Category Archives: Questions for an Author

Questions for an Author P2 – Birth of a new Brain Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder by Dyane Harwood


 

Yesterday, Dyane was telling us about the most difficult chapter she wrote. We continue from here:

  1. How did you deal with that?

I had to take plenty of breaks from writing the “One Pill Can Kill” chapter, which helped a lot.

  1. Did you learn anything from writing your memoir and what was it? I learned that I was stronger and more disciplined than I thought I ever could be, and I found those things out relatively late in life (my mid 40’s) which goes to show that late blooming (in terms of achieving our lifelong dreams) is possible!

  1. How long did it take you to ‘give birth’ to the memoir we would very soon be seeing on the shelves? Ten years! And they seemed like dog years!

4) The Message

  1. Do you have any advice for other memoir writers especially those living with a mental illness? Surround yourself with those who believe in you and your writing. Find a writing mentor if you can! One thing I wish I had done years ago was join the National Association for Memoir Writers (NAMW) because they have a ton of support and advice for memoir writers – really incredible resources! They also have membership sales twice a year and you can email them to find out when they are. You may also be able to work out a payment plan with them I believe – I paid less than $100 to join, which was still a big deal for my budget, but it was completely worth it. In terms of mental health, if you’re going through a rough path, allow yourself to take weeks, months, even years off if you need to. I took lengthy breaks – I had to – and that’s why it took me so long to get the book done. But what comes first is mental stability.

  1. Was it easy to get a book deal and how did you fare in the negotiations if we may pry? I wish I could say I had an agent because many people don’t think you’re a “real” writer unless you have an agent. That is no longer the case. There are many more publishers nowadays that accept manuscripts directly from the authors, which is wonderful. But what I did have was a generous friend who knew one of the publishers at Post Hill Press. She enthusiastically recommended my proposal to him; he reviewed it and ultimately he offered me a contract. Before he worked at Post Hill Press, he worked at “Big Five” publishers for many years in high positions, so I felt pretty great that he believed in my proposal.

Any other writing projects, blogging, support groups, etc? For now I’m promoting the book and giving talks to perinatal mental health and bipolar groups in the Bay Area. I’m also getting into the world of podcasting, as you know! I really enjoy it! To hear my first podcast please go to Dr. Katayune Kaeni’s “Mom and Mind” website – and find that right here:

My second podcast is on Podcast One’s “Mind Full” program with mental health advocates Alisha Perkins and Colleen Lindstrom. I let myself loose on that episode, so kindly check it out here:

3. Where will your memoir be found, and any book tours already scheduled? You can buy my memoir on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, R Kobo and iBooks. Thank you so much, Marie, for giving me this opportunity to share my experience with your followers, I will definitely update you with any book tours I have.

Thank you very much Lady Dyane my heroine for answering our questions. We hope to stay informed of different updates with your projects.

Please visit Dyane’s blog and her website for more on her writings and mental health advocacy.

If you dear gentle readers and followers have any questions for Dyane, you could leave them in the comments too.

 

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Questions to Co-authors of High Tide Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder P2


High Tide Low Tide

Ok World, here we go with P2 while you could read P1 if you missed that

3) The Writing

  1. Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)? If yes, why?

Many books and writers inspired us! Although not a direct influence, the book most relevant to ours is Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston. The Stigma Fighters Anthology, edited by Sarah Fader, inspired and challenged us to keep things honest in our writing.

  1. Did you have a writing mentor?

Not as such, but we had superb support throughout the writing process from many people. Without their help and guidance our book would not be what it is: indeed, it might never have been completed at all. Some people reviewed early drafts, others edited chapters, or suggested approaches to take with agents and publishers. It is hard to single out individuals (we recognise many in our Acknowledgements page) but we are especially grateful to Julie A. Fast and Rachel Kelly, who contributed so much, and gave generously of their time and expertise.

  1. Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your book and why?

The most challenging to write was chapter 2, “The Illness Experience: Understanding Your Friend’s Diagnosis and Symptoms.” I’d imagined it would be pretty straightforward to describe the illnesses Fran has to deal with (bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia). In fact, it involved a lot of research and editing to describe these complex conditions succinctly but accurately, and in a way relevant to our readers.

  1. Which if any was your favourite chapter to write and why?

Our favourite is chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal.” That might seem an odd choice, but it’s a topic we feel passionate about and wanted to cover as honestly and thoroughly as possible. We hope we have contributed to a wider conversation about suicide and suicidal thinking.

  1. Did you learn anything from writing your book and if yes, what was it?

Martin: I learned that writing a book and getting it published is hard work! Joking aside, our four year journey taught me a great deal on many different levels. I learned how to plan, write, and edit a book, and how to query literary agents and publishers. I took courses including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). I read widely, focusing on personal accounts of mental illness. I also learned to listen. To Fran, yes, but also to other people. Meditation, NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and other techniques helped with that. I gained hugely in confidence. I learned I had a voice, and something worth speaking out about.

Fran: Absolutely! Writing this book I really opened myself up from a vulnerability standpoint, to share everything with the world. That was really scary but there was also a freedom that I gained from doing that. It also helps us in a practical way. Just the other day when I was in depression, Marty read to me from our chapter on depression and it helped remind me what we can do to shift out of it.

