Up From The Blue

I finished reading Up From The Blue by Susan Henderson two nights ago and I’m still not quite ready to pick up another book. This book took me back to my high school years, right back to the mid-70’s. Those were the days of pet rocks, bikes with banana seats, mood rings and family secrets.  No Internet. No cell phones. No personal computers. The story is told by Tilly, a young girl, whose mother suffers from depression, a disease without a name. Jennifer Haupt interviewed Ms. Henderson for Psychology Today and asks her about her research for Mara, Tilly’s mother. Here’s what she says:

Mara was pretty well formed in my mind, and I’d been a counselor for a number of years so I used my clinical knowledge to bring her to life. But in order to really see the world through her eyes and understand how she could spiral into something so debilitating, I actually read volumes of poems by Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath.It’s interesting, though, that you and I can use the word depression because this isn’t part of the vocabulary of the Harris family. They’re living on a military base in the mid-seventies, and this isn’t the best time or place in history to have a breakdown. They’re simply blindsided and confused by what’s happening. And since there isn’t a name for it, Mara’s husband reaches for words like “lazy,” “stubborn,” and “helpless”. Shame begins to guide the choices they make, sending the family down a slippery slope.

What really intrigues me about Mara is that, while she’s far along on the spectrum of depression, she echoes the emotions I’ve heard from plenty of good and healthy moms. She feels buried by housework, depleted by Tillie’s need for attention, and she’s lost connection with the activities that feed her sense of passion and identity. Without the safety net of friends or an understanding spouse, or professional help, she’s really fighting this alone. At one point in the book, Tillie wonders who her mother might have been if they’d gotten her help. I wonder that, too.

I can’t help but think that despite the bad rap that social media gets…. as a place where identity thieves lurk waiting to scoop up your private information, or where so-called “friends” are not real friends, or as simply a big time-waster….I can’t help but think that had the same story taken place today, people like Mara, or even young Tilly, would find a support group, a friend to talk to, someone who’d know just what they were going through.

While I read Up From The Blue I had a chance to revisit the 70’s and immerse myself in the quiet dysfunction, but just as I was happy when Tilly grew up to be a flawed but forgiving woman,  I was grateful to return to the 21st century.

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Posted on March 11, 2011, in Books. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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