"Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins--aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony--and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shockingviolence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after the other, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family? What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations. With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope"--
The Galvin family seemed like they were living the American dream after World War II. Father Don and Mother Mimi had grown up in the eastern US and, at first, the family moved around a bit as Don was attached to the military. In 1951 they moved to Colorado Springs and Don's involvement with the Air Force Academy took him away from home a lot. He obviously came back often enough to impregnate Mimi twelve times. They had ten boys to start and then the final two were girls. The older boys often fought but nobody who knows brothers would have found that unusual, except that the fights were very violent and intense. When the oldest had a psychotic break, hearing voices and acting abnormally the parents did seek help. At the time drug treatments for schizophrenia really only masked the problem and created others. In the ensuing years other brothers started exhibiting the same behaviours. Eventually the mentally ill brothers moved away from home and formed their own families. It is no surprise that their relationships with others broke down. One brother murdered his wife and then committed suicide. Another brother sexually assaulted his own sisters when they visited him. A wealthy family that the Galvins were friends with offered to take the elder daughter, Margaret, to live with them but the younger daughter, Lindsay, continued to live in the family home for several more years before getting away to boarding school. Mimi was diligent in getting care for the sick children but she did basically neglect the ones who were not mentally ill. And Don just did not seem to be around much until he had to retire due to his own health issues, which just gave Mimi one more person to look after. It was the two daughters who thought that a book about their family should be written and Robert Kolker, after talking to all the members of the family, agreed to write it. He intersperses the story of the family with chapters about evolving medical knowledge regarding treatment for and causes of schizophrenia. The question as to whether nature or nurture causes the disorder is examined in depth. There are some better treatments now for schizophrenia and there certainly are more resources for supporting those who have schizophrenia.
Oprah chose this book for one of her book club discussions. Four of the siblings took part in the TV discussion and their motivation was to show the human side to people with mental illness. Lindsay said this "Our shame around this illness is something that our society has to come to terms with. Society has turned our back on these people. They make up a huge percentage of homeless people. My hope is by telling our story, we can bring a higher level of compassion to this,"
This is a hard review to write.
I knew going in the book was bound to be a difficult read, but I had no idea how emotionally draining it would become. I also didn’t realize, until I finally sat down to write this review, how conflicted I would still feel about it…
Don and Mimi Galvin started their family in the mid-forties and continued having children, despite doctor’s orders, until the mid-sixties, eventually adding a total of twelve children to their family. While the size of their family raised eyebrows, they seemed well adjusted- at least on the surface. But, behind closed doors the family was trying to internally cope with an epidemic of mental illness.
Meanwhile, those children who were not afflicted, were left to their own devices, emotionally neglected, and were at times victims of horrific abuse inflicted on them by their mentally ill siblings.
The author alternates the developments in the Galvin family with facts about Schizophrenia and mental illness, the way psychiatry approached it, the medical treatments, genetics and environmental connections through the years. I was amazed by the attitudes about mental illness and the effects of the drugs prescribed to help control the disease, with the side effects greatly reducing the quality of life and leading to an early death at times. I just can’t imagine!
While I agree that the author took a very measured and delicate approach with the family, I still picked up on a distinct narrowing of blame, despite all efforts to avoid it. I think that even now, with all the various avenues of support available, with the push to destigmatize mental illness, there is still a feeling of shame attached to it for many people of a certain era.
In the seventies, mental illness was often handled privately in families, or labeled as some other type of illness, because no one wanted to admit, sometimes not even to themselves, what the true nature of an illness might be. I’m not making excuses for anyone, but some will want to judge this family by today’s standards, which is not entirely fair.
I also had to wonder if Mimi also suffered from a form of mental illness herself, or if her ‘magical thinking’, acting as though everything was normal, was a coping mechanism for someone who has lost control of her life, who is watching her children suffer greatly, and is helpless to prevent it. Perhaps her actions were an attempt to hold herself together- because what would happen if she collapsed under the strain?
The only good thing that has come from this terribly painful situation is that the family DNA has been beneficial in the study of this very difficult disease, opening up avenues in understanding genetics, treatment, or maybe even prevention- which gives the reader much needed hope after watching a family endure such incredible pain for so long.
