A Fox Crossed My Path
creative therapeutic writing on a depressive illness
EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK
Voice of Writing
I speak the truth of the moment. I know no more about the future than you do. I, as Your Writing, can only be true in the moment. It is not a lie to make statements which are intentions expressed for the future. But the future cannot be pinned down. I am not a liar in the present.
Voice of Illness
I am the lie to your well-being and health. The Voice I find through you does not reflect the misery I inflict. The truth of my existence is that I am a temporary unwelcome resident and I know this.
(The Truth & Lies of Writing, Chapter 3. p.44)
The first book of the series
shows how to
Acknowledge and integrate an Ill Self with a Well Self
Find the Voice of your Inner Child and your Wise Self
Use your imagination
The first sentence of this gem of a book drew me in:
A Fox Crossed My Path is about mental illness: my own over a period of 40 years.
This mini book shows how creative and therapeutic writing has helped me come to terms with what has happened to me.
My only problem with the term ‘mini book’ is that it doesn’t do justice to the combination of poetry, memoir and some very good ideas for creative and expressive writing about life experiences that this book is.
I started at the back, as I usually do, which is why electronic reading never works for me, and enjoyed scanning the exercises and notes. Then I started again at the beginning. The suggested writing activities, at the end of each section of the book, made me want to do some personal writing immediately, after a period of some silence. For anyone with an interest in the therapeutic potential of expressive and creative writing, A Fox Crossed My Path is a find. It’s difficult to describe its usefulness to interested people and practitioners, so I’ll give examples.
Some practitioners and students of counselling and psychotherapy have had very little contact with mental health services and psychiatric illness. The very openness of Monica Suswin’s writing about her psychiatric history, the six episodes of clinical depression and the one time of being sectioned means that she is a witness of extraordinary authenticity. She describes her illness and wellness; times of wanting to die, not because of wanting death itself, but because of not wanting to live ‘in the reduced hopelessness and despair’ that the illness brought with it.
Some people have no idea about how depression feels. I will recommend this short and very readable book to those in the helping professions who don’t quite get how very hard it is to do anything when clinically depressed. I’ll also recommend it to those who have no idea what spending time in various mental hospitals in the UK is like, and how the powerlessness of locked wards, a regime of diagnosis and treatment works.
Monica Suswin is, like many survivors of the psychiatric health system in Britain, well able to monitor her own history of, for example, being prescribed medication with all of its consequences. She explores in Chapter 3, in clear and engaging detail, the shock of realizing that although her self-guided writing is vital, the depression will return. To those who want to try therapeutic writing but feel nervous because of their own history, the exercises at the end of chapter 3, ‘The Truth and Lies of Writing’, are very carefully introduced. For example, ‘A list for a traumatic illness or a difficult event’ and ‘A list for recovery from a serious illness’.
Like spending time with a good novel or short story, A Fox Crossed My Path leaves the reader changed, more aware of how people’s lives are, and this life in particular. For any reader who has tried therapeutic writing and is looking for more, Monica Suswin is an experienced and very sensitive guide. I would also suggest that for starting points in how creative writing can be a lifeline when other options are limited, this book is a must-read, and it can be accessed from the beginning, middle or end.
Jeannie Wright (Associate Professor of Counselling)
Self & Society – An International Journal for Humanistic Psychology
Vol. 45 October 2017 pp. 337-338.
© 2017 Jeannie Wright Reprinted with kind permission from the author
This is a moving and powerful book. Monica Suswin shows how she has wrestled with mental illness (the scavenger fox of the title), and how she has searched for the reasons it visited her. But the book is not a simple account of her illness; rather, it is an exploration of how different forms of writing can become containers for traumatic experiences, and in so doing lay them to rest. Sympathetic and compassionate, Monica Suswin offers practical help - in the form of guided writing activities - to others who might also be suffering. The honesty and integrity of the book is what makes it compelling – depressive illness is in no way romanticised, but is described unflinchingly, and as far as is possible, with acceptance.
No 90. Autumn 2017
A Fox Crossed My Path is a short work – 88 pages – with a long reach.
Monica Suswin offers something special here; she has been able to write a book crammed with practical approaches to the use of creative writing in relation to depression. The book teems with examples of writing approaches gleaned from her own experience and because of this experience-base, a sense of balance prevails.
No massive claims, rather the reader is offered a small compendium of possibilities. Suswin’s own story, the backbone of the book, keeps things in perspective, holds the reader, and therefore allows a playful element to emerge, in spite of the pressure and pain of the narrative.
She has learned the hard way to be even-minded about claims for total solutions, magic balms, ultimate panacea. It takes great courage to live with this ‘no solution’ sense, and yet move forward into the new, trying out, exploring (within limits) what this is, and what that was, what may be to come, or not. I admire Suswin’s grittiness in the face of reality’s refusal to conform to our needs. And writing is her way, one of her ways, to survive and thrive.
Each of the five chapters closes with a menu of prompts, with clear guidance and, for such a relatively small book, the richness of possible approaches is manifest.
What strikes me most of all about this book is the way the author is fully present with her own breath on every page. ‘Writing is generous in its wisdom... ‘ she writes. A Fox Crossed My Path is a clear demonstration of writing’s generosity, and its wisdom.
Rob Henley, Creative Writing for Health and Wellbeing facilitator, Bristol.
Lapidus Journal (Summer 2017)
Monica Suswin draws with disarming honesty on the six episodes of clinical depression that have spanned her adult life. The book’s focus is her careful and intelligent selection of personal material which makes space for the reader’s own connections and experience. One of the key elements is how writing contributed to her recovery from depression through enabling her to own her Ill Self alongside her Well Self, integrating the two into a deeper sense of wholeness.
For me, one of the most illuminating sections is the author’s series of letters to ‘Illness’ and her intuited replies in 2005. Following two subsequent depressive episodes, Monica Suswin was left feeling let down by the writing in which she had invested so much trust. But she picked up her pen again to explore these questions in some follow-up letters in 2010. This resolving sequence includes the responding voices of both Illness and Writing itself. The author’s transparency in not idealising writing, but addressing its limitations and nuances, both integrates and paradoxically affirms the power of the process itself.
Julia D. McGuinness runs workshops as Creative Connections Cheshire.
Lapidus Journal (Summer 2017)
Responses from Readers
I really liked the gentleness of A Fox Crossed My Path – the quietness of the writing exercises, the generous quotations from your own work and references to other writers’ work. I just wanted to say thank you for the way you share and utilise such difficult experiences for the benefit of others. KS
As soon as I read the title of your book I wanted to read it. I felt an instant emotional connection, like warm water settling in my stomach. I love that it is easy to read! MC
I got such a lot from your mini-book. I found it very compelling and related to much of it on a personal level. There is such a lot of insight and humanity packed into the book and I know it will stay with me for a long time. JL