Bioethics Blogs

Rediscovering a history of trauma: An interview with Dr. Annita Sawyer

Dr. Annita Sawyer is a psychologist and the author of several essays, stories, and a memoir titled Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass, which was published in May 2015.

In 1960, however, Dr. Sawyer was battling mental illness and thoughts of suicide. She was institutionalized and underwent 89 electroshock treatments. Although traumatized by her experience as a patient, Dr. Sawyer survived the broken mental health system of the 1950s and 1960s and went on to graduate summa cum laude from Yale, earn her doctorate and join the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine. She kept her past private until after 2001, when reading her old hospital records provoked a traumatic return to her past. With help, she recovered and decided to write a memoir about her experiences.

In this interview with Simone Leung, Dr. Sawyer discusses the process of creating her memoir, how doctoring and writing play into her life, and shifting perceptions of mental illness today.

What originally led you to dig into your history, and why have you chosen to share your story in Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass at this point in time?

I’d been working full time for twenty years. As a psychotherapist I had reached a comfortable place professionally. My children were grown and on their own, so I had privacy. My husband and I were meeting with a marriage counselor who was struck by my sometimes vague, otherworldly demeanor, and the fact that in the middle of an argument I would often forget what I was talking about. She recognized this as dissociation, a symptom of trauma.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.