The book Every Last Word gets recommended often as a story about obsessive compulsive disorder. I struggled to get into it at first, because Every Last Word is not focused just on OCD. It does more. It made me uncomfortable as I identified with the character, Sam, deeply as the story continued.
Mental Illness as Fluid
One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel is its complex portrayal of mental illness. I have had OCD all my life, and, unlike Sam, I hadn’t been diagnosed as a young teen. In fact, it was not until I was in my mid to late twenties that my therapist diagnosed it.
The author shows some typical OCD habits in Sam’s behavior. From the counting of threes and the obsessive researching, it seems like a classic case of OCD, but then, another disorder is introduced by the final quarter of the book, and it made me so ecstatic.
You see, the book presents Sam as a person, not an illness. When presented with difficult realities, coping mechanisms kick in. On a personal level, I relate to this very much as someone who experiences various psychotic episodes frequently. Not only that, but the book also suggests that disability is not just clear cut boxes to check. There’s more to it than what people normally expect. It’s frustrating and oddly comforting.
Another fantastic aspect of the novel is its exploration of identity’s relationship with disability. Sam focuses her energy on being “normal,” which speaks volumes about the role society plays into a disabled person’s life. There is a lot of pressure and suppression of feelings because Sam wants to appear “normal.” By extension, being “normal” implies that she is worthy of having friends, having hobbies, having interests, having relationships.
It is very powerful to see this struggle in a book because I thought no one else feels this way. Most disabled people I have met are rather accepting of their life. Not me. I always longed to fit into the mold of normalcy.
As the novel unfolds, Sam learns that her identity is beyond her illnesses. While they are a part of her life, they don’t necessarily hinder her ability to live a fulfilling life.
Disability as Different, but Not Inferior
Her therapist Shrinky Sue tells her of another patient who could see sounds. She talks of how full his life is rather than unpleasant. Sure, it is isolating to be different, but it can also help empower a person.
Sam doesn’t have a full-circle of accepting her disability completely and I found that rather satisfying, because I don’t know if anyone should be “cured” to have growth.
That’s the thing about disability, there’s no end result for recovery. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes, you’ll fall back into the pit.