Thursday, May 7, 2009

Life Is Like a Line by Cynthia Sabotka - 336 pgs

Book CoverFrom the early years of her childhood, Cynthia Sabotka struggled with witnessing her parents' tumultuous arguments and contention. As she spent her formative years hiding from the screaming and discontent, she didn't realize that under it all lurked a mood disorder much like her mother's. Through her adolescence and young adult years, she opted to shut out these unfriendly feelings through the use of drugs and alcohol. Although that worked for a time, it was not the cure she had been hoping for, and eventually she left those things behind. As an adult, she struggled with mania and depression at unbelievable levels, but thought that her mindset was the result of severe stress and the anguish of losing her father. But the mental struggles never got better. Cynthia began to exhibit increasingly dangerous behavior along with crippling depression, despair, anxiety, fear and manic episodes of such great height that she felt as though no one could possibly relate to or understand her. As Cynthia's life continued to march forward in confusion, thestressors became more than she could handle, and she began to seek professional help. Initially, the doctor had trouble reading the writing on the wall, and help was not the immediate fix she hoped for. But as she began to open up and do research, Cynthia and her doctor learned the truth of her situation. Cynthia was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began treatment, with several bumps along the way. As she describes her mental and physical reaction towards the diagnosis and the chemicals used to treat it, she begins to find the self that she once lost, and learns that living with the label "manic depressive" encompasses so much more than she ever could imagine. Written with courage and insight, this memoir of one woman's life through mental illness shines a light on the many who are afflicted, yet hidden in silence.

This book captured the plight of individual with mental illness incredibly well. It is not a life of sunshine and roses, and I felt that the author really managed to convey the sense of loss, anger and confusion in a way that almost anyone could understand. Throughout the book the author's voice remains glaringly honest, and if at times I thought she was hostile, I can sympathize and understand that the mental forces she was dealing with were probably ripping her apart emotionally. I found it incredibly sad that she had to witness so much of her parents' unhealthy marriage and that even as a child she felt it was her responsibility to stop the fighting and soothe the wounded parties.

At times, the book lapses into what I would call a journaling style, where the author seems to relive the events of her life and records her reactions and feelings. She describes times of hiding and trying to drown out the sounds of her parents' combat in the other room, and relates her feelings of low self worth and discomfort. These sections seemed very raw and powerful, though at times I felt I had a bit of trouble connecting to them with the proper emotional engagement. I think that taken as a whole, they really fleshed out the struggle and angst of what the author's life must have been like, and they are rooted in a great despair and loneliness that is not easy to ignore.

I was really impressed with the indefatigable spirit of this author. She never succumbed to the tide that seemed to be slowly washing her away, choosing instead to face things in a way that left no room for shirking. This was a passionate and raging reflection that uncovered so much of the emotional side of this disorder, so much of the author's feelings of hesitancy and discord. But don't get me wrong, this book wasn't a canvas for weakness and self-pity. In fact, one of the things I admired most about this book was the author's ability to handle these emotions honestly. Throughout the narrative she remained steadfast, unwilling to fall down and play dead in relation to the problems she was facing both in her personal life and on the mental front. It was inspiring to me that she continued to fight and continued to try to understand these demons that were chasing her.

I did have feelings of anger toward her relatives at times. It seemed that they used her for a scapegoat and mental punching bag more often than not, and it was really hard to see someone in such turmoil being surrounded by people who were just plain unhealthy most of the time. I never got used to the drama that her mother caused her, and her brother was cut from another cloth altogether. I think that her family was so caught up in their own selfishness that they refused to see that Cynthia had some serious issues. Her eventual distancing from them was met by happy cheers from me.

This book doesn't have your stock ending: Instead of everything being nicely tied up in a bow for the reader to put away, Cynthia tells us that her troubles are not yet over. As she struggles with her medications and emotional issues, she is also telling us that she is committed to putting things right in her life, to getting the help she knows she needs and making the changes in her life gradually and steadily, so that her past doesn't stretch into her future. We as readers know that a happy ending will come, in time.

I really thought this book was inspiring and took great courage to write. It was mesmerizing both in the story it told and in the creativeness and fluidity of its writing. I would recommend this book to all who have ever wondered about bipolar disorder and for those who like memoirs that focus on internal struggle. I think that this book deserves attention and would possibly be enlightening to those who struggle with mental disorders, or their families as well. Huge kudos for this author in telling her story, and not being afraid of the labels it would place on her. Recommended.


Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Fantastic review! This sounds like a book that I would really enjoy reading.

Ana S. said...

Sounds like a very brave and powerful book, and on a topic that definitely interests me. Thanks for the review.

Marie Cloutier said...

sounds like a great book on mental illness and family dysfunction- a subject many readers can empathize with, if not relate to. Thank you!

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