cover image Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion

Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion

Amy S. Wilensky. Broadway Books, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-7679-0185-7

Growing up is difficult enough without the added stress of an unattractive and little-understood neurological condition that causes one to twitch, pick at one's skin, hoard rotten food or step six times on each stair and manhole cover one passes. No wonder Wilensky, who didn't realize she had Tourette's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder until she was in college, tried so hard to pass for normal. A graduate of Columbia's M.F.A. writing program, she insightfully and intimately describes the symptoms that emerged during her early school years and soon dominated her life. These tics infuriated her father, who accused her of looking ""crazy"" and insisted she stop. Increasingly confused, fearing for her sanity and sometimes bullied by her classmates, Wilensky managed to negotiate her way through adolescence. But when, as a Vassar student, she was plagued by insistent compulsions to harm herself, she finally sought psychiatric help. Her diagnosis was both a relief and a challenge, for it forced her to confront her own ambivalence about otherness. ""If the tics and rituals were as much a part of me as the mole on the back of my neck,"" she muses as she considers taking medication, ""then eliminating them with a pop of a pill was an eradication of my very soul."" Wilensky's emotional honesty and surprising humor make this memoir not only an informative account of diagnosis and treatment, but an exceptionally wise exploration of larger themes of difference and the need to belong. Agent, Amanda Urban, ICM. Author tour. (Aug.)