  1. How long did it take you to write and get the book published and why?

High Tide, Low Tide was published almost exactly four years after Fran first suggested the idea to me. That included planning, drafting, writing, researching, editing (and re-editing and re-editing!) the manuscript itself. It also included writing a full book proposal (which took far longer than I imagined it would), as well as querying literary agents and publishers. The later chapters draw heavily on our personal correspondence. It took a lot of time and effort to locate, organise and select from the many thousands of lines of our Skype, Facebook and text (SMS) messages, as well as letters, emails, and my personal journal. By the time we found our publisher (Nordland Publishing) our book was completely written and edited. Things moved ahead swiftly from there: High Tide, Low Tide was published within three months.

4) The Message

  1. Do you have any advice for other writers especially on challenging subjects like mental health?

My main advice is to keep it real. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to include everything but it does mean being honest about what you put in there. Can readers tell the difference? I think so. We are very open about how things are for us, both individually and as friends. We cover some challenging subjects including stigma, discrimination, rejection, mania, depression and suicidal thinking. We include transcripts of many of our conversations, so people can see first-hand how our friendship works under these kinds of challenge. We also include times when things didn’t go so well. That’s important because it would be wrong to give the impression I always know what to do, or handle things perfectly. We get things wrong all the time! Real life is messy. How you handle the messy bits and get back on track is what matters most.

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Fran expressed it really well at the end of our book, highlighting the difference we can make if we are there for those we care about:

“There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness. Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.”

One reader wrote to us and said, “Your journey as friends reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.” That’s a great answer too!

  1. Any other writing projects, blogging etc?

We blog regularly at www.gumonmyshoe.com and elsewhere, including The Good Men Project, The Mighty, Time to Change, Men Tell Health, I’m NOT Disordered, and Julie A. Fast’s blog at bipolarhappens.com. Fran has written for the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram. An open letter to her psychiatrist was published in The Maine Review. We love having guests on our blog, so if you’d like to write for us, check out our guidelines (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/contact.html) and drop us a line!

  1. Where can your book be found?

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a wide range of other retailers. You can find further details and links on our website (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/book.html).

Thank you very much Martin and Fran for answering my questions. I must admit your answers will genuinely help me write a comprehensive review of your epic book.

Questions to Co-authors of High Tide Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder


High Tide Low Tide

 

Hello World, I love doing interviews with authors who have written on mental health, especially about their personal experiences living with any mental challenges or supporting someone living with them. It is with such profound feelings that I interview co-authors Martin Baker and Fran Houston. Their book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is probably to my soul like none other I have read before in this genre. I will be doing a review of their book in the following days but I wanted the authors to enlighten me and hopefully you my readers and followers some more.

1) The Profile

  1. Let’s start with a brief introduction of yourself, your background, and a tiny bit about your childhood:

I will go first (Martin). I was born in Liverpool in the north-west of England, where I lived until the age of eighteen. I graduated in Pharmacy from the University of Bradford in 1983 and spent the next three years doing postgraduate research at The Parkinson’s Disease Research Centre at King’s College London, before moving to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1987. I’ve lived here ever since. I had very little experience of mental illness until I met Fran online in May 2011. Despite us living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s main support and caregiver. Our transatlantic friendship has taught me a lot about living with illness, but more importantly about what it means to be a good friend.

Fran: Me next! I graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1991, and worked as a successful electrical engineer until I was overtaken by illness. I was diagnosed with major depression in 1994 and with bipolar disorder in 2003. I also have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. I used to live on Peaks Island in Maine. Inspired by the island’s rich history, I interviewed and photographed long-time residents. The photos and interviews were exhibited locally and also published as For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, a Collection. This led to me appearing on Maine Public Broadcasting Network and National Public Radio to talk about my book and the challenges of living with illness. I was also a columnist with the Island Times. I was still living on Peaks Island when Marty and I met. I moved to Portland, Maine, in 1993. I love Portland and my many friends who love me dearly. I live with a beta fish named Jewells who often makes me laugh and gives me a reason for living.

2) The Soul Journey

  1. Martin, why? I mean, I have heard of a sibling who tried to help and even gave up, but I have never read of a friend of someone living with bipolar disorder.

That is really why we wrote our book, because there is nothing else out there specifically for friends. Each chapter starts with a question. The final chapter asks exactly what you just asked: “Why do you do it?” There isn’t one single answer. Our friendship enriches my life as much as it enriches Fran’s. I have gained so much in the time we have been friends. I believe I am a better person because of it. Ultimately, Fran is my best friend, and that’s what best friends do—they look out for each other.

  1. Fran, did you feel guilty at any point for your mental health and the impact it was having on your friendship? If yes what did you think or do, if no please explain for us.

This is a great question, Marie! I do wonder how Marty is doing when I’m not well but I never feel guilty about it with him. Not in my mania or in my depression. I have felt guilty about it with some others. Safety and guilt go together for me. I feel safe with Marty, that’s why I don’t feel guilty. With other people, I profusely apologized for myself and my behavior when I was manic, but I also expected them to be responsible for their behavior.

  1. Martin, can you tell us how your wife and son appreciate your having a friend like Fran, who could need you at any hour?

My family has been incredibly supportive, both of my friendship with Fran and the book we have brought out together. My wife contributed a piece to the book, and it is through my son that Fran and I found a publisher! More generally, they are very supportive of the help I am able to give to Fran and others, and the other work I do these days in the mental health arena, such as online work and volunteering with the UK anti-stigma charity Time to Change.

