Breaking the Stigma: An Interview with Tracey Yokas

Author Tracey Yokas reached out to me about an interview in late 2022, but soon thereafter, I thought about pulling back on the feature. I even told Tracey I might be putting a pin in the project. But when I looked at Tracey’s request again, I knew I needed to keep the series going because I had so many questions about her debut memoir, Bloodlines: A Memoir of Harm and Healing. The book about “motherhood and intergenerational healing” is Tracey’s story about how she learned to support her daughter, Faith, and in doing so, discovered much about herself. Beth Kephart, author of Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class, wrote of the book, “In her potent, searing memoir, Tracey Yokas tells the story of a family working their way through the dark and toward the light, a family in which love, ultimately, wins.”

Welcome, Tracey!

Christina: Congratulations on the release of Bloodlines: A Memoir of Harm and Healing. Why choose memoir? Did you ever think about fictionalizing the story?

Tracey: Thank you so much! It’s been a long time coming. I started working on this project back in 2013, and seeing this version of the book come to life is both extraordinary and humbling. Many times over the years I gave writing up convinced that I’d never get to this point. But here I am. 

And no. I never considered fictionalizing our story. When I reached the point of writing specifically toward publication, which took a good, long while, several people inside and outside of the writing world suggested I might favor fiction. A perfectly sensible route to take since it would have allowed more freedom and required less, well, less of our reality! However, I was dedicated to being transparent. 

Then and now, I want families and particularly mothers, who are going through what we did, to know they are not alone. It’s a tough, hard, scary, confusing road for parents of teens who get mental health diagnoses. Isolation and shame keep us feeling small, lonely, and disconnected. Now especially, post-pandemic, the statistics on mental health for our kids are headed in the wrong direction. There’s never been a more important time to speak out, to break the stigma around experiences like ours. We all have mental health, so we might as well talk about it. And we know silence can kill. We also know hope and healing are real. My family and I are living proof.     

Before I continue, it seems important to clarify right away that my daughter is twenty-five years old now (thirteen when diagnosed), and she is thriving in every conceivable way. She read and signed off on the iteration of the manuscript that went to print, and we ended up having some great, mature conversations about our journey as a family. The childhood scenes of mine included in the book helped us shape conversation about those experiences, talk about how generational transmission of traumatic experiences and conditioning impacted me and then her, and how we’re striving to break those patterns. Her reading the book and us talking about it together was another layer in our healing journey. 

I know life doesn’t turn out this way for everyone, and I’m so grateful we’ve reached this point together. 

Christina: How did your family or any others involved react to knowing that you were writing a book and pursuing publication? Did you have any reservations about writing the book?

Tracey: My parents had already passed away when I started writing the book, so I didn’t have the opportunity to discuss my work with them. I do sometimes wonder how they’d feel about their roles in the story, what they’d think now about what constrained them when I was born and what carried forward from their histories to me and mine. My healing journey has shown me that they were two people controlled by forces they didn’t understand, doing the best they could. The level of compassion I developed for them as I wrote, went to therapy, and healed was another surprise outcome of the work. Certainly, they were very different people later in their lives and I believe they would support me and this book. They would understand and appreciate the value of laying our story bare. 

As to my husband and daughter, I waited to speak to them until I reached a point in the evolution of the material when I thought it might actually be possible for me to write a book-length manuscript. (The naiveté! It would take many more years for me to achieve that goal.) But at that point, a couple of years into the process, I asked for input from my daughter in particular. I wanted to know what situations or events were off limits to share, and some were. Our relationship is sacred to me, and I respected her requests without hesitation. 

I can’t think of anything more fraught in memoir writing than to include our children. Balancing (on the page) the simultaneous need to take care of her while sharing our true life experience was a large part of why it took me so long to finish. That, and connecting more dots relative to how my childhood impacted me as adult and as a mother. At the end of the day, if my daughter had asked me not to move forward with publishing the book, I would have pulled the plug. Period. 

The reason I could move forward is because each member of my family in their own way is passionate about mental health advocacy. We support one another’s endeavors. I couldn’t do this without them. Ending the silence and dispelling myths is a critical part of disrupting the transmission of unhealthy patterns and conditioning. Shame can only live in the dark. Getting help can be complicated, but people do not have to traverse the path alone.   

