Twenty Four Shadows … a review

A very long time ago (over ten years now), I read ‘Tell Me Your Dreams’ by Sidney Sheldon. It is based on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) previously also known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). At the time, it blew my mind. It is still a book I recommend to folks. Since Tanya’s marketeer got in touch about her latest work, I have been engrossed in her latest novel based on DID.

Like her previous novels, Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell, Peterson takes up a cause of sorts and through fiction, brings it to life in both an educated and poignant way. While Sheldon is a writer writing about mental illness, Peterson is a mental illness counsellor writing about it. It makes a difference. Instead of a fast paced thriller with strange twists and turns, in Twenty Four Shadows we see the simple and tight-knit world of Isaac Bittman fall to pieces slowly as he comes to terms with his illness. There is no excitement, just the terrible reality of friends and loved ones learning to deal with what is most peoples’ unthinkable. They watch Isaac slip away, change, become angry, sad, upset, and violent and remain helpless.

With every mental illness patient also comes their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. The story of Isaac’s wife Reese is also beautifully brought out as she struggles with her own needs and wants along with those of their child Dominic’s. The family’s dynamics are brought to life in a masterful way. And we feel as though we are part family as we get on the long and painful road to recovery with the Bittmans.

Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. I would recommend it as a great book to pick up if you are interested in the themes of DID, parenting, or inspirational reads.

BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (My Life in a Nutshell) Part 2

Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!

BM: Brian and Abigail have faced very different kind of trauma; but how come the manifestations are the same?



TP: This is tricky to answer (unless you want a lengthy paper or even a non-fiction book, but I don’t think anyone wants that!). It’s tricky because it’s complex, and it’s tricky because nothing regarding human psychology and behavior is black-and-white. I’ll try to address it in a nutshell.

While the manifestations aren’t quite the same (Brian has panic attacks, extreme worries, and an automatic impulse to hide from the world, while Abigail has tantrums and alternating withdrawal and developmentally inappropriate attachment patterns), both of them are responding to the world from a mindset of fear and a lack of knowing what else to do (because neither of them was ever taught how to live in the world.) Generally speaking, all people respond to stressors by internalizing (turning the stressor inside) or by externalizing (acting out). Everyone does both, but some do one more than the other. That’s why you see Brian’s panic attacks and Abigail’s tantrums. They’re different, but similar, ways of responding to anxiety and triggers. These are externalizing behaviors. They have similarities because they’re human. But there are differences because each individual human is unique. (For example, Brian has, among other things, generalized anxiety disorder. That disorder (like all others) has defining features, but exactly how those features manifest is different for every single person who lives with GAD. This is why Brian and Abigail have both similarities and differences.


BM: Are you the patient or the counsellor? Whose character has drawn greater inspiration from your life?


TP: I’m both! I’m credentialed as a nationally certified counselor (US), and I’m also a patient. I have bipolar disorder and have dealt with anxiety issues as well. Brian definitely has drawn inspiration from my life. He’s not autobiographical in the least, but the anxieties I’ve dealt with made it natural to portray Brian. His thought processes are very similar to what my own have been!


BM: What’s next?


TP: I’m well into a novel about a character who has dissociative identity disorder. It’s about him as well as his family and a close friend. It’s the story of what DID is really like (as opposed to the way its portrayed in film) both for people who have it and for those in their lives. It’s really fun to write, but it’s a challenge. I can’t stop now because I’ve thoroughly bonded with the characters. I’ll face the challenge and (hopefully) do their story justice.


Part 1 is here! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows.

Previously, as part of the Book’s Blog Tour, Trailer, Teaser, Review. Also, Leave of Absence

BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (My Life in a Nutshell) Part 1

Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!

BM: Describe where you are just now and the things around you; give us a peek into your life!


