Through The Withering Storm by Leif Gregersen
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Release Date: September 19, 2011
Through the Withering Storm: A Brief History of a Mental Illness is the autobiography of a boy who becomes a man in a cold and seemingly impossible world. This book, with foreword by prominent psychiatrist Dr. Brian Bishop, takes the reader through the true life horror of growing up mentally ill. The author shows us what it is like to juggle school, a dysfunctional family, a ‘career’ as an Air Cadet and all the emotions and troubles that come with adolescence – until genetics throws in a curve ball and the worst imaginable happens.
This book also takes the reader inside the hallways and chambers of a hospital treating the violent, criminal and institutionalized in a place built for ‘shell-shocked’ World War I veterans.
As with many illnesses, there is denial and the struggle doesn’t end in these halls. Despite delusions, fights, arrests, reprisals and being institutionalized, years are wasted fighting treatment and refusing medications.
From the cold and frozen north country of Alberta, through the Rocky Mountains and coastal cities of Vancouver and Los Angeles, the author constantly struggles to shake off the demons that haunt him. He loses friends and possessions, becomes estranged from his family and relinquishes every shred of dignity. Each time he is beaten down, he struggles back to find a small piece of sanity, just enough to keep him going. Finally, with acceptance of his illness, comes treatment and peace.
For any parent or caregiver living with a troubled teenager, this book provides valuable insight into the behaviours of mentally ill youth. For others, such as healthcare professionals, family members or those that suspect they may have an illness themselves, this book sheds light on the symptoms of being bipolar and the all-too-common journey through madness.
Ultimately, this work demonstrates how precious and precarious our lives and relationships are. In the profound words of Dylan Thomas, this book simply says to all who open it and take part in the tragedy that is the human condition, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I loved camp but in a way I could hardly wait for it to end so I could go back to my home town. I felt pretty privileged at times to be receiving all this training and knowledge about guns, planes, first aid and leadership, while most of the people back home were simply trying to decide which soap opera to watch and which one to tape.
It was impossible not to swell with pride when I felt the power and esprit de corps of marching in perfect timing with a hundred other people. It made me stronger, mentally and physically, and there was a real sense of direction in my younger life.
Aside from standing on top of a mountain in Jasper National Park, which I did later on, it was about the best feeling I had ever experienced, maybe because I was starting to grow into being my own person. Here, I didn’t have to be afraid to stand tall like I did in school, where you never really knew if a friend would betray you or not for whatever fad came along.
Basically we were all the same. A huge unit all working towards one goal, bettering ourselves so we could go home at the end of summer and give something back to our home squadrons. The last few days of camp went by quickly. As hot August days began to turn into cool, breezy, rainy fall evenings, I knew this couldn’t go on forever.
This was the end of the summer and I had only been there two weeks. Some of the cadets on course had been there six weeks and some of the staff was there longer. I couldn’t understand why some of the other cadets I ran into were literally crying at the idea of camp being over.
Outwardly, I was glad to know that I could sleep in for a few days before school started and that I would be back to the comforts of home. What I didn’t realize is that some of these sixweek cadets had made close friends and probably even closer girlfriends that summer and would most likely never see them again. I had some really screwed up priorities.
When the last day of basic training came, I had achieved the honor of having the highest mark on the final exam in my flight – a perfect score of 100 per cent. That gave me a bit of leverage when I had to go back home to 533 Squadron and explain why I had been disciplined for attempting to sterilize someone without surgical instruments.
When I got home to my parent’s house, I can still remember the song that defined the times for us back then. My sister played it often, and it could be found blasting out of the radio practically wherever there was one. It was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. I had heard it many times before someone explained to me that it wasn’t any kind of patriotic anthem, it was a song that spoke out against injustices like the Vietnam War and the wars that were to come.
It was a song that protested the almighty dollar shitting all over people whom only want to live, love and have children.
I grew up somewhat isolated from the harsher forces of the world in St. Albert, a small town just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. Most of my younger years were filled with images of very happy times – trips everywhere from California to Copenhagen, constant school successes and football games in the field near my house that seemed to last forever.