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, 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, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artifical Light

Misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, institutionalized, overmedicated, subjected to dozens of primitive shock treatments: this is the hell Annita Sawyer came out of to build a career as a psychologist and to write this memoir. It’s a book that had to be written and has to be read – urgent, vulnerable, insightful, and moving. — Joan Wickersham, author, The News from Spain and The Suicide Index

A lot of memoirists set out to refresh childhood memories. Annita Perez Sawyer's quest is more urgent and more daunting: she aims to literally recover them, to find the ones erased by electroshock therapy and the trauma that preceded it. Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is a harrowing tour through the mental health system, an account of the reconstitution of self. And finally it is a smart woman's meditation on how much of one's past it is important to know, which will prompt the reader to ask: is forgetting ever good? — Ted Conover, author, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

Annita Sawyer's Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is an extraordinary achievement, a memoir of a Yale-trained psychologist's harrowing struggle with serious mental illness and recovery. Beautifully written and full of heartbreak, hope and wisdom, for anyone with a personal or family history of mental illness, this is a must read. — Thomas H. Styron, PhD, Associate Professor, Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine

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, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

A fiercely honest and beautifully written book. A story of redemption, filled with indelible images: a teenaged girl stripped of her clothes, wrapped in wet sheets, and left in a hallway waiting for electric shock therapy – a 20 year old, afraid to go to a department store without her mother – a member of the first class of women to graduate from Yale. This story is about a psychiatric patient in a locked ward, who becomes a clinical psychologist helping others. Terrifying and uplifting, this is a compelling read. — Paul Austin, MD, author, Beautiful Eyes and Something for the Pain

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

Sawyer, A. (2015). Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass: A Psychologist’s Memoir

Reviewed by: Michael Fiorini, New York University

Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass: A Psychologist’s Memoir is the firsthand account of the author’s battle with long term psychiatric hospitalization. The book focuses on her experience of being diagnosed as schizophrenic, her many misdiagnoses by psychiatrists, and her process of overcoming electro shock therapy to become a psychotherapist herself. Repressed and lost memories, especially those later rediscovered when looking through her long medical records, are an integral part of the author’s story. Child sexual abuse and problematic family and relationship dynamics are similarly key to the resulting narrative. The book takes an in-depth look into electro shock therapy and the long term effects stemming from it. Professional readers will find Sawyer’s unique story of recovery, relapse, and self -acceptance highly relevant to their practice, both as a patient and psychologist herself. The intersection of her psychology training with the troubled past that she often felt must stay hidden brings to attention potentially problematic aspects of academic culture and discrimination against the mentally ill.

Split into three distinct parts, Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is written so that different major phases of the author’s life are discussed separately. This is done so that readers can get a sense of the drastic changes she underwent during her treatment, training, and relapse process. The first part, Locked Up, discusses in intricate detail the author’s experiences being sent into a psych ward, and follows her recurring hospitalizations. Much of this part of the book looks at what it felt like to be treated and diagnosed differently by every psychologist and psychiatrist she saw, as well as what interacting with the in- patient community entailed. The second part, Moving Out, follows the author’s amnesia and recovery period following a series of electro- shock therapy sessions. It also follows her early relationship with her husband, completion of education, and professional involvement in psychology and sociology. The third and final part, Lost and Found, discusses the author’s rediscovery of her medical records, revisiting the person she was while in treatment having forgotten many of the details. It covers the origins of the suicidal feelings that drove her to her first hospitalization, and represents for readers her final, transformative struggle towards self-acceptance.

Professional readership will appreciate Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass if looking to read about an insider’s perspective on varied psychiatric treatment and hospitalization. It is also a particularly captivating retelling of spiritual and personal rebirth follow electro shock treatment. The author discusses her journey into practicing as a psychologist herself, how she juggled memories of prior hospitalizations, and how she was dealing with triggers resulting from negative treatment. There is, in general, greater detail given to the author’s changing interpersonal, romantic, and familial relationships than to her training in practice as a psychologist. This speaks more to the subject matter of the initial narrative, particularly that of a patient trying to reconcile uncontrollable emotional affect and psychological disorganization.

It should be noted that the timeline of the story is also sometimes hard to follow as there are frequent flashbacks and intermittent “patient notes” written by doctors about the author while she was hospitalized incorporated. This emphasizes that the author never fully felt like she could escape the experiences she had and the identity she adopted while on the psych ward. The book blends the traditional psychologist memoir with a patient perspective in a way that stays true and illustrative of both, to the benefit of interested professionals.

