Marie Balter’s courageous story of hope and healing has inspired millions around the country. After spending the first twenty years of her adult life in a mental hospital, she gradually emerged from the terror of the back wards, eventually to attend graduate school at Harvard University and become a leading champion for the mentally ill.
Balter tells the story of her 20 years of madness and hospitalizations, and present recovery (recently filmed as an Emmy-winning TV movie by Marlo Thomas). Cowriter Katz is an anthropologist and psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. At five, Balter is given up for adoption by her unmarried alcoholic mother (she never knew her father) and doesn't see her again until she is 18. By then she's been adopted by Ma and Pa Bartello of Gloucester, Mass., but her years with them are so painful that she returns to Boston, her birthplace, and is taken into St. Theresa's Home for Girls. She's in and out of orphanages, tries again to live with the Bartellos; her inner being washes away when Pa dies and Ma becomes ill. She falls victim to disorienting panic attacks, is in and out of mental hospitals, finally spends the bulk of her institutional life in "The Castle," or the wards at Loring General Hospital, where she is shuffled about the wards depending upon the depths of her illness. Because floors always seem canting like a ship deck going under, she walks on the balls of her feet, clings to walls, and stays curled up in the fetal position in bed as much as possible - for years, in fact. Finally, she goes crazy all the way but nonetheless is nearly always aware of herself. Misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, Balter is given massive doses of a new wonder drug for schizophrenics, Stellazine, but it effects are disastrous. At last, during a lull between panic attacks, she gets the idea that if she ever wants to get out of the hospital she'll have to work her way out, and so slowly takes on chores, cams pittances, and in her late 30s leaves the hospital to go to college. She marries a fellow mental patient, Joe Baiter, survives his relapses and eventual death, and by story's end has a Master's from Harvard and has become a voice for the mentally ill. One amazing story, with symptoms captured to a farethewell, and an upbeat ending that can't fail to move the reader. (Kirkus Reviews)