review of To Fly Again


To Fly Again: Portrait of a BIPOLAR Life: Rachelle Hasnas LCSW


Mental health professionals do not always realize the gravity of their illnesses that many of their patients exhibit. Some understand the red flags and ignore them while others prescribe treatments that are short term and are not long lasting. Bipolar is a mental illness that can be controlled with medication if the right  follows -up and the right precautions are taken. Even explaining it to the patient and making the person aware of their problem and helping he/she to cope with this syndrome. But, within the pages of To Fly Again you will hear the voice of Joshua through his words and his poetry as you take this journey with him and the author hoping that it will help others who read this book, parents, teachers, health care providers and therapists to work with people in a positive way helping them to overcome their fears and allowing them To Fly Again and soar and live a happier life.

Mother and author Rachelle Hasnas, LCSW takes this tragedy and turns it into a heart wrenching memoir letting readers in her life, hearing her words, her anguish and frustrations as she tried to piece together the life of a son who died too soon. Joshua lived with Bipolar and could not deal with the simple everyday stress and disappointments in life. This is a disease that most people do not understand and often is discounted for depression, anxiety and not realized for what it is and the way it disables someone’s mind and body. The opening chapter and introduction explains how she and her two friends would celebrate his life on the day he was cremated and the symbol she saw of a special seagull that let her know he was watching over her and was there.

Many voices are heard but the strongest is the one that no one listened to and really understood the voice of a young man who wanted to live life as a normal person yet was hindered by a mental illness that took over his mind and life. Numerous hospitalizations, group homes, substance treatment and doctors who did not understand his cry for help allowing him to fend for himself. A mother who tried to advise him and jobs that he loved for a while and then became too hard for him to handle. Friends that called 911 for help and more visits to the ER why didn’t someone finally realize that this cry for help needed to be heard and addressed? Bruce, his father, gave him a job, helped him get apartments but when things get too tough and the wear and tear of everyday life overwhelmed Joshua he turned to selling drugs, using more pills and was arrested all too often. DUI for drunk driving, losing his freedom to drive and the will to live so many times yet not always admitting what was hidden beneath the fear in his heart that he was a failure in his eyes and in the eyes of others. When his brother got married he was happy for him but depressed for himself and yet no one taught him how to turn his life around, monitor him more regularly and give him the confidence and hope he needed to soar. Pain both physical and mental, depression the feeling that nothing you do is right is just a small part of what Joshua felt before taking his life. Author, mother of Joshua, Rachelle Hasnas presents an honest, heartbreaking and true account of what happens when the world looks in one direction opposite of where they should be focused.

Rachelle, his mother and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, striving so hard to get him the care he needed but the healthcare system at times works against so many and the trouble with his Medicaid and medical insurance often played a part in his releases after brief stays in many facilities.

How do you accept that you son is damaged and that he needs help? Despite the years of counseling and medication that he took on and off is life was hard to live and he was never able to change his perception of himself. The author includes a chapter almost like a diary of his downfall and fight with Bipolar II and the end result which in order to understand his torment, her frustrations and the lack of support of those that were enlisted to provide help in getting him housing and rehab you need to read it for yourself to truly understand just how mental illness changed the dynamics of her family and many other families too.

October 18, 2008 her world dissolved like a candle that was lit and the wick burned leaving only the wax. Apparently he took an accidental overdose and died that day making her realize and others too that his wish to die was finally realized.

To truly understand that even though Joshua thought he was a failure he was not. His love of music, playing the cello, meteorology, hockey and writing poetry are some of what he excelled at. His brother Dan was close to him and they shared many of the same interests. But, the most compelling part besides the author’s sharing his life and story are his poems which I am so glad were published as part of this outstanding memoir and presents a special tribute to him keeping him alive in another way.

There are several that I would like to share not in their entirety but the words that will relate what I feel some missed and Joshua if he was here would you want you read and finally hear his cries for help:
See Me, Feel Me, Love Me, Heal Me: An excerpt:
Can’t you hear me cause I’m screamin’

Although my lips aren’t movin’

Can’t you see I’m hurtin’

Although I’m not bruised or bleedin’

The final two lines says it all: So I feel love

Is there anybody out there? I think these last two lines are very compelling as he is hoping someone will come to his rescue and save him from himself!

The author continues by sharing that she sent a letter to the prison psychologist who paid attention to the letter and contacted the prison parole board as he was incarcerated for selling drugs and using drugs many times. Calling her a few days before he was supposed to be discharged he told the author, his mother that he was asked to enter a four weeklong rehabilitation program upon leaving prison. The reason for this was to give the parole board time to find him housing placement. Feeling hopeful and positive he agreed but this was short lived. Placed in shackles he was sent back to Long Island and told they were afraid he would hurt himself. Four weeks at the hospital placement in Long Island and nothing was being done to help him. Where would he go after his discharge? This was truly the beginning of the end as his father was not allowed to take him on The Silver Girl because he would be leaving the state. Instead he stayed with a friend that they never vetted and did not realize that she was a user too. The final answers were not what anyone would want to hear. In writing this memoir the author stated that she was saddened as she remembers that he had potential for a different life and never realized it. The final realization is that the one at fault was not his case manager who did nothing to investigate his placement with this girl and her fiancé nor did they realize or check that she had a history of drug use and arrests. The most heartbreaking point of this memoir is reliving with the author that fatal phone call from the ME. Added in she recounts her feelings of guilt, thinking she could have done more and at times felt she enabled her son. But, second-guessing is not going to ease the pain or what ifs. Time to release the anger, move ahead and then embrace his life and remember the good and the wonderful. Sharing more of his work will help you the reader embrace knowing him too: an excerpt from MY WORLD:
My world is spinning out of control

As I watch the moon flash by, blue and gray

The sun doesn’t rise anymore

The night descents forevermore.

The stars seemingly absent form the darkened sky

The lonely coldness blows through

As if to freeze life itself.

The despair, the absence of the stars making the world seem dark and dismal and the fact that life itself became cold and frozen in time tells the reader that Joshua felt that his life was stagnant and he could not melt to ice to go on. The author shares the day he was cremated and the presence of that special seagull that followed them the entire time and during that journey to place his ashes as Rachel, Bruce and Dan celebrated his life in their own special way. The author shares invaluable resources about Bipolar and places where you the reader and others can seek help for someone that might need it.

Joshua lived with bipolar disorder for over 20 years before it was recognized for what it was. When the diagnosis was finally made two years before he took his own life. He had mood swings that alternated she related between deep depression and extreme irritability that quickly shifted into intense anger and often times of rage without warning.

If Joshua could read his mother’s thoughts and words I think he would realize just how special and talented he was and maybe understand his way with expressing himself in his poetry, hockey, working as a salesman, playing the cello, meteorology and loving the  true experience of  Hurricane Isabel. Joshua you were smart, special and unfortunately the system did not work in your favor but reading this memoir, learning how amazing you were even though you had bouts with the law and fought to exist in your own way, getting to know you and reading this book will always hold a special place in my heart. The dreams your family had seeing you and knowing you were there will always keep you alive in their hearts forever.  Your ashes were sprinkled, the seagull followed and now Joshua you will learn one more time: TO FLY AGAIN! Thank you for sharing his story with me. This book is a valuable resource for mental health workers, caregivers, parents, discussion groups, police, psychologists and anyone that wants to understand mental illnesses and how they can impact your life and that of others.

Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine