Author, artist, poet, and teacher, Cheryl Savageau, begins and ends her memoir, Out of the Crazywoods, with meditations on the expansive potential of compound words in the Abenaki language. By framing and interspersing her memoir with commentary on how the Abenaki language offers a less restrictive and less proprietary perspective on the interconnectedness of nature and a vision of a human being as human "becoming", Savageau consistently critiques the limiting institutions, discourses, and stigmas around mental illness (5, 238).

Styled as a series of vignettes, the episodic structure of Out of the Crazywoods creates an enthralling narrative with abrupt subject and tone shifts. These differences in form and affect, the recursive stories across periods of life, the wonder, aggression, fear, and jubilance parallel the rapid-cycling symptoms of Bipolar Disorder I, a diagnosis that Savageau strives to manage and make sense of throughout the memoir. The scenes and stories explored in Out of the Crazywoods range from retellings of family dynamics, from Savageau's own childhood through the childhoods of her grandchildren; discussions with therapists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts; recollections of how time moves differently during mania and depression; integrated passages of canonical Western literature, often used allegorically to underscore the specific symptoms and stigmas in the chapter; critiques of the failures of social services in the United States; nature imagery reflecting the stochastic attempts at stability; the consequences and benefits of medication and talk therapy; and reactions to tremendous loss, such as the death of her mother and the end of her marriage.

The breadth of scenes, scenery, locations, and dislocations weave an overall sense of settling into being unsettled. As a neurodivergent person myself, reading Out of the Crazywoods felt like having a much-needed conversation with a same-minded, long-time friend. In the "Acknowledgements" section, Savageau writes: "I have written the book I wish had been there for me" (241). When receiving a diagnosis of mental illness, having access to first-hand accounts of the people living with, surviving, and thriving amongst the symptoms of mental illness is a necessary tool to dismantle the cultures of shame, silence, and stigma that oftentimes circulate around diagnoses like Bipolar Disorder I.

Throughout the memoir, Savageau tactically deploys the word "crazy" to call into question the facile assumptions that are made about emotions, behaviors, and appearances that fall outside normative expectations. In the section "Crazy Talk I," Savageau analyzes the unkempt appearance of the administrator in the "clinic for people without insurance" (62). As part of the recurring theme of the painful inefficiencies of social service programs for people with disabilities, this particular sketch aligns with Savageau's observation that: "Not everything is a symptom, although after diagnosis it may feel like it" (115). By framing the administrator as "the one you would peg as crazy," Savageau demonstrates how context constructs difference (62). Savageau disrupts the illusion of certainty that can accompany a diagnosis by blending images of everyday folks, ostensibly without a diagnosis, alongside anecdotes of family members exhibiting behaviors that would clinically be described as "disordered."

The surveillance embedded into the medical institutions and social services that rely on an official diagnosis to determine treatment and allocate resources creates an untenable system that often left Savageau without sufficient economic means. This over-reliance on documentation also burdened Savageau with internalizing a vigilance that morphed into a disruptive worry over whether or not her family and friends were attributing her feelings and behaviors as symptoms of Bipolar Disorder I. Savageau threads the narrative with discussions of "who gets to define normal, anyway?" (103). As an artist, someone appreciative of nature and critical of harsh boundaries of scientific thought, and a person steeped in mythology, folklore, and poetry, Savageau oscillates between interrogating definitions of "normal" and learning "normal" perceptions to identify and manage the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder I. This confounding balancing act elucidates the multifoliate difficulties and possibilities across Savageau's journey into understanding how to come to, and live with, a late-in-life diagnosis.

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