Update for the Readers of Despair to Deliverance

I apologize for dropping off the radar for so long. The reality is, a lot has been happening apart from our attempts to finish our book. As I said in my last post, Robin actually moved to Florida! Anyone who read the story of her “Meltdown” year detailed on this blog, knows that Robin, historically, has been very stressed by change. So, in late February when she announced she was moving, I have to say I was shocked and a bit worried about how she would deal with the transition.

When the book is finally published it will detail how Robin got from where she was at the end of 2003 to where she is now, which is stable (eight years without a hospitalization) and happy with her life. But, stable here in the town where she grew up and has friends and family, and stable in a whole new state are two different things. I supported her decision to move, of course, because it is not up to me to interfere with Robin continuing on her own path. But, I was a bit concerned that all the changes would cause her to destabilize for the first time in a long time.

I am very pleased to report that Robin is moved, settled, has found a job and is doing well. Her “triumph” over her severe mental illness continues. I will continue to provide updates as things progress, especially after we get the book published.

As for me, I have not been very consistent about writing on my new blog. It has been a busy summer for me, mostly just working and having fun with my family and friends. For those of you who have been following my story and are interested, I had my second post-bladder cancer check-up a couple of weeks ago and continue to be cancer free…thank God!

Anyone who has been following my other blog (see the link on the upper right corner of this page) knows I have been dealing with the absurdity of car insurance companies. Wow, are there unbelievable things to report in terms of the process of trying to settle the claim from that car accident I experienced last December! I will be continuing that story on my other blog soon.

I want to thank those of you who still care about our book and are still waiting. We are just making sure it is as good as it can possibly be before we publish it. I hope it will be worth the wait!

Posted in Updates About Robin, Updates About Sharon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

We Are Getting There…

Just an update for those still waiting for our book Despair to Deliverance: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness to be published. As I said in my last update, we had basically re-written the book in response to feedback from our first set of readers and I then handed it off to our second set of readers. I have just a couple people left to finish reading, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Daniel, my adorable nephew, has finished his part in terms of editing. I cannot reiterate enough how helpful he has been. What a great thing to have him be a part of this process! He is a talented artist as well as a talented writer, and is helping to design the cover of the book. For those who are interested, he has a webpage of items he has designed that are for purchase at the following link: https://society6.com/danieldevinney. I know, shameless promotion. I can’t help it…I am a proud aunt.

Daniel is getting ready to head off to graduate school next month at the University of Illinois in Champaign. What will he be studying, you might ask? Rhetoric. That’s right, he is going to get a Ph.D. in Rhetoric. I have asked him several times to explain to me what that means, but when he starts talking about it I have no idea what he is actually saying. He is much smarter than me…

Robin actually left our town in Indiana yesterday for the last time on her way to live in Florida permanently. She will be back here and there to visit friends and family, but she is starting a whole new chapter in her life. It remains amazing to me how well she is doing. I can’t wait for everyone to be able to read the new and improved version of what was originally written on this blog, and to learn the rest of Robin’s amazing story. We are getting there.

Once I have the final, final, final draft of the book completed, the next step is going to be to have it reviewed by Kirkus. For those not familiar with this organization, for a fee you can have your book reviewed by a professional reader who then writes a summary of their opinion. A good Kirkus review is a big deal, and if this happens it will go on the back cover of the book when we self-publish it. Apparently if you get a good review from Kirkus it opens up some avenues in terms of promoting and marketing the book (not a strength for either me or Robin). Mostly, we are just anxious to have a professional, objective opinion. Of course, we will share with you all what we hear…good, bad or ugly.

As for me, I have not been doing as much writing on my other blog as I would have liked, mostly because I have been having fun. During the last couple of months I took my husband on a surprise trip for his 60th birthday, and then spent a week at a house on Lake Michigan with my family (eight of my nine nieces and nephews, ranging in age from 24 down to 7, were there). We had tons of fun!

