Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Original Source: Asylum magazine/spring 2022, Page 22
Book review The Girl on the Bridge: A Memoir by Tracey Higgins
Self-published, 2021 (Amazon)
Reviewed by Larry Taylor, independent scholar of Contemporary Art and Religion.
The Girl on the Bridge:
Autobiographies run the twin risks of boredom and banality. Thankfully, Tracey Higgin’s memoir, The Girl on the Bridge, has neither of these problems. She dares to broach, and even illuminate, a rather forbidden and often onerous intersection: psychological trauma and (so called) ‘severe mental illness’. Higgins knows something – almost intuitively – that most people probably don’t recognize until they have fallen down the many rabid rabbit holes of DSM codes, sectioning/committals, pills, and yet more pills. She is having none of it; as she quite boldly states in the book (and elsewhere): she has managed to make a full recovery from ‘schizophrenia’ without the use of psychopharmacological drugs. Moreover, despite all the various odds, she achieved this through years of rather intense personal effort, assisted only rather briefly by psychotherapy and social work. Not everyone who enters the mental healthcare system makes it out at all, much less live to write so well about those experiences. The book has a chronologically staggered format and this makes for a reflective and reflexive read. This structure helps to lighten and energize a topic that might otherwise be ‘too heavy’ for some audiences to read in a more traditional linear chronological fashion. But the greatest appeal is not in the specific junction of the psych disciplines and trauma studies but her honesty, and her individual powers of observation. Those who have little personal experience in psychological ‘disorders’ can still fully appreciate the many revelations she makes, which often take artists and writers years to cultivate: “Though I certainly couldn’t have articulated it at the time, I knew I was worth more than what life was offering me” (p123). Without ever spending time studying the psyche in a regimented way, one could say that the author has ‘good insight’ – into her condition and into life in general. Sometimes it is her vivid descriptions that really enrich the text. For example, seeing her mother’s head turn into the head of a wolf (p243); and pictures on the wall suddenly becoming images of terrifying devils and ghouls. One might recall the ease with which John Nash’s (transitory) psychiatric disturbances were interwoven in the movie A Beautiful Mind (2001) – though that movie notoriously failed to mention his wholesale refusal of psychiatry’s ‘medicine’. Save for Nash (via Sylvia Nasar’s eponymous 1997 book) and a fairly small handful others, many people might be afraid to ‘go there’ in giving such personal descriptions of psychosis. It can seem too stigmatizing or ruinous. Yet Higgins actually goes further than description, and deduces that her psychoses were coping strategies that most anyone might adopt in horrific life circumstances like hers. In a word, they were ’safer’ than addressing reality, in all of its (actual) horrors. Survivors will certainly appreciate the commonalities of her plight, like the notorious menacing voices that plagued her everyday life. Pastoral odes to nature help add visuals to the sometimes heavy scenes. They also paint the author, not as a helpless sufferer at the mercy of some diagnostic tool, but rather as the prime agent in a profoundly difficult, but ultimately rewarding, and sometimes spiritual, journey – of self-realization and actualization. Near Whitmanesque brushes with blades of green grass, for example, steer the memoir away from the very real damage mainstream diagnostic labeling can cause, and toward universal personhood and equality – sentient beings mutually recognizing how precarious, fragile, and precious life truly is, regardless of one’s mental state or ability. Given contemporary polypharmacy, prescription cascades, forced ‘compliance’ and the like, roadmaps out of such “Helldrives” are so uncommon that, per G. E. Smith, “very few get out”. ■ *** Larry M. Taylor is an independent scholar of Contemporary Art and Religion, whose book on Minimal Art and Spirituality is forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Publishing (c. 2023)