Book Review: Sybil, a Fascinating Read

I mentioned before that my oldest son came down with vestibular neuritis a few months ago. He was hit, back in June, with an extreme wave of dizziness that wouldn’t go away, and constant vomiting. It worsened, as we took him to the urgent care clinic and then the ER, into a horrible migraine. He was released the next day with the diagnosis of a complex migraine and multiple tests ordered. While he appeared neurologically normal, the doctors were worried that the cause of his symptoms was a brain tumor. Over the next two weeks, we had a couple of MRI’s done, a couple of EEG’s, and some hearing tests, which revealed that he didn’t have a brain tumor or meningitis, but he did have vestibular neuritis, which is a permanent condition affecting his balance. He recovered relatively quickly, meaning that by the end of the summer he was at least able to ride his scooter for a little while. He was even able to drive his dirt bike for about fifteen minutes a couple of weeks ago.

Then, about a week or so ago, he had a relapse. It took everyone off guard because he’d recovered so well. My mother, who came down with this same disorder a couple of years ago, didn’t get totally back to normal for a year. He was hit with a really bad migraine and more vomiting and dizziness. Needless to say, he missed a few days of school. He wasn’t doing great grade-wise before, but after that episode, and the profound discouragement that followed, his grades tanked. So now I’m working hard to implement his new, more involved treatment plan, meet with his teachers and school administrators to see if we can get him back on track academically. I’ve been doing this while also working (I coordinated an important event that took place this past Thursday and Friday, and had the magazine that I’m the managing editor of sent out to 72,000 university alumni) and taking care of my husband and other son. Life is never dull for me!

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had time to read, and even work on my book writing. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve written two books, and am in various stages of getting them beta-read or critiqued and then revising them. While that’s been going on, between critique group pow-wows and meetings with one of my beta-readers, I’ve started the research phase for a third book. Tentatively titled My Other Minds, it will be the story of a young man who’s been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, but who knows that the other “personalities” that inhabit his body alongside him are in fact alien souls from a far-off planet. They’ve told him, when he’s himself, that they’ll leave once they find other suitable minds to inhabit, but he doesn’t want to condemn other people to his same kind of craziness. He doesn’t want to lose himself either, which he’s sure to do if they stay any longer. So, he tries to figure out a way to do both.

My research so far has meant reading everything I can on multiple personality disorder, which has meant studying books like I’m Eve by Chris Costner Sizemore and Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The latter is the one I’m reading right now. It tells the story of Sybil Dorsett, a real woman who had 16 distinct personalities. Some of them were female, some were male, all were of varying ages younger than herself (as reported by those personalities). It’s fascinating. The author tells Sybil’s story with the flourish of a finely-polished fiction writer, while describing Sybil’s almost unbelievable sickness clinically and in detail.

I don’t read a lot of biographies, and when I do, they tend to be biographies of people who’ve suffered from various neurological phenonema, like Brain on Fire. I write, too, about characters who experience some of the fantastical possibilities I imagine those phenomena could evoke. My first book’s about a teenage girl who experiences the wonderful and disastrous consequences of stretching of her chromesthetic abilities. My second’s (called Stranger in my Own Head) is about a girl whose dreams come at the cost of her memories. I wonder what this says about me in light of what me and my family have been going through recently.

What books have you read—fiction or non-fiction—about people with unique brains?