My next blog post on the other blog will be about my efforts to settle the insurance claim from my car accident last December. As I predicted, the whole thing has gotten absurd. A perfect topic to write about. Watch for it!

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Update to the Readers of Despair to Deliverance

Those of you who are still hanging in there with us and paying attention, will be happy to know I just (literally minutes ago) emailed the latest draft of our book off to five people to read and give feedback. As I said previously, the people who have given feedback so far were invaluable to this process. I feel so much better about the new version of the book, which takes into account all of the comments and ideas from our first round of readers.

I have been so immersed in re-writing the book that I have been neglecting the blog world. Now that the book is in the hands of our readers again, there are so many things I want to write about on my new blog! I hope you will check it out. It is about the absurdity of life, and my thoughts on navigating it. There will be many diverse topics to come. I have no idea if anyone will even be interested. But I will mostly be writing it for my own entertainment. It seems I just can’t stop myself from writing.

So, in the meantime I want to update everyone on how both Robin and I have been doing as we have been working on finishing our book. If you have been following along you know I was in a car accident in December 2015 on the same day “lesions” were discovered in my bladder, later diagnosed as bladder cancer. In April I had my first follow-up urologist appointment, where a cystoscopy (camera stuck into the bladder to look for tumors) and cytology (urine test looking for cancer cells) were completed. I am pleased to say the news was good, and I am still cancer free for now. My next check-up is scheduled for August. I am happy to not have to worry about cancer again until then.

I finished my last chiropractic appointment this past week for the neck and back injuries I sustained in the car accident. I am back to my usual level of chronic pain, which is irritating but tolerable. And my beloved car, after taking three months to be repaired, was returned to me in March seemingly “good as new.” I am completely grateful to the body shop employees who worked so many hours to restore it to its previous state. Maybe I am crazy, but I am getting ready to try to settle my claim with the insurance company of the driver who pummeled me from behind as I sat as a stoplight…without a lawyer. It seems like a fairly straightforward case to me. The other insurance company has already declared they are liable. They will pay my medical bills. We need to negotiate a reasonable amount of money for my “pain and suffering.” How hard can that be? We will see…I suspect a blog post about absurdity may be coming on the other blog…

So, are you ready for a bombshell? Those of you who have read our story may wonder how Robin is doing. The book, as promised, will detail how she got from the devastating year in 2003 to a place of stability and contentment. But, there is an even newer development that has happened just in the last couple months. Robin is so much better, and so much more able to manage change and uncertainty, that she is moving from where we currently live in Indiana…are you ready for this…to Florida!  There is so much to say about that. But, some of it has to wait until the book comes out and everyone knows the rest of her story. The bottom line is that Robin is just fine. She is happy. It continues to be amazing to me how far she has come.

I will keep you all posted, as we finish up and publish “Despair to Deliverance.” Robin and I remain completely grateful for all of the support we have received from you, our readers.

Posted in Updates About Robin, Updates About Sharon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I Love It When Things Fall Into Place!

I haven’t been blogging much lately because I’ve been working very hard to finish our book, Despair to Deliverance: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness. I remain very grateful to the people who read the final draft and gave us their honest feedback. What an enormous gift!

The feedback has led to some restructuring of the book. The story of Robin’s meltdown year in 2003 previously comprised the first five chapters. I told the story part, and Robin then wrote her reaction and thoughts about the story at the end of each chapter. This blog is basically the first draft of those five chapters. The final draft of the book included more from Robin than is on the blog, and lots of “tightening” of what we both wrote. The last chapter of the book included Robin talking about how she got from where she was at the end of that terrible year, to where she is now (stable and content with her life)…with me commenting a bit at the end.

Many of our readers thought the chapters were too long, and wanted to hear from Robin more frequently during the course of the story. They were right. The content from the first five chapters is now eight chapters, with more additions from Robin.

