Review: The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J Buchanan, Nero

Erich Mayer

Andrea Buchanan demonstrates that you can survive a very difficult experience and emerge a better person.
Review: The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J Buchanan, Nero

Andrea J. Buchanan's The Beginning of Everything: The Year I Lost My Mind and Found Myself.

There are some extraordinarily painful and debilitating diseases little known to most in the medical profession. One of these is spontaneous intracranial hypotension caused by a spinal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. This causes loss of the fluid in the connective tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord.

In The Beginning of Everything, Andrea Buchanan recounts her experiences as the victim of a CSF leak which results in her experiencing a near-constant pain level of at least nine. (A typical pain intensity chart goes from zero to 10 where zero stands for pain free and nine is described as 'can't bear the pain, unable to do anything' and 10 is 'as bad as it could be, nothing else matters'.)

The leak starts at a particularly bad time for Buchanan, not that there is a good time for this horrible malady. She is in the process of getting a divorce and also has the responsibility of caring for her two teenage children, Emi and Nate, to whom this book is dedicated. This is what she tells her children:

'Here are the things that won't change – that I love you, and that you will always come first in my heart; that your dad loves you, and he always will, no matter whether he lives here or somewhere else ...'

Before she turned to a career in writing Buchanan was an accomplished pianist. She recounts some of her musical history and draws strength from her musical experience and sometimes refers to it to make a point. She writes with extraordinary frankness but never with self-pity. Some of her frustrating hospital experiences will be familiar to readers. Before Buchanan can be evaluated at a particular headache centre, for instance, and while she is actually suffering a severe headache, she is compelled to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test, which costs her $300 and incidentally is not covered by insurance. It consists of no fewer than 567 true/false statements, such as 'I wish I could be as happy as others seem to be' and 'I see things or animals or people around me that others do not see'. She wonders how a normal person would answer these questions.

Buchanan describes meetings with doctors who believe the pain she has is  psychosomatic or that she is malingering, although why a freelance writer – or anyone, really – should wish to do that is inconceivable. She has the problem common to sufferers of headaches that there are no physical signs of it; the pain may be excruciating but it does not show. There are doctors who believe in her pain but mis-diagnose the disease. So Buchanan's journey to diagnosis and cure is a long and difficult one that eventually takes her to a doctor from Duke University who understands what a CSF leak is and who has been successful in fixing the problem for some sufferers.

Last year in a talk at the New York State Writers Institute, Buchanan spoke about how hard she found writing this book because for her it meant re-living some of the pain. She added that she wanted the book to be something people could relate to and hoped that it wasn't just a sad story about herself. She has succeeded brilliantly in that effort. With The Beginning of Everything, Buchanan demonstrates that you can survive a very difficult experience and emerge a better person.

Rating: 4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

The Beginning of Everything: The Year I Lost My Mind and Found Myself
By Andrea J. Buchanan

Release date: 30 April 2018
RRP: $32.99
Paperback ISBN: 9781760640682
eISBN: 9781743820490
Imprint: Nero
Format: Paperback
Size: 234 x 153mm
Extent: 304pp
Black Inc. 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog