Linda Vigen Phillips offers insight, support during National Mental Health Month
South Charlotte resident Linda Vigen Phillips grew up writing poetry. She never imagined she would publish a young adult novel; but in October 2014, Phillips released her first book and is now using her personal experiences to help others during National Mental Health Month.
Phillips’ debut novel, “Crazy,” loosely chronicles her own experiences as a young girl growing up in Oregon in the 1960s with a mother suffering from bipolar disorder. The book’s protagonist, Laura, is a teenager whose mother has bipolar disorder but the young heroine relentlessly hides the truth from her friends and teachers due to the hush-hush culture of the 1960s. Her efforts only fuel her fear of following in her mother’s footsteps.
“The book is constructed as a year in Laura’s life,” Phillips said. “It goes through an entire year and is a composite of the years that I experienced with my mother. I revised it about five times and constantly had to step away from it personally to get more objective.”
The journey to writing and publishing the semi-autobiographical “Crazy” began about seven years ago. Phillips had a friend who, aware of her experiences growing up with a mother with bipolar disorder, encouraged her to write down her journey.
Phillips, who taught middle school at The John Crossland School, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for students with learning disabilities, began constructing “Crazy” on weekends, during the summer months and quiet hours of the night; she occasionally stayed up until 4 a.m. writing.
Phillips said her background in writing poetry helped her inaugural novel come together. The book sprang out of a collection of about 20 poems she put together over the years chronicling her journey.
“I didn’t set out to write this book,” she said. “I’ve always written poetry and that was my foundation. I would go into my room and write my heart out. When I became a young mother with my own kids, I started producing tons of poetry and I wrote about 20 loosely related to the issues I experienced growing up.”
Phillips said she hopes “Crazy” will initiate conversation about mental illness and relate to teenagers and adults affected by a loved one with mental illness.
The author said she remembers her mother’s bipolar episodes beginning when she was 5 years old but during the 1960s, it was considered faux pas to discuss such challenges.
“I just knew what she was going through as a series of breakdowns,” Phillips said. “She had most of her episodes between my age of 5 and 21. I was a confused kid and also a frightened child. I was afraid I was going to come down with it. But it was the silence era so you just swept it under the rug. We didn’t talk about it.”
As a retired educator, Phillips said her goal is to work “Crazy” into the classroom and teachers’ curriculum to encourage students to speak freely about mental health issues and not feel shame when it comes to discussing their experiences.
“I really hope I can continue to bring a dialogue into the classroom,” she said. “I want to make sure students know there is no shame in seeking help and that there is excellent medication out there these days.”
Since the book’s October debut, “Crazy” has been named a Junior Library Guild selection; New York Public Library Best Book for Teens 2014; Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year 2015; Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2015; among others.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with the reception,” Phillips said. “I think what’s meant the most to me is hearing peoples’ stories and people coming up to me thanking me for sharing mine. It’s really been wonderful.”
“Crazy” is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Park Road Books, located at 4139 Park Road in south Charlotte.