  1. Do you two think the distance is helping your friendship stay alive or killing it slowly?

In some ways living 3,000 miles apart limits our friendship. Fran can’t invite me round for a meal, say, or meet me in town for a coffee. I can’t help her with chores, fetch groceries, or give her a ride to appointments like I would if we lived in the same city. On the other hand, we get to share a great deal just as easily as if we lived close together. Social media and instant messaging mean we are never really out of touch. We meet on webcam almost every day. We talk (a lot!), watch movies and read books together. In some ways it enhances our relationship. As long as there’s an internet signal we can connect, no matter what time of day it is, where we might be (at home, out about town, on vacation etc.) or what we might be doing.

  1. Do you have any candid advice to friends of people with a bipolar disorder diagnosis? I will appreciate advice from each of you.

Martin: The key advice I’d offer is to keep the channels of communication open. For us that means daily chat conversations and Skype calls. That might be too much for some people, but however you “do the talking thing,” be someone your friend knows will be there for them no matter what happens. (And yes, that might include taking a phone call or responding to a message in the middle of the night.) Be someone your friend can trust not to turn away when things get rough. How do you do that? We sum it up as “Be who you are. Do what you can. Embrace the journey.” Don’t try and be someone you are not. You don’t have to do everything. Find your role in your friend’s support team and make it yours. There will be some bad times for sure, but also lots of good times. Share it all.

Fran: Three things come to mind. Commit yourself to your own self-care, keep healthy boundaries, and have understanding and empathy. Self-care means remembering to take care of your needs as well as your friend’s. Like taking some time off if you need it, or having someone to talk to or support you when things are hard. Keeping healthy boundaries is linked with self-care. What happens sometimes is friends get all enmeshed with the bipolar person. Someone manic can be interesting and exciting, but it can be toxic if you are not careful. Healthy boundaries means being aware of what is going on and not doing things you don’t want to do just to keep them happy. It’s ok to say no. Don’t go down the drain with your bipolar friend! Understanding and empathy means listening to your friend, to what is happening with them, and not trying to fix things or do everything….

Stop by on Wednesday for Part 2 of this exciting and yet so soulful interview

Questions to an Author: Jill Sadowsky


ask-the-author-answers-edition

 

Hello world, with barely a day to go before the Month of May is over, let’s wrap up with my Granny Jill’s interview shall we? So yes here we go after P1 of yesterday:

  1. Can you tell if there was a difference in the way your son was treated before and after he got that diagnosis?

No, because we realized much later that the doctors suspected paranoid schizophrenia very early on, but they are not keen to diagnose such a serious illness in someone aged 20. Doron entered the military in Israel with a medical profile of 96 and when he was released, he was like someone missing in action. For 18 years, people thought of our Doron as ‘normal.’ For the next 16 years, they called him mentally ill. But, we always called him Doron. Our once gregarious son was ill, vulnerable and scared. He’d lost his sanity and grieved for that loss. He’d lost confidence, suffered harassment and discrimination. IF someone did agree to hire him, they offered such a low salary that it was insulting.

  1. 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 son’s mental illness?

It affected the whole family. My husband, who devoted a tremendous amount of time to Doron, became  stressed as he was running an accountancy business. Our daughters did without sufficient time and energy from us, without vacations, without extras as every available cent was poured into another prescription drug, another treatment, a new psychiatrist. We did without too – we minded less. Our daughters no longer brought friends home. They returned from school, ate then fled. I learned about stigma: “She’s the one with the crazy son! Of course it affected me, no matter how much I tried to ignore it all. But, having a son in a psychiatric hospital is different. People with physical illnesses get many visitors in the hospital, are showered with flowers, chocolates and other gifts, while very few people even visited Doron. His good friends came at first until they had to get on with their own lives. We understood. Doron’s aunt and uncle were very supportive to him, something I will never forget. I learned at the support group to look for something I liked doing every day, and I did. I liked tutoring English, loved being with my children and grandchild, but, when I was very upset and down, I dug furiously in our garden. I disliked attending weddings or parties as everyone looked so happy and I was so so miserable, trying to keep a smile on my face. Later I learned from a smart psychologist, that I’d assumed that the other guests were happy but how could I know? Maybe they were also plastering ‘fake smiles’ on their faces? My friends told me afterwards that during Doron’s illness, I was extremely angry with the world. True!!!

3) The Writing

  1. Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)?

Many years ago, after Doron became ill, I read Anne Deveson’s Book entitled ‘Tell Me I’m Here.’ At that stage, I had no idea that she was a famous person. I simply felt; if she can do it, why oh why can’t I? Well, I started off by keeping a sort of diary but I jotted things that occurred in our once peaceful home onto scraps of paper which I popped into my bedside drawer. When I was asked to join a creative writing group, I typed out all the notes that I’d written and the teacher said; ‘You have a book there.” And that’s how all my more serious writing began. At first I wrote more short stories, then started slowly and painstakingly to write about what was happening in our house. Then, I didn’t even know that  1% of the world’s population suffered from schizophrenia – which is without taking into account all the other psychiatric illnesses that abound.

  1. Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your memoir and why?

Chapter 37, The Last Call was one of the  most difficult to write because of two pages. Page 224 where I wrote:-

Before schizophrenia, our three children had spent years of closeness, laughter and sibling secrets. During the years we lived with Doron’s illness, his sisters had shared their fears and tears, wishing they could escape the shadow but always drawn back to watch over, listen to and protect their older brother, who, in his healthy years, had done the same for them. It was then that my late husband had gathered us around him not long after we’d heard that our beloved son had taken his life. I want you to remember that Doron did not take his life. He took what schizophrenia had made of it. He ended his agony and I thank my son for putting an end to his suffering. I hope that he has found the peace of  mind he so desperately sought, the peace of mind that eluded him during the last 16 years of his life. Now we all have to face the tragedy of our loss.”

