Editorial Review: Tales of a Mad Hatter by Jan Paez
Tales of a Mad Hatter by Jan Paez has all the raw authenticity that comes from the heartfelt experience of a troubled mind.
It traces the life of Paez from the early eighties to current day. While many children struggle with identity when caught between two different cultures or being uprooted from school and friendship groups, few suffer to the extent of Paez.
He is the child of an Ecuadorean father and Polish mother who move from Poland to America when he is four, and he commences school in New York unable to speak English. There is a history of mental illness in his mother's family. His father came from a dysfunctional background and he is violent and abusive.
Paez struggles throughout his school years with undiagnosed mental illness. He is chronically anxious and increasingly manic. He forms close friendships and loses them; he angrily blames his father for their poverty and being forced to move to new schools when his father needs to move to study or work.
He turns to dealing drugs and violence is an integral and frequent part of his story. His inability to maintain relationships is a consistent theme into adulthood; especially when it comes to romance where he makes bad choices or self-sabotages himself repeatedly.
A diagnosis of multiple mental health issues, including bipolar helps Paez to understand but not resolve his broken life and dependence on alcohol and sex as coping mechanisms that do him more harm than the short-term obliteration or brief pleasure that they provide. It takes many years to reach a point where Paez can see the damage he is inflicting upon himself or find a place where he can understand or forgive his father.
Tales of a Mad Hatter is not a memoir that has been polished by an experienced and professional author. Its strength lies in the sharp bones of the uncomfortable and painful truth of mental illness and the brutal depiction of how it can be a never-ending torment for the sufferer, their family and friends.
Paez is honest about the crimes he committed, the anger he took out on those who befriended him and both the fierce ugliness and sharp joys of a world in which he fights to find a place he belongs.
For those who may be fighting their own demons, or for readers struggling to understand a friend or family member who swings from manic highs to deepest angst, then Tales of a Mad Hatter will provide a rare insight into the frustration, desperation and loneliness that is the tragedy of bipolar disorder.