Barbara Ruzansky is the owner of West Hartford Yoga, a yoga and healing center in Central Connecticut. Although many in the community see her as a successful businesswoman and a model of healthy living, her life was not always this way. For over 30 years, she struggled with eating disorders, depression, and addiction. She was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, unable to work, and dangerously close to suicide. She wasn’t living, but she didn’t know how to die.
“Before I die, I must understand and write it down.”
— Barbara, 1985
In the deepest chasms of mental illness, addiction, trauma, and grief, she somehow managed to write it all down. The result was 6,000 pages of journal entries tracking her inner torment, suicidal thoughts, therapy sessions, loneliness, failures, hopes, and heartache. Combined with a trove of found objects—date books, photographs, recordings, artwork, letters, and interviews—she had unknowingly built a collection of artifacts chronicling her illness and the messy, nonlinear journey through recovery, which eventually led to the first phase of the Bad Hair Day Project (BHD Project).
“I would like to carve open my body and drain out the hurt.”
— Barbara, 1986
The BHD Project is an all-woman team whose mission is to shed light on the inner struggle of someone in crisis to break down stigmas surrounding mental illness and create a culture of understanding and acceptance. Over the last ten years, the team took the first step in fulfilling that mission by collecting, compiling, and transcribing the aforementioned artifacts; editing down the journals, and designing a multi-dimensional book, Bad Hair Day on Planet Earth. Barbara somehow knew, deep in her bones, that her story was important. That her suffering might someday help others.
“I hardly know what I ‘feel’ because all the masks and pretensions I use to distort and repaint myself have smothered the real feelings. I feel sliced up into hundreds of fragments all competing for attention. Nothing matches. The puzzle does not fit. My pieces are in battle, opposing each other.”
— Barbara, 1985
Don’t mistake Bad Hair Day on Planet Earth for a self-help book. Or even a traditional memoir. And despite the fact that it presents every cringeworthy moment of Barbara’s life both unapologetically and earnestly, this is not simply, “the story of Barbara.”
Instead, it’s a story told in real-time with minimal reliance on memory or the wisdom of the present, offering a rare glimpse into the mind of someone who feels out of control. In its essence, it allows the reader to experience what having a mental illness might feel like. It drowns in sadness and dances with humor. It is both despondent and hopeful, allowing a glimmer of understanding as to why someone may do/act/present while in crisis and perhaps nudge the reader towards compassion rather than confusion.
The book also invites readers to observe how Barbara sloppily navigated strained and tenuous relationships with her family and friends. For those who cannot understand the pain of depression, the grip of eating disorders, or the ravages of addiction, watching a person you care about in the midst of torment without the means to help or “fix” them, can be devastating. In the case of Barbara, she felt abandoned and misunderstood, whereas her family felt perplexed and helpless.
“This messy life provided me the opportunity to close my eyes and breathe, to develop courage to listen and to learn.”
– Barbara, 1997
The overall intention of the BHD Project is to shed light on the inner struggle of someone in crisis. To spark a conversation and allow space for people to talk about mental health. On a deeper level, Bad Hair Day on Planet Earth offers a new perspective on mental illness. About the dualistic existence that haunts so many people so that we can perhaps forge a new path of awareness, understanding, and compassion.
“More than anything else, I want a sense of purpose. I want to give. To make life better for others. To help in some way.”
— Barbara, 1990
Yoga was one of the factors that helped Barbara along the path of healing. It was not a linear path, but rather, one filled with ups and downs, relapses, pain and grief, plenty of questioning, and nuggets of hope along the way. But once Barbara connected with and committed to yoga, her daily practice helped to ground her physically and emotionally.
She is honored to welcome the community into her studio, West Hartford Yoga for a book signing event on Saturday, January 21, 2023. Meet Barbara and the team, discover how the book came to be, and take the opportunity to ask questions during a brief Q&A.
Visit: www.bhdproject.com for more information.