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Why I'm Like ThisReview - Why I'm Like This
True Stories
by Cynthia Kaplan
006051261X, 2002
Review by Kevin Purday
Nov 20th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 47)

Upon first picking up this book, readers of Metapsychology may wonder if it holds in store for them anything more than a debut collection of personal stories, as the dust jacket describes the contents. My advice -- if you are interested in psychology -- press on! The book is actually an autobiography but it does not pretend to have the rigour associated with traditional biographies hence the subtitle -- true stories. The use of the lower case rather than capitals is as the book prints it, by the way, and surely is as meaningful as everything about this book is. Lower case probably indicates 'low key', unpretentious. Look carefully at the photograph of the young girl on the front of the dust jacket -- almost certainly Cynthia herself. Now turn to the back of the dust jacket and look at the photo of the author as she is now. Spot the green 'flower' pattern of the clothes -- identical in both cases -- indicating continuity. The inside covers, back and front, have photos taken from the family album and it is intriguing to try to match the pictures with the people described in the book. Let's move on to the contents.

The stories begin with Cynthia as a teenager and end about fifteen years later with her married and with a young son. In between, there are various episodes presented to us in an enchanting style. Umm, why does she say in an author's note, "I have changed the names of some people and places because my editor made me."? Well, we soon find out. The chapter on her therapist, 'R', would certainly land her in court if she had published the name! Having been unceremoniously and rather unpleasantly dumped by her current boyfriend, Cynthia tries some therapy with someone recommended by her friends. This leads to a set of life guidelines: "Rule number one: Never go to a therapist your friends go to. Rule number two: Be careful what you tell your therapist. Rule number three: Don't share your prescription medication with your therapist. Rule number four: Always leave before the party's over." This sad and yet hilarious story is about a therapist who is in far more need of help than her clients. This becomes crystal clear quite soon for as fast as the story unravels, the therapist is unravelling even more quickly! By the end of this chapter, 'R' is mightily in debt to her clients, on drugs, completely incapable of running her life and being prosecuted by her professional association. For readers with an interest in psychology and especially therapy, this is a salutary tale.

Cynthia Kaplan reveals herself and all her vulnerability in this collection of tales. Her coping with the death of her grandfather is deeply moving. Her little and not so little phobias are the stuff of most human beings -- fear of bear attacks after perusing a book with that title and a her fear of fluttering moths, a phobia far more common than is usually recognised.

One of the most touching episodes is about her paternal grandmother who develops Alzheimer's. The number of people in the West who are living to a ripe old age has been steadily increasing but at the cost of an equally steep rise in the number of people suffering from some form of dementia, whether it is Alzheimer's or the less well known Binswanger's. The grandmother had always been, shall we say, slightly eccentric. The story of her cooking -- which the author calls the 'Cooking-Freezing Torture' -- is beautifully told. We are then given the little clues, insignificant at the time but highly significant in retrospect, which littered the path from eccentricity to dementia. She is finally discovered vacuuming the carpet without the cleaner being plugged in and from then on in it was downhill all the way. There comes the time when names are a problem -- who is who and what relation are they to me? For those of us who have lived through these times with a parent, the scenario was all too real and painful. Cynthia's family eventually decide that the old lady is going to have to go into a nursing home. The move is told most poignantly. The author talks about the 'silent scream' emitted by the old lady as she is uprooted from her home and escorted to the 'half room' which is to be her new residence. There then follows a series of deftly pictured scenes, her family walking with her in the garden of the nursing home, the mislaying of her possessions. This is tear-jerking writing.

There are many other stories which will touch you, the reader. Cynthia's trouble getting pregnant and the indignities she and her husband had to go through, the birth of her son, his serious bout of pneumonia and many more. This is not academic psychology but psychology as it is lived and all the more beneficial for us to read for being formed out of the clay of everyday life. Do read it. You will be mesmerised as you are immersed in the pains and joys of what it means to be human.

 

2003 Kevin Purday

 

Kevin Purday is Head of the Cambridge International High School and is currently a distance-learning student on the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health course in the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.


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