From award-winning journalist Meg Kissinger, a searing memoir of a family besieged by mental illness, as well as an incisive exploration of the systems that failed them and a testament to the love that sustained them.
Growing up in the 1960s in the suburbs of Chicago, Meg Kissinger’s family seemed to live a charmed life. With eight kids and two loving parents, the Kissingers radiated a warm, boisterous energy. Whether they were spending summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan, barreling down the ski slopes, or navigating the trials of their Catholic school, the Kissingers always knew how to live large and play hard.
But behind closed doors, a harsher reality was unfolding—a heavily medicated mother hospitalized for anxiety and depression, a manic father prone to violence, and children in the throes of bipolar disorder and depression, two of whom would take their own lives. Through it all, the Kissingers faced the world with their signature dark humor and the unspoken family rule: never talk about it.
While You Were Out begins as the personal story of one family’s struggles then opens outward, as Kissinger details how childhood tragedy catalyzed a journalism career focused on exposing our country’s flawed mental health care. Combining the intimacy of memoir with the rigor of investigative reporting, the book explores the consequences of shame, the havoc of botched public policy, and the hope offered by new treatment strategies.
Powerful, candid and filled with surprising humor, this is the story of one family’s love and resilience in face of great loss.
Meg Kissinger spent more than two decades traveling across the country to report on America’s mental health system for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, she has won dozens of accolades, including two George Polk Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and two National Journalism Awards. Kissinger teaches investigative reporting at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and was a visiting professor at DePauw University, her alma mater. Her stories on the abysmal living conditions for people with mental illness inspired changes to Wisconsin law and led to the creation of hundreds of new housing units. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband, Larry Boynton. They have two children and two grandchildren.