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Guest: Millicent Monks

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Mental illness is blind to worldly wealth. Millicent Monks, great-granddaughter of Thomas Carnegie (Andrew’s brother and business partner,) quietly shares her family’s stories of mental illness in her remarkable memoir Songs of three islands.
 
“The family never talked about being Carnegies -- it was not polite. It was like mental illness in those days, you just didn’t talk about it.
 
“And you don’t feel very rich when you’re living in a room all by yourself most of the time and nobody is around to talk to. Locking myself in my room every night. Fed nothing. Fearful I was going to find my mother sitting behind a curtain (with a knife) -- I had reason to fear that -- and fearful of the dark. It was a pretty terrible atmosphere to grow up in.”
 
Ms. Monks' “three islands” are metaphor as well as geography, starting with the disturbed matriarch who reigned over the family estate on Cumberland Island off the Coast of Georgia, which she associates with her powerful grandmother, Bertha Carnegie, and her mother.
 
“My mother kept very angry. Rage. Rage! Mother crawling-on-the-floor angry. Screaming at my sister. Refusing to let my friends see me, so I didn’t know how anybody else lived.
 
“I had no place to go. It was (World War II). My father was in Guinea and my brother was gone and there was nobody. No place. My (much older) sister left and just never came back.”
 
Having resisted any trace of “poor-little-rich-girl”, Ms. Monks wants no part of the “blame game”, having experienced first hand how devastating it is as the mother and grandmother of those afflicted with mental illness.
 
“First of all, they said our daughter was schizophrenic and it was my fault. There was a whole period when the mother of a schizophrenic was blamed for this terrible behavior your child is carrying on. Then the same with the borderline (personality) thing.
 
“Now I know it’s in the brain. That’s a huge relief -- that’s the most horrendous thing, to think that you might have harmed your child that way.”
 
Ms. Monks’ goal is to break the silence and encourage families of the mentally ill.
 
“When I started writing (Songs of three islands), I said ‘It is about mental illness and mothers and the women in my family.’ Some people would just turn away. They couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t talk about it. For others, especially mothers, the response was as if, ‘Omigod, I can actually talk about it?’ Some would say, ‘Can we have lunch?' It was horrendous the stories I heard, just terrible, but it was wonderful to be able to talk about it.”

Acknowledgments

The world is genuinely enriched by Millie Monks having shared both the beauty and the pain in her life, difficult as it must have been for this quiet and private person to confront so squarely the dark side.
We are honored by the friendship we share with Millie and her wonderful husband, Bob.

Related Links

Songs of three islands: A memoir of motherhood and mental illness in an iconic American family is published by Infinite Ideas. In the U.S., the publisher is Atlas Publishing.
 
Two earlier programs with Millie's husband Bob Monks are here and here.  More to follow.
 
Alan Wallace's work on consciousness, meditation and happiness seem congruent with the benefits Ms. Monks has found from meditation.
 
Charles Raison's research with Tibetan meditation methods also seems relevant.
 
And, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.

This Program was recorded on Thursday, July 17, 2008 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Tags: Andrew Carnegie beauty kindness mental illness Millicent Monks richs P Songs Three Islands Ten Commandments Ten Suggestions thoughtfulness wealth