And a part of page 225.

On January 19th, 1996, we buried Doron. It was three months before his 34th birthday. On that dull winter’s day at my son’s funeral, the earth that had been dug out, stood in a mound ready to be thrown back. For the last time before he was buried, I talked to Doron, while in the cold, still air, I heard a thousand birds sing their songs of life.

All the people who loved Doron could finally say farewell. I saw people there who had not coped with his schizophrenia, but knew how to handle death. So many friends, neighbors and acquaintances stood, shoulders touching, their breath mingling in the icy air into one great sigh for our loss. The rabbi intoned the familiar words. His voice echoed in and out of me like surf slapping against the shore. His words didn’t comfort me. I registered simple animal sensations. My mother’s frail hand clutched mine. My daughters were trembling. My husband was crying. I was the only one unable to shed a tear. I whispered goodbye. So much left unsaid. I ached to see him on his surfboard. The thud of earth,  marker. He was gone. He didn’t say goodbye. In a tumble of memories, I saw Doron’s smile superimposed on the painful image of his anguished, tortured expression.

I love you, Doron.

REST.

1962-1996

  1. Which if any was your favourite chapter to write and why?

Chapter 27 because it showed that one can be happy in the midst of schizophrenia. Our daughters were aware of the terrible stress we were under and presented us with two flight tickets to Crete, including accommodation for four days. With misgivings, we took leave of Doron who was in a hospital at the time, hugged the girls after thanking them profusely. The flight was forty-five minutes in duration and we flew to our Greek hideout with  our son’s blessings. “I am happy for you both,” he said. Both my husband and I loved spending time together, even more so on vacation and we reveled in the fact that we had nobody to take into consideration. We relished the unexpected gift of time together, this reassurance that love and  pleasure were sometimes hidden in the crevices of pain. It reminded me that despite our woes, the world went on turning and sometimes presented extraordinary surprises. Our break on the idyllic island of Crete seemed longer than four days, and we felt whole again when we flew home. Every moment had been precious and I’d banished thoughts of mental illness, grateful that our girls had banded together to allow us this escape.  We didn’t know when or if another opportunity would present itself but we were ready to face the next round with schizophrenia.

4) So overall how did you cope?

I learned to take one day at a time. I tried to remember Doron when he was healthy and how much pleasure he had always given me. I cradled the gentle way he used to speak as if they are butterflies alighting on my hand, an event so startling, that I didn’t want it to end. Coping with the stigma was difficult for my daughters. It took me about a year to learn to live with it, yet my husband didn’t give it a thought and told his clients that he had to end their meeting early as he had to visit his son in the psychiatric hospital. Not a single client left him for that reason.

4) The Message

  1. Do you have any advice for other memoir writers especially on challenging subjects like mental health?

Today, there is a tremendous amount of material on mental health out there, both on-line and in books, so check out the market and make sure that y our book is different. There is always another angle.

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

a) I would like people to know that my late husband’s favorite quote was one of the things that kept me on an even keel while Doron was fighting his demons. Schizophrenia had to take second place whenever I read the following prayer even though I am not a religious person.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

b) We knew nothing about mental illness till we were thrown into its midst.  From the start, we got the message that we were to blame. Fortunately, my late husband refused to accept the blame. He didn’t allow me to either. Smart move. There are no miracle cures and not too many answers. We needed to know that parents cannot cause schizophrenia. We needed to know about the mental health society, ENOSH, the Israeli Mental Health Association to enable us to join a support group as eventually, it was a support group of 22 parents who shared my grief, fears and confusion without pointing an accusing finger at me. We learned there to take each day as it came, to change our expectations and hopes and to use humor wherever possible, something my husband did naturally. We needed to know what to say when our son told us that we ‘didn’t really want him to get better.” What to say when he threw out the food I’d just cooked, convinced that I was trying to poison him. How to behave when he trashed his sister’s bedroom or covered his window with aluminum foil to keep ‘them’ out, or slashed picture frames in his search for microphones that e had hidden there in order to help ‘the establishment.’ I needed to know how to act when he became aggressive, depressed or suicidal. What we did not need was to hear a psychologist or psychiatrist ask us; ‘well what did you do?

It was at the support group that we learned how to set limits as we still had to find time for our healthy children and for each other. We had trouble with the way the staff decided at the last minute when they were releasing a patient from the psychiatric hospital. I had to organize extra food, change my teaching schedule and my husband had to reschedule his client’s appointments. We felt the need to know what side effects each medication could cause, as well as what the illness was causing him to do.

The power of stigma is devastating and if mental health professionals and caregivers could help explain to the public that it is an disease like any other, that it is not contagious, that most sufferers are not aggressive, despite the media headlines – that they commit no more brutal crimes than so-called ‘normal people.’ Could you help floundering parents  put a sop to the stereotypes of mental illness and also tell the world that people who suffer from mental illness do not come from crazy families.

Last but not least, PLEASE give our sick children some hope. Nobody can live without hope.

If I have managed to change the attitude of just one person who reads this, my emotional upset at rehashing Doron’s story will have been worthwhile.

