Life Happens to Us: A True Story by Ashta-Deb

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We could not face each other, could not help each other, and could not love each other. The fog of grief and hurt was too thick to see through. It was every man for himself from this moment.

I have read many memoirs that leave me aching for the author, Debbie’s story left a lump in my throat. The death of her beloved older sister Neelam buried on October 9, 1972 at the tender age of 13 was just the beginning of the PTSD that made cause so much emotional destruction throughout her entire life. This is a journey that takes Debbie full circle, putting her sister at rest, and maybe freeing her own soul. It’s the in-between and the before that is so heart-breaking.

With parents that wanted to make more of themselves by being the first in their family to leave Guyana for Canada, Debbie and her sister Neelam and Priya learned quickly how different they were from their light-skinned Canadian peers.  Dreams of starting school as she is a curious child and making many friends dies when Debbie hears the ugly taunts hurled at her sisters and then herself, the racism of the 60’s openly hostile toward anyone foreign. While her mother and father enjoyed the envy and pride that greeted them when the family vacationed in Guyana, the reality of their ‘worldly life’ was a far cry from the wealth and privilege their relatives believed they were leading. Her parents marriage is crumbling, her mother is more attuned to the many male admirers that she seems to leave in her wake than in being a loving, nurturing mother to her attention starved daughters. Cruelties slip easily from her mouth, when she isn’t emasculating her husband she is pointing out her three girls many flaws, like their skin color, or their weight. Never wanting to be called Mom, as she is far too beautiful and young in appearance to be one, she tends to demand Debbie lie and pretend she isn’t her child, better to manipulate whichever man is her current lover.  Family members that come to stay aren’t much help with their own jealousies and deceit. Her father grows enraged with his wife’s philandering and takes his fury out on his daughters, one who can’t survive life under his rule. Debbie is conflicted, far too young to be accountable for witnessing her two sisters beatings, for being daddy’s helper, it takes a toll on her self-esteem. It will take a lifetime to come to terms with the things that she lived through.

Being shuffled between loyalties, homes, family,  and countries until she is completely homeless and at the mercy of strangers, Debbie longs to be nothing like her mother and father when she has her own children.Sadly, we tend to choose what’s familiar, and the bitter toxins of our abuse are patterns we repeat. Debbie finds herself failing as a mother, being too hard on her own children, easily pushed over the edge when she isn’t trying to be the perfect mother and wife. Carrying spouses who once seemed like the perfect love for her, she struggles with her own fidelity issues, stomachs abusive partners mirroring the chaos of her own parent’s disastrous marriage. Her mother and father continue to be unstable forces in her life, going from absentee, to volatile or insulting. Her father isn’t innocent either, degrading and shaming his girls by accusing them of being ‘whores’ like their mother, starting over with a new family, even possibly committing a crime in Canada that forced him to disappear one night. Debbie’s mother doesn’t have a nurturing bone in her body, always siding against her daughter, even when Debbie works hard to be the provider for her family and support her husbands and their dreams.

Debbie sinks into a dark depression, and it is through her spiritual journey that she learns what it means that ‘life happens to us’. We tend to think we are all steering this life we come into, but the reality is there are more things out of our control than under it. For Debbie, it isn’t just the tragic suicide of her sister Neelam, but the loss of Priya too whom, though alive, is unable to be close to her remaining little sister. It is also that she has parents whose own lives have spun so far out of control that all they know how to do is lash out and destroy others, and each other. They are never a family again, not really. She had a few loving family members, like her grandfather whom she shares a sort of  psychic gift with, known as he is to be a sort of magic man. But in her youth, this untapped gift isn’t of much use, where the hope for each day is simply survival and maybe some food for her belly. Debbie will never find what she needs outside of herself, and certainly not through the adults nor any man she may love along the way. Love is transitory in her life, just like her living arrangements seem to be. It is through Western medicine and Eastern Wisdom that she has a chance to heal the wounds in her mind and her soul.

She isn’t always likable, becoming more like her own cold mother at times, and that is how the sad cycle continues. It’s easy to gain spirituality for a day, be it through a retreat, a new love, or mantras, it’s keeping that spirituality intact when life comes at you full force that is the real journey. One thing is true, she has to confront the past in order to be able to shed the pain and rage that lurks within her own being. She has to treat her PTSD and allow herself the grieving that was denied her.

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FriesenPress

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The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska;Elaine McArdle

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Despite all my years of studying brain disorders, for the first time in my life I realize how profoundly unsettling it is to have a mind that does not function.

