Sep 24, 2010 staff reports Uncategorized
As 18-year-old Amanda spirals into mania, her father, psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Benson, sees the realization of his worst fears: his daughter is not just moody, but truly ill. With his words, his diagnosis – manic depressive illness – his world and that of his family is forever altered.
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family Journey Through Bipolar Disorder, a novel by Marietta resident Karen Winters Schwartz, is a story of a family who is dealing with the tragedy of bipolar disorder, but it’s not tragic. It’s funny, sad and thought provoking – and as real and as raw as mental illness itself.
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is Winters Schwartz’s debut novel. She is an active board member of NAMI Syracuse (local affiliate of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), an author and an optometrist. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she spent 13 years of her life pursuing a seemingly endless education at The Ohio State University. She received her undergraduate degree in microbiology, her Master of Science in Immunology, and a doctorate in optometry. She and her husband moved to Central New York 23 years ago, where they’ve raised two daughters. This novel is, at its core, a personal family journey.
Winters Schwartz’s main goal with this novel is to decrease stigma.
“I want to reach those who don’t know schizophrenia from sauerkraut or bipolar from a baked trout, who’ll just say, ‘Hey. Cool title. Let’s see what it’s about.’ I want to entertain, and if I sneak a little knowledge and understanding about mental illness in there-well then, I’ve done my job,” said Winters Schwartz.
One of the most difficult aspects for families dealing with a loved one’s mental illness is the guilt and the shame and the lack of support. Immediate family members are often alone on their journey with mental illness, alienated by family, friends, school teachers and administrators and the community in general. With 20 percent or one out of five people struggling directly with major mental illness, this translates into countless individuals who are affected collaterally, on a daily basis, by these very real neurobiological diseases.
In Where are the Cocoa Puffs?, Winters Schwartz uses multiple points of view. The reader is able to get into the heads of all the major players of this novel, depicting in a very real way how each person – mother, father, sibling, extended family, boyfriend and Amanda – deals with this diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
In her attempt to decrease stigma with the power of pen, Winters Schwartz has written editorials, essays, and novels, and also posts regularly on her blog. She has had two articles published recently in the Syracuse Post-Standard. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, she was a guest columnist of “Why don’t we treat mental illnesses like physical illnesses?” and on July 28, her story was published as an End Note in the Post-Standard’s “Healthy CNY” supplement.
Feedback from the professional community has been tremendous for Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?:
E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., author of Surviving Schizophrenia and Surviving Manic Depression had this to say: “Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is an engaging family story of what happens when the eighteen-year-old daughter develops bipolar disorder. It is very well written and accurately reflects the effects of this disorder on all members of the family. Strongly recommended.”
Michael J. Fitzpatrick, MSW, Executive Director of NAMI National said: “Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is a coming of age story. It provides an authentic look at a teenager, her family, and friends who struggle to come to terms with the onset of her mental illness and to find a bal ance between hope and acceptance. Read it for its own sake. Read it to learn. It speaks to many truths.”
Other early praise includes:
“Welcome to the world of mental illness. This emotionally raw novel pulls you into the belly of the beast – in this case, into the chaos of the Benson family, where survival and sanity hang by a thread. There is no escape; it feels like you are part of the family. Ultimately, this is a love story. It’s about the love that binds a family together in the midst of dealing with everything that threatens to pull them apart. Very highly recommended!”
– Alan Gettis, Ph.D., author of the award-winning book The Happiness Solution: Finding Joy And Meaning in an Upside Down World
“Fasten your seat belt as you’re drawn into the Benson family’s desper ate struggle to manage their eighteen-year-old daughter’s terrifying plunge into a world where the line between rationality and madness is often blurred – the world of bipolar disorder. I highly recommend this book. It will challenge, educate, and most importantly, it will inspire you.”
– Dr. Joseph J. Luciani, bestselling author of Self-Coaching: The Powerful Program to Beat Anxiety & Depression
“What would it be like to be part of a family in which the teenage daughter begins to exhibit wild mood swings that are finally diagnosed as bipolar disorder? By entering the interiors of this young woman, her mother, father, sister, and boyfriend, Karen Winters Schwartz’s novel Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? takes the reader on that roller coaster with insight and sympathy for all. Spending time with this family will be a comfort to those who have had similar experiences and it will deepen the compassion of those who haven’t. The novel accurately portrays the complexities and strain of living with someone who has a mental illness, but it also offers hope as a result of the medical world’s increasing understanding of biochemical imbalances in the brain.”
– Ginnah Howard, author of Night Navigation
“Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is a tragic tale of a family besieged by per haps the most insidious of all diseases. It is one of those rare reads that can teach us something about the trials faced by those attempting to live with or support loved ones with mental illness, while also teaching us something about ourselves. It is a story of betrayal and anguish, of coming to terms with loss and accepting alternatives all of us should pray we never suffer. If you already know how arduous living with mental disorders can be, you owe it to the author to read this book. She has given your cause a beautiful voice-a fine example of the perseverance and will required to love someone so afflicted. But if you only think you know the trials and tribulations endured by those poor souls, you owe this read to yourself.”
– Donald R. Dempsey, author of Betty’s Child