An Impossible Life: The Inspiring True Story of a Woman’s Struggle from Within (Rachael Siddoway and Sonja Wasden) is the story of Sonja Wasden’s mental health battles, as written by her daughter, Rachael Siddoway. Wasden’s story, narrated in the first person in the form of a memoir, is a collaboration between the two women, and the springboard for their advocacy on behalf of those suffering extreme mental illness and their families.
The memoir begins with Sonja Wasden’s husband committing her to a psychiatric institution in 2007. Struggling daily with suicidal thoughts and relying on self-harm to dull the emotional pain, she is insistent that she doesn’t belong in the facility.
From this opening scene, the narrative moves between backstory—illustrating events that preceded her husband’s desperate action—and the narrator’s first stay in the psychiatric facility and its aftermath. We learn that she has been battling severe mental illness since young adulthood, if not earlier.
An Impossible Life is engaging, written in vivid scenes that recreate a number of dramatic and terrifying episodes from the subject’s life as wife and mother. Most alarming, and gripping, are those that depict her as a homemaker responsible for—and alone with—young children while her husband pursues a career as a hospital administrator.
Describing the necessity of self-harm, the narrator says, “My knives were an essential part of my existence. My five-year-old daughter, Rachael, would take them and hide them, waging a battle she was never going to win.” In another scene, the narrator (a Mormon) has invited some “sister missionaries” to lunch but neglected to shop for or prepare any food for the occasion. “My kids started serving themselves handfuls of popcorn and spoonsful of cake batter, as if this were their daily meal. The sisters watched them and awkwardly but politely spooned the batter onto their plates, where it soon pooled with their popcorn.”
A compulsive online shopper, the narrator racks up $150,000 in credit charges for online jewelry purchases. She is an emotional binge eater, and also describes not bathing or changing her clothes for weeks.
At sixteen, daughter Rachael (the memoir’s author) finds her mother’s suicide notes. Recreating these difficult years, the narrator repeatedly states she didn’t believe that her behavior was harming the children.
Because the story is narrated from the point of view of a woman while suffering mental illness, with minimal reflection subsequent to these events, it was at times frustrating to read scene after scene of the narrator’s cries for help, and to picture her children witnessing their mother’s desperation for the entirety of their childhoods. While it appeared that she was a member of a supportive religious community, had a close relationship with her husband, and that other family members knew of her struggles, it isn’t until she attempts suicide by taking “hundreds” of pills, remains unconscious for days, and nearly dies, that a doctor states, “You’re in no condition to be a mother right now.” After the suicide attempt, the narrator’s youngest son (16 by this time) is sent to live with relatives and her husband contemplates separation.
However, the book ends in a hopeful and satisfying way.
An Impossible Life is the first of three books written by Siddoway about her mother’s battle with bipolar disorder, each from a different point of view.