In my last blog, I introduced you to Heidi Angell, the marketing director at Brains to Books. This week, I spoke with Angela Chrysler, the visionary who created Brains to Books. I really wanted to get to know Angela as best I could in a relatively short videoconference, and so my questioning focused on what made her who she is today, and how her experiences contributed to her creation of Brains to Books. What emerged, was a story of an incredibly traumatic childhood, one that left her floundering in turbulent currents that nearly pulled her under to irrecoverable depths. But, Angela fought her way back out of those dark waters, away from the edge of madness. With incredible bravery and tremendous spirit, she navigated her way back to a safe shore. This is her story, as she told it to me, including her disclaimer: be prepared for a very dark tale. It is filled with the worst of what it means to be human. But, it is also perhaps a recipe for how angels are made.
From a very young age, Angela was horrifically abused by her brother. It began when she was five and he was six, on a sultry, hot summer day. The heat was so intense that the rocks were scorching to the touch. Her brother picked up one of these hot rocks and threw it at a frog. The rock landed on the frog, pinning the creature, and burning its legs. It was still alive when her brother picked up the frog and threw it at Angela. She held the dying creature in her hands, screaming and crying. Her cries brought her mother from the house, but her mother’s response was not what Angela had expected. It wasn’t her brother who incurred their mother’s wrath; instead, it was Angela who was punished for making such a racket. Angela wanted to tell her father what had happened, but her mother said her father hated her and wouldn’t care. Her mother covered up her brother’s cruelty, and would continue to do that throughout Angela’s childhood, making certain Angela’s father never knew of her brother’s aberrations and therefore never intervened. A sense of powerlessness was planted inside Angela that day, and over the course of her youth it took deep root.
Emboldened by the incident with the frog, and the satisfying distress it had caused his sister and also by the lack of parental interference, Angela’s brother moved on to other acts of animal abuse and mutilation that he forced Angela to witness. Initially, he focused on pet turtles, cats and dogs, but each foray into this dark place emboldened him. By the time Angela was 6, he’d turned his abusive attentions to her, beating her up on a regular basis.
By the time Angela was 11, she had suffered so many beatings at his hands that she took to blockading herself in her room. When she refused to come out, her brother retaliated by torturing her cats until she opened her door. As soon as she came out, he would beat her. One of her favorite cats during these years was Tribble. For Angela, Tribble came to represent the only source of unconditional love that she was to know as a child. Tribble understood that without Angela, her world was a dangerous one. Every day after school it became a race, where Angela tried to get both of them behind her bedroom door before her brother could catch them.
When Angela was twelve, her brother punched her in the face, giving her a black eye. At school, a young friend named Isaac wanted to know what happened, and was outraged by Angela’s circumstances at home. Both of them sensed right from the start that there was something unique and special about their connection, and a close friendship formed that day that lasted all through their high school years. The connection was severed, however, when Isaac moved to Boston shortly after high school, and a jealous girlfriend conspired to separate him from Angela. Due to this young woman’s machinations, Angela and Isaac lost each other for many years.
Meanwhile, Angela began a period of her life where she entered into three disastrous relationships, one quickly following the other, and all of them containing traumatic experiences of sexual and physical abuse. Angela ended up marrying the third man during this period of her life, and together they had three children. It was during this time that Angela’s hold on reality started slipping away. Tribble, her cat, was her only consolation, and she relied even more heavily on Tribble, needing the cat’s presence to help keep her grounded in reality.
A decade went by, Facebook became a thing, and through it Angela and Isaac reconnected. Angela’s husband immediately distrusted this renewed friendship, understanding that Isaac was the only man Angela had ever truly loved. His response was to take some very aggressive actions. He kidnapped the children once, kidnapped Angela twice, and during the second kidnapping, he tortured her with sleep deprivation over a period of three days. When he finally left her alone, she slept for three days straight. When she woke up, she told him to never come back, and within a month they were divorced.
