Zibby Owens: Welcome, Liz. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about your amazing memoir, The Price of Admission: Embracing a Life of Grief and Joy.

Liz Petrone: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s such a pleasure. Your book was moving and well-written and soulful. I just was like, I love this woman. You know when you read something and you’re rooting for the person so much and you care right away? I had that feeling reading your book.

Liz: Thank you.

Zibby: Would you mind telling listeners what your memoir is about? What made you even write a memoir to begin with?

Liz: This book was seven years in the making. The book that got published was probably the fifth iteration of this book. It was a process. In the book, I talk about the loss of my mother. We lost her after a struggle with addiction and mental illness. She was bipolar. Eventually, she committed suicide. That was about seven years ago now. If you follow that timeline, as soon as she died, I sat down and said, we need to be talking about this stuff. I’ve said in a lot interviews since the book came out that I feel like my mom died of a disease of silence. We live in this society where we don’t talk about these things. We don’t do a very good job of dealing with addiction and loss and grief and mental illness as a society. We didn’t do a good job as a family. When she died, the very first thing I did was sit down and start writing because I really believe that we need to be talking about this stuff. That includes my own story, which of course is woven in through the book. We talk about my mother, but I also talk about my own struggle with an eating disorder and my own suicide attempt when I was younger and my own struggles with depression and anxiety. I think these are universal themes that we need to be doing better telling the truth about.

Zibby: That’s amazing. So many of the scenes here were crystal clear as if you were living them then, like the scene in the elevator and the scene with your daughter in your tummy. They were just so clear. Are you the type of person who was journaling or recording these along the way, or do you just have an amazing memory?

Liz: I think maybe it’s somewhere in between those two things. I don’t know if you watched The Office. When Pam and Jim are getting married, they do this little mental camera where there’s these moments. You just kind of know that these moments are something bigger than they feel like when you’re living them. I think especially if you’re a writer, but probably if you’re any sort of creator or artist at all, you look at your life as you’re living it through that lens a little bit. There are these moments that seem sort of ordinary. Then you go, oh, this is going to mean something later on.

Zibby: I know those moments. I do. I know those moments. There were so many passages that I wanted to at least flag because I thought they were so beautiful. I loved this part. You said, and this is probably how you titled your book, “I’ve come to realize that the true lie the darkness tells is one of omission. The darkness doesn’t tell you how pain is simply the price of admission. And it’s a steal, really, a bargain. One I will pay a hundred times over for the simple pleasure of a beautiful sunrise or a mug of tea heavy in my hands or another mile run or a hug from a long-time friend or the smile –” I’m going to cry — “of a child across a crowded room. For the comfort of my soon-to-be husband’s arm strong across my waist while he watched me sleep. For the moments when the darkness whispers its lies in the night and I am able, still, to answer it with the only two words that matter: I’m here.” Oh, my gosh. Does that make you want to cry too hearing it again? It makes me want to cry.

Liz: Hearing you read it gives me goosebumps. I think you should just read the book to me all day long.

Zibby: I have more passages I want to read. I don’t usually just sit down and read somebody’s book to themselves.

Liz: That particular story, which is really the story of my own suicide attempt, for me, was the hardest story to tell. There’s this idea in writing that every story that you tell will be the same story in some fashion until you tell the story you’re supposed to tell. That was that for me, which is why it was important to me that the book be named The Price of Admission and that that kind of be the lynchpin. Even though I set out to write a story in my mother’s honor, that story, for me, was the one that I was very, very scared to release into the world. It’s also the one that was the most freeing to tell the truth about.

Zibby: In the book, you were saying how you were afraid to even tell your husband. You have the moment where you finally confess to him. He was your boyfriend then, right? I think you weren’t even married. Now you’ve gone from that place of, should I tell the person in the world closest to me? to, actually, now I’m going to tell anybody who can read.

Liz: I’m going to tell you in the grocery store while we wait in line.

Zibby: Wait, tell me more about how it feels freeing.