TP: At the moment I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my backyard. I’ve made myself comfortable in a low camping chair (that I really do use for camping), my computer is on my lap, an my bare feet are resting on the soft, freshly-mowed grass. I’m in the shade of a fairly large evergreen tree, so the temperature is ideal despite the 85-degree heat of the summer afternoon. I can see my flowers blooming: a variety of roses, a cluster of black-eyed susans just beginning to unfurl, my newly planted corner garden of lavender, daisies, dahlias, coreopsis, and more in tiny but vibrant bloom. It’s peaceful and inspiring. For optimal well-being, I need to spend time outdoors. I love writing outside!


BM: Let’s dive into the book then… When raising a child, how does a parent/teacher know if the child is just being a child and throwing tantrums or is dealing with more important issues?


TP: While of course every child is unique, with his/her own personality, there are defined stages that all experience at a given age. These stages include general ways of behaving and responding to the world. For example, a two-year-old who doesn’t have full command of her language can’t always express strong emotion verbally; thus, it’s natural for her to have tantrums. By the time that child has entered elementary school, she’s at a different developmental stage, has better command of language, can regulate her emotions more than she could at age two, etc. While an occasional outburst is still to be expected (depending on personality, some have more outbursts than others), if the tantrums are frequent and severe and there are other things going on (acting too clingy or dependent or too aloof or problems with social skills, for example), it’s a sign that there could be something more going on. The tantrums are a symptom of a problem rather than an age-appropriate behavior.


In the story, Abigail Harris can have a tantrum for very little reason (well, for very little reason as seen by an outsider. From her perspective, the tantrums have a definite reason.) Her tantrums are severe, and they can be long lasting or stop abruptly. Her behavior switches from dependent to independent and back again. (I won’t say more to avoid spoiling things!). These are not typical seven-year-old behaviors. For reasons I won’t say, she has an attachment disorder that accounts for her behavior.


Basically, parents and teachers should consider how a child acts compared to other children of similar age. Look for patterns. What is the child doing that’s out of the norm? When does this happen? Knowing these things is a great starting point for helping the child.

BM: Can Brian’s condition be quantified by severity? Say, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is his disorder?


TP: Definitely! One way of assessing mental illness in general is to consider how much it affects a person’s life and overall functioning. Can someone function well and just needs a bit of therapy or medication? Or are they completely incapacitated and in need of hospitalization? Or something in between?


Brian’s disorders are debilitating.  They’ve completely limited his life in almost every way imaginable. On a scale of one to ten, I would categorize him a nine. He’s not at a ten because he is living his life, albeit in a very restricted fashion. He can get to work, he has an activity he enjoys. But his anxiety chokes him to such a degree that he experiences panic attacks over nearly everything, including just the thought of some things. The poor man is miserable and feels powerless to get better.


Stay tuned for Part 2! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows.

Previously, as part of the Book’s Blog Tour, Trailer, Teaser, Review. Also, Leave of Absence

My Life In A Nutshell … a review



Tanya J Peterson was kind to invite me to be part of her blog tour and I was more than happy to take her up on the offer. After over a year since I reviewed Leave of Absence, I was prepared to be sucked into another tale of agonising and debilitating mental illness. ‘Nutshell’ is the state in which our central characters live – Brian and Abigail. Brian in in his early thirties and suffers from a chronic anxiety disorder He stays away from everyone and everything and has an ordinary job as a handyman at a local school. On the outside, he is a normal young man, who loved cycling to work, hiking in the woods, gardening and growing fresh produce, and animals. But on the inside, Brian is troubled and lost. Everyday actions like picking out a set of clothes, grocery shopping, and pleasant interaction pushes him towards severe panic attacks.

Life conspires and he meets Abigail Harris at school. A little girl of seven, she throws tantrums, behaves badly, and brings hell down if anyone tries to cross her. She lives with her Aunt and Uncle, who are at their wits’ end already. Brian and Abigail strike up a very likely friendship. It was clear to me as a reader that they both were dealing with similar issues. I also felt that Brian was the unfortunate result of an Abigail growing up in neglect.

