LINDA APPLEMAN SHAPIRO: I DID NOT SET OUT TO WRITE SHE’S NOT HERSELF AS A MEMOIR
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Linda Appleman Shapiro published her memoire She’s Not Herself last year. The book found a lot of followers, who rated it very highly and currently stands with average 4.5 Amazon stars from 50 reviews.
For more than 30 years our next guest practiced as a psychotherapist. She is an established blogger in the field of mental health. Let’s say welcome to Linda Appleman Shapiro.
– What is your book SHE’S NOT HERSELF about?
– My memoir, “SHE’S NOT HERSELF: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness” is precisely what my sub-title suggests.
I take readers into my childhood home with immigrant parents and a mother who suffered from bouts of major depressive disorder. Throughout, I look back to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas, and in doing so I give dimension to each of my family members, our neighbors and Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1940s and 50s.
Author Jeannette Walls is quoted as saying: “If you’re to discuss what you’ve been through, people become unashamed of their own secrets.” And while there are many ways to educate, I believe that since the beginning of time story telling has been and continues to be one of the most powerful ways to teach us about our selves and the world in which we live.
In that spirit of re-creating scenes and dialogue, as well as the pain and confusion that caused each of us in my family to suffer in the years when illnesses of any kind were a taboo subject, the feedback that I receive almost daily is that readers are inspired by identifying with me – my struggles with dysfunction and the effects of secrets in our family. I am heartened to learn that many are finding the courage to examine (or re-examine) their own lives and are no longer allowing their pain to define who they are, but are feeling free to find ways to move forward without shame but with dignity and hope.
That, indeed, was my goal in sharing my story!
– Why did you decide to write the memoir?
– I did not set out to write a memoir. Rather, I thought I would add to the number of self-help books that were burgeoning in the 1990’s for the adult children of alcoholics (and just about every other addiction). I thought I would write one for the adult children of the mentally ill. Yet, three pages into the writing, I realized that I had a story to tell and it was my story. That is when an unexpected journey began and “SHE’S NOT HERSELF” (my father’s euphemism for Mother whenever she wasn’t well) was birthed.
As a psychotherapist and addictions counselor, I knew that there were many qualified people who could write a self-help book following the grid that already existed. It also would have been far easier for me to have written an academic paper rather than to undertake writing a memoir about the effect that a family member’s
chronic illness (mental or physical) has on the entire family and how it is possible to move beyond what are often earth shattering experiences.
My hope was that my story would have a universal appeal and speak to all readers as all good books do. Fortunately, that is fast becoming the reality for which I had hoped. I don’t think my memoir is merely about my personal survival, relating only to the adult children of the mentally ill. I believe – given the reviews and personal letters I receive almost daily – that most readers are relating to what I’ve experienced in ways that are helping them to understand, identify, and empathize with any dysfunctional situation in their own lives or the lives of loved ones.
Gaining inspiration and the ability to forgive without forgetting is never easy. However, as it was my hope for the start, to search for ways to face a reality that was never acknowledged, readers are thanking me for encouraging them to succeed in finding ways to cope with whatever obstacles have blocked their path to healing.
Those in the professional community of therapists, social workers, and psychologists are claiming to benefit, as well, as I share how I processed years of trauma by examining them through the lens of time and with the help of skilled professionals.
– What was the biggest challenge during the writing process?
– From the start, I worked hard at every turn to prevent my therapist’s voice from leading the narrative. I had to write it as a story – much like a novelist creates characters and back stories, with a beginning, middle and end that engages readers in deeply emotional ways but still leaving them feeling hopeful.
– Was it tough to describe yourself as a main character?
– It was never my objective to establish myself as the “main character” but rather to share the experience of moving from victimhood and pain to one of purpose and productivity. Having lived for more than 70 years now and having had the benefit of excellent psychotherapy in addition to working as a psychotherapist, I think I know myself well enough at this point to be able to share the parts of my self that were in the distant past as well as those in the more recent present. Therefore, describing myself wasn’t difficult but remembering and writing about devastating experiences was often challenging and, to use your word, “tough.”
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– While I knew the chapter headings and all that I wished to write about in the first months of writing, it took me many years (while working full time, being a wife, mother, and then grandmother) to complete the writing of “SHE’S NOT HERSELF.”
I had self-published an earlier version of my story in 2008, thinking that I was doing so as a legacy for my family and close friends. Its title, “FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS,” referred to the actual four rooms in which my parents, brother and I lived, as well as the rooms inside my head, many of which had locks on doors that I knew needed to be opened, if I was to live and exemplify an examined life.
However, when I started to receive excellent feedback from established authors and critics and was named Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I took it upon myself to edit it and to search for a publisher. That turned into an arduous task of several years until I found Michael O’Mary, an excellent/ethical publisher who believed in my work from the start and who assigned a wonderful editor, Amy Merritt, to work with me. With their constant support and devotion, they helped ready my book for publication. “SHE’S NOT HERSELF” was published in September, 2014.
WALLY LAMB, NY Times best selling author and recipient of The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Kenneth Johnson Award for the anti-stigmatization of mental illness endorsed “SHE’S NOT HERSELF” on its front cover and
DAVID WATTS, M.D. (writer-poet, musician and commentator for N.P.R.) wrote the book’s Foreword.
