The Fictioning Horror Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Original Essays | September 4, 2014

Edward E. Baptist: IMG The Two Bodies of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism



My new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is the story of two bodies. The first body was the new... Continue »
  1. $24.50 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

spacer

This item may be
out of stock.

Click on the button below to search for this title in other formats.


Check for Availability
Add to Wishlist

The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves

by

The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves Cover

 

 

Excerpt

THE SHAKING WOMAN OR A HISTORY OF MY NERVES

WHEN MY FATHER DIED, I was at home in Brooklyn, but only days before I had been sitting beside his bed in a nursing home in Northfield, Minnesota. Although he was weak in body, his mind remained sharp, and I remember that we talked and even laughed, though I cant recall the content of our last conversation. I can, however, clearly see the room where he lived at the end of his life. My three sisters, my mother, and I had hung pictures on the wall and bought a pale green bedspread to make the room less stark. There was a vase of flowers on the windowsill. My father had emphysema, and we knew he would not last long. My sister Liv, who lives in Minnesota, was the only daughter with him on the final day. His lung had collapsed for the second time, and the doctor understood that he would not survive another intervention. While he was still conscious, but unable to speak, my mother called her three daughters in New York City, one by one, so we could talk to him on the telephone. I distinctly remember that I paused to think about what I should say to him. I had the curious thought that I should not utter something stupid at such a moment, that I should choose my words carefully. I wanted to say something memorable—an absurd thought, because my fathers memory would soon be snuffed out with the rest of him. But when my mother put the telephone to his ear, all I could do was choke out the words "I love you so much." Later, my mother told me that when he heard my voice, he smiled.

That night I dreamed that I was with him and he reached out for me, that I fell toward him for an embrace, and then, before he could put his arms around me, I woke up. My sister Liv called me the next morning to say that our father was dead. Immediately after that conversation, I stood up from the chair where I had been sitting, climbed the stairs to my study, and sat down to write his eulogy. My father had asked me to do it. Several weeks earlier, when I was sitting beside him in the nursing home, he had mentioned "three points" he wanted me to take down. He didnt say, "I want you to include them in the text you will write for my funeral." He didnt have to. It was understood. When the time came, I didnt weep. I wrote. At the funeral I delivered my speech in a strong voice, without tears.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER, I gave another talk in honor of my father. I was back in my hometown, in Minnesota, standing under a blue May sky on the St. Olaf College campus, just beyond the old building that housed the Norwegian Department, where my father had been a professor for almost forty years. The department had planted a memorial pine tree with a small plaque beneath it that read, LLOYD HUSTVEDT (1922-2004). While Id been writing this second text, Id had a strong sensation of hearing my fathers voice. He wrote excellent and often very funny speeches, and as I composed I imagined that I had caught some of his humor in my sentences. I even used the phrase "Were my father here today, he might have said . . ." Confident and armed with index cards, I looked out at the fifty or so friends and colleagues of my fathers who had gathered around the memorial Norway spruce, launched into my first sentence, and began to shudder violently from the neck down. My arms flapped. My knees knocked. I shook as if I were having a seizure. Weirdly, my voice wasnt affected. It didnt change at all. Astounded by what was happening to me and terrified that I would fall over, I managed to keep my balance and continue, despite the fact that the cards in my hands were flying back and forth in front of me. When the speech ended, the shaking stopped. I looked down at my legs. They had turned a deep red with a bluish cast.

