Interview with memoirist Linda Appleman Shapiro

Today’s
special guest is Linda Appleman Shapiro. She’s in the midst of a virtual book
tour with Wow! for her memoir She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s
Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness.
During her
tour, Linda will be awarding a lucky commenter on this blog post an e-copy of the book. To be entered for a chance
to win, leave a comment below!
Bio:
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 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, Linda 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 Linda Top
Blogger in the field of mental health by WELLsphere.
Married to
actor and audiobook narrator George Guidall, Linda and her husband live in
Westchester County, New York. They have two adult daughters and two
grandchildren.
Welcome, Linda. What inspired you to
write She’s Not Herself?
In the
1990s when self-help books were burgeoning and I was recommending them to my
patients at a clinic for recovering addicts and their families, I realized that
few if any were written for adult children of the mentally ill. The great
majority were addressing the effects of growing up with a parent or sibling who
suffered from one addiction or another. The template was there and I started to
write my self-help book. But, only three pages into it, I decided that would be
an easy way out for me. Others could write such a book and write it well. I had
a story to tell, and it was my story.
As I saw
the problem of mental illness hitting close to home for so many of my private
patients and those at the clinic, I felt an unexpected urgency to share my
story . . . but it was a labor of love and tenacity teaching myself how to do
just that . . .show my story without telling it.
I wrote and
re-wrote, peeling away at the layers within my memory cells, spending the
better part of 20 years, when not working full time, raising a family and
living life. Some memories danced in and out of consciousness rather playfully,
but, with many, as one memory presented itself others emerged . . . and there
were many times when a memory was so horrific that I questioned if what I was
remembering actually happened. But it did all happen . . . and as one witness
to human vulnerability and human strength, I know how much it would have meant
to my mother to know that in taking secrets out of our family’s closet, I am
encouraging others to put their own shame aside, knowing that they are not
alone, that they can reach out for help and gain insight into their own dark
stories and, as a result, be better equipped to enter places of light.
Please tell us about She’s Not Herself.
It’s all
too easy for any of us to play the blame game when talking about our past
and/or our current problems. I had no desire to do that or to write a “woe is
me” story when I started to write this memoir, She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her
Mother’s Mental Illness.
Of course, how I was affected by my mother’s
mental illness and how generational dysfunction trickles down to each of us is
very much a part of my story. . . but, in the end, I trust mine is a story
about much more than that. It is one about love, loss, loyalty and healing.
In a New
York Times interview last year, author Jeannette Walls was quoted as saying:
“If you’re to discuss what you’ve been through, people become unashamed of
their own secrets.” I share those sentiments. I believe that when lives are
personalized readers are more able to identify with their authenticity and associate
with the universal truths that we all recognize and which most of us share.
As I write
about parts of my life, I take readers into my childhood home and give dimension
to each of my family members, re-creating scenes and dialogue that include the
everyday, mundane, and often times loving and tender moments of family life
exclusive of the trauma that caused each of us to suffer silently (in the 1940s
and 50s) while it joined us inextricably together. In doing so, I hope to touch
the hearts and minds of all who have suffered or are suffering today and may be
in need of feeling hopeful. I trust, too, that those who lived through or are
living with one secret or another invading their lives will be inspired from
identifying with me and finding solace and hope for themselves. Additionally, I
hope I am offering inspiration, in general, about what it means to be human and
to believe in the possibility of moving through life meeting all of life’s challenges
– both the ones that are expected and the one’s that catch us off guard – with dignity
and resiliency.
Excerpt from
Chapter 7 – FIREWORKS
(an example
of never knowing what was just around the corner . . . and not having
permission to ask, when societal ignorance, personal confusion, and fear
reigned)
“The air hung heavy from the day’s
heat and humidity, and the sky’s pale blue still held lingering shades of pink
in it. Right after dinner, we joined the crowds crossing Brighton Beach Avenue.
We walked beneath the elevated train tracks, then down another block to the
stairs leading up to the boardwalk. A block beyond the El, we could hear the
surf, a reminder of the Atlantic Ocean’s endless horizon, with the brush of its
waves against the sand hinting at a constancy in the world, a dependability I
could trust.
“The moment the Fourth of July
fireworks began, we broke into choruses of “oohs” and “ahs” that followed each
new pattern that flashed across the sky, visible from our end of the boardwalk
in Brighton to the other end in Coney Island. The grown-ups, too, were like
children. The spirit of the night was contagious; the world seemed wondrous,
filled with color and all sorts of possibilities.
“The splendor of the night’s stars
couldn’t compete with the man-made magic of the fireworks, which made the sky
seem a painted canvas.
ξ
“I awakened the following morning to
the gentle warmth of early summer, still feeling the glow and the thrill from
the night before. Moments later, I was startled when my father suddenly entered
my bedroom.
“Get up, Linda,” he said, his voice
tense. “Mama needs to go for a treatment today. Find a friend to come along for
the ride.
“I was eight years old. I didn’t know
what treatment Mother received. I only knew that when she wasn’t feeling well,
that’s what Father said she needed. I assumed, in fact, that all mothers got “a
treatment” when they needed to feel better.”
What exciting story are you working on
next? Where will your writing go from here?
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 in knowing that I have taken it from an essay
written about how I marvel at a child’s ability to enjoy the luxury of
imaginative play because, only as children can, 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 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.

