The Book of Help: A Memoir in Remedies by Megan Griswold

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It’s said when doing anything, a nearly alchemical  event happens right around the ten- thousand- hour mark- you become an expert of sorts. So I suppose, in an unintentional way, I will declare myself an expert searcher.

There is no doubt in my mind that Megan Griswold is an expert in searching for remedies of body, mind, soul and heart. This isn’t your usual run of the mill self-help book eater, nor a woman suddenly entering some spiritual awakening. Megan was born to it, with parents who were Christian Scientists who called their practitioners for ‘treatments’, not doctors over their ailments. Her father David was born to the religion, her mother Joyce a ‘newbie’ and believer, attributing curing her ulcerative colitis to Christian Science. Little did they know their daughter would spend her life doing her own searching, spiritual and mental work. Not all things are transcendental, want to be holier than thou, the universe will test you! Test her it does, especially when it comes to her husband. Let’s not jump ahead, but then again she did attend the About Sex seminar at the age of 14, before she had even kissed a boy. Is it so surprising when she falls in love with Tim, her ‘well-meaning, well–mannered puzzle’? Someone she can probe, explore, dissect?

Is Megan stripped physically and emotionally digging through all the muck of her being sometimes? Sure. Does she ingest weird or toxic substances for spiritual practice? Well, do you consider gulping Hoasca risky? It’s tea, okay? Sure, she may purge her insides and as she says ‘imagine what it would be like to completely fall apart’ and there is your glimpse into the tea’s spiritual enlightening.  She may be eager to try any religious/spiritual experience on for size but certainly Megan doesn’t ‘dabble’ in therapies, not like so many other people. She doesn’t half-ass anything!

This memoir isn’t all hilarity, in fact there are some very serious family and relationship issues here within. These are not the usual ‘wow my spouse leaves the toilet dispenser empty’ issues either, these are spiritual dilemmas. Her own father can sometimes downright infuriate the reader with his arrogant spiritual blindness. “If I don’t see it, it’s not real.” Oh, if only life were like that… There is a tenderness towards the end of the novel, everything that happens with her mother’s health. I felt myself getting weepy. Yes, Megan therapist shops, and is game for any spiritual practice, training, self-help geared towards evolvement but truly it’s not just about getting to know herself. Somehow she comes away with a better understanding of those she loves. Maybe her search slows, but let’s face it, there will always be room for improvement.

It gets messy, and admittedly embarrassingly ugly but whether methods are tried and true or a complete fraud, she gives it her all and we get to ride her karmic bus as tourists. Add this to your memoir list, out 2019!

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Crown Publishing

 

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In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong

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“To handle the horrors we must deal with on a daily basis, many in law enforcement become hardened and compartmentalize their emotions, which has its own deleterious effects. I was not able to do that, nor could I stand at a clinical distance and rely on some technique or one-sixe-fits-all theory of criminality and remain untouched by the horrors I saw.”

During his 30 year career working as a FBI agent, Jeff Rinek witnessed the most vile crimes against children from sexual abuse, torture, abduction, murder and child abuse, sometimes from their family members. I had to read this book in parts, human depravity is beyond belief at times and I had the option of putting it down until I could catch my breath, Rinek and other’s in his line of work don’t have that privilege. I have the utmost respect for the brave men and women that work in this particular field. Not many have the stomach for it, and it isn’t surprising that the work he has done has stayed with him, for how could it not?  This is the stuff of nightmares, but Rinek isn’t writing in the vein of sensationalism. This is a man who has kept every victim and their families within his heart, everything he has experienced has touched his own wife and children. Jeff shares not only the horrific cases he has helped solve, but the troubling ways it effected his family life. How could he not be overwhelming concerned for the safety of his own sons, having seen the darkness that befell so many innocent children? How could he sleep peacefully at night with the images of crime scenes floating in his mind, just as horrible the confessions of child molesters and serial killers thundering in his ears? It’s impossible to truly separate the two worlds.