Isaac moved back into town a month later. At last, Angela was reunited with “her Isaac”, the love of her life. Several years later, in June of 2013, Angela and Isaac got married. It was an important step in the right direction, but there was still a distance to travel before they could claim their happily ever after. A month after the wedding, Tribble died. Her cat’s death trigged a sense of anxiety in Angela so deep that she became a shut in, only very rarely leaving her bedroom. Isaac did what he could to help her and keep the house and the kids in order. At the time, her being a shut in didn’t seem that odd to her or the children. Her room became a place for the family to meet and gather. But, Isaac started seeing a therapist to help guide him on how to handle the situation, and he and the kids worked hard to get her to go on outings. About once a month, she would agree to go with them, but every outing was a frightening experience, triggering all of her worst anxieties.
By March 2015, Angela was so inextricably tied to her “nest”, so fearful of leaving, that she concluded she was a curse to the people she loved. She started making plans to free her family from her darkness. She decided she would leave them all and go live in Ireland. Isaac pleaded with her to think carefully about what she was planning. Angela took his words to heart. In the safety of her room, she sat herself down, and began writing a story that she had been thinking about writing ever since she was 15 years old, the story of her life. It was meant to be therapeutic, a way to help her process everything. At first, she thought this story could be told as a blog entry, but one blog post turned into two, and soon, she realized this would have to be much bigger than a blog. Two weeks and 90,000 words later, she completed the manuscript for “Broken”. Once she saw the entire story in print, she understood two things, one, it was a story she would publish, and two, that she needed to get help.
The road to healing wasn’t an easy one. Angela was diagnosed with five distinct disorders and 44 triggers. She said there were so many triggers the world felt like a prison of sound to her. Almost everything reminded her of pain. She had to unlearn the old narrative constantly playing in her head, that she wasn’t worth anything, and that she had to punish herself for wanting to be loved.
With the help of her therapists, her husband, and her own resolve, things began to change. April 2, 2015, Angela underwent a preliminary psych evaluation in the Emergency Room of the local hospital. On April 6th, four days later, the first Brains to Books cyber conference was launched. People often comment to Angela that they can’t understand how she launched that first cycon all by herself. She laughs as she explains that the reason seems clear to her now, she was completely crazy.
Publishing “Broken” and preparing the Brains to Book’s platform to help her market her book, empowered Angela. Sharing her story, and then reaching out to help others do the same, shifted how Angela felt about herself. She felt encouraged to search out other avenues to promote even greater healing. She downloaded and tried a meditation app called “Calm”. Immediately, she felt a shift to a more stable state of mind. She added yoga to her regimen, and was able to carry that sense of wholeness from her mind into her body. Most recently, she added Tai Chi, and clearly felt the energy and healing of that discipline working its way into her very soul. Angela says this triad of healing modalities was more than just helpful; they became the foundation that enabled her to reclaim her life. She no longer felt powerless; she felt able to handle her triggers. And as she healed, she could see all the many ways her return to health set off healing throughout her entire family.
It wasn’t just her family that benefited from Angela’s transformation. After all she had been through, all the cruelty she had witnessed and suffered, there blossomed within her a strong desire to help others. That desire, combined with the healing energies that she had learned to harness, enabled her to touch the community of authors she had built through Brains to Books in deep and profound ways. Three years into the project, that energy is still palpable. Anyone who enters the Brains to Books community immediately feels how this is an environment of possibility. Angela loves hearing the stories people tell her, so many of them from introverts who are excited and taking the lead in a variety of projects of their own imagining through the Brains to Books platform. She loves presiding over a place that has so much room for everyone to grow. She laughs at herself now, hardly able to fathom how something that was meant to be an escape from her nightmare, became something so enriching, engaging and supportive.
As winter 2017 takes hold around the country, it finds Angela at home on a snowy night. The family is in the living room, the fire is burning in the hearth, Dr. Who is on TV. Two of her children are snuggled up close against her; the third is nestled against Isaac. Angela is knitting as she watches the show. Knitting is a new form of meditation for her, and it allows her to fully experience this moment of harmony and serenity with her loved ones. Meanwhile, on the Internet, campaigns are launching for this year’s Brain’s to Books cyber conference in April. Brains to Books has seen a 25x increase in membership since its inception year, and 2017 is shaping up to be the biggest cycon yet. For Angela, this is very exciting. It is all part of a greater sense of growth and healing happening all around her, and she appreciates the accomplishment for the gift it is. She has seen life’s darkest depths, but now as she puts it, she’s reaching for the stars, and it is her intention to bring all of us along with her.