“Wounding, Destruction, Despair, Healing, and Love”

Millicent Monks gives new, horrifying meaning to the term “sandwich generation.” Her memoir Songs of Three Islands: A Story of Mental Illness in an Iconic American Family describes being caught between mentally-ill parents and a daughter with borderline personality disorder.

Monks herself has suffered from depression at some points in her life and much understandable rage. When her mother wasn’t neglecting her, she was insisting that Millicent had been poisoned from unpasteurized milk. In an obsession resembling Munchhausen by proxy, she had Millicent hospitalized and medicated over long periods of time. Her father, an alcoholic and sex addict, abandoned the family.

Then, in an unbearable irony, after Millicent had married the love of her life (Robert Monks, an attorney and business consultant) and seemingly escaped her parents, her daughter showed symptoms of mental illness — violent tantrums, irrationality — in very early childhood, and Millicent and her husband have continued to struggle with feelings of guilt, questions of responsibility, and their daughter’s rage and rejection.

After an initial diagnosis of schizophrenia, doctors settled on BPD for Millicent’s daughter, and Millicent has subsequently ascribed the same diagnosis to her mother. She was left alone with her mother, as I was, and I can relate to the confusion, loneliness, and anger Millicent experienced.

The “iconic family” of the book’s subtitle is the Carnegies; her maternal great-grandfather was Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew. Millicent has inherited islands (literally) and lives now off Maine in a large family complex, housing as many as sixty or so family members and in-laws and various step-relatives and ex-step-relatives, including her estranged daughter.

Songs of Three Islands wanders chronologically and spiritually; it veers too far into psychic phenomena and New-Agey jargon for my taste. But Monks’s take on BPD is clear and affirming, and because she loves her daughter, she tries mightily to skirt the stigmas.

P.S. At the risk of sounding hypercritical, I was puzzled by some odd editing. “Mourning doves” are mistakenly called “morning doves” several times, but not consistently; once, both spellings appear in the same paragraph. At another point, the word “morning” (i.e., the opposite of evening) is spelled “mourning.” Weird.

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