||The Key Publishing House
A brutally honest, seething, account of mental illness and addiction.
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The Third Sunrise: A Memoir of Madness
The Third Sunrise takes the reader into a world that is as terrifying as it is exhilarating: it depicts the life of a young woman who, at the age of twelve was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder, spent many years in a psychiatric hospital where she was prescribed cocktails of medications promising recovery. Recovery never found her, and frightened, she found something else: drugs and alcohol. They quickly become exactly what she needed- a brilliant, black, detour from reality.
At the age of twenty, she had devoted her life to addiction and it nearly killed her in the process. Escape was not possible: she bathed in the darkness of cocaine, shook hands with heroin, and relished in the comfort of alcohol. She ceased to exist. The seizures she suffered at the hands of drugs, the abuse caused by those she invited into her life, and the pain she inflicted on herself and her family were lost to the underworld of drugs.
The White Room and Childhood
As the months pass the Ritalin creates a stir of excitement in me. It is provoking and taunting my mind. I talk a mile a minute even if nobody is listening: I run up and down the stairs with a feeling of agitation that cannot be explained and I rarely sleep more than a few hours at a time. My mania, coupled with the hormones caused by puberty, is all encompassing.
I am twelve years old the first time I am hospitalized.
My father drives me to the Emergency Room because he does not know where else to take a child who is threatening suicide and hiding knives in her room. Surely, this is an emergency. I kick the windows and scream the entire way?a 60 minute drive. We check in with the intake staff and I listen as my father describes what has been happening at home: I am chasing my brother up the stairs with a knife, I am threatening suicide and he believes I have bipolar disorder. I need help. I am a very sick girl. Our family has become sick with my illness though we have no name for it yet.
The staff stare at me and then look back to my father. His hands are beneath the table and mine are shaking above the desk. They must wonder, amongst my silence, if my father is abusing me. I look like such a nice girl, despite my disheveled hair and tear stained face, I am just a child and children do not behave in the way my father describes. They do not carry knives nor try to swallow a whole bottle of Tylenol. They do not cry for hours and then laugh for hours after.
"So, what's been going on?" The Doctor asks my father. We have been sitting in the "Family Room" for over two hours. It has a small table with a phone, two plastic chairs and an ugly green floral couch. My father has kept his head resting in his hands for a long time as I tear every page out of the yellow phone book and throw it. The room is littered with yellow advertisements.
My father explains what he explained to the intake staff and I explain how there is nothing wrong with me. I failed at a test at school. I'm angry. My father then explains that I cannot even go to school anymore. The Doctor is taking notes, short swift ones which will determine my fate?my life lay in the cheap pen the Doctor is holding; in the jargon hospital wording he is placing on blank paper. "Would you mind giving your Father and I a few minutes?" He asks me, smiling. I think maybe he could be my Grandfather. Maybe he could take me to his house and make me better.
I am told to wait in the corridor. The hospital is quiet. I didn't think hospitals ever got quiet. My heart begins to race as I realize they might keep me here. I start running, looking for the front doors, for a room I can hide in. "Miss, you need to come with me please" I look up and a man, a large man in dark clothing, is grabbing my arm. His grasp becomes tighter as I pull away and scream. He mutters something into a device wrapped around his head. "Okay, Natalie, right? You need to walk with me or I will have to call another security guard and we don't want that do we?" I start to cry and I ask where my father is. He does not reply: he just tightens his grasp on my arm.
The hospital is getting louder, the lights hum as we enter a room with rows of beds separated by a thin blue sheet, hospital beds for sick people, not kids like me. A nurse asks me to sit on the side of the bed but she will not tell me why. "Daddy! Daddy!" I scream, but his voice never answers. He's left. Where did he go? He must be waiting for me outside. We will go home together. I won't be bad anymore. I promise.
"Okay sweetheart this won't be so bad…" The guard is staring at me from the door, the nurse has pulled my pants off and I am too terrified to talk. I look at the nurse, my eyes wide: she is holding a large needle. I've never seen such a big needle. I recoil immediately.
"Where would you like it? You have two options, in your upper thigh or your buttocks." I have no idea what she is talking about. I hyperventilate and she hands me a brown paper bag which she instructs me to hold over my mouth. She has softer eyes now, tucked behind her mask, she is human. "You need to make your decision okay sweetheart or I'll have to decide for you…" I point to my bare thigh and look away as she shoves the needle deep into my muscle. I wonder why my mother and father aren't here to save me from these people I do not know.
The earth starts to swirl shortly after; my body is limp as they carry me to a concrete room. I try to kick and scream but the medicine takes over. The room is cold, grey concrete surrounds me, pockmarked and without a window. Everything goes black. I wake up to the sound of rolling wheels. I am being pushed in a wheelchair because I cannot walk, my head slumped upon my chest, I am drooling.
