about traci foust

9 Dec

“Foust writes like a possessed Lynda Barry” – D.A. Kodelenko, San Diego City Beat Magazine

Traci Foust is the Author of the newly released book Nowhere Near Normal- a Memoir of OCD (Simon and Schuster/Gallery) acclaimed by National Public Radio, the San Diego Union Tribune and Marie Claire. Her work has appeared in several journals including The Nervous Breakdown and the Southern Review.

Her recent short story, The Cruelty of Children, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and will appear in the Fall 2011 issue Echo Ink Review and the Trey Stories Award Series.

She is currently working on her second book Love and Xanax, A cautionary collection of essays on mixing Vicodin with vodka and why dating your psychiatrist isn’t always the best way to get your own prescription pad. She lives in a place where her love of cigarettes and bacon is frowned upon.

meds onboard-the psych ward that wasn’t

20 Mar

“I’m feeling much better now. Clearer.”

— Sarah Connor

Why do they have to call it “mutilation?” That’s such a murder word.

The nurse who checks my bag says I’ll have to leave my facial astringent and mouthwash in an assigned locker. “They’re hot,” she tells me. I will soon learn “hot” is psych-ward code talk for, Sorry, these items contain alcohol. Our facility has strict rules against clear skin/fresh breath/pulling an Amy Winehouse.

cutterIt’s my first night of a two week stay at the Crossroads Center for Psychiatric Caring. A palm tree infested facility stiffly posed between the cow patty waft of farm town concrete and wine vineyards. For reasons I’ll never be clear about, this hospital likes its adverbs, italicizing the word CARING on every sign, pen and document.  The nurse wears her CARING tag pinned to the breast of her Winnie the Pooh scrub smock because the slightly emo animals of Christopher Robin’s childhood emphasizes someone who cares in a way that plain green never could.

“I’m not going to drink my makeup,” I say. I’m sweaty and itchy and nervous. Outside the temperature is just a little over a typical July afternoon in California’s Central Valley. 112 degrees. I know this because the EMT who rode in the back of the ambulance with me kept saying, “A hundred and twelve? Really? Really?”

This is the first time I’ve been out of the house in three weeks. I haven’t slept in three days.  Winnie the Pooh is upsetting somehow.

“Sorry,” The nurse says. “I know it seems silly but we can’t take chances.” She pulls the rest of my belongings from an old duffel bag I bought for a quarter at a garage sale. It’s hard to find sensible luggage in orange. Someone wrote WE LOVE OUR COACH in black Sharpie on the nylon handles, and I thought maybe someday I might take a trip somewhere, and the people in the airport would look at that bag instead of a grown woman who has to continuously snap her fingers to the count of seven to stop herself from thinking about the ineffectiveness of airplane seats doubling as floatation devices.

Look what her team wrote on her bag! What an inspiring person she must be.

The nurse makes a list of all the things I have brought in my pursuit of turning into someone worthy of WE LOVE OUR COACH. Socks, hair clips, notebooks, a carton of Marlboro Lights, pajama bottoms and a Depeche Mode t-shirt I stole from Ross. “These are the only clothing items?” She asks. I answer her by pleading to keep my jar of Vicks Vaporub in my room. I need a lot of Vicks. I forget to answer about the clothes. Aside from nightgowns and basketball shorts, I haven’t been concerned about fashion for a while now.

“Let’s see,” she says, flipping through my file. She opens up the lid of my Chapstick and sniffs it.

“How did you get my paperwork so fast?” I ask. But I really want to know about my Vicks.

“It’s your ER file,” she tells me. “As soon as dispatch calls us they bring it in from downstairs.”

I know a lot about downstairs. Downstairs knows a lot about me. Until I sought counseling for my panic attacks I was a regular on the EKG machine. Chest pains, palpitations: “I think I’m having a heart attack.” Shortness of breath, blurry vision: “Maybe I caught listeria from bad lettuce, but maybe a heart attack too.”  Tingling hands, nausea: “My neighbor cut my grass and he didn’t look well. I touched the lawn mower when he was done. I’m almost positive it’s some sort of heart attack.”

Yes on the Vicks. I want to put some in my nose right now. I want to think of my dead grandmother and my dead mother and all the mentholated chest rub times between us. I would also like to stop thinking about these things. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here.