The readers thought some details were left out of the last chapter, particularly in terms of what I had to say. I had shifted from writing in great detail during the first five chapters, to writing in complete summary version in the last chapter. So, I am working on consolidating the story a bit in the first part, and adding some detail in the last part.

It amazes me how completely right all the feedback felt when we got it. And, now that I am making the suggested changes, it actually feels like the book is falling into place the way it needs to be. I will be much happier with the final version once I incorporate the feedback of our trusted readers.

The lesson for us writers, from my perpective, is the importance of getting out of our own heads and letting people we trust tell us their thoughts. It is crucial to keep ourselves from being too rigid, or to be too tied to our own version of how our writing should be. Leaving our egos out of the process allows us to hear what we need to hear without being defensive or protective of our original way of thinking.

As some of the people who commented on my last post said, this is about the journey and not the destination. The journey of writing this book has connected Robin with her people, me with my people, and Robin and I with each other in a whole new way. It will be a group effort when the book is finally complete. Now that I can actually envision the final version, and am clear that the feedback we received is going to improve it dramatically, it is starting to get exciting. The journey has been great. But, the destination is important too!

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Be Careful What You Ask For

Somewhere around the beginning of February, we finished the final draft of our book and sent it to a number of friends, family and acquaintances for feedback. We had been working on it for two years. A large part of the book was written in initial form on this blog. Much revising had been done, and the rest of the story had been told. Daniel joined the process as our editor, and we all worked hard to get the book to a place where we could actually call it a final draft.

Robin and I both learned that, even though we have many people in our respective lives who love and support us, not many of those people consistently kept reading the blog. Why not? Because everyone is very busy. Jobs, kids, household tasks, activities, health crises and vacations caused most of our support network to eventually stop reading.

I learned quickly after starting the blog not to ask anyone whether they were reading it. Often it would lead to an awkward pause, followed by a legitimate list of things that reminded me that the blog was a much more important focus in my life than it was in the lives of my friends or family members. I decided to let people tell me if they were actually reading. Some did. But most, did not. I do not blame them…we all have busy lives.

Many people kept reading until we took a long break surrounding my mother-in-law’s illness and death during the summer of 2014, and then never got back to it when we started posting again. When those people asked me about it, I told them not to go back to reading it because we would need people we trusted to read the final draft and give us feedback. Some people remained loyal readers until we stopped using the blog as the means with which to tell the story. But, that was almost a year ago!

It was important to have people we trusted read the final draft and give feedback. We asked them to be honest with us about their thoughts, since our goal is to make the book as good as possible. The old saying “be careful what you ask for, because you might get it,” applies in this case.

Let’s just say I am completely grateful to the people who read our book and have been honest with us about their reactions. We got some enormously helpful feedback from a number people. Some of the feedback was consistently stated from many readers, like the chapters are too long and there are parts that become repetitious. Sometimes, specific feedback about content came from just one person but felt completely right and will be incorporated as we make changes. The outcome, is that there are major revisions we need to do.

This is all part of the process. Robin and I both remain clear that this book needs to be completed and published. We have no idea what will happen once it is done, but I don’t think that even matters. There has been a lot of learning and growing, and connecting with people just as a result of the process of writing it. We will continue the process until the book is complete. I will keep everyone updated.

Robin continues to be stable and content with her life. I continue to recover from the injuries I sustained in a car accident in December 2015, and await my first follow-up cystoscopy in April to determine whether I remain bladder cancer free. I will be working on posting to my new blog, while revising the book. Stay tuned.

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Our Book is Getting Closer!

Here’s an update on the process of moving toward publishing our book, Despair to Deliverance. We completed a final draft, and my nephew Daniel and I both worked hard at editing it. I learned that the process of taking out words and “tightening” the writing could be never ending. But at some point it is important to declare it “good enough,” and move forward in the process.

