Q1: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Lira: Two things have always been true of me: My zodiac sign is Cancer and I tell stories. I wrote my first short story at age six. In the fourth grade, inspired by the book Harriet the Spy, I started keeping a journal. I got my degree in fiction writing, but these days I am focused on personal essay and memoir. I’m also an improviser, a part-time caretaker for my elderly mother, and a suicide widow. I grew up in the Midwest and have called Los Angeles home for the last fourteen years.
Q2: When were you first open about your exposure to mental illness?
Lira: I lived with two long-term partners who struggled with major depression, anxiety and/or bipolar disorder. For over two decades, depression was my roommate and the uninvited third party in my relationships. I only knew it from the outside, from what it did to people that I loved. I was the strong one, the positive one, the one who came up with solutions and held it all together -- until my husband took his life in 2010.
When my husband was alive, I didn’t talk much about his depression except with my closest friends. I tried to shield him from judgement and worked hard to keep a facade of normalcy around our relationship. Frankly, it was exhausting. When he died, I didn’t even consider hiding the truth of how it happened. I just didn’t have the energy to dissemble or pretend.
Q3: Has your writing helped your recovery?
Lira: A week after my husband’s suicide, I started a WordPress blog called The Hour Before Dawn (hourbeforedawn.wordpress.com). I’ve kept journals since my school days and I’ve always used writing to understand my experiences and make sense of the world. Journaling continued to be part of my healing process, but writing in a blog gave me a vehicle to reach out for support and connect with others who were grieving. It also gave me some accountability. I made a commitment to keep the blog for one year, even though when I started writing it, I couldn’t bear to look that far ahead. So while I was coping one day or one hour or one minute at a time, the blog held me accountable to keep going and not give in to despair.
Q3: What do you hope Shades of Blue readers learn from reading the essays contained within its pages?
Lira: For readers who have never experienced major depression personally, I hope they come away with a better understanding of what it’s like and greater empathy for people who live with mental illness. For those readers who have lost someone to suicide or who struggle with their own depression/anxiety/suicidal ideation, I hope they learn that they are not alone and are inspired to reach out for help/support/connection.
Q4: Where can people find you on social media?