This interview appeared here two years ago today. Reposting and tweaking a bit to help Linda Appleman Shapiro celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the release of her memoir She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness.
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.
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.
A few choice excerpts from reviews of She’s Not Herself
“A story that applies to us all – truthful, carefully crafted, and created with a clear-eyed affection.”
~ Watts, M.D., poet, writer, musician, NPR commentator
honest and compelling story by a brave and gifted writer.”
Wally Lamb – NY Times best-selling author of “She’s Come Undone,”
Know This Much Is True” and many other novels. Winner of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Kenneth Johnson
Award for the anti-stigmatization of mental illness.
identify with the author’s sense of alienation from the first chapter and
agonize with her longing for a normal life. SHE’S NOT HERSELF is
a revelatory account of someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent and grew
up to become an effective, loving mother and a successful professional healer.”
Review of Books, Barbara Bamburger Scott
riveting tale wrapped in elegant prose . . . full of hope and perseverance”
Peggy Sanders, retired journalist, award winning author
“I loved going through the journey of Linda’s life with her throughout the memoir not just because of how easy it was to follow along, but how vivid her memories were. She has such a way with words and storytelling. She hooked me from the very first sentence and let me go reluctantly at the end”
~ Mcwood Publishing – Honest Literary Reviews, S. Davis
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.
“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.