Writers With Mental Illness

June 2019 Book of the Month: Don’t You Fall Now by Claudia Love Mair

This review contains spoilers.

In the beginning I had a beautiful boy. In the middle he lost his mind. And now, at the end — is this the end? – Kamau took to the air on his own wings, and the wind did not hold him.

-Claudia Love Mair

Don’t You Fall Now was June’s book of the month. It’s a memoir about a mother with bipolar disorder whose son Kamau becomes psychotic and falls off a parking structure. It is filled with love. I carried the book around town in my bag as I read it and at times, it felt like I was carrying Mair’s beating heart. There was no holding back. It was so incredibly honest. She shared thoughts we’d all be afraid to admit, ones she felt were selfish or shallow, worrying about her sons looks or wondering if it was better for him to live or die at one point. Her sometimes blunt thoughts were juxtaposed by lyrical prose rife with metaphors about flying. Bird imagery was a theme throughout the entire book that tied the reader back to Kamau’s initial delusion that the birds were telling him he needed to be like them, “to be free.”

Don’t You Fall Now Book Review

5 out of 5 stars

June 2019 Writers With Mental Illness

Book of the Month

bipolar memoirs

Don’t You Fall Now Summary

We meet Mair in medias res. The police are at her door informing her that Kamau fell off a building. She unravels what led to this incident slowly, explaining Kamau’s strange behavior to the cops. Mair suspects he is experiencing mania and delusions about being able to read people’s minds and the like. We also learn that Mair has bipolar disorder and a family history of mental illness.

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addictions run in our family, knocking off aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings like a car careening out of control. The casualties ‘crazy’ leaves behind stretch across generations.
Mair meets Kamau in the hospital who has no memory of the incident. A nurse says it’s a miracle he didn’t break his neck. Kamau has multiple surgeries to reconstruct his face, while Mair juggles trying to work and be there for her other three kids. We watch as she tries to rebuild her life. She leans on her family, friends, community, and her faith for support. When she talks about her spiritual life, Mair has a wry sense of humor, but also a devout faith. It’s a combination that doesn’t alienate readers of differing beliefs. Mair isn’t trying to preach. She is sharing what keeps her going when her life falls apart. While her family is trying to recover, Mair grounds the reader in realism, detailing practical matters that don’t just go away during a tragedy. She writes,
My life may have lurched to a halt, but my bills didn’t, and the kind one hundred-dollar gifts and twenties pressed into my palms have stopped coming. People move on, and we are left to deal with stuff on our own.

Snapshots of Recovery

Despite the incident, Mair has to work, and she finds herself “precariously employed,” working a few different jobs all while trying to work through her grief. She weaves short chapters of Kamau’s recovery in between longer ones detailing his behavior before the incident. The short chapters offer brief snapshots that push the story forward. Alongside Kamau’s recovery, the reader sees Mair struggle to keep herself afloat and redefine what it means to be okay.
bipolar memoirs

One thing that surprised me was the depth of Mair’s honesty. The book is inspirational, but it’s not full of fluff. Its all real. Mair is not afraid to admit the truth, and because of this, we trust her. We empathize with her.

No one tells me I will grieve the loss of Kamau’s good looks. His lovely gap-toothed smile has crumbled. The front of his skull is in pieces… The awful truth is I will miss the son I had. The way he looked… Hours pass. The operating room sends text messages informing me that the surgery is going well. I update my Facebook friends, and wait, praying, and trying hard not to be an asshole about how Kamau is going to look when this is all over.
That part really stood out as brave. It must have been so hard to admit that… well, yes, Mair did worry over something superficial like Kamau’s good looks. And why shouldn’t she? That is her son. And she has yet to fall in love with this new one “held together by plates and screws… Dr. Frankenstein like creations.”

Recovery Is A Process

In the end, Mair is hospitalized for suicidal depression. Like a mama bird, Mair’s wings faltered. Keeping her family safe and sheltered was imperative, and she didn’t give up. Kamau got his GED and lives in an apartment. His molester was sent to prison. She kept working despite her worsening mental health and symptoms of fibromyalgia. After everything settles down, it was almost as if Mair’s mind and body finally knew it was okay to rest. She checked herself into the hospital to finally take care of herself. And the reader knows that while the hardest part may be over for Mair and her family, recovery is a continual process. It is something you have to work at, and that is where Mair leaves us: as we met her, in medias res….
Not yet whole… healing.

Discussion questions have been posted on Facebook and Goodreads if you’d like to take a peek! You can learn more about Claudia Love Mair on her blog. If you’d like to sign up for the book club, you can do so here!

About The Author:bipolar books

August Blair is the writer behind Writers With Mental Illness. She is a freelance writer working on her first book. You can find her writing online at Peculiars Magazine, Voices of Mental Health, Your Tango, All 4 Women, and in print anthologies. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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