An equal parts moving and dark-humored evocation of mental illness and the ways it can root itself into a family tree.
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Growing up in the 1960s in the suburbs of Chicago, Meg Kissinger’s family seemed to live a charmed life. With eight kids and two loving parents, the Kissingers radiated a warm, boisterous energy. Whether they were spending summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan, barreling down the ski slopes, or navigating the trials of their Catholic school, the Kissingers always knew how to live large and play hard.
But behind closed doors, a harsher reality was unfolding—a heavily medicated mother hospitalized for anxiety and depression, a manic father prone to violence, and children in the throes of bipolar disorder and depression, two of whom would take their own lives. Through it all, the Kissingers faced the world with their signature dark humor and the unspoken family rule: never talk about it.
While You Were Out begins as the personal story of one family’s struggles then opens outward, as Kissinger details how childhood tragedy catalyzed a journalism career focused on exposing our country’s flawed mental health care. Combining the intimacy of memoir with the rigor of investigative reporting, the book explores the consequences of shame, the havoc of botched public policy, and the hope offered by new treatment strategies.
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
There’s something about a book that completely entrances you, making the rest of the world fall away for the time you’re reading it. With Meg Kissinger’s memoir While You Were Out, that’s exactly what happened to me. I read this powerful story in one sitting, cover to cover, and barely felt the time pass.
While You Were Out tells the story of the Kissinger family: one rarely rooted in physical location, but always in each other. Kissinger expertly brings her family members to life—you can feel the chaotic energy of her large family bursting from the page. Whether in the suburbs of Chicago or Connecticut, the eight Kissinger children and their parents seemed, from the outside, to live in a state of constant excitement and contentment. Secretly, though, they lived surrounded by unspoken alcoholism, suicide, and hospitalizations. Through the ups and downs of growing up in the throes of mental illness, Meg’s signature humor still shines through, making you feel a part of her family, as if you’re hearing this story be told across a kitchen table. Later, Kissinger’s childhood experiences led her into a journalism career, which gave her a platform to confront her past and dig deep into the issues of the United States’ mental health care.
While You Were Out is both an intimate story and daring exposé of where public policy has failed our most vulnerable. And while often gut-wrenching, Kissinger’s beautiful writing and journalistic flair make it a singular and important read.