Monday, May 23, 2016

Cover Talk: Am I Going To Be Okay? by Debra Whittam

Title: Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief
Author: Debra Whittam
Publisher: Turning Point International
Pages: 253
Genre: Memoir/Women’s Psychology/Applied Psychology

Am I Going To Be Okay? is an American story with a universal message. Ms. Whittam traces her history in the form of stories about her all too human, and sometimes unhinged family; she throws a rope to the little girl living there, and in adulthood, is able to pull her out to safety, bit by bit.
Her history is peopled with folks from a different time, a time before therapy was acceptable, 12 steps unimaginable and harsh words, backhands and even harsher silences can be spun to appear almost normal. She writes of a mother who would not or could not initiate love nor give it without condition, and a father, damn near heroic at times, abusive at others, a survivor with his head down and his sleeves rolled up.
Ms. Whittam approaches her past with the clear-eyed tough but sensitive objectivity necessary to untangle the shame from the source. She speaks of the people that affected her life so deeply with an understanding of their time and place in American culture; a family not far removed from immigrant roots when men carried their own water, emoted misplaced anger, and with fresh socks and food found on the trail, were confident, unflinching and at that same time tragical- ly failing to the little ones they ignored.
Like many of us, details notwithstanding, Whittam responded by numbing, running and gunning. Alcohol gave her hope, soothed a crushed soul for a time and wrecked her on a train, until finally she had the courage to accept it wasn’t working for her anymore. It was time to stop drinking and take inventory and accountability. It was time to accept, forgive and move forward. She healed where she was broken.
It is in the telling of this story that Whittam teaches us the difference between just surviving and surviving well, the importance of shared introspection and a careful eye on the wake we leave behind in our actions. Her story is a guide to surviving abuse and addiction. It is also about witnessing and dealing with the shrinking faculties of aging parents in the unavoidable circle of life. Finally, she offers a realistic sense of hope, forgiveness and a life we can shake hands with.

For More Information

  • Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Talking Book Covers with Debra Whittam

My book, “Am I Going To Be Okay?  Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief” is a memoir/self-help book written by a life.  Without blame or harsh ‘tell all’ format I write about my life growing up with my family, mostly my mother and I, interwoven with all of the untreated mental illness, untreated addiction and unacknowledged grief that flows through everyone’s family tree. 

What I explore, as the oldest of five children, is the impact of adults acting like little monsters on those children.  There are only two messages we get when we are young from these rampages.  Either there is something wrong with us or we’ve done something wrong.  We are too young to understand what is happening isn’t about us. 

The only place I felt safe from harm was at my grandparent’s farmhouse in Esperance, New York.  This is beautiful countryside in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains about 30 miles from Schenectady, New York.   Much of my first six years of life were spent at my grandparents centering on my Grandma Cecelia Neadle.  I felt safe and love by her. 

At the age of eight I experienced my first loss when she died, leaving me with no one to rely on at an age where I didn’t even understand I needed it.  But I did as my parents had just had a set of twins when I was six and within 15 months had a boy.  There was no way out of the hell of vicious arguments over money, horrific stress of my father not able to get along with anyone at work and my mother’s extremely unstable moods.  There was too much for either of them to handle with no one to rely on except themselves.

No one ever talked about those who passed away and were beloved to us.  No one ever does still. 

During visualization meditations I always will be brought back to the farm.  Either outside under the big tree out front or inside in the back bedroom where my parents were set up for the first eight months of my life.

Jude Moreo, my editor, and I went through photos from looking for what would be an inspiration for my cover art.  Judi found a young girl holding a red umbrella and it all started from there!

Please tell us about your book cover below:

Once Judi found the photo of a young girl holding a red umbrella we realized it fit with the concept of ‘Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness and so on.

Judi takes art lessons from a famous artist, Jeff Tift, in the state of Washington.  She thought of him immediately.  She spent a great deal of time sharing my story with him, stressing the importance of the farm and the countryside I grew up in.  My parents built their own home and moved in when I was two, yet the love and safety I found at the farm has stayed with me.  Judi knew it and gave what she knew of me to Jeff.  He is an amazing wildlife artist with breathtaking art from the areas of the North West where he hikes and wanders. 

Jeff contacted me to send as many photos of the farm that I could.  He used those for reference as well as what he had in mind as he created my remarkable cover art.  This painting goes completely around the book from front to back.  It is as if Jeff had visited the area as he captured it completely.

The young girl with the red umbrella struggles in the storms with the farm a constant in the background.  The painting is a snapshot of the story and meaning of my book.

I loved it from the first concept drawings he sent.  I will include the cover art from my book flyer.

I have the original painting in my living room.  It is my story on canvas.

About the Author

Debra Whittam is a licensed, practicing mental health therapist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who specializes in addiction, anxiety and depression, grief and loss. Whittam is passionate about her work in all areas of her specialties, especially addiction. Working in a detox unit for over three years before beginning her own private practice, Whittam realized, while counseling patients in the life and death arena of the detox unit, how much the loss of a beloved through death or a relationship impacted those struggling with addiction.
In this memoir, Whittam skillfully infuses her memories, stories and professional insights to remind us that the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. She splits her time between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and Paris, France. Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is her first book.
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