Q & A: Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph.D., Co-Author of ‘Falling in Love With the Process: A Stroke Survivor’s Story’

Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph. D.

We have been so inspired by our SJF Communications client, Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph.D., Professor Emerita in the School of Communication at San Diego State University. Dr. Geist-Martin’s research examines the stories people tell in making sense of their lives, particularly in their journeys through health and illness. ‘Falling in Love with the Process: Cultivating Resilience in Health Crises: A Stroke Survivor’s Story‘ (2020), is Dr. Geist-Martin’s fifth book (which she co-authored with Sara Parsloe, Ph.D.).

Here’s a little information about ‘Falling in Love with the Process: Cultivating Resilience in Health Crises: A Stroke Survivor’s Story‘ followed by our recent Q & A.

Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph.D., Bill Torres and Sarah Parsloe, Ph.D.

“WHY ME?” These were the first words that Bill Torres spoke after waking up from his stroke. Like many survivors, Bill lived his first days and weeks after stroke in a dark, heavy cloud of depression. Depression creates feelings of hopelessness, guilt, helplessness, and decreased energy—all symptoms that stand in the way of a survivor’s efforts to regain mobility and speech. Yet, rather than dwelling on asking “WHY ME?” Bill’s second words were, “WHAT NOW?” He set his mind to getting better, little by little, every day. As researcher and author, Peter Levine (2013) suggests, stroke survivors must “fall in love with the process … [and] see the process of recovery as an opportunity for growth.”

Falling in Love with the Process: Cultivating Resilience in Health Crises – A Stroke Survivor’s Story tells Bill Torres’ story of recovery and advocacy. The book is structured along two different timelines—the timeline of Bill’s early life and the timeline of his life from stroke onward. Chapters are alternated between Bill’s stories of growing up in San Diego and chapters that provide accounts of Bill’s journey of stroke recovery. These two separate storylines come together near the close of the book as we explore Bill’s approach to recovery and advocacy.

Falling in Love with the Process: Cultivating Resilience in Health Crises – A Stroke Survivor’s Story‘ is divided into three parts:

Part One: Picking Up the Pieces; Connecting the Dots explores the aftermath of Bill’s stroke and discusses the ways in which stigma, depression, and internalized ableism shaped Bill’s initially difficult emotional response to stroke. It also offers accounts of how his communication with key health care providers reinforced Bill’s drive to work on his own rehabilitation.

Part Two: Persisting Through Recovery considers both Bill’s capacity to structure his own rehabilitation routine and the ways in which his close network of friends supported him throughout his recovery process.

Part Three: Communicating as an Advocate explores how Bill transformed his survivor narrative into a tool for advocacy. It explains the strategies Bill used to successfully work with other stroke survivors and also describes the compassion fatigue that can accompany this kind of communicative labor.

Q & A with Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph.D. and Susan J. Farese, SJF Communications

Patricia Geist-Martin, Ph.D. & Susan J. Farese, SJF Communications

SJF: Why/How did you (and Sarah) decide to write a book about Bill Torres? 

PGM: After being a guest speaker in my Health Communication class at SDSU over the past 10 years, Bill suggested that I should write a book.  I resisted at first with so much on my plate, but then I thought of inviting Dr. Sarah Parsloe to co-author the book.  We knew the book would touch on the disabilities that come with stroke and the advocacy work that Bill engages in, and Sarah has a great deal of expertise on both of these topics.

SJF: Did you make any personal discoveries (or aha moments) while interviewing Bill for the book? If so…please explain

PGM: We made so many discoveries—too many to list here—and of course that is really what the book is all about.  First, resilience isn’t something we create from scratch at the moment we need it, it is something we develop over time beginning as a young person.  So cultivating resilience as a young boy served Bill well at 69 when he had his stroke. Second, resilience isn’t something we cultivate alone. People who have a network of friends and family that they can count on when they need it most can join forces with them to create resilience.  It isn’t about the number of people, it is about the quality of these relationships–having people in your life that you love and they love you and will be there for you when you need them.  That’s just two of the many lessons.

SJF: How did you decide on the title ‘Falling in Love with the Process: Cultivating Resilience in Health Crisis: A Stroke Survivor’s Story“? 

PGM: Peter Levine wrote a book about stroke called Stronger After Stroke, which is now in its third edition. https://www.springerpub.com/stronger-after-stroke-third-edition-9780826124135.html

He used the phrase in the beginning of his book, stating that stroke survivors must “fall in love with the process . . . [and] see the process of recovery as an opportunity for growth” (p. xiv).

SJF: What made you decide on increasing the distribution of the book from academia to the masses? 

PGM: Sarah and I are big believers in the power of stories.  While we teach this in our college classes, we knew the general public would enjoy the stories told by Bill, his providers, and his friends.  We also knew that the lessons about communication and resilience would be valuable for anyone, not just stroke survivors.  Anyone who is moving through the grief of losing someone they love or recovering from an accident or any illness would find lessons in Bill’s stories that are universal.

