Let me start with, Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis, by Tara Meissner, isn’t a book I might have read if it wasn’t for the interesting, intriguing, and thought-provoking teaser WOW included when looking for bloggers to review Tara’s book. I’m glad I decided to both read and review this book. In true Lisa form, I’ll be honest and pray this encourages you to step out sometimes to read something out of your typical genre…you never know.
Do you know what “psychosis” is? I wasn’t sure but the first thing I thought of was, “craziness” or “losing one’s mind” but I wasn’t sure. I learned early in Tara’s book, psychosis is the new terminology for “mental breakdown”. Similar to the education field, names change but the definitions remain the same. In school I studied English, Reading, and Writing, but today this is called the ELA block. Tomatoe, tomato – no matter how you pronounce it or call it – they both mean the same. Tara’s intimate, honest, and intense memoir taught me about psychosis and illuminated things we might be missing in our educational duties.
I enjoy doing book reviews for a few reasons. First and foremost, it allows me to receive a complimentary copy of a book on my “to-read” list, whether in PDF, Kindle, or print version. Sometimes, it offers the opportunity to connect with other authors personally. And finally, it allows me to do two things I enjoy greatly – to read and write. Bloggers are reading the same book yet we get to share it with our readers, highlighting different aspects that speak to us and/or we think you, our readers, would enjoy learning more about. So with this said, here’s my review and an aspect the author may not have intended but that spoke to me.
In the first dozen pages, Tara captured my attention to create a desire to finish the book and learn from her experience. Tara writes, “The matter that forced a break was intangible. My mind, adapting in its own large, grey blob of substance, separated ever so slightly over time until it formed a chasm between sanity and insanity.” Mind you, she doesn’t focus on or actually delve into the actual breakdown within these pages yet she shares a part of her life that spoke to my educator’s heart. It was in the pages that followed this statement that brought tears to my eyes.
Read a snip-it about Tara’s recollections of school:
“In Kindergarten, I felt slighted by getting the wrong teacher…One day I hit and kicked a classmate…by first grade, I was enrolled in special education classes…by third grade, I was pulled from classes to meet with a guidance counselor. These meetings were my first structured intervention to my ‘behavior’ problems…my reports were filled with negative remarks both in conduct and coursework. My parents were told I rushed through my work, I was sloppy, and didn’t care. I didn’t think that was true…I thought I was trying but couldn’t master the precision required to form the bellies of the letters B, P, and lower case g. The fluid connection of the letter from one to the other was another area of struggle;
As Tara progressed into high school, she described ninth and tenth grade as “uneventful” but then the summer before her Junior year, things took a turn. As most of our parents told us, be careful of the company we keep. Tara graduated from high school, went to college, and dropped out of college. Ashamed, she enlisted in the Armed Forces, only to be kicked out due to being one pound over the limit. One pound that transferred into more failure and increased low self-esteem. After time curled in bed without a shower, Tara’s Dad snapped her back to reality after a drive. Tara took a job at a local yarn spinning factory for a while, she writes, “The idea that I would one day spin stories that others would read kept me going.” In the midst of depression and feeling as if life wasn’t in her favor, Tara still was setting goals and looking to the future, even if she didn’t realize it. I wish I could tell you Tara’s life transformed at this point but it didn’t.
A single mother, living at home with her parents, and hopeless but then she meets Mike, he is her night in shining armor. Her rock. Her protector. After married, they had two children together and the five were family. While Tara worked at the paper and managed raising three boys and caring for her husband, she slowly slipped into manic behaviors. “People who knew me could see the disease more clearly than I could see it in myself. Throughout life, I pushed evidence of insanity beneath the surface, hiding it from view and recognition. I cherished my companion, Denial. A colleague at the newspaper once summed it up nicely: ‘That Tara, she’s a great bunch of gals,’ Neil had said.”
Eventually her body couldn’t deny the reality and Tara experienced such manic psychosis, her husband was forced to admit her to a psychiatric ward. Tara fought the admittance at first but then, “I surrendered to what I now know was psychosis and let it take its course. But really, I had no choice but to abandon life and pray that I would be okay. There was little sign of earth any longer. I was detached from my body, harshly, to a foreign place vaguely logical based on distortions of Christian teachings. I was ensnared alone in a world that didn’t exist outside my mind. These events were so absurd, my husband was inadequately prepared to catch me as he and my children witnessed a woman – who looked very much like the wife and mother they loved – acting like possessed. I later learned my eyes were unfocused, dancing wildly.”
