Q&A with Karen Meadows, Author of Searching for Normal:The Story of A Girl Gone Too Soon

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

It’s estimated that one in five Americans lives with a mental health condition. All of us know someone who struggles. But despite this, mental health too often remains a topic we don’t discuss until it’s too late.

I’m pleased to have met author Karen Meadows last November who has opened her life and her heart in her compelling memoir, Searching for Normal: The Story of A Girl Gone Too Soon, one of the National Clearinghouse of Families and Youth library selection.

Why did you want to share your story with the world?

I needed to make something positive come out of my daughter’s death. I just couldn’t let scattered ashes be the end of her. While Sadie was alive, we didn’t share much about our mental health struggles. We thought no one else would understand—rather that our sharing would drive people away. A woman I worked with stated this thinking so well. She said “I am afraid to tell people about my mental illness because it might destroy people’s perception of me as normal.” We allowed the stigma to interfere with our finding the community and help that we needed. While I cannot change that, I decided I could share our story now, after Sadie’s suicide, to build awareness of the prevalence and cost of mental illness, to share resources and new developments that provide help and hope to those struggling and to inspire action that increases funding for mental illness services and research. Most importantly, by sharing our story, I hope to help others avoid my daughter’s fate.
What are you most proud of about the impact your memoir is making on the world?

The book is building awareness of mental illness, helping others that are struggling and inspiring improvements in the mental health system. This is best illustrated by feedback I have received:

Building awareness

From a 20+ year-old male relative: “I don’t normally read this type of book but reading it made me realize if someone as bright and full of life as was Sadie, someone coming from a good family, could be struck with mental illness—then it could happen to anyone.”

Helping others

From a colleague who shared my book with her friend—She told me that after reading the book her friend was in tears saying I may have saved his daughter through my words and that he and his wife feel less alone in coping with things they have a hard time understanding.

Inspiring improvements in the mental health system

From a state government agency manager who is responsible for publically funded youth residential treatment programs—“When I read your comments about the lack of long term outcome data for residential treatment programs, I realized that we don’t have that kind of data for our programs either and should.”
What do you think your daughter would say about your book?

My daughter Sadie had a great deal of empathy for people that struggled. I believe that overall she would have positive things to say about my book because it is helping others that struggled as she did. More specifically, I think she would be:

Proud that that she inspired me to write the book and proud that I included her writing so readers better understand from her own words how her mental illness made her feel.

Proud of me—that I reached way beyond my comfort zone to write a book and to share our story.

A bit embarrassed that I shared intimate details of our story—she would not have wanted people to think poorly of her.

Overall I believe she would be pleased that she and I are making a positive difference in the lives of people struggling as she did.

What resources would you endorse for parents supporting a child that is struggling with depression or bipolar disorder?

I included an annotated list of helpful, credible resources in my book and on my author website. Some offer information (e.g. signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, latest research findings), others offer on-line community (e.g. blogs, connections with others, etc.), some offer support (e.g. crisis lines, chat rooms, etc.).

For more information about Searching for Normal: The Story of A Girl Gone Too Soon, go to http://www.karenmeadowsauthor.com/.

And if you’re in the Portland, Oregon area on May 12th at 7PM, please join Karen and me with two other amazing mom-themed authors at Another Read Through Bookstore.

 

A Different Kind of Same/Author Interview with Kelley Clink

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m pleased to have mental health advocate and author Kelley Clink as my guest.

Author Kelley Clink
Author Kelley Clink

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime. In my immediate little family, all three of us are impacted.

Maybe that’s why I so connected with Kelley Clink’s memoir, A Different Kind of Same, a book selected by BookSparks’  #Speak Out Campaign to raise awareness and funds for an agency dealing with suicide. Her book also won the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year. More than a book about her brother’s suicide, Kelley’s memoir describes her relationship with her brother and with mental illness.  “For better or worse,” she writes in it,”Matt’s life shaped mine. Knowing him, being a sister to him, made me who I was. Losing him has made me who I am.”

Welcome, Kelley!


Q&A

Your book openly discusses your own battle with serious depression and a suicide attempt before your brother’s eventual suicide, a devastating blow just as your own life had taken shape. How did you gain enough emotional distance to be able to write such a powerful memoir?

Time was a big factor. I waited two years before I started, and in all it was ten years before the book was published. I tackled subjects when I felt ready for them, and sometimes I misjudged and had to walk away from the project for a while. It was extremely painful for many years.

But eventually, the more I worked on it, the less attached I became. Participating in a workshop made a huge difference. Focusing on craft helped me distance myself from my narrative. This made the writing process easier, but also prepared me for sharing my book with the world. Criticism feels a lot less personal when you’ve had a lot of practice.

A Different Kind of SameThrough your writing and experiences, I’m sure you’ve met many loved ones of those experiencing mental illness. What advice have you for them to be the best advocate for their loved one while not losing their own mind?

One of the most important things you can do for anyone going through a difficult time is to listen to them, without trying to fix or change how they feel. You can encourage your loved one to seek help from a professional. You can ask her pointed and specific questions about what she is doing to take care of herself, and whether she is thinking about harming herself.

But I think the last part of this question is the most important—helping someone through a mental health crisis can be scary and confusing. There’s only so much you can do. At the end of the day, if your loved one is an adult, she is responsible for her own care. Only you know what your limits are, and where you need to set boundaries.

What has been the best part about the process of sharing your story with the world?

Honestly, the best part was writing the book itself. It was so, so difficult, but it was the only way I knew to heal, and in the process I walked away with a new understanding of myself, my past, and my depression. I feel so lucky that I am able to share the story with others, and I hope it has helped those in similar situations. But even if no one ever read a single word, it would still have been worth writing it.

How are you introducing your child to the uncle he didn’t get to meet?  What will you teach him one day about mental illness and how to support someone who experiences it?

Oh my goodness, this is such a great question, and I really want to have an answer, but I’m not sure I do yet! My son is 18 months old, and I’ve only recently started wondering how I’m going to tell him about my brother. I plan on putting some family photographs on the walls of our house, ones that include my brother, so that he can see him and learn his name.

Beyond that, I am hoping that I’ll learn the most age appropriate ways to discuss my brother’s death with my son as we go. I’m hoping that talking with him openly about my own experiences with depression, and focusing on emotional literacy in general, will help him be aware of his own mental health and the mental wellbeing of others.

 

A Different Kind of Same is available at kelleyclink.com or on Amazon.

For more information about mental illness, check out the National Alliance for Mental Illness at www.nami.org.