Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hurry Down Sunshine

On July 5, 1996, Michael Greenberg suddenly had to face the fact that his fifteen-year-old daughter was exhibiting severe mental problems. Hoping at first that her mania was drug-induced so that it could more easily be corrected, Greenberg finally came to realize that he and the girl’s stepmother had completely missed his daughter’s gradual descent into the illness that would require her to be committed for a time to a New York City mental health facility for treatment. Hurry Down Sunshine is Greenberg’s account of what his family faced that summer and how they survived the crisis.

What Michael Greenberg has to say as he describes his family’s experience is somewhat terrifying and comforting at the same time. On the one hand, he and his daughter, Sally, were lucky that they stumbled onto caring professionals from the beginning, starting with the policeman who recognized Sally’s irrational behavior on the street and brought her home, on to those who manned the mental health facility itself, and ending with the woman who treated Sally after her release from that hospital. Sally’s best interests were always foremost in the minds of these people. On the other hand, Greenberg was a self-employed writer with very little in the way of cash or other assets that could be earmarked to pay for Sally’s treatment. Consider his shock, for instance, when he went to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription drugs for the first time and was told that they would cost him $750 since he had no medical insurance.

Sally was slow to get better and, as Greenberg and his wife faced mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, they found indications that Sally was making any progress hard to detect. Greenberg had to deal with a multitude of family situations in addition to his worries about his daughter’s future, assuring that the summer of 1996 would be one he would never forget. There was the older brother, suffering mental problems of his on and for whom Greenberg had assumed some financial responsibility, the tension of watching his former and current wives forced into intimate proximity during the immediate crisis, the pressure to write something that would generate an immediate income, and the stress that culminated one night with him slapping his wife in the face and having to deal with the policemen called to the apartment by his terrified daughter.

Hurry Down Sunshine is an unflinching look through the eyes of a man who would have done anything to spare his daughter the pain of her illness and still wonders how he could have missed the early signs that she needed professional help. Much too harshly, he seems to blame himself for what happened to Sally and still mourns the loss of the daughter he once had, that bright teenager with an unlimited future ahead of her, who was replaced by a fragile young woman forever dependent on the medication that makes it possible for her to cope with life.

Sally’s story, sad as it is, is the perfect illustration of how mental illness changes the lives of more people than just the one bearing the brunt of the illness. Parents may find this a difficult book to read but what Michael Greenberg has to say about his family’s tragic summer and its aftermath will leave them better able to cope with anything similar that might one day happen to them and their own children.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. I've read an excerpt of this book and plan on picking it up. So sad and yet they were actually one of the lucky ones.

  2. They probably wee some of the luckier ones, Carrie, but the very end of the book makes me a little nervous about Sally's long term outlook.