Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

The Best 100 Indie Books of 2020

An engrossing and often beautiful portrait of living with mental illness.

“A young woman struggles to find her place in the world while also grappling with her mental health in this debut memoir.

After Poniarski inadvertently consumed PCP at a college party, she found herself consumed by the notion of an incoherent conspiracy involving socialists and alien craft—which she continued to have after the drug wore off. “My brain fed me lies,” she says of the experience, which caused her parents to put her under the care of a psychiatrist for the first time.

Her memoir continues from this moment, recounting her tumultuous 20s during the late 1970s and early ’80s in New York City. Poniarski struggled to finish an architecture degree as she bounced from one program to another, unable to successfully finish courses and fearful that her peers might learn of her “psychotic side”. In a similar manner, she shuttled between her parents’ home on Long Island and apartments in Manhattan, her independence constantly jeopardized by paranoid thoughts and mistrust of roommates and friends. Most poignant, however, is Poniarski’s account of her search for a suitable romantic partner. As she struggles with shame about her sexual feelings, she finds herself drawn to various lovers who each reject her, which only fuels her desire to break out of a lonely existence. Poniarski tells a story with heavy themes, but her prose remains graceful throughout. As she recounts outrageous thoughts and actions, she does so in a manner that not only gets across her distorted view of reality, but also the very real emotions she felt; at one point, for instance, she tells of slapping a man on an airplane after falsely thinking that he was making fun of her. In her fractured accounts of exchanges with colleagues, friends, and lovers, Poniarski also offers clever insights into sexism, the high expectations of her affluent Jewish community, and changing attitudes toward mental health.

An engrossing and often beautiful portrait of living with mental illness.”

Midwest Book Review

Journey of the Self: Memoir of an Artist represents a journey not just through personality and ambition, but surveys how Ruth Poniarski’s pursuit of her art led her in the direction she’d longed to realize—locating a soul mate and best friend.

Lovely black and white images in acrylics pepper her memoir. Her story shares life experiences and anecdotes, therapy pros and cons, encounters with various kinds of people, and goals which are challenged and changed by life experiences.

Poniarski’s voice is analytical, strong in its self-assessments, and holds important messages for those in therapy or on their own roads to self-discovery: “The doctor didn’t realize the pattern of psychosis developing when a stressful situation evolved. My illness was difficult to understand and not defined in the same way as diabetes or a heart condition. His Freudian style of therapy was not effective in curtailing my decompensation. I needed him to tell me the basics for my survival within the boundaries of my limitations. I needed to know that I should avoid chaos and too many events happening at once. He should have warned me against reenrolling in an architecture program and making a big move into the city at the same time.”

From how she overcame a poor self-image and recurring episodes of mental anguish to her struggles with a worsening disorder and her relationship to another who struggled with his own different form of mental illness, Poniarski chronicles struggles, successes, challenges, and the progression of not just her disease, but her recovery process.

Her memoir is an inspirational lesson plan for others who battle mental illness. In the course of a journey to discover who she truly is, Poniarski provides insights not just into self-realization, but assessing and handling doctors and medical systems that can either enhance or thwart the pursuit of peace and happiness.

Readers interested in personal stories of mental illness and recovery will find much food for thought in Poniarski’s survey of her condition, her relationships, and the medical system that she navigates, and will find Journey of the Self a satisfying memoir with a happy ending.