University of Pittsburgh law student, Maggie Hovis, battles an enemy she cannot escape—her own brain. Her family calls her a drama queen. Her fiancé, Sam, moves out after she throws a shoe at his head. Maggie knows there is only one way to get him back—control her moods. So she takes the step most of her family is against: therapy.
After a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder, Maggie begins to investigate her family tree—which is plagued by mental illness and hidden relatives—and develops empathy for her deceased Great Aunt Ella, who lived her life in a mental institution. But Maggie’s journey leads her into fear and insecurity, afraid she’ll end up like Ella and never get Sam back. But what about Nick, her super-sexy old flame, who wants to reignite their passion? And does it even matter, anyway? Won’t mental illness stop any man from loving her?
Targeted Age Group:: 16 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I got tired of the way the mentally ill are portrayed in the media and wanted to show that people with mental illnesses are more complex than their diagnosis. We have jobs, families, hobbies, and talents. The truth about mental illness is it looks like the people all around you, your friends, co-workers and family members. Yes, some have symptoms that cannot be hidden, and are more difficult to control, but the majority of us are unrecognizable.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted my protagonist to convey the way my untreated brain functions. I wanted to show bipolar 2 disorder from the first person point of view. More often than not, books on the subject of mental illness are written from the third person. You read only get the perspective of from the distance. I wanted the reader to learn along with the character. So, Maggie demonstrates the way my untreated mind works.
Grocery bags slapped against my legs, as I shuffled through the ancient lobby of our apartment building. The bags contained the ingredients for an apology, one to be delivered gift-wrapped in wine, food, and candlelight.
Last night, I pleaded for forgiveness and promised never to throw anything ever again. And finally, right before falling asleep, Sam kissed me and said, “I love you,” but this morning his hug felt cold, not icy, but slushy.
I approached the elevator, recalling other times I had made that promise, and the memories of flying shoes and hot coffee sent chills down my spine. He’d earned the right to be cold.
I elbowed the “Up” button, and the diamond sparkling on my left hand caught my eye. Soon, I would be Mrs. Sam Hutchinson. Mood swings were not going to destroy my happily ever after.
The old-fashioned brass doors opened, and standing inside was his old roommate, Eric, pulling a suitcase.
He bolted out of the elevator. “Sam’s in the apartment.”
Odd, I thought as the elevator clanked up to the seventh floor. Why would Eric be pulling a suitcase? The doors parted, and I shuffled down the hotel-style hallway. Our door was the last one on the left. I set down the bags and groped around in my purse for the keys.
“Sam?” I called, hoisting the bags from the floor.
After dropping them on the kitchen table, I followed the sound of slamming drawers. The scene in the bedroom, clothes strewn about the floor and Sam dumping T-shirts into an open suitcase, soured my stomach. He froze when he spotted me standing in the doorway.
“What’s going on?”
Only his chest moved, expanding and contracting with each breath.
“What are you doing?” I asked, stepping across the threshold.
“You’re supposed to be at Amy’s house,” he said.
So many things rushed through my mind, yet I couldn’t grab onto one. My feet locked to the floor, unable or unwilling to move, not one part of my body wanted to comprehend the scene playing out in front of me. “I’m home, Sam. What are you doing?”
He dropped his eyes and stepped back. “I’m leaving. I’m moving back in with Dave and Eric. Eric’s helping me.”
My heart pounded against my chest and nausea climbed from my stomach to my throat. His beautiful face blurred.
“I can’t do this anymore, Maggie.”
I rubbed the water from my eyes and walked over to the bed. He continued grabbing handfuls of clothing from drawers. On the floor, next to the bed, sat an Army surplus duffle bag, and the beige Samsonite suitcase spread open on the bed was the one we bought his mother last summer to take on her cruise.
Lifting my gaze from the floor, I asked, “Why, Sam? Why?”
As he dumped an armful of socks and underwear into the suitcase, his body was so close, I saw his neck muscles straining inside the collar of his white shirt—the one I ironed before going to bed last night.
“You know I love you. I’ve loved you from the minute I laid eyes on you in sixth grade, but I can’t stay here anymore.”
My ability to process information returned as he spoke, and it sickened me to realize he rehearsed these words. Hot tears burned my skin. “I’m sorry, please. I can’t help it. I don’t know why I lose it.