SJF: Tell us about your passion and teaching emphasis with ‘storytelling’, especially as it pertains to health communication?

PGM: Storytelling is about connecting with other people.  In telling our own stories, we put into words our joys, fears, and even our secrets.  In the process of telling our story and being listened to, we can actually change the chemistry in our bodies—telling stories of pain and trauma or joy and passion can have an effect on the brain where dopamine, cortisol, oxytocin, and endorphins are released.  In that release and in the chemical changes, we often feel pleasure—something that happens in hearing the story, not just the facts. I teach health communication from the point of view of stories—stories told to friends, family, providers, and even in health campaigns offer an opportunity to put into words, something that we are experiencing.  As we tell stories to others, we begin to make sense of our own experience and when we listen to others tell their stories we offer them the same opportunity.

SJF: If you had to write the book over again, would you change anything?

PGM: I think the only thing I would add to the book if I were still in the process of writing it would be for Sarah and I to tell more of our own stories, especially as we feel that have evolved in the process of collaborating with Bill, his providers, and his friends. Our stories are partially there, but I think the experience of collaborating with Bill was life-changing in so many ways, but specifically reflecting on my own path and the resilience I feel I have created in difficult and dark times.

SJF: A brief history of your upbringing, education, professor positions/teaching appointments and early retirement at SDSU.

PGM: I am a first-generation college student.  My dad graduated from high school and ended up as a pattern maker at John Deere Tractor Works.  My mom did not graduate from high school and was a stay-at-home mom to four children. Both my parents really emphasized education and especially reading.  I cannot think of one time in my life where I have not had one or more books on my night stand. My family moved around a lot-five states and seven houses by the time I was in second grade.  I think my own resilience was built through that experience.  I started out as a dance major at the University of Iowa in Iowa City but then switched to Literature and Writing when I discovered I wasn’t as skilled at learning and remembering choreography the way others were.  My minor was Communication and I was hooked.  I taught high school for two years—literature, writing, drama, and filmmaking.  But then my thirst for knowledge about communication led me to gain a master’s degree in Communication at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls Iowa and a Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. My first position as an Assistant Professor was at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, CT, then the Department of Speech at the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu, HI.  Finally, in 1990 I was hired by the School of Communication at San Diego State University.  I feel blessed to have lived and worked in all three universities and to have attended strong programs for my education. I am now in my second year of a five-year early retirement program where I teach three classes only in the fall and have the spring and summer off to do whatever I want. And my joy is writing, so I will keep doing that as long as I can!

SJF: Tell us about all of the books you’ve written:

PGM: These are the title of my books:

I have also published over 100 journal articles and book chapters.

SJF: Anything you’d like to mention about your upcoming book The Infinite Now?

PGM: I have been working on a memoir for over 15 years.  The tentative title is The Infinite Now: A Mother’s Past, A Daughter’s Future. My mom died of brain cancer when I was 17, right before Christmas in my senior year in high school.  The only way I could cope with this huge loss in my life was to press down any memories of my mom. This turned out to be the worst strategy, because the pain was still there under the surface.  It wasn’t until our only child, Makenna moved into her teen years that suddenly the past came rushing forward with each and every interaction—so it’s my mom’s past and my future woven with my past and my daughter’s future that form a braid of our two overlapping stories.  It is a labor of love that is both traumatic and joyful.  I hope to publish the book by summer 2021.

SJF: Where can we find you on the web?

PGM: My website is patriciageistmartin.com

Two Facebook pages: Patricia Geist Martin and Falling in Love with the Process

My Instagram @pgeistmartin

Find the book ‘Falling in Love with the Process at Kendall-Hunt or Amazon.com

A link to my recent interview on the U-T Community Spotlight with host Drew Schlosberg:

SJF: Any recommendations for us to journal or document what we are going through with Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic?

PGM: Yes, this crisis calls on all of us to become resilient. Resilience requires us to be flexible and adapt to each new phase of the pandemic. Resilience also offers an opportunity to be creative and come up with new solutions to this experience of isolation. Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, Zoom, and other social media offer opportunities to reach out to support one another and decrease our sense of isolation. One new solution that my husband and I have been engaging in is virtual happy hours.  It is fascinating to realize that we our doing this more than we did when we had the opportunity (but supposedly not the time) to be connected with friends and family.  We just don’t stay on the phone as long as we do when we are telling stories, playing games, and goofing around “face-to-face” on zoom.  It’s fascinating to see some of the increased sharing and intimacy that is evolving on zoom with friends and family.

SJF: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?

PGM: I love writing and teach it in most of my communication classes.  I love helping people tap into the stories they feel they must tell—about life, love, travel, pain, trauma, joy—anything.  So, in addition to the memoir, I have a few other books I plan to write, one about creative female leaders and another on the process of mentoring. I also plan to develop writing workshops in San Diego and in other cities, countries.  My husband will be retiring about the same time that I am and we hope to build a business together that takes advantage of the expertise that each of us could contribute.

SJF: Thank you so much, Patricia – it was such a pleasure to learn more about you and you work!

Thanks for stopping by!

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