Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia
Today I welcome Martha Graham-Waldon, author of the soon-to-be released (11/14/2015) Nothing Like Normal–Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia. My daughter, Stephanie, is currently working on her Master’s degree in forensic psychology, and because of my discussions with her about what schizophrenia is and isn’t, this memoir caught my interest. I’m thrilled to have Martha visit here at Writing in the Buff. The subject matter is interesting, and Martha proved herself to be a delightful interviewee. Please read on—and leave a comment to be entered into the drawing to win an autographed copy of Martha’s book!
Synopsis of Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia:
What if you woke up one day to be living with a family member who had changed into an entirely different person? What if she were an older sibling you had always admired and strived to be like? And what if you were an insecure preteen when it all started? What would that do to your life? This enthralling memoir chronicles a young girl’s journey into adolescence as she witnesses her sister’s downward spiral into schizophrenia. After an idyllic childhood, she watches her mentor’s descent into madness while clinging to the person she knew and loved, as she herself is nearly pulled down into a shadowy, baffling, black hole of despair. Her struggle to survive and move forward on a journey of self-discovery will resonate with anyone who has known the heartbreak of mental illness in their family, while inspiring hope and healing as well.
Martha Graham-Waldon is a writer, spiritual entrepreneur, and armchair activist who happily resides in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her family and a menagerie of pets. Her articles have been published locally in The Santa Cruz Sentinel, The Metro and Press Banner and internationally in the Canadian Dance Connection and several online journals. She is a winner of the 2015 Women’s Memoirs contest for a vignette based on her memoir Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia to be published by Black Opal Books on November 14, 2015. A member of the National Association of Memoir Writers, Martha also loves travel, the outdoors, Jazzercise and music. For more information, please visit www.nothinglikenormal.com.
Welcome, Martha! Thanks for agreeing to visit here today. Your memoir, Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia, is a very personal account of your struggle witnessing your older sister’s descent into schizophrenia. Why did you choose to write it?
At first, I wrote in order to come to terms with my past and to deal with family loss so I could live more fully in the present. So it was a very personal and healing process for me. When I realized that others might be able to relate to and benefit from what I had learned and experienced, I decided to transform my writing into a memoir.
What was the writing process like for you? How long did it take?
I have always kept a journal and much of my memoir was inspired by the snippets and bits and pieces from these journals. I was experiencing intense memories, some joyful and some painful that I began to write about, a little each day.
When I consciously decided to start the memoir, I had a first page, a beginning. Then I took what I had written, which were small, unrelated chunks and paragraphs that had accumulated and I literally cut them out and pasted them in some basic chronological order onto a huge poster board. This became the start of my book or what Anne Lamont refers to as the all-important “shitty first draft.”
Then I plunged headfirst into the memoir writing community by taking workshops and joining online memoir writing groups. I wrote in my spare time, in small amounts, taking my time. After around six long years, what finally emerged was something like a spiritual guide that I hoped might help others, perhaps young people who were navigating through the rough waters when mental health issues first flare up within families, or for people like me who might be trying to understand what had occurred in their past.
Do you believe schizophrenia is often wrongly portrayed in the media and/or misunderstood by the general public, and if so, does your book help to dispel these incorrect portrayals?
Yes, it definitely is misunderstood by the public as well as wrongly portrayed by the media. Mental illness is very widespread in our society. About one in five adults experience mental illness in a given year per the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill yet it is one of the most stigmatized illnesses around. In the past, people have been reticent to discuss mental health problems. This is what I experienced with my sister back in the 1970s.
There has been so much fear around mental illness, and movies and TV shows that portray wildly deranged characters committing horrible acts have not helped with this perception. In reality, mental illness can be successfully treated like any other disease, and in spite of recent tragic shooting incidents, most of the mentally ill do not commit violent acts. According to John Oliver, host of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” less than 5 percent of 120,000 gun-related deaths in one study were determined to have been perpetrated by someone with a mental illness.
Through my book, I am sharing my story along with hundreds of other people, and this is helping to change perceptions and leading to more acceptance and understanding for the mental health community.
Do you have any suggestions for other memoirists and writers for completing a book? Just jump in head first or start with an outline if that works for you. Look at old photos and journals. Try and write every day even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Read as many books in your genre as you can.
What do you have planned next?
I’d like to try my hand at some fiction writing by participating in the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project.
I look forward to having another book published by Black Opal Books at some point, if I’m lucky!
What is the main message you hope readers will take away from your memoir?
I hope it is to realize that they are not alone in their experience of mental illness in a family setting. The more that we can share our stories, the more united we are as a community in overcoming the stigma of mental illness, giving us all hope.
To connect with Martha, visit her here:
Thanks again to Martha Graham-Waldon for being my guest today, and thanks to you for visiting and reading. I’ll see you Friday for Observations from the Tub! Please don’t forget to leave a comment or question for Martha, who has graciously offered to give away an autographed copy of her book to one lucky reader. Leave a comment for your name to be entered into the random drawing! 🙂