This is a book about healing. A deep healing in a woman, who ten years ago found herself in a mental health hospital, but is now thriving and finding her identity.
She is me and this introduction changed just weeks before final print because after I re-read the manuscript and shared it with other people, I realized the book isn’t really about the healing itself, but about the process of healing and most importantly the hard work that is required before and after healing.
After my therapist read this book, he said something so poignant to me that I had to include it. Even he, who had been with me through this whole journey after my mental health hospitalization, had not realized how much I had been through and more importantly how much I have overcome. Reading it all in one sitting in such a condensed fashion changed the story for him and for me.
Instead of being concerned about releasing more deep, dark secrets for the world to know and to judge me on, I know that these “secrets” are my secret weapons.
Sharing these secrets is power and gives me an instant jolt of connection to other people who are on their own mental health odyssey. My transparency in my first book helped other people but also gave me sovereignty over my own narrative. It’s true that I will never be 100 percent cured of all of my issues, but I have proven that dedication to healing is effective. I am living proof! Goodness, I sound like an infomercial. But just like the Flowbee had an infomercial, this is one that works and will hopefully last you a lifetime (my dad still has the Flowbee he bought in the eighties to cut our hair and it still works. It is also back in style to have a Flowbee. I can’t believe it.)
Every time I charge myself with writing a chapter, committing more time to finding other ways to meditate or even forcing myself to sit on my couch and launch the zoom therapy session that I “don’t really need at the moment,” it uncovers something else I do need to work on. But that something else, I can now put in a HEALING, solution-based narrative. One of the most important topics I will cover in this book is how to address trauma. For now, I will equate mental and emotional trauma to a wound.
Prior to doing this hard work, my “way” of dealing with a wound would be to immediately cover it with dirt and pretend it never happened. You can imagine how that turned out. While I have been navigating the deep infections and twisted scars that evolved on the uncared-for wounds of my life, I now spend much of my time gathering the tools that will help me make the inevitable next wound a cleaner and quicker heal.
Societally, we put a pretty hefty emphasis on our physical health, focusing so much time, money, and thought into how we can make ourselves look good. I’ve taken that energy, once reserved solely for physical health, and shifted it to mental health, where I put time, energy, and money into making my brain look good (feel good). Every week, every day, I do something to make it cleaner, stronger, and better, and it is working. I hope that with this book, using my secret weapons as the fuel, we can keep encouraging each other to put in the effort and find the solutions that work for us. We all deserve it. You go to the gym for two weeks, start seeing the benefits, and then quit and expect it all to stick. Mental health is the same as physical health. It requires effort, but the payoff is so worth it.
My name is Ginger. I am the chief meteorologist at ABC News, the first woman to hold that title at a major network. I have covered nearly every recent giant weather event from Hurricane Katrina to the latest Category-5 hurricane, Michael, and Category-4 hurricane, Laura. I’ve had the honor of taking people around the world on amazing adventures like paragliding off the Himalayas with vultures eating out of my hand, to most recently telling a climate-change story in Africa at Victoria Falls. I was on Dancing with the Stars, I have a spectacular husband, two young boys, and I have attempted suicide. Twice.
That last part is not the most common component to an introduction and certainly doesn’t make it into my bio at work, but it has become an important part of my personal prologue for the past few years. Three years ago, I finally found real healing in a place I did not expect. I wrote a book, not just about my first suicide attempt, but about my decades’-long battle with depression and the tools I have learned in order to live with it. I didn’t have a clue how much more mental mending it would bring me, but now that it has, I want to share more. And I want to share it with you.