This is the story of a beautiful friendship and a careful clutch of people who make this possible. One of the nice things about this book is that all the secondary characters are very well thought-out. They’re each indispensible to the story. The Harrises, Brian’s colleague Roger, the principal of the school, Brian’s counsellor, and Abigail’s teachers. Each of the characters is heartwarming in their efforts to ensure that both flourish.

While I enjoyed this book thoroughly, I felt, at times, that Brian’s ‘episodes’ were long drawn out and seemingly endless. But when I came to the bits where he was on the verge of receiving help, it made me want it so bad too, on his behalf. The author has managed to instill that yearning in the reader as well, which is pretty impressive! Worth a read!

Leave of Absence … a review

What is sanity? Am I sane? Are you? If so, what is insanity?

In Tanya J. Peterson’s Leave of Absence, we meet three people – Oliver, who is rescued from attempted suicide and ends up in a mental health facility for PTSD, Penelope, a schizophrenic, who he meets at the facility and befriends, and William, her fiance. Life has been normal to them up until a point where it has turned so violently against them that they haven’t been able to handle it. Oliver has lost the love of his life, his wife Maggie, and their son Henry. There is no reason for him to live when they are no more; this realization is too hard for him to bear. Equally hard is Penelope’s tryst with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, her idol, who is in her head and won’t shut up.

As the two ‘patients’ deal with life on an everyday basis and try to get themselves out of bed each day, we see more of where they come from. And, we see more of the people around them – the carers. As with every mental patient that has the sympathy vote of everyone they had once known, there is also their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. William’s old friends shun him, judge his relationship, avoid Penelope… people who he once thought to be educated and logical suddenly seem hostile and uncomprehending, encouraging him to end his relationship.

Dealing with the virtual loss of a loved one is very hard, especially when you can only see a shadow of what they once were, their disease debilitating and crippling to everyday life. Added to that are the pressures of a society that refuses to understand the fine differences between the umbrella term of ‘insane’. Myths surround diseases like schizophrenia – schizophrenics are violent, some say, some others feel they are dangerous to themselves, most others just avoid them. Ignorance surrounds problems like PTSD, most people have no idea what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how they can help.

Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. The descriptions of the people, the hospital, the routines, they are all very well thought out and consistent. The fabric of the book is taut, the threads on it interwoven and loose, very lucid writing.

(Image Courtesy: Inkwater Press)

People with mental illnesses are just that: people. with illness. Like you’d do with a physical illness, find out about it, help them with it, speak to them, hold them and reassure them of your presence as parent/spouse/friend/companion/acquaintance. And if you can’t be there for them, then begone!

Quote: “It was hard for both of them. But William loved her. It was a deep, all-encompassing love that didn’t just stop when things became difficult. When he looked at her, no just at her happy images in photographs, but at her, no matter how she was in the moment, he saw Penelope. He didn’t see a mental illness. He saw the whole picture – the woman he loved who happened to be experiencing something awful.”

“He was also very touched by the fact that she had thought so hard about him and had made such an effort to create something she thought would help him, No one had done anything like that for him before. He experienced an odd mix of grief and warmth and guilt.”

This post was written as part of the blog tour for this book that I’m participating in.


BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (Leave of Absence) Part 2

This was Part 1.

BM: I could see why PTSD, from your earlier experiences… but why schizophrenia?

TP: I’m glad you asked! Schizophrenia is one of the most negatively stereotypes and misunderstood of all the mental illnesses. (Each disorder, though, does indeed have its stigma and stereotypes.) There’s a common belief that schizophrenia means split personalities. It doesn’t. There’s also the belief that people with schizophrenia are violent. They’re actually no more likely than anyone else to be violent, but they are often victims of violence. Then there’s the Hollywood stereotype of the “paranoid schizophrenic.” Indeed, one type of schizophrenia is paranoid, but that subtype doesn’t apply to everyone. The term “schizophrenic” is used generically, too, the way “crazy” or “insane” is used casually. All of these things are very hurtful and only increase the stigma and isolation felt by those who experience this serious mental illness. That bothers me, so I wanted to address that in Leave of Absence.