Liz: I think we carry this stuff with us. We think that we’re the only person that could possibly ever feel this way. That can be anything. For me, it was that story. It could be anything for anybody, any story of struggle or hardship or any story where you feel like you are not necessarily the hero or painted in the best light. Those are the things that, when you put them out there, I feel like they make the most immediate universal connection with people because everybody has that. It doesn’t have to be the same version of that, but everybody carries that kind of stuff with them. What I really have found is the hardest stuff to put out there is the stuff that makes the most immediate and true connection with people, which is really a gift when you think about it.

Zibby: It’s true. We hide so much. Like you, I’m heart on my sleeve in my writing, but not as much in my talking with people. People have said, you’re brave to write about this. I’m like, it doesn’t feel like bravery to me. It just feels like finally I can get it out of my own head and just get it out.

Liz: I feel like it cuts through a lot of that minutia. I have relationships with people that I’ve met as a result of writing or as a result of things they’ve put out on the internet. We get to skip through all these preliminary layers because it’s already there. We’ve already laid the baseline of, okay, we’re going to do this. We’re going to be intimate. We’re going to tell our stories. For me, someone who’s introverted and not really good at that whole small talk/minutia stuff, that’s also a self-serving gift. I hear you. I get that too, that whole, you’re so brave to be putting this out. In many ways, I’m doing it for myself just as much as I’m doing it for the rest of the world.

Zibby: I know. It’s true. I’ve been talking to you for maybe five minutes, and we’ve already talked about your suicide attempt and your mother, your eating disorder and all this stuff. If we met at a cocktail party, this would never even come up. Obviously, this is a different format and I’m interviewing you for a reason. I wanted to read just one more part. This is when your mom calls you after you were stuck in the elevator. “I didn’t know it then, of course, but it was the last conversation we ever had. She died a few days later. In the first chaotic weeks of grief, I thought of that elevator and how quickly everything can change. You can be just standing still, all minding your own business, when the floor drops out from under you and you’re thrown right off your feet. It’s completely terrifying, and it’s easy then to get stuck in unfamiliar territory where the only way out is going to be calling out Marco and trusting even while your heart tries to gallop right out of your chest that the Polo is coming. And it is. There are people who will quite literally lift you up, grab your hands and pull. It’s happened before –” I’m going to cry again — “and it will happen again. Of this I am sure, as long as I continue to have the faith to call out.” It’s so nice. Oh, my gosh, sorry, I’m so emotional.

Liz: I know that you are dealing with your own grief right now.

Zibby: It’s just anyone who’s gone through grief has found, or really anything hard, as you point out so eloquently having just literally dropped floors in an elevator and getting stuck, that your life just sort of followed the feeling. You captured it so beautifully, especially because you were thirty-six weeks pregnant in the elevator, oh, my gosh. Could you even get into another elevator after that?

Liz: I worked on the, I think it was the sixteenth floor at the time. I was hesitant to get into another elevator, but I think I was even more hesitant to walk down sixteen flights of stairs.

Zibby: What was that job? What were you doing in the office building?

Liz: I was a computer programmer. I still am a computer programmer. Although, I don’t work in that building anymore. It’s a very opposite of writing professional life that I have.

Zibby: Wow. Like coding and building and all of that?

Liz: Yeah. I support financial systems, so I’m sort of an applications programmer. I think that the two sides, the computer programming world where there is a very clear and finite answer to a problem and I find that answer to a problem and I give it to people and it’s very satisfying — then there’s the creative side of telling a story where you could tell a story eight hundred different ways. You have no idea what’s the right way or the wrong way or how that story is going to be received when you give it to the world. They sound like very opposing ideas, but they do a really good job of balancing each other out.

Zibby: That’s really interesting. How amazing you have both sides of your brain. I only have one. I only have one of those sides. Amazing. Tell me a little bit more about the eating disorder piece of your story, if you don’t mind. You told in the book about going to an inpatient facility with a much older woman named Tina and how that was sort of a warning flag for you. You would not let yourself become that person when you got older. Tell me about your, not getting over it, but how you found your way through that mess. What lingering effects do you still wrestle with today?