  1. Any other writing projects, blogging etc?

‘My son, my son,’ was published in Hebrew in the anthology UPWARDS, Chapters in Community Mental Health edited by Yechezkel Taler as well as The Last Call in the anthology Hidden Lives edited by Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Bowden and A short love story “Love on the Kinneret’ in Ang-Lit Press’ LOVE IN ISRAEL, 65 short stories in honor of Israel’s 65th anniversary.

Having reached the age of 78 but still behaving like a teenager, according to  my grandchildren, I am writing less, but still writing.

  1. Where can your memoir be found?

David’s story is available on Amazon as a kindle book.

Marie,

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write all this.

Thank you very much my favorite Granny Jill for answering our questions. We hope to stay informed of any updates with your projects.

About Jill

my fav granny
Also called the messiah in her circles for breaking the taboo and speaking about Mental illnesses this actively

Jill Sadowsky was born in South Africa and has been living in israel since 1963. She has been writing since her son contracted paranoid schizophrenia. Granny, is a multiple award winner and her works have been featured in distinguished journals. She is a sought after speaker on brain health/illneses especially given her experience as a care giver of two loved ones lost to Schrizophrenia and Alzehmier.

And so world, with this wrap up interview, I must say I am so grateful to the Universe for giving me the Grace to blog each day for this month of May which is mental health Awareness month. Tommorrow I do a recap of the internviews and some of things relating to my mental health advocacy. Granny Jill is one of my best inspiration – my at 78 years? What do you all think?

Questions to an Author: Jill Sadowsky


David's Story
The cover says so much; the contents would move even the toughest of hearts

Hello World, very honoured to be wrapping up my interviews with authors who have written on mental health, with one I fondly call Granny. I was so delighted to talk with her on phone when I visited the US in 2015, and I was so happy when she liked the memoir I mailed her.

I have done a modest review of Jill’s heart breaking memoir on my blog, and it is my honour to interview her too. I don’t know how a mother handles her only son’s mental illness and survive his loss, I see my mum dwindling between striving and surviving but I am not in her mind. I hope Jill tells us a little how because she is one of those brave mothers!

1) The Profile

  1. Let’s Start with a brief introduction of yourself – your background – and a tiny bit from your life before mental illness struck:

I was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1939 and had an enchanted childhood. I studied teaching in Cape Town where I met and fell madly in love with Alec. We married, and immediately, our relationship was a loving and caring one consisting of give and take. After our baby, Doron was born, we left family and friends to fly off to Israel, the country of our dreams.

(Doron means ‘a gift’ in Hebrew.) The real name of her Son refered to in the memoir as David

  1. About your Memoir, why did you write it all those years later and with many names changed as you say?

Because I had never written before. But, I wrote notes every night on what had occurred each day from the time that Doron became ill which was during his arbitrary military service although in retrospect, there had been some signs previously. It took time but the book called ‘Weep for Them’ was born and published – the hardcover edition in 1998 and the paperback in the same year under my pen-name Sarah Ben-Dor. Neither were translated into English as I simply could not face rehashing that excruciating experience all over again.

Years later, after we’d lost our son, I had so much more to add, that I consulted with my husband and two daughters and asked for their permission to write an updated book in English, using my real name this time. They agreed. But I had to change the children’s names as well as my husband’s while writing because that made the whole process a little less painful for me as I was reliving the 16 years of Doron’s illness all over again.

2) The Soul Journey

  1. What is your take about mental health?

When our Doron was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, I had heard little about the subject and had never met a mentally ill person. Today, I am older, wiser, read whatever I can on new developments but, to date, am not convinced that there is something that could have helped our son who proved to be medication-resistant for so many years. I pray that somewhere, someone will be able to help all those who might be suffering the way Doron did. I never felt guilty about causing his illness as I had read that parents cannot cause schizophrenia.

  1. Did your feel guilty for your son’s deteriorating mental health? If yes what did you think or do, if no please explain some to us.

A few older psychiatrists pointed the finger of blame at me, but fortunately, I had read enough to know that I was innocent of that, at least. I had to do something so, I approached the Israel Mental Health Association ENOSH, and asked for permission to start a support group for parents of mentally ill children in our neighborhood, in English, as Hebrew is not our mother-tongue. They let us use their facilities and offered assistance but frankly, most of us, 22 in all, did not want to hear another professional at that stage. We met regularly twice a month and became like one large family. We could speak openly about anything to do with our ill child, confident that we could trust one another to be honest and not to speak to anyone else about what was said. I felt safe with them, so much so that they became like an extended family.

Parents cannot cause schizophrenia.

Mothers cannot cause schizophrenia. I want every single parent to know this:-

I bet you all part 2 tomorrow is equally soul searching, captivating and near gut wrenching – stay tuned

Questions to an Author: Martha Graham-Waldon P2


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Hello world, let’s continue from where we stopped yesterday, click here if you didn’t read that – Martha’s been a very deep soul journey

5. So overall, how have you been coping this far?

Writing my memoir helped me reconcile myself to my past and it has helped me to live more fully in the present. I have connected with so many people who have had similar experiences and now I am a speaker for NAMI giving presentations in high school on mental health and suicide prevention. All of that has been tremendously rewarding.

3) The Writing

  1. Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)?

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok offered encouragement to me to tell my story. It is about her experiences living with a mother with mental illness. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is another exemplary memoir that will soon be made into a movie.

  1. Did you have a writing mentor?

I utilized methods taught by Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Meyers of the National Association of Memoir Writers http://namw.org/ to sort through my writing and create a scaffolding and timeline of important turning points in my life. Studying the memoir writing genre connected me with a vibrant writing community online and in real life.

