Friday, March 27, 2015

She's Not Herself by Linda Appleman Shapiro

Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Dream of Things
Author Website:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

From the outside Linda Appleman Shapiro's life looked like the typical happy, loving childhood that many experienced after the end of WWII. Together with her parents and older brother, they lived in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn where a child could play on the beach for hours in the summer and never grow tired. Her father worked hard to provide everything they needed as her mother tended to the home and children. Simmering under the surface of their happy facade was a dark secret that no one spoke about in the home or otherwise.

Life during WWII was far more difficult for Linda's mother, Miriam, than she was able to reveal. Pushing her worries, feelings and disappointments deep down in order to keep the family running smoothly, Miriam held herself together until her strength faltered. Thus began her spiral into a deep depression which unleashed a number of hidden demons and other elements of mental illnesses. As Linda grew older and discovered her own road to healing, she sought to understand why her mother wasn't herself.

Every so often I go through the Nonfiction titles at NetGalley and discover a book or two which catch my eye. What I read in the description that made me download the book was the author's honesty about the good and bad she experienced as a child. The author didn't use this as an opportunity to besmirch her mother's memory or present the situation in biased light. I felt that she tried to give as much insight into the internal war that her mother was fighting while living through decades in which depression and mental illnesses weren't openly discussed or treated as they are now.

The book was told through Linda's experiences and recollections of her childhood, but other family members and friends added more information and possible reasons behind more than a few of the events that took place throughout the years. Her father and brother had a system in place to deal with Miriam's "episodes" before Linda was born. During this particular decade there wasn't much advancement in the area of mental illness and treatments. It was suggested by her own doctor that Miriam having another baby would help fill her days with enough tasks to keep her from not feeling well, their particular familial code for those times when the depression overwhelmed her. When seeking to alleviate the worst of the episodes, Linda would be sent to her friend's house until her father returned to tell her that Miriam was in the hospital. There the protocol for such illnesses included different medications and electroshock therapy. For awhile these things would work, but ultimately the cycle of good days giving away to bad would begin anew.

As Linda graduated high school and enrolled in college, she enacted strict rules for herself to keep from becoming like her mother. Much of her college years eased the heavy weight she'd felt as a child while living at home until her last year of college when she fell in love with someone who brought out the fears she'd buried. With encouragement from her brother and his wife, Linda sought treatment from several therapists until she found one that helped her to understand what she had been through in her life as well as the various episodes her mother endured. Understanding people was the driving force in Linda going back to school and making a positive mark on the world as well as being open about the stigma that mental illness left on people who endured them or the caretakers who attempted to ease the bad times.

Overall, this memoir was very eye-opening about how the author and her family cared for her mother during some of the worst episodes she remembered from her childhood. With both love and honesty, the author recounted both wonderful memories of her mother and the safe, loving environment that shaped her life and the uneasiness that seeped into their home when the restless nights and mumblings would signal another episode of her mother not feeling well. For a family dealing with these issues in decades and a part of society where talking about depression or mental illness wasn't well received, Linda, her brother and her father did as well as they could to keep their family unit together. It was interesting to see how Linda chose to fight her own depression after coming to terms with the help of therapists and newer, more effective types of treatments. It was easy to feel close to the author and her family while reading the highs and lows of their life, cheering them on during the good times and wanting to comfort them during the rougher moments. If you're an adult child of a parent with mental illness or simply want to know more about the topic, this is definitely a book to be on your need-to-read list.

She's Not Herself by Linda Appleman Shapiro is currently available at many online retailers and various local bookstores. It can be bought in either paperback or Kindle (digital) formats. The following link will provide you with the book's Amazon page.
She's Not Herself by Linda Appleman Shapiro

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