Today I am very excited to be hosting a stop on the 'Through The Withering Storm' tour as well as a great interview by author Leif Gregerson.
Book OverviewThrough the Withering Storm: A Brief History of a Mental Illness is the autobiography of a boy who becomes a man in a cold and seemingly impossible world. This book, with foreword by prominent psychiatrist Dr. Brian Bishop, takes the reader through the true life horror of growing up mentally ill. The author shows us what it is like to juggle school, a dysfunctional family, a ‘career’ as an Air Cadet and all the emotions and troubles that come with adolescence – until genetics throws in a curve ball and the worst imaginable happens.
This book also takes the reader inside the hallways and chambers of a hospital treating the violent, criminal and institutionalized in a place built for ‘shell-shocked’ World War I veterans.
As with many illnesses, there is denial and the struggle doesn’t end in these halls. Despite delusions, fights, arrests, reprisals and being institutionalized, years are wasted fighting treatment and refusing medications.
From the cold and frozen north country of Alberta, through the Rocky Mountains and coastal cities of Vancouver and Los Angeles, the author constantly struggles to shake off the demons that haunt him. He loses friends and possessions, becomes estranged from his family and relinquishes every shred of dignity. Each time he is beaten down, he struggles back to find a small piece of sanity, just enough to keep him going. Finally, with acceptance of his illness, comes treatment and peace.
For any parent or caregiver living with a troubled teenager, this book provides valuable insight into the behaviours of mentally ill youth. For others, such as healthcare professionals, family members or those that suspect they may have an illness themselves, this book sheds light on the symptoms of being bipolar and the all-too-common journey through madness.
Ultimately, this work demonstrates how precious and precarious our lives and relationships are. In the profound words of Dylan Thomas, this book simply says to all who open it and take part in the tragedy that is the human condition, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
What’s one of the most surprising things you learnt about yourself while writing this book?
What I learned was that despite that I had a genetic condition and despite that I had no control over my actions, good or bad, I had to own up to the fact that I had a problem that needed to be dealt with. I had to accept that friends I lost when I was very sick are friends that don’t now and maybe never will understand, and likely they will never be my friends again.
What was your inspiration behind writing ‘Through the Withering Storm’?I often like to say I wrote the book to help others understand the illness better, but that isn’t 100% why I did it. A good part of it was that I wanted to be a writer and since I hadn’t written anything yet, I thought the best way to start was to write about myself. The book began as short stories that I polished up and tinkered with and added to here and there. When I was younger I was angry, depressed and bitter a lot and in some ways I thought I was writing to take my problems out on others, like my parents who had me arrested, took away all my property, sold my three cars and such. I also wanted people to read the book and see me as more than just the crazy person everyone talked about for 3 months in my old high school and never saw again. In the end though, I haven’t been nearly so bitter or vindictive in many years. What I really like is when a person who looks sad or worn out comes up to a table I am signing books at and says, “my ex-husband is Bipolar.” “My daughter was Bipolar and she killed herself.” I find it really hard to be that self-centred and bitter youth and think that here is one person that could really be helped with this book. There were times when I even gave a free copy to people in that situation.
