Review by Ashley Supinski
In Cheryl Savageau’s memoir, Out of the Crazywoods, she struggles to understand her new diagnosis of late-stage bipolar disorder. The memoir is told in short snippets of scenes and tableaus in which she tries to understand her mental illness and how it affects her and those around her. Interspersed throughout the book are pieces of her Abenaki heritage and poetry.
Rather than chapters, the memoir is told in brief episodes of Savageau’s life. The stories are not shared in chronological order, but rather jump around to share experiences and moments that highlight both mania and depression. In one section, “Shades,” Savageau refers to herself in the third person, an entity who doesn’t understand her inability to get out of bed, to rise above the exhaustion of depression. She describes herself: “if she is unhappy she doesn’t know it” (79). Sections like this illustrate how the author suffered from mental illness but did not understand – or at least have the words – to name why she viewed and experienced life differently than those around her. Later, she’ll address a period of mania where she refers to her husband and son as moving s-l-o-w-l-y in an effort to annoy her. (She’ll realize later she was the one moving too fast.)
In trying to find a remedy for her new diagnosis, Savageau shares her experiences with a doctor who doesn’t understand what it means to have Bipolar Disorder, and a therapist (ironically, the doctor’s wife) who doesn’t listen to what her patient is saying and instead tries to make her think differently.
The memoir is not comprised only of Savageau’s struggle with mental illness, but also includes poignant parts of her life that helped shape her into the woman she became. She recalls being in fourth grade and wanting to know everything. Later, she’ll reminisce about times spent talking with her father about the things she’s learned and read.
Through it all, Savageau embraces her Abenaki culture, her creativity, and finds that the diagnosis does not define who she is as a person, or as a woman, but rather has become part of what makes her unique.
Savageau’s memoir is important for all the ways it approaches the reader’s understanding of Bipolar I Disorder. Near the end, a section called “Stigma” touts the importance of understanding the reason behind someone’s actions, even if it’s their word against yours.
Published by the University of Nebraska Press as part of the American Indian Series. Purchase through Bookshop.org.