Sarah Kurchak’s “I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder” is the Memoir Everyone Should Read Right Now

Image description: Book cover for I overcame my Autism and all I got was this Lousy Anxiety Disorder. The title is shown at the top under an endorsement from Hannah Gadsby which reads “A treat to read, I’d recommend this book to anyone who struggles to connect to the world, even if you don’t call that struggle Autism” A head and shoulders shot of the author a white woman with pink hair with her head resting on her arm takes up the bottom of the cover.
Image description: Book cover for I overcame my Autism and all I got was this Lousy Anxiety Disorder. The title is shown at the top under an endorsement from Hannah Gadsby which reads “A treat to read, I’d recommend this book to anyone who struggles to connect to the world, even if you don’t call that struggle Autism” A head and shoulders shot of the author a white woman with pink hair with her head resting on her arm takes up the bottom of the cover.

Thank goodness for whoever decided to release the memoir I overcame my Autism and all I got was this Lousy Anxiety Disorder by Sarah Kurchak early on April 2nd. I immediately downloaded the ebook, though hardcopies are also theoretically also currently available in Canada but shipping delays might keep you from getting it until May (because global pandemic). Americans who want a hard copy will have to wait for September 22 international publication date (hopefully no more pandemic).

Sarah’s memoir is written in the form of connected essays in the form of a “How To Succeed” while directly challenging the idea that she actually knows how to do that. The book is an important challenge to the concept of “overcoming autism” and is a necessary example of the consequences of giving in to the pressures of trying to perform “normalcy” in an attempt to fit in.

More narratives by autistic people are something the world really needs. If only to break the monotony and statistical inaccuracy of the stories (far to frequently fictional and inaccurate) of straight white autistic men. Author Sarah Kurchak tries to challenge the unreality of what the wider world thinks about autistic people (and I can only hope she succeeds in chipping away at that bullshit). One of the most important themes that she discusses in her memoir is the issue of being believed and how often autistic people are challenged on both their autisticness and the validity of their opinions and experiences in relation to relevance to the broader autistic community.

As she points out one of the biggest Autism charities which has a dearth of autistic people in influential roles is called Autism Speaks (an organization that is widely unpopular with actual autistic people).

As Sarah explains in the introduction about a neurotypical response to her as yet unpublished teen sex comedy (which I desperately hope becomes a real book someday soon) that it was “REAL and raw”

For as long as autistic narratives are dominated and controlled by others, these are the concerns that will fester in the pit of my stomach and the back of my brain every time I sit down at my laptop, start to rock from side to side, and write.I have no interest in being told that my writing is real. I need my work to tell you that I am.

This is but one of the first of many poignant quotes mixed with wry and often comical anecdotes while also dealing with serious and heart wrenchingexperiences. This book is not about “what it is like to be autistic” no matter how frequently I reacted with “yep, me too”. It is a challenge to that monolith. It is about Sarah as an individual among individuals who may share common struggles experienced in an unending variety of of ways in a world really not designed for us.

This book is unrecognizable within the genre of autism narratives and that is one of my favourite things about it. I genuinely hope to see more books not like it but which also challenge the far to prevalent monolithic view of autistic people but as individuals whose stories matter outside the niche genre of autistic narratives.

The book is funny, sad, and serious and I highly recommend it as a really good read to absolutely everyone.

I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir is available in ebook and paperback in Canada from Indigo and Amazon

It is available in ebook form in the United States from Amazon and will be available in paperback on September 22.

We’re all stuck inside anyway so why not read a really good book.

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We Need Diverse Authors: A Review of Dancing With Ghosts

dancing-with-ghosts

Image description: Book cover for the novel Dancing with Ghosts by Emily Gillespie. The bottom two-thirds of the cover is black with the title and author’s name in white text. The top features a galaxy background with pinks, purples and blue speckled with stars. On the left side, three ballet dancers are captured in silhouette.

I have written before on the dangerous and problematic pitfalls of people writing about marginalized experiences that they do not experience. I am a huge supporter of not only diversity in books but more importantly diversity of people writing those books. So I was pleased to hear that my friend Emily Gillespie had written a book and that it was going to be published.

Emily has lived experience with mental health* and wrote a novel that deals directly with a character who is experiencing what is possibly depression and anxiety.

The synopsis from Goodreads is,

Freshman year of university was supposed to mean freedom.

It was supposed to be her escape from parents who didn’t understand her – who turned Patricia away every time she reached out for help. New city, new school, new friends, fresh start – wasn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Instead, when Patricia moves from her small, isolating hometown to the bustling, sprawling cityscape of Toronto, she finds herself more alone than ever. When she meets Derek – an intriguing yet mysterious classmate – she’s instantly drawn in by his worldly knowledge and easy charm.

For a while, things between them are perfect. For a while, it’s thrilling being invited into a world unlike anything Patricia’s experienced before.

But this isn’t a love story and not everyone is what they seem.

Dancing With Ghosts is technically classed as adult fiction, though could be considered a young adult novel. The protagonist, Patricia is eighteen & nineteen throughout the novel and though the book does deal very frankly with issues of mental health, sex, and various kinds of abuse (sexual, emotional, medical); the story is very much something that can and does happen to young people.

The book is a first-person narrative written in semi-journal style (by which I mean the narrator will occasionally address the reader directly). As a result of the casual narrative style, the protagonist occasionally breaks off into tangents. This was a bit jarring at first but as you get to know the character it becomes natural and I eventually stopped being aware of it.

I really appreciated the way Emily approached mental health in the novel, from how it isn’t always strictly labelled as a specific diagnosis but the impact is still real. This indefinability is not only realistic it also really highlights the issues that Patricia has in trying to set up official support systems when she doesn’t fit neatly into a box. The book also challenges that smug Canadian lie that seems to crop up anytime that a Canadian is trying to prove their moral superiority (usually to an Americal) “Yeah? Well, I’m going to have my feeling checked for free”.

Emily effectively weaves a story about someone who tries and fails to seek timely and meaningful healthcare and the emotional fallout of being failed by a system that horribly ill-equipped to deal with the volume and reality of the needs it should be meeting.

Dancing With Ghosts is not the kind of book you read all in one sitting. Not because it isn’t good or engaging. It is both but it deals with issues of abuse so head on and frankly that sometimes I had to take some time to sit with what I had read before I could continue.

This is the benefit of a writer who has experience of the thing they are writing about. Eve when they write fiction, it feels more real. I feel the shared frustration of a medical system that frequently underserves or fails disabled people. I struggled with Patricia’s frank attempts to make sense of how the various factors in her life contributed to what happened. I searched for those answers with her.

This is why we need more voices from the margins. Not people speaking for the margins.

 

 

Dancing With Ghosts is currently available for purchase in ebook form through Kobo.

There is currently no official print release date (I will update when one is available) but print copies will be available on Amazon and at the York University Bookstore in Toronto.

Dancing With Ghosts is being published through Leaping Lions Books a small independent publisher run by York University’s fourth-year Professional Writing program.

The official book launch will be on March 9th. If you are in Toronto and are interesting in attending you can find information here.

 

 

 

*Her current preferred label