Front cover - Even When Trapped Behind Clouds book review

EVEN WHEN TRAPPED BEHIND CLOUDS: A memoir of quiet grace

Patty Somlo

[WiDo Publishing, 234 pages]

Before I opened up Even When Trapped Behind Clouds, I don’t recall ever reading a memoir before. Autobiographies, yes, but memoirs, no, and it’s the opinion of many sources out there that there are significant differences between the two. For me, the word “memoir” used to conjure up an image of a 100-year-old in a nursing home scribbling out pages and pages of stories in a notebook, trying to get them all out before the inevitable end of life. However, when it comes to Patty Somlo’s memoir, that description couldn’t be more inaccurate.

From chaos to stability

Her book, appropriately subtitled “A memoir of quiet grace,” details Somlo’s almost lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression, and, at one point, weight gain. The former two problems develop, at least in part, as a result of a dysfunctional family atmosphere and frequent changes of residence during childhood due to her father’s military career. As Patty passes through the years, we see her as a young adult who’s continually in transit, in regard to both her relationships and her physical residence, but then we see her gradually learn to stabilize her life so she experiences less upheaval and eventually comes to find love in the form of her husband, Richard.

The three sections of the book that resonated with me most strongly were her chapters on overcoming an almost lifelong fear of driving, on her desire to teach writing to homeless people, and on her struggle to connect with co-workers at her job in a law office. We all desire at some point to master new skills, to help others, and to forge meaningful connections with the people around us, even if we don’t often give voice to those desires, which is the main reason why Patty’s stories within these particular sections seem like ones that any of us could relate to on some level. I, for one, was able to feel Patty’s frustration along with her when her writing program—a conscientious attempt to spread goodwill while learning about people from a different “walk of life”—didn’t unfold quite as she’d hoped.

A flourishing seed

Within the final chapter of the memoir, titled “Making a Life,” Somlo sits in her garden thinking about the stable life—house, car, husband, job, nice yard, and so on—that she sometimes can’t believe she’s managed to create and maintain. Although she does say that it’s not right to measure how far you’ve come just by looking at how many things you have, she acknowledges that certain possessions she’s now able to call hers are symbolic of both her recovery from mental illness and her newfound stability. They’re concrete objects that she can see with her own eyes and reach out and hold onto when she’s experiencing regret or doubt.

While the many references to the subtle beauty of nature sprinkled throughout the entire book can offer a reader a sense of peace, it’s in this final chapter, when Patty reflects on her present without dropping too far into the doldrums of the past or mentally reaching too far ahead into the future, that she best embodies the term “quiet grace.” Like the germinating seeds in her garden that she compares the human life cycle to, it’s become clear that she has finally begun to sprout straight up without viciously blowing in the wind or getting trampled by some wayward object.

To read the last chapter of Patty’s memoir, visit MAKING A LIFE: A mid-life recovery from anxiety and depression»

image: Young woman walking on a dreamy beach via Shutterstock

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