Memoir review: The Electricity of Every Living Thing
Reviewing this fascinating memoir today.
Title: The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Woman's Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home
Author: Katherine May
Publication Info: Trapeze, 2018. 285 pages (Kindle edition)
In anticipation of her 38th birthday, Katherine May set out to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path. She wanted time alone, in nature, to understand why she had stopped coping with everyday life; why motherhood had been so overwhelming and isolating; and why the world felt full of expectations she couldn’t meet. She was also reeling from a chance encounter with a voice on the radio that sparked her realisation that she might be autistic.
And so begins a trek along the ruggedly beautiful but difficult path by the sea that takes readers through the alternatingly frustrating, funny, and enlightening experience of re-awakening to the world around us…
The Electricity of Every Living Thing sees Katherine come to terms with that diagnosis leading her to re-evaluate her life so far — with a much kinder, more forgiving eye. We bear witness to a new understanding that finally allows her to be different rather than simply awkward, arrogant or unfeeling. The physical and psychological journeys of this joyous and inspiring book become inextricably entwined, and as Katherine finds her way across the untameable coast, we learn alongside her how to find our way back to our own true selves.
To say I recognize myself in Katherine May would be an exaggeration, but there were undeniably points in this book where I found myself saying "But wait, that's not weird. I do that." And I, too, have turned to walking to deal with things that seem impossible to deal with. So I was very ready to find out how walking worked for May, and how she coped, in the end, with her diagnosis and the new reality that created (and maybe if she got any brilliant insights or healing from the walking).
As the blurb suggests, May didn't find the diagnosis of Asperger's/ASD distressing, but rather almost liberating. It gave her the permission to be who she is, which on reflection, is kind of a sad thing--that only a diagnosis offers permission to be unable to tolerate a busy, crowded room or being touched by a stranger.
When she described hiding in a quiet corner of the cafe while her husband and son enjoy a busy, noisy science museum, I really wanted to reach out and tell her that's okay--heaven knows I did it often enough! Introversion, sensory sensitivies--those things are real, and what makes me sad is how little help we get in understanding them (I didn't recognize my own sensory sensitivies for what they are until my oldest child got an Asperger's diagnosis and I began to read about it).
Nearly 40 years of learning to cope, to mask her distress, to pass as normal, results only in despair over her inability to be completely like other people, and it is that sense that she is somehow failing as a person that drives May to start her rather ambitious walking project.
What finally leads her to end the project (and take to walking in a much more reasonable way) is the realization that while she needs to walk, to go out alone into nature, she doesn't need to have a goal--not anymore, not once she understands her needs are real.
You don't need to wonder if you are on the Spectrum to enjoy this book, or to benefit from May's discoveries along the way. We are all a little different in our own ways, and if we can learn to take care of our own needs (even if that means spending half of every weekend out walking), we'll manage better in so many ways.