Natalie Jeanne Champagne's memoir, The Third Sunrise, is a brave and remarkable achievement. With searing, heart-rending honesty, Champagne's imaginative prose lays bare the reality of severe mental illness and addiction. What's more she does so without seeking sympathy or masochistic scorn. The Third Sunrise is a tale of suffering and desperation but it is sprinkled with spunky, caustic wit and beautiful moments of simple humanity.
Champagne's pre-teen diagnosis of bipolar disorder, after previous misdiagnoses of "family issues" and ADHD, puts her in a minority for a condition that more commonly presents in a person's early twenties. We are given a graphic, unflinching account of her despairing bouts of depression and her unhinged manic episodes as a child- a child who has barely reached puberty but is already forced to cope with almost unimaginable suffering. "I am twelve years old the first time I am hospitalized," we are told. "My father drives me to the emergency room because he doesn't know where else to take a child who is threatening suicide and hiding knives in her room."
The author describes the utterly opposite states of a bipolar sufferer so powerfully and skilfully that the reader finds themselves experiencing the peaks and troughs with her and yearning for some balance. Champagne invites us openly to see what agony life can be and how lonely and self-destructive severe mental illness makes a human being.
The author's cruelly truncated childhood and severe symptoms take a heavy toll on her caring yet powerless family. Her parents are left at their wit's end as Champagne is forever in and out of psychiatric units, takes to self-harming, chases her siblings around the house with a knife and begins to depend on heavy drugs and alcohol from a very early age. "This is why I have become an addict," she tells us. "The realization that I could not be healthy has tainted my soul."
Champagne, however, is by no means forever the victim of the piece. We see different sides to her as she grows up, aspects of her which she has trouble distinguishing the source of- "what is Natalie and what is The Illness?" She can be cunning and manipulative when in hospital and cutting and cruel in her dealings with staff and fellow patients. The infantilising and dehumanising nature of the mental health system, and indeed of mental illness itself, play a large part but it is Champagne's biting humour and strength of character that most stays with you.
As intelligent and self-knowing as Champagne clearly is, you sometimes feel that this only serves to make her illness worse. She must cope with the impossible guilt of knowing what her illness is doing to her loved ones but nevertheless feels powerless to stop it or even know why she is the way she is. Champagne simply can't accept the instructions of a nurse or doctor if she doesn't respect their intelligence. She must question everything and everyone around her as she already questions herself and her own life. You have that much more ammunition for self-attack when you know where you are going wrong but still can't break the cycle.
Some readers may be shocked to hear the uncensored inner monologue of an angry and hurt young woman who regularly ponders suicide and who is left reeling by multiple addictions and compulsive self-harm. This is our culture's mistake. We want people to suffer in silence despite the widespread prevalence of mental disorders. This is the painful reality of severe mental illness and addiction, a reality difficult enough alone without the persisting stigma that envelops it. The way to tackle that stigma is for brave, honest writers like Natalie Jeanne Champagne to share their experiences and force society to recognise the seriousness of the problem.
The candor of this memoir will undoubtedly help those who have been affected by bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual assault and self-harm as well as their families. It is this and the author's once seemingly impossible, yet now flourishing recovery of which she should be most proud.
Michael Richmond, author of the novel Sisyphusa
Reading "The Third Sunrise" makes you grateful for everything you have in your life. Natalie endures a path that makes you want to reach out to her, yet it shows you that her strength is beyond words. If you're wondering how it is to live a life that involves: addiction, bi-polar, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and feeling alone then this is the read for you. Once I started reading, it was impossible for me to put her book down. Her words are so powerful you begin to feel how she is feeling. To accomplish what Natalie has sends a message to all of those struggling people with no hope that anything is possible. This is a must read for everyone who likes to read, I look forward to her next book!!
This review is from: The Third Sunrise (Paperback)
This book is an extremely well written narrative of a young woman's battle with early onset Bipolar Disorder and Addiction. I found it to be compelling and contemporary. It is a biographical journey that takes you through the thought processes of a young woman trying to find her way through mental illness, substance abuse and eating disorders. What I like is that it is brutally honest and very introspective. It chronicles the feelings of despair, hope and shattered dreams as Natalie tries to overcome her battles with Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse. I feel this book would be both beneficial to someone with mental illness as well as a friend or parent whose lives intertwine with those afflicted with either an affective disorder or dual diagnosis. I can also appreciate that it does not offer advice or a therapeutic cookbook on how to best deal with these afflictions. I think it is an upbeat book that takes a firsthand examination of a very troubled existence. I look forward to reading more from this articulate young author.
Mark Braun, MS RPh
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