At the end of 2021 I nominated MY FRIEND FOX as the best book I’d read that year.
Part parable and part memoir, this book, written by Melbourne-based author and stand-up comedian Heidi Everett, documents her mental health battles – what she refers to as ‘mental shenanigans’ – and specifically her time spent in a psychiatric ward.
The words made an impression on me chiefly I think for the manner in which they’ve been written. Wise, deeply moving and utterly poetic are three descriptions that come close to capturing their essence. The experience of looking deep into the abyss is conveyed in a style equal parts soul-nourishing and heart-breaking.
I can’t think of any better way to convey a sense of the magic of this text than hand over some extracts.
Brace yourself. Here we go…
“Socially, our family was an island on an island surrounded by moats of jagged rocks and raised drawbridges. Traps that were loaded and set in childhood went off with the slightest nudge in my adulthood because the psychological hunters knew their quarry was a long-term project and were prepared to wait.”
“My eyes splutter open with the energy of a rusty old tractor. My body has been stuck in an unsolved Rubik’s cube for so long. I’m lying on the floor of my unit, where I folded up some weeks ago. The blue carpet surrounds me like the giant Pacific Ocean. Desiccated tear-soaked tissues fleck the surface like frozen whitecaps.
My island is a pillow, beached on a shoreline of awkward blankets. The tv gurgles noise, no particular channel giving any hint of any particular climate in this godforsaken latitude. I can see the numbers on the wall clock so it must be daytime. A blackened banana sits on the coffee table.
“My only meaningful human interaction is with my mental health caseworkers. ‘How are you.’ Is the medication working.’ ‘Do you need a new script.’ Never with a question mark. ‘Okay’ I say to each not-question. I came into this place with all the energy of a meteor. I leave a diluted shadow.”
“I decide there’s something about human faces that takes all my energy to process. It’s like looking directly into the sun and working out why you can’t see afterwards.“
“I’m scared of every thought, every idea, every internal commentary I have. I constantly assess if it’s a good thought, or a bad thought. Is this helpful? Or is this not helpful? But as time passes I start to lose my vigilance. My thoughts have become my enemies. I must not think.“