Mental illness can affect anyone, anytime, anyplace. Most people go through life thinking – “Not me.” “Not my family.” “Not my child.” But the truth is, yes, it could be you. Yes, it could be your family. Yes, it could be your child. Mental diseases and disorders do not discriminate and they do not pick favourites – they do not prefer one type of person over another. They do not reward or punish – it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how hardworking you are, how successful you are, or how nice you are. Sometimes, a family history or personal circumstances can put a person more at risk of developing a disorder or disease – but those are not the only determining factors – sometimes it just happens.
Elephant in the Sky is a testament to the fact that mental illness can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. The story is about a family grappling to deal with the mental illness faced by the youngest child. Although names and details may have been altered for the purposes of protecting the family’s identity, this book was written based on a true story. The situations may not be depicted realistically in ever minute detail (who could possibly remember the exact words they spoke to each other to relay to an author?) but the challenges, struggles, and emotions are all very real. This book offers a rare glimpse into a world that most of us are lucky to not know very much about – childhood mental illness. It chronicles the personal struggles of each family member; the strain and testing placed on a marriage as two parents struggle in two similar yet different ways to understand, come to terms with, and do something about the terrifying illness their nine-year-old son is facing; the struggle to balance work and home life when crisis means a parent is needed at home, but day-to-day living hinges upon that parent’s income.
The most interesting part of this book is that it contains an element rarely seen in other books: a mixture of an adult’s and a child’s point of view. It is rare enough to get a glimpse inside the mind of someone struggling with a mental illness, also rare to get a glimpse inside the mind of a child (an actual child, not a make-believe character), and even more rare to get to look inside the workings of the mind of a child with a mental illness. Gaining this perspective is priceless. So many people in this world do not understand and do not even attempt to understand mental illness. They play the ‘blame game’ as some would say and choose to live their lives in ignorance. I think that this book is an excellent way to help people with that viewpoint break free of their beliefs and come to a better understanding of what is really going on for people who experience mental illness. The innocence of a child is something that no one can argue about – its a simple fact. When one comes to understand that these illnesses can affect children who have no need to pretend in order to gain attention, or to deflect guilt and blame, et cetera – the truth about mental illness becomes more real.
I have to admit that I picked up this book on a whim, passing by it in a store while I was shopping for other items. I didn’t have a novel on the go at the time and figured I should pick up a new one for bedtime reading purposes. They say that one should not judge a book by its cover, but I am a complete sucker for impactful illustrations and must admit that I chose this book on that basis alone. I was pleasantly surprised to find, afterward, that Heather is a relatively local author (she lives about a half hour drive from where I live). I am very glad that I picked up this book. Not only is the story interesting and impactful, the book was well-written and maintained my interest. It was one of those can’t-put-it-down books which made me feel as if I were a part of the family (I was a little sad to leave them when it was over).