This is an agonizing book to sink oneself into. My heart went out this family. My feelings are all over the place, though. I’m pained but some of the judgments passed, while also understanding why one might feel that way about the Galvin’s. Although, I have to admit, if I had been in Mimi’s shoes, I would have been completely overwhelmed. It sounds unbearable.
I once knew a couple who had four children- one of which has beaten cancer. While the child was in treatment, I could see how hard it was to divide the ratio of time between the sick child and the healthy children. I see that it’s not fair, but I also saw a support system in place, there were people around to pick up the slack, to talk to, to provide counseling, although it’s rarely enough.
I didn’t see that Mimi had much of this kind of support. In fact, she once admitted she had no one to talk to, and frankly her children’s lives were obviously at risk too, as it was so shockingly made clear.
My point being that apparently people are still judging mental illness in a different way, and Mimi wasn't given the help and support she might have if her children had been physically handicapped or ill.
At the same time, Mimi's response to her daughter’s revelations was almost too appalling too for me to digest. My brain is still on overload, and I remain very torn on how to feel about this book. I really can’t see how anyone could have a pat answer, though.
It’s a painful story to read, incredible on so many levels, but also one that is compelling, and informative. I’m glad I read the book because it has awakened a desire to learn more about severe mental illness and to better understand the needs of families living with this disease.
The Galvin family was unique in more than a few ways. Initially their most obvious marker was that they had 12 athletic smart and attractive children. 12. But what became their identifier was that six of those children were diagnosed as schizophrenic. Damaging things happened in that house, things that maybe lead to mental health issues (nurture) but the fact that mental illness occurred and expressed as schizophrenia, that does seem to indicate a genetic tie (nature.) These dynamics in the family, the sibling and parent-child relationships, and the willingness of most of the surviving Galvin's to share this story and to share their DNA is breathtakingly brave and makes for a compelling read. I learned a lot from this, and not just about schizophrenia. Kolker does a wonderful job of sharing this story without becoming a gawker, without exploiting the experience of a family that, whatever else you might think of them, met and managed a successession of life-altering events and diagnoses with more grace than I imagine I could (even if the way this was managed was damaging to others in the family who were not ill.) It is hard to imagine solutions or approaches that would not be damaging. If you grow up with 6 siblings who are often psychotic and abusive its going to mess you up. There is very little objective right and wrong here, no villains, but there is a hero (Lindsay is a saint for sure.)
The portion of the book devoted to research and care is at least as interesting as the Galvin family story. There are heros here too, and if not villians at least antagonists. The development of thinking about mental illness in general and schizophrenia specifically over the past 60 years is fascinating, and the impact of gene mapping (for good and ill) was particularly compelling for me. I had never heard that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are considered to be in the same disorder spectrum. That was mind-blowing. Several people I love have been severely impacted by bipolar disorder - 3 have died (2 by suicide and 1 as a result of the cardiac damage caused by the drugs need to keep him stable.) As they rolled out the methods of schizophrenia management (ECT, Depakote, Risperdal, Clozapine, Seroquel, etc.) I was struck by the fact that these are the same medications my friends were on and the links became clearer. This will lead me to additional study.
Recommended unreservedly for everyone.
Cannot even begin to imagine how one copes with this kind of challenge. With great compassion, Kolker tells the story of this belegured family. The hospitalazations, medication, violence, fear, hidden abuse, as I'm said hard to read. The family story alternates with the scientific investigations, theories that changed from year to year, this family of particular interest to researchers. How the other family members copes, or didn't, requiring years if therapy in some cases. One can't help but feel for them all, this insidious mental illness causing havoc, sadness and tragedy for all.
ARC from Edelweiss.
This is the true story of the Galvin family, tragically affected by mental illness. Don and Mimi Galvin had 12 children, beginning in 1945 and continuing until 1965 when the doctor said he would refuse to treat her if she were to become pregnant again. Mimi gave birth to ten boys and two girls, all born seemingly healthy. Over the next several years, however, some of the children exhibited odd behavior. Still, for the most part they fit into the communities in which they lived, doing well in school and in sports. It was difficult for the boys to measure up to the father’s achievements or the mother’s standards of discipline, but in the end, Mimi seemed to be the most engaged in the handling of the disturbed children, neglecting the well ones to some degree, which had devastating consequences for those innocents. The family was dead set on hiding their issues from the world.
