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Writer Siri Hustvedt, 'The Shaking Woman'

Mar 3, 2010 (Fresh Air)

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Author Siri Hustvedt was speaking at a memorial service for her father when she started to rapidly shake. Hustvedt explains the experience to Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

"It's hard to describe how surprising it is, for one thing," says Hustvedt. "It kind of comes out of nowhere, and the first time it happened, I opened my mouth to speak and suddenly my whole body is shuddering violently. I had index cards in my hand — my arms were flapping. My legs were shuttering so hard that I thought I was going to fall over. It's a very dramatic physical event. But what is fascinating — and what has always been fascinating about this for me — is that my cognitive abilities ... continues. I don't feel cloudy or anything — it's simply that my limbs have gone out of control."

Four violent shaking episodes — along with other unexplainable physical ailments — inspired Hustvedt, the author of The Blindfold and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, to write The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. The book investigates Hustvedt's own symptoms while investigating the murky overlap between psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Hustvedt says writing The Shaking Woman allowed her to think about living with an illness that fell outside of diagnostic categories.

"There are a lot of illnesses that are either misdiagnosed or that seem to fall out of the categories of medicine," Hustvedt says. " I feel that my journey ... was a sense of mastering not the illness — not curing it — but being able to think very clearly about what had happened to me, and also saying to myself, 'This is part of you. This is not only part of your story, but it belongs to your nervous system. It may never go away.' And it became very important for me to own it. To take it into myself as part of myself and not as an alien invader."

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