“Sharon, I Have Something to Tell You.”

At the time Sharon and I finished writing our book together, my life was stable and I was content. My mom and I had been living together for almost eight years and had settled into a routine that worked well for us both. I had a job that worked for me, doctors that I liked and felt comfortable with, and friends who offered a steady social life. Unfortunately, while I was content, my mom was not.

Mom was in her sixties and still working part time at a stressful job. She really needed to retire. I had sensed for a long time that she was feeling like she was in a rut, and needed to make some changes. Mom was ready to move out of the home we had moved into in when I was a child, as keeping up with the landscaping maintenance on the large property and making the necessary repairs was becoming too much, even with my help. She wanted to move into a condo, so she wouldn’t have to worry about yard care and other home maintenance. We had been talking about this for several years, but never seriously starting looking for new places.

Five or six years ago, one of my mom’s friends re-connected with her via Facebook. My mom and Betty had been friends since my mom was nine years old. They had been close enough that Mom was a bridesmaid in Betty’s wedding. Life intervened, and they had lost touch until Betty found Mom on Facebook nearly fifty years later. Betty lives in Florida and after a couple years of communicating via phone calls and Facebook, my mom went to Florida to visit her in February 2015.

During this visit, Betty campaigned to have my mom move to Florida to live near her. Mom came back from that trip and started talking to me about that possibility. We talked about it, but at that time neither of us was ready to consider a huge move.

Mom had really loved the town in Florida where Betty lives, and immediately made plans to return for another visit in February 2016. Because she was thinking about moving there she really wanted me to see it, so I accompanied her on this trip. While we were there, Betty took us around town and showed us different neighborhoods that would be nice to live in.

I loved the area too, and it was great being in Florida in February. The weather was perfect, and we were able to go to the beach and lay out by the pool. When we returned from the trip my mom and I started talking about the possibility of actually moving there.

We discussed the pros and cons of moving to Florida ad nauseum. We talked about getting a condo in the town where we were living, close to family and friends. We talked about the fact that neither of us likes change, and moving to Florida would be a huge change. We made lists of the things we would have to do in order to move out of state, like get new doctors and arrange for long distance movers. Of course, whether we moved to a condo in our current town or to a place in Florida, there would also be the huge job of downsizing our belongings to move to a smaller home.

Even though it seemed like an overwhelming idea to move to a new town, a thousand miles away from loved ones, it was also exciting and energizing. Mitigating the fear about changing our lives so drastically was the assistance of Betty, who supported us and cheered us on through the whole process.

We were going to move out of our current house whether we moved to Florida or not. We discussed it over a period of several weeks. And we both kept remembering how nice it was to be in Florida in February. I don’t remember what made us both finally decide. Neither of us is very decisive. My mom made it very clear she would not move unless I was okay with it, as she was concerned about how I would manage the enormous stress involved. So, I guess I was the one who made the final decision.

It was completely out of character for me to want to move to Florida, given my discomfort with change. I wasn’t in a rut like my mom (or if I was, it was a good rut). I shouldn’t have needed to make a drastic change. I was a little worried, along with my mom, about remaining stable with the enormity of the change I had agreed to. I didn’t really know what to expect from myself. However, I have a streak of impulsivity that battles with my fear of change. I think back to my decision to go to college in Arizona as an 18 year old, which nobody could’ve predicted.

I have to be honest, and admit that my love of the sun and dislike of snow played a part in my decision. I was tired of Midwestern winters and loved the idea of laying in the sun year round. Of course, this is also the biggest reason why I shouldn’t have moved to Florida, given my propensity for skin cancer.

So, in March 2016 I called Sharon and asked if she would meet me for lunch. I had to tell her about my decision…

 

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We Have a Book. We Think It’s Pretty Good. Now What?

We now have a book. We’ve gotten good feedback from people who’ve read it. Recent reviews have been very positive. So now what? People who are experienced in the book publishing world will probably laugh at us, but when Robin and I started writing our book we did not think about getting it in front of the people who would actually want to read it. I know that makes no sense. What is the point of writing a book if you don’t have a plan to promote it?

The truth is, Robin and I actually never thought beyond writing the book and self-publishing it. The goal was just to get it finished. Many good things have come from this process. Most importantly, Robin has told her story. She has done her part in fighting the stigma of mental illness by courageously making herself completely vulnerable. She has shared the most embarrassing details of the way in which her illness has affected her life and continues to do so. At times, this has been difficult for her. Sometime I should ask her to write about this (sorry Robin, you can say no). But she has received incredibly supportive and amazingly positive feedback from her friends and family. I firmly believe that the process of telling her painful story has helped Robin achieve a new level of healing. She remains stable and content.