Jeff Rinek had a way about him that made the criminals feel comfortable enough to confess, I think it is most evident in his dealings with Cary Stayner. Not many could keep their emotions in check enough to empathize with someone who has committed monstrous acts. I know when we label something evil or monstrous it makes it impossible to understand how someone can commit such atrocities and maybe prevent them, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Without his ability to reach into whatever humanity resides in the criminal, we may never know the truth. It is important to be able to understand the psyche of man as much as we can, whether we’re repulsed or not. It matters to the victim’s family, particularly when bodies are missing. Maybe there is truly no such thing as closure, maybe the ‘knowing’ is more horrifying than what the mind can imagine, but living without answers is to be further victimized.

In reading about these tragic, horrifying crimes, it made me think about why it is so important for people to report crimes that happen to them, or things they witness that don’t sit well within them. Nothing truly happens in a bubble, and often in abusive relationships, be they physical or sexual, often men or women go further in victimizing others, especially children (the most helpless and vulnerable of us all). The hard truth is, if someone has harmed you, you aren’t the first, nor likely to be the last. One of the most shocking realities is how often child molestation is enabled by other adults, such as wives. I’m not surprised children don’t come forward more often, the feelings of shame involved, the stigma boys in particular (especially as they become adults) are met with in coming foreward about sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I’m reading another book right now about Evil, it’s more from a  psychological standpoint, but when I read true crime books, or listen to a victim recount their harrowing experiences it is damn hard to want to understand the psyche of criminals. How do you remain removed from cases, its human nature to empathize, particuarly being a mother or father yourself. Of course seeing the body of a child that has been defiled in every way imaginable one would think of their own son or daughter, fear would be rooted inside your being. Rinek dealt with the worst of human nature, how could he not imagine the worse if a phone line home is busy, or his child doesn’t get off his bus?

The violence, ritualized sexual abuse, physical, and mental trauma, torture the children suffered under the ‘religion’ Allen Harrod (their own father) started is as hard to stomach as every story within yet it is with the tenderest of care Rinek, along with others, helped the children find their strength to seek justice and have kept watch over the children long after the case ended. The bravery of Harrod’s eldest daughter in coming forward is incredible, though shocking that it took her going through three different police agencies to get anyone to look into the matter. Without her, who knows how long Harrod and Labrecque’s crimes would have continued, under the guise of religion. Much like the people involved in seeing justice served, it’s gut wrenching to know the truth of how the children suffered, but worse to imagine being the children involved. Human depravity is boundless but it’s knowing the children (their victims) will carry not just physical evidence of their nightmare for the rest of their lives, but have to cope with PTSD, have to navigate the world without an example of healthy family relationships, and in a sense deprogram from what for them was ‘normal’  that remains with you long after reading their story. That these things happen in our so-called ‘modern times’ is worse than any fictional horror I can conjure. You don’t have to be close to the case to feel the frustration and anger at the justice system, how easy it seems for criminals to continue their abuse once captured, still victimizing everyone involved through ‘legal manipulation.’ Then there is the game of going to trial. Evidence is a peculiar thing, what is left out as to not ‘prejudice the jury against the defendant.’ Ridiculous in many cases, such as pictures of adults raping children in this situation shouldn’t it be admissible, doesn’t the victim deserve to see justice served? It’s one thing to hear it, but when there are photos to back the child’s confession, well? Statute of limitations is infuriating in and of itself, if a child comes into adulthood and finally has the ability to seek help, to expose the abuser only to find out they can’t be charged anymore, how is that just? Something is certainly broken. It’s hard not to feel like children don’t matter enough, it certainly feels like criminals often get a slap on the wrist, are released only to commit even more gruesome crimes. But I feel heartened that men and women like Rinek work hard for them, it seems to even the balance, at least a little.

