ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victoria Costello. Photo by Gerry Jarocki.
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One way Victoria coped while growing up in a chaotic household marked by untreated mental disorders–including her own depression–was by using her imagination to take her to other places, often as other people. She would climb trees near her upstate New York home, remaining on high branches for hours at a time—for all intents and purposes in her own world. Thus, a writer was born.
She fancied herself a transcendentalist and penned reams of poetry. In high school during the late sixties she wrote her first investigative articles for the school’s “underground newspaper,” weighing in on banned books and the Vietnam War, and continued in journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. After marrying and giving birth to her son “Alex,” Victoria juggled new motherhood with a blossoming career as a video journalist covering such hot button issues as abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear power, the environment, and social justice for PBS. Then their jobs took her and her husband to Los Angeles where a second son, “Sammy,” was born.
Over the next decade, and through a divorce, Victoria became an Emmy Award-wining TV producer working on children’s and documentary specials for Disney, Discovery and other cable channels. She was career and child focused and happy to be far away from the drama of the still unraveling family she’d grown up in. Try as she might, however, escape from her family’s past would not be possible—in fact, family history would prove to be key to her first born son’s survival.
As she details in the memoir sections of A Lethal Inheritance, it took Alex’s diagnosis with schizophrenia at age 17 to make her see that not only was Alex not okay, neither was she, nor were several generations on her father’s side before them. The simplistic explanations she’d been given and accepted for the fates of her sister, father and grandfather—alcoholism, bad character, a tragic train accident—were in fact hiding undiagnosed mental disorders including bipolar depression, and at least one suicide. Those realizations turned into a ten-year process of personal breakdown and healing for her, Alex and Sammy. They also precipitated her determination to take on the brain science in order to get to the bottom of how mental illness traverses families such as hers. Eventually, she discovered that her family was not unusual, and that ignorance and silence about mental illnesses past and present create “a lethal inheritance” in families like hers, one that gets worse in every new generation.
After moving to San Francisco where she lives today, Victoria enjoyed the Internet boom years as a web content writer and editor before settling into freelance journalism and long-form narrative nonfiction. Her sons are also nearby in Northern California, thriving and living independently. Alex is a sculptor, while Sammy pursues an undergraduate biology major with hopes of continuing on to medical school.
While continuing to write, in the mid-2000s Costello decided it was important to “give back” to the public mental health system that had helped her and her sons when they had no where else to turn. She became Executive Director of the nonprofit Lomi Psychotherapy Center, a community mental health center serving low income clients in the northern bay city of Santa Rosa. She continues to stay involved in the provider side of mental health care as a consultant for the Family Services Agency of San Francisco where she is a consumer advocate and producer of an online training for social workers in strengths-based recovery. She also serves as a board member and speaker in SOLVE, the anti-stigma campaign of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, an affiliate of Mental Health America.
Victoria Costello can be read on: PsychologyToday.com, Yahoo Health & Wellness, Psych Central, and Mammapedia.com in addition to her own blog, MentalHealthMomBlog.com.