For me, writing this book helped me become a better writer. I have journaled since I was ten years old. But writing in a journal and writing for an audience are two different things. It was foreign for me at the start of this process to think about being descriptive or focusing on telling a story. I actually had fun working on learning to write in a new way.

Another positive outcome has been sharing a project with Daniel, my nephew who edited our book. He is now in graduate school, but it was fun to learn how good he is at writing and editing. It was a connecting experience for Daniel and I to work together on this book. So for different reasons, whether we ever find our audience and sell lots of books or not, Robin and I are both viewing this project as a complete success.

Robin is working on a blog post or two in which she is telling the story of what made her decide to move to Florida, and how she is doing now. I will be commenting on my own reaction to her announcement that she was planning to make this major move! It is important for our readers to know that she is still doing well. Robin is mostly done with spending time on our book, this blog, and the painful reality of her mental illness. Instead of living in her past, she is now focused on enjoying her new life. I don’t blame her for wanting to put the most painful years of her illness behind her. It is very healthy for her to move on.

I, on the other hand, am feeling compelled to try my best to get our book in the hands of the people who can be helped by it. So without any previous planning, I have found myself immersed in the foreign world of book promotion. I am a psychologist. I am not a book promoter. Talk about a learning curve! To make matters worse, I am in my fifties and have no clue about the whole social media thing. I’ve never been on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Do I really need to be? Yikes! We will see…

I will continue to update our readers about my feeble efforts to promote the book, but for now I just want to thank everyone who has bought or read it. If you have read it and are willing to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads or both, Robin and I would be eternally grateful!

Stay tuned for Robin’s update!

 

 

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Our Book Got a Good Review!

I am very happy to report that we had our book reviewed by Self-Publishing Review.com and received 4.5 stars out of 5! The review can be accessed on their website through the link below.

The Kirkus review, as I said when it came out, appeared to be written by someone who did not understand the point of the book at all and wrote the review as if I was the only author. In contrast, this reviewer definitely “got it.”

Robin and I are thrilled to feel like we have finally been validated by a professional reviewer. This site helps to promote the book as well, so maybe we will get some sales out of it!

Click here to see the review!

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WE HAVE A BOOK!

I’m excited! Yesterday I received my proof copy of the paperback version of our book. I think it looks great! I approved it and today it is already available on Amazon.com. I have added a link to this website at the top of the sidebar that takes you right to the listing on Amazon. There is also a Kindle version, which is currently listed separately. I’ve asked the publisher to combine the paperback and Kindle versions in one listing if possible. For those of you who live in Europe, the book will also be available on Amazon in Europe soon.

I appreciate, so much, those of you who’ve followed the journey Robin and I have taken over the past three years to write and publish this book. And, I am sensitive to the possibility that the cost of the book may be prohibitive for some. If cost is a barrier, I will gladly send a copy of the book, free of charge, to anyone who has “liked” or commented on our blog. Just email me at sedvy@aol.com, identify yourself with your WordPress site, and let me know an address where I can send the book.

For anyone who actually reads the book and is willing to write a positive review about it on Amazon and Kirkus, this would be much appreciated. Also, please pass the word to anyone you think might enjoy or benefit from reading it. We need all the help we can get, and we want anyone who might be helped by the book to read it. Helping people has been our main goal from the beginning of this project.

It is important for me to say that I don’t ever want to be accused of exploiting Robin, my former client, in any way. I have no intention of profiting from the sales of this book, which is Robin’s story. It’s hard for me to imagine it will sell enough copies to even pay for the expenses of self-publishing it, as marketing is not a strength for either Robin or I. We’ve agreed all along that the important thing has been the process of writing it, and we are thrilled to have it done. We have no idea how many people will actually want to buy it. But, if we are surprised and enough copies are sold to actually break even, Robin will be the recipient of any subsequent profits.

The reward for me has been learning how to write better, and learning the actual publishing process (I have more books to write). It has also been rewarding to see the positive effect on Robin to tell her story and receive so much support from people. When I think about where our journey together started in 1993 and how bleak things looked in 2003, it continues to amaze me that Robin is now so stable and content. As I’ve said, she recently made a major life change and moved to a different state. I was concerned about how she would do with so much change all at once, but she has done great. Soon, Robin will post an update on how she made the decision to move and how she is doing now. Stay tuned…

 

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My Review of the Kirkus Review

About a month ago I posted that our Kirkus review was completed, and I would share it after I gave Kirkus permission to publish it on their website. I also said I would talk about my own reaction to the review. I am posting it in its entirety. But it is important to say that it listed only me as the author. Robin’s name, despite the fact that it was completely clear there were two authors when I initially submitted the manuscript, was omitted from the review. Here it is, followed by the letter I sent to Kirkus about it:

The Review

“In this debut memoir, a psychotherapist learns about herself while diagnosing a patient’s bipolar disorder.

