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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.



Book 32/100: Amen, Amen, Amen - Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying by Abby Sher

Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying (Among Other Things) - Abby Sher

Read Harder Reading Challenge Item: Read a book in which the main character has a mental illness

This book was incredibly well-written and at times very hard to read.

It begins with what the author seems to see as the "triggering" event for her lifelong struggle with OCD, which was the death of her favorite aunt, followed closely by the death of her father. At age 11, she is not fully able to process his loss, and because of that, she never cries and assumes this must mean that she wanted him to die or that his death was somehow her fault. From there, she develops elaborate rituals, mostly related to praying, that she hopes will both "make up for" the part she feels she played in his death, and protect her other loved ones against a similar fate.

Although Abby is Jewish, her ritualistic prayer was incredibly familiar to this Catholic girl, who has been known to resort to <a href"https://youngadultcatholics-blog.com/2011/07/12/catholicism-ocd-and-the-greater-good/">obsessively praying the rosary</a> in my own times of greatest doubt and fear. Despite her compulsory piety, her relationship with God never seems to evolve past the "bartering" stage, wherein she believes that if she does everything a certain way, God will reward her with safety for her loved ones. She suffers an inordinate amount of guilt for normal developmental milestones, such as her first crushes or her need to differentiate from her parents. And although she does seem to get something out of her piety, it made me sad that she didn't seem able to attain a higher level of spirituality, although there were hints of that near the end.

This book's strongest section is probably when Abby is first giving in to her OCD, before she understands that it is an illness and when she fully believes her delusions about the level of control she has over events and the horrible things that she has done. The way this is written really traps the reader in that mindset, making her feel as suffocated as Abby must have. It's heartbreaking to see an adolescent girl bearing the weight of her entire world on her shoulders, and this memoir seems to be an examination of how completely a child's psyche can spin out of control when she is confronted with trauma beyond her ability to understand or absorb. Although Abby probably would have developed OCD in some form regardless, I do wonder how her path would have been different had she not lost her father at such a young age.

There are places around the middle to end where the story begins to bow a little under its own weight, as Abby adds self-harm and anorexia to her list of mental ailments. It ca n be frustrating to watch the way she lets her life spin out of control and the way she pushes away the man who loves her. I was a little uncomfortable with the implication in the end that being pregnant would someone count as some sort of be-all/end-all cure to Abby's OCD and that it brought all this meaning to her life that was absent before. It felt a bit reductionist, like that whole idea that a woman is not fully a woman until she gives birth; also, I don't think it's wise to ever consider having a baby to be a cure for any problem except that of wanting a baby -- it felt like a cop-out not to extend the book out to how Abby adjusted to the trials of motherhood, which can threaten even the healthiest of psyches. All in all, though, this is a moving portrait of one woman's lifetime living within the shadow of mental illness, and can surely bring both a deeper understanding to those who are mentally healthy, and a sense of companionship to those who walk the road of life with mental illness hovering over their shoulders.