Were it not for the subtitle of this intimate diary-turned-memoir, we might be just as baffled as by author Katherine L. Fogg’s behavior — mood swings, chronic insomnia, impulsive acts followed by stifling depression— as she is herself. Spanning 14 years, until her official diagnosis of bipolar disorder at age 30, When Silence Screams details Fogg’s struggles to understand her own fragile psyche.
The book begins with the typical ramblings of an overly dramatic, rebellious 16-year-old, with tales of drinking too much, driving too fast and obsessing over her idols: actor James Dean, Manson murder victim Sharon Tate, and suicidal poet Sylvia Plath. But as years pass, Fogg is still confused and distressed, desperately fighting the panic and hopelessness that threaten to consume her: “I have a frailty of mind that complicates simple matters into unsolvable dilemmas,” she writes. “I am my own frenzied adversary.”
Penned in a style that often reveals Fogg’s intellectual (though not emotional) maturity and delivered with poetic lyricism—“The human body is frail; delicate; it can be snapped in half like a twig; bones break; the body bleeds” —the narrative’s misspelled words and odd punctuation can be forgiven because this is, after all, a diary. Likewise, the disjointed prose suits her material, which is more catharsis than chronicle, at least early on. Fortunately, as Fogg ages, she writes with more detail that brings her ordeal to life.
By her early 20s, Fogg’s mental illness and accompanying eating disorders are out of control, despite glimmers of hope. The true turning point comes when she is finally diagnosed and seeks help.
Despite its darkness, When Silence Screams is a well-written, interesting story that will appeal to a general audience. It could also offer solace to teens and young adults going through tough times, including mental illness. Just as importantly, Fogg’s seemingly unexplainable behavior will undoubtedly resonate with friends and family trying to understand and offer support.