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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Surviving Samsara

A Memoir of Breakdowns, Breakthroughs, and Mental Illness

by (author) Kagan Goh

Caitlin Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Personal Memoirs, Asian & Asian American, Bipolar Disorder
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price

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"Samsara is defined as the 'round of rebirth' or 'perpetual wandering' ... a continuous process of ever again and again being born, growing old, suffering and dying."


--Buddhist Dictionary by Nyanatiloka Mahathera




In Kagan Goh's debut memoir, he recounts his struggles with manic depression, breaking the silence around mental illness. From an honest and personal perspective, Surviving Samsara traces Goh's experiences as he wanders through the highs of mania, the terrors of psychosis, and the lows of depression. From the welfare office to the hospital ward and many places in between, Goh struggles to discern the difference between mental health breakdowns and spiritual breakthroughs. Facing his experiences with courage and authenticity, Goh shares memories of family altercations, pushed to the brink of living on the street, and psychiatrist visits. He explores his diagnosis of bipolar mood disorder not only as a medical condition but as a spiritual emergence--a vehicle for personal growth, healing and transcendence.




With raw language and deep insight, he combats the societal stigma, prejudice and discrimination people with mental health challenges face on a daily basis, and exposes the further damage it can do. Writing and sharing his story of living with a mental illness began a form of self-therapy, and now illustrates Goh's transformation from victim to survivor to activist. Surviving Samsara tells a deeply personal story of recovery, acceptance and unconditional self-love and humanizes the challenges of those living with mental illness.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Kagan Goh was born in Singapore in 1969. After years of travelling, he emigrated with his family to Canada in 1986 and now resides in Vancouver. He is a spoken word poet, playwright, actor, mental health advocate and activist. Kagan has been published in several anthologies, including Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Canadian Fiction (TSAR Publications), Henry Chow and Other Stories from the Asian Canadian Writer's Workshop (Tradewinds Books), Solamente en San Miguel: A Literary Celebration, Volume III (San Miguel Literary Sala) and Alive at the Center (Ooligan Press). He has also been published in periodicals and magazines such as Ricepaper, Misfit Lit, SARE: Southeast Asian Review of English, and Open Minds Quarterly. In 2012, Select Books of Singapore published his debut book, Who Let in the Sky?. Goh is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker with a number of releases, including the award-winning Mind Fuck (1996) and Stolen Memories (2012). His films have been broadcast on national television and screened at respected film festivals across Canada. Surviving Samsara was also a multimedia multidisciplinary live theatrical production of the same name that incorporated dramatic performances, spoken word, music, and audiovisuals.

Editorial Reviews

"Surviving Samsara is a well-paced, beautifully rendered memoir, and a graceful successor to Goh's Who Let in the Sky? Kagan Goh is an eloquent and honest writer, directly transmitting experience to the reader who will heave deep sighs, weep softly, stiffen in irritation, and laugh aloud on this shared journey. Love is the glue that binds communities together, and Goh's profound expressions of love encompass all, from the cats and dogs of the neighbourhood, the mother and father, the children, to the Bipolar Buddha and the Schizophrenic Christ. Goh's wisdom, hard-won, and joy spilling over, are soul-nourishing."


--Joanne Arnott, author of A Night for the Lady




"Kagan Goh's book Surviving Samsara is a tremendous, shared journey; an authentic honest celebration of what society labels as 'manic depression.' Reading it, I grasped the wonderful wild humour of a 'puke-purple room,' the desperation of the 'Quiet Room,' the deep, understanding love Kagan holds for his supportive mother and father. Surviving Samsara is a true 'roller coaster ride' as Kagan shifts gears, illuminating for us the many different landscapes he has navigated to negotiate, understand, and ultimately toss the label of 'manic depression' aside to survive and thrive. Life's gifts greatly exceed suppressive labels. Surviving Samsara is such a gift."


--Susanna Uchatius, Artistic Director of Theatre Terrific




"Written by a poet who delivers a beautiful story and an important message about mental health. Surviving Samsara is a raw and honest memoir about living with and recovering from mental illness. A notable contribution to our understanding of one another."


--Lenore Rowntree, author of Cluck: A Novel and co-editor of Hidden Lives: True Stories from People who Live with Mental Illness




"Central to Kagan's artistic work is a desire to humanize the struggles of those with mental health challenges and to fight stigmas that hold people back. His creative process involves critical self-reflection--not only as an artist who lives with a mental illness but as a spokesperson and mental health advocate and activist. While he uses his life experiences to shape and mould his stories, he is always conscious of the larger context and picture of how his stories touch the lives of people living with mental illness and their friends, families, and loved ones."


--Mary Fowles, from the Introduction to Surviving Samsara




"Goh goes into detail about family altercations, being pushed to the brink of living on the street and his experiences in hospital wards and welfare offices. All the while, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he strives for personal growth, healing and transcendence."


--BC Bookworld