Chevalier’s Books last week celebrated the release of local author Miriam Feldman’s powerful first book, “He Came In With It – A Portrait of Motherhood and Madness.” More than forty friends and neighbors Zoomed in to hear Feldman read from her funny, poignant and personal book and discuss her transformation from artist and decorative painter to mental health advocate after her son Nick was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2004.
Feldman was joined by Janet Fitch, New York Times best-selling author of “White Oleander.” Fitch, a childhood friend of Feldman’s, has a brother who suffers from schizophrenia and helped Feldman get the book published.
“Janet Fitch has been so generous and helpful,” said Feldman. “We were friends in junior high and our paths have crossed over the years. She wrote a query letter that I attached to my book proposal, and I give her all the credit for getting this book out into the world.”
Launching the book at Chevalier’s was fitting, too, since Larchmont Village was home to Feldman and her family for more than 30 years. Professionally, Feldman has worked in dozens of local homes, including this writer’s, and many area residents are collectors of her paintings. A few days after the book talk, we checked in with Feldman, who now lives with her family in Washington, to hear how the book is being received and how sales are going.
Even though she’s not here full-time now, Feldman says her roots in the community are very deep. She said she was devastated when she learned that she couldn’t have an in-person launch with cathartic hugs and smiles shared among friends. While it wasn’t in-person, though, the book talk was still filled with virtual hugs and smiles as Feldman shared the story of writing this incredibly personal book. (If you missed the talk, you can watch the recording Chevalier’s shared here.)
“I was nervous at first because I thought, people are now to going all the details of what was going on in our house,” Feldman told the Buzz. “But that was reason the reason I wrote the book. I wanted to put something out in the world that people could really get their teeth into, where there was no room for interpretation, that this was really the story.”
Feldman told listeners at the Chevalier’s event that she drew on her 50-year career as a painter, relying on only herself to start writing four years ago. She wrote every day for eight hours a day, using color-coded Post-it notes to organize her memories as they came flooding back. After nearly a year of writing, she thought she had a book, so she reviewed it with some friends who were screenwriters…and then, at Fitch’s suggestion, she shared it with Samantha Dunn, who charted the book visually on the back of napkin at Starbucks one day. Then Feldman workshopped the book for 24 weeks and finally felt she really understood what was in it.
“It was a phenomenal experience, and not unlike painting,” Feldman told listeners at the book talk. “It was a transmigration, the entire book. It also brought me to a place of peace and acceptance with what happened.”
It also helped her understand what her daughters and her husband experienced as well, because schizophrenia is a family illness. Before the book was published, she asked all her family members to read it, and while they expressed recalling things differently, they fully supported her releasing it.
Publication of the book has launched Feldman into a new career as a mental health advocate and she is pleased the story has been getting a lot of traction. A recent article on the book appeared in the Huffington Post, and her publisher reported the book is doing well and they expect to continue to gain momentum. She’s also featured in a new book by Patricia Heaton, the actress and former Hancock Park resident who Feldman met while doing work in home home, who has become a friend. Coincidentally, Heaton’s book “Your Second Act, Inspiring Stories of Reinvention” was launched the same day as Feldman’s.
While the pandemic has grounded Feldman the painter, Feldman the advocate is taking on new gigs. Next month she will be speaking at the psychiatric department of Mount Sinai Hospital in NY, from the perspective of a mom.
“I believe that a lot of the most serious problems could be mitigated with parents and doctors, before children reach adulthood, when parents are largely shut out of the conversations,” explained Feldman. “And by and large, it’s the mom who has the information that doctors need to treat patients. Moms can present that information, but often they are treated like a nuisance at best and an enemy at worst.”
We asked Feldman what she thinks about the recent state audit that found that mentally ill people need much more treatment and follow-up than they get once they are released by hospitals. She suggests we need a whole new way of looking at mental illness. She said she is completely convinced that mental illness is more widespread among the homeless than is reported, and she’s certain that if left untreated, her son would be among those who are chronically ill and refuse treatment.
“The thing that’s wrong with you is your brain, so they can’t make informed decisions about treatment. If he wasn’t medicated, there is no question. He’d be on the street,” said Feldman. “Getting treatment is what keeps him from being on the streets, and that condition can turn into that in a very short time.”
But Feldman is hopeful. She said she feels successful because of the feedback on the book she’s getting from other people dealing with the same situation, and people with these illnesses are reaching out to her. And she said she’s getting letters and e-mails from mothers, saying “this is the first time someone knows what I have gone through.”
Still, she says, the mental health system “needs deep, systemic changes and they don’t happen by people simply becoming enlightened and woke. That doesn’t happen quickly.” But she said she does feel like something is happening now. “Everything is cracked wide open, all these social justice issues, the conversation about policing, are all tethered to mental illness. Here’s our chance to take a wholistic view of things and make changes.”
Feldman ended the book with her son saying he wants to get a job and get on with this life. She says that was a moment and it passed. But he does have those moments from time to time, though right now he’s unrealistic about what he can do, and she hates to disappoint him.
“We take it day by day and deal with it as it comes,” said Feldman.
We are delighted to have Feldman contribute to the Buzz when she can. If you want to help spread the word about her book at mental illness, consider leaving a review on the website Good Reads or Amazon.com.