Book Review: Relentless: A no-holds-barred tale of mental illness
By Susan Johnson
In Relentless, Daniel Edwards describes his lifelong battle with mental illness as a living hell, in which he was always running (literally and figuratively) from some inner demon. In addition to suffering from Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which struck him at age 21, he also suffered damage to an injured knee when a doctor gave him an injection improperly. As a stellar cross-country runner, he was suddenly sidelined and had to take treatments to try to dissolve a calcium deposit, only to eventually undergo surgery.
Edwards missed out on school sports in eighth grade because of the knee problem. Then, as a sophomore in high school, he missed out because the community was short of funds, and the voters rejected a tax increase. He comes off sounding selfish when he blames “the tight-fisted, self-centered bastards in Rockford [who] would not pay the extra taxes—unbelievable.” He added later, “The tight-fisted taxpayers felt us kids should suffer so they would not have to pay a little extra on their taxes.” He expresses no sympathy or concern for the senior citizens on fixed incomes who might have been struggling just to come up with the tax money to keep their homes.
After this, he started lifting weights, gaining about 20 pounds from bench pressing, and got into excess drinking. In his junior year, he was forced off the basketball team, but he got back into cross country and broke 15 minutes in the 3 mile. Later, however, he gained about 5 pounds and, between extra body weight and stress, he was tiring early and could not make the qualifying time. He injured the knee again, kept running and did further damage. He was then not eligible for any scholarships. It was a major disappointment, and he said, “I was crushed.”
He attended college in Alabama, majoring in business, doing well enough to get by. Later, he went to the University of Iowa, where in his sophomore year, he had his first sexual experience with a girl who afterwards wanted nothing more to do with him. He described her as a “hussy,” but later realized he was not living according to the way he had been taught. Raised in a Christian home, he had a stressful and dysfunctional relationship with his parents, who could not understand what was wrong with him. Still, he kept drinking and having sex with other women, making mistakes, trying to do better (he was briefly helped by AA), moving on, and repeating the same cycle. At various times, he was a tennis coach, a substitute teacher, and later owned a karate school, which was successful for 13 years until the economy soured.
Edwards’ thoughts are a study in contrasts and contradictions, illustrating how his mind seems to work at cross purposes. At various times, he stayed with his relatives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In one place he observes, “the people in general in the East, are just not as good hearted, honest or moral as Mid-Westerners…the kids are inept and pathetic, …” Yet, he closes this same chapter with: “I want to see God everywhere I look today. I want to reflect love to everyone I encounter.”
Even allowing for the extremely rough language, this book could have benefitted from a proofreader, who could have caught the many errors of grammar and syntax. As it says on the cover, the book is unedited, and it is not for general audiences—not the type of book you share with your kids. He describes in detail his failed relationships with five different women, his experiences in jail, and being attacked on the street with his dog.
One has to wonder why anyone would write a painful story like this. It is brazen, bold, at times self-humiliating, at others unconcerned about the impression others may have. It is almost as if two distinct personalities are at war with each other, which is essentially the point of the narrative.
Admittedly, in the era in which Dan grew up, not much was known about mental illness, and his parents, hard-working, sensible folks, were driven to distraction by the wide swings of erratic behavior exhibited by their son. He didn’t connect well with his older brother, his sister or other family members. After Dan’s many years of frustration, an understanding doctor finally found a medication that helped clear his mind and give him the peace that had so long eluded him.
I asked Dan what his main purpose was in writing this book. He said: “I wanted to share my story so that it can help others—educational. And second, I wanted it to be for entertainment value. I strove for authenticity and didn’t want it edited. I wanted the words ‘right from the horse’s mouth.’”
Relentless is available for $19.95 from iUniverse, Inc., 2010, ISBN: 978-1-4502-4206-6. Website: www.iuniverse.com.
From the March 2-8, 2011, issue