Kristina Morgan’s debut novel, “Mind Without a Home,” is excellently written. Any author or authors-to-be know that transferring ideas, emotions and dialogue from thoughts floating around in space, to putting them in a cohesive narrative on paper is difficult. But to overcome significant adversity in one’s life — in Morgan’s case, schizophrenia and alcoholism — is especially challenging and definitely worth extra “props.” The honesty that is portrayed as she tells her life story and shares her struggles is refreshing.
Surprisingly, “Mind Without a Home” focuses little on mental illness itself, and more so on the consequences it has on Morgan’s life. We see vivid pictures of what her schizophrenia looks like — people in suits and voices talking to her, telling her she is worthless or should go die or doesn’t belong — but more so how it affects her life. The reader experiences heartbreak with each suicide attempt, hospital visit and family problem that arises — this book doesn’t solely focus the illness, but life and all of the ups and downs.
Depression and suicide attempts are regular occurrences in Morgan’s life, but she shares these events with candor and honesty. At home, she didn’t have a strong support group. Her parents were physically, but not emotionally, present. Her siblings had their own struggles with which to deal, and while Morgan doesn’t dwell on it, readers can sense her loneliness and feelings of being lost, especially throughout her childhood.
Her mental illness is an integral part of the book, but as previously mentioned, Morgan more focuses the effect schizophrenia and alcoholism has on her life, relationships and jobs. And relationships are an important part of Morgan’s story.
From early on, the reader sees how Morgan has difficulty connecting with others and how her parents struggle to support her. Perhaps even more heartbreaking is that when Morgan finally starts reaching out to others — whether that is in psychiatric hospitals, support groups or out in the “real” world — she begins to come to terms with her sexuality without any real support. Her parents reject her; her father goes so far as to completely ignore her upon learning that she is bisexual. It’s difficult for any person to come to terms with whom they are, but with no support and voices and people from “other realities” telling her she is worthless.
Well, even the most stoic reader will feel for her.
Near the end of the book, Morgan talks about how she had been working as a teacher at a local Arizona high school when she felt like she was starting to lose control over her mental illness. Upon seeking help and advice from the assistant principal, and confiding in her that she does have schizophrenia, she is subsequently fired from her position solely due to the fact that she “could not be trusted to be safely alone in the classroom with children.” Without ever having a past incident at the school before, it’s truly hard to see how far we have to go as a society to let go of previous misconceptions about mental illness.
One of the best aspects of this story also happens to be the worst: the writing style. Morgan breaks barriers and tears down Hollywood-inspired perceptions of mental illness with her book. The reader gets a unique look into Morgan’s life through her eyes, allowing the reader to better connect with the struggles she faces. However, the writing is often disjointed and can be difficult to follow. The story is told through journal-like entries, but will often skip around with time. In one entry, the reader could be experiencing Morgan’s mother’s death and funeral, and then in the next paragraph, it could be two years before that event, when her is mother alive and well.
This was a very difficult book to read. In one way, it was difficult because it broke down all of the perceptions Hollywood has created of mental illness and alcoholism, forcing the reader to confront the sometimes uncomfortable realism of situations in the book. On the other hand, it was difficult to read this book because it was jumping around so much. Some entries started of with a time frame — “Echo” (1979) or “College” (1982), for example — but it was inconsistent. Readers should not open this book and expect it to be “A Beautiful Mind.” “A Beautiful Mind” told the story of a man, struggling with mental illness and learning to overcome it to accomplish great things; “Mind Without a Home” depicts the life of a woman trying to find her place in life and accomplishing amazing things, while happening to have schizophrenia. That is not a bad thing. It just makes it a different story than perhaps the title might suggest.
Having said that, Morgan leaves us with a bright promise at the end of her memoir. She shares with us the joy and happiness she has for life and Guy, her life partner.
The last sentence of her book states, “So I end with a note to God: Dear God, please help me believe that breathing in and out requires no work, only a steady diet of waking. Today I do wake. Today I do wake.”
Yes, this book is a difficult read. But it is nice to get to the end of this journey with Morgan and know that while her mind may not have a home, at least her heart has a place to contently rest.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Kasey_Bennett