Retired now, Rinek remains just as passionate about making the world a safer place for children and for us all, as he did when he was working full-time. He has remained in contact with the children victimized by Harrod and Labrecque. It is obvious his job was his life, and he is the sort of agent the world needs, someone who puts all of his being into solving crimes, and caring for the victims. It’s hard to review this type of memoir, because it comes from a deeply personal part of Rinek’s life. It’s enough to say that if you can’t even read it, because it’s our natural instinct to close our ears and eyes to terrors, imagine how the victim’s loved ones feel, how the men and women in law enforcement have to go home every night with the knowledge of such horrors branded in their minds. It’s important to be a voice for those who have been silenced, and to see those who have harmed children caught, so they can’t leave more families destroyed.

This truly is an unflinching look into the life of FBI Special Agent Jeff Rinek and how his job effected every facet of his life.

Out today!

BenBella Books

 

To the Moon and Back A Childhood Under the Influence by Lisa Kohn

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At first I had no idea that anything was wrong with my childhood.

I have a vague memory as a very young child and a newscast of a lot of people marrying one another (strangers to each other) in Madison Square Garden, and my parents mumbling something about it being ‘crazy’. I was a kid, dazzled by the many brides so when reading this memoir about the Unification Church (which some still call the Moonies and consider a cult) it clicked that this is the group from that long ago newscast. People often talk of Bohemian childhoods, but Lisa’s far surpasses many ‘hippie’ stories, her parents were free spirits that ‘stuck out’ even among those of their generation. Sure, she watched Jefferson Airplane in central park but her childhood was anything but carefree and charmed. “Mimi had tried on religions and movements like some women try on clothes.” Mimi, her mother, falls under the spell of Father ( Reverend Moon)- not her real father Danny (whom isn’t one for the label father anyway) when hearing him speak she found her purpose in life. Her children are dragged along by her passion for the religion.

When her parents first met, her mother was a straight A student, daughter of a judge while her father, Danny was ‘the beatnik son of socialist intellectualists’. Rushing headfirst into marriage the summer they were out of highschool, having children, her father attending college for a time, their marriage didn’t last long and her parents divorced. Danny moved to New York while Lisa, her mother Mimi and brother Robbie lived in New Jersey.  Her father, a bartender and partaker of serious drugs had always been ‘anti-establishment’, and certainly isn’t able to provide stability anymore than her mother who is swallowed by the Church. A mother who once made the children suffer through micro-biotic diets, sugar-free living, a tv-less existence, an abusive boyfriend and whatever new fad caught her attention now pushes her children away to devote her entire being to the cause of Reverend Moon. While her mother needed to find truth and meaning, and their father came and went with the wind, Lisa and her brother relied on themselves confused by the differences in their parents lifestyles, slowly becoming aware just how strange their lives, their parents were in comparison to their peers.

“These were the beliefs that wrapped themselves like creeping vines around my mind as I grew up- during my most formative preadolescent and adolescent years- always clasping tighter and holding my life, my soul, and my sense of self together.” Lisa becomes just as enraptured as her mother, she learns to share the love and sell the ideas of the church on strangers, and friends alike. Love-bombing people with the hopes they will join, not exactly appealing to fellow students. Lisa and her brother Robbie fall in love with the positive energy and the always smiling fellow moonies. It isn’t long before they become close to the ‘True Children’, top of the hierarchy. The church becomes more their ‘real life’ than school and home, soon their mother is no longer living with them, her devotion solely to the church-  her ‘calling’. Living with their grandfather “Pop”, she begins to shoulder adult responsibilities. Rather than feeling anger towards her mom, she just assures herself that it’s an important sacrifice her mother has to make, and Lisa should feel proud. Easier said than done.

When her Pop is admitted to a psych hospital it is Danny’s turn to house Lisa and her brother. Danny’s lifestyle is loud, carefree, filled with late hours, crazy wild friends and there is little chance of him putting his partying ways and drug abuse aside. He is as passionate about coccaine as her mother is about Reverend Moon and his teachings. Living with their mother, not an option, Lisa is unwanted. Her ‘puritanical’ church beliefs begin to collide with her peers, who are more interested in skipping school and experimenting with drugs, sex, all things forbidden youth loves to flirt with. Danny’s way of life too is antithesis to the Church of Unification’s values, exposing his children to everything the church reviles.