My mother and sisters were startled by the mysterious bodily transformation that had taken place within me. They had seen me speak in public many times, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. Liv said she had wanted to go over and put her arms around me to hold me up. My mother said she had felt as if she were looking at an electrocution. It appeared that some unknown force had suddenly taken over my body and decided I needed a good, sustained jolting. Once before, during the summer of 1982, Id felt as if some superior power picked me up and tossed me about as if I were a doll. In an art gallery in Paris, I suddenly felt my left arm jerk upward and slam me backward into the wall. The whole event lasted no more than a few seconds. Not long after that, I felt euphoric, filled with supernatural joy, and then came the violent migraine that lasted for almost a year, the year of Fiorinal, Inderal, cafergot, Elavil, Tofranil, and Mellaril, of a sleeping-drug cocktail I took in the doctors office in hopes that I would wake up headache-free. No such luck. Finally, that same neurologist sent me to the hospital and put me on the antipsychotic drug Thorazine. Those eight stuporous days in the neurology ward with my old but surprisingly agile roommate, a stroke victim, who every night was strapped to her bed with a restraint sweetly known as a Posey, and who every night defied the nurses by escaping her fetters and fleeing down the corridor, those strange drugged days, punctuated by visits from young men in white coats who held up pencils for me to identify, asked me the day and the year and the name of the president, pricked me with little needles—Can you feel this?—and the rare wave through the door from the Headache Czar himself, Dr. C., a man who mostly ignored me and seemed irritated that I didnt cooperate and get well, have stayed with me as a time of the blackest of all black comedies. Nobody really knew what was wrong with me. My doctor gave it a name—vascular migraine syndrome—but why I had become a vomiting, miserable, flattened, frightened ENORMOUS headache, a Humpty Dumpty after his fall, no one could say.

My travels in the worlds of neurology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis began well before my stint in Mount Sinai Medical Center. I have suffered from migraines since childhood and have long been curious about my own aching head, my dizziness, my divine lifting feelings, my sparklers and black holes, and my single visual hallucination of a little pink man and a pink ox on the floor of my bedroom. I had been reading about these mysteries for many years before I had my shaking fit that afternoon in Northfield. But my investigations intensified when I decided to write a novel in which I would have to impersonate a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, a man I came to think of as my imaginary brother, Erik Davidsen. Brought up in Minnesota by parents very much like mine, he was the boy never born to the Hustvedt family. To be Erik, I threw myself into the convolutions of psychiatric diagnoses and the innumerable mental disorders that afflict human beings. I studied pharmacology and familiarized myself with the various classes of drugs. I bought a book with sample tests for the New York State psychiatric boards and practiced taking them. I read more psychoanalysis and countless memoirs of mental illness. I found myself fascinated by neuroscience, attended a monthly lecture on brain science at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and was invited to become a member of a discussion group devoted to a new field: neuropsychoanalysis.

In that group, neuroscientists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts sought a common ground that might bring together the insights of analysis with the most recent brain research. I bought myself a rubber brain, familiarized myself with its many parts, listened intently, and read more. In fact, I read obsessively, as my husband has told me repeatedly. He has even suggested that my rapacious reading resembles an addiction. Then I signed up as a volunteer at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic and began teaching a writing class to the patients there every week. At the hospital, I found myself close to particular human beings who suffered from complex illnesses that sometimes bore little resemblance to the descriptions cataloged in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (usually referred to as the DSM). By the time I shook in front of my fathers tree, I had been steeped in the world of the brain/mind for years. What began with curiosity about the mysteries of my own nervous system had developed into an overriding passion. Intellectual curiosity about ones own illness is certainly born of a desire for mastery. If I couldnt cure myself, perhaps I could at least begin to understand myself.

EVERY SICKNESS HAS an alien quality, a feeling of invasion and loss of control that is evident in the language we use about it. No one says, "I am cancer" or even "I am cancerous," despite the fact that there is no intruding virus or bacteria; its the bodys own cells that have run amok. One has cancer. Neurological and psychiatric illnesses are different, however, because they often attack the very source of what one imagines is ones self. "Hes an epileptic" doesnt sound strange to us. In the psychiatric clinic, the patients often say, "Well, you see, Im bipolar" or "Im schizophrenic." The illness and the self are fully identified in these sentences. The shaking woman felt like me and not like me at the same time. From the chin up, I was my familiar self. From the neck down, I was a shuddering stranger. What ever had happened to me, what ever name would be assigned to my affliction, my strange seizure must have had an emotional component that was somehow connected to my father. The problem was that I hadnt felt emotional. I had felt entirely calm and reasonable. Something seemed to have gone terribly wrong with me, but what exactly? I decided to go in search of the shaking woman.