Liz: The active part of my eating disorder was, we’re going on over twenty years ago now, when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. I was anorexic primarily with a little bit of bulimia in there in the later stages. At the time, there really just wasn’t the treatment options that there are now. Thank god that there are now. I think that’s important. I’ve done some work with some agencies. I’m excited that that is happening, finally. At the time, we just all were shepherded into a treatment facility which was a generic place where they treated addiction, suicide attempts, eating disorders, anything where you weren’t safe being home by yourself. I had a roommate who was also an eating disorder patient. She had to be in her fifties, maybe, which to me at the time was ancient because I was a teenager. To see her struggling honestly in the same way that I was struggling, it was such, like you said, a wake-up call to me. I really had thought, okay, I’m dealing with all this crap because I’m young and I don’t know what I’m doing, but by the time I’m in my fifties, I will have figured everything out. Everything will be fine. To realize that that wasn’t just a given was kind of jarring and scary.

I credit that moment, really, more than any therapy session or treatment that happened as an impetus to really start pursuing getting better and getting healthy. Getting better and getting healthy was a long, convoluted process. It probably is for anybody, but especially then when we didn’t really have a lot of options as far as treatment. I think anybody who’s ever lived with an eating disorder would tell you, you don’t ever really get away from that completely. I would never stand here and say I’m totally healed. It’s still something that lingers in the background all the time. I’ve had to develop a much healthier relationship with my body, especially through four pregnancies and raising children and, not to generalize, but raising teenager daughters who are starting to deal with some of the same ideologies that haunted me then. It lives there. I see it when life gets stressful. I’m not sure I’ve had life get more stressful that it is right now. It’s definitely there. That’s another reason why I think it’s important that we talk about this stuff. If I didn’t talk about it, it would be unhealthy for me personally.

Zibby: Do you still get therapy? Do you have things in place to make sure you don’t slip back?

Liz: I don’t actively get eating disorder-centric treatment right now. I do keep in place for myself, a support network of things. I will fall back on that when I can see that stressors are popping up or triggers are popping up. A good example might be, when my third daughter was born, I had postpartum depression. I didn’t have postpartum depression with the first or the second, so it was kind of a surprise when it happened. I didn’t have any experience with it. I wasn’t prepared. When I got pregnant for the fourth time and then my mom died during that pregnancy, very close to the end of that pregnancy when my son was going to be born, I said, okay, the risk is huge right now. I’ve had postpartum depression before. I’m dealing with grief at the same time. I’m going to mobilize this network. I’m going to reach out to my people. I’m going to reach out to my treatment providers. I’m going to knit this safety net underneath myself and have people check in and have myself check in. That’s the beauty of having been through stuff before. I think the problem is that you don’t know to do that if you haven’t lived it before, which is, again, why we need to be talking about this stuff and why we need to be laying that groundwork for people.

Zibby: There’s someone in my life who’s struggling with an eating disorder now and doesn’t want to get treatment. As somebody who loves her so much, what advice would you have? What can I do as a friend? I’m sure other people out there have people who maybe they suspect have eating disorders or things like that. Is there anything you can do, or does the person have to be ready? What do you think?

Liz: It’s just like any other addiction, really. I think the person has to be ready to pursue treatment in order to get healthy. Having people in your life that are understanding and supportive and primarily understand that this is an illness and not a choice, which is not always how people view things like this, but if you can look at it like that, that kind of gives you permission and grace to always be there no matter what the situation is. That is so important. Especially when you’re in the late stages of an eating disorder, which is both when you’re getting really close to getting treatment but also when things are getting dangerous, I think they go hand in hand, the instinct is to push everybody away because people are starting to notice and be concerned and push you towards treatment. It’s hard to love somebody in that situation. Anybody who can survive and stay there with grace and patience and understanding is giving that person, I think, a better chance than they would have if they were truly all alone.

