Book Ends: Left of the Dial by Christina Bruni
Reviewed by Columnist Kurt Sass
Christina Bruni’s book, Left of the Dial, is an uplifting, triumphant account of her ongoing battle with schizophrenia, a battle she is winning every day. I found there to be three main messages in her book: 1) Never give up, no matter who tells you what you can or can not accomplish; 2) Acceptance of an illness is a major component in the battle; and 3) that service to others in life will bring you joy.
The very first thing that struck me about Ms. Bruni’s book is that she pulls no punches and gets directly to the core. No five to ten leading chapters on how I grew up and how grade school was and this and that. The very first sentence, “It happened that night,” within the first chapter of the book we find Ms. Bruni in the psychiatric ward. No pussy-footing around with this memoir.
And no pussy-footing around with Ms. Bruni, either. While still in the hospital, her doctor tells her that she would probably never go to grad school or get into writing again. She also reads in the hospital that only 30% of people with schizophrenia fully recover. Rather than resign herself to the opinions of the “professionals,” she makes a conscious decision “to be determined to be the 30%” and begins to set up goals for herself. Immediately upon her release, she buys a computer (one goal) and was soon writing (another goal).
Shortly after this, Ms. Bruni’s journey takes her to a day treatment program. She is still feeling optimistic about the future until she reads in another “professional journal,” a book titled “Surviving Schizophrenia,” that only 6% of people with schizophrenia go on to obtain full-time jobs. At first she retreats into herself and bows to the pressure, but then summons up the courage to fight the stereotype once again.
Ms. Bruni eventually graduates from the day treatment program into a halfway house, and enrolls in a journalism class. Her hopes are crushed on the first day, however, when one of the requirements are that she keep a journal of news reporter mistakes each night on television, a task she knows will prove impossible, as the halfway house has only one shared television set for all the residents.
There does come a point in which Ms. Bruni believes that once she does in fact find full-time work, she can stop her medication and be drug-free. This day does come as her dreams of becoming the “6%” come true. Unfortunately, even though she tapers off the medication in accordance with her doctors instructions, she suffers a psychotic break and is hospitalized. This break teaches her a valuable lesson, and she comes to the realization that schizophrenia is just one part of who she is. She decides, rather than fight the diagnosis, to work with it.
After accepting her diagnosis, Ms. Bruni continues to flourish. She enrolls in a Masters of Library Science program, finding it a perfect fit. She finds love and loses it when her partner gets an out-of-state career opportunity, but is not crushed. Today Ms. Bruni continues to work full-time as a public service librarian and writer.
It is easy for any mental health consumer who has ever been told by a mental health professional that he or she can’t do something to relate to this book. In 1998, while in my deepest, darkest depression, I was told by a therapist that I would not get much better, and I would just have to learn to deal with it. Today, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary with the non-profit company I work for, so I know, to some extent, what Christina had to go through. I recommend this book very highly for any consumer in the mental health system, or, for that matter, anyone who has ever been told “You can’t do that.” Christina Bruni retorts “Yes you can.”