How does it feel to be constantly burdened with grief, loss and guilt? When familial ties are not unfettered by your choice but all the “what ifs” are always going to haunt you?
In Hesitation Wounds, Amy Koppelman provides a searing glimpse into just what it is to live with clinical depression. To finally give up on life because of the inability to feel happiness. And what about the people who they leave behind, left to wonder whether they did all that they could to help? Whether they could have done more? Why didn’t they notice the signs that something just wasn’t right? Ask Dr. Susanna Seliger, who has grappled with these questions for nearly thirty years. Her profession, as a psychiatrist specializing in treatment resistant depression is both her penance and salvation. Her encounter and conversations with Jim, her patient, forces her to face what has been the albatross in the cesspool of her life, and has practically repelled anything that could have constituted a semblance of normalcy and fulfillment.
The book’s 180- page length is pretty misleading. Literally every paragraph is so beautifully constructed that it forces you to pause, re-read and think. It is a second person narrative by Susanna, each thought screaming out as a silent lament and a melancholic plea. To understand and be understood in return. To forgive and be forgiven. There is something so unflinching and no-holds-barred in the way Koppelman has shown us how it feels to go through so many emotions where you mind and heart is always a gooey mess because of the baggage of all the past that you cannot shed, and that in turn keeps nipping away at your present thus preventing you from creating and experiencing any new, happy memories worth recollecting in the future. So it is a disturbing, vicious cycle. And to be honest, around 50 pages into the book, I wondered whether it is going to be worth it sticking with Susanna till the last page. Because I have had reading experiences in the past where I felt short-changed in the end because the protagonists showed no growth or initiative to effect change.
Thankfully, Hesitation Wounds is worth it. The arc of the whole emotional narrative comes together in the final pages. And I love seeing things come to a full circle! (Without revealing much, I will just say that the book sort of starts and ends with Susanna in the airport). As the reels from Susanna’s past memories roll towards the final images, she lets it go. But will the happiness she finds make up for the three lost decades? Well, when I took leave of her in the last page, she seemed atleast in my opinion, the happiest version of herself after a very long time. So, maybe there is hope.
If there is one thing I felt could have been better, it is the clarity in the timelines. Susanna’s reminiscences keep going back and forth in a way that felt too jerky and vague. I am guessing it was deliberate to an extent, to probably show how recollections can be jumpy, colored and all over the place, but it just got a bit frustrating to keep track of it sometimes. And while I loved all the metaphors, symbolism and “quotable quotes”, it felt a bit excessive making the book a laborious read at times.
Now, this is perhaps one of my favorite quotes, which I have Tumblr’ed and tweeted, but imagine reading pages and pages of this:
(Speaking of quotes, check out some of my favorite ones here.)
Keeping these quibbles aside, I would definitely recommend the book for a stark insight into what clinical depression is all about. It is a monumental labor of love by Amy Koppelman, a tribute to a cause she feels so strongly about.