By Kathy Milton-Tapley
Donna Kakonge’s new book on “How to Talk to a Crazy People” gives a rare and honest account of
mania, depression and psychosis. She depicts a revolving-door syndrome of being admitted to psychiatric hospitals, when she refuses to take her medication. Donna searches for relief from bipolar mood disorder in dreams, mediums, channelling, many boyfriends, frequently changing jobs, and travel to Uganda.
Her financial problems used to occur because when she was manic she spent all her money. Like
many famous bipolar individuals, Donna has a brilliant mind for journalism. Winston Churchill, Sylvia
Plath, Virginia Wolf, John Forbes Nash, and and Patty Duke have all wrestled with their demons of
madness, but left the world a better place despite the struggle.
Donna’s bipolar mood disorder was not helped by her growing up in a home where her alcoholic
father was physically and mentally abusing her mother. Donna had a love-hate relationship with her
father and sometimes he would try to bribe her affection by giving her money and manipulating her. In
her book she writes on page 150:
“My father tormented my mother. Sometimes I witnessed it and
sometimes I just heard it. I remember the last time, though. I was
coming home from school and saw police cars in the driveway. I was
walking with a friend, who started asking many questions, but I wasn’t
going to tell her anything. Mom needed stitches.
During the three days we packed to move, I was happier in the
house than I had ever been. My father was not around and my mother
talked with confidence and walked with strong strides.
Although the apartment we moved to was small, I was happy. I
was very proud of my mother for making our life better. I felt unhappy
only on the weekends when I was supposed to visit my father.”
Some of Donna’s relatives suffered from bipolar mood disorder, so she inherited the illness and it
was aggravated because of the violent and turbulent environment that she grew up in. “How to Talk to
a Crazy People“ is not really about talking to the mentally ill, it is more about personally coping with the
ravages of a serious emotional illness. Donna struggles financially, socially, sexually, and spiritually to
find peace from the minions of hell that inhabit her mind.
Donnna can remember sixteen breakdowns that she suffered over her lifetime. One such breakdown is described as follows on page 56 of her book: “I refuse to take the medication the new doctor prescribed. Constance told me it would make me weak. I cannot sleep. The shifts are hard to deal with. I can’t make myself go to work today. So I call in sick.
“Carolyn?” I ask when the phone picks up.
“Yes, is this Donna?”
“Yes.” I start to cry. “Carolyn, I feel awful. I can’t come into work.”
“Donna, that’s fine.”
I sob into the phone. “I’m sorry.”
“Donna, it’s fine,” she assures me. “It is fine. Just come in when you
are feeling better.”
The last thing Carolyn hears is my sobbing.
After I hang up, I crawl back into bed and fall into a fitful sleep. I
wake up later that night and ask my mother for the keys to her car. I
drive in a manic daze to Steven and William’s house. They let me crash there. Steven tries to cook food for me but I refuse to eat. William smokes pot with his girlfriend Sarah, while I talk fast and furiously about being a Ugandan princess. I ask myself and the others why the fuck I’m in Canada when I am a queen in Uganda.”
Throughout her life Donna has never shied away from challenges. Whether it was riding a camel in
Uganda, practising her journalism, working for the CBC, or teaching community college, Donna
supports herself from her work, and does not allow herself to go on a disability pension like many
similarly afflicted persons do. “How to Talk to a Crazy People” is an interesting book to read if you
want to understand the suffering of mentally ill persons and the raw courage that one woman can
You can buy the book at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/kakonged?searchTerms=How+To+Talk+To+Crazy+People