As time goes on, her mother moves often and seems to drift further from her children. As Lisa comes of age, she becomes a groupie, discovers she and her brother are banished  (considered impure) for a time, and begins to question this church she once felt devoted to with all her being. Then there is Stuart, and first love. Her life is in turmoil -just what does she believe in? Church rules change, now she can’t even be with True Children, due to Reverend Moon’s latest decree, because people like her are a ‘satanic influence’. She begins to experience new forbidden things away from the church. Drinking, dancing, parties, boys and eventually Cornel. She begins to crack. It takes years, but she begins to emerge from her difficult childhood and the influence of both her parents and the church. While suffering with an eating disorder she proves even her therapist wrong with her pregnancy, already trying her best to be a better mother than her own. Finding that with her first-born child, old fears rise. A life spent distancing herself from her past involvement with the church comes full circle in the last chapter, Reunion.

I was thinking about the whole ‘cult/church’ aspect and thought ‘really families themselves are a little like cults’. What family is without its strange habits or demands? What family doesn’t warp the mind a little of each member? Now add an actual cult (outside influences) to your own family chaos and you can imagine Lisa’s struggle. If we spend our adulthood recovering from our families and childhood, how does one manage to recover from life in an actual cult? How does a woman learn to be a solid, present mother and wife?

This is a first person account of a life inside a cult, or church, depending on who you ask! Facing pain, rejection, abandonment, the confusing chaos of two parents who are equally destructive forces in her childhood, Lisa Koon somehow creates a stable, healthy beautiful life out of the ashes of her childhood.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Heliotrope Books

The Cost of Living: A Working Authobiography by Deborah Levy

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Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

The task is still mostly perceived as women’s work.

There is a lot to chew on in this short ‘Working Autobiography’ by Deborah Levy. Thinking about the pressing weight of not just the roles women are forced to play but of the love we carry and let alter us, sometimes reducing, sometimes expanding isn’t an easy bone to chew on. Levy is leaving her marriage, a common enough occurrence in our modern times, but no less than death of the familiar. She must become someone separate from who she was.  It is hours of intimacy with powerful thoughts and feelings. Sharing the story about a woman whose husband never looks at her, Levy is able to imagine the many things it can mean but be sure, it is one of the most awful cruelties a woman can suffer, especially since it doesn’t appear as violent as it feels. How do myths play a part in the structure of a woman’s life? Even at our strongest, we cave.

There are those who will cut a woman down at the knees, to keep her from rising too high, from ‘eclipsing’ men. What can you do with yourself if I refuse to see you? How is a woman to become when she is too busy reducing herself as not to become too much? Thinking about the Medusa Myth Levy brings up, I had stray thoughts about women who ‘talk to much’, the ‘big mouth bitches’. Being an audience for rowdy men coming of age when I did, I always remember incidents when a woman was dismissed with those ugly labels. It was always ridiculous to me, even when I was too young to really comprehend gender issues, that the loudest man in the room could call anyone a big mouth simply for having thoughts and opinions, or for daring to disagree with him. There is no bigger insult than being dismissed, reduced to a joke. Love doesn’t ask you to hide, to dilute yourself. I don’t think that women, as a whole, feel nearly as threatened by their partners success. No, they’re too busy feeling ashamed for feeling proud of their accomplishments, as if they’re stealing thunder, as if there isn’t enough to go around. Maybe these things change with each generation, but that Simone de Beauvoir’s voice makes as much sense today as it did then tells me things aren’t as progressive as we think.

