‘Let’s start small. In a nutshell, describe your life to me.’
Review by Grady Harp
Tanya J Peterson comes to her writing gifts both as one who has experienced mental health issues with a bipolar I disorder and as an educator and a counselor who is Nationally Certified and has devoted her life to aiding homeless, runaway adolescents and patients with mental health malfunctions, both in one-on-one situations and as a speaker and mental health writer. Where she excels is in her ability to place on the written page the processes of thought disruption as viewed and spoken by the afflicted ones while at the same time offering insights into the techniques of mental health workers who assist their patients in returning to a life that once again is focused.
The above was excerpted from my review of Tanja’s brilliant book LEAVE OF ABSENCE and while it remains true to the feeling of this novel, if anything Tanya has surpassed herself in creating MY LIFE IN A NUTSHELL. Rarely has a writer been able to enter the psyche of her carefully observed and drawn characters in the manner that she displays in this stunning novel – the life of a 37 year old Brian with APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) manifested by a consistently high level of anxiety. Brian is very intelligent and talented (he knows how to fix most things including computers) but prefers to avoid people and the accompanying challenge of verbal interactions. He works the evening shift as a school janitor where he encounters a seven year old Abigail whose personal demons are associated with the fact that she is the victim of frequent changes in living spaces – foster homes, the latest being the home of her childless aunt and uncle who do not understand children. How these two interact and ‘interlearn’ is one of the cores of his novel, but for this reader the more important aspect is the manner in which Peterson writes the day to day, hour to hour, terrifying moment to moment life of Brian. Brian narrates the story and Peterson has so closely integrated the permutations of his bruised personality that we feel every aspect of his journey through a world with which he cannot connect.
Brian comes under the car of therapist Dr. Beth Greene whose guidance is impeccable, especially form the stance that she encourages Brian to start small in becoming comfortable with his life: “Let’s start small. In a nutshell, describe your life to me.” ‘It seems that worry and fear are pretty normal for you.’ ‘Generalized anxiety disorder is part of what you’re experiencing, but other things are going on, too. Something associated with your anxiety is what’s known as panic attacks.’ And so goes the skilled writing of Peterson. Chapter 20 could easily be inserted into all textbooks dealing with therapy – it is a gem and so sensitively written.
Once again Peterson find the speech patterns and the responses to the outside world that define psychological dysfunction. As said in reviewing her other book, ‘Few writers have been able to express so sensitively the variations of thought processes that assault patients who are suffering from degrees mental illness. Peterson creates a solid novel here but she also opens doors of understanding so rarely provided for the general public.’ This new work by Tanya J Peterson is yet another landmark in the ability to communicate how people with psychological disorders function and cautiously and perilously navigate through the world. This is a brilliant marriage of art and science. Highly Recommended.
TITLE: MY LIFE IN A NUTSHELL
AUTHOR: TANYA J. PETERSON
PUBLISHER: INKWATER PRESS