Shame Ate My Soul is Susan Walz’s personal story of rising above stigma, suicide attempts, addiction, and misdiagnosis, and eventually finding recovery. I’ve known Sue since the beginning of my blogging journey.
The book opens with a heartbreaking conversation with 2 of her 3 children, as they tried to persuade her to accept help in her depressed state. She told them she wouldn’t kill herself that night, and she “knew it to be true because I promised myself, I would never kill myself without writing letters to my children first. I was far too tired to write my good-bye letters tonight.” I know that kind of thought pattern all too well.
The book then shifts to her early life and the trauma she experienced from being punished for ongoing bed-wetting problems. Sue describes how symptoms of mental illness appeared and continued to worsen into her 20s.
She then became unexpectedly pregnant and endured a traumatic birth that left her “an empty carcass of a human being pretending to be real.” Unsurprisingly, she developed postpartum depression. At that point, she was prescribed Klonopin (clonazepam) by a psychiatrist she would end up seeing for many years.
Things really began to fall apart after the birth of her second child. Her psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar, but my guess is that he slept through the part of school where they taught about medicating bipolar. At many points throughout the book, I wanted to jump through the page and smack him silly.
Readers will probably also be inclined to jump on the smack train when she describes the horrible way she was treated around that time by her (now ex-) partner, her employer, emergency services, and the hospital. At one point, she writes that “I was imprisoned in the Psych Unit for ten days until they released me, until I served the mandatory sentence for my crime of having a severe mental illness and pissing off my husband.”
Sue writes about the stigma that she experienced in multiple contexts. For example, when she missed a couple of appointments with her obstetrician, she got a call from the clinic threatening that her baby would be taken away if she kept missing appointments. She was also wrongfully fired from a job when they found out her history of mental illness, and ended up homeless with a young daughter to care for. She explains how she developed self-stigma as a result of the stigma she was exposed to. Her experience really captures the harm that stigma can cause.
The gong show of psychiatric ineptitude continued, and her mental health declined. Every step of the way people just kept dropping the ball when it came to her care. It would be farcical if it wasn’t so tragic.
The book then arrives back at 2018, where it began in the first chapter. Sue explains that giving up the fight to live brought her “a new kind of peace I never experienced before.” I’ve felt that same peace when in that situation, and Sue’s description gives a good insight into that mindset.
The book includes the suicide note that Sue wrote after taking a bunch of pills. She posted it on her blog. That’s a part of the story that I already knew. I read Sue’s blog post early that morning, several hours after she posted it. I found the city where she lived on her Twitter profile, and called the police. The calltaker said they’d already been notified by another online follower, and they were already with her at that point. The book includes my response to her tweet, letting others know that help was already with her.
Besides worrying about further stigma she’d be faced with after the suicide attempt, she had to go through being cut off Klonopin cold turkey and experiencing a terrible prolonged withdrawal.
Finally, though, Sue was able to turn a corner. Her recovery has been truly remarkable, with the help of her faith, becoming a grandma, and finally finding a doctor who was able to give her the right diagnosis and get her on the right treatment.
Sue has had a very difficult journey, and she’s captured it really effectively in this book. It has a loud and clear anti-stigma message, as well as a very hopeful message for recovery. This is a very powerful book and I highly recommend it.
You can visit Sue on her blog, My Loud Whispers of Hope.
Shame Ate My Soul is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a free copy of this book from the author.