The tender moment she shares with us about her dying mother was my undoing. Our mothers truly are a mystery and as much as we love them, it’s hard to allow them room for a self separate from the nurturer we always expect to show up. Not even if we become mothers ourselves. Our mothers are gravity. Children get jealous if their mother’s attention is divided, it’s a funny thing. Husbands too. We forgive them nothing, though we are kinder to our father’s, I believe we feel safer to be ourselves with our mothers. We hold them to impossible standards, and we don’t want them to be more than what we need them to be. Being a woman is an exhausting endeavour, it is not for the cowardly.

The topic of language, about expressing ourselves, how healthy it is, I always wonder about writers, that maybe we have this irrepressible need to scream with written words. I also wonder what all our mothers would have shouted if they all lifted a pen and were able to release their inner lives. Such work is all consuming selfishness though isn’t it, if you’re a woman?

“Sometimes we want to unbelong as much as we want to belong.” That’s a loaded sentence, in order to discover who we are we rage against what we don’t want to be. I am not this, I am not that, and I may not know what I am but I know what I’m not at least. I know my thoughts are splitting in many directions but that’s the type of book this is. There are so many questions no one asks of us that we so badly need to answer. Oh and how about “Things I Don’t Want to Know” of which the older we get, there are plenty! Well, I’ll take my mind, overcrowded with thoughts, brimming over with things I don’t want to know, that I can’t unknow and try to sleep.

This is an intelligent work and I wish it were longer.

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Bloomsbury USA

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.

Available Now

FriesenPress

Last Trip Home: A Memoir by Wanda Maureen Miller

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I buried Daddy on Christmas Eve in Arkansas. Even in death, he was inconsiderate.

Grace Marie grew up in poverty, where men dominated through brutal abuse (verbal, physical, and sexual to name a few). Men wearing women down so much they aged before their years, evident in the lined falling faces of her mother, grandmother, aunts. Grace’s father in particular crossed the line with his groping and ‘teasing’ as she was coming of age. In order to escape the curse of the women in her family, such a long-suffering line full of nervousness and ‘female shame’, she marries young. As with all the things we grab when we’re drowning, little did she imagine it would bring her right back to the place she hoped to escape and suffocate her. Racism has its grip in her town, too young to understand the slurs and hatred it’s no surprise her first marriage and attempt to escape is with a member of the Klan. But that is all to come later.

Living in small homes with absolutely no privacy, it was normal for her to listen to the grunts and groans of her parents nightly intimacies. Bathing with a complete lack of privacy isn’t so alarming when you’re little and haven’t developed but when you are becoming a young woman and your father is turning lecherous, it is downright shameful. Being poor isn’t a thing you’re much aware of when everyone else around you is poor too. But there are things, soul deep wrongs, that one can feel are unnatural. Why doesn’t her mother protect her? Things were different before Daddy came home from the war, but with him came all the darkness that would surround her life and settle in her spine long after she fought for her education and found a way to rise above her hardscrabble beginnings.

Her father had secrets, as it seems her entire extended family did. Murder, mental illness, sexual abuse, mysterious children, there is more she didn’t know about her parents than she knew. The sexualized behavior between her parents seemed more a way to demean her mother in front of the children. Women did not stand up to their men, in fact, her dad is such a threatening presence that no one did, not even strapping local men and extended family. Fathers should protect their children, clothe and feed them, funny that the dark woods surrounding their home, which would terrify even grown adults, is less a fright than the ever looming threat of her dad. “When he was in the house, he dominated every room.” You can’t really comprehend the gut sick terror of living with an abuser, the way children cave into themselves for fear of being hit, or touched. Walking on eggshells, afraid to disturb the beast and even at your perfect behavior , you know the peace and quiet cannot be trusted and won’t last long.

