Bebe Moore Campbell's latest novel, 72 Hour Hold, focuses on a
mother's frustration and desperation when dealing with a daughter suffering from mental illness. Earlier in the year, divorcee Kira Whitmore's beautiful daughter, Trina, was a high school senior and National Merit Scholar with a bright future ahead of her - starting with plans to study at Brown University in the fall. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, Trina changes and Kira innocently ignores a host of symptoms and warning signs. Trina's behavior eventually becomes more violent and erratic, spurring frantic 911 calls and numerous hospital visits that finally yield a diagnosis: bipolar (manic depressive)disorder. Their lives are literally turned upside down when Trina refuses to take the prescribed medication (mood stabilizers and psychotic drugs) and resorts to alcohol and marijuana use which only exacerbate and amplify her self-destructive behavior.
Like the good mother she is, Kira seeks and prays for a remedy or a cure, only to be told repeatedly that there is none, only lifelong treatment via prescription drugs. A weary attending physician does not offer much hope when he informs her with a look of pure pity that "mental illnesses can transform people. You may not be able to get back the daughter you had. You may, as the saying goes, have to learn to love a stranger," and wishes her good luck as a solitary comfort. She rebukes the advice and frantically learns all she can about the disease and its treatment via support groups and her own research with the hope that a breakthrough is on the horizon.
As hard as Kira tries to move in a positive direction, Trina's condition worsens. Her behavior modulates like an unsynchronized pendulum, from depression to mania with little to no warning. Kira reluctantly resorts to law enforcement to protect Trina from herself (often the subject of the attacks)and others. The rules are simple - if Trina is deemed a danger to society; she can be held against her will in a hospital's mental ward for the requisite "72 hour hold." Each time, Kira struggles desperately for an extension, but Trina "acts normal enough" and the requests are denied repeatedly - 72 hours is not, and never will be, enough time for the medication to stabilize the now rebellious, paranoid, legalized 18 year old adult Trina who hates her mother for wanting to "lock her up," thus the spiral into madness begins anew at each release.
At one point in the story, Kira is told, "when you love someone who has a mental illness, there comes a point at which you must detach in order to preserve your own life." But how can a mother ever detach from her child? Desperate times call for desperate measures and, Kira, having exhausted all legal avenues, resorts to an "intervention" which mirrors a covert kidnapping operation that has some disastrous and yet surprising results.
Campbell's story, albeit fictional, is an intense and compassionate testament that patients' rights often clash with what is best for the mentally ill. She paints a very realistic portrait of both the victims and the suffering loved ones charged with their care. Trina's descent into madness is realistic and painful to watch. The medical and legal system's bureaucracy is stifling. Kira's dilemma is heart-tugging. Campbell's skill as a writer is evident with an ingenious thread which portrays mental illness as a form of slavery and blends in imagery and metaphors from the African American slavery experience - references to shackles, plantation life and the Middle Passage. In addition, her usage of the Underground Railroad as a means of escape to freedom while looking toward the North Star as a symbol for hope and guidance was absolutely brilliant.
Campbell's work brings forth awareness because it holds a mirror to society's sometimes judgmental and condemning face. Throughout the novel, we see unkind strangers, impatient friends, and judgmental neighbors who spew unwanted, mean-spirited advice and cite unwarranted rationale for Trina's outcome, oftentimes blaming Kira for not spending enough time with her child when she was younger and other nonsensical causes. She also educates by sharing that a lot of mental diseases are hereditary/genetic and can be triggered by alcohol, drugs, or traumatic events. She challenges cultural boundaries by emphasizing how mental illness is a low priority in many ethnic communities, particularly African American, regardless of how prevalent and obvious it is within the communities. This is a wonderful, enlightening body of work told with the utmost tenderness and sensitivity.