“Okay, I see it now,” the nurse says. “Obsessive compulsive disorder, acute depression, self-mutilation—”

Why do they have to call it mutilation? That’s such a murder word. If I had bigger boobs and could sing there’d be a sort of Bette- Midler-in-The-Rose awesomeness to cutting. But hearing this woman in her nursery room clothes say “mutilation” gives it all a Jeffery Dahmer/ Hannibal Lector quality. I’ve never mutilated anyone. I’ve never ate someone’s face. But I’m also not a Janis Joplin type who died on stage of an overdose. So at least there’s that.

“Where do you cut?” I’m asked. I show the nurse my arms. They’re not that bad. I have a cat no one likes so that pretty much takes care of questions from people who aren’t looking at my file.  “Can you write something else besides mutilation?”

“Not my word, Sweetie,” she says, and it’s only now do I realize the name on her hospital ID badge reads Bunny. “It’s the doctor’s diagnosis. But don’t worry,” Bunny says, “you’ve got a self-risk analysis coming up tonight and it also looks like you’re due to fill out your  two week action plan. You can ask your doctor to change it then.”

I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was a eight-years-old. OCD, panic attacks, depression. I was once so preoccupied with spontaneous human combustion I kept a Ragu jar filled with water next to my pillow and slept with my hand bubble-gummed to the lid. Also, my brother spent the majority of his teen years calling me Hemorrhoid. I know The Couch. I know the psychobabble. But I sometimes wonder if everything would be clearer, work faster, if doctors and nurses showed more concern for honesty than regulation? “Ok Ms. Foust, it’s pretty apparent by the Hello Kitty stickers on your Ace of Base sweatshirt you’ve got a lot of issues, but we just need to make sure you’re here for legitimate medical reasons and not because you’re trying to score a free vacation and worried about the bed sheets at Econo Lodge.”

During my hospital stay I’ll learn a sufficient amount of facility shop talk to earn lifetime status as Top Contributor to Urban Dictionary. I’ll help a Vicodin addict stay awake long enough to finish a game of Mouse Trap. I’ll watch a screaming naked man receive an injection that shrinks him into stars and cellophane right in front of my room. And I’ll learn this sudden calmness is what’s known as Waxing the T-Zone: An altered state of Jim Morrison in the Mojave Desert reality, only sleepier, usually achieved after large doses of Thorazine or Ativan. After his morning medication Harvey waxed the T-Zone then nodded off during rainbow parachute time.

Crop Dusting, is another medical maxim that will come up often among the Birkenstock-footed doctors and wearers of Disney apparel. This is the slow and steady release of flatulent vapors accommodated by a Walking Dead shuffle in mismatched socks or pre-approved house shoes. Kelly waited for the schizophrenics to finish crop dusting the day room before she went in to straighten the magazines.

And speaking of magazines, all of mine are confiscated. The Atlantic, Scientific American, Skeptic. Woman’s Day is ok after Bunny scans it thoroughly. The others will be waiting in a locker alongside my shaw-shankable makeup and feminine deodorant spray, the idea being that an article on Bill Clinton’s blow jobs can be just as dangerous as an aerosol can of spring meadow freshness. It seems nothing I’ve brought to this place is safe enough to earn the status of caring.

I push down my sleeves and sign papers.

“…Bouts of aggressive behavior,” Nurse Bunny goes on, “non-compliance with prescription meds.”

By now I’ve started to cry. My therapist told me crying was nothing to be ashamed of so I’ve been doing a lot of it. I want to tell Nurse Bunny she’s got it all wrong. Bunny and her Winnie the Pooh smock. Bunny and her ugly fingernails that have been chewed down into scary scabs of hard Jell-O.

File that under mutilation.

“You can cry if you want,” Bunny says, which makes me not want to cry anymore. What I really want is to explain myself. I want to tell her that this “non-compliance with medications” thing has more to do with non-money than compliance. There’s a big difference between not taking your drugs, and not being able to afford them because your kid’s daycare price went up twenty bucks more a week due to you continuously forgetting to pack his lunch. And when you did manage to remember about children having to eat, you packed only a Cup-O-Soup and a banana in his Power Rangers backpack. But not because you’re a bad mom and you’re tired and you owe the cash advance place seventy-five dollars. Cup-O-Soups and bananas are the only things your kid will eat, and if you put something else in front of him like the spaghetti you’ve served your other children for three nights in a row, he’ll cry until he throws up. So you let him have the fucking Cup-O-Soup and the banana because maybe you really are a bad mom and you’re tired and there isn’t much else in the way of lunch because you owe the cash advance place seventy-five dollars.

