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In poetry and essays, revealing and normalizing mental illness

Indian poet and author Urvashi Bahuguna has written No Straight Thing Was Ever Made, a collection of essays that forms a memoir that reveals her experience with mental illness with depth and clarity.

A review by Sana Goyal that is as personal as the book that is its subject expresses the author’s hopes that her readers will see mental illness managed and demystified, destigmatized and normalized: “I knew that we could either live with the knowledge of the illness, or we could grow apart.” If your illness is invisible, how do you feel seen, heard – understood?

Bahuguna shares and bares unashamedly, Goyal writes. (“I cried at bus stops, in grocery stores, in libraries, on buses and planes”) and with self-awareness (“my therapist was not a friend; she was the other side of the chessboard”). She makes going to therapy and taking medication “matter-of-fact” — part of casual conversation around friends and family. She asks what illness requires of caregivers.

In the essay “When You’re Very, Very Tired, You Can’t Throw Your Tired Away” — where her mother expresses exasperation at her endless exhaustion — she writes of fatigue and how “there’s no reasoning with it.” In “Two Deer in the Headlights”, she writes of a romantic relationship — of dependency, exposed fault lines, and failures of the heart. She writes of how time — and hindsight — soften the memories of pain, making sharp edges less prone to prickling: “Looking back, I see us as not what we could have been, but what we were – two deer in the headlights.”