I’m still a little surprised I became a memoir writer. Memoir. What a strange word. There was no part of me that wanted to write one, that’s for sure. My entire life I had told myself I wasn’t a writer. However, when I was pregnant with my first son, we looked high and low for a good baby book about weather and just couldn’t find one. I figured I could handle writing a baby book, twenty pages of large font and mostly pictures, especially with my platform as a chief meteorologist. I fortuitously met with a wonderful woman named Wendy Lefkon and her team at Disney Publishing. When I told them about the character and stories I wanted to tell, they told me that they fit a preteen, chapter-book audience better. As we discussed how the trilogy of Helicity would play out, I began sharing my personal stories, since many of Helicity’s adventures would be based on my own life. When talking about my experience covering Hurricane Katrina, I said, well, that was when I was engaged and became a runaway bride. Oh, and that blizzard was when a homeless lady chased me under a bridge in Chicago.
Through the self-deprecating style I usually tell stories with, Wendy and her team convinced me that the book I really needed to write was a memoir about my life, the storms and adventure. As soon as I started writing, it was impossible to ignore my mental-health challenges.
So yes, I went to write a baby book about rainbows and sunshine and came out first with a book for adults about suicide and depression.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the entire process of writing the book. But the night before Natural Disaster went to print, I started thinking about the opening line, in which I write about checking myself into the psychiatric ward at Columbia University Medical Center. My husband and I were lying in bed and I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the light and nudged him awake.
“Bean, I think I should call this off. I think I said too much in the book. What if I lose my job?”
He saw that I was panicking, but he didn’t miss a beat. He reminded me that it was good to be nervous because it meant the book wasn’t just going to be some nice story about a nice girl. This book was going to be about the true me—messy, deeply faulted, and fallible. I thought back to the moment I had told Wendy’s team that I really didn’t want this book to have the typical cover: a photo of me, smiling in a pastel sweater. Because that was not what my book was about. That would not be a book worth sharing. This was.
After remembering that and listening to my sage husband, suddenly I could breathe again. For the first time in my life, I was letting go. Letting go of caring what other people think and letting go of working so hard to be the person I thought everybody wanted me to be.
After my book was published, people started divulging their stories to me, sharing their deepest secrets and their own personal storms. These people also had more questions. I started to write this follow-up book aimed to help answer those questions, but as I started writing I figured out that I was far from “cured.” I decided to go back to therapy full-time so I could learn more to share with all of you. I also realized there was a major part of my life I did not share in the first book but that was integral to my story.
That’s why this book is called A Little Closer to Home. When I got the job at GMA, I knew I was going to need a cue phrase to toss to the local affiliates. I had grown up watching Al Roker say in your neck of the woods and I put a lot of thought into finding just the right slogan that I would want to say forever because I intended on having the job for a very long time. I came up with a little closer to home.
When I was struggling for a title for this book, my husband suggested my catchphrase, and it is the only title that works. But this book isn’t just a little closer to home. It is a lot closer to home.
The real impetus for going back to therapy came at a surprising time. I had started my morning like any other, met with the weather team, discussed our headlines and what images we would share to tell the big weather story, got through hair and makeup, did promos for our affiliates, and settled in at my makeshift desk on the studio floor. It’s actually more of a piece of glossy whiteboard that is almost flush with the back of a large wall on the set in the wings of GMA. It is right where all correspondents, producers, and guests enter the studio. With my back to that door I didn’t need to see, I could feel that this was a busy news day with the number of people that were crowding near the entrance.
Christine Blasey-Ford had given her testimony at the Kavanaugh hearings. The top of our show, the part we call the “cold open,” featured part of her chilling statement on the stand. The first story was full of her words:
“I am here today not because I want to be, I am terrified. I understand and appreciate the importance of you hearing from me directly about what happened to me and the impact that it has had on my life and on my family.
“I don’t have all the answers and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. I drank one beer. Brett and Mark were drunk. I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. They were drunkenly laughing during the attack. I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details. I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and pretend that it didn’t happen. I did the best to ignore the memory of the assault.”
