A woman in her 50s looks back at the disasters and lifesaving moments amassed during the decades she has lived with bipolar disorder.
Like many adults who suffer from serious mental illness, Crockett was a college student when her previously successful coping mechanisms failed, and she ended up in her first psychiatric hospital. The next 28 years were a constant struggle to move forward with her life while suffering many setbacks, including the removal of a malignant brain tumor, which impaired her cognitive abilities and a harrowing manic episode that lasted nearly four months. As the title suggests, this pattern of falling apart, coming together and falling apart again is wearisome for both the writer and her readers, but Crockett’s straightforward tone and touches of sardonic humor reveal her dogged determination to survive “one step at a time.” The memoir opens with a brief description of the Smith River, California, ranch where she lived with her four siblings and enjoyed a “blessed childhood, like those one reads about.” One wishes Crockett had spent more time excavating her youth, for within a few pages, the anxiety and alcohol abuse of her teenage years, followed by her efforts to manage her growing mental illness, completely take over the narrative. By 21, she knew she needed help but couldn’t summon the courage to ask for it. She writes, “in my family, unless you were dying, you best kept going without a complaint.” In addition to chronicling the arrests, evictions, hospital stays, treatment centers and manic-depressive behaviors, she takes time to honor some of the people who provided relief at crucial junctures: Pete was a boyfriend whose “support made everything tolerable,” and an unnamed physical therapist helped Crockett regain the use of her arm after a suicide attempt left third-degree burns on more than 30 percent of her body. The ending is abrupt and without fanfare, but the author earns readers’ admiration.
An uneven but honest account of a life defined by mental illness.