“I’ve noticed that there are at least two perks to having a mental illness: I get to use mind-altering drugs legally, and I get to take frequent breaks from reality.” This observation by author Claire Ishi Ayetoro provides a startling abstract of the events that served to transform her life at the blossoming age of 25. She tells her riveting story in her debut memoir, I Hear the Black Raven: A Petite Memoir. For this quiet, studious black girl who had already accomplished so much as a scholar, a mentor, an artist (in 3-D woodwork, no less), a spoken-word poet, a published musician, and a writer, life’s creative trajectory was going as planned. Her entire life was straight A in everything. She didn’t take it for granted; that was just the way it was.
But her reality becomes suddenly derailed when she experiences—in a dramatic way—her first full-blown manic episode. Diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder, episodes do not always end well for the author, and she takes us through every conceivable emotion appropriate for the scene. It’s like Ayetoro is inside her own mind, dissecting each motive, conscious and subconscious. To her credit, Ayetoro is so keenly aware of how and what she is feeling when in an episode that she is able to translate those feelings more than adequately in this surprising memoir. The reader feels exactly what Ayetoro intends. Through her uncanny, intuitive wit, she comes to understand her mental illness, and ultimately learns, through harrowing trials, education, and medical treatment, to successfully live with and manage her mental illness.
I would be remiss if I paid made no mention of the black raven of the memoir’s title. After providing an interesting but brief history of myths of the black raven, we are left to decide for ourselves which path we choose to guide us through Ayetoro’s story. The black raven can be dark—or light.
Ayetoro’s black raven first appears after a cataclysmic event that shocked the author, and will have the same effect on the reader. She manages to pack within this beautifully wrapped 4”x6” gem adversity, obstacles to overcome, moments of insanity. A raven can soar in any direction of its choosing.
I was relieved to find that this symbolic bird, for purposes of the story, directed Ayetoro down a path of sheer light. It is good to know she continues sharing her light through her professional work. I Hear the Black Raven is a satisfying, inspiring story of short but impactful life lessons embracing Bipolar 1 disorder: a petite memoir told in a most poetically fresh and creative way.