Monday, April 24, 2023

NEW RELEASE: May 24th, 2023

 Raging Currents: Mental Illness and Family

A Memoir 

by Nanette J. Davis Ph.D.

Link to paperback and e-book version:

About The New Book Release

 About The Book:

A surprise sink-or-swim lesson at the tender age of nine opens this gripping memoir of love, mental illness, and care giving. A swirling narrative carries readers from pre-WWII Illinois to the infamous Oregon State Mental Hospital of the 80s and forward along a harrowing chasm carved by dysfunctional parents, inhumane social systems, and driven by Dr. Nanette Davis’s powerful love for her mentally-ill sister and son. Raging Currents spans mental health therapies from sedation and isolation, to twelve-step programs, tough love, and modern neuroscience-driven treatments.

From the childhood of a strong-willed, fiercely independent, and curious girl to the roles of supportive sister, wife, and mother, Davis shares her life’s foundation, development, and endless devotion to those she loves. Expertly weaving social norms in compelling prose, Davis offers the wisdom and reflection of age through the clear-eyed recollections of a trained sociologist. Her ever-increasing understanding of compassion is the bedrock of this insightful and vulnerable telling. Raging Currents offers more than an inspiring memoir: it provides practical advice and solace for modern caregivers, friends, family, and people living with mental illness.



Keywords: bipolar disorder; compassion; family caregiving; memoir; mental illness; schizophrenia;  dual diagnosis



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Welcome to Bedlam


Storming through our Portland, Oregon home day and night, I knew my sister must leave. Her insanity cut like a knife through our lives. Finally, I faced the phone call I’d been dreading. Dad needed to keep his word, after our agreement for me to bring Sharon from Chicago to my home, where he would take care of the rest: fly up from California and take my sister home with him. Why was he stalling? I left that message on his phone a week ago, and he still hasn’t returned the call. Sharon was ready to go. I was ready to shove her out.

We had made a deal. Dad proposed: “You told your Mom last Sunday, when you called, that you plan to be at your sociology conference in Chicago. Why not bring Sharon back with you after you finish? You’re the one who mentioned she’s too alone there in the big city. Once she’s on the West Coast, I’ll fly up from San Diego. It’s only a short hop away. You can do this for me. I’m too old now for that long flight to Chicago, and Anne can’t travel that far either. She gets too nauseated from flying.”

“Ok, Dad, I’ll let you know when I have Sharon safely in my home,” I agreed as his reassuring words murmured in my ears.

Now, I’m trying to follow up on his promise to pick up my poor, deranged sister, as he agreed. After about five minutes of inane phone conversation, he finally blurted out: “I can’t take your sister. You know, Anne can’t be expected to take care of Sharon in her elderly years. She’s been very involved with her beloved granddaughter, who’s over here half the time. Sharon will be fine with you and your family. You know, I’m not married to her mother.”

“What are you saying, Dad? I’d barely moved to Portland, and you lay this assignment at my door. I’m in the midst of trying to establish myself and the kids: new city, demanding job, difficult colleagues, and Jim five hours away in Bellingham. We have a commuting marriage now. Taking on Sharon would make this an untenable situation.”

Perhaps I had a misbegotten vision, but I had dreamed of Sharon, intact and happy, living in sunny California, keeping up her beautiful tan and meeting eligible men. Anne was part of the fantasy. That gracious lady, an absolute jewel, would look after my precious sister, and bring her back to health. We could all visit together once Sharon was restored to normality.

I made more phone calls with the same message. “You have to take Sharon. Keeping her here is unthinkable.”

But Dad was not budging. “You know, I’m not married to her mother.” And then a final closure. “Don’t call me anymore about this. You heard me. My answer is no!”

What a lame excuse… “not married to her mother.” I could not believe he kept repeating that ridiculous phrase to me. My mind raced with the injustice of it all.

First, my father tried to unload my mother on me, and now he’s doing the same thing with my sister. I vowed last year, in the midst of our family turmoil, that once we were resettled, I wanted to keep my family calm and happy. How could I possibly achieve that looking after Sharon?

I brought her back, all right, dismayed and disgusted with my father’s deceit. I couldn’t manage her. He deserted us both and abandoned Sharon, the same stunt he pulled when he left Chicago and retired in California. Our parents simply left her behind. What kind of parents do that? He expected me to understand him, but unbelievably, he had no idea what I was going through. He left me holding the bag, a bag I was terrified to look inside. And he used his second wife as the reason he couldn’t take care of Sharon. Why me? I knew nothing about the adult Sharon or how to help her. My nerves were in shreds realizing that my father made the situation normal for himself, while he, in his words, threw me to the wolves.

