Getting My Night Vision is an intensely personal account of one mother’s experience when her child develops a mental illness. It is a chronicle not of a mentally ill young man but of the journey his mother — and by extension, family — must take to come to terms with his awful disease. Nancy Pizzo Boucher does not so much tell us what was happening, but what she felt over the course of 10 years. Her story is heart-wrenching.
Her son was what many would call a “golden boy.” He was intelligent, had friends, and enjoyed great relationships within his family. During his first semester at Bard, Clem suffered “his first psychotic breakdown.” Boucher and her husband, Richard, went to get Clem; the state in which they found him and their trip home were samples of what was to come. (Interestingly, many mentally ill young adults first exhibit symptoms of their disease when they go away to college.)
Parents differ in the ways they react to their adult children’s mental disorders and the mechanisms they use to cope. Some are deeply involved, some go into denial, and some choose to abandon their children by distancing themselves. Boucher dedicated herself to helping her son. Getting My Night Vision documents her struggle with poetry, notes, letters to doctors, songs, essays, and meditations on hope, stress, and strength. It is neither a narrative, nor a clinical study detailing Clem and his sickness. She also shares some of the strategies that worked for her in both dealing with her burdens and trying to help her son. We learn that maintaining control in the midst of chaos is not always possible, but making the effort is empowering.
In her poem “Why Do You Ask for Permission?,” Boucher asks why, if one has a mentally ill, adult child who does not seek treatment, would one feel the need to get permission, when a person with a child who is bleeding to death would immediately administer or seek aid. It’s an interesting question that illustrates common attitudes about mental disorders.