We want to welcome Linda Phillips today. She is the author of A Beautiful Here: Emerging From The Overwhelming Darkness of My Son’s Suicide.
Linda, thank you so much for coming today and sharing with us your story. Tell us about your book and the story behind it.
Actually, A Beautiful Here is my first book. I’ve always loved to write essays, poetry and a sundry of other things. But in 1996, my life changed in such a way that led me all these years later to write this book.
In 1996, my 22-year-old son, Nuçi, killed himself. He had suffered from major depression manifesting in his early teens. Now it’s true that in this country, someone takes his/her life about every 12.3 minutes. But this one is different. It was my son. My family’s tragedy. It was up too close and too personal. I had to do something.
So you wrote your book, A Beautiful Here. Tell us about your son.
Nuçi was one of the finest people I’ve had the privilege to know. He was kind, caring, smart, talented, sincere and though he couldn’t see it very handsome. Until the age of 16 years, he was, as far as one could see, happy and easy-going. But when major depression assaulted his brain, this happy young man morphed into a sullen, withdrawn doppelgänger of my son. With treatment, he struggled to feel good and as was his practice, he threw his whole self into getting healthy. Sadly, Nuçi was one of the minority of depressed people who don’t respond sufficiently to treatment. On Thanksgiving Day 1996, he ended his life. I’m sure he was tired. He had tried so hard but was not able to sustain a bearable life and as he told his psychiatrist, he didn’t want to spend his life in and out of hospitals.
As soon as I was at a point in the grief process (years later) that I could think clearly, I decided to create a foundation in Nuçi’s memory, one that would be fitting for an aspiring rock star. We opened for business in 2000. Now in 2017 Nuçi’s Space in Athens, Georgia is flourishing. We bought an old warehouse, restored it and turned it into practice rooms for musicians. With the money we make, we provide low-cost mental health counseling for those suffering from brain illnesses. We also depend on private donations, grants and benefits for support. Not only do we have practice rooms, we have a stage, a coffee bar, a library and a meeting place for support groups. Camp Amped is one of the programs I am most proud. Every summer, budding musicians ages 11 – 17 come and are mentored by some of the most talented musicians in Athens, including members of the Drive by Truckers, Widespread Panic and many others. And, most important, they learn life skills including how to get along with and respect others.
In 2016, after thousands of musicians, artists and music lovers have passed through our doors, many having received professional counseling through us, I’m privileged to say we have been instrumental in saving lives. In my work with a Survivors of Suicide Support Group, I have talked and grieved with a wide range of people who have lost loved ones to suicide. It finally became clear to me that I needed to write about my experience not because it is unique to me but because my experience is shared by so many like me who have lost someone they love to suicide. 44,193 Americans die each year by suicide. That’s a lot of people.
As a survivor, I have a story and I feel it is incumbent upon me to share my story. Hopefully, it will help another survivor or someone suffering from major depression. And perhaps, it will enlighten and educate the ignorant who contend that mental (brain) illnesses aren’t real. You know the ones! “What have you got to be unhappy about?” My favorite: “He took the easy way out by killing himself! What a coward!.” And the list goes on and the stigma persists.
Your research must have been intensive
I am a Registered Nurse and my husband is a Radiologist. We’ve both had mental health experience. When we identified Nuçi’s depression, I read and researched everything I could find on the subject. But the bulk of my knowledge, Nuçi taught me. The one positive fact is that 99% of people who get appropriate treatment do well.
So tell us what took place in order for this book to be written and published.
My husband and I moved to NYC about six years ago. Having never been published before, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. After speaking to an editor and discovering that she would charge what I thought was an astronomical fee, I was very disappointed. A few days later, I met my neighbor, an old newspaper man, in the elevator. I was bemoaning my experience with the editor. He emphatically said that I didn’t need an editor, I needed his wife, a literary agent! The next night, I met with her. She was great, had a particular interest in mental illness and held my hand through the whole writing process. Thanks to her and that old newspaper man, I found my voice and my confidence. Only in New York!
What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?
I happen to love the solitude of writing. Me, my thoughts and my desktop! Although I flooded my keyboard many times while writing this book, I learned a lot about myself. Finding just the right words to express my thoughts and my feelings clarified so much for me. Also, this writing reminded me and confirmed that there were many more good times than bad ones in our life with Nuçi. He was so much more than his illness!
Are you working on the next book?
At the moment, I’m not working on another book but I’m getting that itch which can only be scratched by my typing.
I understand your book, A Beautiful Here, is being translated into Albanian. How did that come about?
This is quite significant for my family. And here comes a coincidence. My husband and I have our ritual cappuccino almost every day. On one of these occasions my husband is standing in line to order. A woman in front of him is asked by another customer, “Are you Italian?” “No,” she responds, “I’m Albanian.” My husband’s ears perk up and he interjects, “I’m Albanian too.” It happens that her parents and husband are from the same towns as my husband’s parents. She then asks my husband what he does for a living. “I’m a radiologists.” With a look of surprise, she responds, “I am too!” She has a son named Pier and my husband’s name is Pierre. It goes on and on from there. Her husband’s father knew Pierre’s grandfather! We have all become good friends. Our friends mother is translating my book! Only in New York.
Tell us how long it took you to write your book.
Once I started to write, my story poured out in torrents. It took about six months to finish.
Tell us something fun you like to do.
I love to read and consider myself a chain reader. I must have a book waiting to pick up as soon as I finish one. Yoga is what keeps me grounded and healthy. And I love walks in Central Park with my husband.
What’s next for you in writing?
Not sure yet. Recently, I had a most interesting day at Nuçi’s Space. I think I’d like to write about some of those days, of which there have been many. I’d also like to delve into the stigma which continues to weigh heavily on mental illness.
Well I hope you do, and we want you to let us know when it releases.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. I know it will help many families who have experienced a loss like yours.
Come back and see us soon.
Linda’s website is: https://www.lindaphillips.org/