$16 | Essays

Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn

At age 18 Alysia Sawchyn was diagnosed with bipolar I. Seven years later she learned she had been misdiagnosed. A Fish Growing Lungs takes the form of linked essays that reflect on Sawchyn’s diagnosis and its unraveling, the process of withdrawal and recovery, and the search for identity as she emerges from a difficult past into a cautiously hopeful present.

Sawchyn captures the precariousness of life under the watchful eye of doctors, friends, and family, in which saying or doing the wrong thing could lead to involuntary confinement. This scrutiny is compounded by the stigmas of mental illness and the societal expectations placed on the bodies of women and women of color. And yet, amid juggling medications, doubting her diagnosis, and struggling with addiction and cutting, there is also joy, friendship, love, and Slayer concerts. 

Funny, intelligent, and unflinchingly honest, Sawchyn explores how we can come to know ourselves when our bodies betray us. Drawing from life experience, literature, music, medical journals, films, and recovery communities, each essay illuminates the richness of self-knowledge that comes from the act of writing itself. 

June 2020 // Essays, Mental Health
5″ x 8″ // Paperback // 170pp // $18
ISBN: 978-1-941681-14-5


“It’s when Sawchyn plays with form that her narrative voice is strongest; an index of mental illness–related terms seesaws in tone between playful and weighty, while, in a series of fragments, Sawchyn recounts drug use in language verging on, but never succumbing to, addiction clichés… a refreshingly open-ended collection that provides a model of how essay writing can be used for self-exploration.”

“Chilling… bracingly honest… Sawchyn’s gift for memorable descriptions makes her ordeal all the more visceral… A potent cautionary tale about the dangers of psychiatric misdiagnoses and the stigma of mental illness.”

“…a captivating collection that invites a conversation about how we approach human suffering.”

“Intimate, vulnerable, and entirely spellbinding exploration of addiction, identity, and one writer’s struggle to become whole. This debut collection is searingly honest, beautifully written, and Alysia Sawchyn is a fresh new voice.”
—DINTY W. MOORE author of Between Panic & Desire

“In this probing and emotionally intelligent book, Alysia Sawchyn uses all the tools in an essayist’s belt to reject the easy binaries we see in many personal narratives: wellness/disorder, injury/ recovery, or past/future. A Fish Growing Lungs works instead to show how the majority of living occurs in grayer spaces where multiple modes of being are not just possible; they are inevitable.”
—ELENA PASSARELLO author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

“This new voice in American literature will command your attention, will say what needs to be said, will question and doubt and enlighten, and, in the end, you will be dancing in a glorious light.”
—IRA SUKRUNGRUANG author of Buddha’s Dog & Other Meditations

“At once heartfelt and intellectually rigorous, A Fish Growing Lungs chronicles a young woman’s journey out of the murky waters of self-harm toward the breathable air of health and understanding. Sawchyn is eloquent on the heartbreak of loss.She is equally compelling in portraying a cautious hope for growth and forgiveness.”
—KYOKO MORI author of Yarn, Remembering the Way Home

“Beautifully crafted and often inventive essays with the wise perspective of a veteran who has warred with herself and survived… an admirable addition to the literature of illness and recovery.”
—ROBIN HEMLEY author of NOLA: a Memoir of Faith, Art & Madness

“A kind of destructive self-absorption is offered to answer self-absorption. It may be the real illness of our times: Self-absorbed pursuit of escape from self-absorption promoting pain precisely by trying so hard to make it disappear. It won’t disappear but can be faced as Sawchyn does.”
—SUSAN BABBITT for New York Journal of Books

“Sawchyn’s omnivorous ponderings are often funny—both ha-ha and strange—conveying a kind of reality where everything, it seems, is misdiagnosed, categorized to fit conditions that require illusions, which A Fish Growing Lungs helps us shed.”
—PATRICK MADDEN author of Sublime Physick

“With each sentence of these finely crafted and honed essays, Sawchyn pursues the membrane between lie and truth, illness and degrees of wellness, and the present and the past. A thoughtful precision and honesty allows her to present a deeply satisfying yet open-ended account of living with pain and working to make sense of all we inherit.”
—SONYA HUBER author of Pain Woman Takes Your Keys & Other Essays from a Nervous System

“Sawchyn has stacked her debut essay collection with stories she carried under her skin, tattoo-deep, until she could find a way to flip the needle and ink them onto the page. These are stories that waited—and then demanded to be told.”
—JILL CHRISTMAN author of Darkroom


Alysia Sawchyn is the editor-in-chief at The Rumpus magazine. She teaches writing at a number of different organizations and also has this thing for flowers.