Alison Bergblom-Johnson

Because the story she will be presenting, “Because the Voices…” (a follow up to her December 2008 piece “She’s Going to Heal: Alma”) deals issues of mental health and the mental health system, I began the interview with questions about that. Alison says that the idea that people can think themselves out of a mental health condition is one of the most frustrating misconceptions out there, one still held by many people. She identifies the biggest weakness of the mental health system as lack of parity, but is excited for its arrival–most major health plans will implement it between now and the first of the year. Parity means that mental health must be treated at the same level as physical health; care can still be rationed, but not in a different way than physical health is rationed. This will make care much more affordable, which will result in more people being treated; more people being treated will result in more people being treated while working; and more people being treated while working means a significant decrease in the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and hopefully as well as in misconceptions like the one mentioned above.

“Because of the Voices…” is a work of creative nonfiction, a genre Alison says she is drawn to because she loves “being able to be truthful in my writing about my own experience. I also love the opportunity to shape my experiences by how I frame them. I love excavating others’ lives as well, although I limit this to people who are dead.” Her influences and inspirations range from Mikhal Gilmore–“a teacher for me about how everything does not need to be tied up neatly, but that we must do the real work of fully telling the truth”–to Lee Smith for how she tells women’s stories to Toni Morrison for being so engaged with history to Joan Didion, who “walks tightropes with virtuosity and it is wonderful to watch how she doesn’t fall.”  Alison passes on skills like these herself through teaching writing:”I teach because I love having something to offer students, and because I learn from it. Students writing well is always rewarding, but seeing them embrace their own stories is even more so.”