Your Voice In My Head

Paperback | January 10, 2012

byEmma Forrest

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A dazzling and devastating memoir — Girl Interrupted for the Juno generation.

Talented, prolific and charming, Emma Forrest was settled in Manhattan at twenty-two and on contract to the Guardian when she realized that her quirks had gone beyond eccentricity, past the warm waters of weird and into those cold, deep patches of the sea where people lose their lives.

Lonely, in a dangerous cycle of cutting and bulimia, and drawn inexplicably to damaging and cruel relationships, she found herself in the chair of a slim, balding and effortlessly optimistic psychiatrist — a man whose wisdom and humanity would wrench her from the vibrant and dangerous tide of herself, and who would help her to recover when she tried to end her life.

Emma's loving and supportive family and friends circled around her in panic. Like Ophelia, Emma was on the brink of drowning. But she was also still working, still exploring, still writing. And then she fell in love.

One day, when Emma called to make an appointment with her psychiatrist, she found no one there. He had died, shockingly, at the age of fifty-three, leaving behind a young family for whom he had fought to survive. Processing the premature doorstep, a failed suicide, she was adrift. And when her significant and all-consuming relationship also fell apart, she was forced to cling to the page for survival.

Your Voice in My Head is spiked with wit, humour and unique perception. It not only explores the crashing weight of depression, mania and suffering, but also the beauty of love and the heartbreak of loss. It is also, fundamentally, about our relationship with ourselves.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From the Publisher

A dazzling and devastating memoir — Girl Interrupted for the Juno generation.Talented, prolific and charming, Emma Forrest was settled in Manhattan at twenty-two and on contract to the Guardian when she realized that her quirks had gone beyond eccentricity, past the warm waters of weird and into those cold, deep patches of the sea wher...

EMMA FORREST wrote her first novel, Namedropper, when she was twenty one and has since published two more: Thin Skin and Cherries in the Snow. She has also written for Vogue, Vanity Fair, the Times, the Guardian and the Independent. Emma Forrest lives in Los Angeles.From the Hardcover edition.

other books by Emma Forrest

Namedropper: A Novel
Namedropper: A Novel

Paperback|Aug 15 2000

$20.97 online$21.00list price
Thin Skin
Thin Skin

Kobo ebook|Nov 1 2007

$11.99

Cherries In The Snow
Cherries In The Snow

Kobo ebook|Oct 8 2014

$9.09 online$11.80list price(save 22%)
see all books by Emma Forrest
Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8.01 × 5.16 × 0.64 inPublished:January 10, 2012Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307359328

ISBN - 13:9780307359322

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Customer Reviews of Your Voice In My Head

