HYSTERIA came onto my radar in 2020 through a feminist doctors’ group I’m a member of. Members recommended it as an excellent read for health professionals and others interested in the lived experience of a person with Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Serizures (PNES). I will also recommend it for patients and friends struggling with questions about illness we don’t yet have answers for.
I was fortunate to hear Katerina Bryant speak in December 2020. I was amazed that a chronically ill young woman could write, edit and publish such an accomplished book in such a short time. She revealed that the opening scene in the supermarket was 2-3 years ago. The scenes are all from her immediate memory—a way to voice what was happening to her. In a way, she was holding onto the flawed idea that she was still herself if she was producing words.
Memoir, literature, history
Bryant found that writing the book cured her of the idea of illness being a linear narrative that ends. Instead, she feels that she embodies her illness. She lives with it. The memoir parts of the book were not edited much, but the research was.
She enjoyed researching other women through history who had suffered from similar diagnoses. Partly, she said this was because we often portray mental illness as a place of isolation. “To feel connected and strong was incredible.”
Bryant discussed her realisation that illness is not always a tragedy. To be a person is to have so many facets. This is equally so for chronically ill and disabled people. She discussed the importance of touchstones for people with mental illness. To be able to laugh about your illness with family members means you don’t fear it.
In particular, I found Bryant’s conversation with her father in the book, about whether it would be preferable to have an organic or functional diagnosis, to be incredibly touching. She’s lucky to have such a wise person in her life.
A Novel Prescription
I like to ask featured authors if they could do a guest prescription for a book that has helped them through a trying time.
Katerina’s non-fiction prescription is THE SHAKING WOMAN by Siri Hustvedt.
To help step out of herself she turns to Madeleine Thien’s absorbing fictional work.