I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

I have a friend who used to say that she found the idea of being shut up in a mad house quite appealing. She has continued to be fascinated by abandoned lunatic asylums (I know we don't call them that any more). Me -- not so much.

I don't know where my copy of I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Hannah Green (Joanne Greenberg) originally came from. I found this battered paperback in my parents' house, and I know I've read it before, so long ago that I can't remember. I've been re-reading it very slowly, nibbling away at it at bed-time, because I find it quite frightening.

The book (a huge bestseller) is a semi-autobiographical account of a sixteen year old girl's battle with mental illness, her three year stay in a mental hospital, and her eventual emergence into engagement with the real world. Deborah has invented an internal world which served first as a retreat from the pain of her reality, and then became an all-consuming, punishing reality of its own. Deborah is described in reviews as suffering from schizophrenia, but apparently this is not an accurate diagnosis; she seems instead to have depression, with elements of somatization (psychological illness presenting as physical symptoms). Well, whatever the case, Deborah is clearly very unwell.

I think what I found frightening was the fact of Deborah's immersion in her invented world, which became far more real to her than the external world. Yr is a poetic, beautiful and terrifying realm with its own language, peopled with gods who fall through fire, veiled goddesses, and harsh judges who end by tormenting Deborah instead of protecting her. As a teen (and younger, and older), I had an internal world of my own, albeit not as vivid, scary or powerful as Deborah's, and I also shared the 'strange and seductive' pull toward becoming lost there. With distance and time, I don't feel that any more; my own internal, parallel existence has lost its sheen and its power.

But reading Rose Garden, I sensed the shadow of that ancient, tidal tugging, the wobbling of the tightrope, and the shadow of that ancient fear passed over me again.

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