The author treated a young woman named Robin Personette for 10 years before she discovered the patient was suicidal. Robin, a mental health case manager, suffered from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, but concealed suicidal thoughts from her therapist. In 2003, Robin—then 36 years old—finally confessed her obsession with suicide to DeVinney and agreed to hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). DeVinney thought her own professional rigidity had stoked Robin’s inability to communicate, so she decided to extend therapeutic boundaries and use a more personal approach. For example, she let Robin know how much she cared about her. Therapist and client eventually formed a closer relationship, and Robin recorded a CD of sad songs to share her pain. In turn, DeVinney responded with a CD she made especially for Robin. Part I of this dark account is aptly titled “Despair,” as it details Robin’s self-described “meltdown” when she could not stop thinking about suicide. Smooth-flowing chapters begin with the author’s professional point of view and end with “Robin’s Thoughts” about her treatment and life. Readers who are struggling to overcome or understand mental illness should appreciate Robin’s difficulties: she ended up in a hospital four times in eight months; her depression resisted ECTs; and her medication needed to be adjusted several times. In addition to worries about her health, Robin had to deal with such financial struggles as coping with bankruptcy and applying for disability. Readers interested in the mental health field should be intrigued by DeVinney’s sometimes clinical, self-critical voice as she recounts the challenges of treating a complex case: for example, not allowing Robin to become dependent on her. Once officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Robin began learning to live with her disease. Part II, “Deliverance,” becomes eye-glazing when some earlier details—like Robin’s obsession with sun-tanning—are repeated and her job search is drawn out. But for the most part, the author’s clear prose weaves a vivid, touching account of strength and tenacity.

An uneven, but affecting portrait of hope for those living with chronic mental illness.”

My Letter to Kirkus

To Whom it May Concern–I have a concern about my review. I would like to publish it on your website, despite the fact that it is not entirely positive. But I am concerned that I am the only author listed. In fact, the review is mostly written as if I am the only author, which actually misses one of the most important points of the book. The book was written by both me (Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D.) and my former therapy client (Robin Personette). I am pretty sure I included this information at the time of submission. The fact that we both express our own views about our therapy process is what makes our book most unique.

The negative comments by the reviewer (the “eye glazing” comment and the fact that the book is “uneven”) make complete sense if I was the only author. But Robin was writing about her own experiences, in a writing style different than mine (hence it is “uneven”) about topics most important to her (the “eye glazing” part about her job search and tanning compulsion).

I don’t mean to sound defensive. But I am concerned that the review just seems inaccurate. At the very least, can both authors of the book be listed?

Thanks for your consideration.

Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D.

 

I received an answer from a representative of Kirkus quickly. He added Robin’s name as a co-author, but said he could not change the review because it was the reviewer’s opinion. This is what I expected. I certainly didn’t expect them to admit what I suspected, which is that the reviewer was not a mental health expert. I have no idea whether this is true or not. At this point it doesn’t matter. It is what it is.

For anyone who actually reads the book, I welcome honest feedback about whether the review seems fair…maybe I am being too defensive.

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We Have a Book Cover!

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The Kirkus Review Is In

Robin, Daniel and I have been anxiously awaiting the Kirkus review of our book. It arrived a couple of days ago. It can’t be excerpted or published in any form until after I give the go ahead for Kirkus to put it up on their website. Before I give them that go ahead, I want the book to be ready to buy on Amazon. So, I will share the review here when I can, but it will probably take a few weeks for us to finish up the publishing process. Then, I will have much to say about the Kirkus review.

I will say this…my prediction was that it would be a good, but not great, review. I think I was right. But, I am not objective. I will leave it to you, our readers, to decide for yourselves once you have read the actual finished book and the review. There were some things about the review that were disappointing to me, which I will explain. I’ve been reminding myself that it is one person’s opinion. The most important people…the people who will benefit from Robin’s story, haven’t yet read the book.

After the Kirkus review is published on their website, readers will be able to go and make comments about the book. Obviously, when the book is available on Amazon there will also be the opportunity to write comments. I will ask in advance for anyone who reads the book and likes it, to please go to these sites and express your opinion.

Daniel is working on finishing up the cover. It will be done this weekend sometime. That is the last piece they are waiting for at CreateSpace, the company that is publishing the book for us. I can’t wait to see the final product!

