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What inspired you to write your memoir?
I began this book project with the premise that the world didn’t need another memoir of mental illness — unless I could find a novel and useful reason for sharing the intimate details of what had been the worst decade of my life.
After dealing in 1998 with the diagnosis of my eldest son Alex at age seventeen with paranoid schizophrenia, I then confronted my own lifelong depression followed rapidly by my youngest son’s depression and anxiety disorder — while navigating the emotional and practical fallout. Nothing prepares you for such an unraveling — particularly when you come from a family steeped in denial, addiction, and hidden mental illness, as mine was. Eventually I would see that these historical family dysfunctions and secrets were as central to the story I had to tell as were the present-day diagnoses, and treatment decisions I was encountering.
This is how I came to the decision to use my own family going back three generations as a case study on how mental illness and addiction traverse families.
From the book:
I’ve learned three important lessons on my journey through mental illness. First, that I’ve done things in the wrong order. If we, as parents, get treatment for our own psychological or addiction issues, our children will suffer far less mental illness. If they’re already struggling with a mental health challenge, we’ll be of much greater help to them. That leads to my second discovery: intervening sooner for a mental health problem is better than picking up the pieces later — for everyone. Lastly, I’ve learned that although we’re each born with inherited liabilities and assets, throughout our lives our minds become largely what we make of them. Put simply, nurture can trump nature.
Once we get these three things, the game has changed, and we’re living in the prevention model of mental wellness where healthy minds rule.
About your Book:
Victoria Costello investigates her family lineage for clues to the mental unraveling of her seventeen-year-old son Alex. Eventually she ties Alex’s descent into hallucinations and months of shoeless wandering on the streets of L.A. to a dark family secret: the apparent suicide of his great-grandfather on a New York City railroad track in 1913. After learning that countless families share a similar “lethal inheritance,” she begins a decade-long search for answers. Among her discoveries is startling new brain science that sheds light on the links between addictions and undiagnosed mental disorders that have repeated in three past generations of her family–including her own lifelong depression. But her search goes much further, ultimately yielding a new model of recovery based on early intervention and family involvement that can transform a tough genetic hand like Alex’s into a prescription for mental wellness, with implications for present and future generations. In the process, she delivers an unlikely “happy ending” applicable to hers and many other families.
Victoria Costello is a memoir writer who in addition to her own life story has has written a how to book for aspiring memoirists, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir, and who has earned a living by coauthoring nonfiction books by experts in their fields and ghostwriting. In this capacity she coauthored The Complete Idiots Guide to Child and Adolescent Psychology and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Chemistry of Love — all for Alpha Books/Penguin. For Adams Media she coauthored The Everything Parents Guide to Childhood OCD, and the Everything Guide to a Happy Marriage. After the successful launch of her memoir, A Lethal Inheritance, the book she felt “she was born to write,” Costello opted to leave the professional writer for hire life behind and join PLOS, The Public Library of Science, as Blog and Social Media Manager (www.blogs.plos.org) where she is presently enjoying being “back in the world” on a daily basis working and playing well with the others.
How did you decide how to publish your book and where is it published through:
I wanted to share my story with the greatest possible number of readers, especially parents in my position struggling to deal with mental health issues in a child. I shopped the book through two different agents, finally landing a book deal with Prometheus Books via my own contact — a speed pitch session at a writers conference — with editor Linda Regan. It was released in Jan 2012 and I’ve promoted it through my websites, www.alethalinheritance.com and my blog, www.mentalhealthmomblog.com