Satan used Tara’s faith and fears against her, “It is all part of my plan,” Jesus assured me. “You are not alone,” I was told. “In fact, all the Taras are facing this choice tonight, and each of them has a number in my plan.” The statement made by a coworker about her multiple personalities sunk into her subconscious and left a foothold for the devil to sneak in and infiltrate with lies. This is my understanding from reading, other readers (and Tara) may view this differently yet this is what I interpreted.
After returning home from the psychiatric ward, Tara writes, “The doctors couldn’t tell him how long I’d be gone. They had no way of knowing when the medication would start to work and restore sanity, and they had no way of knowing if I could recover. Like treating a fever, it could spike and worsen or subside and vanish. I was lucky. My psychosis lasted just five days. However, I would later learn the mania, which had spiraled to psychosis, continued to seep into the days and weeks and months following my release from the hospital. I would discover that mania was not always the heightened sense of joy or series of compulsive shopping sprees that you usually hear about from the media. In my case, mania was destructive and frightening…I had accepted the idea that I would always be plagued with melancholy and that I could find some relief with medication…None of that explained my most recent, so-called psychosis and new diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I was an invalid, whose self had been destroyed by insanity. Sanity, I believed, was a state within my control. I was irritated that I needed medical treatment to be able to handle life cheerfully. I didn’t see the events that had occurred as necessarily medical, but rather weakness…”
Read how Tara describes going to the variety of mental health doctors, “Going to see Dr. Burbach was like going to a doctor and pulling down my pants. But rather than donning a gown and physically revealing myself to him, I sat on a corner of his couch and answered his questions. He poked and probed at the innermost thoughts tucked in my brain. Still fragile, I continued to get headaches. I felt a physical expansion and contraction of my spilled brain matter…And I, like many, was conditioned to believe mental health was a pseudo-science. No one wants to admit they have a mental health condition. Especially one as feared as bipolar. The stigma surrounding it was and is too great, despite the fact that it affects 2.7 million Americans.”
At a conference, Tara fixes herself a plate at the buffet and after going through the buffet line, grabbing her plate of food and utensils – upon entering the dining room realizes the food hadn’t been served yet – embarrassed, one woman, Amanda invited her to sit near her and encouraged her not worry about it; Amanda was part of the local writer’s group in her area – this connected Tara to the “writer’s” support group she needed; “Days, from then on, included at least an hour of writing. Bit by bit, or bird by bird, I wrote. I believed the final product would become a memoir. I thought it could have value, because mental health memoirs were too often told from the perspective of a family member or celebrity, leaving the story of the afflicted up to a reader’s imagination. I thought I had something to add to the conversation of mental illness, and I wanted there to be a dialogue.” This reminded me of my heart to write Where’s Heidi? One Sister’s Journey, to help others grieving the loss of a sibling. Motivated to write to help others and share a firsthand experience others might experience yet will know someone dealing with the issue.
As Tara works through recover, “Recovery hadn’t been a straight line, but I surrendered to the process and it seemed to be working. In order to beat the beast, one must acknowledge the beast exists. In that moment, I gave up the weak belief that I wasn’t a person living with bipolar. I knew I was, and I was ready to really apply the therapy that accompanied those constant doses of medication…The peek-a-boo tricks of mental illness kept taunting me, tempting me back to the fantasy land. At the same time, the medications, medical psychologists and psychiatrists, and my family kept tugging me further into a place of sound mind. For every grain of sanity I collected, insanity would come back knocking at the door, inviting to take me under again.”
I’ll let Tara summarize for me:
“I thought I almost died during the psychotic break. I wasn’t really dying, but I held the belief that I was for some time. The only thing that kept me going was the idea that God needed me here on earth for some reason. I dabbled with the idea that maybe I was supposed to write this book, to help people understand what mental illness was like…I was a writer. I wrote to hold a fleeting piece of truth; I wrote with honesty. I wrote in exchange for an income. On good days, of which there were more lately, I believed writing was my vocation. Mike (Tara’s husband) supported this, both as the breadwinner and as the gentle encourager…When I decided to genuinely call my illness bipolar and accept the lifelong treatment set forth by my doctors, I achieved balance and sustainable productivity in my life…”
At the end of the visit, Dr. Burbach made a list of things that helped my prognosis:
*Absence of drugs and alcohol abuse
*Absence of legal problems
“The psychosis and the path from there to wellness were just a place I once visited. It was a place I left behind as I returned to the person I always was, only different. I was stronger, less vulnerable, and more confident. Taken out of the context of a life sentence, I placed the breakdown in a chapter of life that has ended. It is not a cross that I bear that weighs me down. The breakdown was a turning point that set me free.”