  1. Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your memoir and why?

I called one of the last chapters in my book “The Hardest Chapter”. I suppose you will need to read the book in order to find out why that is.

  1. Which was your favourite chapter to write and why?

My favourite parts of the book are the chapters in Part One called “The Magic” because as I wrote these chapters I was able to escape back into the memories of a mostly happy childhood.

  1. Did you learn anything from writing your memoir and if yes, what was it?

I learned that I am not alone in my experience. Writing my memoir was a very healing and cathartic experience and it has been gratifying to be able to help others through their healing process as well.

How long did it take you to write and get the memoir published?

It took me about seven years to write the book and find a publisher. Once I signed the contract, it took another 13 months for it to actually appear in print.

4) The Message

  1. Do you have any advice for other memoir writers especially on challenging subjects like mental health?

Study the memoir writing genre and connect with the memoir writing community. I took memoir writing courses offered through the public library and online. Read as many memoirs as you can. All these things will help you find your own voice. Don’t get discouraged and try to write a little each day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Early treatment and diagnosis are important so you should seek professional help if you suspect you or a family member is experiencing a mental health crisis.

  1. Any other writing projects, blogging etc?

I am currently writing a novella, my first attempt at fiction. I don’t blog regularly but I admire those that do!

  1. Where can your memoir be found?

On Amazon, through Barnes & Noble, Kobo; my publisher Black Opal Books, and Scribd. Here are the links:

Amazonbarnes & Noble: Kobo: Black Opal Books: scribd:

Thank you very much Martha for answering our questions. We hope to stay informed of any updates with your projects.

About Martha

Martha Graham-Waldon is a writer, mental health advocate and armchair activist who resides in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her family and a menagerie of pets. Her articles have been published locally, internationally and online. She is a winner of the 2015 Women’s Memoirs contest for a vignette based on her memoir in the anthology Tales of our Lives. Her memoir Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia was published by Black Opal Books and is available on Amazon. In addition to writing, Martha loves travel, the outdoors, Jazzercise and music.

Questions to an Author: Martha Graham-Waldon


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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

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

Questions to an author: Molly McHugh P2


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Hello world, Let’s continue with the second part of our interview right? You can refresh on P1 right here

3) The Writing

  1. Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)?

    No. I wrote it how I wanted it to be, played a bit. And though it does have a nice creative style and feel that many (not all!) have commented they enjoyed, it was a bit crap at the start. I was too full of myself, too thrilled with getting it finally done (much was written in notes 20 or so years earlier and saved in email). It needed a lot of editing (I did all editing myself) and it needed to be filled out with more detail.

    I recently even did a minor update with a few things that needed to be fixed and added in a couple of resources. Just want it to be of value to whoever takes the time to read it. And for it to help someone heal their suffering. Give ideas of things that may help.

  1. Did you have a writing mentor?

    No. A few were very kind to check out the earlier version (and honest enough to tell me it needed a ton of editing!) but that was it.

  1. How long did it take you to write and get the memoir published?

    I had a bunch of notes I had written years before and saved in my email. It just felt right to do it, and I was ok being public as my son was older. First version I put up on Amazon as a kindle book took maybe eight months to complete. Updated that a little and then published as a paperback book via Createspace maybe six months or so later.

4) The Message

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

    I shared as much as I could. My blog is full of more info on a ton of topics that didn’t fit into the book. And my way of learning and connecting with others, helping to affect change. Speaking out abou the overdiagnosing and overdrugging, etc. I learned not too long ago about the death of children who are erroneoulsy being given BP diagnosis. So sad. They have health issues, but no, they should not be on psychotropic medications. The doctors fueling this new targeting of children – some have been sued after the child become completely disabled or worse, dies – should be in jail is my line of thought.

  1. Any other writing projects, blogging, business etc?

My bipolar blog I mentioned above – a much different voice than most of what is out there.

My freelance writing business – info here:  I’d love to help someone write their memoir! Special discount for mental health focus 🙂

  1. Where can your memoir be found?

On Amazon here as a paperback and kindle book.

Thank you very much Molly for answering my questions. We hope to stay informed of any updates with your projects.

Any questions for Molly or ideas for my questions to an author series please leave them in the comments! Thank you for reading; Mind your Mind and take good care of your mental health.

Questions to an Author: Molly McHugh


bipolar-1-disorder-how-to-survive-and-thrive-by-mollyHello 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 Molly’s memorable memoir on my blog, and it is my honour to interview her too. 

1) The Profile

  1. Let’s Start with a brief introduction of yourself – your background – and a tiny bit about your Childhood:

    Sure. Born in U.S., youngest of five kids, mom a nurse, dad (after 4 years in WWII) owned own insurance biz. Very athletic (probably saved me from having worse mental-physical health issues), soccer in college, diagnosed Manic Depression freshman year after a psychotic break and hospitaliztion. Normal middle class kid. Loved animals, loved nature, loved being active. Did well in school. Always in one sport or another. Had close friends, the first boyfriend, first kiss, pajama parties, dance parties, prom night… plus some other things I will refrain from mentioning. Lol.

  1. About your Memoir, how did you come up with this audacious title?

I had a FB group for e-book authors, and I asked for feedback on my book title. One of the earlier ones was “A Brain Gone Awry”… everyone hated it. I of course, thought it was brilliant. Ha! More ideas for a title not that great according to my helpful ‘more experienced writer’ critics either.

