Wild: A Journey That Takes You Along For The Ride

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild, an amazing memoir by Cheryl Strayed

I recently crossed an entry off my ever-growing reading list by tackling Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Part memoir, part cathartic experience, this gripping read brings you along during Strayed’s journey of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT).

“I was alone. I was barefoot. I was twenty-six years old and an orphan too. An actual stray, a stranger had observed a couple of weeks before, when I’d told him my name and explained how very loose I was in the world. “

During this life-altering experience, Strayed dips back into memories or moments from her life that explain her actions, decisions and how she arrived at her starting point of the trail in the Mojave Desert, via a hitchhiked ride, completely unprepared even though she was overloaded with the weight of her pack (aptly named “Monster).

Cheryl Strayed on the PCT

Cheryl Strayed on the PCT in southern California, June 1995.

From page one, I was hooked. It’s not only the life-or-death moments (although those do happen on the remote PCT); it’s the inner journey that Strayed takes to finally heal from her mother’s death and move on with her life. Despite the rapidly changing conditions, wild animals and extreme exhaustion, the author is able to hear her own voice on long, lonely stretches where it was only her and Mother Nature.

Cheryl Strayed at Crater Lake

Cheryl Strayed at Crater Lake near the PCT, August 1995.

You actually feel like you’re along for the ride. For a lot of us, this is as close as we’ll ever get to hiking the PCT, but you feel a connection with Strayed early on. Why? She’s grieving, lost and flawed, yet determined to find herself and right her ship before it’s too late.

Haven’t we all been there on some level? Maybe you’ve made a poor decision, let a close friend down or found yourself in a depressing relationship that you can’t get out of. We’ve all faced obstacles, some more than others, and had to overcome them in order to move on with our lives. That’s where Strayed’s story fits in.

Wild reaches out, grabs your heart and makes an emotional connection. When you’ve read the last page, you may feel like you’ve made a journey yourself — not hiking the PCT but tackling a demon or problem in your own life.

If I haven’t piqued your interest enough, check out the book’s trailer…

Have you read the book? What did you think?

If not, are you interested in reading this book now?

What’s the best memoir that you’ve ever read?

Photos and video courtesy of Cheryl Strayed’s website

An early happy birthday, America! Best wishes to you and yours for a fun, safe and reflective 4th of July.

Cheers,
Jaime

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Mental Illness: Why don’t we talk about it?

Mental illness. Why don’t we talk about it?

There have been a number of taboos in society over the years, and one by one they have slipped (or been forced) into mainstream conversation. Sex, alternative lifestyles, birth control, racial equality, etc. But mental illness has somehow remained elusive.

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I recently listened to a scary, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting tale of mental illness, Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. In the book, Cahalan describes her “month of madness,” detailing how she slipped dangerously close to coma and even death due to a rare autoimmune disease which caused her body to attack her brain. Although she has no memory of her month-long hospital stay, the then 24-year-old compiled an amazingly detailed recollection based on doctor interviews, family journals and medical records. Per Callahan, this illness is now considered to be the source of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

  

I appreciate Cahalan having the courage to write this memoir and relive this terrifying experience. It was amazing to see how much about the brain is still unknown and how dangerously close this young, bright journalist was to being committed to a lifetime of institutions and being written off as psychotic.

Reading (or in my case listening) to a book of this nature is disconcerting, because it forces you to come to terms with how precious life is. One day we’re experiencing life as usual, then suddenly we’re falling off a cliff with no parachute.

Maybe that’s why mental illness is still such a taboo subject. It makes us uncomfortable because of how little we still understand about so many mental illnesses and how quickly we could end up in an institution.

That’s why I admire people like Elyn Saks, who came forward to discuss her struggle with schizophrenia in a TED Talk. Watching Saks detail her struggles to cope illuminated just how difficult mental illnesses are to deal with, especially in a world that still shies away from the subject. (For more TED Talks that will stretch your mind on mental illness, click here.)

While we continue to research and learn about mental illnesses, we need people to continue to come forward with their stories of heartbreak and courage. They will help us all to see that mental illness can be the subject of conversation, and ultimately answers.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Have you come across any other wonderful resources? If so, please share! We can all benefit from learning more about this subject and educating those around us.

Photo and Susannah Cahalan’s Month of Madness video courtesy of her website

Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness — from the inside courtesy of TED Talks

Be grateful!
Jaime

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