PHYSICIANS HAVE BEEN PUZZLING over convulsions like mine for centuries. Many diseases can make you shudder, but its not always easy to separate one from the other. From Hippocrates onward, making a diagnosis has meant herding a cluster of symptoms under a single name. Epilepsy is the most famous of all the shaking illnesses. Had I been a patient of the Greek physician Galen, who ministered to the emperor Marcus Aurelius and whose copious writings influenced medical history for hundreds of years, he would have diagnosed me with a convulsive illness, but he would have ruled out epilepsy. For Galen, epilepsy not only caused convulsions of the entire body, it interrupted "leading functions"—awareness and speech.1 Although there were popular beliefs among the Greeks that gods and ghosts could make you shake, most physicians took a naturalist view of the phenomenon, and it wasnt until the rise of Christianity that tremors and the supernatural were bound together with bewildering intimacy. Nature, God, and the devil could wrack your body, and medical experts struggled to distinguish among causes. How could you separate an act of nature from a divine intervention or a demonic possession? Saint Teresa of Avilas paroxysmal agonies and blackouts, her visions and transports were mystical flights toward God, but the girls in Salem who writhed and shook were the victims of witches. In A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, John Hale describes the fits of the tormented children and then pointedly adds that their extreme sufferings were "beyond the power of any epileptic fits or natural disease to effect."2 If my tremulous episode had occurred during the witch madness in Salem, the consequences might have been dire. Surely I would have looked like a woman possessed. But, more important, had I been steeped in the religious beliefs of the age, as I most likely would have been, the weird sensation that some external power had entered my body to cause the shudder probably would have been enough to convince me that I had indeed been hexed.

In New York City in 2006 no sane doctor would have sent me to an exorcist, and yet confusion about diagnosis is common. The frames for viewing convulsive illness may have changed, but understanding what had happened to me would not be a simple matter. I could go to a neurologist to see if I had come down with epilepsy, although my past experience in the ward at Mount Sinai Hospital had left me wary of the doctors in charge of investigating nervous systems. I knew that in order to be diagnosed with the disease, I needed to have had at least two seizures. I believed I had had one genuine seizure before my intractable migraine. The second one looked suspicious to me. Uncontrollable shaking can occur in some seizures. My shaking was on both sides of my body—and I had talked throughout the fit. How many people talk through a seizure? Also, I had had no aura, no warning that some neurological event was in the making, as I often do for migraine, and it had come and gone with the speech about my dead father. Because of my history, I knew that a careful neurologist would do an EEG, an electroencephalogram. Id have to sit with gooey electrodes clamped onto my scalp for quite a while, and my guess is that the doctor would find nothing. Of course, many people suffer from seizures that are not detected by standard tests, so the physician would have to do more tests. Unless I kept shaking, a diagnosis might not be forthcoming. I could float in the limbo of an unknown affliction.

I had puzzled for some time over my shaking when a possible answer announced itself. It didnt appear slowly but came all at once as an epiphany. I was sitting in my regular seat at the monthly neuroscience lecture, and I remembered a brief conversation I had had with a psychiatrist who had been sitting behind me at an earlier talk. Id asked her where she worked and what she did, and shed told me she was on the staff in a hospital, where she saw mostly "conversion patients." "The neurologists dont know what to do with them," shed said, "so they send them to me." That could be it! I thought. My fit had been hysterical. This ancient word has been mostly dropped from current medical discourse and replaced by conversion disorder, but lying beneath the newer term is the old one, haunting it like a ghost.

