My first book memory
I remember my mother reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “The Shadow,” from a Little Golden Book. It was 1958. We lived in a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where my parents owned a floral shop.
Eventually, I would lose my mother, as I knew her, to schizophrenia.
Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and David Copperfield became my lifelines in a household that was often chaotic and lonely. I went to the library a lot. I fell in love with Paul McCartney.
Every evening we watched the Vietnam War on The Huntley-Brinkley Report. In 1966, the Hough Avenue riots erupted nearby. In 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. In 1970, four students were killed in an antiwar demonstration at Kent State.
I kept reading.
Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was our class song in high school. In college, I majored in English, minored in journalism, and edited the college literary magazine. Though communications was my field, I neither wrote nor spoke about the secret that was central to my life – my family’s experience with mental illness.
My brilliant career
After I graduated in 1977, I wanted to make books and see something of the world, so I moved to New York City, which was recovering from Son of Sam and a massive blackout. Rocky, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and Saturday Night Fever were the hit movies.
I became an editor at Franklin Watts, a leading publisher of school and library books (now an imprint of Scholastic.) Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were introducing Apple computers to the world, but I still pecked away on an electric typewriter at the office.
By the 1980′s, book publishing was still print-bound, and video was becoming the next big thing. I went back to school for a master’s degree in telecommunications and became a media producer for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York.
While I was at Kodak, I met my husband and subsequently combined a career in marketing communications with raising a family.
By this time, families with mentally ill loved ones, as well as brave individuals who suffered from mental illness, had begun speaking and writing about their experiences. I discovered E. Fuller Torrey’s Surviving Schizophrenia, an enlightened book that changed my life.
Torrey, a physician and researcher, tells the fascinating story of a baffling brain disease and urges readers to look beyond the stigma of mental illness.
His book led me to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). I found out I wasn’t alone. Many families are touched by mental illness. I began sharing my experiences with others. I produced and managed media campaigns for the state and local chapters of NAMI, served on the local board of directors, and was honored for exceptional public awareness efforts by NAMI New York State.
Becoming a librarian. Writing.
I returned to school for a master’s in library science. As a medical librarian, I guide health care providers, medical students, researches, patients and families to the best medical and health information. Perhaps research in psychiatry, neurology, genetics, and related fields will lead to a cure for serious mental illnesses someday. I’d like to do what I can to make that day come sooner, rather than later.
I enjoy talking about books and authors that are personally meaningful. If you have your own Books Can Save a Life story and you’d like to see about sharing it, contact me at valoriegracehallinan [at] gmail [dot] com.