Bunny’s on the heavy side and works in a hospital. I bet she completely understands Cup-O-Soups.

About the Aggressive Behavior part: That’s wrong, too. In a way. Last month I stuck a note to the windshield of a dented multi-color Chevy pickup that had boxed my little Geo Prism so tight in the Wal-Mart parking lot I had to squeeze myself in through the passenger side. As a result, I lodged my right knee into an open Big Gulp that was doubling as an ash tray. Here’s what I wrote: Hey Asshole, wouldn’t it be nice if compact cars folded up like real compacts? I was on my way to see my therapist that night so of course I told him what happened when he saw the stains on my pants. I thought my note was funny. It made me feel better. But I sure wouldn’t have laughed so hard and used the term, fucking hillbilly, if I would have known someone named Bunny with a serious nail biting problem would be locking up my magazines and taking notes on my aggressive behavior.

Kurt Cobain died two years ago. Everyone keeps saying Universe and Spiritual. I don’t know what to do with all this.

Nurse Bunny rubs my arm. She says I can cry whenever I want to. I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know. “I just want to keep my magazines.” My voice sounds like my kids when I try to convince them Captain Suds from the Dollar Store is just as good Mr. Bubbles: Genuinely woeful yet completely ineffective. Pathetically fit for the pictures on Bunny’s smock. This will be the voice I use pretty much the whole time I am here. It’s a tone of acceptance and failure, it’s begging for one more cigarette, a stronger sleeping pill. It’s having to apologize to another patient when I call her a cunt in such a way that I want her to hear me and forgive me at the same time. It’s the voice I’ll use when I phone my sister to tell her I’ve screwed up again.

Later when I’m fooled into thinking I’ve got this Universe/Spiritual nonsense down, that same voice will plead with a police officer while he handcuffs me and explains I’m being arrested on domestic violence charges.

“It’s going to be okay,” Bunny says.

I know it’s going to be ok. It’s always ok. Until it isn’t.

“We’ll get you settled in, get you some meds onboard—we’ve got lots of books and magazines I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”

Of all the bizarre expressions I will learn to describe folks who are not allowed to wear belts or go outside to smoke without a bright pink bracelet that specifically states: I AM ALLOWED TO SMOKE, my favorite phrase will quickly become, “Meds onboard.”  If Traci could get the right meds onboard maybe she could stop dust busting the inside of her dishwasher long enough to find a decent job. From the beautiful Puerto Rican bed check nurse to the terrified Mormon volunteer boy who passes out dessert cups, at some point I will hear everyone say Meds Onboard. Sure there will be endless talk of comfort zones, emotional projecting, and affirmations to declare that this is the first day of the rest of our lives, but it’s Meds Onboard that will make me giggle inappropriately when I’m supposed to be listening and caring.

One night, with the help of a gorgeous and way too-strong sleeping pill, the phrase will induce a Timothy Leary-inspired dream of colorful pill capsule people donning sailor caps and giant leis as the SS Meds Onboard sets sail for a happy holiday cruise. The Captain, a peppy hypodermic needle in an inner tube, dances a little medicated jig as all of us—the compulsives and the manic depressants, the mutilators and the combatives, the T-Zoners and the crop dusters wave goodbye in our bathrobes and I AM ALLOWED TO SMOKE bracelets. We throw streamers of single-ply toilet paper into shimmering waters while the reggae version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” carries us into the first day of the rest of our lives.

Bunny says I cannot make or accept phone calls until the psychiatrist comes to assess me. “That’s fine,” I say. “I don’t want to talk to anyone anyway.” Which isn’t all together true. I’d like to call my sister. She owes me forty Xanax and some muscle relaxers. My almost ex-husband knows I’m here but if I call him he’ll be mad about money, about having to stay at home and watch the children, two of which aren’t his. “You remember that the next time you say you hate me, Traci.”

“Can I call my boss?” I ask.

“Not until you’re assessed.”

I lost my job three weeks ago. I’m not sure why I’m talking about bosses.

Nurse Bunny asks me to follow her down a hallway that could be any hallway in any hospital except the pictures on the wall of seascapes and mountain streams are covered in brown-flecked Plexi glass. You can’t break one over your knee and cut up your Trivial Pursuit partner but you can still see your reflection in the scratchy cover. I catch sight of my sweaty face, a melancholy monster creeping past a contemplative woman holding a parasol.

