Book Review, Epilepsy, Mental Illness, Nonfiction

The Jagged Years of Ruthie J. by Ruth Simkin

Ruthie Simkin’s young life was about to change.  She would have strange, hysterical episodes where she knew subconsciously they were wrong, but she did them anyway.  At age 18 after a particular terrifying incident and after being diagnosed with epilepsy, her mother and father had had enough and against her will, put her in Chestnut Lodge (aka a mental institution).

Ruthie finally realizes her illness and notes that “The only thing I knew about epilepsy was that it was a bad thing to have.  In 1963, epilepsy was considered worse than having a mental illness; it was like mental illness multiplied. “

Thinking she was only going to stay a few weeks, she discovers that getting out will take her 2 long, grueling years.  Commenting about the doctors and administrators at the Chestnut Lodge which catered to wealthier clients, “Those assholes really have it made.  They tell you how to be, tell you how to feel, put the keys in their pockets and collect the cash.”   In the first year of her stay, she has to deal with a doctor who needs to be committed himself.

Her strength perseveres and she finally convinces the administration to assign her to another doctor who changes her life.  With all the seriousness of this book, there were bits of humor thrown in such as “I smiled thinking that while my friends were into rock and roll, I was into rock and remember.”

There are no holds barred in this memoir.  Ruthie tells it like it is and doesn’t leave out the details of the harsh reality of living in a mental hospital.   She didn’t let her confinement change who she was and stayed strong through some very difficult circumstances   Ruth Simkin is now a physician and a public speaker who talks about her experience as an ex-mental patient.  An inspiring read.