“Set in New York the 1970s, in the midst of the Patty Hearst kidnapping case, Hystera tells the story of one young woman’s battle with intimacy and independence.
After Lillian Weill’s father suffers an accident, Lillian blames herself for the repercussions. Her father was the head of the house, seeing him resort to being a child-like patient defeats her emotionally. The injuries he suffered forced him to undergo a dramatic personality change, including inappropriate and uninhibited sexual behavior. Lillian retreats into herself, abandoning the outside world. When she attempts suicide, she is voluntarily checked into a psychiatric hospital. Any attempts to examine her, now complaining of physical discomfort in her abdomen, results in severe physical outbursts. She is quarantined in a safe room, a quiet room that protects Lillian from herself just as much as from the other patients.
Yearning was a burning in her flesh. She had a love disease of flammability; love was dangerous. Intimacy made her feel as though her bowels were crying out. Everything inside her was as fragile as the spider spins on a tree branch in the midst of a forest fire. This is why she tried to die. She was burning up.
Lillian’s descent into mental illness is a truly painful one. She believes herself to be so apparent, so obvious in her feelings yet has a difficulty portraying to the doctors. Eventually, through the help of other patients and her own doctor, Lillian is able to correlate the changes in her family life to the descent into mental instability she suffered.
Written in first person, the reader is able to follow the path Lillian takes from instability to normalcy. What starts out as jumbled, incoherent speech transforms into clear thought. Lillian does not at first accept a mental instability, but claims she has a physical one, one that involves her sexuality and intimacy. It isn’t hard to tie what is truly happening to Lillian to the physical manifestations she experiences. She is shameful of her sexuality, of the parts of her anatomy that influence arousal. A woman’s sexuality is, at times, the very core of her being. Allowing oneself to have feelings of a sexual nature also opens up a level of vulnerability, a need for intimacy as well.
Hystera is a truly unique, painfully honest portrayal of one young woman’s battle with intimacy and ultimately, acceptance of one’s actions. Told directly by the patient herself, the reader gets a front row view of an incredibly sick and damaged young woman. The path she takes to recovery is an incredibly rewarding one, a story that will be long savored in my soul. This is a book that I feel won’t be understood and appreciated by all, but one that affected me like no other. Highly recommended.
Causes Leora Skolkin-Smith Supports
Israel/Palestine issues women issues Mental Health system