Nearly every time the word hysteria is used now in newspapers or magazines, the writer points out that the root comes from the Greek for "womb." Its origin as a purely female problem connected to reproductive organs serves to warn readers that the word itself reflects an ancient bias against women, but its history is far more complicated than misogyny. Galen believed that hysteria was an illness that beset unmarried and widowed women who were deprived of sexual intercourse but that it wasnt madness, because it didnt necessarily involve psychological impairments. Ancient doctors were well aware that epileptic fits and hysterical fits could look alike, and that it was essential to try to distinguish between the two. As it turns out, the confusion has never disappeared. The fifteenth-century physician Antonius Guainerius believed that vapors rising from the uterus caused hysteria and that hysteria could be distinguished from epilepsy because the hysterical person would remember everything that had happened during the fit.3 The great seventeenth-century English doctor Thomas Willis dispensed with the uterus as the offending organ and located both hysteria and epilepsy in the brain. But Williss thought didnt rule the day. There were those who believed that the two were merely different forms of the same disease. The Swiss physician Samuel Auguste David Tissot (1728-1797), who has remained part of medical history mostly for his widely published treatise on the dangers of masturbation, maintained that the two illnesses were distinct, despite the fact that there were epilepsies that originated in the uterus.4 From ancient times through the eighteenth century, hysteria was regarded as a convulsive illness that originated somewhere in the body—in the uterus or the brain or a limb—and the people suffering from it werent considered insane. It is safe to say that if any one of the doctors above had witnessed my convulsive speech, he might have diagnosed me with hysteria. My higher functions werent interrupted; I remembered everything about my fit; and, of course, I was a woman with a potentially vaporous or disturbed uterus.

Excerpted from The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt.

Copyright 2009 by Siri Hustvedt.

Published in 2009 by A Frances Coady Book Henry Holt and Company.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780805091694
Publisher:
Picador
Subject:
Women authors -- United States.
Author:
Hustvedt, Siri
Subject:
Hustvedt, Siri - Health
Subject:
Medical - General
Subject:
Neuropsychology
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Medical
Subject:
Biography/Medical
Subject:
People with disabilities
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20101207
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
224
Dimensions:
7.4 x 6 x 0.94 in

Related Subjects

» Biography » General
» Biography » Medical
» Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
» Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Neurologic Illness
» Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Mind and Consciousness

The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 224 pages Henry Holt & Company - English 9780805091694 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Novelist Hustvedt (The Sorrows of an American) has been puzzling for years over the cause of her physical distress, from migraines to convulsions, and in this wide-ranging hodgepodge of technical jargon, research, memory and narrative, she tries to get at the root of what ails her. Since the death of her father some years before, the author has been beset by tremors, often before she has to speak publicly about him; she sensed that her shaking was hysterical, in the sense used by Freud, now called conversion disorder, a psychiatric illness whose manifestations often mimic neurological symptoms such as paralysis, seizures, blindness or deafness. Hustvedt immersed herself in the literature, visited psychiatrists and other specialists, volunteered to teach writing to psychiatric patients, tried antishaking medicine such as lorazepam, analyzed her dreams and submitted to tests like MRIs of brain and spine — all in order to try out 'theories and thoughts that are built on various ways of seeing the world.' The more she delved, the more fractured the possibilities of explanation, as the self has many facets, conscious and otherwise, similar to the voices in a novel she might write. Indeed, Hustvedt's probing of the question 'What happened to me?' taps at the source of the creative process, as such famous victims of migraine, epilepsy and bipolar disorder as Dostoyevski and Flaubert have documented. The barest of personal detail holds Hustvedt's narrative together, in favor of a dryly detailed academic treatise on etiology that is by turns elucidating and tedious." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Writing a speech she would give at a memorial for her father, Siri Hustvedt heard her father's voice and felt like she was tapping into the humor that had made him a lively and adept public speaker in his life as a professor of Norwegian. Hustvedt, an accomplished author and public intellectual, had herself given speeches regularly and comfortably, but at her father's memorial she had a unique reaction to facing her audience: 'Confident and armed with index cards, I looked out at the fifty or so friends and colleagues of my father's who had gathered...launched into my first sentence, and began to shudder violently from the neck down.' The last phrase is important. Mentally, Hustvedt was unaffected, and was even able to finish her speech." Scott F. Parker, Rain Taxi (read the entire Rain Taxi review)
"Review" by , "Siri Hustvedt's book is part case study, part detective story. In it she draws on the years of research that went into her novel, The Sorrows of an American (2008), narrated by a psychiatrist . . . Hustvedt's account of the diagnostic mess surrounding puzzling physical symptoms is very accessible. It's also extremely fair-minded, especially regarding psychoanalysis."
"Review" by , "[Hustvedt's] eloquent account flits between philosophy, science and anecdotes from the writing classes she runs for psychiatric patients, as well as her own experiences of those seizures, migraines, voices in her head and a heightened perceptual awareness. Hustvedt explores many gray areas — between mind, brain and body, sleep and wakefulness, consciousness and reality, truth and confabulation. In the process she shows how hard it is to study the mind objectively. How apt, then, that her account is stitched together by a delightfully subjective novelist's pen."
"Synopsis" by , In this unique memoir, Hustvedt chronicles her attempts to solve her own mysterious neurological condition and, along the way, ponders the distinction between the brain and the mind.
"Synopsis" by , In this unique neurological memoir Siri Hustvedt attempts to solve her own mysterious condition