As time passed, and the children began to show more overt signs of disturbed behavior, the Galvins, on the whole, ignored it, as if they were perfectly normal children, and there was nothing truly wrong. They acted this way although one son was even arrested for attempted murder and a botched suicide and one dressed in a robe and wandered as a prophet of G-d, and one committed domestic and sexual abuse. When six of the boys began to show symptoms of mental disorders, and were diagnosed with Schizophrenia, however, they had to face the fact that something was going terribly wrong.
In the end, all of the children seemed to suffer, in some way, from the lack of hands on parenting or the acceptance of both the well children and the unwell children on equal footing. Living with so much mental illness, that they were unprepared to handle, created emotional problems for those that were healthy. The girls were sexually abused by a brother, and possibly even the boys suffered the same fate. Don Galvin was a workaholic, busy working for the military and Mimi was busy being a haus frau, or traveling with Don to dinners and receptions with people from high places. She was not very good at recognizing or dealing with the problems faced by her normal children as she was overwhelmed with her struggle to cope with their troubled sons.
The normal children were largely ignored and left to raise themselves and their siblings. Mimi and Don were in denial about the state of mind of their sons although when suicide and attempted murder became part of their lives, they were forced to be more aware of what was happening. Often, when one or another of the boys went berserk, the police were called to end the violence and hospitalize the offending child for treatment. Although the children were subject to rape, incest, domestic violence and more, the parents were largely removed from the seriousness of the problem and refused to acknowledge it until the abuse had already become a common practice.
The medical scientific community that investigated and treated the children who were ill, were largely inept and hampered by a total lack of understanding of the disease or a knowledge of medications that would help. They were treated with a community of drugs, one size fits all, that had disturbing side effects even if they helped. Sometimes, the cure was worse than the disease. For years, it was accepted that Schizophrenia was the result of the environment or the parenting of the mother. The people in medicine and science who believed that the genetic makeup of the afflicted had something to do with it, were ridiculed or disregarded.
This book highlights the history of the treatment of the mentally ill regarding scientific research, medications, institutions, psychiatrists, physicians, and the interactions of family. The alternative treatments that were tried, in order to help the victims of mental illness to live a normal life, were haphazard and often failed or did more harm than good. Treatments sometimes seemed barbaric, subjecting the victims to restraints, electric shock therapy, lobotomies and hot or cold baths at extremely uncomfortable temperatures in order to stabilize the emotional state of the patient. The medications and treatment that were developed often caused other medical issues for the patients, and some patients never returned to even their own normal state, after the treatment. Some patients gained a lot of weight from the medications or seemed to remain in a stupor, unable to feel normal again.
It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 20th century, that scientific research finally discovered the relationship of genes to schizophrenia and other mental disorders. By studying the families that had multiple births, and twins, with some afflicted, and some free of disease, they determined that certain factors were missing in those that developed a disease. They uncovered a spectrum of mental illness. At first, it was thought that nurture was the cause of the disease, or some believed it was nature, but instead, with the discovery of genomes, the prevailing view was that it was a combination of nature and nurture and a belief that a predilection to Schizophrenia was exacerbated by family life and upbringing. It was also discovered that there were many variations of the illness. It was also discovered that the mental illness was not necessarily passed down from generation to generation or from a victim who was suffering from the disease. A normal sibling might pass it to a child, if they carried the gene known to cause it. If proper treatment was started early enough, some on the spectrum were able to lead normal lives, although the medications like lithium and thorazine, used to treat psychotic disorders, did have negative side effects. Those that could afford private treatments often did better and required less medication.
The healthy siblings in the Galvin family suffered because of the way their brothers and sisters treated each other and from the neglect of their parents who refused to face what was occurring in their family. It was difficult to witness so many of their children descend into some degree of madness and they were terribly ashamed of what was happening. Mental illness was, and still is, looked down upon by many people. There is little proven science that can cure those afflicted. Some heard voices, saw things or imagined they were in danger. Some had a predilection for violence. Some lived in an alternate reality. Some of the sons were sexually deviant and abused their siblings. The Galvins did not deal well with the madness they obviously saw developing, although Mimi was the most hands on when it came to calming them down or calling the police. Often, the children were left to deal with the siblings that were mentally ill on their own, and they were ill equipped to do that, or to take care of themselves. When frightened, they locked themselves in a bedroom and also called the police.
