Review: I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir
October 9, 2020
I went into I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder with my own baggage, and expecting Sarah Kurchak to carry it for me. I didn’t know that was what I wanted; that I wanted the memoir to uplift me and validate my own opinions on autism, without anything messy like the entire life of the author getting in the way. But when I was finished, I was left stunned, my own anxiety whirling after reading the description of the meltdown/panic attack in the book’s final pages. I’d had my expectations of autism and mental illness memoirs disrupted. But I Overcame My Autism is not meant to be a comfortable read, and it’s not afraid to confront readers about the biases we have against disabled writers writing about their disabilities.
Each chapter of I Overcame My Autism covers a major milestone in Sarah Kurchak’s life, framed around issues that are common points of discussion and disagreement in the autism world. Altogether, the memoir works to deconstruct the laughably oversimplified autism narratives that rule popular discourse. As Kurchak explains, neurotypicals (and some neurodivergent people) want stories of mental illness and autism to be a straight line from problem to solution; from the depths of disability to its absence. These stories are also expected to be inspiring, but not romanticizing, educational, but not too unconventional, entertaining without exaggerating, and relatable without making it seem like the author isn’t disabled enough to be writing about disability at all. As an autistic writer myself, it was thrilling to see this irony exposed: neurotypical readers complain about the apparent selfishness and solipsism of neurodivergent writers, while feeling entitled to force entire diverse marginalized groups into stories that match their own ways of thinking. I was grateful for Kurchak’s insights about the intense, ableist criticism neurodivergent writers face, and feel more prepared to face it myself now that I’m starting to write about disability.
And, although I’m aware that someone else’s life story isn’t about me, sometimes it felt like this memoir was about me. Kurchak and I both dropped out of high school to be homeschooled, spent our later adolescent years in isolation, and became somewhat ambling writers in adulthood. We also experience anxiety, sensory sensitivity, and meltdowns in ways that are so similar, it’s uncanny. Kurchak often describes these experiences self-critically (she considers herself to be a cautionary tale), and her self-hatred sometimes triggered my own. If you’re sensitive to self-hatred related to neurodivergent traits, please read with caution, as self-flagellation is present throughout this book.
As much as it aims to work against neurotypical perceptions and ableism, I Overcame My Autism has much to offer its autistic and anxious readers. Kurchak has a great sense of humor (there’s an entire chapter about her time as a professional pillow fighter), and makes frequent use of irony and hyperbole, which could sometimes be difficult for my brain to make sense of, but once I understood, enriched my understanding of her story and her point of view. Kurchak also explores several of her interests in depth, providing knowledge and enthusiasm on topics like wrestling, music, and the TV shows The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Prisoner.
I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder is an autistic and anxious book that contains insights any neurodivergent person or ally can find some use for, as long as they’re willing to listen. Kurchak establishes her personal boundaries well, and doesn’t sacrifice her honesty, privacy, or principles for the benefit of neurotypical readers. The things she has to say about living in an ableist and inaccessible world shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m grateful that she’s said them, and said them on her own terms.
Content Warning for I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir: Discussion of ABA (applied behavior analysis); detailed descriptions of sensory sensitivities, especially regarding clothing textures; bullying; some use of medicalized language to describe autism; discussion of drinking and using drugs to cope with disability; autistic meltdown and burnout; self-hatred, sometimes related to neurodivergent traits; mention of suicidal ideation and self-harm; panic attacks and anxiety; existential anxiety; discussion of the possibility of sudden physical injury; harassment of autistic writer by non-autistic family members of autistic people and anti-vaxxers.
Here are some places and formats this book is available in as of October 9, 2020. (I am not a part of any affiliate programs and do not receive compensation for links, clicks, or purchases.)
Bookshop has a paperback edition.
Indigo (CA) has a paperback and ebook edition.
Amazon Kindle edition (US). Amazon also has a paperback edition.
Indiebound (US) can give you a list of bookstores near you where this book might be available.