The doctor becomes the patient in this fascinating memoir. Exhibiting symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia, much to the horror of those who knew and loved her best, Barbara Lipska’s doctors do everything possible to figure out what is going on.  Why was her frontal lobe failing her? From where was her madness coming from?  It is melanoma, brain cancer. Amazingly, when immunotherapy began to heal her, she remembered everything that happened during her descent into madness, bringing with her firsthand knowledge about what happens in the mind (brain), aiding science in better understanding.

Mental illness today is still a mystery, there is so much we just don’t comprehend. How does a brain injury alter behavior? What about traumatic events? Are the answers only in the brain? Is schizophrenia a disease, something going haywire in the brain, what about anxiety? Depression? How do such conditions relate to Lipska’s brain tumors and the effect they had on her mental state? Thirty years of studying mental illness couldn’t teach her as much as her own experience. More than anything, this memoir is eye-opening, humbling in relating what those with mental health difficulties and brain disorders live with.  It is frightening to think no one is immune. At any time, an injury, an illness, a mental disturbance could plunge our fragile mind in a state of madness. It’s easy to dismiss this brain we don’t think too much about, that does so much for us our entire lives, never imagining it could fail or trick us. We all will age, studying the brain is crucial to our health, to our very being.

I remember a law class I took in high school, meeting a lawyer who warned us against riding motorcycles because he had a client that was in a horrific wreck and suffered a brain injury. He told us, his entire personality changed, this once kind man became violent, believing he was being persecuted by everyone. What can understanding cancer, brain injuries do to help with treating dementia? Other mental illnesses? It’s important to understand the science behind the mind, what a vast universe that demands exploration. Could it help, I wonder, understand how our environment, our experiences change our brains? The mind is a mystery, as Lipska’s unraveled she was able to find the right treatment and return to herself, mind intact and with first hand knowledge to add to her years of study.

I’ve always wondered, what is it that causes the individual with mental illness to lose their grip on reality, why does a certain treatment work for one person and yet not another. Is it all the brain? How do experiences in life alter the mind, why? Is mental illness a curable disease? Is it something bigger than science? I have an uncle who has schizophrenia, it is somewhat known he used LSD during his time in Vietnam (in the army).  He also had something traumatic happen, either witnessed or was involved in. He was never the same. We always wondered, was it genetic, caused by drug use, trauma? A combination of all three? I don’t know the answers. I hope in the near future we understand mental health far better than we do today, and more that we can have compassion. Truth is, it terrifies people, it makes them uncomfortable and it’s a shame because instead of understanding what is happening in the mind, people are shunned. My son has an austism spectrum disorder, so understanding the science behind the mind has been important to me. How does it happen? When? Thinking on Autism alone, there there are so many variations, different ways stimulating the mind can help with higher functioning. As much as we know, there is still far more we don’t.

It is vital to every human being to understand the workings of the brain, we all have one, despite evidence to the contrary we sometimes see. All kidding aside, this is a fascinating memoir. Also, anyone dealing with mystery illness can relate to the struggle of trying to get the proper diagnosis.  Dr. Barbara Lipska  is highly educated, she has the means, and even for her it’s a fight to understand what is happening. Imagine the obstacles for those with little to no money and poor access to the best doctors. It’s vital we understand our own health, our needs. Demand doctors who are knowledgable in whatever disease, or mysterious illness that we suffer from. Easier  said then done, though.

A memoir about a woman who is both patient, and doctor. Interesting read.

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Secret Life of the Mind How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman

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“So different social experiences result in completely distinct brains. A caress, a word, an image- every life experience leaves a trace in the brain. “

Interesting to think that our social lives do leave traces on our brains, changing how we react, think, feel. It all matters, even the things our brains leave out, discard. This book is full of fascinating information about our minds, that glorious brain. From earlier studies about babies and the changing science behind new studies that greatly change what we thought was true, to the beauty of bilingual upbringings and how it alters the brain, everything within this book is of importance to every human being. The studies into what is good, bad, fair and unfair really express that some things could be innate. How do newborns recognize intentions so soon? How is morality formed?

Bias is a funny beast, and none of us are without it. As we are told in this book, just look at history. What about love? How much is scientific, it is pheromones alone? Not so fast. What about our decisions? How often are our choices based on instinct, and what exactly is instinct? Is it supernatural, is it our brain working faster, always a step ahead of our body? What about our beliefs in opposition with the reality we exist in? Why do we remain steadfast in our beliefs, be they positive or negative, regardless of evidence contrary to said belief? Is it our brain?

