Today I am very happy and honored to welcome Linda Sexton, author of Half in Love, to A Bookish Affair!
I didn’t want to write a mental health book. I didn’t want to write a self-help book. I wanted to write a book about my personal struggle with depression, suicide and recovery. A memoir. And so I began Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.
How do you start a memoir?
At first, you feel your life is worthy of teaching others about something they have never thought of before. You have an idea that wants to be aired publicly. Maybe you, as did I, want to tackle a taboo subject, like suicide and depression, and how we get well again. You are afraid to expose yourself, but you do it anyway, taking your fear up in your hand and making a fist around it—a fist that you don’t release.
So often I am asked, “Why write a memoir that brings your family so far into the public eye? Or, even, “why write a candid memoir about your own downfall?”
Worldwide over a million commit suicide annually. There is twice as much suicide as homicide in the United States. Your own hand is more deadly than a gun.
Right now, aside from hypertension, Americans suffer from major depression more than any other general medical issue, and it affects more than twenty million people. Ninety percent are those who suffer from depressive disorders. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, and is now largely considered heritable. We are told by the medical profession that brain chemistry is most often the source—not laziness, not self-pity, not selfishness. There is a burgeoning problem in the military, as those returning from the overseas increasingly resort to killing themselves. And many of the mentally ill are on the street now, turned out of hospitals by budget cuts, looking for a handout, unable to afford their medications.
I found a wanted to reach this audience: families of suicides or depressed loved ones, the suicidal themselves. I decided to make an example of myself, of my depression, of my three suicide attempts—and then of my recovery. I believed all this was worth talking about. And so I began to write.
At first it was terribly difficult. The fear almost overwhelmed me and choked off my voice. But the words kept coming. I persevered, even when I was dealing with something from which a lot of people would want to turn their heads.
But I found myself saying in my mind, to people I had never met. “I survived, so can you.” I wanted to say, “mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters—don’t let that family member isolate himself in his depression, wrapped in the cocoon of pain. Reach out to them despite the confusion and pain you yourself may feel.”
I grew up in a family where no subject was off limits. My mother wrote memoir in the form of confessional poetry, offering up her loves, her pain, her dance with death, to an invisible public greedy for the personal. For her, there was no such thing as a taboo subject.
But over the years, taking your own life was a taboo subject. Back in the middle ages, suicides were refused burial in church cemeteries and relegated to a crossroad instead, where it was believed their diseased souls would disperse in the wind. Today, families still feel shame and hide suicide from public view. How many times have you read an obituary that leaves the cause of death vague, and wondered to yourself? How many times have there been whispers and gossip about the way someone in the community died?
Yet so many people need to talk about this subject. The letters I receive over my website, from people I don’t know and will never meet, are heart rending. They tell their story even though it is an act of intimacy and trust with someone they have never spoken to before. They are writing their own memoir in the form of an email. I make sure I answer each and every one.
I received a note from a psychotherapist who had her own problems with depression and she wrote me this:
“When I said that your mother’s poetry brought me closer to death and your words closer to life, I literally meant just that. I would intentionally read her words in the hope that it would give me the “courage” to kill myself. It always brought me closer to that edge. Quite literally, your books and words move me away from that cliff.”
Regardless of where my mother’s confessional poetry and her revelations about her own life brought her readers, she always said to me, quite bravely, I think: “Linda, tell the whole story. Tell it true.” And so telling it true became part of the inheritance she left to me, as well as that of death, as well as just plain old writing. I’d like to think that with my memoirs, both Half in Love and Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, that I am telling it true, and that I follow in the best of my mother’s legacies. And those are the “ins and outs of memoir:” remember always to tell the whole story, no matter what it costs you.
Half In Love Giveaway Contest
In celebration of the paperback release of Half In Love (Counterpoint/January 2012), Linda Gray Sexton will be sponsoring a giveaway contest of ten books. Starting Monday, December 5th, out of the first thirty people who join the reader board on her website (http://lindagraysexton.com/
blog/forums/) to share their stories, thoughts, experiences or questions on depression, suicide, grief, loss and love, ten will be randomly selected to receive a signed copy of the book. (It can be personalized if the winner wishes.) It is an opportunity to share in a supportive community of those have opened their world and themselves as a way of finding both illumination and healing, and to connect with Linda Gray Sexton on her very personal and brave journey in Half in Love.