Robin, my nephew Daniel and I met a few weeks ago to talk through final changes to the manuscript before having a list of friends and acquaintances read the whole book and give us feedback. The meeting was actually the first time Daniel and Robin had met.

Daniel lives two hours away, but that was not the reason he had not yet met Robin. As our editor he purposely chose to wait until after he finished reading/editing the whole book before he got to know her. It never would have occurred to me that this mattered, but this is why he is a good editor. He wanted to be able to stay objective and know Robin only as the character in the book…like our readers will know her, so he could give feedback about how she came across. He is so smart (I am not biased or anything).

I was excited about the prospect of these two people who are important to me, and who have been working for a long time with me on this enormous project, meeting for the first time. I expected they would like each other and get along well, because they are both smart and funny. Other than that I had no idea what to expect. We really did not have a very well thought out agenda for this meeting.

It turned out to be a very productive session in which we talked through several issues that led to huge improvements, particularly to the ending of the book. As I anticipated, Daniel and Robin got along well. We were able to get revisions made to the final draft fairly quickly, and have now sent it out to about fifteen people who will serve as our preliminary “readers.”

It has been two years since Robin and I started working on this project! At one point during the process we had to take a break from telling the story on the blog (and from writing it at all) for many reasons including my mother-in-law’s physical decline and subsequent death, and Robin making a job change. That break lasted several months, and I learned that many of the friends and family who had been following the blog stopped reading at that point. When they asked about it, I told them not to start reading again, because we would need “readers” eventually to read the whole book once it was completed.

That was over a year ago. Robin, Daniel and I have been literally working in a complete vacuum since that time. Anyone who has ever written a book knows how crucial it is to be able to, finally, get some honest feedback from people who are able to be much more objective than those of us who have been immersed in the project and lived through the original experiences being described in the book. So, it was with some trepidation that I sent out a whole batch of complete final draft versions of the book a couple weeks ago.

We have already received feedback from a couple of our readers that has been mostly good. One person (my brother) gave extremely helpful suggestions in terms of doing some things to improve the book overall. There will be more editing. We want the final version to be as good as possible.

It is so exciting to be at this point. We can’t wait to have the book done! For those of you who have been following us through the process, I will say that the final version of the book is different from the blog. Some of what I wrote has been condensed. Robin has added to her sections. And, most importantly, the book will include the process Robin and I went through after the terrible year in 2003 that has been the focus of the story told on the blog. It will reveal the process of how Robin got from that year of despair to where she is now…stable and happy despite her significant and disabling mental illness. She continues to do amazingly well.

On a personal note, I am bladder cancer free for now. In April I will have the first of many upcoming follow up cystoscopies to check for recurrences. Regarding the car accident that occurred on the same day I learned I had “lesions” in my bladder, I actually do not yet have my car back. It has been almost THREE MONTHS, and they are still working to finish up repairs! I think I am actually going to get it back next week. I am still going to the chiropractor three times a week in an attempt to address neck and back pain from the accident. It is getting better, but it has been a struggle.

I am not complaining. The last three months have been stressful, but my husband and I were able to get away for a nice vacation just after we sent our draft book out to our readers. I will have my car back soon, and the pain is improving. I feel very fortunate that the bladder cancer was caught early and was noninvasive. My life is returning to normal.

I am grateful for those of you who are still patiently waiting for our book. I will continue to update you all on the process.

Oh yes, and in case you didn’t notice…I am now putting only one space in between sentences.


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My Whole World Just Shifted!

Robin and I, along with my nephew Daniel, are finishing the final edits of a draft manuscript for our book, Despair to Deliverance: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness. In the meantime, I have started my new blog and plan to continue writing about many topics there.

