Linda Appleman Shapiro is on a WOW Blog Tour with her memoir She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness (Dream of Things, September 2, 2014). You can stop by the other blogs on her tour by checking out her schedule and an opportunity to win a copy of She’s Not Herself here.
Her first memoir, Four Rooms, Upstairs, was self-published in 2007 and named Finalist in the Indie Next Generation Book Awards in 2008. Her blog of three years, “A Psychotherapist’s Journey,” named Shapiro Top Blogger in the field of mental health by WELLsphere.
She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness is a journey to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas. Linda Appleman Shapiro is ultimately able to forgive (without forgetting) those who left her to fend for herself–and to provide readers with the wisdom of a seasoned psychotherapist who has examined human vulnerability in its many disguises and has moved through it all with dignity and hope. The result is a memoir of love, loss, loyalty, and healing.
On the surface, her childhood seemed normal–even idyllic. Linda Appleman Shapiro grew up in the iconic immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with her parents and a gifted older brother. But she spent her days at home alone with a mother who suffered major bouts of depression. At such times, young Linda Appleman Shapiro was told, “Your mother…she’s not herself today.” Those words did little to help Linda understand what she was witnessing. Instead, she experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family member who is ill.
Today Linda is visiting Words by Webb to answer five questions.
Who do you hope will read your book?
LINDA: First and foremost, I hope I have written a story that will speak to all readers. I do not think my memoir is merely about my personal survival, which will relate only to adult children of the mentally ill. I think that most readers will be able to use what I’ve experienced to help them understand, identify and empathize with any dysfunctional situations in their own lives or the lives of others.
Even those in the professional community of therapists, social workers, and psychologists are claiming to benefit as I share how I processed years of trauma by examining them through the lens of time and with the help of skilled professionals. Gaining inspiration and the ability to forgive without forgetting is never easy. However, it is my hope that in my search for ways to face a reality that was never acknowledged, I am encouraging others to succeed in finding ways to feel more at peace as they cope with whatever obstacles have blocked their path to healing.
What do you feel are the most significant changes in society’s attitudes toward mental illness compared to when you were young? What do we still need to improve?
LINDA: We know today that secrets within in a family are the breeding ground for all sorts of emotional problems including mental illness. Surely there has been a paradigm shift in de-stigmatizing illnesses in general. The scientific community is moving forward in its race to better understand and treat patients suffering from a variety of conditions that fall under the broad umbrella we refer to as mental illness. If we focus only on the reported rise in children with autism, the increasing numbers of teen suicides, or the ever-increasing numbers of the mentally ill who are incarcerated instead of hospitalized (*when all statistics point to the fact that the great majority of the mentally ill are not perpetrators of crime), there remains am urgent need to help identify and treat loved ones whose families don’t know how to help even when they are witness to unusual and even aberrant behaviors.
Additionally, due to the increase and awareness of the number of physical illnesses (including cancer) societal pressures are offering patients and their families as many options for treatment and care that are currently available.
The curtain to what was my so-called “normal” for my family in the 40s and 50s is certainly lifting. Yet, there still remain many communities and religious sects that adhere to the belief that problems in any family should stay within the family. They don’t want others to judge them and therefore they do nothing to change what, on some level, they are aware of as having the potential for danger. Therefore, all the auxiliary people who come in contact with children – from pediatricians to teachers to social workers – must be better educated to recognize the signs and symptoms that children inevitably exhibit if a trained eye is watching them. More funding must be allotted for further scientific research that includes how to best treat patients as young as toddlers and treatment centers and hospitals must be available for those in all socio-economic groups, if we are ever to live in a saner and safer world.
Why did you choose memoir instead of fiction, a genre that leaves you greater latitude?
LINDA: I chose memoir because I felt compelled to share a story that I experienced first hand. I then re-visited, remembered, and sorted through all that has affected me, shaped who I was and who I have become.
I am happy to leave it to others to create worlds within worlds with fictional characters and reach the hearts and souls of readers as great writers throughout time have always done. That was not my calling.
When did you begin writing?