As to reservations, I didn’t have any about writing the book. I have some about publishing it. Seventy thousand words is the approximate standard length of a book, mine included. That’s a few hundred pages during which people will form opinions, make judgments, and have assumptions about us. We are not the same people we were back then, nor can one book capture every complexity of the memoirist’s life. Difficult choices have to made, key details and information omitted. 

An author can never really predict how someone will interpret their work. That’s why it’s incumbent upon us to make sure we do the absolute best we can and after that, let go.

Christina: F.D. Raphael wrote, “In her journey to examine and understand the emotional scars handed down from her family experience, Tracey Yokas finds her truth and her voice.” Can you talk a little bit about the process of finding truth and voice? Was it difficult to be vulnerable at times, and what kept you going?

Tracey: Wow. This is a really great question, very involved actually. I’ll try to simplify. The first time Bloodlines was almost published was 2022. I was just days away from having a conversation with my publisher, She Writes Press, about how many copies of the book to print. For months leading up to that point, I’d had a terrible gnawing sensation in my gut. Fear. I was afraid. Most memoirists are in advance of release. I assumed my fear was “normal” for that interstitial time after a book’s submission but before its actual birth. The closer I got to that conversation though, the worse and worse I felt. I explain the process and the steps I took in detail in the Afterword of this version of the book. 

Suffice to say here that I did end up pulling the plug in 2022 and starting over from scratch twice more before finally getting to the end. And what a relief—that I listened to myself. I hadn’t done justice to our story on the page the way I wanted to. 

What I didn’t realize at the time but do now, two years into the future, is that my fear was based on two issues. On one hand, my skill and craft as a writer still needed work. But more than that, way more than that was the state of my brain. What I mean is it was only as I was writing the final draft of the book that the last puzzle pieces around my childhood of being raised by emotionally immature parents fell into place. Having that insight and what it meant about me as a person and a mother was absolutely crucial to writing the book I wanted to write. 

In regard to truth and voice, the actual wrestling of words onto the page, that struggle in and of itself, was healing for me. Not to oversimplify the matter, because many tools including regular therapy, developing spirituality and art practices, and creating community, were critical, too. Unequivocally, to find my truth and my voice I had to start and stop writing, start and stop, and start and stop again and again. I had to live and write into my healing to be able to express words the way I wanted to. And I had to express words the way I wanted to to understand my own self and my relationships. This might be confusing for folks who didn’t grow up like I did. 

The bottom line is writing was a critical component to forming new neural pathways that healed and continue to heal me. The entire process was one of peeling back layers to reach my true self, my essence of empathy and compassion, and thereby me—my truth and my voice.

Yes, it was difficult to be vulnerable, but not because I wanted to hide. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable, on the page or as a human being. People who grew up in environments similar to mine learn that it’s emotionally dangerous to show who we really are. We grow up conditioned to see ourselves as less important and to question our own judgment, knowing that nothing we do is good enough. We have low self-esteem, struggle with shame, and gaslight ourselves. In other words, to be able to write the book with the vulnerability I longed to share, I first had to learn how to have it as an individual.     

What kept me going is a great question that doesn’t have an easy answer. I gave up. So many times I gave up. After periods of giving up, I always eventually returned to the page. Mostly, for a long time, I felt like I was just banging my head against a wall. It’s fine if I’m not a writer, I kept telling myself. Lots of people aren’t. But my tenacity, perseverance, and resilience (also outcroppings of my upbringing) just wouldn’t let me quit. If I had made a conscious choice to stop, that would have been fine, too.  

Christina: Generational trauma is a topic that wasn’t really mainstream when our generation was growing up. What do you hope to add to the conversation regarding generational trauma?

Tracey: I’ve touched on some of this already, but I want people to understand a couple of things. Most important, mental health struggles (diagnosed or not) are not weaknesses. I still don’t understand exactly where this belief originated. In fact, the opposite is true. The people I’ve met on this journey are the strongest, most creative I know. Myself included! 

Sharing our challenges in appropriate ways with safe folks is curative and normal. Some say that pointing out differences between people makes those differences more apparent and sets people further apart. There’s truth in that, too, I guess, but we have to start somewhere. We’re so much more alike than we are different.

