A wrenching account of a difficult upbringing and a chaotic brain that will leave readers marveling at the author’s endurance.
Prairie Schooner assistant editor Montgomery (English/Bridgewater State Univ.; Leaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide, 2017, etc.) has tackled the subject of madness in poetry (Regenerate: Poems of Mad Women, 2017) and in her award-winning doctoral dissertation, which grew into this book. Portions of the book first appeared in the literary journals the Rumpus and the Normal School. The author offers a gripping picture of the real pain and suffering of someone diagnosed with chronic mental illness. Diagnosed with severe anxiety at an early age, Montgomery was serially medicated, or overmedicated, with Celexa, Xanax, Zoloft, and Buspirone; add to that some four years of talk therapy. Later, other diagnoses included PTSD and OCD. “The waiting game will continue for many years,” she writes, “as I bounce from medication to medication, searching for something that won’t injure my body so much, something that will let me off my knees.” The author’s memoir is rich with details about her troubled family, led by problematic parents who were quick to detect sprouting anxiety symptoms in their offspring and who, over the years, adopted multiple dysfunctional children. Whether by nature or nurture, Montgomery seems almost to have been doomed to an existence marked by mental illness. Her revelations about her own experiences lead to discussions of how thinking about mental illness has evolved. She offers a brief look at the expansion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some history of the treatment of females, once labeled with hysteria and thought to be suffering from wandering wombs, and a discussion of once-used asylums. The author is clearly concerned with how anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental disorders have been—and are currently—regarded in our culture.
While some readers may view this account as too raw and self-obsessive, it stands as a vivid depiction of mental illness.