“Thank you for writing such an important book. As a licensed mental health counselor in private practice it gives messages of hope and describes how much impact suicide and mental health issues have. This book helps break the silence on mental health issues.”

- A therapist in Federal Way, Washington

“Curt would be proud. Your book is a great gift to him, for you have given him a voice when his demons would no longer let him speak. The help and comfort his (and your) story gives to others lends purpose to a life that ended too soon. I’m glad you are getting recognized for your book!”

- A friend of Curt’s in Minnesota

‘Shaking Shame’ shows complexities of mental illness and suicide

Reviewed by NAMI SW Washington
National Alliance on Mental Illness

This very personal story tells of the author’s brilliant and successful brother, Curt, who alarms those close to him by suddenly becoming bankrupt and exhibiting a sense of being persecuted. Up to that time he had been a successful political consultant. His concerned family commits him to a psychiatric hospital against his will, where he is diagnosed with the 1970’s term: manic depression, now called bipolar disorder.

After two weeks he is released. In the following years, he goes periods of homelessness and years of symptoms where he continues to believe there is a conspiracy against him. He’s so convincing that his sister, Evonne, wonders if he’s telling the truth or whether his paranoid delusions are speaking. Only after his death is the question resolved for her.

Following the suicide deaths of both her father and Curt, the author has to deal with her reoccurring depression. Part of her recovery is accepting the mental illness label for her state of mind. In the last part of the book, she relates how she finally, becomes happy and at peace though therapy, support groups, and finally a successful medication.

The book raises some complex questions about finding the right medication, and especially this: How does a family commit someone in denial about their behavior while avoiding trauma and; long-standing resentment?

The book helps its reader’s understanding of the bi-polar condition by explaining that if certain circuits in the brain aren’t functioning, the resulting loss of judgment creates the inability to objectively see one’s own behavior. It mentions that the longer a person is sick, the harder it is to recover. It shows how the loss of an intelligent person such as Curt, who had no productive work during the last twenty years of his life, is a loss to both himself and to society. Our society has a long way to go in resolving some of the many issues presented in this interesting book.

‘Shaking Shame’ describes loss of talented brother to suicide

Reviewed by the American Society of Suicidology

With the words, facing depression, and finding peace and hope, contained in the prologue, Evonne Agnello begins her story of survival following the trauma of two suicides in her family, even as she struggles with depression. She highlights the statistic that one in four Americans is affected by mental illness or has a family member or friend who are affected. Mental illness is more common than we talk about, and it is a contributing factor in suicide.

Agnello poses the question, “What would our country be like if everyone who had a mental illness had access to full treatment?” Agnello embarks on a writing journey to explore that question and to shed light on the suicides of her father, who had been battling prostate cancer and her brother, Curt who had been battling mental illness for many years before his suicide.

Agnello was devastated by her father’s suicide, but, she said, “he lived a rich full life.” He was a prominent businessman and owner of a newspaper in Seward, Nebraska. She credits him with giving the love of language to his children. In this context, Agnello shares stories of growing up, which are interwoven with quotes from historical figures such as Galileo, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself,” and Tolstoy, “Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family in unhappy in its own way.”

We are first introduced to Curt through his many letters and writings, as we get a glimpse into the life of this brilliant, man who was full of promise before mental illness changed him. The descriptions of shock and disbelief over Curt’s suicide will be familiar ground for many survivors. As Agnello wrestles with the reality of his death, a more burning quest for her is to understand his mental illness. She struggles with the guilt of his first hospitalization, his insistence that he was not ‘crazy,’ and her intense loyalty to him, as well as her longing to believe that he did not have a mental illness. She wanted to believe that maybe his allegations of being watched, as well as his grandiose predictions of working on secret scientific projects could possibly be true.

As she is more and more convinced that he truly suffered from mental illness, she expresses doubt, that somehow she wasn’t educated enough or didn’t do enough to help him as he spiraled down into homelessness or the darkness of losing touch with his family, only to reappear months or even years later. Curt’s suicide intensified Agnello’s own search for equilibrium. She fears that she too, will follow her brother and father’s path.

Understanding doesn’t come for many years, as Agnello struggles with her depression. She is fortunate to be able to afford the necessary treatment that she laments is so lacking in our society. It was after her mother’s death when Agnello reached the elusive equilibrium that she had been seeking. She faces the challenges of grief, and gains understanding by reading, through communicating with the psychiatrist who had first treated Curt, and finding spiritual support and solace through writing and exploring her beliefs. This book will help others to understand the complexities of suicide and mental illness. There is no shame!

— by Desiree Woodland, American Association of Suicidology, 2013

Shaking Shame from Mental Illness is well-written and enlightening, professional both in craft and production.

“The hard work it took to get it right shows. It is well-researched, articulate and confident in voice. Agnello is fearless in examining her own issues. The subject matter can be tough and carries a lot of minefields, but she does a nice job managing it.

“The production, from a professional cover that captures the subject, to readable font and structure, are excellent.”

— Judge’s Comments, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards, Oct. 2013

“Honest and sad, lovely and powerful, Shaking Shame from Mental Illness will strike a chord with everyone on some level. Most of all, Evonne shows hope and reinforces the adage that every journey begins with the first step.”

— Carolyn Kelly, Retired chief operating officer, Seattle Times

“How does one who has suffered chronic depression survive the loss of loved ones? No easy task but definitely doable, as Evonne eloquently documents. Shaking Shame from Mental Illness is a testimony that when our lives seem to spin out of control, we can somehow learn to prevent the hinges from completely falling off.”

— Mark Murphy, MD, Tacoma

“Evonne Agnello’s red-haired brother reminded me of my cousin, who constantly looked to better times. You, too, may remember someone you love as you read this wise tale—and will feel, as I did, the better for it.”

— Kathleen Rutledge, Retired editor, Lincoln Journal Star


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