started seeing the world.”

I worked in the field of suicide prevention for many years, and this important memoir is unique in that it focuses as much attention on how he got better as it does on the drama of his depression and suicidality. Taking one’s one life is inherently dramatic, but most books gloss over what makes a real difference. In his case, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and calming techniques all helped, but so did a stranger who stopped, listened, and rescued him from a bridge.

It is my hope that this memoir will be read by everyone who loves someone who is struggling so that they can better recognize what is often so difficult to put into words, and also by professionals who need to do a much better job of effectively helping their clients learn the necessary skills. Most adults “didn’t notice and so did nothing, or they noticed but didn’t care and so did nothing, or…didn’t know what to do and so did nothing.”

My own quibble was his overuse of platitudes that sound self-evident or trite (“Nothing changes if nothing changes”). But these instances stood out because most of the time his language is nuanced, specific, and genuine, such as when he describes the change in Gary’s moods: “warnings like the first leaves that fall as the days turn darker and colder.” Or when he points out that, when depressed, he would forget the stars and see only the empty black space surrounding them. This much-needed memoir helps us all to recognize the stars and the blackness.

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Author Mark Henick
Star Count 5/5
Format eBook
Page Count 304 pages
Publisher HarperCollins
Publish Date 2021-01-12
ISBN 9781443455039 Buy this Book
Issue November 2020
Category Biographies & Memoirs