While speaking at a memorial event for her father in 2006, Siri Hustvedt suffered a violent seizure from the neck down. Despite her flapping arms and shaking legs, she continued to speak clearly and was able to finish her speech. It was as if she had suddenly become two people: a calm orator and a shuddering wreck. Then the seizures happened again and again. The Shaking Woman tracks Hustvedts search for a diagnosis, one that takes her inside the thought processes of several scientific disciplines, each one of which offers a distinct perspective on her paroxysms but no ready solution. In the process, she finds herself entangled in fundamental questions: What is the relationship between brain and mind? How do we remember? What is the self?

During her investigations, Hustvedt joins a discussion group in which neurologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and brain scientists trade ideas to develop a new field: neuropsychoanalysis. She volunteers as a writing teacher for psychiatric in-patients at the Payne Whitney clinic in New York City and unearths precedents in medical history that illuminate the origins of and shifts in our theories about the mind-body problem. In The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt synthesizes her experience and research into a compelling mystery: Who is the shaking woman? In the end, the story she tells becomes, in the words of George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind, “a brilliant illumination for us all.”

Siri Hustvedt is the author of four novels, The Sorrows of an American, What I Loved, The Blindfold, and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, as well as two collections of essays, A Plea for Eros and Mysteries of the Rectangle. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Paul Auster.

While speaking at a memorial event for her father in 2006, Siri Hustvedt suffered a violent seizure from the neck down. Despite her flapping arms and shaking legs, she continued to speak clearly and was able to finish her speech. It was as if she had suddenly become two people: a calm orator and a shuddering wreck. Then the seizures happened again and again. The Shaking Woman tracks Hustvedts search for a diagnosis, one that takes her inside the thought processes of several scientific disciplines, each one of which offers a distinct perspective on her paroxysms but no ready solution. In the process, she finds herself entangled in fundamental questions: What is the relationship between brain and mind? How do we remember? What is the self?
 
During her investigations, Hustvedt joins a discussion group in which neurologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and brain scientists trade ideas to develop a new field: neuropsychoanalysis. She volunteers as a writing teacher for psychiatric in-patients at the Payne Whitney clinic in New York City and unearths precedents in medical history that illuminate the origins of and shifts in our theories about the mind-body problem. In The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt synthesizes her experience and research into a compelling mystery: Who is the shaking woman? In the end, the story she tells becomes, in the words of George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind, "a brilliant illumination for us all."
"In the neurological memoir The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves, Hustvedt takes us on her personal journey as she tries to unravel reasons for her tremors (which mostly occur while speaking in public) and to explain the mysterious disconnect between her body and mind. Hustvedt's deeply personal narrative reads at once like a detective novel, a medical history and a scientific critique. Through her own medical mystery, she keeps the reader engaged in the science by drawing connections to fascinating case stories from the medical literature."—Frederik Joelving, Scientific American
"In the neurological memoir The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves, Hustvedt takes us on her personal journey as she tries to unravel reasons for her tremors (which mostly occur while speaking in public) and to explain the mysterious disconnect between her body and mind. Hustvedt's deeply personal narrative reads at once like a detective novel, a medical history and a scientific critique. Through her own medical mystery, she keeps the reader engaged in the science by drawing connections to fascinating case stories from the medical literature."—Frederik Joelving, Scientific American
 
