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Book Review: Because I Come From a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist

ADHD expert Ned Hallowell, M.D., shares his journey from a troubled New England childhood to success as a renowned specialist in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Because I Come From a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist

by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.
Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc; $19.60

Dr. Ned Hallowell’s bestselling Driven to Distraction introduced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) to the world, becoming a go-to classic. Now, the psychiatrist and author of more than 20 books pulls back the curtain on the world of psychiatry by sharing his journey from childhood to clinical practitioner.

Hallowell’s story is a page-turner that reads like a novel. It combines cliff-hanging plot lines, laugh-out-loud anecdotes, and heart-warming connections forged in a family riddled with alcoholism, battles with mental health, and struggles for survival. What shines through is Hallowell’s humanity and the triumph of his spirit as a self-described New England WASP who faithfully listens to an inner voice that tells him, at age 11, to become a psychiatrist.

Hallowell takes the voice in stride, continuing to search for answers to life’s questions. He writes about an intriguing cast of characters, from his beautiful and alcoholic mother to his abusive stepfather. Hallowell describes being haunted by his parents’ tragic love story, with their premature divorce, followed by his dad’s hospitalization for what was finally diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

As a psychiatric intern, “There was no rulebook to follow,” writes Hallowell of his days at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, in 1979. When a schizophrenic resident asked to borrow a couple of bucks, Hallowell rifled through his pockets. Coming up empty, he handed over his bank card, telling the woman to withdraw funds from an ATM.

While he most likely wouldn’t want to repeat that rookie move, it underscores Hallowell’s trust in others and his willingness to take calculated risks in his life and career. Overcoming his struggles with ADHD, learning disabilities, and family trauma, Hallowell finds a path to joy and success—a path he invites us to travel along with him.

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