* * *

After arriving in Chicago for the conference, I encountered a series of mishaps and disasters. Once the plane landed, I rushed to my hotel, took a quick shower, registered for the sociology conference and evening festivities, and located Sharon’s apartment on the near North Side. My plan was to visit her the following day when we were both fresh and rested.

On a bitterly cold December day, I hastily grabbed a cab to Sharon’s apartment, some considerable dollars away from my hotel, knocked on her dingy apartment door, jumping from one foot to another to warm up. No answer. I took a quick taxi back and read my carefully crafted research paper to a yawning audience. Feeling defeated, I rushed again to her apartment. Silence. The door remained shut tight against me.

Time seeped away. I felt anguished that I had taken on this clearly impossible job, while trying to set up a new home, build my career, and seek tenure in an urban university. The kids needed me to help them put down roots in their new schools and neighborhood, and to support the teenagers in their search for part-time jobs. The biggest hurdle turned out to be negotiating family time together on weekends. Jim and I faced the looming prospect of bringing the two parts of our fragmented family together on infrequent weekends and holidays.

It did seem crazy to take this long-distance position in Portland. Jim and I took turns commuting from his base in Bellingham, Washington, but as an administrator, his free time was extremely limited. In the beginning, Jim did the commuting because traveling with the children complicated our situation. After I moved the children to Bellingham and got an apartment, it was my turn to do the commuting.




A swirling memoir from retired sociologist Dr. Nanette Davis gives readers a vulnerable narrative reflecting on care-giving and treatments of her mentally-ill sister and son.

Raging Currents Endorsements



Dr. Davis has written a courageous book.  Her willingness to be open and vulnerable, revealing her childhood experiences growing up in a family burdened with mental illness and alcoholism, and later as a mother raising a mentally ill son, have given us a glimpse into the devastation mental illness wreaks on a family.  Ultimately, as she takes us on this journey with her, she brings us back to what’s most important of all—love.

                                                                                  Gloria Harrison, Psy.D.

                                                                                  Clinical Psychologist


In this heartbreaking, yet heartwarming, book, Nanette Davis shares her experiences caring for a mentally ill sister and son, some encounters predictable, others surprising. Caregiving Sharon, while married, raising a family of six children, and working full time, Nanette confronted the fact that her son, Mike, had begun to demonstrate traits of mental illness, that was not adolescent acting-out behavior. Her accomplishments in dealing with life’s overwhelming expectations make for riveting reading. Mental health professionals as well as families with their own “Sharons” and “Mikes” will find much to instruct and inspire them.

                                                              Suzanne L. Krogh, Ph.D.

    Professor of Childhood Education


Raging Currents is a powerful, important book. It’s a “must read” not only for families and people struggling with these issues but also for health professionals, mental health workers, and all who care about mental health issues in our society. Dr. Davis offers how-to-strategies for navigating the health care system and coping with two mentally ill loved ones, as well as criticisms of our current mental health programs.

Lynne Masland, Ph.D.

A Century of Challenge and Change: Whatcom

Women and the YWCA


In Raging Currents, Nanette Davis has gifted us with candid and loving insight into the challenges of caring for a severely mentally-ill sister and son, while holding a family with five other children together, and working full time. She models courage and strength and delivers a realistic picture.

                                                                        Skye Burn

Skye Burn Productions LLC


In this personal memoir, Raging Currents, Nanette Davis writes in intimate detail about her personal odyssey as caregiver for two loved ones: Sharon, who “lived a life tormented by self-loss,” and a son, struggling to develop an identity. In this candid narrative, we experience Nanette’s perseverance over many years in seeking help and providing care for her sister’s schizophrenia and son’s bipolar disease, despite family denial and the lack of support from the mental healthcare system. This story is a gift to anyone living with or knowing someone suffering from mental illness, impressing us on how love and persistence conquer all.

Nancy Canyon

Author of Struck, Saltwater, and Dark Forest




Acknowledge to Yourself and Others Your Caregiving Role

      Caregiving our mentally ill loved ones can be one of the loneliest jobs in the world--and one of the most stressful. Stigma pervades mental illness and contributes to labeling those who suffer from it as less than fully human. Admittedly, we've got a tough road to vanquish the myth, but we can do something about lessening our own stress. Acknowledge to yourself and others your caregiving role. Be honest with yourself. You've taken on a super task: loving and caring for a loved one whose illness may have extreme behavioral issues. Do what it takes to be informed, but above all, reach out to stop that stress-burnout cycle of isolation, exhaustion, and collapse. 

