Gayle Brandeis wrote the book The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide. The book was published in hardcover in 2017 and in paperback on Oct. 16. Brandeis has been on tour for the book and took time to speak with the RN&R.
Tell me about your recent speaking engagements.
I just spoke at the [University of California, Los Angeles] Conference on Art, Neuroscience and Psychiatry, which was really fascinating. … I was able to be on a panel with the fellow who creates languages for Game of Thrones and other TV shows, as well as a neuroscientist who was talking about language in the brain, and a mystery writer who was talking about creating the minds of his characters. … I’m speaking at Yale next week, which is kind of wild to me. I never imagined myself speaking at Yale.
I feel like you took your time. It’s eight years since your mom’s death.
Yes, I knew that I would have to write about her death to be able to process it. I’ve been writing since I was 4 years old. And writing has always been how I’ve made the most sense of the world and myself. So I knew writing was going to be an important part of my healing process—my grieving process. It took a while to be ready to write this story just because it was the most painful thing I ever experienced, plus my mom died one week after I gave birth. So I was dealing with all of the postpartum stuff—not sleeping, you know, deep in grief. It was hard to find time to write at all, much less about this traumatic experience.
Did you wait years or begin writing and then take many years to finish?
I started in bits and pieces early on, where I would write scenes as they came to me or as they were weighing heavily on my heart. I found that if I wrote those scenes down, I could release them. I would just jot a few things down here and there, but it wasn’t until about five years after my mom’s death that I felt really ready to dive into the hardest parts of the story and to fully commit to writing the book.
You’re brutally honest. You don’t brush over your own uncharitable thoughts about your mom, which I suppose would be tempting.
It was so important to me to be honest, because I spent a lot of my early years holding so much inside and not being truthful about how I was feeling. I just felt ready. I just felt like I needed to lay it all out on the page. And I was given permission from a lot of other writers who are brutally honest on the page. … I thought if I’m going to be asking questions of my mom and looking at her in a perhaps critical way, I need to do that to myself as well. I can’t gloss over my own darkness, my own pain, my own bad decisions. I had to face those head-on as well. I just gave myself that permission to be brutally honest. I told myself, as I was writing the first draft, that no one was ever going to read it. When I thought about readers … I would get nervous. I knew that I had to write it, just for my own process.