I’d also say that fully waking up to the profound and long-lasting impacts of my childhood has been incredibly liberating. Prior to understanding and accepting that reality, for decades, I assumed something was wrong with me, that I needed to be fixed. In certain ways, I unconsciously passed that same belief on to my daughter. Making conscious and then understanding the ways nature and nurture were controlling me was the key to unlocking a healthier relationship with myself and then with everyone I love. Anyone can benefit from this kind of work.

Unhealed, inherited trauma and childhood conditioning prevent us from being able to receive and give love the way we want. Prevent us from establishing the ties and connections we long for. Understanding and breaking those patterns takes a long time and requires dedicated effort, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. For years and years, I wasted the same amount of energy trying to “fix” myself and getting nowhere. Trying to become what I thought other people wanted me to be. When I redirected my focus, the world began to open to me in ways I could never have anticipated or imagined. None of which would have happened without a deep understanding of my inheritance. What an incredible gift this journey has been. Not easy, but the best stuff never is.

I’d also like to add that there are plenty of self-help books out there about these topics, but it can be difficult for people to integrate information from that format into their real life. My hope is that by reading about how these dynamics played out in my actual family, folks who don’t know where to start might see themselves and find some new language. 

Christina: What did your publication journey look like? Did you encounter any surprises along the way?

Tracey: It took me over a decade to write the book so I knew early on that I had neither the desire nor the wherewithal to try to traditionally publish. One of my editors, Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, collaborates with Brooke Warner from She Writes Press, which had a long, established, and successful track record in the hybrid publishing world. Linda Joy suggested I apply to She Writes. My adventure with Brooke and her team has been a dream.

I’d like to add that when I shelved the 2022 version of the book, I felt awful, like I was letting a lot of people down. I felt embarrassed and disappointed in myself. Shame reared its ugly head—old childhood messaging popping to the fore. Brooke never expressed anger or frustration with me. She wanted me only to do what was right and best for me and my family. Having her support meant the world to me. Anyone considering hybrid should check out She Writes Press. 

I guess the main surprise I still experience on a regular basis is how much work it takes to get a book into the world. I mean, beyond the actual writing of it. In fact, most of the work comes after the writing! Marketing, publicity, social media and platform building to name just some. It reminds me of the old adage about life being a marathon rather than a sprint. Just as true in publishing!  

Christina: Art and writing. Do those two creative pursuits fill similar voids? Does one feed your soul more than the other? Do they cohabitate harmoniously, or does one vie for attention more than the other at times?

Tracey: This is a really interesting question. I think they do some similar work but also different work, too. They definitely do cohabitate harmoniously. If one thinks of a healing journey as a void in general, a void of what we needed early on and didn’t get, day after day, year after year, then they certainly do similar work by making known or more clear what before was obfuscated. 

But they’re different in that art and imagery can allow parts of us without words to express themselves, allow us to process differently. Some of the hardest lessons we learn/experience happen to us before we have words, when we are pre-verbal and without the capacity to speak or understand what’s happening to us. But as any student of trauma knows, the body never forgets. (Interested readers can check out The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk.)

I’m reading a book right now, It Didn’t Start With You, by Mark Wolynn, that in small part describes research related to the power of imagery to healing. And sometimes, when I meditate, images will pop into my mind. I create art journal spreads with those images. I don’t always know what they mean, but I value, respect, and acknowledge them anyway.

Keep in mind, I didn’t understand any of this back in 2014 when I created my regular art practice. I “just” knew that I had a calling to return to a more traditional sort of creativity—one with color, texture, imagery, play, fun. I knew I felt better emotionally when I took the time to engage with the practice. Over time, it made me even more aware of my perfectionist tendencies and my habit of negative self-talk. It taught me how to surrender and learn to accept myself in different ways than had my writing practice. 

Nowadays, my art journal calls to me more regularly than writing. I teach art for so-called non-artists (I say so-called because humans are inherently creative whether we think so or not, whether we use it or not) online and in person, so I stay engaged and try to keep it fresh and fun. But for sure there’s an ebb and flow to the writing and the art making.      

Christina: In your About page, you list a handful of words that describe you: author, facilitator, artist, advocate, speaker, inspire-r. Which of those comes most naturally? What other descriptors would you use for yourself? What descriptor do you think someone who knows you might say to include?

