Debra Whittam is a licensed, practicing mental health therapist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who specializes in addiction, anxiety and depression, grief and loss. Whittam is passionate about her work in all areas of her specialties, especially addiction. Working in a detox unit for over three years before beginning her own private practice, Whittam realized, while counseling patients in the life and death arena of the detox unit, how much the loss of a beloved through death or a relationship impacted those struggling with addiction.
In this memoir, Whittam skillfully infuses her memories, stories and professional insights to remind us that the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. She splits her time between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and Paris, France. Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is her first book.
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About the Book:
Am I Going To Be Okay? is an American story with a universal message. Ms. Whittam traces her history in the form of stories about her all too human, and sometimes unhinged family; she throws a rope to the little girl living there, and in adulthood, is able to pull her out to safety, bit by bit.
Her history is peopled with folks from a different time, a time before therapy was acceptable, 12 steps unimaginable and harsh words, backhands and even harsher silences can be spun to appear almost normal. She writes of a mother who would not or could not initiate love nor give it without condition, and a father, damn near heroic at times, abusive at others, a survivor with his head down and his sleeves rolled up.
Ms. Whittam approaches her past with the clear-eyed tough but sensitive objectivity necessary to untangle the shame from the source. She speaks of the people that affected her life so deeply with an understanding of their time and place in American culture; a family not far removed from immigrant roots when men carried their own water, emoted misplaced anger, and with fresh socks and food found on the trail, were confident, unflinching and at that same time tragical- ly failing to the little ones they ignored.
Like many of us, details notwithstanding, Whittam responded by numbing, running and gunning. Alcohol gave her hope, soothed a crushed soul for a time and wrecked her on a train, until finally she had the courage to accept it wasn’t working for her anymore. It was time to stop drinking and take inventory and accountability. It was time to accept, forgive and move forward. She healed where she was broken.
It is in the telling of this story that Whittam teaches us the difference between just surviving and surviving well, the importance of shared introspection and a careful eye on the wake we leave behind in our actions. Her story is a guide to surviving abuse and addiction. It is also about witnessing and dealing with the shrinking faculties of aging parents in the unavoidable circle of life. Finally, she offers a realistic sense of hope, forgiveness and a life we can shake hands with.
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- Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Debra. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
DW: This is my very first book ever written and the first time I am published.
Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?
DW: I was put in touch with a wonderful editor/publisher, Judi Moreo, who lives in Henderson. NV. She asked me to send the first chapter, The Driving Lesson, she read it within the next few hours during a very busy time, called me back that very night and said she loved it! Judi said, “Send me the entire manuscript.” Which I did. She agreed to take me on immediately and we have not stopped working together since. That was back in June of 2015.
Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?
DW: Well, since Judi and I began the editing process together with my intention of having her publish my book through her publishing company, Turning Point International, we began the editing process straight away from that June conversation and went to print in late December of 2015.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
DW: I am still in disbelief from that fact that Judi thought my manuscript was a really good one! I had set it aside as a really bad book report for a few months so it’s very hard to go from that to an editor loving it from the beginning. My one friend who read my Final Manuscript (#12!) said to him it’s “A Self Help Book Written By A Life.” So I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that this book is one that is hard to put down, as has been said by many readers, and may be very helpful to those struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction and grief. Which I believe all go together.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
DW: Judi has provided me with all of the knowledge and resources she has available to her from the writing of her own books. This interview I’m doing now with you is from the Virtual Book Publicity Tour that I purchased. I believe this is the best way to go for me in order to reach the most people and share my story as well as what I have to offer through my website: www.debrawhittam.com. Through my website there are weekly blogs, a monthly newsletter to subscribe to, daily quotes for meditation and a place for individuals to go to share their own stories and no longer stay silent about mental illness (anxiety and depression) addiction (drugs, alcohol, eating/not eating, spending, sexing and gambling as well as sharing unacknowledged grief that I believe is underneath all of the struggles. We have been taught from early on in many families to never talk about these things that impact everyhuman being on this earth.
Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?
DW: The growth I see with me now is the continued courage to speak up for those of us who struggle with these life issues and to KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT!
My monthly Newsletter is called “Let’s Keep Talking About It!” I have a sequel to this book as well as a journal/notebook planned within the next year. As well as another book entirely about relationships between men and woman in today’s society; on average do they work or not?
Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?
DW: What I see happening in the publishing industry is how ‘self’ promoting it seems to be. I mean so many people self publish or go to Amazon and do it all there. For my first experience I needed a guide, I needed to have someone show me every inch of the writing, editing and be thorough about it. I am grateful to not have done this journey on my own. The promotion is the most difficult part of the entire process for me. Now I see how it works, for the most part, but in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how I could get my book out there to make a difference.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?
DW: The most rewarding part for me is to see that the inner message I had of self-doubt and the ‘censors’ in my brain telling me to stop dreaming and get down to doing something ‘sensible’ is all horse hooey! The ‘am I good enough’ part of all of us screamed at me constantly throughout the process even with Judi’s amazing guidance. I am rewarded that I had the courage and bravery to do it anyway. It’s rewarding to hear from my readers that “Am I Going To Be Okay? is a question they have asked themselves for years and now they have hope in knowing they are not alone. None of us are. We stay stuck in fear that the piece of fear nonsense is true.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
DW: Well, as the last question brought up my fervor of encouraging anyone to do it anyway, I believe it is our own self-doubt or the doubt of others that has gotten in our way. We know if we are writers since the time when we loved the smell of paper and the flow of the pen.