The Making of Memoir: An Archive that is Paradise Lost, a Technology that is Paradise Regained


Yesterday, for the first time, I watched a video-taped therapy session—one of hundreds I have from 1993-1999—years when my bipolar disorder was at its worse.

This required a degree of gutsiness on my part, as I had avoided watching these for years, fearing that actually seeing myself so sick would, not only be painful, but also destabilizing—that it would almost magically, at least in my mind, make my symptoms return, catapult me back 15 years into the cacophony of crazy I lived for more than a decade.

Fortunately, this did not happen.  And fortunately I realized, for the first time—just how valuable these tapes will be in writing a memoir, as I have, I’m sure, at least 1000 hours of myself on videotape narrating my life as it unfolded around me—describing it so my therapist could know what was happening on a day-to-day basis—and ultimately (and more importantly) so I could have a record—so I could, at the time, review the tapes and, in effect, multiply those hours in therapy each time I watched—maximizing the benefit I gained from each session.

As I look back on it now, I’m amazed at the brilliance of this as a treatment modality, and even more amazed how these will enable me to piece together those years—so much of which I’ve forgotten—to weave the threads of narrative into the strong stuff of story.

I decided to start watching the sessions  that framed the journal entries I’ve shared over the last couple of days—entries that included both a grocery list that I thought evidenced my financial struggle and writing I did about my fear of homelessness.

Practically speaking, the video both filled in the gaps left by my journal entries and lead me to other sources of information—more budgeting lists I described on camera that were not part of the journal itself, and drawings I did that were in sketchbooks I hadn’t previously associated with this time.

drawing from November 1996

The fact remains that I have massive amounts of written and drawn material from these years—not all of which was well-organized.  However, on videotape I can see what a particular sketchbook looked like and actually undertake a search for it.  Knowing what these things look like in concrete terms increases my ability to find them quickly.

Bravo to my therapist for having the clinical expertise (even brilliance) to recognize the value in this videotaping enterprise and for providing the technology necessary to do these recordings as far back at 1993, when cameras were big and bulky and cost a small life savings.  These were not the handy flip cameras we have today.

Realizing what’s on these tapes renews my faith—my belief that I can, indeed, tell this story.

I had feared for a long time that I couldn’t write a memoir, since the genre presupposes intact memories, which I have few of—especially during the years I was most ill.  Now I have a new certainty that this project is not only possible, but also, perhaps, predestined—at the very least, meant to be.

This story is begging to be told—one I know was gifted to me.  Clearly God gave me many challenges—huge challenges, challenging challenges, but having lived this pain, having endured these trials, gives my story, not only the grit needed to tell a story about mental illness, but also the depth of experience that is fundamentally human—that is life on this painful but perfect planet—paradise lost, yes, but paradise regained, as well.

(Note:  My partner Sara and I will be on vacation from Friday, May 20th through Thursday, May 26th.  I will likely take a vacation from the blogosphere, as well.  See you after the 26th.)

32 thoughts on “The Making of Memoir: An Archive that is Paradise Lost, a Technology that is Paradise Regained

  1. I agree with Renee, but I also want to add that you are an amazing woman. Plus, I think some of your fears about memoir and memory are unfounded. In some of the memoirs I’ve read, I doubt very much that the author remembers every event with such detail. The events may be true, the specifics are fleshed out through the art of writing. You, my friend, actually have more honest fodder to fuel depictions of your past then most people.

    I hope you and Sara have a wonderful vacation! “See you” when you get back.

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    • You are probably right about this, Lisa. I think they embellish the details, cause I don’t see how anyone could remember their entires lives in such detail. But thank you, my friend! You’re dear!

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  2. YES, I would love to see you write a memoir. It would help so many people see that it is possible to survive and SUCCEED with mental illness. Blessings to you on your trip!! Your posts will be missed.

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  3. Yes!! Way to face your fears and watch the first videotape– you emerged untarnished and victorious! I hope you and Sara have a wonderful vacation– you both deserve it! 🙂

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    • And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe now enough time has elapsed. We’re looking forward to getting away to the exotic outback that is South Geeorgia! LOL

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    • Yes, it’s a relief to me, as well! And, really, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it woud be–so that’s good too. Thanks so much for your comment! How great to hear from you———————–

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  4. Wow! Is videotaping therapy sessions fairly common in situations like this, or something special that you and your therapist decided to do particularly for you? I agree that these tapes are a definite sign that you were meant to write a memoir.

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    • I know it wasn’t common at all back then. It was a very new idea, actually. There more be more people who are doing it now, but I don’t personally know of any. Glad you think the memoir is meant to be!

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  5. Kudos to you for having the courage to watch those tapes. I hope you and Sara have a wonderful relaxing vacation! Stay safe! 🙂

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  6. Kudos indeed to your therapist, and to you for having the bravery to be videotaped. It does seem to confirm your determination to write a memoir and should make it much easier. I envy you quite a bit, as there are huge chunks of my past which are lost to me due to dissociation and memory loss, due to cult brainwashing from a very young age. Have a great vacation with Sara!

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  7. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must have been like to watch yourself on your tapes. My goodness I can’t even watch an old family video or even photographs without feeling a little unnerved and I never really understand why. Like 2summers I am curious if that was a common clinical practice – I couldn’t believe it when you wrote that you were going to watch them, but maybe that is for the memoir to explain. It is all such rich detail in itself Kathy, including what you feel are few intact memories and your ability to tell your story is what makes it complete. And look at your drawing from the time – full of colour and expression, grit indeed. Have a lovely vacation, miss you already!

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    • Thanks, Penny! The answer is, no, it was not at all common back then. I don’t know if anyone is doing it today! Not that I know of–though!

      (My Sara feels that same way you do about watching herself, by the way.)

      I’m going to miss you too, my friend! See you soon——————————

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  8. I’m amazed at how much your life has been chronicled through your journals, art, and now these videotapes.
    It will be so important to share with the world how your mind works when you are not well, so people can better understand and be more empathetic. Similar to “Still Alice” – I thought of you when I wrote that review.
    I feel a shift in your attitude and desire to write this memoir. I know you have gone through a period of doubt, but seem to have turned a positive corner. Can you feel the momentum?
    I’m excited for you, I think this project is going to be powerful.

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    • I certainly enjoyed your review of the book! And, yes, I think you are right–I do have a renewed belief in the project. I’m starting to feel a bit more confident–so thanks for noticing, Deanna. Hope you’ve had a good weekend!

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  9. Destined. Yes.
    And getting away on a vacation can only give you more perspective and creative elbow room. I can’t wait to see what you do when you come back.

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  10. Amazing, to have all that to help you sort through your life. Your memoir is going to be an incredibly powerful work. I can just feel it.

    I hope you’re having a wonderful vacation that includes plenty of fun and relaxation. And no blogging! 😀

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