Reading Group Guide
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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.
Copyright © 1998 by Emily Colas