There’s a demon on this beach Ma’am

Or haven’t you heard the news?

She’s come to fix her brain up,

Getting pink for grays and blues.

They tell her she’ll get normal,

Not clear about just how.

She’d take her life, or at least a pill,

To be where you are now.

“So here it is,” Nurse Bunny says, she makes a ta-da! sweep with her arm as we walk into a room with nothing much to ta-da! about. There are two beds, a nightstand and a dresser. There’s a window that looks out into a row of air conditioning units. There is no TV.

“We’ve got a big screen in the day room,” I’m told, which makes it sound like we’re not allowed to watch TV at night. Or at all. We’re not allowed to fall asleep to Bewitched or eat a bowl of Frankenberries while watching Dionne Warwick’s infomercial because cereal helps resist the urge to call a Psychic Friend. “This is a group meeting kind of place,” Nurse Bunny says. “We talk and we share. That’s how we’ll get you better.”

“I think I can get better faster with cable,” I say. “Do you have cable?” But the talk and the share part already answered my question.

Nurse Bunny says they have movies. “Good ones. With uplifting messages.”

Now I feel funny. “That sounds like Church,” I say. “They’re not churchy movies are they? Do you have Jaws?”  I like Jaws. My boys like Jaws. I like to see people in shitty, life threatening situations. It makes me grateful.

“They don’t have Jaws. They don’t have nothing.” This is Heather. She’s come in from smoking and she’s mad about something. I’m guessing by the way she’s flopped herself onto the bed next to mine that she’s my roommate. “Jesus fucking Christ, it’s hot outside,” she says.

Heather and I are introduced. She doesn’t want to shake my hand. But she does ask me if I smoke. And what brand? And did I bring a whole carton? In a place with lots of talking and uplifting movies, cigarette stats are pretty much all you need to make friends.

“I’m going to let you get settled,” Nurse Bunny says. “You’ve missed dinner,” she looks at my chart. “You’ve got some nighttime meds coming so we’ll take care of that before evening group.”

“Can I have a cigarette?”

Nurse Bunny reads more about the things I’ve got coming to me. She says she needs to do a risk assessment before I get my wrist band.

“Can we do that now?” I haven’t yet learned about the smoking wrists bands. I just really want a cigarette.

“Let me check on something and I’ll be right back. Go ahead and unpack. You girls get to know each other.” Meaning a very involved conversation about cigarettes is about to begin.

I ask Heather about the wrist band. I already have two. A yellow one with my name, my doctor’s name, my birth date and some abbreviations for what I think are either the meds I am currently taking or punk bands of the 80s. I also have a red wrist band that says Sulfa, Penicillin and Morphine, just in case someone wants to put me into anaphylactic shock they’ll know which drugs to inject.

“A smoking band,” Heather says. “They ask you all kinds of questions first. You know, to make sure you’re OK to go outside, then you get your smoking band.”

“Why wouldn’t I be OK to go outside? What kind of questions?”

“Stupid ones,” Heather says. “You have to sign this paper promising you won’t jump out into traffic or climb a fence or start throwing patio furniture around. Shit like that.”

I threw an ex-boyfriend’s electric guitar into a swimming pool once. I don’t know if I’m capable of ruining patio furniture.

Heather doesn’t ask me why I’m here. She watches me put away my clothes and talks about Henry in 236. Have I met Henry? I have not. But in less than thirty seconds I know he killed a man in high school and he has really nice eyes.

Within the course of me filling up a single drawer with things that aren’t my magazines I will also learn this about Heather: We are both 24. Our room number is 204 which means something more than we are both 24 and in a psyche ward. Heather is originally from Hawaii but moved to California to be with a man who is as equally good in bed as he is at cooking meth. Heather likes raw potato flakes. She used to eat a lot of them before she stopped eating all together.

Already I want to go home. But that won’t last long. Once I sign my paper about respecting patio furniture and get my pink wristband I’ll start to feel better. I’ll put Vicks in my nose while I cry in the bathroom because my anxiety about car crashes has stopped me from driving my children anywhere and I’ve had to hire a total stranger to take them to school and daycare while I wave goodbye on the lawn in my nightgown. I’ll sit in group and listen to a story about a woman who ties her shoelaces to railroad tracks yet has no desire to get hit by a train. But I’ll get my nighttime meds and my nighttime cigarette and I’ll be especially pleasant in group when I think about how good that cigarette will be once the meds wane me smaller, mildly important. It will be almost impossible to think about close calls with Amtrak or my children who cannot be in the car with me.

