Truth Found Behind the Wall

AUG. 10, 2015

By Jacob Bradshaw

Behind the Wall

Behind the Wall

By Mary and Elin Widdifield


With Behind the Wall, sisters Mary and Elin Widdifield, have crafted an important book that has the makings of a classic work of non-fiction storytelling. It contains stories of parents struggling with the challenges posed by children living with mental illness. Their stories are presented without reservation, with triumphs and tragedy, pain, grief, hope, and defeat all laid bare. They are stories told not by the authors, but by the parents themselves, carefully interviewed over the course of months. A minimal level of commentary provides useful context or is used to set the scene of an interview session. The reader feels as if they are sitting in the interview locations as a silent observer to the interview witness to the struggles and hopes of the storytellers.

The book is often hard to read, for it connects the reader to the strong and often painful emotions of the stories so well. The words of the parents are vivid and uncompromising. Sometimes they are horrifying. There is violence, death, substance abuse, psychosis, divorce, denial, poverty and crime. But at the same time there is also treatment, happiness, relief, families reunited and tragedies averted. Despair and elation lie a hair’s breadth apart.

Behind the Wall may not be an easy or fun read, but it is enthralling and deeply moving. It is a book that will hold meaning for anyone who reads it. Moreover, it is a book that contains wisdom and guidance for parents or caregivers who are struggling to care for a person living with mental illness. The parents in their stories provide examples of mistakes and successes, regrets and moments of pride. There are also additional chapters offering further thoughts on dealing with grief and feelings of guilt, and advice on caregiving and coping with challenges.

Elin Widdifield, who is a member of NAMI North Carolina’s board of directors and whose son lives with bipolar disorder, consolidates at the end of the book lessons drawn from the stories into “eight bits of advice”:

  • Be honest with yourself and your child
  • Trust your gut
  • Don’t be ashamed about a mental illness diagnosis
  • Be informed
  • Allow time and space for grieving
  • Find a method for coping that best fits you and your family
  • Don’t blame yourself or anyone else
  • Stay connected

The book ends with hope. The final chapter of the book is not the final chapter of the people whose stories it tells. The parents maintain hope for their children and belief in the possibility of recovery. They speak of their dreams and expectations, different from what they once were, but far from shattered.


NOV, 04, 2015 10:44:54 AM
Kyle D. Lloyd
For Riley,
Check out a May 2015 release, "Coming out proud to erase the stigma of mental illness - stories and essays of solidarity" by Patrick Corrigan, Jonathon Lars, and Patrick Michaels - it's available at

SEP, 10, 2015 09:04:38 PM
I have been though he'll and still at times go through days with my son who is 26 and in denial that he needs meds.

SEP, 10, 2015 09:00:07 PM
The book that is written by the people with mental illness is a great book. I wish my son would read it, his father who was out of his life says he just needs to work it off.

SEP, 04, 2015 09:57:36 AM
Guadalupe Sanchez
I never thought i would have to call the police on my own son, but it meant safety for everyone involved. Upon his breakup with a girlfriend..he was obsessed with the idea that it wasnt over...he couldnt believe it. It wasn t reality for him..It was his own fault. Due to substance abuse that would alleviate his condition on top of taking medication complicate things..i was in direct contact with girlfriend thru the night. He would leave after midnight looking for her.But the breakup was due to his behavior. His threatened suicide. broke stuff , dug a hole in my backyard. I had to call the police Three times. On the last visit, i was by myself in the hospital, i had to make a decision to petition him for admitting, he is of age and there was nothing i could do. He could of walked out of the hospital and who knows what would of happened...He had to be strapped down in the emergency room. I had to leave. I couldn t bear it anymore. I came back when he was calm and sedated.
He was in the hospital for a week, he had to heavily medicated. He was limpless. I carried him in my arms wondering what was wrong with him. He later threw up and was alert. I keep praying for strength, wisdom and serenity. He admitted hmself to a out patient program, dual diagnosis. His medication was changed for the 6th time since the age of 17.

SEP, 01, 2015 12:39:23 PM
Just bought this book. I'm hoping it will be brutally honest

AUG, 31, 2015 10:07:47 AM
Just bought this book. I'm hoping it will be brutally honest

AUG, 29, 2015 03:49:38 PM
I have been wishing for such a book. I hope it is honest, brutally honest...I'm going to buy it.

AUG, 28, 2015 07:14:53 AM
Were is the book written by the patients themselves? My parents denied my illness when I was a child blaming it on hormones. They still deny it now that I am an adult of 46. Now they say it is because I don't have a good relationship with God. I need to read a book that was written or has interviews about the people that have to live with mental illness not the people that complain about having to deal with us.

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