– Are you surprised by the great positive feedback of the book?
– I am not totally surprised but I am totally thrilled and humbled to know how many lives my story is touching. From as far back as I can remember my mother always told me that every person’s life is worthy of a book. I think that must have resonated some place deep inside me, and I hope I have done justice in revealing our lives in this story.
– How would you describe yourself in a few sentences?
– I’d like to believe that I am a loving sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend; a professional woman who has positively influenced the lives of many people in distress; and someone who has learned and continues to learn how best to cope with unexpected illness and unexpected opportunities.
– What are your writing habits?
– In the past several years (as I started writing rather late in life) I write whenever I have the time. Sometimes it’s at night into the wee hours of the morning. Other times it’s all day. Once I start to write, I seem to lose all sense of time, I go wherever my fingers take me on the keyboard of creativity. I’m not disciplined in the sense that I place a time limit on when I have to stop, unless I have a patient scheduled or an appointment I must go to, or a meeting I must attend. I usually stop when I feel more or less satisfied with what I have accomplished on any given day. When I wrote a weekly blog for three years, I published it every Sunday, and I was committed to meeting my self-imposed deadline of completing it before midnight each Saturday. I’m pleased to say that for that blog, “A Psychotherapist’s Journey”
(which I hope to revive this year) I was named BEST BLOGGER in the field of Mental Health.
– Are you satisfied by the sale of your books?
– Since my book was released seven months ago, I’m embarrassed to say that I do not know the number of books that have been sold. I do know that one particular day a few weeks ago 2700 e-books were sold, and my memoir was named #1 memoir by all female memoirists. But, that’s about it. My publisher has promised to give me all the actual numbers very soon.
– What are you doing to promote your book?
– I speak at libraries, houses of worship, book clubs, and have been interviewed by several top bloggers from W.O.W. (Women on Writing) and some wonderful radio bloggers, s well. When someone such as you contacts me asking for an interview, I am beyond flattered and delighted. It lets me know that people – some on other continents – are reading my book, something t never dreamed possible. To date, one of my favorite interviews was with Cyrus Webb, an American radio blogger who read my book, quoted from it chapter and verse, while asking piercing and provocative questions.
If you have any further suggestions about how to promote my book, I’d be most grateful to hear what they are.
– When will we see your next book, “UNICORNS EAT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM” and can you tell us something about it?
– It’s a book of essays, many taken from the blogs that I wrote and am currently up-dating. While most are serious and topical – covering educational, social, and political issues of our time – one was about the free spirited nature of children who live in healthy homes where they are encouraged to be imaginative and are not burdened by the worries of the adults in their midst. My a-ha moment was something that my granddaughter, Sophie, said to me at age five when she was showing me a stuffed unicorn that she had been given days earlier. As she allowed me to pet it, she told me –with the most serious expression on her sweet face – “You know, grandma, unicorns eat strawberry ice cream.” I was so delighted to know that she had the privilege of spontaneity and playfulness that was denied me at her age that I simply had to choose her words for the title of my book.
Since a book of essays is difficult to publish unless one is an established author, I am hoping that the success of “SHE’S NOT HERSELF” will lead to its being published sooner rather than later.
– Do you have any other published writings?
– Yes, in addition to my self-published memoir and interviews of religious leaders for a local newspaper, I am a contributing author with a chapter on hands-on healing in a casebook, “LEAVES BEFORE THE WIND,” co-edited by one of the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a two-year training in which I am Master Certified.
– As an Oral Historian, how did you find you had this passion?
– When receiving my Master’s degree in Counseling and Human Development from the Bank Street College of Education, I wrote my thesis on the Oral History project first begun at Columbia University in NYC which was intended to document the lives of famous people.
In writing my thesis, I also interviewed and transcribed the tapes of two so-called “ordinary people.” The two subjects I chose were my mother and my mother in-law . . . and when my mother’s answer to a question about death and dying was read at her funeral, I was later approached by several people in attendance to interview their family members.
That’s how I began a small industry of conducting taped interviews, transcribing the tapes into book form and adding photos, family memorabilia, and including a multi-colored genogram, tracing as many generations of the person’s family as he/she is able to recall. Ultimately, such experiences were so enlightening that it has become one of my true “passions.”
– Your husband George Guidall is the record holding actor who has narrated over 1270 unabridged books. How has he mastered the art of telling stories?
– When we were married (nearly 48 years ago) George – a trained Shakespearean actor – was acting and directing in Michigan. When we returned to NYC he taught acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, appeared on Broadway, off Broadway, and on T.V. But once he was asked if he’d be interested in narrating Audiobooks, he then found a new calling. In his own words, his belief is that “the secret behind narrating literature is being able to create a sense of immediacy for the listener.” As an artist, he has mastered the art of “using the colors of his emotional palette to paint vocal pictures, bringing to life the characters and events on the page.”
– If you could ask yourself one question in this interview, what would it be?
– The question I’d ask is: As a first generation American, how blessed do you feel to have been accepted into Bennington College – one of America’s finest colleges – on scholarship and been given opportunities that few of your ancestors in war-torn Russia ever had? My answer would be that “not a day goes by that I do not count my many blessings.
Take a look at her book
She’s Not Herself