A memoir, by nature, is an essay on a learned subject or an account written from personal knowledge. Most memoirs are picked up and read to understand a person, their story, and their internal motivations. In the case of It’s Not Your Journey, by Rebecca Lombardo, memoir takes on both meanings. In this brutally honest, real-time account of a life consumed by anxiety, bipolar swings, and the struggle that results, Lombardo offers an honest look at mental illness as it plays out in the day-to-day consciousness of a subject she knows best – herself.
This isn’t my first foray into the study of mental illness, and memoir is my favorite genre in which to delve into the complexities of it. Once I laid aside my own constructs of what this type of book looks and sounds like, I entered the world of Rebecca Lombardo for 210 pages. Based on her blog, the book is organized into a series of daily posts. While the text lacks a clear plot structure or progression, the organization, or lack thereof, doesn’t negatively effect the readability or impact of the book, as it more accurately chronicles the progression in Lombardo’s mind. This authenticity is the first impression I had a as a reader, and kept my attention throughout the work. The level of vulnerability and raw truth gave this memoir a gravity and weight that had me leaning in and connecting from the first page.
While many books on mental illness start at point A and end at point B with a scattering of evaluative thoughts and reactions, Lombardo wrote with no such limitation. Instead, she compiled her thoughts, emotions, and struggles – one day at a time – in an order that reflected the reality of the bipolar mind. Though disorienting at the onset, I found myself pulled in by what I could distinctly feel was one woman’s fractured reality. Oh, it was real. It was legitimate, and the authenticity of her experience is tangible.
Lombardo notes that she knows she is a good writer, and that she enjoys it. She longs for her words to make a difference, but she is okay if someone criticizes them all the same. This posture emanates in the text, as she is unafraid and unapologetic. As she reflects on the impact her mother’s tragic death, her own mental break, the struggles of finding love while mentally ill, and the struggles of finding validation for the wrestling match that is her mental state, she dips in and out of her depth, offering pieces of reality that equally create tension and invoke empathy.
As a reader, I found myself longing to sit down with her to see how she was doing; moments later, Lombardo would be encouraging me to push through just as she was. Each acknowledgement of her low was accented with a positive or contrary action. That structure made each snippet of life feel complete, and I felt as if I was able to resolve the issue in my own heart as she did.
As mentioned, this is not my first memoir, nor it is my first look at bipolar, depression, PTSD, or the effects they have on those who suffer from them. My own experiences with depression and PTSD were in the back of my mind as I read, providing a mental construct that cried, “me, too” at more than one point. From that perspective, I found myself tearing up as Lombardo strung together words that accurately depicted what only exists in the mind of the mentally ill.
This, as previously mentioned, can be attributed to the level of vulnerability Lombardo reaches in this text, particularly in the latter portion. While this vulnerability does not excuse the occasional grammatical issue or unclear thought, it does provide context in which to understand and to an extent, frame it. These are not the writings of a “have-it-all-together” author, but a “this-is-what-I-have-to-give” human.
Critically-speaking, I longed for a deeper discussion of the positive. While she did an excellent job of addressing the tough realities, I found myself hoping for her perspective on the good days, the okay days. I can relate to the struggle to find those moments, but feel that those would provide the contrast that marks the disease. What worked well, and what I see as the brilliance of the work, was the dissection of lessons learned. Her notes on setting herself up for failure and the value of acknowledging her current state and adapting to it are foundational responses to tragedy and adversity.
While not the most well-written or eloquently communicated work, Lombardo delivers the most honest expose on the realities of mental illness that I’ve encountered in recent years. She communicates herself well, and her own introspection – both on the page and off the page – results in a journey for the reader that is equal parts therapeutic and raw, gritty education. As she notes, writing this story out had two purposes: therapy for her to process her own illness and life with it, and the hope to impact, encourage, and empower another with mental illness. On both levels, she succeeds.
It’s Not Your Journey
PubKick, August 2015
Paperback, 210 pages