“Vivian Conan has written a real-life medical mystery that is as resonant and profound as an Oliver Sacks case study—but in her case, we see it from the inside. LOSING THE ATMOSPHERE is, at its heart, a book about what it is to be an imperfect human (as we all are) walking through an imperfect world.”
— Dawn Raffel, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney
“In razor sharp prose, LOSING THE ATMOSPHERE traces one woman’s lifelong journey to mental wellness. Afflicted by two complex disorders and misdiagnosed time and again, Vivian Conan tells her story with poignancy, determination, and fierce intelligence. You will cheer for this survivor.”
— Sally Koslow, author of Another Side of Paradise
LOSING THE ATMOSPHERE
A Memoir of Healing from Mental Illness
Coming from Greenpoint Press June 1, 2020
Vivian Conan came of age in post-World War II Brooklyn in the midst of a warm Greek-Jewish clan she was always comfortable with. Not so her nuclear family. Her father loved Vivian and her younger brother, Marvin, but was autocratic and prone to rages. To the extent that her mother could, she acted as a buffer. But beleaguered herself, her mother could be cold and sometimes spew hateful words at her daughter.
By the time she was five, Vivian had created an alternate world she thought of as the Atmosphere. It was populated with kindly, all-knowing beings whose molecules floated in the air, surrounding her day and night. To Vivian, the disembodied Atmosphere people were more emotionally reliable than real-world people.
As a child, Vivian retreated to the Atmosphere world only when it didn’t interfere with her participation in the real world. By the time she was in high school, the balance had shifted; the Atmosphere was more vivid to her than reality. She also talked to faces in the mirror that were not her own and felt separated from the rest of humanity by a ground-to-sky plexiglass wall no one else seemed aware of. Sensing something wasn’t right, Vivian scoured books about abnormal psychiatry, looking for any label, however scary, that would take away her feeling that she was an alien species. None did. Even in the abnormal world, she was a freak.
As an adult, Vivian continued to deal with a tangle of symptoms she didn’t understand. At the same time, she knew that, except for the few times in her twenties she wound up in a hospital, she appeared normal. She excelled in school and at work, and had friends and boyfriends. It would take many years, several wrong turns by professionals, and a suicide attempt before Vivian learned she had multiple personalities that were complicated by an attachment disorder. Then came the hardest task of all. Healing.
Ultimately, with the help of a gifted therapist, Vivian came to see that what had made her feel, for so many years, that she was different from everyone else was actually what made her just like them: the need to be seen and understood. Her story may be extreme, but it is universal, showing the many ways that need, so simple, yet so powerful, can shape us.