>Hearing her laughter and knowing how secure she
felt about going to sleep at night were not luxuries afforded to me, and 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 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 is 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.

When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
After
reading Anne Frank’s Diary when I was eleven, I did start to journal, something
I’ve continued to do intermittently throughout my life, but I never thought of
myself as a writer. During college and throughout various graduate programs I
wrote critical papers but shied away from even taking creative writing courses
because my brother was the writer in the family, and with that role taken, I
pursued other careers. So, the truth is that I never considered myself to be a
writer until I began this journey of writing my memoir, which I followed by writing
a weekly blog which addressed psychological and cultural issues of our day (and
which I intend to revive in 2015).
And I’d be
less than honest if I didn’t admit to the newly discovered excitement I feel
about the process of writing where, at times, it seems that the writing writes
itself and I’m just a bystander reaping the rewards of words that sometimes
sound lyrical in how they manage to flow from somewhere that my hand is
channeling and other times have a clarity that surprises even me. Writing
allows me to feel transported to another state, a far more interesting and
creative one than I have experienced in any other endeavor. A true gift at this
stage in my life!
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
Now that I
have reduced the size of my private practice, I do spend a good deal of time
writing. Some days I find that I am most productive late at night, and other
times the thoughts that come to me in the dead of night (often awakening me
from sleep) find themselves being transcribed in the early hours of the
morning.
Now, in my
7th decade of life, I am very conscious of TIME and am committed to
using it productively . . . but never, I hope, at the expense of my involvement
and enjoyment of spending time with loved ones. Participating in cultural and
religious activities enrich my life and also offer me sustenance and great
pleasure.
As a child, what did you want to be
when you grew up?
Growing up
in the shadows of my mother’s illness, always fearing that disaster was around
the corner, I never afforded myself the luxury to dream about my future and/or
what possible fantasies or realties might be available to me. It was only after
I left home and entered college that my world began to expand and for a time I
did aspire to becoming an actress . . . but, for a variety of reasons, not
least of which was being turned off when I realized that a life in the theatre
was not just that of having talent but that it was a business which had built
into its very nature the need to be tough enough to receive more rejections
than acceptances and often depended more upon who you knew than whatever talent
you might possess. That alone was enough for me to discover I was not meant to
enter show business. As it turned out, I chose to be an educator, editor, oral
historian, psychotherapist/addictions counselor, and author . . . who just
happened to marry an actor!
Anything
additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes. I
think it’s very limiting when any of us pigeonhole ourselves and describe who
we are by, saying what our professional title(s) may be. So, while I am proud
to describe the many professional hats I’ve worn over the years, and am now
able to feel the excitement and the pulse beat of a writer, I feel it’s as
important for me to say that being a loving and loyal daughter, sister, wife,
mother, grandmother and friend is every bit as important to describing my sense
of what I believe is of lasting importance and meaningful to living a full
life.
Social media links:
Thank you for being here today, Linda. Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment below if you’d like a chance to win a copy of the Linda’s book.

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