Want to laugh? Want to cry? Want to think, "Oh my gosh, is this what it's like to be mentally ill?"
Read Kerry Augustyniak's self-published memoir, "Crooked Paths and Abandoned Borders."
It's the autobiographical account of a now 55-year-old Eugene woman who is obsessed with the concept that people as well as dogs must have their packs; emotionally attached to her psychiatrist to the point that he refuses to see her any more; devastated when a dog she had taken in to love and cherish does not thrive in its new environment; and beaten down in a job where her mental fragility became a tool for others to wield destructive power over her.
From that point of view, Augustyniak's nearly 200-page book is difficult to read -- it can seem chaotic, just as life must be living within a mind filled with anxiety, uncertainty and depression -- but it's also a triumph-of-the-human-spirit experience, because she never quite gives up and ultimately finds a way to accept herself, and life, for the good and bad it offers.
Right at the beginning of the book, in fact, whether she meant to or not, Augustyniak sums up the healthiest part of her psyche with a quote from the late comedian and actress Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live" fame:
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.
It's not that Augustyniak's life was 100 percent crisis. She married, raised talented children whom she describes as "the two coolest people I have ever met on the face of this planet," held down a job and clung to an outward semblance of normal life.
But she also lived perpetually between stability and panic, trying to hide what she thought others would not accept about her as she tried to figure out why she was not as capable as other people of coping with the ordinary world.
She and her husband of 27 years eventually separated, largely because of her problems, although they reconciled more than a year ago, as she describes in one of the poignantly humorous passages in the book:
After my husband and I had lived apart for a while, we had come to the realization that we were perfectly ill-suited for one another, not to mention each other's only and bestest friends.?... Despite all of our dysfunction, many wonderful things have taken place during the course of our lives together.
Despite years of severe anxiety and near agoraphobia, "Nobody could ever give me a real diagnosis why I was the way I was," she said. "I'm still stumbling in some ways, but writing this book has given me a voice, a story, my truth -- in some ways, I feel I wrote my way out of disaster. Before this, I felt erased, that I had no identity."
She wrote the book partly as a gift for her extended family, and those who have read it have a much greater understanding of the disabilities she has suffered from her largely undiagnosed illness, Augustyniak said.
"But I also wrote it for all the people like me who are misunderstood, ignored -- even forgotten about in institutions -- who just can't conform to life in the ways that most people can," she said. "My greatest hope is that it finds its way into the hands of people, like me, who need it."
"Crooked Paths and Abandoned Borders" is available locally at Black Sun Books and online at amazon.com.
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