The devastating consequences of the disease and the treatments, sometimes hit or miss or experimental, had terrible side effects, often leading to the untimely deaths of the patients. Through the kindness of the Gary family, the girls escaped most of their former trauma, but the effect of the illness extended even into the next generation. One daughter was devoted to the care of her ill siblings and one was simply mentally unable to become involved.
It was through the eventual donation of the Galvin family’s DNA, coupled with their participation in several studies, that the scientific, medical and pharmaceutical community, with their dedicated researchers, was able to make great advances into the treatment and understanding of mental illness. Still there is a long way to go and oftentimes, the profit motive encourages or discourages the ongoing research into mental disease. It was with the help of the Gary family that the girls, Mary and Margaret, were able to escape some of the mayhem of their home. Their generosity and aid in the research was admirable.
As has been written by others, this book tracks the story of a family of 12 kids (10 boys, 2 girls), six of whom develop signs of mental illness as teens and are diagnosed with schizophrenia. We read about the parents' backgrounds, the early childhood of the 12, their interactions with each other, friends and neighbors and the medical community. The book lays out key elements of their symptoms, diagnoses and treatments from early childhood, through their teens, into adulthood and even middle-age.
Interspersed is the parallel story of what's evolving in the world of mental illness research, understanding and treatment (for schizophrenia, especially) in state hospitals and medical research circles and how this family is central to developing better genetic understanding and more effective medical interventions.
Highly recommended if you have interest in mental illness, especially schizophrenia.
This book tells the story of the Galvin family over the years to the present date, all against a backdrop of a medical history of schizophrenia, its diagnosis and treatment, how those have changed over the years, as well as various avenues of research that have been pursued and are still ongoing.
I appreciated reading this book, but found it at times repetitive, and frequently going into too much minute detail about meaningless family episodes. Overall, it was also somewhat disorganized. And, while usually interesting, large portions were not particularly enlightening in the context of the book's themes, or in terms of providing a better understanding of schizophrenia. I think it would have been a much better book in the hands of a better writer or stronger editor. Nevertheless, the subject is fascinating and I would still recommend the book.
2 1/2 stars
The author provides an informative history of the illness taking us through institutionalization, lobotomy, the nature versus nurture debate, medications, on to modern genetic research. He also discusses the current status of schizophrenia as an illness, non-drug treatments and research on whether it can be prevented or eradicated.
The willingness of institutions to use drugs with no thought to long-term consequences echos other current explorations of mental illness. It was interesting to know this book started with the Gavin Family wanting its story made known in the belief that it would help others.
In accordance with Catholic teachings, Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children. Six of their ten boys developed debilitating mental illness in their late teens or early twenties. Those who escaped schizophrenia, including their two daughters, grew up in a chaotic home with preoccupied parents and little attention. It was a recipe for disaster on many levels.
Author Robert Kolker traces the family story in detail from the 1970s to today. He intersperses the family saga with details about scientific efforts to understand and treat schizophrenia. The indifference of the big pharmaceutical companies to exploring new approaches is infuriating.
This excellent book goes on a little too long, but otherwise is highly recommended.
The story of how the family tries to cope, first by denial, then by trying to hide the problem, and finally trying to advocate for finding a cure to the awful mental disease is a painful read. There was so much ignorance surrounding Schizophrenia (and still is) that the family lurched from one treatment to the next with the drug regimens at times being almost as bad as the disease.
The children who were unaffected by the disease also suffered by being subjected to abuse from their "crazy siblings." This was especially hard on the two youngest children, both girls, who were serially abused by their mentally disturbed brothers. How they managed to climb out of the very black hole that was their family is not a pretty read with a fairytale ending. It is a story of courage and determinations, and, in the end, of love.
The author also details how schizophrenia was being (or not being) treated throughout the decades, and how little was known or being done to provide therapy or appropriate medication to the Galvins or other sufferers. Anyone who has read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" will see the similarities to this book. Not uplifting by any means, but a step in the direction of understanding the condition and supporting efforts to find the key to preventing its occurrence.
Kolker writes a journalistic biography of the whole family, using extensive interviews with all the living Galvins and piecing together the sad story of their lives, as well as the resilience of the two youngest, especially. Interspersed, he gives us the history of the psychological attitude towards and scientific inquiry into the genetics behind schizophrenia, a diagnosis that is still often misunderstood and mysterious. The family became integral to the genetic study, and this fascinating book humanizes what could have been merely a case study.