This morning I received an email from a reader. As I read the first few paragraphs, tears began to form. By the time I reached the final paragraph, I was sobbing out loud, which startled the hell out of my husband, who shares the office with me. So, I read it to him:
I wanted to email you again and really say thank you. After reading your book, I thought that I could put Defective on my ‘great reads’ bookshelf and never really think about it again. But I was wrong. Because, you see, your book saved my husband’s life. I know I said I was melodramatic, but in this instance, I think it’s a realistic conclusion.
You see, my husband has been in and out of doctor’s offices for the past three years. He’s always had problems with his self-esteem and anger, but it’s been mostly manageable. We’ve been together since our senior year of high school and friends a year before that, so it was such a part of who he was that it was just something that ‘came with the territory’. Until a few years ago. His depression (and drinking) had gotten so bad that he admitted he was contemplating suicide. This admission, of course, nearly scared me to death, and he narrowly missed a court-ordered psych eval. The only reason he avoided that fate was his total agreeing to finally see a doctor. He told me, finally, that his depression, was only the beginning of the problems swirling around in his mind and body. The list seemed endless, as did the possible illnesses and disorders that could cause them.
His first assumption was a brain tumor, which I scoffed at, using my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. But he was getting horrible headaches and double vision with his moods so he persisted. Then came the neurologist and the MRIs and they found nothing. So we went with my assumption of depression. He, like Maggie, saw a certain stigma about going to a psychologist, so instead we went to a family doctor for answers. He diagnosed depression without really listening and prescribed an antidepressant. And it got better, at least we convinced ourselves of that, for a while. He no longer wanted to end his life, or like Maggie, wish that some freak accident would take him out of the equation. But the other symptoms and now, side-effects of the medicine, were getting worse.
He still refused to see any mental health doctors, and after his family doctor wanted to up his dosage, we decided to find another doctor. We did, and she actually listened, asked questions, and gave him that ‘You aren’t being honest’ look until he told her the truth. She concluded that there was a bunch of things that could be wrong with him, but we were going to start (before any medication), to quit drinking. She told him drinking could be causing half his symptoms in the first place, and alcohol would not mix with any medications he might be given. He balked, having used alcohol to slow his mind and make him calm for years now, until she ordered blood tests and showed him that it was going to kill him. Because his liver was so bad, he had to ease off alcohol, one week at a time. He wasn’t happy about it, but when he got down to 2-3 beers a day, even able to do a few days with none at all, he noticed that the headaches weren’t as bad, the blurred vision was gone, he’d lost 30 pounds. It was a start.
We fiddled around with a few medications, mostly for anxiety and panic attacks, but nothing was improving and he was getting extremely frustrated and depressed. It was like we hadn’t found any answers in three years and we were back at square one. Thoughts of the world being better without him began creeping back in his head.
That was about the time I started reading Defective. I started seeing my husband in Maggie. Once I’d finished it, I couldn’t get the similarities out of my head. I asked him if he’d like to read it and he got through a few chapters. I asked what he thought and he said the main character sounded a lot like him, except that she was a girl. That’s when the bipolar research started for me. I sat down with him and we made a list. What he felt like when he was depressed. What he felt like when he wasn’t. Two things stuck out to me. The first was that his moods came in cycles. 4-6 weeks of depressive type moods in varying degrees, followed by a week or two of feeling good. The second was what he was like during the ‘highs’. Lots of sex (we’d go months with nothing), the mile-long to-do list of fix-it things suddenly done, costly purchases (a motorcycle, a home gym, a vacation, two puppies, etc.), going out to dinner and movies (he hates going anywhere on his ‘lows’, all night gaming without needing sleep, huge appetite differences, etc. It wasn’t exactly Maggie, but if Maggie had been a guy with a wife, three kids, and all of them depending on him, it would be exactly that. I knew before we went to the doctor with our lists, but after 3 years of no answers, I didn’t want to give him false hope. The doctor looked at our lists, listened to our explanations, then asked a million questions. Then came the words.
‘Sounds like Bipolar 2.’
It felt so good to hear an answer that actually seemed right for once. John was much more skeptical, already having heard a million wrong answers by now. But somehow I knew. We’d found the right one.