But, to continue telling the behind the scenes story of finishing and publishing our book, I have to write about a recent email exchange between Daniel and I. Daniel lives two hours away from the town where Robin and I live. I moved away to go to graduate school, and Daniel lives in the city where I grew up, along with his father (my older brother) and the rest of his family. To edit our book, Daniel and Robin and I have been sending chapters back and forth by email. He makes comments using the Microsoft Word editing function. A recent comment included:

“Too many spaces. This is something I have noticed, but I haven’t gone through and fixed. Your spaces between sentences tend to vary. Here it was three, usually it is two, but technically I think it is supposed to be one. This is a habit that I have had to break myself, as I grew up doing two. Remember that this won’t be double spaced in a book. From a design point, single spaced paragraphs with two spaces between sentences are called ‘holes.’ Not sure if the publisher will fix this or not, but I thought you should be aware.”

I was grateful he brought it up. It is exactly what he needs to do as our editor. That is, point out to his old aunt that she is still living in the dark ages…back when people actually put two spaces between sentences. My reaction at first, though, was like a grief reaction.

Denial: What do you mean,there is only supposed to be one space? I was taught it was supposed to be two. I’ve ALWAYS put two spaces between sentences. How could this be wrong?

Anger: Okay, honestly, I didn’t really get angry. Confused, yes. Angry? Not really. Maybe it’s a stretch to use the Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief analogy.

Bargaining: I actually emailed Daniel and asked if he knew for sure. I couldn’t believe the whole world had made such a monumental shift, and I knew nothing about it. Was this really true? He said he would “ask around.” I quickly emailed him back and told him not to worry, I would research it. I relied on my usual research method. I googled it.

Depression: It turns out, Daniel was right! I found many articles on-line confirming that this shift had, in fact, taken place without me knowing it. How did this happen? I had honestly never heard one thing about this apparent change in the way everyone in the world is supposed to write. It doesn’t even look right to me to have only one space between sentences. When I am typing, putting two spaces is automatic. How will I ever make this change? My whole world just shifted!

Acceptance: Thank God for the Microsoft Word function called “Find and Replace.” When I realized I could just write the way I write, and then at the end easily switch all the places where I put two spaces to one space, I resigned myself to the new reality.

Okay, I have accepted it. But I still don’t like it. I’ve spent almost half a century doing things one way. Writing is a huge part of my life. I can’t believe this change happened. Who gets to decide these things?

As a complete digression, I have to tell about a similar moment when my world completely shifted recently. It reminded me of the whole “two spaces is now supposed to be one space” shift.

I now work in long-term care facilities (nursing homes) doing diagnostic assessments, staff consultations, neuropsychological testing and some limited psychotherapy. A couple months ago I was talking to a very young, thirty-something year old resident who is there due to severe physical health issues. We were talking about the grief he experiences about living in a nursing home at his age, when he suddenly changed the subject. He was drinking Coke out of a can, and asked a question that caused my other complete world shift.

“I saw this on Facebook,” he said. “Do you know what the hole in the pop top that opens a soda can is supposed to be used for?” He showed me the little metal piece that is lifted up in order to pop open the can. It does have a hole in the part that gets lifted.

“No, I have no idea,” I said, studying the piece of metal just like millions I have seen and used before to pop open the multitude of Diet Coke cans I have consumed in my lifetime.

Without saying a word, he turned the little piece of metal, which was still attached to the can, around so the hole covered the opening in the top of the can. He took a straw from a nurses’ cart that was sitting next to him, and stuck the straw through the hole, right into the can.

It blew my mind. It was perfect! I had never seen this, or heard about it. But, of course, it made complete sense. I laughed, and told him he had shifted my whole world. He laughed and said, “I know, right?”

It’s amazing how one little shift can instantly and completely change the way we have viewed something for our entire lives.



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The Blog World Is Its Own Culture

I feel compelled to write about the blog world.  I cannot keep writing posts about the “behind the scenes” process of Robin and I writing our book, without commenting on our foray into the foreign territory of blogging.  My experiences as a psychologist have caused me to develop a unique way of looking at the world, and I have to say it has been fascinating to realize that the blog world represents a whole culture that non-bloggers know nothing about.

