Diane Dweller’s “Mom, Mania, and Me: Surviving and Changing a Volatile Relationship” is a powerful memoir. Most of us realize life is hard for those who suffer with mental illness. This is a much needed book to help us understand the effects mental illness has on families. The author illustrates the devastating effect of her mother’s bipolar episodes on her family. Dweller’s first person account is written like a fast paced novel, starting with the riveting prologue. She shows us how she becomes the scapegoat for her mother’s many frustrations.
Chapter One jumps to thirty years after the prologue - at her father’s funeral. The unanticipated event forces the Dweller sisters to return to their family home. Their mother, Dixie, is in denial and oblivious. She refuses to wear black and demands her daughters not wear black to the funeral. Her rapid speech and manic behaviors worry the sisters, who always thought their mother would die first. Their doctor-father has left his wife financially secure, but Dixie decides she wants an airplane and a stand-by pilot to take her wherever she decides to go. Dad did well, but not that well.
Dweller’s backstory unfolds with each chapter. Against her parent’s wishes, she forgoes college and marries an Air Force pilot at seventeen. Dweller follows him to England to escape her mother’s constant criticism and cruelty. But her handsome young husband forgets his charming courtship manners and becomes even crueler than her mother, with constant criticism and philandering.
Dweller eventually ends up back in Texas with two small children, alone. She goes to night school and her father offers to support her and the children while she finishes college. He even pays her tuition. Dixie becomes angry since that cuts into the money she has for shopping.
Later Dweller helps her mother find a psychiatrist, who helps Dixie with the right medication -- lithium. But like many with bipolar disorder, every time she begins to stabilize, Dixie convinces herself she is well and stops the medicine.
Dweller has been treated for hypothyroidism since the age of ten. After the birth of her youngest daughter, her condition manifests itself in mood swings and painful physical symptoms. Finding the right treatment proves to be difficult as a series of unsympathetic doctors refuse to listen to her concerns. This experience provides Dweller with an epiphany about what her mom has been going through year after year.
“Mom, Mania, and ME” by Diane Dweller is published by Writing Ink, LLC.
Reviewer Cheryl Bazzoui is a writer from Bradford. She writes under the pen name Ann McCauley.