In the meantime, here is another excerpt from Part Two of the book, in Robin’s own words:

My improved spiritual framework was tested in January of 2007, when my dad succumbed to the cancer that had been making his life hell for years. It obviously wasn’t a surprise, but it was traumatic nevertheless. He collapsed at home prior to a doctor’s appointment. My mom came home to take him to the appointment and found him in the bathroom. She called 911, then called me. It was early in the morning, and I’ve always hated early morning phone calls. They are almost never a good thing. I raced over to my parents’ home, where the EMTs were providing CPR to my dad in the living room. It was a chaotic scene, with my parents’ dog shut in a room, barking nonstop, not helping the situation. I followed the ambulance to the hospital. My brother and sister in law soon arrived, and we all sat in a private waiting room at the ER.

It wasn’t very long before a hospital staffer came in and asked us if we had a priest or minister we wanted to contact. That’s when it became real. It hit me that this was probably the end for my dad. They intubated him and he was placed in the ICU. Phone calls were made to extended family members, who gathered in the waiting area outside his room. We took turns visiting him throughout the day, and my mom spent the night in the waiting room.

The next day, my dad’s condition worsened. The doctor told us that he no longer had reflexes, and was not likely to wake up. My mom gathered with my brother and me, and said my dad wouldn’t want to live this way. We agreed, and the decision was made to unhook the breathing tube. Prior to doing this, the extended family members were allowed in a couple at a time to say goodbye. Then they all left, and my immediate family was in the room when they unhooked the tube and my dad soon died. The whole experience was very surreal for me. The emotions were very intense, and at times I dissociated.

Prior to my Meltdown and the work Sharon and I did in terms of shifting my spiritual beliefs, my dad dying would have reinforced my “life sucks and then you die” philosophy. I would have seen it as yet another way in which I was being punished. But instead, when he died I was able to look at it from a bigger picture perspective. I believed that his death was about him, not me. It was his time, for whatever reason. It was part of his plan. This did not minimize my sadness over the loss of him. But I was sad…not suicidal, which showed me how far I had come since my Meltdown.

My dad died at the age of 60, coincidentally on my maternal aunt’s birthday. This same aunt was ill at the time of his funeral, but everyone thought it was bronchitis. She was hospitalized a couple of days after my dad’s funeral, and we were shocked to learn that she had to have immediate surgery due to stage 4 colon cancer. The cancer had traveled to her lungs, which caused the bronchitis-like symptoms. My family was devastated, but she started chemotherapy and we were ready to fight the fight with her. Her breathing worsened though, and she remained in the hospital where her health continued to deteriorate.

We decided as a family that someone should be with her overnight, and I insisted on doing it. Everyone else, besides my grandma, had to work, and I didn’t want her to have to do it. I wasn’t working, so it made the most sense for me to stay overnight with my aunt. I slept in a reclining chair with a blanket, brought into the room by the nurse. I had insomnia anyway, so I wasn’t worried about disturbing my sleep.

One night, my aunt woke up in the middle of the night, struggling to breath and in obvious distress, so I alerted the nurse. The on-call doctor, who was a jerk, came in and said her breathing had deteriorated to the point where she needed to make the decision whether to go on a breathing tube, or just “be made comfortable.” My aunt looked at me desperately, unsure what she should do, at which point the doctor snapped at her “Don’t look at her, you need to decide.” As I said, he was a jerk.

The doctor was basically telling her she had to decide between giving up or continuing to fight with no promise that it would do any good. She chose to be intubated, and was taken to the ICU. It was about 4:00 a.m. by this point, and I immediately called my mom, who then called the rest of the family who all came to the hospital. The nurse allowed us to go into the ICU room in bunches, even though policy allowed only two at a time. My aunt’s condition worsened due to complications with her meds, and her blood sugar dropped considerably. She was miserable, and quite obviously dying.

Later that day my aunt finally made the decision to have the medications that were controlling her symptoms stopped, which made the jerk doctor angry, but he complied. We all crowded into the room to say our goodbyes to my aunt, and she died a little later, coincidentally on my other aunt’s birthday. The whole situation was very agonizing, and brought up feelings about my dad’s death three weeks earlier. I lost two very close family members within a month, in very traumatic situations.

The fact that I was the one from my family to stay with my aunt overnight, only three weeks after my dad’s death, was a sign of how much progress I had made in treatment. I think I was still in shock about my dad, but I felt clear I needed to be the one to be there for my aunt. I just kept thinking about my belief that she would be going to heaven. The fact that I was able to do what I did during that time, without becoming overwhelmed, depressed or suicidal, helped me to gain some confidence. It made me feel better in a way, because I was able to be helpful and I suddenly felt like I had a purpose for the first time in a long time.

Before my Meltdown this whole traumatic time would have been completely overwhelming to me, and I would not have wanted to be any part of it. I hated hospitals and I would likely have had difficulty even going to visit my dad or my aunt. It would have just reinforced my whole negative belief system. It was a clear sign of progress that I was able to hold up through the crises.

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