Some clarifications about my memoir, This Hunger Is Secret, and my dedication page to the patients of the Alcott Unit, Walden Behavioral Care

Some people are scared to buy my book, This Hunger Is Secret because they are scared it will be a “painful” book. This is a bunch of baloney. It’s a book like any other. It’s writing. Literature. Pain is a medical issue, or if someone has a personal gripe with me, this person should approach me directly.

This Hunger Is Secret is a beautifully written book.  It contains a lot of scenes and dialogue and description and the book is deeply spiritual.

I am aware that my book, This Hunger Is Secret uses the term, Mental Illness in the title. I am a believer in history and This Hunger Is Secret is a piece of my beloved history. I highly cherish my life and my memories. For decades, I used the term mentally ill to describe myself, and just because I now find this terminology offensive or other may be offended, doesn’t erase the fact that this history exists. This book is NOT antipsychiatry. It is a just a book. It’s an account.  That’s all.  It’s memoir, and it’s not “painful,” for chrissake.

I am now, since well after the book came out, OUT of the mental health system. I see no reason to change the manuscript to suit anyone’s whim, including my own.  At one point, I added a dedication page right before the paperback version came out. This was the additional dedication page. Know who I dedicated it to?

The Alcott patients. That’s right. Go look.  The Alcott Unit is at Walden Behavioral Care.  I love you all so much that it’s right in there.

And at the bottom, my instructions,

“Never, ever shut up.”

I want to make something very clear. I was rather determined to get that page in there. I traveled to London in the summer of 2012. Maybe you know this and maybe you don’t. I was there roughly a week. I met with my publisher. I was determined to get the paperback signed and off to the presses before…..

Yeah, I wanna tell you one thing. This was a Friday in July. I was there at the Chipmunka offices in London, at Canary Wharf, with Jason and his two top brass.  They told me, “Well, we don’t really have time, maybe you should return to the USA and we can do the signature via e-mail.”

But I knew better. There wasn’t going to be a “return to the USA,” was there?  I didn’t know what to say at that moment, how to convince them I needed to do this signing NOW. I had to. Otherwise, it would simply not be done.

This was Friday. My plan was to kill myself later, probably within hours, or by noon or so the next day I’d take the pills I had.  I felt like a jerk. Being pushy saying I really wanted to get this signature done in person….And dishonest, too. I usually slap myself for being too honest. Now, hiding the Big Truth….it seemed so fake. I hated myself because my publisher was so kind, really, to do this for me.

I signed those papers. The back cover ended up not having the blurb on it that I had intended, but that’s okay. The fact that it wasn’t the right one reflects my rush to get this done. For sure, had I not been rushed, I would have noticed. It hardly matters. I am me. I was REALLY NERVOUS!

But….done.

I went back to the hotel. I didn’t kill myself.

How I ended up at Alcott…it was all a joke and the staff provided precisely nothing, no care, no answers to anything. The other patients were great.  I begged those staff for help, though…I was sorely disappointed. I found that the other patients seemed to know more about ED than that staff, but the staff discouraged us from speaking directly about our eating disorders with each other. The whole imprisonment there was so ineffective for me.

Still, the whole time I was there, not one person knew about my planned and failed “suicide” in London. I did try to tell people but the staff made excuses not to talk to me, or walked out of the room saying they had a meeting or their pager went off or they were so, so bored with me…one even nodded off! The groups were places where we were treated like children.  There were just no answers at this “great” eating disorders hospital. The answers had to lie elsewhere…..

So I managed to get out of Alcott. It was my last day. I knew the paperback would soon come out. At least that. I wanted the patients to know how much I cared. So I decided to reveal that my dedication page was for them, for US.

I had no clue what would happen to me after I left Alcott. I didn’t have intent to harm myself, but then again, I had no clue if my eating disorder would wipe me off the map, either. So, I went into my Last Supper, which, in fact, was lunch at Alcott.

They were playing their usual lunchtime game: Trivial Pursuit.

I read to them my dedication page. I stood and read this page in front of everyone. But they didn’t stop their Trivia and listen. I tried to finish…The staff were rushing me out, telling me, “Are you done yet?” They weren’t even listening, far too bored.