BM: What are the most tragic misconceptions about mental illnesses that you have come across?

TP: The misconception that people with mental illness are unstable, violent, and unreliable is very, very sad. These beliefs keep people from employment and make it hard to find friendships. And it’s so unnecessary because these things just aren’t true.

BM: For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?

TP: There’s a wealth of great non-fiction books available, but I’d actually recommend starting online. Not everything online is accurate, but there are reputable groups whose sites are very accurate and helpful. Here are some good ones:

Each of these has a wealth of information. NAMI, Psych Central, and the Mayo Clinic have factual information about the various mental illnesses, and NAMI, Time to Change, and Bring Change 2 Mind focus on reducing stigma. (There’s overlap among all the sites). These are all credible and offer a nice introduction to mental illness and to specific disorders.

BM: What is the one thing people need to know?

TP: Just like someone with asthma is more than a lung disorder and is still worthy of living life fully and both giving and receiving compassion, so is someone with a mental illness. We no longer refer to someone with asthma as “an asthmatic,” and for the same reasons, we shouldn’t refer to someone with schizophrenic as “a schizophrenic.”
(I’m going to sneak in one more thing: Leave of Absence has a message, but it’s not heavy-handed and preachy!! I promise!)

BM: What do your plans for future projects include?

TP: Lots of things! In order to continue to increase understanding and compassion, I have some online radio interviews lined up as well as presentations and book readings. I’ve been invited to speak about isolation and mental illness at the annual conference for the Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc. And I have a new novel in the works! This one, while very different from Leave of Absence, also explores mental illness. The story is in my head, and I’m in the boding-with-my-imaginary-friends-who-I-treat-as-real-people stage. It’s fun!

BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (Leave of Absence) Part 1

Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!

BM: What were your thoughts when you began writing Leave of Absence?

TP: As Oliver, Penelope, and William had been living in my imagination from the moment I conceptualized the story, my thoughts were with them.  I had bonded with them as though they were real people, and I wanted their story to be heard for their sakes.  I felt like I were living with them in their world, and I became fully mindful with them so the world could connect with them as deeply as I had.  (Yes, I did play actively with imaginary friends when I was a kid, and apparently I haven’t kicked the habit!)

BM: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?  

TP: I really want to increase awareness and understanding of the realities of mental illness, and in doing that, increase compassion and empathy for those experiencing mental illness.  There are so many negative stereotypes of mental illness perpetuated by mainstream media, and these create misunderstandings.  That’s tragic because these misunderstandings can lead to rejection and isolation.  I’m hoping that Leave of Absence will help people have a true understanding not only of schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder but of the people behind these illnesses.

Regarding how well I feel that I’ve accomplished my goal, I think time will tell.  If my book is read and enjoyed, then the themes will be heard.  I’ve had many professional reviews that speak positively of the way I address the topic, and I even had a reader identify himself as a retired psychology teacher who wished he had had Leave of Absence when he was teaching because he thought it would be a great way to show students the realities of mental illness beyond the textbook.  I’m pleased with these comments!  That said, though, I tend to be pretty hard on myself, and I never think that what I do is good enough.  Therefore, I’m actually pretty nervous.  No book/author is liked by everyone, of course, but I do hope that people enjoy Leave of Absence and that it has a positive impact.

BM: Favourite authors/books that inspired you?

TP: I’ve always loved stories that are deep and address important themes (such as justice, human understanding, ethical issues, etc.).  I also love character-driven stories.  I suppose that goes along with my preference for books with deep themes, for all of my examples involve people and their experience with themselves and the world.  I read much more for character and them than I do for genre and plot.  If a book tells a worthy story and is character-driven, I don’t mind whatever genre it’s in or what the exact storyline and plot are.

