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 from an early age, and her triumph in overcoming it. In 1960, as a suicidal teenager, Sawyer is institutionalized, suffering through 89 electroshock treatments based on a misdiagnosis before being transferred, “unimproved.” After finally receiving proper psychiatric care, Sawyer is discharged in 1966, but the damage done haunts her life. She returns to school, keeping her past secret, while she moves on to graduate from Yale, raise two children, and become a respected psychotherapist, achieving a level of equanimity – until 2001, when she reads her hospital records.
As she begins to remember a broken childhood and the even more broken mental health system of the 50s and 60s, Sawyer revisits scenes from her early years, assembling pieces of a long-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, Sawyer does for psychotherapy what Kay Redfield Jamison has done for pharmacology, shedding light on an often misunderstood illness.
Annita Sawyer is a clinical psychologist in full-time practice for over thirty years, a member of the clinical faculty at Yale. Since 2003, when she attended her first writers’ conference, her work has appeared in a number of literary and professional journals, winning the 2012 Bellevue Literary Review and Literal Latte nonfiction prizes. Annita has been awarded scholarships to the Wesleyan Writers Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She has been a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, Vermont Studio Center, Ragdale, VCCA, and Hambidge.
Her memoir, Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass, was selected by Lee Gutkind for the Santa Fe Writers Project 2013 nonfiction grand prize. It will be published by SFWP in June 2015.