Debra Whittam is a licensed, practicing mental health therapist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who specializes in addiction, anxiety and depression, grief and loss. Whittam is passionate about her work in all areas of her specialties, especially addiction. Working in a detox unit for over three years before beginning her own private practice, Whittam realized, while counseling patients in the life and death arena of the detox unit, how much the loss of a beloved through death or a relationship impacted those struggling with addiction.
In this memoir, Whittam skillfully infuses her memories, stories and professional insights to remind us that the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. She splits her time between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and Paris, France. Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is her first book.
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About the Book:
Am I Going To Be Okay? is an American story with a universal message. Ms. Whittam traces her history in the form of stories about her all too human, and sometimes unhinged family; she throws a rope to the little girl living there, and in adulthood, is able to pull her out to safety, bit by bit.
Her history is peopled with folks from a different time, a time before therapy was acceptable, 12 steps unimaginable and harsh words, backhands and even harsher silences can be spun to appear almost
Ms. Whittam approaches her past with the clear-eyed tough but sensitive objectivity necessary to untangle the shame from the source. She speaks of the people that affected her life so deeply with an understanding of their time and place in American culture; a family not far removed from immigrant roots when men carried their own water, emoted misplaced anger, and with fresh socks and food found on the trail, were confident, unflinching and at that same time tragical- ly failing to the little ones they ignored.
Like many of us, details notwithstanding, Whittam responded by numbing, running and gunning. Alcohol gave her hope, soothed a crushed soul for a time and wrecked her on a train, until finally she had the courage to accept it wasn’t working for her anymore. It was time to stop drinking and take inventory and accountability. It was time to accept, forgive and move forward. She healed where she was broken.
It is in the telling of this story that Whittam teaches us the difference between just surviving and surviving well, the importance of shared introspection and a careful eye on the wake we leave behind in our actions. Her story is a guide to surviving abuse and addiction. It is also about witnessing and dealing with the shrinking faculties of aging parents in the unavoidable circle of life. Finally, she offers a realistic sense of hope, forgiveness and a life we can shake hands with.
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- Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer since way back when I first loved the smell of paper and loved the flow of ink.
Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?
I take notes most often when I am driving. My book, Am I Going To Be Okay? was envisioned first on the ride up from my home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to my home town of Delanson, New York driving up to be with my Mom in her last four weeks before her death. I have always done my best thinking for writing, dreaming or hoping while driving.
Has writing always been a passion for you or did you discover it years later?
I was an avid writer since I was very young but abruptly stopped at the age of 12 when my mother found an essay I had written about a love scene of which I knew nothing! So much so that the one line that horrified her was, “He embraced her and entered her womb!” Really?! Yes, she really lambasted me in front of my father and younger siblings to the point of ridicule and shame accusing me of being a slut and already the worst child she could have ever imagined. She followed my father and I out to the car in which we were trying to escape. Before I could tumble into the passenger seat she yelled out, “Be careful not to let anyone enter your womb!” I never wrote again. Until now, at the age of 55 when I began this book. I threw everything I had ever written away back then and only wrote papers for school and in a diary, but never for anyone else to read, ever. Until this book I have just published. It was a very scary but amazingly rewarding experience. There was nothing wrong with me and I was going to be okay. I certainly didn’t know it then.
Do you have a day job? What do you do?
I am a professional, licensed mental health therapist north of the city of Pittsburgh, PA. I have used my own life experiences and those of the many case studies of clients to write about the impact of chronic anxiety on very young children and how this will lead to any of the myriad of diagnoses which insurance companies require before we are able to get the help we need. Mostly the issue is no one ever talks about the things that are happening around them growing up. Even what’s happening we are to believe didn’t happen.
What hours do you write best?
I wake up on fire to write. In the early morning hours is where my ideas and words flow without inhibition or too much thought of other intrusions. My head is clear and I am fresh to have my thoughts and ideas flow.