Setting up the blog site with WordPress was surprisingly easy.  I was impressed by how simple they made it, and how professional it looked especially for such a low cost.  I picked a “theme,” and the picture that popped up just happened to be completely appropriate for the topic of our book, at least in my opinion.  I did not feel a need to customize anything.  I did pay the small amount it cost to reserve the domain name without the “wordpress” preceding the “.com.”

Once the blog was set up, the initial few posts were exciting.  It was very cool to have others start reading and commenting on our work.  Of course we quickly learned that to bring “followers” to our blog, we needed to “follow” other blogs covering similar topics.  My introduction to this concept actually happened before I even wrote anything on the blog.  After I had gotten everything set up, I got an email that someone was a new follower!  I was excited, but also quite confused by this, since I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to follow our blog when they didn’t even know what it was about.  Obviously, those of you who are experienced bloggers will know that person wanted me to go check out and follow her blog.  It didn’t matter to her what was on mine.

Sure enough, I have repeatedly found that to follow the blogs of other people causes at least some of them to come and check out ours.  The traffic always increases after I have spent time investigating and deciding to follow a new batch of blogs.  When I actually read them and comment on the blogs I am following, this always brings traffic to our site.

Unfortunately, I have found I don’t have the time to read as many of other people’s blogs as I would like.  I love writing and reading other people’s writing.  I am passionate about decreasing the stigma of mental illness and could happily spend a lot more time in the blog world reading, commenting and supporting other bloggers who are writing about any form of mental illness.  But, I work full-time and am trying to finish up our book.  I apologize to our loyal readers who I have neglected while the work on the book has taken precedence.  There are many bloggers I have gotten to know, at least superficially, and whose work I appreciate.  I wish I had more time to read your work.  I know how much I appreciate it when you read ours!

After we learned about the whole “following” phenomenon it became clear that the whole concept of “liking” someone else’s blog posts is also part of the culture.  Some people just “like” a post.  Some people comment.  Some people do both.  I find myself doing the same thing.  I feel compelled to comment more often on the blog posts of the people who I have gotten to know a bit.  If I am short on time I will just “like” a post to let someone know I read it and I appreciated what they wrote.  I know I love it when someone “likes” what we have written.  I want to make sure to be a good blog world member and let others know we “like” their writing.

So what’s up with all the “spam?”  I have been astonished to see the volume of spam that appears in the spam folder, and grateful to the WordPress people for figuring out a way of keeping all these ridiculous comments off our blogs.  Do these spammers think we are stupid?  Apparently.  Enough said.

Okay, I have to say something about the awards.  It is actually kind of funny to remember when Robin and I first found out we were nominated by someone for an award.  No offense to those who choose to participate in the giving and receiving of the blog awards.  If our blog were more of a traditional site where the posts were not telling a serious story, I would happily participate.  We became an “award free” blog for the reasons described in that section of our blog site.  But I won’t forget how excited Robin and I were when we found out someone nominated us the first time.  It was an honor to be recognized!  Once we learned we then had to answer questions and nominate other people and that all of it would show up in the middle of the story we were telling, we decided it would not work very well on our site.  It was fun, though, to learn about the other bloggers we were following by reading their responses to the questions asked by award nominators.

It has been quite an adventure to get to know about this culture of blogging.  While there have been a few adversarial comments on our blog from people who have had bad experiences in the mental health field, overall I have been impressed and touched by how supportive bloggers are to each other.  There is much vulnerability shared on these sites, whether people are writing anonymously or not.  It is scary to put yourself out there and it is important to have a thick skin.  But, for the most part the comments from all over the globe, are supportive.  It is a great community!

Once we finish our book, I hope to start a new blog…probably a more general one about my observations and experiences as a psychologist throughout my 23 year career.  It has been quite a ride for me, and there is much for me to say.  I will look forward to having more time to read, comment and get to know more of you in this unique forum, and reconnecting with those of you who have been so supportive to us!

