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I Don't Want to Be Crazy

Review

I Don't Want to Be Crazy

When I have a panic attack
the voice in my head says
anything can happen.
I will go insane,
I will die,
I will start screaming,
I will piss all over myself.
I try to tell myself that that voice isn't real,
but it's hard.
The voice is very convincing.

Victims of frequent panic attacks or those who suffer from anxiety disorders have a heavier weight to carry around than most. Simple things like crowded restaurants or birthday parties that should normally be enjoyable and invigorating can instead serve as catalysts for minor (or major) nervous breakdowns. When treated, these bouts of physical and mental hysteria can be challenging to deal with even on the best of days. When undiagnosed or ignored, an anxiety disorder can be downright incapacitating.

Samantha Schutz's grueling memoir and first published work, I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY, chronicles her experiences with her psychological disorder from the time she was diagnosed at 17 to age 22. Written in verse form, the passages in the book are mostly comprised of raw, choppy thoughts --- as if they were ripped directly from a journal --- and paint a harrowing portrait of what it must feel like to live in constant fear of the next looming panic attack. The cold sweats from persistent and inexplicable pressure, the debilitating insecurity, the violent mood shifts, the often ineffective coping mechanisms --- these side-effects, and more, are described in great detail throughout the book.

In the midst of all the suicidal talk, the trapped-in-the-bathroom-and-staring-at-the-tiles moments, and the I-feel-alienated-from-my-friends-and-family flashes, Schutz peppers her memoir with recollections of what could be considered the brighter side of adolescence. She flits in and out of relationships with boys, parties hardy with the rest of her classmates when she should be studying for exams, and even takes the requisite trip abroad with her best friend. All things considered, she is at least trying to live a "normal" life --- and the pressure to do so is felt loud and clear.

Overall, I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY is difficult to digest, if only because of the relentless nature of the subject matter. At times, some readers might feel claustrophobic (even manic) from so much depressive talk and in-your-face psychological analysis (especially when contrasted with the somewhat swift and neatly tied-up conclusion). Others may wish it a more novel-like structure to avoid angsty poetic clichés. Nonetheless, Schutz's debut is nothing if not hard-hitting, and the list of resources regarding mental illnesses at the end will go a long way for those who might be suffering from possible anxiety disorders and seeking help.

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Reviewed by Alexis Burling on October 18, 2011

I Don't Want to Be Crazy
by Samantha Schutz