Annita Perez-Sawyer has worked as a clinical psychologist for over thirty years, and has received numerous awards for her work as an essayist detailing her life with mental illness. She continues to work as a speaker to mental health clinicians about her experiences with misdiagnosis and consequent mistreatment.

Somatic Psychotherapy Today | Fall 2015 | Volume 5 Number 4 | page 116 - 117

In Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass, Dr. Annita Perez Sawyer courageously shares the deep emotional struggles she experienced in adolescence and early adulthood, as well her incredible resiliency and triumph across the lifespan. Like other highly intelligent and emotionally intuitive children, Annita served as an emotional thermometer for her families’ dysfunction, internalizing the pain and turning it against herself. Hospitalized for suicidal impulses and self-injurious behaviors in her younger years, Dr. Sawyer brilliantly illuminates how fads in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment have reverberating consequences. Misdiagnosed and mistreated, she held tightly to her sanity and personhood, and thrived once open-minded mental health professionals were able to break through her isolation and save her life. From a trembling, desperate girl filled with shame to an Ivy-League educated psychologist who dedicated her life to helping others.

As a practicing trauma psychologist and researcher, I highly recommend this book. For anyone who has struggled with emotional difficulties and sought treatment only to be seen as a syndrome; for all mental health professionals in training and licensed professionals who want to engage in reflective practice with individuals who have complicated trauma histories and complex presentations; for anyone looking to understand their own pain and anyone looking for inspiration, this book is a must read. Dr. Sawyer brilliantly illustrates how psychological healing is not only possible, but how it can be sustained. Though the ache in her heart may never go away, this author is a living example of how to build a life well lived.

Joan M. Cook, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry 11/29/2018

BookLover re Audiobook

  • United States

  • 12-12-18

How Far We Have Come......

I must be honest, this book took me a little bit to get through....not because it was bad or anything like that, but because it made me angry at her parents as well as the folks in the medical field and would find myself needing to stop for a bit, then come back to it. This book is narrated by the author herself, which is appropriate, as this is her life growing up and basically tortured by the medical doctors, only to later become a Psychologist, herself. Having listened to this book, I truly do not think anything was wrong with her (mentally), she was only sexually abused and had a mom that just let people walk over her. My heart truly went out to her and her strength to better herself and get an education, then become a psychologist, to help others.

This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of AudiobookWorm.

Should be required reading for every psychiatrist

If you could sum up Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass in three words, what would they be?

Broken systems terrorize

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Anita rose like a phoenix from the broken mental health systems of the 60s to persevere and flourish.

Any additional comments?

This book is a must read for anyone going into the psychiatry/psychology field (as well as anyone who is interested in mental health). As someone in the medical field, I was drawn to this book because I heard about the questionable practices of the psychiatric field in school, but a firsthand account of the horrors would bring much-needed light and compassion to the subject. This is such a well done memoir that, at times, I have to admit that I forgot I was reading non-fiction; this book reads like fiction. It grabbed me by my collar and didn't let go. I think the one and only criticism I have for this book is this: it progresses very linear and easy to follow, but then after Anita requests her records, it starts to skip around a bit and gets just a bit hard to follow. Otherwise, this is a great book that I think should be required reading in every university that teaches any sort of medicine or mental health studies. I also have to point out that after reading this book, I can acknowledge how hard it must be to market and ask for reviews, especially those that aren't positively glowing. This author has come such a long way in her life and has accomplished so much, I bet none of her psychiatrists could've predicted her being able to handle becoming an award-winning author (among everything else!).

I volunteered to review the audiobook through Audiobookworm Promotions; this in no way affects my opinions. Anita Perez-Sawyer narrated her own book, and I think that was very fitting for this situation. I am not always a fan of author-narrated books, but this is such a personal and emotional story that I can't imagine it being appropriate for anyone else to narrate this book. This is not a professional-level recording as you can hear a few swallows and stumbles over words, but it did not lessen my experience any. There were not any pops/crackles/static in the Audible recording; it's still a high quality recording. 

If you are in a mental health field (or just curious as to what the not-too-distant-past was like) I absolutely implore you to read this book. It's well worth your time and will open your eyes to the suffering that a broken system caused. I believe many mental health diagnoses could have been prevented or cured with traditional talk and drug therapies rather than the more extreme ECT and lobotomies that caused irreversible damage. It's my hope that with books like this and people in the mental health world like Anita Perez-Sawyer that history will never be forgotten and never repeated.