Monday, October 5, 2015

You are not alone. Amy Ferris talks about SHADES OF BLUE, depression, hope, and why Facebook can make you fat--plus so much more

 Most people don't want to talk about it. Being blue. Thinking about suicide. Feeling lost and lonely. Yet, the only way we can help the situation, ourselves and others,  IS to talk about it, to make it known, to let people know they may be broken, but they are not alone, and that there is compassion and hope out there. That's why I am so honored to have Amy Ferris on the blog today, talking about her incredible anthology, Shades of Blue. Amy is one of the most fearless (and funny) women on the planet, (she's also the author of Marrying George Clooney: Confessions of a Midlife Crisis). Thank you a billion times, Amy.

I have always loved you for your courage and Shades of Blue is proof of that bravery. Society has a real stigma about mental illness and even about just being “blue,” but here, 35 writers (myself included) write candidly about mental health. How did you go about choosing which essays to put into the book? And what is your hope that this book can do?

I’ll start with my hope. My hope is that this book opens up a dialogue, a conversation. That it helps remove an awful stigma, and creates opportunities – many, many opportunities - for people to say out-loud: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I AM NOT ALONE.  Depression isn’t something you can will away, or hide, or push under the rug. If you really look at someone, and I mean really truly deeply look into someone’s eyes you can find the sadness, the hopelessness if it’s there.  Years ago I knew a woman – a film producer - a gorgeous badass high-powered woman. She wore head to toe Armani. And that’s what people saw: Armani, Prada, Power. But, if you looked at her, really into her eyes: you would see she was filled with sadness, unhappiness. Filled. And years later her life fell apart.  Piece by piece by piece. We spend millions on clothes, shoes, stuff… we tuck, and pull, and tighten but you can’t hide that kind of blue. You just can’t. I wanted to put together a collection of essays that were real - down and dirty – identifiable – pieces that connected the readers to the writers on a deep visceral level. Pieces that connected those dots.

When I first reached out to friends, writers, and contributors, the response was amazing. Hands went up, folks said yes – this was literally right after Robin Williams died – so, there was this huge massive sadness – shock - around his death, his suicide. And a huge desire to come out of that dark, lonely closet.  The Publisher and editor at Seal Press wanted very much to be involved in the process, to be included throughout. I had (and have) a wonderful relationship at Seal; they have published my other books, and I adore working with them. It was a very important, and timely issue/topic, and they wanted to get the book out within a year. What a huge, massive undertaking.  Twelve months to do an entire collection. One of challenges – and there were many within this huge undertaking  – was that a few of the essays that came in were very similar in story.  I had never thought of that – it never dawned on me that maybe a few essays, or more than a few, would be similar in tone, similar in experience. My editor - an extremely sassy and smart woman – came back to me, and said we need to cut a few. I was mortified. That meant that I needed to let a few of the writers (who I adore) know that their essays were not going to make the final cut. But at the end of the day, I can see the reasoning in that. Each essay in the book is so unique, original. No two pieces are alike.

Why do you think it is that while society can understand and show compassion towards someone with chronic asthma or diabetes, people tend to flinch back from even a whiff of mental illness? And how can we (besides this book) spread the word that yes, there can also be compassion—and hope—for those afflicted with deep blues?

We shun unhappy. Unhappy is not popular.  It’s not sexy. It’s scary. You can medicate someone with diabetes and asthma, plus – dare I say this - it’s a bit more hip to have asthma. People don’t whisper about it.  People whisper about depression, there’s a silence around it, a dirtiness surrounding it. With depression it’s a dialogue, a conversation, an afternoon, an evening, a phone call – many, many, many phone calls. Depression requires intimacy. It deserves intimacy. It’s about asking questions, getting to know someone’s life – the painful pieces of their life. It takes tremendous courage for someone to spill their heart, to share their sadness, their feelings, and their unhappiness. Depression is pain. It’s both physical and mental pain. And mental illness has often been associated with crazy, with homelessness. Failure. Loss. Instability.

Only recently – because so many famous, or beloved people have committed suicide – do we see up close that it’s non-discriminatory. Who would have thought that someone as beloved as Robin Williams would commit suicide, or L’Wren Scott (Mick Jagger’s girlfriend) would hang herself?  When a celebrity or famous person commits suicide, or overdoses, or comes out/speaks out about their deep depression – we pay attention. It hits us hard. We feel like we’ve lost a friend. It’s an odd phenomenon that we tend to have so much compassion – huge compassion - when a stranger dies, but not so much when someone right next to us is suffering. Maybe we think, believe that depression will spread like any other disease. Maybe we’re afraid if we get too close, we’ll catch it. The greatest thing we can do is talk about our unhappiness without shame or guilt, or fear of being shunned. To write our stories, to share our histories, our messy, complicated stunning lives.  There is so much power in that. Huge power. It builds community, trust - a safe place.

 It’s fascinating to me to see on Facebook how many commenters are thanking you again and again and again for producing this book, which clearly shows a need for a dialogue about suicide, depression, and mental illness.  And what is more amazing is that a book that might be misery inducing is actually shining with hope. Why do you think this is?

Oh, I think it’s simple – perfection isn’t inspiring – messy is. We’re all so messy, and messy is so underrated. When folks talk about their broken pieces, or their fucked-up lives, or their complicated relationships, or their mistakes - it fills others with hope.

 What was it like for you to edit this book—and to write your own essay on the subject? Did anything surprise you?

Editing the book was a real privilege. It was a privilege because each essay, story – life – was exposed.  There are so many facets to a human life, so many pieces, and I have to admit, it was astonishing to me that so many people I deeply admire and love – like you, Caroline – have gone through - and go - through deep pain. In editing the book, and reading each piece, I wanted desperately for each contributor’s voice to stay intact, to be read in the voice they wanted to be heard. My husband, Ken, is a great editor, and he was so instrumental in helping me with the process.  My own piece is the introduction. It was originally written (a part of it) as one of my morning posts on Facebook. I loved writing it, I appreciated that I was able to come out about my own suicide attempt when I was a young woman. A young, unhappy woman. What surprises me, truly, is how many people are deeply unhappy and sad. I want to help change that. And by change, I don’t mean take a wand and say, hey don’t be unhappy…but I mean, let’s talks about our pain, our lives, our struggles, our shame, our fears… that kind of dialogue reaps huge dividends. Huge. It saves lives.  

 What’s obsessing you now and why?

Estrangement is what I’m obsessing on now.  So many people – myself included – are estranged from their families. From their parents, their siblings, their children.  That’s a big obsession for me.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

How much weight have you gained this year sitting on your ass because you’re addicted to fucking Facebook? But you can ask me that one next time…

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