I apologize for the length of this blog but then I don’t. My recommendation, if you have a friend or relative that suffers with psychosis…read this book. If you suffer with psychosis personally, read the book because you are not alone. One of Tara’s greatest strengths that shines in this memoir, she advocates for her own illness and shares with others to help remove the taboo from mental diseases.
Do you remember in the beginning I wrote about the effect it had on me as an educator? Reread the first paragraph again, after seeing Tara’s transformation. One of the reasons Tara overcame the psychosis and is living a successful life was her ability to follow the plan set forth. This included a supportive family, job skills, and spirituality. As an educator I could see faces of past students that might have similar notes in their files but to no fault of their own, lack one or all of the necessary aspects to overcome a mental illness.
There are two ways to look at this, you can say, “It’s out of our hands, nothing we can do.” OR change the way we (school staff) think to be purposeful, thoughtful, encouraging, and forward thinkers instead of road blocks for the children in our schools. We can’t change home but we can be the one to say, “You are going places!” “You will be a great ___ when you grow up. Never give up.” And teachers can change their written comments to reflect potential rather than faults just in case one of these statements is the life changing moment for a student. I can’t help to think, if Tara looked back and remembered even one teacher writing or saying, “Tara has a lot of energy and has great ideas. I look forward to how she will channel them into the next great American novel.” Just a thought.
Way to go Tara, I’m glad I read the book.
Ways to Follow Tara
Twitter hashtag: #SFracMeissner
Blog Tour Dates
Monday, September 28 (today!) @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway! http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
Tuesday, September 30 @ The Lit Ladies
Join Tara Meissner as she guest blogs about "What Makes Someone a Writer" as she visits the lovely Lit Ladies today! Tara has also provided a giveaway copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis for one lucky winner today!
Wednesday, October 1 @ Choices
Join Tara Meissner as she talks about "BiPolar and the Creativity Link Myth" and shares information about her memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://madeline40.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, October 1 @ Lisa Haselton
Join Lisa Haselton as she interviews the courageous writer Tara Meissner about Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. Tara has graciously provided an ebook copy for one lucky giveaway winner. This is a blog stop you won't want to miss! http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/
Thursday, October 2 @ All Things Audry
Tara Meissner visits with Audry Fryer of All Things Audry and Tara gives her thoughts on the recent death of Robin Williams. Tara has also offered an ebook copy of her Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis for one lucky winner of the giveaway! Good luck! http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/
Friday, October 3 @ Sherrey Meyer
"Being a Mom with BiPolar" is today's subject as author and memoir writer Tara Meissner visits with Sherrey Meyer. Tara has also graciously offered a copy of her recently released Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosisto one lucky winner of today's giveaway. Good luck and enjoy! http://sherreymeyer.com/author/sherreya/
Monday, October 6 @ Franciscan Mom
Join Tara Meissner as she stops by Franciscan mom with a guest post titled "Accepting Bipolar and Finding Grace" and offers a giveaway of her honest and touching memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://franciscanmom.com/
Tuesday, October 7 @ Create Write Now
Join Tara Meissner at Mary McCarthy's Create Write Now as Tara discusses "I Knew I Was a Writer When..." and learn more about Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://www.createwritenow.com/
Wednesday, October 8 @ Jerry Waxler
Read what fellow author and memoir writer Jerry Waxler has to say after reading Tara Meisner's recently releasedStress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://www.jerrywaxler.com/
Thursday, October 9 @ Lauren Scharhag
Join Tara Meissner as a guest author on Lauren Scharhag's blog talking about "The Stigma of BiPolar" and get in on the giveaway for Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://laurenscharhag.blogspot.com/
Friday, October 10 @ Romance Junkies
Join Tara Meissner as she stops at Romance Junkies for an insightful interview about herself and her Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://www.romancejunkies.com/rjblog/
Tuesday, October 14 @ Bring on Lemons
Tara Meissner stops by to chat with WOW!'s own Crystal Otto as she shares her thoughts on "Bipolar and Living Well" and offers readers an opportunity to win a copy of her memoir through a giveaway. Don't miss your chance to hear from Tara and take home a copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, October 15 @ CMash Reads
Join author Tara Meisner as she discusses "Creating Time to Create" with a visit to CMash Reads. Read Tara's thoughts and find out more about her recently released memoir Stress Fracture: a Memoir of Psychosis. http://cmashlovestoread.com/
Keep up with blog stops and giveaways in real time by following us on Twitter @WOWBlogTour.
Will you welcome Tara to the blog today?
Lisa M Buske
P.O. Box 323