Hello World, during this month of May which is Mental Health Awareness month, I am as you must have noticed, doing interviews with authors who have written on mental health, especially about their personal experiences.
I have done a modest review of Martha’s memorable memoir on my blog, and it is my honour to interview her too. Having had a sibling with a mental illness (bipolar disorder), I can relate with much of what Martha writes.
1) The Profile
Let’s Start with a brief introduction of yourself – your background – and a tiny bit about your Childhood:
Thank you, Marie. I was born and raised in Southern California in a family with four kids, I was the youngest. I have to say that my childhood was pretty idyllic. We were raised with an appreciation for nature and a social consciousness as well. When my sister entered adolescence, problems surfaced that affected our entire family and particularly me since I looked up to her so much.
About your Memoir, how did you come up with this poignant title?
When I first starting writing, my working title was A Normal Life. This was based on a feeling I had during those challenging years that I just wanted “a normal life” although I finally realized that there really is no such thing. However, a fellow author pointed out to me that this title could be construed as sounding boring. I posed the question to the other authors in my publisher’s author group and someone came up with Nothing Like Normal which can be interpreted as either a good thing or a bad thing or both! I thought this was perfect so I went with it after adding the subtitle Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia.
2) The Soul Journey
What is your take about mental health?
I think it is important for anyone dealing with a mental health challenge or that of a family member to realize they are not alone in what they are experiencing. Mental Illness is very widespread. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five youth experience a mental disorder at some time and the figure is one in four for adults. Therefore it’s important to not be fearful of accepting a diagnosis of mental illness. It needs to be treated like any other medical illness and families and individuals should take advantage of the many resources that are available to help them cope with these conditions.
Did your feel guilty for your sibling’s deteriorating mental health? If yes what did you think or do, if no please explain some to us.
In my memoir, there is a chapter that talks about siblings experiencing a “survivor syndrome” in which they wonder why their sibling was afflicted with a mental illness when they were not. Often times a sibling or parent may feel helpless when they are unable to “fix” the problem that their loved one is experiencing. My advice is that you must focus first on being healthy in your own life. Achieving your own happiness and stability is the best way to help your family member because you will be coming from a place of love as well as empathy.
Can you tell if there was a difference in the way your sibling was treated before and after she got that diagnosis?
There is a definite stigma surrounding mental illness and this was even worse in the 1970s when my sister was first diagnosed. Stigma is a negative label that was placed on her and caused people to treat her differently. Stigma is hurtful and makes people feel ashamed of themselves or their family member. Feeling stigmatized and criticized can lead to individuals not seeking help for their mental health issues. To combat stigma, it’s important to realize and explain to others that mental illness is actually a medical illness like any other physical illness. Just like diabetes is a disease of the pancreas for example, mental illness affects the brain.
If you wouldn’t mind, can you tell us any short or long term effect to your own mental health as a result of your sibling’s mental illness?
I became very depressed as an adolescent because that is a difficult time for most people when hormones and societal expectations create pressure on one’s sense of well-being. I did develop coping mechanisms like meditating, playing the piano and writing that helped me feel more whole and I continue to use these healthy outlets to this day.
Please stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, thank you