Zibby: What would you say to the person? Let’s say there’s somebody listening who’s really struggling themselves right now.

Liz: It gets better. There is hope on the other side of all of this. It is better on the other side of all of this. That leap is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever taken in my life, that leap to abandon what becomes the comfort center of living in this illness and what becomes the identity of living in this illness. It sounds crazy because you’re sick and you’re in pain and you’re not in a good place, but that becomes almost your comfort zone. To leap out of that is terrifying. To land someplace softer and safer and healthier is so worth it. It’s so worth it.

Zibby: Thank you. I’m hoping that somebody who needed to hear that today heard that. Thank you.

Liz: I could just sit here and stare at your color-coded book arrangement. It’s so satisfying to me.

Zibby: Thank you. I know. I love it. It goes all the way around.

Liz: Oh, my gosh.

Zibby: I have to redo it soon. Because I’ve gotten so lazy, now I’m throwing things everywhere. I’m overflowing with books.

Liz: How do you find time to read all these books? is what I want to know.

Zibby: Man, I don’t know. I just do. I don’t finish every single book. I sit down to read. I’ve figured out a way to — I don’t know if it’s called speed reading. I don’t know what it is I’m doing, but I can go through with just a second or two and get most of the important information off of every page. Every other weekend, I don’t have my kids. I don’t have them today. They’re with my ex. I can read all day. I’m about to take a drive. I’m going to listen to a book the whole time. I don’t know. I just find the time. With my kids, I always, at bedtime, have a book. It takes like four hours to put your kids to bed. They know that as soon as the first time that they go in the bed, I’m going to sit down and start reading, so I always get a good hour in.

Liz: I do that too. I’ve read before bed since I was five years old. I think that’s where wanting to write a book comes from, honestly, is that voracious consumption of reading. It becomes the logical way that you think of to tell a story, almost.

Zibby: What types of books do you like to read?

Liz: Anything, really. I probably prefer women stories and women authors. Since the pandemic, I’m in this ridiculous cycle of only reading psychological thrillers because they’re so absorbing that they can distract me from everything else that’s going on. I do worry what that’s doing to my mental health because I find myself going, who do I know that’s a murderer?

Zibby: That’s the great thing about books, though. You can decide. It’s so crazy. They all look the same. In one, you’re going to be terrified. In one, you’re going to be crying with emotion. In one, you’re going to learn all these factual things. Yet they all just look like words. I know this is ridiculous that I’m saying this.

Liz: No, you’re right. To me, it felt like a level playing field. You can be a nobody and write a book. You can be the world’s most famous person and write a book. They’re both books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. It’s crazy.

Zibby: Right, exactly, which is great in a way because we all are just people with thoughts and feelings in our heads. Getting them out on paper is just one way to share. Famous or not, who’s to say your story’s any more important than yours? Anyway, sort of loosey-goosey talk. One last thing I just wanted to touch on was the suicide element of your loss because that’s a particular beast in and of itself. You talked about the priest at the time asking if it was okay to even share at the service that it was a suicide. While you were saying yes, everybody was saying no. I’m wondering in your own family or your own extended circle, when did that protection and hiding, almost, go away, if it did, or this is a big coming out of her death?

Liz: Her family is not okay with me talking about this. There’s a big schism there and has been since shortly after the death, which is a huge source of sadness for me, but not enough that I felt like I had to stop. I feel like putting this story out there was honoring her, which I think is kind of a funny thing to say. I tell some stories about her that probably are not totally flattering. My mother, despite all of her faults, despite the fact that she would wake up in hospital after us calling 911 and her going in an ambulance intoxicated and saying, “Did the neighbors see?” I think she would’ve wanted the end of her life to help save somebody else’s life. I truly, truly believe that. Without getting into all sorts of froufrou stuff, our relationship didn’t end when she died. I have full confidence that she supports this book and this story and the work that I’ve done. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t believe that. To specifically address what you’re asking, no, we do not do a good job talking about suicide. We don’t do a good job talking about death in general. Suicide is a whole nother level. Then grieving a suicide is a whole nother level because it takes you a while to get to where you would start if you just — I don’t want to say just — if you had lost somebody in a more natural fashion. Like I was saying earlier, I started writing this book seven years ago when my mom first died.

