A conversation with Jamila Latham, author of The House that Jack Built: A Personal Path to Discovery
Jamila Latham is a Philadelphia native who has been working with individuals with mental and intellectual disabilities for seventeen years. Also an entrepreneur who owns Neatfreaks Cleaning and Organizing, she has been writing for four years, starting with journaling and then short stories, eventually leading to the decision to tell her life story. Ms. Latham is also a facilitator of the Woke & Well-Read Book Club, which meets every third Tuesday and Wednesday at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. Her first book, The House that Jack Built: A Personal Path to Discovery, was released in February and is now available on Amazon.com.
LALJ: You work with people who struggle with mental health difficulties. Did you find it ironic when you were diagnosed with a mental illness?
ML: I thought it was so ironic, given what I do. A lot of people in my family started coming out saying they were on medication for mental illness also. It was a humbling experience and made me have another level of compassion for the people I work with. I am a part of that vulnerable population.
LALJ: How difficult was it for you to share your personal experiences?
ML: I went back and forth. I knew that I was ready. I knew what I wanted to accomplish by sharing my story. I knew I wanted to show someone living with a severe mental illness successfully, to raise awareness and start the conversation. I knew it was needed, but I had some moments when I thought of how this would impact my career. I wondered if I would stand in the midst of people talking about me or making jokes of my “deficiency”. But I knew I was ready for it, because there was a greater good connected to it. And when it came out, people started to open up about their struggles. A girl walked up to me and said ,“Hi, I am manic depressive.” I don’t know that she should have introduced herself like that, because you are not your diagnosis, but I understood what she was trying to do, and real conversations were getting started. I got so much love back it’s ridiculous!
LALJ: Was it helpful for you?
ML: This was all the way therapeutic for me. I was honest. There’s something about the combination of being honest and helping others along the way that is therapeutic. This was presenting the world with my truth. That why it’s called a personal path to discovery. I stand here unapologetic in my truth and it feels great.
LALJ: What made you decide to do this, and why now?
ML: I always talked with my family about writing a book about the house I grew up in. We would always make jokes about it. With my desire to be a trailblazer, as you can see in the book, I got it done. Honestly it felt like redemption in some way. Why now? The timing was right in terms of scheduling. I was out of school and the stars just aligned. Also, you hear so much on mental illness that it just needed to be talked about. Again this is my personal story. All stories look different, but hopefully somebody can relate to mine and be encouraged to get help.
LALJ: How did you go about writing it? Did you free write, make an outline, or use some other technique?
ML: I am a free writer but I developed the outline once I got into the first chapter. I knew I wanted to talk about family dynamics.
LALJ: How do the relatives and friends in the book feel about you writing this?
ML: Everybody was a little nervous. Some people were glad I shared my story, life through my eyes. I was really worried about my mom and how people would see her. I didn’t want her to be seen in a bad light, because there were difficulties between us as I was growing up. My mom, being a strong support and my resource for unconditional love, said as long as I was doing good with it, go ahead. When I was in the hospital, she told me that my story was going to help other people.
LALJ: How long did you work on it? Did it take longer than you thought?
ML: I wrote for about six months. I had a deadline and I was going for it. It took me longer than I thought because of the editing and revisions. I am still revising it. This is never ending.
LALJ: What made you decide to use Amazon to self-publish?
ML: I just liked the whole process. I used the Create Space tool, and Amazon has great customer service.
LALJ: What advice would you give for people who want to do something similar?
ML: Go for it. First, your voice needs to be heard. We can benefit from everyone’s wealth of knowledge and perspective. Also, you want to come out with a good product, so put your all in it but remember nothing is ever perfect. Again, I am still making revisions to this day and it is already up for sale. Go for it. Do it. Your perspective is greatly needed.