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Read from the Book

A man hovers over me as I write. Every table in the Los Angeles café is taken.‘Are you leaving?’My notebook, coffee and Dictaphone are spread out in front of me.‘No,’ I answer.‘I’ll give you a thousand dollars to leave.’‘OK,’ I say, as I pack up my things.‘What?’‘Sure. A thousand dollars. I’m leaving.’He looks at me like I’m mad and beats a hasty retreat. I meant it. He didn’t mean it. My radar, after all these years of sanity, is still off when it comes to what people do or don’t mean.My mum calls my cell phone and I go outside to take it. ‘How do you pronounce Tóibín,’ my mother asks me, ‘as in Colm Tóibín, the novelist?’ This is our daily call, me in America, her in England, every day since I moved here at twenty-one. I’m thirty-two now, and she’s seventy-one, though she sounds like she’s seventeen.‘It’s pronounced toe-bean. Like “toe” and then “bean”.’‘That’s what I feared,’ she says. She lets this marinate a moment. Then, ‘No. Not acceptable.’‘But that’s his name! That’s how you say it.’‘I can’t be going around saying “toe-bean”. It simply will not do.’‘Why don’t you just not say his name?’‘He’s a popular writer.’‘Read his books but don’t talk about them.’‘No,’ (I can sense her shaking her head) ‘some situation will arise that requires me to say his name.’I think my mother has the sense of doom, and guilt about the sense of doom, of Jews her age who weren’t directly touched by the Holocaust. When she was growing up in New York, the fi rst bad thing that happened to her was that Irish children moved into the Jewish neighbourhood and stole her kazoo and her sailor hat. She was a fat little girl, guarding the cakes she had hidden in her sock drawer. What was a fat child in 1940s New York, without her kazoo?The second bad thing was that her dad died and then, soon after, her mother, and she was only a teenager and she didn’t know how to make toast. So she got very thin – deliberately, not through lack of toast – and married a much older man. It didn’t last. The best thing that happened was she fell in love with my dad.Once, when Mum and her first husband had long since lost touch and I was new to mania, I tracked down an address for the man, whom I had only heard about, and sent him a letter asking him whether or not he was dead yet. Not to be mean, just curious.Mum gets anxious very esily. Something that is a source of calm (she watches her cat as he laps the water bowl. ‘Good boy, Jojo! What a good boy!’) can turn, like the weather (the cat keeps lapping. Her smile fades. ‘Why are you drinking so much water, Jojo? What’s the matter, Jojo? Are you sick?’). I talk to myself a lot because I’ve seen her talk to herself a lot, generally in the kitchen, where she’s been overheard saying, with real enthusiasm: ‘I’m feeling tremendously optimistic about gluten-free bread!’and:‘I fear George Clooney’s teeth may be his downfall.’I see my mum everywhere. From certain angles, the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen has her face, and from other angles so does the black comedienne Wanda Sykes. I think all white people have a black doppelgänger and vice-versa. My dad’s black doppelgänger is the father in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His Celtic doppelgänger is Sean Connery.A lady came up to him at a hotel in Jamaica and said ‘Last night we thought you were Sean Connery’ and Dad said 'Last night I was Sean Connery.’ My dad seems to know everything, so I never use Google. I only use Dad. I email him a query and he figures it out, and then responds in the guise of the billionaire Googlefounders:‘London to Cardiff: is it expensive? How long is the trip?’‘2–3 hrs by train. Expensive if you don’t book in advance.xx Larry Page and Sergey Brin.’When I was fourteen and wanting to get out of gym class, Dad wrote the teacher a letter in the shape of a perfecttriangle:toMissJensen, pleasedo excuse Emma fromgym today as she is feelingunwell. Kind regards, Jeffrey ForrestHe wrote it like that for nothing but his own delight, meticulous, making me late. When I handed it to her, Miss Jensen ripped it up, threw it on the floor and said she considered it a personal insult from my family. He once got a credit card saying ‘Sir Jeffrey Forrest’ because American Express was dumb enough to send him an application form with the statement ‘Print your name as you would wish it to appear.’ The last forwarded flight details he sent me were:Your special requestsSIR LOVELY JEFFREY FORREST    Requested Seat: 12J MS GRUMPY JUDITH FORREST    Requested Seat: 12K I asked if it was really wise to ticket himself and my mother like that, and he replied, as if it were out of his hands: ‘Under the new homeland security rules the ticketed names must be a combination of how they are printed in your passport and your likely appearance at check-in.’I like to think my parents have complementary eccentricities, two perfect jigsaw pieces of neurotica. It’s all I ever wanted for myself. I have one sister, Lisa, younger than me by three years. She had an invented childhood friend she called Poofita Kim. Her imaginary friend, as she explained in a drawing, was on the run for drowning six kids. Lisa, then five, was sheltering him. This is the same time frame in which she penned a letter to Margaret Thatcher:Dear Margaret Thatcher,Why are you so mean? The devil is not so mean.Please come to tea, Saturday, at four, to discuss your mean-ness.Please wear a hat.I used to pour cola on Lisa’s piano and take all of the stuffing out of the toy seal she slept with, so it would look like he’d deflated. Throughout childhood, she surreptitiously kept a diary of my transgressions:3 December 1987 – Emma pulled my hair.14 March 1988 – Emma poured cola on my piano.1 September 1988 – When Mum wasn’t looking, Emma stared at me with strange eyes, then denied that she wasstaring at me with strange eyes.She’s had the same boyfriend for twelve years. I haven’t. Lisa gave me The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman and sewed me underpants with a picture of Jon Stewart on them. I love her like crazy – unless Mum sets one foot in the room and then we cannot abide each other.My grandma is ninety and has recently adopted a Yiddish accent that creeps in when she’s tired or tipsy. Otherwise she sounds just like Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers, except with curse words. One year, during Wimbledon, I said I thought Steffi Graf was attractive and my grandma shrieked ‘She’s an ugly bitch!’ Lauren Bacall is also on her list of enemies, though the backstory remains murky.Perhaps because my family are how they are, it took a little while to realise – settled in Manhattan at twenty-two, on contract to the Guardian and about to have my first novel published – that my quirks had gone beyond eccentricity, past the warm waters of weird to those cold, deep patches of sea where people lose their lives. They were in England. They didn’t know I was cutting my body with razors – my arms, legs, stomach – and they didn’t know I was bingeing and purging six, seven, eight times a day. Even through the darkest times, even knowing how much they loved me, I was afraid to tell them.I was scared they’d make me leave New York, whose own eccentricity brought me the splashes of joy I still felt. Once, as I was walking on Avenue B with my friend Angela Boatwright, a bike-riding boy, of maybe eight or nine, said, as he cycled past: ‘I’m going to fuck you in your asses!’ He said it industriously, proudly, like a man with a work ethic. Later that day came the most genteel catcall I’ve ever received, when a construction worker yelled ‘Damn girl! I’d like to take you to the movies!’I was incredibly lonely. I imagined accepting the construction worker’s invitation and us going to the movies together, me putting my head on his shoulder and him squealing ‘Eww! Get off me! I said I wanted to take you to the movies! I didn’t say you could touch me!’ I did have a boyfriend – the Bad Boyfriend – and he was a huge part of the loneliness. In hindsight, I have no idea why he was ever with me. He thought highly of my breasts. And . . . that’s it, I think. They were high. He didn’t want to meet my parents (‘I’m not really into parents’). Also on his list of dislikes:1. Cake2. PoetryI really like those things. I am even quite good at making them. All I can say is: I was new in the city. I barely knew anyone. He was tall and handsome and had all his own teeth.The first time I went to see Dr R was in 2000, a good year to have your life turned around. I’d ridden the 6 train from the emergency room, where I had been all night. I had become so numb, in my life, that sex didn’t register, unless it hurt, and then I very distantly could see that it was me on the bed. Despite the cutting and bulimia, I couldn’t work  fast enough to harm myself, so the boyfriend was helping out. This night he’d gone too far. Though the train car hummed with schoolkids, I felt myself in a dinghy far at sea. I could feel the blood still trickling, there in Dr R’s waiting room, as I perused an old New Yorker. The red staining my cotton underwear made me think of someone bleeding to death in a snowy maze, which was how I had started to feel. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker that didn’t make sense. In the state I was in, it made me feel so lonesome, so lost and disconnected, that I started to cry. And that’s how Dr R found me, bloody and weeping, finally acting on a recommendation I’d been given months earlier.Opening the door, like a debutante appearing at the top of a staircase, Dr R was a slim, balding man with a turtleneck sweater tucked into corduroy trousers, belted high, which is partly why I was shocked when his wife, Barbara, told me he was only fifty-three when he died. His wisdom and his belting style: they made him seem much older.My eyes floated around his room. The book he’d written on cocaine abuse. Three Tiffany lamps. And a framed photo of his two little boys (Andy and Sam, I’d know their names only after, from the obituary). A courtyard (open in summer unless there was too much noise from the school across the street). The best thing in the room was an art piece: a wooden cabinet of turn-of-the-century pharmaceutical medicines, including arsenic.Dr R settled back into his swivel chair, like a cat arranging itself on the sofa.