Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Choosing Memoir Over Fiction: Guest Post by Linda Shapiro

As with anyone who writes, there are surely many different reasons why an author opts to write a memoir. Interestingly enough, I did not set out to write one. In fact, until I did, I never identified myself as a writer.

I was a voracious reader as far back as I can recall and as a child and teen-ager, I did write poetry (for myself). When I was eleven, I started to journal after reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, and I have done so on and off throughout my life. But I never had dreams of becoming a writer. In fact, I never afforded myself the luxury of taking seriously any passions I may have felt about my love for the theatre or literature, in particular.

Growing up with my mother’s mental illness casting a shadow over most of my days and living in a perpetual state of hyper vigilance, there was no time to indulge in fantasies. As long as my mother was not experiencing one of her emotional break-downs and I was able to breathe without being consumed with worry, I considered life to be as good as it was ever going to get.

In high school and later when I was away from home on a scholarship to Bennington College, it was easier to allow myself to broaden my options. I was required to think critically and to write critical papers. That process was extremely invigorating. But, I never considered writing as a career.  After graduating from college and starting Master’s degree in education, I’ve had several careers including teaching in elementary school, serving as an editor of an international edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, holding an entrepreneurial position with PROJECT A.R.I. (Action for Russian Immigrants). Once I was married and until my children were born and my oldest was ten, I did volunteer work. I then returned to graduate school, receiving a Master’s degree in Human Development/ Counseling and numerous related certifications, all of which led to my spending the past 31 years as a behavioral psychotherapist/addictions counselor/mental health advocate/oral historian and, most recently, author.

In the 1990’s when self-help books were the rage 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. All were addressing the effects of growing up with a parent or sibling who suffered from one addiction of another. The template was there and I thought it would be a quick and easy project. Yet, three pages into it, I realized there were deeper feelings to be plumbed when I began to sob. I knew in that moment that others could write a self-help book and write it well, but I had a story to tell and it was my story.

Once I began, the writing seemed to write itself. I had the outline for the entire book within weeks. What I didn’t have, though, were the tools to best help me show my story without telling it, without writing in my therapist’s voice and/or assuming that readers knew things about what it was like to be the daughter of immigrant parents, living in a ghetto-type neighborhood, how we dressed, talked to one another, interacted within the family and within our community. In short, I had to teach myself -how to write creatively.

I attended only a couple of writing groups, each was unsatisfying in different ways.  It was only after being accepted into a summer program at Sarah Lawrence College,  Writing the Medical Experience, where I received crucial information and enormous support for my writing that I was able to have the confidence and determination to complete this memoir.

In retrospect, I know now that in never giving up, mine was a labor of love and tenacity over a period of many, many years.

Since my mother had always told me that if her life story could help even one person, she would tell it if she were a writer, I have to believe that she would be proud to know that in telling her story and mine, we are helping people in the telling. Named #1 in memoirs written by women last week and having just been given the honor of being one of the outstanding women of the year by the National Professional Association of Women, I am now proud and able to identify myself as a writer.  

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,” earned 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.

About She's Not Herself

She's Not Herself: A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness is a journey to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas. Linda Appleman Shapiro is ultimately able to forgive (without forgetting) those who left her to fend for herself--and to provide readers with the wisdom of a seasoned psychotherapist who has examined human vulnerability in its many disguises and has moved through it all with dignity and hope. The result is a memoir of love, loss, loyalty, and healing.

On the surface, her childhood seemed normal--even idyllic. Linda Appleman Shapiro grew up in the iconic immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with her parents and a gifted older brother. But she spent her days at home alone with a mother who suffered major bouts of depression. At such times, young Linda Appleman Shapiro was told, "Your mother...she's not herself today." Those words did little to help Linda understand what she was witnessing. Instead, she experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family member who is ill.   


Paperback: 249 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Dream of Things (September 2, 2014) ASIN: B00N9PY1CQ 
Twitter hashtag: #SNHerselfShapiro

Connect with Linda

Thanks for reading!  Please leave questions/comments for Linda below.

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