Mental illness is often compounded by the twin evils of shame and stigmatization. In defiance of these evils, award-winning author Paul Gruchow in Letters to a Young Madman: A Memoir tells us why he regarded the mentally ill as his heroes. This, his final work, is homage to all who suffer from mental illnesses.
Gruchow's describes his friends who suffer from mental illness as "condemned to get up every morning of their lives and repeat the same nightmares all over again." Despite that, "They all have bright senses of humor, lively and engaging personalities, and enough fortitude and determination to shame generals. It takes as much courage for any one of them to persevere from one day to the next as has ever been required of any soldier with a chest full of medals. To me, they are heroes."
Gruchow is best known for eloquent books relating the natural environment to the human condition. Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild, Grass Roots: The Universe of Home, and The Necessity of Empty Places all established Gruchow as a writer of importance. Then his increasingly frequent mental struggles took hold. Letters to a Young Madman is an account of his “spectacular plunge from competency into official madness.”
Official madness, for Gruchow, invited treatments that relegated him to the status of perpetual child. It also brought days on end of staring at pen and paper in the hope of writing even a single word. It made him doubt and disdain all his achievements. Dr. Henry Emmons says of Gruchow, "He is very frank and up front about his own great struggles, which makes for compelling reading."
Gary Schoener, the Director of the Minneapolis Walk-In Counseling Center, thinks Gruchow writes with “the power of a confessional poet like Anne Sexton.” He further says of the book, “It is a first hand account -- an authentic look from the inside-- with graphic personal descriptions admission to a psychiatric ward, electroconvulsive shock treatment, and so many other things familiar to the mentally ill, but not everyone else. What is so illuminating about this very honest and direct personal account is the integration of personal observations with philosophical statements and ideas.”