Naturally, as Grace and her siblings come of age they are humiliated by the antics of their father, the hardest part for them about growing up is the awareness of their family dysfunction. His lecherous teasing even chases Grace’s friends away. As the violence escalates, she loses her brother Joe Buck in the mayhem. For many years, he is unable to return to the land that belongs to them, missing even their mother’s funeral. Her younger sister Violet was born with difficulties, ridiculed by her siblings and later at school, Grace is both sympathetic and ashamed of her. It certainly wasn’t a time kind to children with learning difficulties or physical handicaps, much worse within an abusive family structure. It’s hard to imagine she ever stood a chance to become anything more than she did. There is an incident when Violet is trying to spell Cat, and it gutted me, it is such a disturbing, disgusting reaction, so much rage over her inability to ‘learn.’ Sorry to say this happened back in the day often, and I know there are children today who suffer such violence. Not every child with a disability is born to loving parents. If it’s hard to read, imagine Violet’s suffering because no amount of shrinking into herself can make the bad man go away, she couldn’t close a book like we can. Imagine what it does to the siblings witnessing it. It got me to thinking about the damage dysfunctional families do, whether you are the object of abuse or not, witnessing it is horrifying, there is guilt in that you can’t do anything to stop it. Resentment that her difference causes such disruption in the household, inspires rage in their father and absolute horror and shame that Grace felt resentment for her sister, who she also loved.

It seems nothing short of a miracle that Grace was able to gather enough spirit and strength to make a good life for herself, and a successful one as a college professor. The Last Trip Home never really happens, because you carry your home inside of you forever. Old wounds heal, scar over but they are still tender. No one can give her back the years of lost innocence, no one can rewind time and give the siblings happy surroundings so their bonds can strengthen, so that Violet can get all the education and support she too needed. That is the brutality of family dysfunction! It is lives beneath your skin, in your bones, at the base of your spine. A person can heal, can build a beautiful future, but the scattered bones of your haunted past is always present.

I was thinking about how young girls feel as they are going through puberty, all those changes to our bodies that we can’t hide. How it’s awful enough, the way men’s gazes change, the sudden sexualization of your body when your mind has yet to catch up, and the lines that blur between what is appropriate and what isn’t. There are humiliations you can’t quite accuse people of committing, inappropriate jokes or touches (that too long hug, that slide of a hand across your chest, oops) all the stuff everyone laughs off. The lecherous perusal from strangers far too old to be gazing on a girls young body like that, fear of walking past a group of rowdy men, this is the world for girls. It’s horrific enough coping with the threat of strangers, I cannot fathom it coming from your own father. I wanted so badly to save Grace, but she could only save herself.

There are racial slurs in the memoir, of course there are, and as uncomfortable as it is to read, imagine not understanding the scope of hatred from the exposed child’s perspective. Children learn to mimic their parents, learn right from wrong, how to speak, how to navigate the world. The child didn’t give birth to racial slurs, that is taught at home.  Grace doesn’t feel the same as her family,  nor her first husband, with their vile racism. Living with that hatred is abuse, it is forced upon you day after day. There is a violence in bigotry, prejudice that she cannot hide from. It strips a child of dignity, to be force-fed hate, it is against the tender nature so many of us are born with. We feel it when something isn’t right, and Grace certainly doesn’t understand why her father demeans those with different colored skin, knowing what she observes is in direct opposition with the constant accusations her father makes against the black community. Mark my words, children who grow up in racist households don’t always fall into line with prejudice. Thank God for that. It’s abuse of a child as much as everything else that befalls Grace and her siblings.

Her mother, through Grace we learn why she didn’t do more. It makes sense, there ia a circle of abuse. We don’t accidentally choose damaged people, history loves to repeat itself, and patterns of abuse continue. How do you recognize normal when you see it if you’ve never had it? It’s hard to accept tenderness if you’re offered it, when all you’ve known is hard living and meanness. It’s not a mystery to me why people self-sabotage, even in trying to escape brutality. Better the devil you know. Kindness is as painful as abuse, because how do you trust it? It was never meant for you, you’re nothing.

I love that Grace isn’t feeling tender and forgiving at the start of the memoir. People have a tendency to think kindly of those who have passed on, as if in death they are suddenly saintly. You think, ‘Wow, that’s harsh,” until you read the history of her upbringing, boy how fast your thirst for forgiveness disappears. Hard to stomach, but an engaging read.

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

She Writes Press

 

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