Then someone told me I had to be more clear, and that folks want to ‘solve a problem’. So I realized my gift to share was to focus on BP-1 (the classic Manic Depression) and to talk about the alternative care that I did over the years that helped me. And helped me not be on psych meds – which is huge. Most folks want that. Hence the title about BP-1 and how to thrive.

2) The Soul Journey

  1. Going from the assumption therefore that you are surviving and thriving, what is your take about mental health?

I am doing well. I’ve suffered – and still do – like anyone who has to deal with these issues but have had many wonderful things in my life as well, so am thankful.

My main issue is that the ‘Chemical Imbalance’ theory used to put folks on drugs has to end. Sure, these meds can help someone suffering with an epsiode of illness (bipolar is episodic in general – with normal periods of functioning) stabilize, get back in control, but are very harmful with long-term use. And no – there is no such thing as an identifiable imbalance they correct. They affect brain chemicals (like anything you ingest into your body) but are neurotoxins with many distressing side effects and create new ‘illness’ issues i.e. side effects.

Mental health is a huge term. It would take a long time to write my thoughts. But the main issue for me is to identify underlying causes of the symptoms someone is experiencing, if possible. And then search for ways to treat. I still deal with quite a bit of fatigue… but not severe, debilitating depression like I had in my younger years. God that was awful. And the improvement is from learning about and treating some of my unique health issues (thyroid, allergies, detox from toxic exposures, etc). Others can do this too.

  1. Did your diagnosis help or hurt your mental wellbeing in the long term?

What an excellent question. I’m not really sure how to answer this… as I had no ‘choice’ in being diagnosed. I didn’t read a book and think ‘oh, this is me’ or spend a bunch of time in therapy then get told I was bipolar. I had the classic onset with a manic episode in late teens and was hospitalized. And no, I was not doing cocaine or any recreational drug that caused it.

A diagnosis is just a label describing symptoms, is one way to look at it. I kept it pretty under-the-table from my outer life as much as I could when younger. But I had to have treatment – had severe depressive episodes and mania. So in that respect, it was needed I guess. Though I fought for other ways to be well and learned much, and healed much on my own with regular docs – what I share in my book.

I can say if I had bought into the ‘I have a chemical imbalance and have to take psych meds’ for life nonsense I would be dead by now. No question in my mind. And also I would not have had some of the amazing experiences I’ve been fortunte to have: college degree, healthy baby, well paid professional work, rasing my son as a single Mom, travel the world, etc. All of this while not on any psych med(s).

  1. Can you tell if there was a difference in the way you were treated and the way you perceived stigma before and after you got a diagnosis?

    I definitely have experienced stigma (personal relationships, being treated differently, fewer job opportunities) – was forced out of a four-year university program due to knowledge of my medical history. Stigma is real, and I am not sure how it can be changed.

    I had a fair amount of emotional cruelty too – the “tough love” approach is how some describe it. To deny what it really is. When I was severely ill, living on the street, wealthy family with multiple apartments unoccupied didn’t intervene. I spent Christmas in a homeless shelter miles from everyone else secure and safe in their home. Of course it was my fault I had become ill, my fault I was forced out of college then crippled with student loan payments, my fault I’d somehow not fit into the cultural norm everyone felt comfortable with, my fault I was raped, my fault I was mugged, my fault I somehow didn’t miraculously emerge a rock solid twenty-something making tons of cash.

    At it’s essence, stigma is really a form of emotional cruelty. And there’s plenty of cruel people in this world.

  1. If you wouldn’t mind, can you tell us about motherhood with a fragile mental health like yours?

Fragile is a bit offensive of a word… though I know you do not mean it that way. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Surviving what I’ve survived I look at as an inner strength, something in my makeup that no one will ever take away. It is a part of me and will be when I leave this earth. I’m vulnerable in ways some others are not, but not fragile. And never have been.

I loved being a mom and was like many other single moms. I was on no psych meds, never hospitalized, worked for many years, eventually went on disability but still worked to provide a better life and opportunities for my son. We lived and traveled abroad, he is bilingual, has had a ton of amazing experiences.

The only thing that is very different about me – that really would not be noticeable to others – is I have to keep stress down. Limit social time. Had to focus on my son, staying well. Most don’t have as much of those concerns. But most haven’t Manic Depression with a history of psychiatric hospitalization either.

It was always on the back of my mind that I had to stay focused and be careful not to trigger any severe episode. For the most part I was successful. No parent is perfect. My son was raised with more love and caring attention that many children are.

P2  – the conclusion of this lovely interview comes up tomorrow so stay subscribed lol & Thank you

Interview with Pamela Spiro-Wagner Author and Mental Health Advocate P2


Hello World, without much ado we continue with P2 of our interview started yesterday. It is Mental Health Awareness and my goal is to advocate with fresh content every day of the week my own mental health permitting 🙂

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  1. If you wouldn’t mind, can you tell us about your relationship with your twin sister today a few years after the book has been published?

Twelve years after DIVDED MINDS first came out, I have no relationship with my sister except in memory. I love her as my sister but I do not like her.

  1. How have you been coping with your mental illness and yet still been able to function at times enough to write and publish?

I do not believe in the concept of “mental illness” any longer, only in mental suffering. And I do not believe it is anything but calling people names when you label them bipolar or schizophrenic or anything else. I cope when I do, well, and when I dont cope I dont. But like anyone else I have my up times and I do what I do as well as I can. The medications are the real problem, disabling me and most people far more than we can possibly know. All the supposed symptoms of schizophrenia I believe can also be induced and are mostly induced by the antipsychotic medications. So how do you even begin to separate out which is which???