Tracey: Gosh. I guess at heart I feel like a natural-born facilitator. I’m happiest when I’m sharing hard-earned wisdom and interesting information as a means to build bridges and create community. I feel so lucky and happy when I’m bringing people together, helping them to discover ways to connect authentically to themselves and each other. When I’m watching us wake up together. 

For many years of my adult life, even after I had a beautiful and supportive family, I felt disconnected and lonely, filled with longing that I didn’t understand. Learning how to improve my communication skills and take better care of myself through creativity, connection, and a completely new understanding of self-care, I’ve created kinship. I might sound like a broken record here, but I am so grateful for the special people in my life in addition to my family who help me continue to grow and who trust me to create these spaces for their growth as well. It’s a gift and a privilege. 

I hope my family and friends would describe me as plucky. Funny. And as a good ___________(role: mom, wife, friend, etc). Someone they trust, upon whom they can rely, and who is dedicated. Adults with a history similar to mine often have a pattern of self-betrayal, which ripples outward in myriad ways. I’ve worked hard to learn how to take responsibility for myself. The relationships and particularly friendships I cultivate now are one of the most important parts of my life, and I make sure to verbalize my feelings to my friends on a regular basis. They know exactly how important they are to me. 

Nothing blows my mind more than the relationship my daughter and I share. It feels like a miracle because it is one.

Christina: In an introductory email you said, “I’m building a community of women who do art together online and in person, using it to further our understanding of how to embrace imperfection, be real, and remain present.” That’s so hard to do! How did you identify this need? How is it going?

Tracey: I identified the need because it was at the heart of my own healing journey. And it’s going great, thank you for asking! As time passes, based on what I feel I need and the needs I see in others, I continue to create offerings like my newest class, which is about making more intentional, conscious choices in life—they why, how, what. None of the concepts or tools I use, like writing, art, compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, or self-care are brand new. What most often turns out to be new for folks is insight. How do we define these words? Do we understand exactly what those definitions mean? Do we feel worthy of applying the benefits of regular practice to us and our lives? What constrains us? These are just a few of the questions we ask and seek answers for.  

Having a community that comes together to have fun and be real, who is present with one another and who remind each other that imperfections are the best part of life is imperative and healing.  

You know, we spend all those years in school learning how to read, write, and add, but where do we learn how to be the truest, healthiest version of ourselves? Where do we learn peopling skills? And if we are lucky enough to learn later in life, like I did, where are we safe enough to experiment knowing we risk no judgment from those around us? I’m building what I needed from the ground up, from a place of gratitude and excitement. We’re in this together.   

Christina: Mental health advocacy is a calling for you. What’s the easiest way for people who might not know where to start to help support mental health?

Tracey: The absolute easiest way is to start by talking about it. Normalize conversations around mental health at home, work, school, the office. We all have mental health, so we might as well talk about it. If you’re in the position to create community do so with an eye towards mental wellness.  

Or, go to this page on my website ( and pick one thing: one book, one organization, one link, one article to learn more about. Reach out to one person. Learn now to be a safe spot for people who want to talk to land. It’s actually a very difficult skill—to listen without jumping in to try and fix, to hold space when someone is struggling.  

If you’re the person who wants to talk, choose carefully. Not everyone, even people who love us, knows how to hold space for us.  

Christina: What’s next for you?

Tracey: For now, continuing the discussion around bridging divides, building community, and advocating mental health and wellness: mine, yours, ours. Wherever, whenever, and as often as people will have me. 

Tracey can be found in multiple places!
Instagram: @traceyyokas
Facebook: @tracey.yokas

Thanks to Tracey for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author or artist who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.


  1. Susan Schwartz on May 20, 2024 at 4:15 pm

    What beautiful answers to really great questions! I also have been on a journey to overcome a traumatic childhood. Tracey, I can relate to many things you say, like being raised to please others and not allowed the space to express my feelings. It’s been a long journey but absolutely worth it. I have read your book and was enthralled! I’m so happy your daughter is doing so well. I absolutely appreciate how you are trying to get rid of the stigma around mental health issues.

    • Christina Consolino on June 2, 2024 at 6:39 am

      I am so glad you enjoyed the interview. Tracey has a ton of wonderful things to say. Best of luck to you.

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