Birth of a memoir & blog

Early on, I displayed a talent for writing. When I was 10 years old, my composition Journey to Marshmallow Planet made the rounds in the staff room. The only detail I recall was the difficulty in landing because space ships kept bouncing off.

One teacher noted on a report card: “Sandra has a flair for compositions that we are trying to develop.” Once I got to high school, I got A’s in English, and was less successful in math. Only when I started working in a newsroom did I realize others shared this trait. A business reporter was the point guy who could figure out a percentage change in real numbers. I felt I’d found my people.

My mother had always been a fan of my writing. She wasn’t one to give lavish praise but I’d hear later from her friends and neighbours how much she like a book draft or one of my newspaper articles. I’ve written many drafts of novels but have not been published. I generally received many positive rejections, and rarely got a preprinted rejection slip. It gets discouraging after a while.

Writing is a window into my soul. Sometimes the words that spill onto the screen (or notebook) are a surprise. Where did that thought come from? I read somewhere that writing is as valuable as talk therapy, and I need lots of insight into what makes me tick. In many ways, I’m a mystery to myself.

I started writing the memoir Lovesick after a writing workshop in 2016, months after my mother died. I arrived at the workshop with 10 pages on how my mother’s praise came from my writing efforts. And I was so grateful for that praise. It made me want to write more. The feedback from the group was clear: I had to write a memoir.

“But who am I to write a memoir? I’m just a normal person. Nobody will want to read about me…”

Regardless, over the next three weeks I churned out 65,000 words. My back ached from hours in the kitchen chair. Turmoil kept me awake at night. I drank a lot. In the end, I’d written a story about a family in conflict due to reasons I couldn’t comprehend. I felt intense anger, shame and fear over what my siblings would think of my spilling family secrets. I’m certain they would say I had it all wrong. But their projected reactions were a moot point. I hadn’t talked to either sibling in years so their opinions didn’t need to matter, at least at that early point of the project.

Over the next couple years, I wrote new drafts. It wasn’t until I hired an editor that things really began to take shape. She urged me to switch from a journalist’s approach to a more literary style. I soaked up the praise and appreciated the constructive journalism. After all, everything I wrote for newspapers went past at least three editors. I learned to appreciate them to correct my brain farts, missing words and incomprehensible sentences.

Rewriting each draft meant I had to revisit, in detail, the deaths of my parents, Dad in 2008 and Mom on Valentines Day of 2016. I wasn’t present for either death. Dad passed away within minutes of Mom and I leaving him for a short break — we planned to return in a short while. But the nurse says people often slip away when they’re alone, and that’s what he did. The pain of dealing with my siblings and mother over the next few days left me deeply scarred, so much so that when my Mom passed away I sought refuge elsewhere. I’d said goodbye to her the day before, as she slept in her hospital bed. I told her it was okay for her to go, we’d be all right.

That was a lie. I wasn’t at all sure that I and my siblings would be all right. We had not been anywhere near all right for years. Whenever we were together, there was a silence infused with rage. I never understood why one sibling, who controlled the other for most of their lives, seemed to hate me. Maybe I was uncontrollable. All I could do was seek refuge somewhere peaceful. In recent years, the bond between my older siblings has dissipated. The bullying took its toll and I’m glad the bullied one finally set boundaries. I now have a relationship with them, but I wouldn’t call it close. Still, it’s better than it was.

You are probably wondering why I’m being so vague about my siblings. Frankly, I don’t want to invite a lawsuit. I suppose many people who write memoirs have similar concerns. I waited until Mom died because her life and death were important parts of the story. My parents never encouraged us kids to resolve conflict, only to live our separate lives, and that’s what we’ve done. Mom would have been devastated (or maybe not?) at the story I tell.

I thought at different points of writing the memoir that it would help me heal, and to some extent it has. When I reef huge chunks from the book, I realize these events weren’t as important as I’d thought they were. I let go of those old conflicts. That’s therapeutic. The last chapter remains unwritten because I continue to live it. I’d love finish the book saying I healed myself from emotional diabetes, but that may be impossible, given the state of my pancreas. I’m trying to decide if emotional healing alone will give the reader satisfaction.

I fully understand the reluctance of publishers to take on a project written by a patient, not a doctor. But who better knows my body? The more I deal with doctors, the more I see they just want to put me in a familiar category and not listen to what I have to say. I did ask Gabor Maté if he’s write a foreword from my book. He did ask for an early draft when he interviewed me for his latest book, The Myth of Normal. But he’s very busy and unable to take on projects like this, he says. I believe him. I gave myself credit for asking — it was worth a shot.

So after much resistance stemming from vulnerability, I decided to push on with this blog. I notice that publishers do ask about social-media followings to show there’s an appetite for a book on a certain topic. Maybe I can create a significant following.

But now I’m thinking the blog itself will achieve what I’d hoped from the book — reach out to others who may be in the same boat as me and create a community focused on new ways to heal. How cool would that be to hear people say, “Hey, I (or a friend or family member) might have emotional diabetes too!”

At the very least, I’d like to connect with others who are interested in a new way of thinking about autoimmune diseases. There may be an emotional link of many. And they won’t need drugs to heal, but understanding and awareness. How cool is that?

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