I’ve been trying to find a way to connect with readers and introduce myself, so a blog is the best way. I’m Deidre Robinson, a native of Philly. Yes, that’s the official pronunciation when you’re from PA. (We’ll get into how we can say Passyunk and Schuylkill later.) I’m an ‘Elder Millennial’ living my dream as an author and an adjunct professor/instructor of English whenever possible. Clearly, my passion is writing. But it didn’t start out that way. As it’s World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to share how my own experience with mental illness paved the way to me eventually writing a book.
Like my main character, Savannah, I was in a downward spiral in my life many years ago. I was married, obese, and diagnosed with Bipolar Type I Disorder and PTSD. I’d managed to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Temple University, but that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I’d met and married a woman about three years later because our friends wanted us to. It was really to begin some class action lawsuit in the state of Pennsylvania to help get same-sex marriage legalized, not because we were in love. I’d been taking too many days off from work because I’d have panic attacks on the commute. Nervous breakdowns had happened more than once until my wife at the time told me to go to therapy or she was gone.
When I started therapy, I hadn’t written anything since my last research paper as an undergraduate student. My therapist told me to write a letter to get out my hurt, pain, and anger. After the four-and-a-half-page letter, I started journaling to untangle my thoughts and feelings. A few years later when my grandmother was in her final days in 2013, a friend had been asking me to write her an erotica story of all things and kept asking for the continuation. What happens next, she kept asking. I created Savannah within the confines of that story.
This friend, finally satisfied with what happened to the characters in the story that ended up becoming 30 chapters, told me she wanted me to realize that I could write a novel instead of just short stories. As empowered as I was to hear this over the phone, it was the last night my grandmother would speak her infamous words, ‘forever and one day”, which was how she ended our usual ‘I love you’ exchange. Those were the last words she spoke before taking her final breath the following evening with my aunt and uncle keeping a watchful eye over her.
Once she passed, I knew it was time for the new beginning I had been working toward for years in therapy. I also knew that Grandmom expected me to do great things because she loved to read and was a great storyteller. Therefore, I felt it was only natural that I work through my grief over her death and take the coping tools I’d learned in therapy to honor her and begin anew.
About a year later, I decided to begin writing with Savannah as the focal point while shedding my hurt, pain, anger, and grief about my own decisions in life. Writing helped me to make some much-needed changes as far as my diet, get a divorce, and go to the college I’d been told in high school I was a perfect fit for to pursue my MFA in Writing. It was important for me to study the craft of writing because my grandmother’s storytelling, even with repeated stories, had that element of helping the listener learn something. Often, her stories were nuanced with what she did not say that required you to unlock the key to the wisdom she was freely passing along to those open to receive.
Not only did I want to pass down some of the lessons that Grandmom taught me through the power of storytelling, but I also wanted to help others who might have felt like I did once upon a time. You never have to feel as though you are limited in your choices. You are limitless. You can make new choices. Everything is temporary, even feeling stuck.