Today Lisa Belkin published an article in the New York Times which profiles some of the life of Millicent Monks, the grand niece of Andrew Carnegie. Monks has just written a book called "Songs of Three Islands, a Story of Mental Illness in an Iconic American Family" and Belkin's interview with Monks is a poignant story of a woman's attempt to explain her history and her legacy to herself.
As interesting as the interview (and probably as interesting as the book itself) is the conversation on Ms Belkin's blog, where readers (including myself) are weighing in with personal anecdotes and reactions to this story. Many, of course, are noting that the disabled Monks/Carnegie clan can hole up on beautiful, remote and private islands and have round the clock caregivers if they need and want them. Such options for daily care are not available to many and in our current dysfunctional health care system, it is difficult for many even to get the therapy or medications that they need for proper diagnosis or to keep their illness in check.
However, it is worth noting that much of the misery of family members in this situation arises from the reluctance to seek treatment, the aggression, the hostility, and the loss of motivation that is inherent to some mental illness itself, particularly borderline personality disorder which appears to have afflicted some of Monks' family. No amount of mothering, management or even money will dissolve these enduring difficulties. No amount of self-flagellation or questioning will really help the strong, healthy survivors in the family to carry on.
But understanding mental illness and genetics can sometimes help create the cushion that is necessary to protect oneself. The efforts of Monks and Belkin might serve to encourage more of us to explore the family tree and grow in our knowledge and compassion.