Book Review: The Apparition
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A moving tale of love and suffering
Whenever I read a memoir that I like, my favorite memoirist, Joan Didion, comes to mind. She once wrote in The Writer on Her Work (Vol. 1), “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
If a memoir checks these boxes, if I can feel the author’s need to find out these things about themselves through the text, then it’s usually worth reading for me. The Apparition, written by Tricia Stafford with excerpts and contributions from her daughter, Annie, checks all of the above.
What seems to begin as a mother’s journal intended only for her grown-up daughter transform into a thorough and personal study of their separate yet shared struggles with mental health.
Tricia Stafford deduced that Catholic school might be exactly what her young daughter, Annie, could use. There was structure and the curriculum was plentiful, but as Tricia confesses: it was “a misstep that altered the course of Annie’s life and thrust us down a rabbit hole of misery.”
From the age of seven on, Annie would suffer from mental health issues and the many forms it takes: incapacitating anxiety, OCD, depression, and hearing voices. Tricia is tortured by the desperate need to help her daughter and “fix” it all, but in the process she must examine her own history of mental illness and what it could mean for Annie’s.
Once Tricia’s own anxiety starts to creep in, it swiftly becomes an overwhelming force in her life. She begins to wonder if being relieved of life altogether would be better than living it. Although the topics are tough, there is an underlying current of hope in each step of their journey. These two women love each other more than anything, and the proof is in their eventual willingness to take responsibility for their own lives and each others’, no matter how much pain and hardship will follow.
Tricia humbly and intimately reveals her personal story to us. By sharing all of the heavy details of her and her daughter’s struggles, she illustrates this near-palpable growth as a mother and an individual. She portrays for us a beautiful example of what it takes to gain self-respect. She leaves no stone unturned regarding her past mistakes, fears, and afflictions.
Tricia’s reflection of herself as a mother and how it all but consumed her is one of the most affecting pieces in the book. “Mostly full-time parenting had sheltered me from my deeper, more troubled self, the one I kept avoiding as I preoccupied myself with family matters.” She makes it easy to understand how she got to where she is, and she makes it clear that she is hellbent on changing it.
We have all forgotten ourselves at one point, and The Apparition serves as a serious warning to take care of every aspect of our lives, not just what is in front of us. It could also be a beginner’s guide for anyone who does not know how to deal with their own seeming mental illness or that of someone they love.
Tricia and Annie share their infuriating experiences with the mental health system and shed light on what must change in order to properly help someone in need as they are and were. The inclusion of a bibliography at the end of the memoir, focused on anxiety and depression, as well as information on their work with the Hearing Voices Movement, puts the cherry on top. Although they admit they aren’t anywhere out of the woods yet, they know it will always be a process, and they want you to know that too.
I’d recommend The Apparition to anyone with a family member or loved one who struggles with any form of mental illness. Perhaps you can’t understand why they act the way they do or maybe you even see yourself in them a bit. Whatever it might be, the Stafford women open up their lives so you can take a look inside and see what there is to learn. They never claim that their situation will be better or worse than yours, but they do claim that taking responsibility for where you are mentally and spiritually is a good first step.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Mental Health & Mental Illness
Print Length: 252 pages
Thank you for reading Madeline Barbush’s book review of The Apparition by Patricia Stafford with Annie Stafford! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.