Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass: A Psychologist’s Memoir
by Dr. Annita Perez Sawyer
What would lead a lively, high-achieving teenager to shrivel into a dark, inaudible wraith dedicated to her own destruction? How would she survive? How might healing happen?
Dr. Annita Sawyer’s memoir is a harrowing, heroic, and redeeming story of her battle with mental illness, and her triumph in overcoming it. In 1960, as a suicidal teenager, Sawyer was institutionalized, misdiagnosed, and suffered through 89 electroshock treatments before being transferred, labelled as “unimproved.” The damage done has haunted her life.
Discharged in 1966, after finally receiving proper psychiatric care, Sawyer kept her past secret and moved on to graduate from Yale, raise two children, and become a respected psychotherapist . . . until 2001, when she reviewed her hospital records and began to remember a broken childhood and the even more broken mental health system of the 50s and 60s.
Revisiting scenes from her childhood, and assembling the pieces of a lost puzzle, Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is a cautionary tale of careless psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, both 50 years ago and today. It is an informative story about understanding PTSD and making emotional sense of events that can lead a soul to darkness. Most of all, it’s a story of perseverance – of pain, acceptance, healing, hope, and success; a unique voice for this generation, shedding light on an often misunderstood illness.
More about the author:
Annita Sawyer grew up in White Plains, N.Y. She has spent most of her adult life in Connecticut, where she has had a psychology practice for over thirty years. She’s a member of the clinical faculty at Yale. Annita’s essays have won prizes and been included among Notables in Best American Essays. Her memoir was selected by Lee Gutkind for the 2013 Santa Fe Writers Project Grand Prize for nonfiction. Annita speaks to mental health clinicians and consumers around the country, using her own story to reinforce her message: pay attention. She’s a Quaker, a grandmother, and a Scottish Country Dancer. She has sung in the New Haven Chorale for close to 40 years.
This utterly gripping, sharply written memoir pulls no punches. With cauterizing honesty and a blessed sense of perspective, Annita Perez Sawyer takes you into and through her dark experience to the shores of wisdom. –Phillip Lopate, author of Being With Children
How to mend a psyche shattered by personal trauma? Annita Sawyer seeks answers to that question, first for her patients and then for herself. In prose without a hint of self-pity, yet rich in sensory details and professional insight, she draws a dark history into the light. The degree of healing she achieves is a testament to her imagination as well as her courage, for in her hands writing itself proves to be a powerful medicine. –Scott Russell Sanders, author of Divine Animal: A Novel
Annita Sawyer writes candidly — and gracefully — of her vulnerabilities and her persistence as she details her harrowing experience with a misdiagnosis, the hard-won life she forges in its wake, and her ultimate reconciliation with her buried past. Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is a brave, compassionate, memorable book. –Jane Brox, author of Five Thousand Days Like This One and Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light
This account of psychiatric misdiagnosis and mistreatment is remarkable for its narrative force, its palpable (and entirely justified) rage, and its fierce honesty. –Anne Fadiman, author of At Large and At Small
In this memoir, her first book, Sawyer revisits a childhood and youth marked by serious mental illness. As a teenager and young adult she was repeatedly hospitalized after suicide attempts and received a series of electroshock treatments that failed to cure her illness, wiped out many of her childhood memories, and were the source of lasting trauma. The majority of the book is devoted to the author’s long and painful but ultimately successful recovery. After years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, she earned a doctoral degree, married, had children, and began a professional career. The author’s look back on her youth is especially absorbing from her perspective as a practicing psychologist who has treated people with mental illnesses similar to those she experienced. VERDICT Sawyer’s memoir doesn’t stray far from its primary theme. This book is tightly focused on the harrowing experiences of her youth and their lasting effects. Recommended for readers interested both in personal and professional accounts of mental illness, as well as those looking for a difficult but inspiring story of recovery. —Library Journal