"Siri Hustvedt's book is part case study, part detective story. In it she draws on the years of research that went into her novel, The Sorrows of an American (2008), narrated by a psychiatrist . . . Hustvedts account of the diagnostic mess surrounding puzzling physical symptoms is very accessible. Its also extremely fair-minded, especially regarding psychoanalysis."—Anouchka Grose, Financial Times
 
"[Hustvedt's] eloquent account flits between philosophy, science and anecdotes from the writing classes she runs for psychiatric patients, as well as her own experiences of those seizures, migraines, voices in her head and a heightened perceptual awareness. Hustvedt explores many gray areas—between mind, brain and body, sleep and wakefulness, consciousness and reality, truth and confabulation. In the process she shows how hard it is to study the mind objectively. How apt, then, that her account is stitched together by a delightfully subjective novelist's pen."—Celeste Biever, New Scientist

"Hustvedt . . . pursues her symptoms with Javertian devotion; her husband, writer Paul Auster, said she was moving beyond devotion into obsession. She read voraciously, attended lectures on brain science, visited a variety of medical and psychological specialists, underwent examinations and MRIs and took drugs. She also ruminated excessively . . . As Hustvedt tries to remember pivotal medical and psychological moments in her life—she heard voices as a child, as did a couple of her sisters, had an early quaking fever, suffered from fierce migraines, tried various drugs—she segues smoothly into a wonderful section about the nature of memory. She also considers dream research and moves steadily toward an integrative theory of personality, concluding that she and her symptoms are not separate. 'Ambiguity does not obey logic,' she states plainly. Self-absorption can be grating in memoirs by lesser writers; in Hustvedt's capable hands, it opens a door to revelation."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this far-roaming neurological memoir, Hustvedt, a writer of psychologically complex fiction, chronicles her quest for a diagnosis after she was seized by powerful convulsions while speaking at a memorial for her father, whose journals shaped her last novel, The Sorrows of an American. With exceptional gifts for translating dense medical discourse into lucid and supple prose and for conducting fierce and revealing analysis, Hustvedt pinpoints the perceptions underlying contradictory theories pertaining to a host of neurological pathologies, from conversion disorder to alien hand syndrome and other eerie mental states that bring into question the very nature of the self. With forays into the dynamics of consciousness and memory, the power of thoughts, and the role of language and narrative in the growth of the psyche, Hustvedt reveals how little we actually know about psychobiological processes and how to distinguish between 'sick minds versus sick brains.' Fizzing with uncommon facts, case studies, and profiles of migraine-afflicted and epileptic writers, Hustvedts inquiry into some of the most baffling aspects of human life is graceful, intense, and curiously affirming."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Novelist Hustvedt (The Sorrows of an American) has been puzzling for years over the cause of her physical distress, from migraines to convulsions, and in this wide-ranging hodgepodge of technical jargon, research, memory and narrative, she tries to get at the root of what ails her . . . The more she delved, the more fractured the possibilities of explanation, as the self has many facets, conscious and otherwise, similar to the voices in a novel she might write. Indeed, Hustvedt's probing of the question 'What happened to me?' taps at the source of the creative process, as such famous victims of migraine, epilepsy and bipolar disorder as Dostoyevski and Flaubert have documented. The barest of personal detail holds Hustvedt's narrative together."—Publishers Weekly

spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.