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Interview: Sheila Hamilton

Cristina Spencer

Meet Sheila Hamilton, 5 time Emmy Award winning journalist, host of "Speaking Freely," Portland's most popular radio talk show, and author of the new book, All the Things We Never Knew. She joins us in Palo Alto on Friday night to talk about the book, mental health, and what we can do to take care of ourselves and those around us during this holiday season. We interviewed Sheila to give you a taste of what to expect at the event on Friday. We think you'll be inspired by her wisdom and spirit. Read on, and join us on Friday to meet Sheila in person!

Q: What led you to write your new book, All the Things We Never Knew?

I initially wrote the memoir portion of All the Things We Never Knew to make sense of my own trauma.  My late husband’s suicide was brutally difficult because I blamed myself for missing many of the early signs and symptoms of mental illness. I wanted to hold myself accountable on the page and learn from my mistakes. I finished the memoir portion of the book in 2008 and shelved it until I could fully understand the impact of mental health policy on other families. When I learned of the terrible outcomes for people in mental health crisis in our country, I decided to publish.  We can do better.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your process and how the book came to life?

 I did not attempt to write the memoir in chronological order. Instead, I allowed thoughts and emotions to pour onto the page based on experiences that resonated “heat.” I didn’t edit the first draft or attempt to graph the memoir. There were some days that were so difficult, I would sob for hours after writing. It was an extremely cathartic experience and very therapeutic. The early draft gave me a template for the issues I would later work out with a trained therapist—who was that woman who denied the problems in her marriage? What would I do differently today? How can I forgive David for his decision? How can I forgive myself?

Q: At Shine On our mission is to embolden women to share their gifts with the world.  Can you tell us about a time that you took a creative risk or made a bold step forward in your work or in your life?  How did you overcome your fear?  What made it possible for you to stretch yourself?

Sharing this story was a bold risk. I’m a relatively well-known figure in Portland, Oregon and a respected journalist. Many people warned me that it would damage my reputation to share a story of such a personal nature. I disagree. The shame of brain illness will only end when each of us share our experience along the mental health spectrum. All of us are capable of experiencing a brain illness. And all of us are capable of healing. I’m hoping my choice to be vulnerable, open and honest will resonate with people who are hungry for an honest conversation about mental health.

Q: What routines, practices or habits do you turn to when you want to connect to a sense of purpose or meaning in your life?

I have found yoga, walking in nature and mindfulness practice to be the most essential health tools. The nature of our lives is so excessively busy that we must fight to reclaim our space in an integrated, quieter world. As I was dealing with David’s death, crushing debt, anxiety and fear, I began to experience panic attacks for the first time in my life. Learning how to focus on my breath saved my life. It got me through the most frightening experience of my lifetime. I couple those routines with a waking practice I’ve termed ARGH (it’s easy to remember the pirate growl)  

A-Acceptance of the things I can’t change

R- What am I doing today for my resilience?   

G- What can I be grateful for right now?

H-What is the most important thing I can do for my health.

Argh takes five minutes upon waking--it makes my day more purposeful.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for smart, strong women, what would it be?

To support one another’s spiritual development. We spend a lot of time trading tips about kids, schools, exercise, even beauty. How often do we gather to talk about soul and spirit? I love the intention and purpose of SHINE ON.  Thanks for your support.