Outside on the patio Heather asks if I color my hair.

“I do,” I answer. “A lot.”

Then she asks if I know anything about aliens.

My answer is the same.

“Fucking A,” she says. We both light our cigarettes. “There’s three of us here.”

“Mexicans?” I ask.

She laughs and coughs and calls me a riot.

It hasn’t cooled down much. The smells of hot manure and grape vine vinegar make the air like a basement where you’ve locked the door to do something bad. But the Xanax won’t let me notice the stink much longer. My eyes are clear. My neck muscles untangle.

My boys are ok in that van.

It’s not a total stranger who drives them. My head lied about that. She’s actually a very nice lady out of five nice ladies I interviewed for the driving job. I tell Heather all about it. She nods and says, “TCB right?”

“Exactly.” I exhale and watch the smoke purl away from my mouth. Someone else’s angel hovers in front of my face. I’m slipping past the parts where I think I don’t belong here, floating nicely between Poor Nurse Bunny With Those Awful Nails and Why The Fuck Can’t I Have My Magazines?

You want too much.

Nothing makes you happy.

But the Xanax says I could be, and that it’s OK to want. And that maybe Heather and I will be best friends forever.

I ask her how I get Nurse Bunny to give me back my magazines.

“She won’t,” Heather says. “They’re probably making a bonfire right now and dancing around the contraband.”

I take another drag from my cigarette. “Well, that sucks,” I say. But give me ten more minutes. I’ll be totally fine with all of it. Continue reading

role reboot

20 Oct

RoleReboot_logo I Am A Woman With A Mental Illness

In the wake of my mother’s death, and in the middle of getting treated for the anxiety and severe OCD that had plagued me since early childhood, I happily accepted my new prescription of anti-everything medication. read more…

My Final Words To My Dying Sister

The night my sister turned 49 my father called to tell me she was throwing up blood. “They think the cancer’s spread to her stomach,” he said.

I hadn’t wished her a happy birthday. We’d barely spoken for nearly 12 years. read more…

love hate

Loving A Bisexual Man

One night, I found some pictures Christian had taken for a professional portfolio. When I asked him about these full-lipped, shirtless young men, he told me he had once considered becoming a photographer. All of his pictures definitely proved his talent with a camera. They also proved he wasn’t very interested in photographing women. Something inside told me things weren’t right. read more…

When You Love Someone Who Loves an Addict

It was no secret Evan would sometimes take too much of everything. He’d fall asleep in restaurants, forget items from the grocery store, but learning your good friend is a heroin addict–well, how do you handle something like that?  read more …

The Day A Gunman Opened Fire At My Son’s School

At 2:15 my home and cell phone rang simultaneously. One robotic voice I heard in my ear, another on my answering machine: “This is an urgent message for all parents of students in the Carlsbad Unified School District. This is not a lockdown exercise.” read more…

msnbc-today show website interview by joan raymond

25 Jul

By Joan Raymond, TODAY.com contributor

When other young girls worried about boys and lip gloss, Traci Foust worried about worrying. She also worried about swallowing pencils and knives and whether she would inadvertently burn down her house, kill her family, be sent to an orphanage and then be murdered herself.

For nearly three decades, Foust has lived with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

To help calm her fears, she pulled her hair, snapped her fingers after hearing the word “God,” made sure her collection of Catholic saint statues always faced north, and forced her cat to scratch her.

In her memoir, “Nowhere Near Normal” (Simon & Schuster 2011), Foust, 39, chronicles her OCD journey as a child and young adult. She talks to Today.com about what it’s like living with OCD then and now.

Q: Popular media often portrays people with OCD as simply quirky. What’s the reality?

A: The reality is that you have a hard time holding down a job; you have a hard time being with people. We’re afraid of a lot of things, and we’re irritated most of the time because of over-sensory issues. For me, it’s bright lights, noise and a lot of people.


Q: So OCD is still a struggle?

A: I don’t want anyone to get the idea that everything is sunshine and rainbows. I still have to control the OCD with therapy and medication.

