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December 7, 2012

Friday Fun with Terri Morgan


Terri Morgan joins us today with an interview with Ayla "Ava" Swarthout/Caitlin Kane, the fictional author of the memoir Playing the Genetic Lottery. 

TM: Your story of growing up with two schizophrenic parents is a very personal tale of an unconventional childhood. Many people are ashamed to admit there is anyone in their family who is mentally ill. Why did you decide to tell your story?

Caitlin: I did for a couple of reason. First off, I was trying to come to terms with my life, and writing about it was a great way for me to do that. Obviously, my childhood was pretty traumatic. Even without the house fire and the car crash, there was a lot of drama and dysfunction in my childhood. As a mother raising two children of my own, I wanted to process my life so I could put a lot of the baggage behind me and become the best mother possible.

Secondly, I think it's time for mental illness to come out of the closet, so to speak. My parents didn't ask for the disease. They didn't want to get sick, and it's not fair that they are. Life is a struggle for them. Despite their illnesses and challenges, they're my parents and I love them. It makes me angry when I see people ignore them, or worse, make fun of them. I wanted people to know that mentally ill people deserve to be respected, like anyone else.

TM: Speaking of angry, you were an angry kid.

Caitlin: You're darn right I was. Moving constantly, always switching schools, having parents who acted weirdly, being afraid to make friends because they might want to come to my house. Not to mention the turmoil of never knowing what kind of mood my folks would be in. You'd be angry, too.

TM: How did you stop being so angry?

Caitlin: It must have been those 'damn right I'm pissed' classes I was sentenced to in middle school. Just kidding. I stopped being so angry when I learned more about schizophrenia and that my parents behaved the way they did because they are ill through no fault of their own. I have a lot of good people in my life, like my grandparents, aunt, uncles, cousins, and my husband Jason of course. They've all helped me to appreciate the good things in life. My extended family also showed me, through their examples, how to cope with the impacts of having relatives who are mentally ill. Sure, my grandparents wished our family hadn't been touched by mental illness. But they accepted it, and it didn't change how much they loved my parents. It also helped that I had a couple of insightful counselors who helped me recognize the roots of my anger and understand what was really upsetting me.

TM: You've come a long way since your childhood and learned a lot about schizophrenia, which as you point out, tends to run in families. Even though you know that the chances of developing the disease yourself is very slim because you're in your 30s, you are still afraid. Why?

Caitlin: I think there are just some fears you can't recover from, or at least I can't. From my support group I've learned that a lot of other people who have schizophrenic parents share my fear. I think it's because children learn so much about the world and how to behave from their parents. When one or both of your parents is mentally ill, that's what you see at home. Even though I know that I'm past the age when schizophrenia tends to develop, it's a fear I just can't shake. Especially since I have children. I would hate for them to have to grow up with a schizophrenic mother. And I'm worried, since the disease has a hereditary component, that one or both of my kids may end up with it. That worry, I think, helps reinforce my own fears about getting sick myself.

TM: Do you have any advice for people in similar situations?

Caitlin: Read my book! And take advantage of the help that is out there, like organizations like the National Alliance on Mentally Illness, which is also known as NAMI. There are local NAMI chapters all across the country. People can find one near them, and learn a lot about the resources available for families by going to www.nami.org. Learn as much as you can about mental illness, because knowledge is power. Participate in support groups. Just knowing there were others going through similar experiences was a great comfort to me. Their stories helped to validate my experiences and let me know I wasn't alone.

About the Author:

Terri Morgan is a book junkie and freelance writer from Soquel, California. She reads at least 3 books a week, and gets nervous if she doesn't have new reading material available. When not reading, she is often found writing. Over the past three decades, her work has appeared in hundreds of different magazines, newspapers, newsletters and on websites. The author of 4 non-fiction books for young adults, and the co-author of four additional non-fiction volumes, Terri released her first novel, Playing the Genetic Lottery, as an e-book in late 2011. Now, Playing the Genetic Lottery is also available in paperback. From Goodreads.com
Find Playing the Genetic Lottery at Goodreads, Amazon, and IndieBound.

The views, beliefs, and opinions expressed by guest post authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views, beliefs, or opinions of Girl Who Reads. Girl Who Reads is an advertising affiliate with Amazon and IndieBound; a small fee is earned when purchases are made using the above links.


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