His head hung low as he sat down beside me, on the bed. Before speaking, he leaned over his knees, and his hands wrung out an invisible rag. “I love when you smile, when you laugh, and when you get my jokes. Watching you fly around the house, cleaning and singing to the radio, makes my day. I love your cruddy old Ocean City sweatshirt, and the way you dance while you mop. Those are Beautiful Maggie days. But I can’t live with the other days, the Scary Maggie days. You scream. You sob uncontrollably, and you make no fucking sense when you talk. I’ve tried for three years, Maggie. I can’t take it anymore.” He let go of the imaginary rag, placed his hands flat on his knees, and straightened his back. “If I stay, I’ll lose my mind.”
I popped off the bed. “It won’t happen again. Put the clothes back in the drawer. Just calm down, we can work this out. I love you. Please, I’ll do anything.”
I paced toward the closet and then turned toward the dresser, hoping my movement would block out his words.
“I’ve heard that story over and over. You know you’ll spaz out on me again, and it’s all because you have no self-confidence. This crazed ‘I should be dead,’ or ‘I’m worthless’ shit is something that I don’t understand. How many times do you have to hear me say you’re beautiful? How many degrees do you need before you believe you’re intelligent? Maggie, look at me. Until you learn to love yourself, I can’t live with you. As long as you hate yourself, Scary Maggie will come back.”
“I just need to up my Zoloft dosage. I’ll call the doctor right now and tell her to phone in a prescription upping my dosage.”
His cold, flat voice sounded resigned, and mine screeched in desperation.
He reached out, and I sat down, wiping my nose on my sleeve. Inhaling, I imagined my yoga instructor’s voice. “Inhale, relax, exhale.” I closed my eyes during the exhale, hoping to gain some control over the tears.
Reaching over, he picked up my hand and locked his fingers around mine. “I will always love you, but I’m leaving. Please don’t call me, because if I hear your voice, I’ll cave. More than anything, I want to hold you in my arms and make you stop crying. But I can’t anymore. There are two of you living inside your head, the one I love and the one that scares the shit out of me.”
“Sam, I don’t want to live like this, with hell breaking out in my brain. Please, give me a chance, let me try the therapy. Maybe it will work and then you’ll be able to love all of me. Please stay. Don’t go.”
The intensity of his gaze zapped a chill through me.
“On the good days, your eyes are alive and your face radiates energy, but panic sets in on the days your face looks gray and your eyes empty. On the bad days, I feel frustrated and helpless. My heart tells me to hug you and try to make everything better, but the truth is I just want to run, to be somewhere else, anywhere that I don’t have to see your eyes.”
For a brief moment, he sat quietly staring at the floor. “Remember the day that I came home from class and found you sitting at the kitchen table staring blankly at a bottle of pills and a cup of coffee? All I did was walk over to you to see what was going on. Next thing I knew, you were screaming crazy shit about being ugly, worthless, and wanting to die. You were so hysterical that half of the words coming out of your mouth made no sense. It was like you were speaking half in English and half in a language that I didn’t understand. You threw a cup of scalding hot coffee at my head and then locked yourself in the bedroom for days. I slept on the couch. My fear is that one day I’ll come home too late and find you on the floor and the pill bottle empty.”
“The Zoloft stops that. I don’t think about killing myself anymore. That urge is gone. I’ll never do anything stupid, I promise. You can stop worrying about that,” I said, pulling my fingers from his grip and reaching out to hug him. He leaned away.
“You are helping. I don’t know where I’d be without you, definitely not in law school,” I said, voice and hands quivering.
“I don’t know what tortures you, but I do know it’s powerful enough to take away my Maggie and leave me with a stranger.”
I couldn’t find words. My head became too heavy to hold up, so I let it drop and stopped trying to fight the tears. Before I could begin to beg, the doorbell rang. As he walked out of the bedroom, I sat on the bed with a feeling of seasickness rocking my stomach.
He walked back into the bedroom with Eric, trailing behind. Avoiding eye contact, Eric lifted his right hand and mumbled, “Hi, Maggie.”
Sam closed the lid of the suitcase and walked to the closet, dragging the duffle bag. “Eric came to help me with my stuff. I’m only taking my clothes, books, and things from my desk. Everything else is yours.” And with those last words he was gone.
I somnambulated down the hallway to the living room and inhaled the scent of early spring wafting through the open balcony doors. I stepped out. The air felt warm, but the clouds covered the sun. The sky was steel gray, and below me ambulances, buses and cars navigated down Fifth Ave. As I leaned over the railing, my tears dripped down onto the sidewalk. Below, Sam and Eric loaded the bags into the car.
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