She started him on a pretty low dose of Abilify, not even high enough for what’s considered a treatment for bipolar disorder. We’d come back every 1-2 weeks with reports on mood and physical changes and she would adjust the dosage accordingly. Is it wrong to be excited about trying out a new medication and watching it change someone you love? Because I was. Horribly excited. I’d spent the last three years wondering how long it would be before our marriage would implode. How long until his anger turned violent. How long until I found him hanging from the beams in the garage. How I would raise our children without their father. That was the world of fear I lived in and I was desperate for anything that would help. A half a pill at night. That’s all he started out with. That tiny little piece of medication was what I pinned all my hopes on.
It took four days for him to notice the differences. I noticed the changes in 2.
I can’t begin to describe to you the relief that swept through me when I saw it. Relief isn’t a strong enough word. We went a week and a half before we went back to the doctor. His moods had stabilized, the violent anger was gone, thoughts of death became far-fetched. But, around 3 in the afternoon, they were back. She bumped him up to a whole pill. Now things were stable for 24 hour periods. We can talk to each other, be with each other. I watched him play with the kids and just cried. Not in sadness. Happy tears, because such moments would have been rare before. This all began a week after reading your novel. He’s up to 1 1/2 pills now, hopefully to fix the anxiety issues that are still being troublesome, but if that’s one remaining problem left from this, we will take it gladly.
He told me a few days ago, it’s like he’s a whole new person and he has to figure out who that is because it’s no one he’s ever met before. I told him it didn’t matter who he was because he was still my John, he’d always been my John, and I would love this new John too. It seems like everything is better. Like this diagnosis and treatment had far-reaching effects beyond the inside of his head. Happiness, real happiness isn’t something we have had, in a long time, if we’d ever really had it to begin with. The difference is astounding and beautiful. We thought we had a great life, as best as we could have given the circumstances. The possibilities in the life now before us are endless. Greatness was just a dim reflection compared to what we can have now. I can’t imagine how it feels for him in his mind, suddenly quiet, calm, and happy for the first time he can remember. Just for me as his wife and partner in life, the joy is unexplainable.
So thank you Susan, for the novel you wrote. Words, characters, experiences, some of them your own, poured into a book. I hope you were planning on changing lives with your book, because if you only wanted to tell an amazing story, you set your sights too low. And have far surpassed them. Your words changed me, changed my husband, our marriage, our family. I never would have connected the dots, and it may have taken years to get there, if not for your story. So even if every review you get for Defective is bad, even if someone tells you they absolutely hated it. Remember this email, remember my husband’s story, and remember, that your book saved his life. And if that is the only good thing it ever does, it is more than enough.
Forever in your debt,
Lori and John *
By the last paragraph, my Mr. Tough Israeli Husband had tears in his eyes.
As I said before, all the reactions to DEFECTIVE I’ve received from readers have touched my heart. However, nothing touched me the way this letter did. It’s truly humbling and overwhelming to hear that something I wrote wielded this kind of power.
I confess to having the occasional fantasy of making the NY Times Bestseller List, and I do tend to obsess over my Amazon ranking. I’ve become compulsive at checking Goodreads for new reviews and ratings. About fifteen minutes after I read the letter, I slid my cursor over my Goodreads bookmark and stopped myself. What more validation could anyone want after reading that letter? Talk about shallow.
I spent the morning thinking about the amount of time I spend and the things I do, to get this book in front of people—Facebook, Twitter, Google Ad Words, and various book promotion sites. My conclusion, maybe, just maybe, I’m not so shallow.
When I read these reviews, I’m not hoping for praise like, “Sofayov is a talented writer.” (I don’t delude myself.) But, what I do hope to read is another story. During all those cold, winter nights I spent typing DEFECTIVE, I didn’t dream about five-star reviews or bestseller lists. However, I did dream of people reading my book and being helped by it, in some fashion.
So, I’m not going to stop checking for “likes” and reviews, or hoping my Amazon ranking goes up. Because all of these are indicators that people are reading my book—what I dreamed of all along. And, if the review contains a word or two on how the reader was personally touched. That’s the validation I dreamed of back in the winter 2012.