‘You’ve been crying,’ he said.‘It was a long subway ride,’ I replied, assigning the blame for my tears to the 6 train, which had never done anything worse to me than roll in smelling of McDonald’s.The 6 train is also called the Lexington Avenue Line and it has 1.3 million riders daily. It is the only line in Manhattan that directly serves the Upper East Side, running from downtown Brooklyn, through lower Manhattan and finally north to 125th Street in East Harlem. It opened on 27 October 1904, and on my darkest days on my way up to Dr R’s office, I would say to myself ‘A century later and this train is still running.’ There are twenty-seven stops and only twenty-three are in use, which humanised it somehow. As the train hurtled, averting its eyes, through the darkened 18th Street station, I imagined the 18th-Street stop had simply retreated, too sensitive for life. The truth was, the new ten-car trains were too long for its platform. But I saw the pain and sadness in everything, and swirled it round my mouth like a fine wine.After Dr R’s death, I found there were many he had saved. It’s a funny feeling, like growing up and realising that other people have read The Catcher in the Rye, not just you. I knew he was the director of the cocaine abuse programme at Columbia Presbyterian. I found, after his death, that he had also established a groundbreaking post-9/11 mental health programme for firefighters. On the New York Times obituary guest book, most patients’  testimonies say ‘He saved my life.’During my eight years as his patient, Dr R came to my book readings, though doctor–patient guidelines meant we couldn’t talk. Still, I’d look out and see him there. His widow recently sent me a letter saying how proud he’d been of my achievements and that I held a special place in his heart. It’s possible she sent letters to other patients saying ‘My husband really didn’t like you. You bored him very badly in your sessions, largely because he thought you were beyond help. PS: your book was shit.’ But I don’t think so. I know that he bought paintings by a patient who was struggling financially, and hung them in the office. I found an email from 2005 asking if he could hire a sweet surfer boyfriend of mine, who he knew was trying his best to stay sober, to teach surf lessons as a birthday present for a friend’s daughter.He was cheerful. He was an eternal optimist. There was nothing I could tell him that he’d tell me was as bad as I’d decided it was. ‘Oh, and then I murdered a drifter. I stabbed him twenty-two times.’‘Only twenty-two times? That’s fewer than twenty-three.’I trusted him completely. And I liked how he saw me. It’s that simple.I’ve a mother to whom I’m so close that we sometimes have the same nightmares. I tell her everything. My dad doesn’t really take things in when it comes to personal matters of great importance. One parent who loves me but doesn’t listen, one who loves me but listens too hard. The point of psychiatry, as encapsulated by Dr R, is the outside observer. The person to whom you can tell your secrets, because you will never have to face them at the dinner table.Climbing up from rock bottom, I started going to Dr R weekly. Then fortnightly. Then monthly. Then only as needed. My psychiatric medicine was halved in dose. I moved out to Los Angeles and we’d do phone sessions. I’d do a session in person the three or four times a year I went back to New York.This March, I called to make an appointment when I knew I was flying to New York to meet up with a man I’d been seeing for only a few months, though it was already hard to imagine a time when we hadn’t been together (he named himself my ‘Gypsy Husband’ and I call him ‘GH’). I was going to tell Dr R: ‘I’m in love, with someone good and kind, gentle and he’s seen the darkness too but somehow we’ve become each other’s light. You made me well enough to be somebody’s light!’I also planned on talking to him about adjusting my meds, bringing down the dose a little more, since I’d been feeling so calm and so happy for so long. I’d even written a Guardian essay about my recovery from a nervous breakdown, in which I’d lavished praise on my doctor. I thought it was a little odd he hadn’t emailed me to say he’d seen it. But I knew he was busy.With my hotel waiting and my underwear packed, I called to make the appointment where I’d tell him my good news. I’ve met ‘The One’. (‘Do you mind me writing in my book that you’re “The One”?’ I ask GH, typing on the porch as he makes salmon for dinner. ‘I’d love that,’ he answers, ‘because it means that we’re “The Two”.’)Dr R’s machine picked up but with a new greeting:‘Due to a medical issue this office is closed. This machine will not take messages.’None of his patients had a clue he was sick, let alone that he had lung cancer. He kept the truth from us for the eight months from his diagnosis up until his death, going straight from chemo to appointments. He cancelled sessions because he was ‘feeling under the weather’. Our final conversation was when I called to warn him that, as happened so many times during our time together, my cheque might bounce (hyper-manic people: bad at handling money).‘I’m not worried about it, Emma,’ he said. He had maybe three weeks to live.When I got back from visiting GH in New York, I remembered to check the email set up so that readers can write to me through my website.21 May 2008Emma,I was doing a google on ‘Guestbook for Dr R’ when I came across an article written by you. I was very impressed by your honesty and the clarity of the article. I’m the brother-in-law of Dr R and I don’t know if you heard that he passed away two weeks ago after a nine-month fight with cancer. Yes, a truly great man and will be sadly missed by all the family. You’ll find many thoughts about him by googling ‘Guestbook for Dr R’.John Crawford.Later that day, I got an email from my dad. It was not in the shape of a triangle: Mum just called and told me the sad news. I am sad because he was one of your great supporters and I know how much you loved and trusted and relied on him. I don’t know who first noticed that the good die young, but it does seem to be more than a statistical anomaly.After Dr R died, I called that answerphone that would not take messages, and called it again, over and over, like opening and closing the fridge door in search of food that isn’t there. If I called enough times he might be. I called until, one day, it was disconnected and there was nothing on the line but my own breath.5 June 2008It is with great sorrow that I write these words. Dr R rescued my son from a very serious drug addiction. He saved his life and gave him back to us.Ever since then, for the past twelve years hardly a week has gone by without them seeing each other or speaking on the phone if my son was out of the country. Dr R became his mentor, close friend and life coach. He along with everyone who had the privilege of being in his care was at first horribly shocked to learn of his passing, and then completely devastated, which my son still is.H (NEW YORK, NY)From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Although Your Voice in My Head begins with her near death, it is ultimately about living… A remarkably honest account of mental health and heartbreak. To her credit, Forrest presents herself as a conflicted, often contrary, young woman, and is happy to give credit to others for helping turn her life around, a stark contrast to the glut of memoirs preaching self-reliance that are trendy these days." —National Post"Quite amazing… I'm tempted to describe the memoir as a small masterpiece, although it might be something more."—Edmonton Journal"Forrest is stylish and evocative; whether she is sick and listless in New York or sex-dipped and radiantly happy in Los Angeles, she writes it cool, clever and ravaging, in very few strokes."—The Globe and Mail"Intensely personal… Forrest's shockingly funny observations are one of the strengths of her writing."—Maclean's"Her style is more honest and witty than harrowing… It's difficult to write a convincing tale of depression that's also an entertaining romp, but Forrest has done it."—The Sunday Times"Smart and frequently witty… there are echoes of early Lorrie Moore in her ability to lampoon the precise detail that tells you all you need to know about a character or situation. [The book] dances along with all the lyrical panache of a novel… Forrest's memoir is frank and acute."—Julie Myerson, The ObserverAdvance Praise:"Emma Forrest is as hilarious as she is wise. And did I mention generous? Unlike most memoirs this is not merely a song of oneself, but a debt of gratitude repaid to an incredible man. Your Voice in My Head is touching, funny and very real."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story"There is a playful beauty to Emma Forrest's voice. Though her memoir is a portrait of a badly sprained soul, Your Voice in my Head is, at its heart, an honest love letter to life."—Billie Livingston, author of Greedy Little Eyes"Emma Forrest is an incredibly gifted writer, who crafted the living daylights out of every sentence in this unforgettable memoir. I can't remember the last time I ever read such a blistering, transfixing story of obsession, heartbreak and slow, stubborn healing."—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, LoveFrom the Hardcover edition.