That first iteration of this book was angry and hurt and abandoned. I was the martyr. She was the villain. Thank god that thing has not seen the light of day. Also, thank god that thing came out of me because it had to. That kind of grief is not the kind of grief that people are going to necessarily feel comfortable talking to their friends about because who wants to say, my mom died a month ago and I’m still so mad? That’s not a thing that people feel comfortable saying. I think it’s just the natural progression of losing somebody in that fashion. Seven years have gone by. I’m not angry anymore, but that takes time. I think it takes honest conversations. I hope that the book can help people have those honest conversations and help people understand that all of those reactions, the anger, the abandonment, the sadness, the everything, is totally normal. When you lose somebody who’s been struggling like that and you’ve had this tumultuous relationship, there’s that — I’m going to screw this up, and I don’t want to say it wrong — almost this sense of relief, like, at least that’s over. That is a thing that people really can’t talk about it because it sounds so off-putting and terrible, but it’s just natural. It’s just part of all of it. I think we need to talk about that stuff.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I hope you’re thinking of starting, if you haven’t already and I just don’t know about it, some sort of bigger way of spreading, like a movement about what you’re talking about because you made it. You need to be the leader of this movement.

Liz: I do. Now that the book is out there and that work is done, I really do want to start doing some community work in this realm. My story of having been a suicide survivor myself and then losing my mother to suicide I think gives me the ability to see it from both sides and to speak to both sides in sort of a unique way. I want to encourage more people to be having these conversations.

Zibby: I should introduce you — I’m on the board of the Child Mind Institute. It’s for children’s mental health and also to help reduce to the stigma of mental illness. It’s more for childhood issues, everything from anxiety to depression, everything. Maybe you could reach parents that way or you could reach the children who are struggling and tell your story to them.

Liz: That would be great.

Zibby: offline about it. I’m just trying to think of good channels for you to be able to use that are already existing as opposed to having to put your own community together to get the message out. Anyway, not that this is my job. Last question. What advice would you have to aspiring authors?

Liz: Write. Butt in chair. Write. It’s funny. I did a podcast yesterday. The host asked me, “How was the experience of writing this book?” I’m like, “It was the worst thing in my life,” which doesn’t sound like much of advertisement for writing, but I think that’s how you know it’s what you’re supposed to be doing, that it is just so unbelievably hard and exhausting and consuming and all-in. I remember going to bed at night and falling asleep. Then I would wake up an hour later just with chapters flying through my brain. I think we all need to be telling our stories. It’s not about being trained as a writer or even being a good writer. It’s about putting pen to paper and putting the story out there. I remember going to a book lecture when I was probably in my twenties. I had always wanted to write even though that wasn’t my career. The author, I can’t even remember who it was, stood up and said, “People are always coming up to me and saying, I have a story inside of me.” She was saying that she found that offensive, like, nobody comes up to a surgeon and says, I have a surgery inside of me, but they come to writers and say they have a story inside of them. Now that happens to me. People come up to me and say, “What would your advice be to write? I want to tell this story,” or they tell me their story. I think the fact that people are constantly coming up to me and saying they have a story inside of them is the best part of all of this. There’s nothing more universal than the fact that we all want to be heard. We all want to relate. We all want to have that community. It’s beautiful.

Zibby: Wow. This has been really inspiring. I hope that we stay in touch. I’m just so happy to have met you.

Liz: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you for your beautiful book, Price of Admission. Everybody go pick this up. Thank you. Thank you for coming on the show.

Liz: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye, Liz.

Liz: Bye. Thank you.