NAMI Clackamas County member's book inspires readers
Sherry Joiner's mother took her own life in 1989, and Joiner has spent years trying to figure out why.
In 2016, she found a book among her mother's things called "A Course in Miracles by the Foundation for Inner Peace," with a bookmark and some notes that seemed to provide some answers. This, in turn, led Joiner to write her own book, "Last Miracle for Maria: A Story of Suicide, PTSD, and Schizoaffective Bipolar Disorder Type."
"I came to the conclusion that I could help people in similar circumstances deal with their suicide attempts, the deaths of their loved ones to suicide, and help them through their journey of alcoholism and mental illness," Joiner said.
Her book was released last month on Amazon and will be available for check out at the Multnomah County Library Woodstock Branch; libraries are currently closed to help slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Joiner, who is a member of NAMI Clackamas, said her mother, Maria, a native of Natal, Brazil, met her future husband, James Standing, when he was a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Brazil. They married in 1940 and moved to Salt Lake City in 1945.
One of Joiner's earliest memories of her mother is when she drew hopscotches in chalk on the street in Salt Lake City and enrolled her daughter in hopscotch tournaments; by then her parents had divorced.
Joiner also recalls her mother comforting and supporting her when she was diagnosed with polio.
"I could feel the love flowing through her as she encouraged me to walk without crutches and braces, and to dance and swim," Joiner said.
When Maria's marriage to James broke up, she stood strong in the face of adversity, Joiner said.
After her mother took her own life, Joiner discovered that Maria's oldest brother also had died by suicide, and she wondered if his death played a role in her mother's own suicide.
"Mom's struggle with bipolar disorder and alcoholism was painful and hard to deal with. She couldn't face reality," Joiner said.
She finally realized that her mother had three suicide risk factors: genetics, mental illness and alcoholism.
Writing the book
Joiner said she wrote "Last Miracle for Maria" because her mother's life was important and meaningful to her.
"She was a kind, talented woman who made great sacrifices for our family," Joiner said.
She added, "I wanted to pay tribute to a woman who gave birth to me, and to release all the pent-up feelings I had for her. I wanted to understand why she committed suicide, and in addition help someone face their own challenges with suicide."
The book really took off when Joiner discovered a notebook of her mother's that helped her figure out what emphasis she wanted to convey.
"I used a chronological pattern to my work, reliving mom's life and death to suicide, our family's history and my experience with PTSD and schizoaffective disorder," she said.
Joiner noted that most books on the diagnoses and facts about mental illness and suicide are written by doctors and psychologists.
"I feel that writing about my personal story with a lived experience of mental illness and suicide attempts, and the lived experience of my mother, who let alcohol and mental illness run her life and eventually committed suicide, was more meaningful," Joiner said.
"Writing this book was a catharsis for me because I was able to accept all the wonderful things my mom had done for me while growing up, instead of holding in the bitterness," she said.
At one time, Joiner said she had a dim view of her mother and stereotyped her as an alcoholic.
"When I wrote this book, I saw my mother in a different light, how unfortunate her circumstances were and the strength she possessed," she said.
"This book will help others because I take the reader on Maria's life journey as well as her grief journey, and lead them through the darkness of alcoholism, mental illness and suicide," Joiner said.
She offers coping skills in her book, recommending self-affirmation tapes by Louise Hay, and books to read, including, "How to Survive the Loss of a Love," by Melba Colgrove, and "Loving What Is," by Byron Katie.
Joiner has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and paranoia schizophrenia. She has been hospitalized five times and made four suicide attempts. She hopes that readers of her book can learn from her own tragic experiences and psychiatric disorders.
"I've learned to seek help from a counselor monthly and see a doctor and take medications for my condition. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy work," Joiner said.
She advises people to give a psychiatrist facts about their condition to help figure out a treatment plan.
For those isolated at home, Joiner recommends that people paint, dance, sing, write a pain journal or follow Sherry's Master Plan, offered in her earlier book, "Sherry Goes Sane."
In her current book, Joiner describes a visualization technique she uses to calm her mind.
She pictures her and her mother walking on the sands of Natal; there is a tiny dot on the ocean's wave coming in toward them.
"The dot is our pain. As it comes closer and closer toward us, it gets tinier and tinier," Joiner said.
"As the wave brings the tiny dot to shore, it disappears in the deep rich sand and vanishes. Our pain vanishes."
Then, as they sit on the beach, a green bottle floats by. It has a piece of paper in it, so her mother reaches in the bottle and opens the paper.
"It reads: Your life is worth living; it is a story with no end. Cherish it, nurture it, live it, love it. Share it. Be proud of who you are and strive to be happy."
Joiner said everyone will benefit from reading "Last Miracle for Maria," especially those who struggle with alcoholism or psychiatric disorders, who have lost a loved one to suicide, adult victims of sexual abuse and domestic abuse and substance-abuse victims.
Above all, Joiner added, "Cherish your life and embrace it like you never have before. Don't be afraid to forgive and to love; don't be afraid to ask for help and to ask questions; and maintain your relationships with people."
To buy a copy of "Last Miracle for Maria: A Story of Suicide, PTSD, and Schizoaffective Bipolar Disorder Type," visit amazon.com/Last-Miracle
Disorder/dp/B084DGDY6V. The book is available in paperback and Kindle.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.