I heard Christine Blasey-Ford’s voice echo in my ear and then worm deep into my brain and memory. Her intimate description of date rape was so vivid and hit more than a little close to home. My cheeks flushed, I looked around to see how many people were in the studio because I knew I was going to cry. The tears started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t want to. I knew in that moment it was important to feel. No matter what happened at the hearing, I felt that testimony evoke emotion and trauma in me that I had not addressed but knew I needed to. I realized that my experience with date rape was not only never dealt with but spiraled into years of other traumatic events and a horrible habit of ignoring them all.
I didn’t mention my second suicide attempt in the last book because I wasn’t ready to talk about what happened right before I tried to take my own life.
I had an abortion.
There, I said it. It’s definitely not included in that work bio. It’s not something any of us talk about, but I kind of feel like we need to. Especially because it’s what precipitated my second suicide attempt and was a powerful part of the mental health spiral I rode to the bottom during the following ten years.
I am one of millions of women who have and will have abortions. Nobody talks about it because it’s not an easy discussion, and no one is allowed to talk about it before it automatically gets political. I don’t want this book to be political. I want this book to be about a young woman who was forced to make a choice that would impact her life forever. I want this book to be about my abortion’s physical and emotional toll on my life. This is not a story shared to shame others nor is it in an effort to promote the choice. No one talks about what can happen to you after “the choice”—for me it was a postpartum hormonal nosedive, the heaviest shame I have ever felt, and the lifelong guilt, acceptance, and forgiveness that I have needed to curate in order to survive. Not everyone has the same experience. But for those who might, I want them to have the education and support for options I didn’t even know I had. I want everyone to know there is a simple step you can take to protect yourself from it ever happening to you. I am ready to be that person who finally talks about it and makes it okay to share so other young women don’t have to be forced to make that choice.
While the number of abortions each year in America goes up and down and reporting is not mandatory, it is estimated that in 2015 (the last year numbers were available at the time of this writing) more than six hundred thousand abortions were performed. Shouldn’t the numbers alone give us permission and even a responsibility to talk about it?
It’s been more than forty years since abortion was legalized, and as of this writing, it’s still a lightning-rod issue in America. More than one state has recently taken abortion all the way to the Supreme Court. I want to repeat—this is not a book about politics or morality. In fact, I have made it a point to listen to both sides and I see the value in each side’s stances and opinions. But neither side sounds like they have had an abortion because neither talks about what happens before and after to the woman in that position. Everyone is focused on the baby, the group of cells or whatever side you are on would like to call it. But absolutely no one focuses on the woman carrying that embryo.
My hope with this book is to begin a substantive conversation on protection and education. There are several highly effective safe options for birth control including long-acting contraception, and it is important that women feel safe and empowered to have these conversations with their health care provider. I truly believe that if I had access to a nearly fail-proof birth control like the IUD before I got pregnant, I wouldn’t have needed to have an abortion. When a young girl is raped by her uncle, an IUD won’t save her from the mental torture and PTSD, but it could protect her from having a child born of that horrific start. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to providing protection for young people is still the argument that it’s just going to lead to more promiscuity. In fact, statistics on sex education in high schools bear out the opposite conclusion.
Women need more counseling and education about abortion as well. While I will not take a side on the morality of abortion, I’m concerned that if it’s criminalized, women will go into hiding even more and there will be nobody there to help them. Something as simple as knowing about the postpartum drop in hormones after an abortion probably would have prevented me from trying to take my own life. I had nobody to talk to about the guilt and shame I would suffer from having an abortion that would affect every area of my life for the next two decades. All that time I thought I had to keep it a secret. My abortion was a giant lumbering elephant banging around in my psyche. Who knows how much less self destructive pain I would have gone through if I’d dealt with it earlier? Who knows what I would have done if societally I wasn’t told it is impossible to be a mother and advance in your career. I believe a big part of my damaging choices throughout most of my twenties was directly related to the guilt I felt after the abortion. Not my chaotic family life, parents’ divorce, date rape, etc. But the abortion.
We need to take this conversation out of the closet and give all women a chance to find the healing that I found in writing this book. Healing, forgiveness, and grace no matter what trauma someone has endured. I’ll never be fully over it, but I have finally addressed it. In writing this book I actually had to stop and focus on the therapy surrounding this choice I made seventeen years ago. Now I have given it the attention it deserves.