Q: It’s 2011, but according to studies there’s still a huge stigma attached to mental health issues. Do you feel stigmatized?

A: Absolutely. I hear people say: “Oh my God, you’re in your thirties, you should be off your meds.” People can make you feel like a loser because of the medication, without even knowing how the drugs work. Some people think you should be able to control these (mental health) problems on your own. If someone can control what they believe is a mental health issue on their own I guarantee they don’t have a clinical diagnosis.

Q: Do you remember when you first felt, well, different?

A: I think if you ask this question to anyone with OCD, they’ll tell you the same thing: I always felt weird; I always felt something wasn’t right. I don’t even remember ever being completely relaxed or being able to have fun in the moment. There was always a continuous running dialogue of “what-ifs.”

Q: When were you diagnosed?

A: At about age 12. I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic before that because a neurologist misunderstood me. When he asked me if I heard voices, I told him my mom and sister talked about me behind my back. He told my mom I was schizophrenic. That set off a lot of drama. About six months later my psychiatrist stepped in and said it was OCD, not schizophrenia.

Q: So that was better?

A: It felt like a relief. I was given all kinds of pamphlets to read. It comforted me that kids my age had this, too. One of the pamphlets said that teens spent 83 percent of time worried about what other people think of them. That helped. One of the things they tell you in group therapy is that nobody is looking at you. They’re worried about what people are thinking about them. That’s such a release.

Q: When did you go on medication?

A: Not until my early 20s. I was put on Buspar and Prozac, and I felt like an entirely different person. I was able to read two gigantic books without worrying about germs or worrying about worrying about germs.

Q: Do you have any advice for parents who are concerned about their kids?

A: The most important thing I can tell any parent that suspects anxiety issues is that for everything that you hear from your child there is something horrific that your child isn’t telling you because they’re embarrassed by it. Parents have to say: I feel there is more you want to me tell me, and when you’re ready, know that nothing is going to make me think you’re a bad person.

Q: What’s life like today?

A: I still have a fear of fire and I don’t go out in the sun. I still have rituals, like checking under the beds, and checking the windows.

Q: What about relationships?

A: I’ve been married three times and have two wonderful sons. I have a great boyfriend now, who understands me. Anxiety issues make you feel like you have to be in control of everything. I don’t blame my OCD for failed relationships. I blame my lack of knowledge on what a relationship was supposed to be.

Q: I’ve had people tell me that they’re glad they have a particular mental health disorder since it makes them more creative, able to see the world differently.

A: I don’t know about that. I wonder what life would be like if I was diagnosed earlier or if I got medication earlier. There are times when I would love to go to the mall or movies without having a pill in my purse.

Q: In your book you talk about problems with germs and lunch meat and your fear of killing your family if the lunch meat wasn’t wrapped properly. What’s it like making a sandwich today?

A: No one goes hungry. It just takes me longer and there’s a lot of plastic and counter wiping. I’d be lost without antibacterial wipes and a dust buster.

Joan Raymond is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared on msnbc.com, Newsweek, the New York Times, MORE and Woman’s Day.

Read complete interview here.

review from Sarah Handel- NPR Talk of the Nation (AP)

5 May

Tweeted Review from Sarah Handel- NPR Talk of the Nation

Mar 28 2011
1 note

Nowhere Near Normal, by Traci Foust

I read this book last weekend. First, this is awesome because I was home this weekend, not traveling (a rarity), and I read an entire book. It’s not hard for me to do, in terms of words and page counts, but I’m just never home for a full weekend, with the time to do so. But even on weekends when I do have the time to take a book from cover to cover, I often don’t. Sometimes a book is just a bummer, and finishing it is too much like work.

This is not that book. I have always had a few OCD-ish tendencies, which made Foust’s memoir appeal to me when I pulled it from its mailer envelope at work. But she’s the real deal, and her writing captures that truth with such twisty-turny clarity (it sounds impossible, but in OCD land, it definitely isn’t) that you zip right through the pages. It’s not about watching a freak show, though there are moments that made me gasp with disbelief. It’s about understanding how a child’s mind can go so awry, how thoughts you know aren’t normal — however loaded that word may be — can take over when your brain’s chemistry isn’t enough to correct them.