I left what might have been my dying words, my instructions to the kids at Alcott,

“Never, ever shut up.”

Two years have passed. My little dog, Puzzle, is here with me.  I have with me in South America a copy of my paperback.  I brought with me the signs I carried to protests and to the NEDA walk where I stood outside as a nonparticipant. On these signs is that same slogan.  I brought little else.

What will authors do for that glowing review on Amazon?

I thought I’d bring this up because it affects us writers considerably.  All too often, on places like Amazon and other sites that provide reviews, we see one book or product that gets over-the-top, glowing reviews.  Many folks know to beware when they see this.  You do hear about authors that get all their friends and family to review their book.  Sometimes, you can tell if this is being done.  Other times, the authors themselves will put up reviews of their own books under a different username using a different IP address.  Companies that sell products that you buy again and again, such as vitamins or fad diet pills, often nag at their customers repeatedly, telling them they can buy the product again at a discount if only they will write a review. They tell you any review will do, but this is to cover their hides.  They know that the customers that hated their product don’t have incentive to write a review, because they don’t want another bottle. This  certainly tips the scales toward glowing, positive reviews.

Isn’t it funny how the company will get on there and respond?  My feelings are mixed about this.  I’ve even seen authors get onto their own reviews and thank the reader, possibly even asking specific questions. All well and good. But often I also see the company defending the product and disqualifying any negative review.  Maybe they say, “You didn’t give it a chance,” or, “This was your fault for not contacting us.”  Wow.

Sure, I’ve thought of doing similar bribery myself, but changed my mind quickly.  Those of you who have been around my blog a while know that the first review on Amazon of This Hunger Is Secret turned out to be a one-star review. It sat there for what seemed like forever until someone finally balanced it out.  I thought I would tear my hair out thinking of it, to be honest.  I knew folks would see the one star and go no further, not even knowing that this particular reviewer gave every book she reviewed one star or two.

What to do? Where the heck were my Goddard classmates in all this? Of course, we speak of this often in the writing world. Where do your friends go, even your writer friends, when it comes to giving that kind of support?  Are they worried that as writers, it might make them look bad?  Is anyone even buying or reading the book or is it collecting dust on the electronic shelves?

I do know that my Goddard colleagues are an excellent bunch.  Everyone who went there wrote amazing work.  I am always in awe of the writings that were coming out of our school. Whatever made our director choose who would be accepted, I have no clue, but he chose well.  The caliber of students there was exceptional.  Whenever you saw someone lacking in enthusiasm, they’d take a break and more often than not, return to Goddard when the “life that had gotten in the way” was settled, with amazing renewed enthusiasm. This was truly exciting to see.  I have no clue if this is true of graduate-level schooling itself, or if this vibrancy was a Goddard thing or low-res thing.

At any rate, the fact that my eating disorder for the longest time took over my life certainly put a damper on the way others saw me. My Goddard friends, on a whole, stuck around, but a few I fell away or got extremely fed up.  This will happen wherever you go anyway, even at the most supportive places.

I don’t think this has much to do with the lack of reviews.  Or maybe it does.  One day, I told myself that since everyone on the planet hated me, I would have to resort to bribery. I went to Starbucks and bought a gift card.  I put money on it.  The plan was to go to one of those very supportive Facebook pages and post that I would send anyone that card if they’d purchase This Hunger Is Secret and write a review on Amazon.

That gift card is still sitting on my shelf. It’s been many months now.  I never posted the offer. I don’t plan to.

I don’t need to bribe people to write reviews, just the same as I don’t want to bribe anyone to be my friend. You bet it gets lonely sometimes and I am tempted to tell people I’ll give them some material reward just for that darned phone call or time spent with me over coffee.  It’s so sad that it has come to this.

No, I won’t be a prostitute. You like me or you don’t like me and that’s up to you.  I give things away for free more than most writers, and that’s my choice.  Others may not wish to give their writing away for professional reasons.  It’s okay with me whatever a person chooses, and others don’t have to be like me.

Being a writer is so cool anyway. I find writing to be so satisfying in itself that I really need no more than that.