Why do we forgot horrible pain, ‘selective forgetting’, as mothers do after childbirth? Was Freud really Working in the Dark, just what is consciousness? And while I can tickle you, why can’t I tickle myself? How does our brain take in visual stimulus? I find this sentence very loaded. “In some sense, then, dreams and schizophrenia have similarities, since they both revolve around not recognizing the authorship of our own creations.” It’s an interesting comparison. We need to understand our brain, it’s as vast and mysterious as outer space. A study on a woman after a car crash, thought to be an in vegetative state brings forth provocative questions about the bigger choices to be made. How do we know someone isn’t still ‘in there’ and just can’t communicate in the usual way? What if readings show the brain is active? What does any of it mean? How much more do we have to learn? How will this effect those thought to be in vegetative states and the future decisions to be made on their behalf?

Why is sleep necessary? Is it possible to learn while sleeping? Is sleep’s only purpose to cleanse, and repair? Interesting to think our brain is still highly active when we sleep, and that during the day, “our brain frequently unmoors from reality and creates its own thoughts. We often spend a large part of the day talking to ourselves.”  All of this much like night dreaming but we are awake! Personally, I have always wondered about lucid dreaming, often doing so myself, usually when I am about to do something wonderful and realize I am dreaming, my dream tends to fall apart from there and up, and out of sleep- I awake. Comes in handy for bad dreams though!

How do substances affect us? Are the more ‘harmless’ substances really safe for the young? Read on about the experiments into cannabis. This book is one of the most informative works I have read, and I have some questions now about this gelatinous computer I carry in my noggin. Do I have the questions? Wait, is it my BRAIN with all the questions, and can the brain respond truthfully about itself? I am talking in circles. It’s crucial to understand our bodies, and the brain appears to still be the control center so why wouldn’t you be curious?

Fascinating journey into the mind/brain… the self.

Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Little, Brown and Company

 

The Inkblots Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls

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“In a twist of fate that seems too good to be true, Rorschach’s nickname in school was “Klex”, the German word for “inkblot”. Was young Blot Rorschach already tinkering with ink, his destiny foretold?” 

I remember one day in Kindergarten we took a blob of paint and created blotchy art work by folding the paper in half, most looked like moths or butterflies when we peeled open the paper. The first time I can recall mention of Ink Blots for psychological purposes, my mind went back to this day and the blots have forever interested me. What a strange way to invade the mind, and could this really tell you anything about a person’s psyche? Hit the internet, there are quizzes everywhere from the silly to serious telling you about yourself. As controversy entered the ink blots growth, I too am one of those people that wonders if  ‘  you  can really sum anyone up based on images, or questions?’ Really, as the reader sees in the book, if you live in another country can’t the images affect you differently simply because of one’s culture? The horrifying reality is tests can fail, as happened to a woman concerning the ink blots, that caused her child’s abuse to be dismissed. Used as a tool, it seems to have stood the test of time, but should we ever really rely on images or questions to determine court cases, should the findings be an absolute? The research stands, is it simply coincidence if most psychopaths see certain images and I happen to see the same thing or does it mean I have psychopathic tendencies? There is solid work and decades of research, and yet always that but pushes it’s way in.

This book focuses on the life of the Rorschach Test which outlived its creator. There are stories about the man himself and I was interested in his approach to patients. From the reading, Hermann appeared to be someone who truly wanted to heal the minds of the afflicted. There is controversy in everything that is meant to help or categorize, in anything that medicates, treats. The fact stands that nothing is full proof, but do we dismiss it altogether? The ink blot test morphed through the years as it changed hands, could that be the problem? Could the biggest problem  be that people  reviewing the test aren’t always qualified, trained to? That can be a fatal flaw. There was a time it held up, used by the military and in job hiring to weed out undesirable applicants, in trials, in abuse hearings… see it as you will, but it is an icon itself and not just in America. My thoughts are in the middle, I tend to believe that you can’t peg people that easily, I always think about what we say, what we don’t. My question is always, ‘How do you know the answers someone is giving are honest?” Sure, the counter argument is that deception is spotted by those trained to see it, and says a lot too. But can we ever really know? As with anything, it helped and it hindered. It is alive and well today and still has its uses. I enjoyed the history of Rorschach’s ink blot test’s birth and how it morphed into what it is today. Fascinating read that is well researched, I learned things I had never known about Hermann Rorschach and the ink blot test, the reasons why he chose the designs and color he did. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

Crown Publishing