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Mental Disorders

by Anthony Walker
Rodale, 2001
Review by Kevin M. Purday on Jun 19th 2005

The Siren's Dance

This is a psychology book that reads like a novel and a fairly raunchy novel at that! 'Anthony Walker' is a pseudonym for a real-life psychiatrist who as a final year medical student fell in love with a young lady who had been admitted to hospital after an overdose. She turned out to have Borderline Personality Disorder. However, she was so beautiful, so alive and so entrancing that their relationship developed and they eventually got married. The marriage was fairly short-lived as he could not satisfy her insatiable demands for constant attention, her bouts of violence, her threats, her suicide attempts, etc. and they were finally divorced. This book is the story of their relationship from the very first meeting after her admission to hospital until their final meeting after their divorce.

The term 'Borderline Personality Disorder' is a somewhat unsatisfactory label for a group of symptoms which the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists as fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, fluctuating self-image, self-destructive impulsiveness, recurring threats of or actual attempts at suicide or self-mutilation, short-term mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, inability to control anger and some degree of paranoia. Not all sufferers have all the symptoms but a diagnosis of BPD requires at least five. Sufferers tend to be mainly women (about 75%) and the disorder seems to have some biological basis as it is five times more common if one has a first-degree biological relation who has the disorder. However, there also appear to be environmental/social triggers such as early abandonment leading to an attachment failure, constant put-downs during childhood, parental inconsistency, parental incest, parental brutality, physical and especially sexual abuse. Drug regimes and some forms of psychotherapy most notably Dialectical Behavioral Therapy work best in combination and the prognosis is positive as the symptoms become less severe as the sufferer reaches middle age.

Michelle, the pseudonym by which the young lady is known, has all the above symptoms to some degree at some time or another. At her best she is as alive and as vibrant as any human being can be but her abrupt mood swings, violent anger and constant need for attention make her a draining companion and the worst possible wife for a young doctor working long hours and being on call for much of the rest of the time. The author blames himself for his own shortcomings but the reader will undoubtedly refrain from judging him harshly as none of the rest of us could have done any better.

The book is not long, 168 pages plus some appendices, but it is a rollercoaster of a story and is difficult to put down once one has started to read it. This reviewer found it very moving, often disturbing and once, very near the end, extremely saddening. The portraits of the doctor's and Michelle's families are hilarious and worthy of the true novelist. Who are the intended readers of the book? Like so many popular psychology books, this one would be of enormous help to relatives and friends of people diagnosed with the particular illness, in this case BPD, as it would give them some insight into what drives BPD sufferers. Living with such a person must be extremely difficult and this book would reassure them that their predicament is far from unique.


© 2005 Kevin M. Purday


Kevin M. Purday is Head of the Cambridge International High School in Jordan and recently completed the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health course in the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.

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