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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs


An Elegy

by (author) Stephanie Kain

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2023
Personal Memoirs, Mental Health, Suicide, Death, Grief, Bereavement
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2023
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What happens when someone you love suddenly cliff-dives into mental illness? And then you discover that there may be no return?

This experimental memoir reflects on the author’s intimate and complicated relationship with a woman diagnosed with suicidal depression, and the startling and chaotic new world of locked wards, heavy medications, and electroconvulsive therapy that follows.

Interweaving personal essays, fragmented prose, poetry, stream-of-consciousness, and text exchanges, this collage-style book invites the reader into the mysterious world of a treatment-resistant condition and illuminates the urgency and intimacy of caring for someone with an ultimately fatal mental illness. Running through the center of the narrative is the relationship between two people whose fierce love for each other is both the tie that binds and the anchor that drowns.

Lifeline is a testament to the importance of hard conversations, humor, and dignity in the face of a courageous battle for sanity; an interrogation of the flaws in the medical system; a debate on when life stops being worth living; and a conversation and reflection on what it means to love someone enough to go on without them.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Foreword Indies Award

Contributor Notes

Stephanie Kain is a creative writing professor at the University of Ottawa. She has twice been shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award. Kain divides her time between Ottawa and PEI, where she loves to stroll the red sand beaches with her young daughter.

Excerpt: Lifeline: An Elegy (by (author) Stephanie Kain)

Empaths Anonymous

Is this your first meeting? Don’t worry — everyone’s very nice. I just want to give you a little heads up that if you sit next to me, you might find yourself telling me your story. You might not want to, but I might ask you a simple question that leads to a mild observation and then to an insight and you start pouring your darkest secrets into my lap and then wondering what the hell just happened.

It’s not your fault. I’m part witch. I just thought I’d let you know so you could decide if you really wanted to sit there.

Honestly, I don’t know why people tell me their things, but they do all the time, and now I’m going to tell you my things because I think it’s only fair. Since you’re sitting here now, you’re about to start feeling really vulnerable, and that’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault, but it’s a fact, so …

Counsellor: Okay, we’re going to leap in here, everyone. Steph, do you want to start?

Me: Hi. Yes, sure. My name is Steph. I’m thirty-seven years old and I live on Prince Edward Island. That’s in the middle of the ocean next to Canada, for those who aren’t familiar with our red shores. I have a wife and a seven-year-old daughter. After getting my PhD in creative writing I decided I didn’t want to teach and bought a former goat café, which I turned into a bookstore and coffee shop. I have conflicting core feelings about my career. Sometimes I feel shame about not using my education better, and sometimes I feel relief and gratitude that my life is my own and I don’t have to deal with the stress of trying to be a woman on tenure track at a university.

My superpower is active listening. My diagnosis is anxiety/depression, but I have recently tapered off my Cipralex because of the side effects, particularly fatigue and forgetting what sex is. I’m coping at about an eight lately, trending slightly manic, which I feel is a normal, healthy response to this global virus crisis.

I am a writer. Sometimes a counsellor — but in the unregulated, meet-me-for-a-cup-of-tea kind of way.

Counsellor: Thank you. Anyone else?

It’s your turn now. Sorry about that. But don’t worry. Everyone here is really nice.

Editorial Reviews

Lifeline shows us what the world looks like when someone you love takes their life. Elegiac, insightful, and searingly honest, Lifeline is a valuable and wholly original exploration of mental illness and the devastation it leaves in its wake.” — Don Gillmor, Governor General’s Award-winning author of To the River: Losing My Brother

“Every once in a while a book comes along that carries news of the front lines and traces the interior of an experience in a way that lets us see it with new eyes. Lifeline: An Elegy is such a book. There is no place to hide here, to pretend that we can somehow sidestep the intensity of human emotion. And, paradoxically, it is in this rawness, in Stephanie Kain’s unflinching honesty, that we come to understand this is a story of resilience and love.” — Eve Joseph, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and bestselling author of In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying

Lifeline is a frank, poetic discussion of the myriad facets of mental illness, so intimate, detailed, and honest that you’ll feel you’re there beside Kain, perhaps even as S, the one whom she once a critique of the mental health system, a lament for a friend, and an expression of deep love and commitment.” — Ottawa Review of Books