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Editing is a Crucial Part of the Process

My very smart, funny and handsome editor (aka Daniel, my oldest nephew) spent most of the day at my house yesterday.  He lives two hours away, has a full-time job and is working on applying to graduate schools.  But he took the day to come see us and talk through the “story arc” of our book….creative writing minor language.  I am not sure I yet know what a story arc is.  None of us has ever written a book before.  But Daniel’s college creative writing coursework and our collective experience seems to be working in terms of improving our book and getting clear about issues that need to be resolved for all of us to feel good about it.

Daniel has been through the entire draft of the book once and gave suggestions via email for both Robin and I to make some initial changes.  When I have seen Daniel in the past few months at a family wedding, watching him run his first marathon and other occasions, we have been able to have brief conversations about his thoughts.  But I hadn’t yet had a chance to have his full attention for any length of time to talk about the big picture of the book.  I was looking forward to this conversation more than I even realized.

What I have discovered is that writing a book is a lonely process.  Even though Robin and I have been writing it together and at times have met to talk through things, writing a book is mostly a solo process.  My husband is always helpful and willing to give feedback, but he is too close to the story to be very objective and has no writing experience.  Robin and I both have many people in our lives who are supportive of the book and excited to see it when we are done.  But no one other than Daniel has the time, ability and interest in the tedious process of editing.  To be able to have Daniel’s objective, intelligent and undivided attention focused solely on talking about how to make our book better, for a whole afternoon, was a long awaited treat.

The process of writing this book has taken almost two years so far.  As I said previously, it started with the on-line course with Bill O’Hanlon which led to us outlining a self-help version of the book and then beginning to write it on the blog.  We planned to tell the story of 2003 in Part One of the book, and then Part Two was going to include six steps that people with mental illness should follow to get to a better place.  Part Two was going to include the story of how Robin got from where she was in 2003 to where she is now, but it was going to be told in the context of those six steps.

The problem was, as we were beginning to finish up Part One on the blog both Robin and I began to realize we really didn’t have enough to say that would apply to a more general audience.  In other words, Robin’s story is too unique to be applicable to everyone with mental illness.  I was going to say some things about the mental health system in general and give words of wisdom I have learned through the years as a therapist.  But, as Part One got longer and we began to start thinking more seriously about Part Two, it became clear that our original idea needed to be aborted.  It was not a tough decision to change the whole structure and purpose of the book from a part memoir and part self-help book, to a memoir.

We went through a stage where we were thinking there would still be two parts, with the second part being a more detailed version of how Robin got from “Despair to Deliverance.”  But, as we kept writing it became apparent there wasn’t enough gripping detail to warrant a whole Part Two.  The rest of the story is uplifting and interesting.  But, it is easily told in a chapter.  So, as the process continued Robin and I both realized our book needed to include five chapters telling the story of the incredible year she went through in 2003, and then one chapter telling the process she went through to heal and get to a place of stability and acceptance of her illness.

One of the issues I have struggled with throughout the entire process of writing this book is how much of me to include.  It has always felt like this should be mostly Robin’s story.  But Daniel has continued to say I am also a main character in the book, and convinced me yesterday to put more of myself into it.  There is the issue of how dramatically the experience of helping Robin through 2003 changed me fundamentally and permanently in a positive way.  I have to talk about that.  It’s part of what compelled me to write the book in the first place.

So Daniel and I got clear about how much I should say about myself throughout the story, in order to set up for the Epilogue, where I will tell my part.  He helped in terms of knowing when transitions between chapters needed to be strengthened.  We talked about what needs to be included in Robin’s parts of the book, with some things needing to be condensed and some things needed to be expanded.   We discussed places where I can condense some parts of the story told on the blog that don’t need to be told in so much detail, in order to make it more readable.

Basically yesterday, in addition to enjoying spending time with my nephew and benefitting from his talents, I confirmed my gut feeling about how crucial the editing process is when writing a book.  It is so important for us to get outside of our own heads.  I talked about that on the blog in terms of feeling alone in the context of helping Robin through her year long suicidal crisis in 2003, and the importance of consulting with trusted colleagues and supervisors.  It also applies to writing.  I will be forever grateful to Daniel for agreeing to help us.  I am excited to begin making the changes we discussed!

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The Perfect Choice for Our Editor

I have been a journal writer, as I have said, for most of my life.  What I found when Robin and I began to write our book was that I was not at all used to writing for an audience.  One of the modules on the on-line course we were taking was on “storytelling,” and gave some tips and suggestions about how to do this better.  In my experience as a writer at that time, I had almost never even written dialogue!  I never found a need to write about people talking to each other when I was recording my own thoughts in my journal.  And, I had no real practice in terms of writing descriptively.  I’d certainly read enough books to know I needed to do these things, but I had never really practiced the art of actually trying them.

My first attempts at storytelling, I have to say, were less than successful and brought less than enthusiastic feedback from my classmates in the course.  I was given helpful tips and suggestions, and made another attempt.  As we began the blog, my friends and family were all supportive and the feedback was generally positive.  But, one voice stood out.

I do not have children, by choice.  I spent my twenties in school, and my thirties immersed in my new career as a psychologist.  It actually never occurred to me that having children would be a good idea for me.  I was too busy devoting myself to my marriage and career.  Thankfully my husband agreed, as this would have been one issue that would not have allowed for compromise.  And, I am equally grateful that my older brother and his wife decided having children would be an integral part of their life.  I love being an aunt!

I was blogging away, enthusiastically telling the story in Chapter One on the blog, when I suddenly got an email from my oldest nephew, Daniel.  He, at that time, was in his senior year of college and was getting a minor in creative writing.  Ironically, he had no idea I had been learning about storytelling in an on-line course on how to write a book.  His feedback to me was so honest and so direct, and completely true:

You are very good at giving us the information we need from the story, but amid this I think we lose a bit of your voice. The way you are writing now is very straightforward. You relay the information almost like a clinical report. I don’t know if this is how you want to come across or not. But having heard you tell many stories before, I think the way you are writing this story is not how you would tell it. I think you can find a good balance between relaying the information and inserting a bit of yourself into the story. I know your writing is mostly about Robin, and that she will be writing too. But I think as a reader, I don’t just want to hear a psychologist’s perspective of what happened, I want to hear a specific psychologist’s perspective and reaction to this, aka you!  I want to hear a bit more about your emotions and reactions. If you were telling me this story in person I would have heard you say, “And I’m thinking to myself at this point, ‘OH MY GOD.’” at least a few times by now! (It’s one of your standard phrases, haha) Well, those are my thoughts so far. It’s just a few thoughts from a 21 year old student, so don’t give it too much weight!  Excited to keep reading your posts and find out more about the story!

It is hard to describe the myriad of emotions I felt when I received this feedback from Daniel.  This is the kid who was born two months before I graduated with my Ph.D.  I changed his diapers.  I was always the fun aunt who would have him come to my house as a child and let him do whatever he wanted, as long as it was safe.  We went to Disney World together when he was about twelve.  How did he get to be such a smart adult?  And, how completely cool it was that he felt comfortable giving me his honest thoughts about the writing I was putting out to the world!  I was so grateful, and so touched.  And, I immediately began to work harder at storytelling.

Daniel is now out of college and we have hired him to edit our book.  He was the perfect choice for our editor, as far as I was concerned, as he had already proven to be so able to be honest and direct and his writing skills were highly recognized by his college professors.  Daniel is working hard, and we are almost done with the editing process.  He is also an artist and is working to design the cover.  Two days ago he sent his first preliminary idea about how the cover might look.  Wow!  It is coming together.  Robin and I are so excited!

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