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Discussion Guide

Losing the Atmosphere, A Memoir: A Baffling Disorder, a Search for Help, and the Therapist Who Understood

By Vivian Conan

Born in 1940s Brooklyn to a father prone to rages and an emotionally erratic mother, Vivian Conan grew up in two different worlds: Outside and Inside. Outside, she had friends, excelled in school, and was close to her cousins and brother. Inside, she saw faces that weren't hers in her bedroom mirror and was surrounded by an invisible Atmosphere that bathed her in the love and understanding she craved. Moving between these worlds enabled Vivian to survive her childhood but limited her ability to live fully as an adult. To others, her life seemed rich with work, friends, music, and boyfriends. But her mind and soul were filled with chaos and pain. Neither she nor her therapists could figure out why.


Losing the Atmosphere is Vivian Conan's riveting account of her journey toward self-understanding and wholeness; her encounters with a string of more and less helpful therapists; and her unconventional relationship with the therapist who was finally able to guide her through the courageous, messy work healing required.


Told with honesty, humor, and grace, Losing the Atmosphere is a never-too-late story about the growth possible for anyone with the guts to pursue it, and a testament to the redemptive power of love: not the perfect kind Vivian experienced in her imaginary world, but the imperfect kind that connects us, flawed human being to flawed human being, in the real world she lives in now.


Vivian Conan is available to attend book club meetings over Zoom. You can contact her at


This discussion guide was shared and sponsored in partnership with Dartfrog books.

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

Vivian’s fantasy world, the Atmosphere, is adaptive at first, because it provides the emotional support she isn’t getting elsewhere. When does the Atmosphere become maladaptive? What are some comparable “devices” other people use to cushion their world?
Over the course of many years, Vivian goes from wanting to feel better to wanting to get better. What is the difference?
Thoughts of suicide allow Vivian to function: As long as she knows she has an out, she can endure what she is going through. What are other examples of how something generally construed as negative can actually be helpful?