As my friend the heroin addict says, "You're only as sick as your secrets." Emily Colas -- young, intelligent, well-educated wife and mother of two -- had a secret that was getting in the way of certain activities. Like touching people. Having a normal relationship with her husband. Socializing. Getting a job. Eating out. Like leaving the house. Soon there was no interval in her life when she was not just checking This raw, darkly comic series of astonishing vignettes is Emily Colas' achingly honest chronicle of her twisted journey through the obsessive-compulsive disorder that came to dominate her world. In the beginning it was germs and food. By the time she faced the fact that she was really "losing it," Colas had become a slave to her own "hobbies" -- from the daily hair cutting to incessant inspections of her children's clothing for bloodstains. A shocking, hilarious, enormously appealing account of a young woman struggling to gain control of her life, this is Emily Colas' exposé of a soul tormented, but balanced by a buoyance of spirit and a piercing sense of humor that may be her saving grace.
Reading Group Guide The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Emily Colas' Just Checking. We hope that these ideas will enrich your discussion and increase your enjoyment of the book. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Why do you think Emily Colas wrote this book as a series of vignettes? Do you think it would have been as effective had the book been written in narrative form? If so, why? 2. None of the people in Just Checking are referred to by name. They are all identified by their relation to the author (e.g. "my husband," "my friend the heroin addict"). Why? What does this say about the author? 3. What is your impression of Emily Colas's husband? How does he handle his wife's condition? If she were single, do you think her problems would have been magnified or minimized? 4. Do you think the author's regimented early life -- from her German nanny's schedule to her father's daily breakfast routine -- contributed to her condition as an adult? 5. After reading Just Checking, do you believe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a product of nature or nurture? 6. The author claims to subscribe to the "Oreo cookie theory of life." Unpack the elements of this theory. Do you feel it informs all of Colas's decisions? Why or why not? 7. One of the vignettes in Just Checking is a poem, "How to Be a Good Wife." Do you agree with her assessment of what a "good" wife is? Do you think Emily Colas was a good wife? Was she a good mother? 8. When Emily Colas and her husband first separate, what kind of changes do you notice in her personality? She says that the separation was not caused by the constant worries brought on by her condition. Do you agree? 9. It wasn't until after her separation that she was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. How do you think things would have turned out if this diagnosis had come earlier? 10. Toward the end of Just Checking, one of Emily Colas's two children contracts head lice. Examine how she handles the situation, and compare this to how she would have reacted if it had happened two years earlier. Could this event be considered a turning point in her life? 11. What did you learn about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder from Just Checking? Would you be able to recognize symptoms in an acquaintance or relative? AUTHOR INTERVIEW Q: On more than one occasion, you refer to your condition as "insanity lite." Where did this expression come from, and at the time, did you think there was anything to be done to overcome that feeling? A: The expression was basically a play on diet foods. All the taste, none of the good stuff. It was as if I was suffering as much as anyone else who had lost their mind, but since I was still able to be rational, since I knew what I was doing was bizarre, I wasn't really crazy. I had this belief that somehow life would be easier if I was just completely mad. Q: You relate many personal details in Just Checking. Were there any that you found particularly difficult to share when you started writing? A: I suppose the whole idea of people knowing this was what was wrong with me was hard to share. Once I started showing my writing to some friends, that got easier. As for specifics, I didn't write about anything that I wasn't comfortable with people knowing. In fact, if there was an event or experience that was too personal or that I couldn't make fun of in some way, then I left it out. Q: Is there anything in the book you look back on and regret? Perhaps not getting treatment earlier? A: No. I got treatment, took medicine when I was ready. I'm not sure I would have been able to stick it out if I had done it any sooner. Q: Your memoir is written in a breezy, at times humorous tone, something you don't often see in recovery memoirs. How did you decide that Just Checking would be written in this manner? A: I think the biggest compliment I got on the book was that I write how I talk. I'm just telling my story, and that people think it's funny is great. To me, being able to laugh is one of the best things. Q: What is your life like now? Describe the changes that you've gone through. A: You're actually asking that question at a particularly difficult time. I think, as far as the book is concerned, my life looks a lot different. I'm far less worried and not at all dependent on someone else to get me through the day. Now I just struggle with different things. Q: What is the single most important piece of advice you can give to a reader currently suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? A: I'm not sure I feel like I'm in a position to give advice. I'm no expert. I just told my story. I guess, like I say in the book, life is short. And it's hard as well. So do whatever you can to relieve your suffering.
San Diego Union-TribuneJust Checking twitches with pain and pulses with insight....It's also so enjoyable, and so frequnetly laugh-out-loud hilarious, you'll feel guilty profiting from Colas' agony.
Dallas Morning News A wonderful little book....
Deseret News In the literature of mental illness, this one is destined to be a classic....Every worrier will recognize in Colas a true sister. Everyone who likes to laugh will be glad she was brave enough to tell this story on herself.
David Sedaris author of NakedJust Checking is, in turn, mysterious, agonizing, and terribly funny. Emily Colas writes with such skill and honesty that I can't help but wish she suffers a relapse. It's selfish, I know, but I want more.
Detroit News Intimate and revealing.
Booklist This anecdotal, first-person account of Colas' illness is highly readable and funny...One hopes that Colas will take up her pen again.
Kirkus Reviews A frank and funny first-person account of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder...With its unique patient's-eye view and perceptive honesty, a valuable contribution to the literature....
Martha Manning author of Undercurrents and Chasing Grace Everyone knows what it's like to worry. But for most people, it's not a twenty-four-hour occupation. Emily Colas draws readers into a world dominated by details -- a dangerous world in which kitchen utensils are instruments of deadly contamination, restaurant food is probably poisoned, and a tiny paper cut is potentially fatal. Through a series of vignettes she paints a compelling picture of a life dominated by compulsions and the worries that fuel them. If she'd left it there, Just Checking would be a valuable case study of a psychiatric illness. But Colas is a born storyteller, and a wickedly funny one at that. Just Checking is as hilarious as it is harrowing -- a combination that makes it an engaging and ultimately powerful book.
Java A terribly funny, sad, and deeply human account...Honesty is the key here, and it's Colas' ironic self-awareness that makes for such a refreshing read.