My Sister Reta: A Story of Art and Mental Illness is a non-fiction book, crossing the genres of family biography, mental health, and self-help. It is a story of an artist living with debilitating mental illness, and a brother's journey to understand and love an inscrutable sister.
My story is about a brother learning to understand and love a sister who has lived with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type for her entire adult life. It begins with Reta at age 10 and continues through to 2021. Within the narrative I have interlaced nearly 70 of her artistic works that serve as aesthetic mileposts as well as visual representations of her mental health as her story is traversed. Her early years, after establishing herself as a promising artist, are followed by a roller coaster experience of relative stability and high-quality artistic output, followed by gravely disabling manic episodes and an inability to create. Between 1968 and 2021, Reta experienced 15 manic episodes, 10 of which required extended, psychiatric hospitalization. Complicating Reta's living with an incurable disease are, to this day, an imperfect health care system, financial woes and an abusive relationship.
Well into adulthood, on a rare visit to my sister's home, I encountered a vast trove of artistic works she had created since her college days—hundreds of paintings and sketches that had never seen the light of day. It was then I began to consider more deeply this person that I had known only superficially in my youth, and that there might be a rich story to tell. The more I researched, the deeper and broader the story became. From what started as an idea to capture a sister's unique life for family transformed into a story that I hope will resonate with anyone who has a family member or loved one that is living with mental illness.