It takes a clever writer to weave together multiple aspects of life experience into a book that reflects meaningfully on them all. But that is exactly what Red Deer author Miji Campbell has accomplished with her fascinating memoir Separation Anxiety.
Campbell, who also taught and has had numerous articles published over the years, has remarkably accessible style. She recounts a stream of key experiences from her childhood through to her adult years – shining light on events and circumstances that led to a intense struggle with agonizing attacks of anxiety.
It’s a refreshing look into a topic that is still – to this day – so widely misunderstood. Indeed, the concept is more discussed these days, but there are still aspects to it that remain ‘under wraps’ that are just downright avoided as a topic of conversation.
But the book does more than explore that painful subject – it’s also a story of relationships, of love, of pain, of rejection and of finding hope.
It also delves into Campbell’s relationships with her folks, particularly that of her mother – and how this connection was reshaped on her journey to cope with the at times raging and debilitating levels of anxiety.
It’s also the story of a very connected relationship – a mother and a daughter – that after a certain point had to be, in a sense, separated so both parties could learn better who they really were on their own.
According to a synopsis, Campbell, who originally hails from Calgary, grew up in a close-knit family in the 1960s and ’70s.
“The youngest of three girls, she was raised under her parents’ watchful eye, in a middle-class Calgary suburb called Kingsland. Her life proceeds in an orderly fashion: coming-of-age, university, first job, first apartment – and then suddenly, inexplicably, it begins to unravel.
“Night after night, Miji wrestles with insomnia and increasing anxiousness. Despite her independent spirit, she yearns for her mother’s presence and feels overcome by homesickness. These anxious feelings will haunt her through career, marriage, and the birth of her children. It’s not until middle age that Miji learns she has an anxiety disorder and finds ways to quiet her mind and body. Through acts of courage and grace, she learns to stand-tentatively, hopefully – on her own.”
At first, Campbell didn’t set out to write a book per se. She simply wrote and recorded her experiences over the years, plus she studied writing in a professional sense. As her skills were being honed, her desire to tell her story was gaining momentum as well.
“To say, I’m sitting down and writing a book – I don’t think that ever happened until probably I was done with my thesis. I began to think that there was a lot here – is there enough in this manuscript to make it into a book?
“That’s when I started to see that thread of anxiety even more powerfully threaded through my life,” she explained.
Campbell also proved to be hard on herself as her life took unexpected turns. Following the breakdown of her marriage, she writes, “I decided – decreed – that my children would have a golden childhood like mine, despite the divorce. I had the setting, props and costumes (name brands only) ready.
“My cast of characters – maverick single mom and her two well-adjusted sons – would roll through a series of adventures that all worked out in the end. Failure was not in the script.”
Still, living life – for any of us – proves to be an unpredictable, at times rocky affair that is intersected by what others bring to it as well. Smooth, sunlight vistas can become dark and cloudy – and mystifying. And when your mind and body keep pushing you to fight or flight mode – even in seemingly mundane circumstances – it tends to shatter whatever shreds of confidence a person may have had left.
As the book unfolds, Campbell shares these types of experiences so well, the reader really feels like they are there – in the moment – understanding the turmoil at least to some degree.
For Campbell, things that held not a spark of anxiety would become anxiety-producing. And it forced her on a mission of sorts in search of not only a means to cope, but for healing. She recalls thinking – “I had a good childhood; I should not have these problems.
“That can be part of the ‘anxiety’ thing – we are perfectionists, creative, we are people-pleasers.”
And that search for wholeness brought a bevy of unexpected experiences.
At first, taking medication was absolutely out of the question.
She saw it more as something she merely had to figure out on her own. So needless to say, it’s also been something of a time of learning – raw sensation has a way of burning things away and showing what’s inside, and what we are really made of. Campbell doesn’t hold back in this self-discovery – and we as readers are the richer for it.
“What I would want people to take away is a sense of hope,” she said of the story, adding that as the book has found its way into people’s lives, they have reached out to her with their own stories. “It’s okay to ask for help.”
To top off a great year of further introducing the book to a broader audience, the book also recently won the Whistler Independent Book Award (non-fiction category) this past October. “I’ve been at more than 50 book events with it across Canada – I’ve been having a blast.”
And even better – Separation Anxiety has seeded another project that Campbell is set to begin working on in the New Year. Campbell also owns Write Where You Are, a business that offers writing workshops to individuals, schools, community and corporate organizations.
Separation Anxiety can be purchased at Sunworks, Chapters, Coles and through the author’s web site at www.writewhereyouare.ca and also online at from Chapters/Indigo or Amazon. Ebook versions are also available on Chapters, Amazon and iTunes.
Find her on facebook at ‘Miji Campbell’.