      According to Alexander Drane (ARCHANGELS CEO), labeling yourself as a caregiver for a mentally ill loved enables you to 

a. Receive credit for it.

b. Gain support from family members and friends.

c. Cultivate a language of care.

d. Locate supportive resources.

    When others recognize the important work you're doing, you will likely receive an outpouring of sympathy and a recognition that we're all in the same boat together. 

    Gaining support from family and friends is critical to ease your burden of care. Let people know how they can help, from simple tasks, such as phone calls or fixing a meal to complex assistance, like finding the right therapist for your loved one. 

    Cultivate the language of care (see Post below). Joining a support group can yield positive results and allows you to hear how experienced caregivers talk about their situation. This also offers another opportunity to share your story and learn from the stories of others. 

    Locating supportive resources could begin with contacting your local National Alliance for the Mental Ill (NAMI), an organization for both caregivers and your mentally ill loved one. Share your burden, but also your accomplishments. Let other caregivers know how you assisted your loved one in money management, finding a therapist, navigating legal aid, or coordinating a demanding schedule.

    We can add one additional feature of stress reduction: practice self-compassion. Who better deserves to give love than one whose heart overflows to others? Self-compassion is nothing more or less than acknowledging your caregiving, accepting your limitations as human, seeing yourself as a good person, and reconciling any difficulties by reaching out for professional help. By accepting self-compassion into our lives, we invite the gift of the “power of the pause”—bringing intentional awareness to the moment, allowing freedom from the tyranny of reactivity. Self-compassion is an invaluable tool for being more of your best self each day. This experience is a way to notice that each moment is an opportunity to be self-forgiving, and more expansive to others in your world.


The Language of Care

Few of us are aware of how language affects our everyday interactions with others. The words we speak, our tone of voice, the looks we give and even our body language all communicate loud and clear what we really mean. We all know that in public and even private spaces, common courtesy, once taken for granted, isn’t so common anymore.

When you use endearing words, such as, “I really care about you,” how are you saying the words? And with what intent?  Are you using eye contact? What are tell-tale signs that perhaps you actually do not care as much as you words purport to say? Looking away, speaking gruffly, mumbling, being twitchy or restless all indicate your mind may be elsewhere. A frown or grimace can give you away, as can arms folded tightly across your chest—you really aren’t very sincere. Or worse, if you take an argumentative tone, it could show you may not care at all!

Care talk is a gift we can bring to others, and entails a number of simple rules. How many of these do you follow when you interact with your loved one?
  • Give the person your full attention—recognition of another person opens the door to real communication. When possible, interact on a face-to-face basis when talking with a person with dementia or severe debilitation.
  • Speak in a tone of voice that is appropriate for the person and the situation. Low tones fit when you’re speaking to a person who hears well. You may need to speak louder and enunciate more clearly for someone who is hearing-impaired or in a crowded room.
  • Use nurturing words that invite the other to respond. “May I help you” can be far more pleasing to a disabled person than “I can do this for you.”  The “may I” phrase allows the other an opportunity to say “no” in a gracious way.
  • Emphasize words that encourage, inspire, support, soothe, hearten or elevate the mood of your ill relative. You can easily stifle a response when you push for an agenda with “must,” “should,” or “have to” words. “You’d better go to your physical therapy appointment today” has a discouraging ring. (Could something bad happen if I don’t go?) What about: “You get to go to your physical therapist today.” This is an opportunity waiting to happen.
  • Be aware of your gestures, voice and facial expressions. If you mean what you say, say it with conviction and certainty. Let your gestures reinforce your message. If you are bringing bad news—“Dr. Smith thinks you will need surgery in a few months”—extend your arms, speak with warmth and sympathy and be ready to embrace your loved one.
  • Practice compassion—feeling with your loved one if they are suffering—and the care words will come effortlessly. Let the milk of human kindness flow through you. When you act from the heart, you are always on target.
You might keep in mind advice from the ancient sage Lao Tzu, who said: “I have three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” When you apply these words to caregiving, your load lifts and your spirit soars.

From my book, The ABCs of Caregiving: Words to Inspire You, House of Harmony Press, 2013. Get your copy now.