What's one piece of advice you would give other aspiring authors?Choose a genre and choose it before you sit down to even learn about writing. Whatever I have done will not work for most because I have the ability to learn things by myself. I began writing poems and journals, I read every book I could get, I hoarded books. To a writer still young or especially in junior or senior high, take advantage of the tools offered you in school. Above all, take typing, take business, take art. Do well in school, if there is no fund put away for you, shoot for a scholarship but don’t be disappointed if you don’t go to College. Spend that time working as little as you can get away with and reading and writing as much as you possibly can. If school is over, and you don’t want to go back, get an itunes account and take the free courses they offer there, and listen to the podcasts. I know Youtube has some free writing courses because I put a three part course for new writers on there myself. I have taken many courses from various places, but the old, simple rules you learn in grade ten on how to write an essay apply: Start with an outline, put as much detail in it as possible. Research your topic and try and figure out the best time and best place you can work in, then set a schedule. Write five or six days a week for maybe an hour or two, you can work more or less, but remember that the average book is around 60,000 to 100,000 words so try and shoot for a number of words you are comfortable and don’t get up until you have written them. To overcome writer’s block, what works for me is reading and editing what I wrote the day before, it eases you into the whole process, and if you have a well-written outline your word count should be a breeze. When finished, take a week or two and just do what you like to do… take a short trip and stay in a Youth Hostel. Spend some time reading the books you have been wanting to read. Then go back and go through your whole piece of work with a fine-toothed comb. Now you are ready. Ready to BEGIN. Hopefully you have some savings because you are about to do the hardest part-you need to have your work professionally edited, and not by the lowest bidder. Get a Professional, it may cost you up to $2,000 but your book has no hope unless you do it. There is so much more to say, but if you get to that point and you are ready to take the next step, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I am more than happy to help fellow writers. If response is sufficient, I will make some podcasts on the topic and post them at my website, www.valhallabooks.com
Do you have one particular special ‘writing place’ or are you fortunate enough to be able to write anywhere?When I wrote “Green Mountain Road” my entire first draft was penned in a 24 hour MacDonald’s between 12 midnight and 2 am over the course of a month. I had the guarantee of a clean surface to work from, free-flowing coffee and that all-important separation of bed and work. Now, as I don’t have a car, I do my writing on the dining room table which my roommates generously allow me to cover in papers and my camera and my copy of “2013 Writer’s Market” and of course, my MacBook Air. No matter where I am in the house if I get an idea that needs to go on paper, I head for my MacBook Air, which, though it is a laptop, has never really left my house, and barely left the table.
What’s one thing that many people wouldn’t know about you?I studied meditation under a real Tibetan Monk for a couple of years and when I was younger I considered becoming a professional pool player.
Do you have any new works in the pipeline which you care to share any details about?I read a very wise piece of advice that said, “Books that people talk about mostly don’t get written.” I am working on something, but it is stalled for now.
Do you have any pets?No living pets. One pet I think about and talk about a lot is the cat we had in the house I grew up in, he was incredible, he actually would display some emotions that were like human emotions, but there are no humans that are that kind and non-judgemental. In the evening he would spend a little time with each of us as we sat and watched TV, then he would visit my Mom and often we would put our hands under the comforter on my parent’s bed and ‘pop’ up our hands and he would jump at the little hill like he was chasing a mouse. After that, he would go to my sister’s room (my brother and I shared a room, my parents shared a room, only my sister didn’t have anyone else in her room) and spend the night in her bed. Our cat’s name was Lilleven, which is Danish for little friend. He was unforgettable.
If there is one main point you’d like people to walk away remembering after reading your book, what would it be?Again, there are two sides to my answer. One side is I would like people to see what I went through and try and understand that when you encounter a mentally ill person you should treat them like anyone else, and the other side of it would be, I like this writer, he shows promise, and that they trust me enough to buy my second book, also available on amazon.com called “Green Mountain Road and Selected Stories”.
About the Author: Leif GregersenI grew up somewhat isolated from the harsher forces of the world in St. Albert, a small town just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. Most of my younger years were filled with images of very happy times – trips everywhere from California to Copenhagen, constant school successes and football games in the field near my house that seemed to last forever.
But all was not okay. There were times when my father would discipline me severely or I would come home to find an ambulance in our backyard taking my mother to the hospital for yet another suicide attempt. Although I knew that depression ran in our family, I had no clue of the fearsome beast that was growing inside me.
At that time, I was more concerned about my growing collection of comic books, bought with money my sister would give me for doing her dishes or earned as a bean-picker or weed- puller on a farm not far from town. To be able to buy more comics, I even lied about my age to get a paper route and picked up more money by shoveling walks that hadn’t been done on the route.
Somewhere after the end of elementary school, there was a profound shift. It seemed the wind ran out of my sails and the transition to junior high was not a smooth one. I gave up on sports and I began to hate school and the people in it.
The remaining school years became a painful, out-of-control descent into madness. Gripped by mental illness, my thoughts, actions and behaviours became increasingly bizarre. My world became a true life horror movie of growing up mentally ill. Despite delusions, fights, arrests, reprisals and being institutionalized, years were wasted fighting any form of treatment, denying the illness and refusing medications.
Fortunately, for the past 15 years, my life has stabilized. I have accepted treatment and medications. Today, I have steady work and can afford some of the things I only dreamed of before. My computers, my 1994 VW Golf, a decent apartment and, above all, my books. From the age of three, my father exposed me to literature of the highest quality. Today, he is a much kinder, gentler and alcohol-free 72 year-old. I have him to thank for my passion to read and write.