3) The Writing

  1. Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)? Not that I recall… No one particular book influences me but I must have read thousands of books. I tell anyone who wants to write to read, read, read, everything you can get your hands on, that way you will not be overly influenced or copy someone else when it comes time to write your own book.

  2. Did you have a writing mentor? No I never did.

  1. Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your memoir and why? The last one was difficult to write because I did not know where I would end it and how…and how to assess the present with an eye for the future is hard. Also to wind up a book I had spend almost a decade writing felt devastating. How to sum up all that in one half a chapter was not easy.

  1. How did you deal with that?

  2. Which was your favourite poem and why? I still like the first one and the last one in the book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS… But I have no real favorites, My latest poem is usually my current favourite.

  3. Did you learn anything from writing your memoir and what was it?

    My notes please: Pammy didn’t have an answer for this question

  1. How long did it take you to write and get the memoir published? I wrote a memoir by myself that took ten years, then when my twin and I rewrote it to make DIVDED MINDS it took 3 years. Publication from start to finish took 2 years.

4) The Message

  1. Do you have any advice for other memoir writers?

Read memoir, first of all. if you do not like to read memoirs, it may be that you wont want to write memoir. But you probably can not write a decent memoir if you do not read it either.

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I really mean it when I say I no longer believe in diagnoses for mental illnesses, whether it is schizophrenia or bipolar illness or any personality disorder etc. I do not even care if someday they manage to find an anatomic or genetic “cause” or abnormality that “proves” that there is such a thing. You know, there are all sorts of genetic variants that happen in people but we choose we how we see it; nothing makes normal or abnormal until we define it that way. We have made up a category of behaviors and description of an experience called schizophrenia and defined it as a bad thing for so long we have forgotten that it was and is not always thought of as bad everywhere, nor must it end badly, except when we treat it badly and with medications! If we treat schizophrenia with medications we know almost for certain it will become chronic by definition. Look at the research. No one knows what schizophrenia is nor who really needs or would even slightly benefit from medication. Most antipsychotic medication does nothing good in the end but make people sicker…I mean this. All for very dubious benefit and no chance of cure. Medications harm people directly and deeply even with just the side effects, which are legion, ranging from terrible disfiguring movement disorders to loss of sexual function and desire, loss of all pleasure in life, to loss of teeth due to dry mouth and so. Would you want to take a chance on any of these because doctors have nothing better to offer you? Or would you too want to eschew medical care and try something that at least truly does no harm?

  1. Any other writing projects, blogging etc?

My first poetry book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, can still be bought from Cavankerrypress.org and my newest poetry book which includes my art LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS will be published in late May 2017. I try to keep my blog going at http://pamelaspirowagner.com

  1. Where can your memoir be found? DIVIDED MINDS can still be bought from Amazon.com but also used copies can be found and you can order it from any bookstore.

Thank you very much Pammy for answering our questions. We hope to stay informed of any updates with your projects. Kindly drop any questions you have for Pammy in the comments section and please do not hesitate to respectfully share any opinions on this interview too…

 And before I go to her bio, please do not hesitate to visit Pammy’s Blog for more on her writings and mental health advocacy

Pam’s Awesome Profile

An artist, writer and poet who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia for decades, Pamela Spiro Wagner attended Brown University from 1970-1975. She later went to medical school for one and a half years, before being hospitalized for the third time for psychiatric care. In 2010, she was also diagnosed with PTSD due to trauma resulting from deeply inappropriate and punitive use of seclusion and restraints in psychiatric hospitals.

  Wagner won First Place in the 2001/2 international BBC World Service Radio Poetry Competition, judged by Nobelist Wole Soyinke. In 2005, she co-authored, with her twin sister, a psychiatrist, DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia, which won the national NAMI Outstanding Literature Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Four years later,  Ms Wagner’s book of poems, WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS was published. Several poems won  honorable mentions at New Millennium Writings and two were short-listed for the Bridport Prize in the UK. Her writing has appeared in the The New York TimesSunday Magazine, the Hartford Courant, and Tikkunamong other places.

 Doing art under the name, Pamwagg, Ms Wagner was part of a group show in Hartford, Connecticut in 2011, and had two solo shows, one at the Otis Library in Norwich, Connecticut in 2012 and then at the Wethersfield Library in Connecticut. Two paintings and two poems appeared in the Collective DreamArtsMagazine in 2014. In June 2017, her art will be on display at the Hooker-Dunham Gallery in  Brattleboro, Vermont.

Despite experiencing much adversity in her 64 years, including the decades-long diagnosis of schizophrenia, Wagner has also been lucky enough to have had four life-changing miracles along the way. The passion to write poetry, starting in 1984, and then, quite suddenly, to take up art in 2008 at the age of 55, were just two of those miracles.  She currently resides along with her cat, Beanie Baby, in Brattleboro, Vermont, in northern New England, where she disavows all labels, including those of any mental illness.

 Wagner’s books include: DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia (St Martin’s Press, 2005)

WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, poems (Cavankerry Press, 2009)

LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, poems and art (Green Writers Press/SunDog Poetry 2017)

At the end of this month, I will round up with a summary post of advocacy and my take on the different interviews and opinions and all – please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to be featured on my blog during this month (Mental health related only)

This interview is the longest post I am doing on this blog I promise… don’t unsubscribe please

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