Monday, November 24, 2014

Guest Post - Linda Appleman Shapiro, author of She's Not Herself: A psychotherapist's journey into and beyond her mother's mental illness

Why I chose to tell my story as a memoir instead of fiction

Although I offer the back story of how I came to write this memoir in the Afterword of the book, I'll answer your question as honestly and clearly as I can. I'll start by offering my belief in the importance of knowing oneself, acknowledging one’s strengths and talents, and recognizing ones's weaknesses and deficits.

I realized at some point that fictionalizing my story was not in the cards for me. My ah-ha moment came with the feeling that telling my own story in the form of a memoir might allow others to feel less isolated. Whether they had grown up with a parent, sibling, or child suffering from mental or physical illness, my hope was that they would better grasp the consequences of their situation by identifying with mine.

I also knew a couple of other things to be true for me:

To write about the same subject for a psychological journal would have been far easier. It would have been a combination of research and anecdotal stories from my family and from all the families I’ve treated. But I felt compelled to write a memoir instead and to share my story by showing how each of us survived -- despite the pain and the trauma – and leave readers with my first-hand experience of knowing about love, loss, and loyalty, along with the darker sides of life that shaped who I am but do not define me as a victim.

Going through life feeling totally victimized is not a way to live. It doesn't allow for real joy to be experienced. There isn't a positive way to be productive without moving through and beyond traumas. I say that without any intention of minimizing the effects of trauma, but with the knowledge that unless professional help is sought, or some means of healing are found, those of us who were, more or less, robbed of a childhood and parentified at too early an age, or others who lost their innocence to terrible forms of abuse . . . will never be able to climb out from under the despair that was imposed upon us.

So, while being a psychotherapist/addictions counselor for the past 30+ years and having written critical papers throughout my college and graduate school years, I’d never created stories from whole cloth. That’s an art form that takes knowledge and talent that I’d have to live many more years to develop. Knowing that from the start, I knew that I would never be writing a novel. I’ve been an avid reader since as far back as I can remember, and I loved reading biographies every bit as much as novels. In fact, for many years, I considered books to be my dearest and closest friends. But I’d never taken a creative writing course and I knew that for me to tell my family’s actual story, I needed to do so in the form of a memoir. To place it in a fictional setting would not have been authentic and would not have been the most effective way to tell my story.

Though challenging and painful, delving into one’s own memory bank, creating a narrative arc and a running theme using the very people who helped to shape who I am, was a challenge I was willing to take on. I knew that I would eventually have to unearth much of what I had managed to bury as a defense that saved me from what I couldn't accept and didn't yet understand. But, in the end, writing a memoir would still be my story with each member of my family portrayed as honestly as my memory could recreate. It’s not a matter of truth (in a memoir) vs. imagined truths (in a novel). My memory and my truth belong to me and to me alone. How other members of my family remember my formative years is not up for grabs.

I believe that all forms of story telling are as necessary for all of us as the air we breathe. We all grow up hearing stories and passing them along from generation to generation. This was as true before we even had the written word as it is today. Later, we developed Biblical texts replete with stories. Whether we choose to believe them, find them impossible to believe, want to take them literally or never question them is a personal choice. But, still, we have the need to read stories, to gain our identity by knowing that we are connected to a history larger than our own. We gain that same connection on a more personal level from memoirs.

Needless to say I hope that all who read my memoir, SHE’S NOT HERSELF: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness will not read it as a “woe is me” story but rather one that will speak to a universal need to share a journey in ways that ultimately leave the reader with a deep belief in the spirit that feeds our ability to live life with dignity and, above all else, hope.

About the Author: 
Behavioral psychotherapist/Addictions Counselor/ Oral Historian/ Mental Health Advocate and author, Linda Appleman Shapiro earned her B.A. in literature from Bennington College, a Master's degree in Human Development/Counseling from the Bank Street College of Education, and a Master Certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming from the New York Institute of N.L.P. She has further certifications in Ericksonian Hypnosis and Substance Abuse/Addictions Counseling.

Linda Appleman Shapiro is a contributing author in the casebook, “Leaves Before the Wind: Leading Applications of N.L.P.”

In private practice for more than thirty years, Shapiro also served as a senior staff member at an out-patient facility for addicts and their families. As an oral historian, she has documented the lives of many of New York's elderly.

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.

Married to actor and audiobook narrator George Guidall, Linda Appleman Shapiro and her husband live in Westchester County, New York. They have two adult daughters and two grandchildren.



Goodreads: Appleman Shapiro

{Click here to purchase She's Not Herself}


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