There’s no happy ending, but Foust impressed me profoundly. She writes beautifully, the kind of prose that you tear through because it’s so seamless, till that one perfect turn of phrase catches you, nearly breathless. Her ability to recall her past is impressive (my own memories of life as say, a second-grader, are shadowy at best). The way she tells the sometimes-horrific stories of her childhood and adolescence is brutal, but you end up believing the stories are both accurate, and important. Recommended.

On sale now wherever books are sold (follow the Amazon link and look inside!)


Seattlest Book Review:

3 May

Book Review: Traci Foust Talks OCD, Family Fun and Burning Eyeballs in Nowhere Near Normal

By Heather Logue on Apr 29, 2011

nowhere.jpg While the majority of California youth were skipping rope and collecting beetles, Traci Foust was scrubbing her hands with Ajax until her skin peeled off, and locking her best friend in a sweltering car, wondering if maybe she would kill her. Yes, these activities are…different, but that is the beauty of Foust’s memoir, Nowhere Near Normal, its utterly distinctive take on childhood. For any of us who have ever turned the car around on the way to work because we’re positive the stove could miraculously have turned itself on (ahem, just once or twice), learning about a girl’s struggle growing up with severe OCD is captivating. The story unfolds with the Foust parents divorcing—the family splitting apart into two locations, and Traci really beginning to struggle with the compulsions and anxieties that make her “abnormal” and drive her family insane. Who needs to unplug all of the appliances every night and lick the electrical sockets? Traci does, because otherwise her family may burn to death in their beds. This frank, strange, and unapologetic logic is what makes Traci a likable (though complicated) narrator. The story leads us through her increasingly complex relationships with her mother and sister, and through the haze of their cigarette smoke we see how lonely it is to be such a different kind of girl. The glance at various approaches to child psychology also intrigues—especially when seeing which professional methods actually have any affect on Traci’s recovery.
As Traci continues to grow up the story electrifies with things at a breaking point with her newly, and zealously, religious mother—culminating in Traci’s impromptu trip to Santa Cruz, a land of sex, drugs, and poetry. Though she eventually returns home, Traci still feels lost, and when Part Three of the memoir opens with news of her mother’s death (a subject touched upon much too briefly)…things seems bleak. The lack of emphasis on her family connectivity towards the end of the book is my only complaint—it feels a little insufficient in contrast to the palpable emotions early on.
But Nowhere Near Normal does inspire in the end, with a conclusion as distinctive as the entertaining and hilarious voice that has been leading us on this trip. Foust has a knack for making you love her, even if her character isn’t always likeable, and even a description of how her great-grandmother tried to burn her own eyeballs with matches is somehow lyrical.
As Edgar Allen Poe (her favorite poet growing up) once wrote, “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw; I could not bring my passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken my sorrow; I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone; And all I loved, I loved alone.”
And really, I couldn’t sum it up any better.

On Sale Now Anywhere Books are Sold (or click on the Amazon Link)


TNB Non Fiction Interview

18 Apr

“One book reviewer called you Augusten Burroughs with bleach”

Link to TNB Interview


Marie Claire Interview

18 Apr

Link to Marie Claire Interview


a girl. a pill. the beauty of cold medicine.

25 Feb

Excerpt from Nowhere Near Normal

“She was cute, but what was the deal with her fingernails?” –Michael Cera, “Pinecone”

In the hallway, my mother held me while I sobbed. “I’m just so tired,” I said. “I can’t sleep, Mom. I’m so tired. You can’t even believe how tired I am.”

My Grandmother leaned over my mom and rubbed my back.

“She’s not feeling well,” my mom said. “I don’t know what it is.” Then she whispered, “Something is really wrong.”

Grammie said she was worried about the insomnia. “She’s up at all hours, typing all night long—I try to make her hot toddies but she won’t drink them.”

“I don’t know if I like the idea of giving her alcohol” my mom said. “Maybe half a Halcion would help.”

Sleeping pills.

I knew some of the residents of the nursing home took them from all the times I lined up and counted everyone’s medication bottles. I also knew my mother liked them almost as much as M*A*S*H and Jesus Christ. That one time I snuck one from her purse, it did help me. I couldn’t deny that. But now it was being discussed as something that would no longer have to be kept secret. How was I supposed to respond to that?

I rubbed the snot from my nose and said to my mom, “Maybe you’re right.”

That felt weird. Secret things were all I knew: the embarrassment I thought I would die from if anyone found out about my obsession with Ethiopian hunger spreading to America and killing everyone in my family; how Gorbachev would let loose his missiles if I didn’t keep writing down song lyrics with the word war in them; my new way of shaving my legs hard and fast so that each bloody scrape along my shinbone represented one person in the world who wouldn’t succumb to famine or war.

