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Book Review: True story of woman’s abuse is open, honest
“The Shattered Oak: Overcoming Domestic Abuse and a Misdiagnosis of Mental Illness”
By Sherry Genga
By Colin Harrington
“The Shattered Oak: Overcoming Domestic Abuse and a Misdiagnosis of Mental Illness,” by Sherry Genga and published by Safe Goods Publishing in Sheffield, is based on a true story. It is a story of open and honest reflections of personal experience with domestic abuse, the profound realities of recovery and a startling, and ultimately triumphant, resolution.
The story ends well through the interventions of a therapist, a very sharp nurse and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Or. as the story’s hero describes it, “a little slice of heaven carved out just for me.” This is a story of straight-forward disclosure in the first-person narrative that informs, inspires and provides one person’s path through the wilderness of family dysfunction, abusive hardships in the extreme and extraordinary insights.
Narrator Barbara’s “whole life changed” when she married the charming, intelligent and talented man named Innocent. Barbara could not have predicted how horrendously violent and abusive Innocent would become, in spite of how he provided so well for her and her three daughters and created a lovely, upscale home for them. Barbara is “drawn to putting (her) thoughts down on paper.” Her journal entries are a solace and a method of keeping track of reality. With her husband’s lies and her discovery of shocking secrets of his past life, Barbara recalls her past in order to fathom how she finds herself in a relationship with a man who brutally beats her regularly. The fact is, she remembers a childhood without love, extreme poverty and want, and with these revelations, a deeper understanding of herself. She is also well aware that her husband, too, suffered torment and abuse himself while growing up in an alcoholic family.
In spite of the kindness of a therapist and a courageous divorce in which she attains freedom from abuse for herself and her daughters, Barbara cannot shake a profound depression that leads to three suicide attempts. Deeply religious and spiritual, Barbara prays for enlightenment, or at the very least, a release from mental torment. But when she is committed to a mental hospital, she experiences a jolting loss of personal freedom and brutal treatment. It seems that she has gone from a life of torment to a life of torment in a new kind of hell. But through the attentive and kind professionalism of a nurse named Nancy, who notices markings on her body that seem to indicate Barbara has an undiagnosed medical condition, just recently discussed in medical journals, Barbara is released on medical advice to an NIH hospital in Bethesda, Md. It is at that point that her story mercifully changes for the better in her climb to effective treatments for Cushing’s disease, pituitary cancer and a chance to recover her life.
Barbara’s treatments at that time were part of a ground-breaking clinical study. The effects of high degrees of stress are just now being understood when it comes to trauma and abuse. New insights into Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Cushing’s disease are important medical aspects of domestic abuse situations. This book is a good resource for those in need of help and it tells of how one heroic soul faced down extremes of abuse and trauma with love and determination to recover her life.
In her post script, the author writes, “Some stories are meant to be a secret and some stories are meant to be forgotten. Some stories need to be heard to help the survivor live. There is help for women battling domestic violence, child abuse, suicide and Cushing’s disease.” There are links and resources for that kind of help at the end of the book.
Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes readers’ comments at email@example.com.
Yehuda Ahronov Book critic
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Meet the author
With suicide you never know what thoughts are racing through the saddened mind. Sometimes we can’t fathom that our friend, sibling, mother or father committed suicide. People around them felt like they were so happy, always laughing and smiling, never revealing signs that they were so depressed. Look at Robin Williams the famous comedian, who was always passing a joke. Suicidal people wear a mask and rarely share their true self or feelings. Whether they are ashamed of their depression or feel alone where they cannot trust anyone, they keep their thoughts a secret. Suicidal people want their privacy and don’t have the courage to ask for help when their mental state manifests the thoughts of choosing death. They may feel like they are in a vacuum, with darkness slowly seeping in and their breathing trending toward hyperventilation. Suicidal minds can feel blurred and even upside down, bringing them to the brink of insanity. In successful attempts, their demise is silent and not very forgiving. I know first-hand as a family member experienced several suicide attempts.
As I described in the book, The Shattered Oak, the victim was a recipient of domestic abuse from her husband. She took solace under the strong oak tree in her front yard. As she sunk further into mental illness, the oak too became distress and ill. In Barbara’s case she was lucky by surviving three suicide attempts. As we know some aren’t so lucky. I think most of us do occasionally struggle with depression but most filter it back out and let it go. Sometimes struggling makes us a stronger and gives us perspective to let go of our past and absorb our mistakes along the way. Most of us struggle with self-worth issues, but normally we rise to the occasion and succeeded. Depression can intervene in the thought process and cause us to focus on the negative. Psychologists continually try to understand why a person’s negative view of their situation outweighs their desire to live. Clinical studies have shown that stressful situations can actually bring on a form of mental illness where the person is not totally in control of their decisions. For the families of those victims many questions go unanswered.
Surviving suicide attempts and addressing mental illness can alter our viewpoint. Life is meant to present choices from our experiences that can change us for the positive. Barbara recovered after living through heartaches and burdens that transformed her future. Even this of us who live relatively normal lives, can learn that we have the sole capability to make beneficial choices in life. It’s how we elect to see, digest and live our lives that matters. The survival of the victim and her family in The Shattered Oak inspires us and reminds us that if we are struggling from thoughts of suicide from domestic abuse there are resources available. Family members should watch for the warning signs and not let the victim distance themselves from everyone. Suicide is on the rise and it is time we looked more closely at the link to stress from variety of conditions including domestic abuse, as a primary trigger. http://www.theshatteredoak.com