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Actively Fighting For My Life

Author Interview
Tricia Stafford and Annie Stafford Author Interview

The Apparition is a memoir that charts your journey through the mental health system while providing information and research on various aspects of mental illness, particularly hearing voices. Why was this an important book for you to write?

Tricia: I wanted to lend dignity to people who suffer from extreme mental health challenges. There’s a tremendous amount of shame attached to this kind of suffering, and, as a result, we would rather push it away than admit it to anyone. I wanted to bring the topic down to a very personal, down-to-earth, relatable-to-some level. The educational components of the book are meant to provide at least a primer on the various manifestations of mental illness. Although the reverberations between my own mental health and my daughter’s originally compelled me to write the first part of the book, which took many years, in the end it was the hearing voices population that propelled me to action, the poignancy of their pain that urged me to go public. I wanted to do something for the people who were so distressed by their voices that living a “normal” life was a battle. I wanted to help humanize the phenomenon. I have been aided by the honesty and sincerity of so many writers along the way, and I wanted to contribute, in my small way, to that same body of literature.

Annie: While my mother is the primary author, it was important for me to contribute to this book because the experience of hearing voices is still so misunderstood within the traditional mental health system. I felt compelled to share my journey, both with hearing voices and other mental health challenges, in hopes that others may connect with some pieces and feel less alone in their own struggles. Ultimately, it felt important for my experiences not to have been in vain, but to use them to propel some semblance of change.

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

Tricia: The personal challenges I wrote about were not things I was eager to share, so none of that was easy. I wondered how family members would react to me knowing these things, and I thought it would be strange for people I knew to suddenly know these most intimate details about me. Would I be straining the relationships in my life? Would I offend anyone or put them off? I have always been an extremely private, introverted person, and it goes against the grain for me to be so public. But I am far along in life now and have the long-view perspective of wanting to contribute something to our greater understanding of mental illness, as well as make meaning of my own experiences.

What I worried about most, though, was possibly causing further damage to my daughter. I did not want her to feel bad about herself in any way. Parts of the story, I knew, would be hard for her to review, but she trusted that I was not out to write an account of “gory details” and I tried hard to honor that trust. On the other hand, she was fully onboard throughout the process, and I was grateful for her contributions.

Annie: The hardest portion for me to write was my ending piece, which details where I am in my life now. During this time, I was actively fighting for my life. It was painful to capture these experiences in brutal honesty. But as difficult as it was, the act of writing helped me to hang on and keep fighting.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is hesitant to seek treatment for their mental health issue?

Tricia: I would try to remind that person that there are times when the weight of our problems is simply too much to bear on our own. I understand the shame one can feel about reaching out for help. I wish that I had not felt that so acutely in my own life, but I did. I think I would have suffered far less if I had allowed myself to be more human and admit I had problems. Not only is there no shame in seeking treatment, but it is equivalent to accessing medical treatment for any debilitating physical condition. Treatment can enable us to look at the problem and set things right, or at least on a better course. Simply put, reaching out for help has the potential to be lifesaving.

Annie: To someone who is hesitant to seek treatment for a mental health issue I would say that you should not have to suffer alone – you deserve support. While it may take time to find treatment that is the right fit for you, do not give up. It takes immense courage to reach out for help, but what lies on the other side could be transformational.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your book?

Tricia: I hope that readers learn something about the different ways the mind can respond to chronic stress. I also hope they develop an appreciation for the complexity of their inner lives and see the detriment of sweeping difficult emotions under the rug. For example, if they feel particularly troubled by a problem which causes them to repeatedly stumble, perhaps they can do something about it. As mentioned in the book, in my own life social anxiety was a particular scourge. Although I was a pretty good student, I dreaded the classroom environment because of the stress it caused me. I wished I could have spoken up when I was a young person, but I did not know how, nor did I have the strength or courage to do that. Perhaps in the future, knowing how hard it is for people to admit they suffer from social anxiety, students could be screened for it and offered a more comfortable learning environment. We have made great strides in the school system with other learning differences, and perhaps this could be another one we learn to accommodate. I also hope readers take away the knowledge that listening deeply and with compassion to someone who is struggling goes a long way toward easing their pain and discomfort.

Annie: What I hope readers take away from the book is the power of unconditional love. My mother’s love made more of a difference in my healing than any service or medication ever could. When I lost hope, she held that hope for me. Unwavering, consistent love is one of the few forces that can transcend even the most difficult of mental health conditions. I wish this kind of love for everyone.

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

When Tricia Stafford’s seven-year-old daughter Annie suffered incapacitating anxiety after a traumatic encounter with a Catholic nun, she had no idea that it was just the beginning of more serious mental health struggles – for both her and her daughter.

While Annie battled OCD and depression, Tricia’s own history of anxiety re-emerged and led to an emotional breakdown. At age twelve, Annie also began hearing voices, but in 2012 they met Ron Coleman, an activist in the Hearing Voices Movement, who offered them a new kind of hope.

This deeply personal account charts their long journey through the mental health system, while weaving in relevant information and research on various aspects of mental illness, particularly, hearing voices. In sharing her story, Stafford shines a light on our country’s mental health crisis and challenges us all to seek a better understanding of, and more compassionate treatment for, those suffering from any form of mental illness.

The Apparition

A reckoning with madness in the true sense of the word. This book gives a very personal account of Stafford and her daughter’s experience of mental health issues as the duo traverse across uncharted territories together, trying to understand their trauma and proactively working towards healing, continuously seeking alternative treatment methods and support systems while constantly battling some of the most debilitating physical conditions. It recounts the numerous ordeals that they faced and exposes us to the tumultuous world of voice hearers. To that effect, it is both inspiring and informative, encouraging readers to visualize the amount of emotional stress Annie or any person who hears voices has to endure on a daily basis.

To say the narrative follows a chronological order or has a linear timeline would be limiting, because this book is anything but a series of events highlighted one after the other. In fact, it is sometimes akin to a research paper in how it makes references to literature on and around the subject of mental illness, hearing voices or suicidal ideation, etc. Other times it flows with the melancholic drift and confessional tone of an autobiography or memoir as it closely retells the lived experiences of the mother and daughter, almost reminiscent of a survivor’s tale.

What is particularly interesting to note is the conviction with which the mother supports her daughter and never fails to believe in her overall potential to overcome these challenges. Her honesty and candor makes the book humane and more accessible instead of painting their struggles as an isolating experience. She single-handedly becomes the stability Annie craves, the solid ground for her to stay anchored to when everything else convinces her she is crazy. Stafford tells her daughter’s story with immense empathy and a subtle pride, evoking in us in turn a sense of compassion, understanding and awe.

Although painfully fragmented, Annie’s voice still rings clear through the extracts her mother deftly curated and dispersed throughout the length of the work. Albeit some parts of the book where the topic veered into religion, theology or mysterious spiritual awakenings, the narrative sometimes seemed disordered yet there is much in this book that is eye-opening.

Pages: 242 | ASIN: B0BL1CSCJX

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