I’m hesitant to say authors who inspire me because I don’t want to make it seem like I’m comparing myself to them or elevating myself to their level!  I’ll make this disclaimer:  I’m not comparing myself to these authors, nor am I elevating myself to their level!  That said, some of my favourite authors are Saul Bellow, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.  I also enjoy some of Jodi Picoult’s works.   These authors do a fantastic job of connecting us to their characters and showing us the depths of the human experience.  

BM: Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

TP: Ethically, I can’t disclose specific information.  I can give a general background, though, of what went into the creation of my characters.  I definitely did extensive research into schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, and complicated mourning.  I have a Master’s degree in counselling, so I suppose my research started with my education.  I’m one of those people who keeps textbooks, so I went to my bookshelf to study the intricacies of these disorders.  I supplemented that with online research.  This formed the factual foundation – since I’m setting out to eradicate the stereotypes, I’d better know the facts!

One of my important themes is that there’s a human side to these illnesses.  For this, the facts weren’t enough.  I’ve worked with people who experience all of the issues in Leave of Absence, and I always really listened to people to understand what it’s like for them (each illness is very individualized; schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t look the same in everyone who experiences it).  Also, I’ve been in a behavioural health hospital as a patient.  I exchanged stories with fellow patients.  I was able to use all of this to make Penelope and Oliver very realistic, but it’s important for everyone to know that while the depiction of their issues is realistic, Penelope and Oliver are definitely fictional.  I didn’t use any one person’s struggles in Leave of Absence.

BM: What are your thoughts on the life of caregivers, the unsung heroes?

TP: Human connection is so important to well-being!!  One of the worst things that can happen to someone experiencing mental illness is to be shunned.  Dealing with mental illness can be frustrating and scary and overwhelming, and to have a supportive caregiver can make a world of difference.  I applaud caregivers!  A caregiver, in my own humble definition, is anyone who supports someone else.  A caregiver can be a friend or family member who “simply” understands and sends the message, “It’s okay to be you.  I’m here to listen and spend time with you because I like you no matter what you’re going through.”  I have Bipolar I disorder.  It’s not fun, and it’s not fun for the people around me, either.  Despite the difficulties, I have some wonderful people in my life who are understanding.  I’ve also had people judge me negatively, shun me, and end friendships.  These experiences make caregivers all the more important.

In Leave of Absence, William is Penelope’s caregiver.  He loves her for who she is, and he’s able to look beyond her schizophrenia to see her whole person.  People are more than their mental illness.  Praise and thanks to all of those caregivers out there who can see that and stick by someone even when it’s hard!


Stay tuned for Part 2! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows. I’m not paid to say that… Gah! Student life, I wish I were… but I’m not. I just really like the way this woman has focus.

Book Blog Tour – Leave of Absence by Tanya J Peterson… update

Remember it’s May and as I’d promised here, I’m participating in the Blog Tour. I’m very excited about this because it is the first time I’m doing something of the sort and also because the book itself is fabulous! I personally know many people who are carers for children/siblings with mental health issues and disabilities and I like the knowledge and myth clearing that the internet provides today.

Stay tuned for an interview with the author herself, to hear what she has to say about experiences, illnesses, and writing.

Book Blog Tour – Leave of Absence by Tanya J Peterson

Hello good readers,

I’m excited to announce that I’m participating the upcoming blog tour for Tanya J. Peterson‘s latest book which is out this month. The tour will be held in May and June of 2013. I will be reviewing the book (to be honest, I’ve begun reading it and hmmm, very hooked at the moment). I also hope to be doing an interview with the author here, so if you have any pressing questions or comments, shoot!

LoA Blog Tour

The book is about patients with mental illnesses, their stories, their lives, and how being and not being sane in an insane world. This is the first book I’m reading of this particular genre which approaches this theme from the standpoint of individual patients. Here is the trailer for you!