Possessing Me (A Story that Needed to be Told and Should Be Read by All)
A blog by Brian Kane 3/31/2012
It has been about two weeks since I finished reading Jane Alexander’s, “Possessing Me.” I waited this long to write a review because I wanted to see what aspects of this book left a lasting impression on me. First off, Jane Alexander wrote this book with passionate prose. You can feel the intensity in her writing style and earnest hysteria in her recollections of her tumultuous past: Her childhood was full of parental abuse and the frustration of dealing what with doctors told her she had—Bipolar Disorder.
But the frustration started long before her initial diagnosis. I do not want to give too much of the story away, but when Jane seeks help from a social worker as young kid, you are certain she will get the help she needs to not only incriminate her parents for child abuse, but also find a way out of what can only non-hyperbolically be called a living hell. However, not only did the social worker deem her living situation healthy, she even described her parents’ domicile (which, being rather cluttered beforehand, had been thoroughly cleaned and organized in preparation for the social worker’s visit) as a good Christian home. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is unless you believe spare the rod and spoil the child means it is okay to drag your sleeping kid out of her bed and across the floor by her hair and then box her senseless, merely for missing a few spots while cleaning the dishes. That is only one of many abusive incidents that left me both angry and heartbroken for the young protagonist.
However, Jane’s story is not one of melancholic despair that will leave the reader feeling morose from learning of a tragic existence. Even as Jane is enduring living in mental hospitals, foster homes and alternative high schools for troubled teens, you know that there are two prophetic events that that will aide her in her recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which most likely lead to her diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder: a combination of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. These events are when she visited her biological father in China at age 13 and saw people practicing Tai Chi (a type of Chi Gung exercise) for the first time, and when she purchased a book about Chi Gung, also referred to as Qigong, as a kid as well.
Even as you read about her being administered a plethora of psychiatric drugs that are meant to cure of her of her illness, but only harm her both physically and mentally—Jane refers to the feeling of being on psychiatric drugs as having a chemical lobotomy—or when you learn about her near tragic suicide attempt, you know that Alexander will cure herself.
However, the road to her recovery is not an easy one and reading Jane’s recollections about her past is often not easy either. In fact, some of her actions might make the reader pass harsh judgment upon her, but perhaps one of Alexander’s intentions in writing this book was to show that even people that society has given up on and thrown away, can become stable, successful and productive human beings.
As Jane begins to heal herself, the harshness of the story turns into an exhilarating tale of recovery. An analogy that Jane Alexander herself might use is that the pre-recovery segment of the story feels like you are reading a book underneath the harsh fluorescent lights of a sterile, stuffy, high school classroom in a poor town. During her recovery, you are transferred to a Buddhist monastery, and reading by bright and calming candlelight.
Alexander’s book is certainly not the first about a young woman’s trials with mental illness. I was reminded of two other books while reading Jane’s memoir: Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” However, although both Wurtzel’s and Plath’s stories are excellent, it is hard to really take anything away from them except that mental illness is an arcane condition that no one really knows how to genuinely cure. One has to wonder: If Plath had learned about and practiced meditation and Chi Gung, would she have lived a full life and maybe even still be with us today (she would be nearly 80 years old) and conversely, if Jane Alexander had not become a practitioner of Chi Gung, would she have followed the same tragic path that Plath did? I think in both cases, the answer might surely be, yes.
In summation, I highly recommend this book to anyone. Even if you yourself are not living with mental illness, chances are, someone that you care about is. This very candid and empowering book may help a person with psychological issues find the freedom that Jane Alexander found by curing herself of a supposedly incurable disease.