LINDA: I began to journal at the age of eleven after reading Anne Frank’s Diary and have written poetry (primarily for myself and a few chosen loved ones). I only wrote critical papers throughout college and the various graduate programs I attended. Creative writing was not anything I even attempted to explore.
To answer your question, I’d have to say that writing my memoir has been my first real stab at writing. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit to it also being a labor of love and tenacity. It has reaped untold hours of revelatory awareness of who I was and who I have become.
Where will your writing go from here?
LINDA: I intend to revive a weekly blog a wrote for three years – “A Psychotherapist’s Journal” – which I’m proud to say named me Top Blogger in the field of Mental Health by Wellsphere (an on-line site whose mission was to “to help millions of people live healthier, happier lives by connecting them with the knowledge, people and tools needed to manage and improve their health).
With regard to writing another book:
In spite of the fact that I know how difficult it is for authors who are not well known to get a book of essays published, that is, in fact, my next project. I started it a while back, but now that my memoir is out, I have every intention of returning to it.
I have always been fascinated by the power of myths within families, cultures, and religions – all of which influence our choices, affect our beliefs, and color our biases.
Although many people associate the word “myth” with Greek Mythology, Webster defines a broader usage of myth to include “any invented story, concept, or idea.” It’s this broader sense of “invented stories” and how they affect us that I will be addressing in my essays. Whether we believe or don’t believe the constructs that have been passed down to us, we continue to tell ourselves stories to create other myths to heal old scars or enhance current joys. . . and it is only when we work to change negative behaviors do we create new realities. Such new realities help us identify the myths we’ve chosen to sustain us and allow us to discard those that have harmed us.
Questioning and exploring the role myths play in our lives, the essays will address a wide range of subjects, most of which are not nearly as whimsical as the working title I am now using, “Unicorns Eat Strawberry Ice Cream.” Whether that title will ultimately work or not, I’m not certain. But it gives me pleasure to know that I have taken it from an essay I wrote about a child’s ability to enjoy the luxury of imaginative play, admiring how she perceives her world to be safe and loving.
Since I grew up not knowing how to be care-free and spontaneous but was, instead, always on guard and hyper-vigilant, never knowing when the “black clouds,” (as Mother referred to the times when she was overcome by her demons) would descend.
I was, therefore, overwhelmed with joy when I spent an evening with my granddaughter (when she was 3½) and she asked me – when playing with a soft, cuddly stuffed unicorn – if I knew that unicorns ate strawberry ice cream. She couldn’t have been more serious on the one hand and more playful on the other. That ability left me awe-struck.
The sound of her laughter and the security she felt about going to sleep at night were not luxuries afforded to me at her age. For those of you who may have lived through family traumas or are living through them now, such luxuries are, no doubt, absent from your lives as well.
Yet, while anything can happen to any of us at any time, we can’t afford to allow the news of the week – the multitude of disasters around the globe – to deny ourselves the sheer pleasure of appreciating a child’s delightfully trusting and magnificently magical imagination. Even though such times may be too few and too fleeting, they are always precious.
That is why when we have the privilege of being with children reflecting the safety of the world as they know it, reveling in their playfulness enriches our lives. Learning from their ability to feel free enough to think creatively, encourages us to be open to all sorts of new possibilities. It serves us well to know that if we allow our innocent children to captivate our attention and in so doing inspire us, offering the opportunity to share in their gaiety, knowing that – even while they are aware that they are weaving a yarn, making up a story such as one where unicorns really do eat strawberry ice cream – so much more is possible.
More often, however, I will address the serious implications of myths as they impact 21st century life – including our need to understand relationships; the effects of failing economies; the changing priorities and new definitions of what constitutes a “family;” the attitudes toward mental health and the health care system itself; bullying in various arenas, and our changing attitudes towards toward age and aging.
Throughout this book, my mission will be to disempower outdated myths that impede progress. I’ve been told that this book of essays is the first book written by a psychotherapist addressing how the myths we absorb over time affect our present-day lives. If we become aware of them, we might then replace them with new stories – myths, if you will – that reflect our current realities, promote healthy growth and help to fully realize our potential. In order to move forward, we need the freedom to allow our imaginations to be more expansive, our attitudes towards people and cultures to become more inclusive. It’s a path toward the development of a saner, more civilized world.