Like the proverbial roadside collision, April Smart’s slide into depression resulted in a wreckage that’s hard to ignore. One Odd Girl is a detail-driven account of her battle in depression’s “combat zone.” Written as a series of 10 letters to “My dear friend,” the South Africa-born wife and mother adopts an intimate, conversational style that describes her downward spiral: the prickly panic attacks, the 3 a.m. terrors, the neatness compulsions gone bad.
At her best, Smart is a keen-eyed guide who skillfully describes her darkest moments, such as a bout of psychiatric care when the mirror revealed a “face of misery with dead eyes.” But often, she drowns her story in a stream-of-consciousness style that leaves readers floundering in a sea of depressive details. Sometimes, the immersion is so overwhelming that when she muses, “Depression Major is there any other?” the reader wants to shout: “Oh I hope so! Did you have any normal days at all?”
It turns out there were normal days, but Smart’s description of herself as a happy wife and mother only makes her struggle as “one odd girl” all the more mysterious: “I am not dissatisfied with my life, not hankering after something else nor am I ungrateful yet there is this thing I know I am lacking for. Damn! Damn! What is it?”
Her answer involves a complex retracing of the past, including an orphanage upbringing and heartbreaking family deaths. By Letter 8, Smart is using what she has learned about herself to give advice to others, from managing fear to taking medications. But clearly, a full answer is elusive.
This “odd girl” turns out to be an intelligent, sensitive woman who has learned to be gentle with herself, though still beset by unfinished answers and compulsively unfinished crossword puzzles. Despite its flaws, her story will interest those who wonder what depression looks like “from the inside out” and encourage sufferers with its message of hope.
Also available as an ebook.