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Brain Storm: A Life in Pieces
The frightened 7-year girl. The aggressive 14-year old boy. The terrified 3-year old child. The cult leader. She lived with these, and over thirty other parts of her mind, no less real than you and I, throughout endless periods of deepest depression, paralyzing panic, thoughts of suicide, a revolving door of psychotherapists. A harbinger of the coming storm, darkness followed her everywhere, from infancy to a career as a renowned, openly gay OB/GYN in New York City. A loving wife and three remarkable kids completed the façade while inside, her mind was a raging tempest of terror and despair. A fierce will to survive sustained her until, at long last, a gifted therapist gave a name to her unrelenting psychic pain: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In Brain Storm, Dr. Shelley Kolton tells the story of a childhood marked by unimaginable abuse and the distinct parts her brain created to hold the horrific memories, protecting her until she was strong enough to let them go. Session after grueling session, she balanced the demands of medicine, marriage and family as new parts emerged, each one requiring her attention and care. The relationship with her therapist over thirteen torturous years was central to fully accepting that all the alters colliding inside her brain had, in truth, saved her. Kolton paints a brutally honest, intimate portrait of a woman living with DID, managing the inhabitants of her own creation. So raw and real are her memories, she puts to rest any doubts as to the existence of multiple personalities and the excruciating work it takes to heal. In the end, Brain Storm is the breathtaking account of a mind fragmented and broken, ultimately made whole by one woman’s incomparable strength and towering courage.
This harrowing tale of psychological trauma follows a medical doctor grappling with her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), stemming from repeated sexual abuse, mistreatment, and torture as a child. For years, Shelley Kolton lived a “normal” life: She remembered her childhood fondly, graduated from college and medical school, and opened a female-centered medical practice in New York City. But after a series of debilitating panic attacks, Kolton learned that she had been dissociating into thirty-one different versions of herself: a host of different personalities, at turns competent and cruel, vile and protective. Kolton uncovers the truth about her childhood and learns to cope with her DID with the help of Yael Sank, her understanding therapist.

The subject matter is upsetting, as Kolton frankly addresses sexual abuse, infanticide, suicide, pedophilia, and more. Kolton herself, when under the influence of different “multiples,” is an emotionally abusive partner. But for those who can stomach hearing about such atrocities, Shelley’s story is remarkable—interesting, courageous, surprising—and the telling is engaging. Her DID journey is not easy, but readers will be enthralled by the descriptions of her different “sides” and the precarious balance of her alters. She includes emails, texts, and letters written from Kolton to Sank in different stages of psychosis and grief, offering a raw, clear-eyed sense of the turmoil of her recovery journey.

Kolton focuses the memoir’s fast-paced opening on life before her diagnosis. The introduction to her “gang” of alters is captivating, and she details how each one presents him/her/itself and what therapeutic tactics work best for them. At times, the story becomes repetitive, and ends rather abruptly, but in that the memoir deftly mimics the long process of therapy and healing without a definitive end. For readers interested in mental health, lessons on how to survive trauma, and personal resilience, this is a well-written, gripping, horrifying work.

Takeaway: A wrenching, enthralling memoir of a woman living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Great for fans of: Bill Clegg’s Ninety Days, Jane Phillips’s The Magic Daughter.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A