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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
To Fly Again: Portrait of a Bipolar Life is a non-fiction memoir written by Rachelle Hasnas, LCSW. Her oldest child, Joshua, died of an accidental drug overdose when he was 38 years old. He had struggled with Bipolar Disorder since his teens, although his condition was not actually diagnosed as such until several years before his demise. Hasnas’ first indications of trouble were when her son confessed to her in the early primary grades that he didn’t want to live anymore. The decision of his school to place in him a Special Education program for first and second grade left him vulnerable to the taunting and jeers of school bullies. These first attacks on his sense of self-esteem and value would haunt him throughout his life. Hasnas shares the story of his life after leaving home, including his jobs with his father’s company and his year-long stint as a residential advisor for the intellectually and developmentally disabled, a job which left Josh feeling fulfilled and happier than at any other period in his life, as he would later tell his mother. The author includes Josh’s poetry throughout her account, and the remainder of his work is added as an appendix after a selection of literature on this debilitating, but treatable disorder.
To Fly Again: Portrait of a Bipolar Life is a brutally honest and heart-wrenching account of a parent who survived her first-born, despite her attempts to fulfill his needs as well as those of the rest of her family. While I appreciated the value her account will have for families and individuals dealing with this condition, I was most impressed with the photograph of Josh which fronts the text, Hasnas’ account of her service and memories of lying on that same beach in Virginia with Josh in the pre-dawn hours watching the sky and waiting for visits from friendly dolphins, and Josh’s own marvelous poetry. The photograph shows a happy, strong and confident young man in the full bloom of manhood standing on the sailboat he loved so dearly and fully at one with the natural environment. I was taken with his poise, even as he stood there half undressed, which might have served to diminish others, but somehow enhanced him. As I read To Fly Again, I kept a close watch to see evidence of that blithe spirit which somehow coexisted with the demons and the dark places in his mind. And I did discover him in his poetry, especially the mature and transcendent work from his mid-thirties. Even in the darkest passages, he speaks of sparks of light that appear in the darkest times: ‘I see a light. I feel warmth and know life is present/ Just deep down inside’, quoted from My World, dated December 23, 2003. A New Beginning, written in March of 2005, is filled with robust enthusiasm and vigor, and is obviously a work of a mature and accomplished poet. His use of gerunds: seeking, singing, signalling, releasing, blooming, bursting with light and color, all serve to create a work that is splendidly active, full of sounds and motion and life, his natural world unfolding as the reader watches.
Josh was all too aware of the rage that inhabited his mind and Temporal Shift, November, 2005, reveals his struggle most eloquently: ‘Only I know the true danger lying within./ Capable of lashing out at any moment,/ Devastating all in its path./ Slowly, very slowly the beast’s fury/ Builds and builds. All I can do/ Is watch, as if outside myself./ Calm, calm, I try to soothe, to relax/ The beast of burden, to no avail.’ I’m so impressed by Joshua Hasnas’ poetic gift and am confident that his work will be recognized for its power, beauty and vision, and given the exposure it clearly deserves. I’m hoping his family will consider publishing a posthumous book dedicated to his verse.