Now the 8pm  med round would include me and my sleeping pills. I’d wait like everyone else, ticking off the minutes until peace floated in as pure as a changeling through the window. I would get excited about shows that came on at six o’clock because that meant I only had two hours left—the evening news meant one hour—and so on. I would never again be able to associate the opening music to Punky Brewster with anything other than T-minus thirty minutes to blastoff.

At first it was easy. At first Halcion was gorgeous. All warm eclipses and moon breath. I would lie in my bed and wait for sleep to cover me. These weren’t the Bible flames I was used to, no Devil bombs being cast down to crush the skulls of the non-believers. These were slow blooming candle flowers. This was the word b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l lined up across the sky.

My pills actually gave me three days in a row of good sleep. I took a shower like a regular person, stayed out of the nurses office in school for a full week and completed all of my math homework. I even finished a long division quiz in class (only got a 46 percent but I finished it).

Then, just like that, the pills stopped working. I downed my little 8 o’clock half, laid in my bed with some Edgar Allan Poe or my taped reruns of Bewitched and waited for my fading.

Nothing happened.

“Sometimes they do that” my mom said, but more than half a pill was never offered.

One night, while waiting to see if my half pill—and the whole one I took from the medicine cabinet—would kick in, Marisol caught me coming out of the bathroom with my eyes all puffy and full of my familiar woe-is-me-will-this-ever-end tears. “Joo come here, honey.” She clutched my arm sat me down on her bed, and told me all I needed was a giant gulp of Nyquil. “I never in my life have good rest with no somesing to help me.” She opened her nightstand drawer and pulled out an econo-size bottle of bright green slush. The light caught the liquid inside and made me think of magic trees and enchanted bugs. I took a long swig. Tinkerbell was all lit up in my mouth. Under my Strawberry Shortcake comforter I was a little flying thing—then a great big flying thing with my own wings and ambitions. A leaf sparkled from the ceiling then dripped into my face. I caught it under my eyelash then blinked it into two leaves, then ten, then a hundred. I did this until I couldn’t count anymore, until I was so smart and glowing, you could have made a whole woodland poem out of me. One that you would eventually know by heart and want to hear again and again.

Pretty soon the only thing I wanted was Nyquil. One capful every night. Eight o’clock. I promised myself that this much happiness would have to stay at one capful, and only at bedtime, and even if I could divide fractions better with two capfuls I made myself say it out loud: “Only when it’s bedtime.”

Then I got a lead role in my sophomore class production of The Matchmaker. It only took a week for me to change my mind about that one capful.

Nowhere Near Normal- a memoir of OCD (Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books) PRE-ORDER from Amazon.


there are some things God can’t handle- OCD may be one of them

22 Apr

A mess like this is kind of a talent

Thomas Beller “The Mints from Frank E. Campbell”

A peek at my new book (Simon and Schuster, Spring 2011)

God didn’t stop my dreams about fire. Just like he didn’t stop me from crying and making a big thing in front of everyone on the first day I left my mother’s house. The night before I put my suitcase and backpack and typewriter into the back of my dad’s truck, I dreamed about my mother in flames. Jesus was in the dream, too. He was on the cross in his underwear and wore a crown of metal spikes like the kind you use to stop a beast from entering a pretty garden. Blood ran down his cheeks and I could see my mom crouched underneath him. When the blood touched her skin it sizzled. Holes  like empty eye sockets covered her face.

I don’t remember doing a thing to help the situation out.

My heartbeat tugged at the jugulars in my neck like a caught fish. I awoke to my own quick voice, “You leave and you’ll die.” I couldn’t stop shaking. Blue digital numbers blinked 3:15, Amityville Horror time. Without a second thought about it, I walked to the kitchen, sifted through my mother’s purse and stole one of her halcyon pills. Sniffing it first, I broke a tiny piece off between my two front teeth and chewed it quickly. On the walk back to my bedroom I felt sick and dizzy, but that was just me turning the pictures of my head into something you have to purchase tickets for before you can watch.

Nothing really happened except that when I fell back asleep an opening as white as the first time breathing was the only thing behind my eyes. My mother was no longer caught in fire and blood. Jesus was gone.

I was grateful for that.

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