When your therapist dies: Emma Forrest’s memoir

Emma Forrest by Tom Hines

At The Awl today I profile Emma Forrest, author of Your Voice in My Head, a memoir that left me raw, shaken, and hopeful all at once. An excerpt:

If you’ve ever been in therapy and liked, trusted and worried about losing your shrink, Emma Forrest has lived your nightmare. Three years ago, her psychiatrist died of lung cancer she didn’t know he had. This was the man who rushed to her side at St. Vincent’s after she downed a bottle of pills, who sang show tunes—”It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed / he’s psychologically disturbed!”—with her in sessions, and who tried, with no hint of salacious intent, to confiscate a fashion photo she showed him of herself, bleeding from self-inflicted cuts, in her underwear. With Dr. R’s help, she “fell out of love with madness” (as he put it); just months before his death, she published an essay empathizing with Britney Spears’ descent into mania and praising him for saving her from a similar fate. And then he was gone, leaving behind not just a devastated Forrest but a host of bereft and rudderless clients. Discovering the others’ outpourings in the guest book underneath his New York Times obituary was, she writes, “like growing up and realizing that other people have read The Catcher in the Rye, not just you.”

Forrest’s new memoir, Your Voice in My Head, which traces the long history of her depression and evokes her struggles to stay sane without Dr. R, is so intense and compelling, so dark, hilarious and wistful, and so likely to be picked up, highlighted and worried over by every neurotic I know, I almost feel sorry for New York City’s mental health practitioners, who probably should have had some sort of advance warning that it’s coming. It’s a testament to the author’s empathy that she’s able to incorporate other patients’ eulogies into the book without robbing them of their power or giving off the slightest whiff of gimmickry. When I marvel, in an extended email interview, at how naturally their stories and hers coexist, she says, “I think of all us disparate lost souls who sought solace at East 94th Street as a Robert Altman movie, with intersecting lives and sorrows.”

Head over there for the rest, but you might want to pour yourself some wine, water, or coffee first. It’s long.


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