My first book was full of embarrassing, hopefully funny stories, and believe it or not, I still have more of those for the pages ahead. I’ll also be bringing back my therapist, Dr. Wilson, because he has been my greatest teacher on my road to recovery. It’s hard to find the perfect therapist, and if you haven’t yet, please don’t give up. It’s worth the search to find that perfect combination of chemistry and faith that I have with Dr. Wilson. I worked with at least ten therapists before I met him after I was at an inpatient hospital at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Even a good therapist can’t do the healing work for you, but he or she can be a trusted guide who knows the way and can help you find peace.
And for me, hospitalization and focusing on what type of therapy I needed was necessary. That’s something I hope this book can do, too. I think we are all getting better about reducing the stigma around mental-health issues, but now the focus must be on the action taken after it is talked about and eliminating that stigma. We need to make hospitalization less frightening and more approachable. When you have a problem with your back, you go to your primary doctor, who then refers you to a specialist. We need this type of structure and attention to our mental health.
I wish I could tell you that I’m cured of either or both of the mental issues I’ve struggled with (anorexia and depression). I still have both, but I am highly functional and managing in the healthiest place I’ve ever been. I have a wonderful life and I am at peace, which was never something I even considered as a possibility. I want you to know you also deserve a great life, and you absolutely, without a doubt, deserve to be at peace. I purposefully did not use the word happy here, and you’ll read why later.
Maybe you’re reading this book because somebody recommended it. Maybe you heard about it somewhere and thought it was worth checking out. Maybe you just picked it up in a bookstore and two pages into it you’re thinking Why the heck am I reading this? I’ll take any of those reasons and I hope you’ll stay with me until the end.
My story will not be exactly like anybody else’s story. We all have different lives and different experiences that have shaped us into who we are. But I’m confident that we do share some things in common. Chances are, somehow you have been affected by mental illness. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. Maybe you just have funky days and can’t pinpoint what’s wrong. Maybe you have a friend or a family member who is suffering and you want to help. My first book taught me that; it was called Natural Disaster, I Cover Them, I Am One—because I am. But I am so not alone. Thousands of you have written to me to say how much you felt like you were reading your own story. I hope that happens again with this book and that we can all keep learning and healing together.
It’s sad that my mental illness affected our entire family worse than it probably had to, but that’s how mental illness works. The person suffering isn’t the only one sucked into the darkness of the storm. Everybody who loves them gets caught up in it, too. To this day, I can’t think about my suicide attempts without thinking about the fear in my parents’ eyes when they rushed into my triage room at the hospital. Years later they shared with me how after the suicide attempts, they were in constant fear of answering the phone because maybe somebody on the other end of the line would tell them that this time I’d succeeded. Now that I’m a mother, I can imagine how truly awful that must have been. But I no longer feel guilt for that because I finally realize that I was sick. I didn’t choose to try to kill myself. As Vonnie Woodrick, from the group I understand, and a leader in facilitating and understanding suicide, says, “Suicide is a side effect of depression, pain, or other mental illness.”
And that’s true; I was sick. I just found a way to manage my illness. As Robin Roberts says, “Everybody’s got something.” We certainly do—I just work hard every day to keep healing and thrive (“not just survive,” another Roberts gem).
I’ve lived most of my life fiercely protecting my vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I was a professional people pleaser and perfectionist by the age of six, which helped lead to my anorexia and depression. I was convinced my career would end if anybody found out about my abortion. Just thinking about the amount of energy I expended protecting my secrets exhausts me. But at least now I am free, and telling my story has changed my life forever, and I hope it can for you, too.
I could keep writing and editing this because I will never stop working to heal my narrative and make grand steps for my mental health. We all have the power to do this . . . but since I can’t keep writing and rewriting in this book, let’s get started with something signature Ginger.
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