Love, Loss and Mental Health: The Power of Breaking the Silence

An Interview With Tiffany Philippou, Author of Totally Fine (And Other Lies I’ve Told Myself)
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Love, Loss and Mental Health: The Power of Breaking the Silence

A Decade Long Relationship With Silence

Tiffany Philippou was a 20-year-old university student living in the UK when one day, she received the news that changed her life. Earlier that day, while she was out of town visiting her best friend Anna, she’d received a text message from her boyfriend Richard that said, “I love you.” Little did she know that it would be the last thing he’d ever say to her. Shortly thereafter, he went into his parents’ garage and committed suicide. 

This was 2008, at the height of the financial crisis that affected many parts of the world. Like Tiffany, Richard was a student at Bristol University. Unlike her, he’d received a letter from university officials informing him that he’d failed his exams and that he was being expelled from the school. The news shook him so much that he decided to take his own life.

In Chapter One of Tiffany’s forthcoming book, Totally Fine (And Other Lies I’ve Told Myself), she wrote, “I wonder if he knew, as he walked into the garage at his parents’ house that morning, that in taking his own life he’d be giving seven people back theirs.” Richard was, after all, an organ donor. Tiffany’s shock at her boyfriend’s death was evident in the first few pages of her book, a poignant exploration into millennials’ (and younger generations) relationships with mental health, the divergent ways in which they are unable to cope with loss, tragedy, and all the “bad” things that had occurred  in their lives. It’s also a powerful manifesto for anyone, regardless of age, who feels shame, embarrassment, and guilt when they lose someone they care about and are unable to talk about it.

Tiffany’s response to Richard’s death–silence for ten years–is not uncommon. We all have different ways of handling the death of a loved one, but what I loved most about Tiffany’s book (and her writing in general) is how she dismantles the silence that surrounds mental health, calling out societal expectations, and the belief that we should all keep our skeletons in our closets. This book is her space to talk about what happened and how it changed her, and her goal with the book is to help anyone who’s ever been in her situation feel less alone. Talking about the “hard stuff,” she believes, reduces the shame and stigma that surrounds the tragedy.

I’ve been following Tiffany for almost a year now when I discovered her weekly newsletter The Tiff Weekly, where she writes vulnerable and personal stories about love, loss, and finding meaning in life. Not only does she show herself as an authentic and relatable person online, but she’s also like your reliable friend who shows up every week (in your inbox) to give you guidance in life, who makes you feel like life is going to be okay. So I was very excited when she agreed to give me a glimpse of her journey towards breaking the silence. We talked about the inspiration behind her book, her unlikely path towards becoming a writer, and what she has coming up next!

Talking Mental Health With Tiffany Philippou

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Was this the career you always knew you wanted?

Not at all. I think this makes me different from other writers. I never thought about becoming a writer, at least not until I was thirty. Before that, I’d had a pretty successful career working in startups. I worked in brand communications from my early twenties until my late twenties. I really enjoyed the work, but in my late 20s, I was fired from my job. So I started to explore other paths, other careers. I tried everything from teaching to politics, but even so, writing was still not in the cards for me. Then I decided to go freelance and became a brand consultant for startups. 

Finally, a friend of mine told me that I should start a blog so I could build my portfolio and online presence or “brand”, and so I did that. I also had another friend who told me that I should take a memoir-writing course. I signed up, thinking that I’d write something related to business–startups, that sort of thing. But I was surprised when the first chapter that came out of that course was the first chapter of my book. Since then, everything has been about achieving the goal of telling my story, of speaking out about mental health, ways we deal with grief, and how to move on and find meaning in life. These days, I fluctuate between doing recruitment for startups and writing my newsletter. Of course, I also co-host a podcast about work, life, and happiness called Is This Working? with my friend Anna Codrea-Rado.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given, with regards to careers and success?

I wouldn’t say that someone in particular gave me this insight, but through my podcast, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a variety of fascinating people and do a deep dive into careers, happiness, and work and because of that, I learned that it’s important to stay in touch with your intrinsic motivation. Enjoy the process. For me, enjoying the process, not being too outcome-focused is important. You have to be in it for the right reasons. It’s better to be driven by purpose rather than prestige.

What books are on your reading list right now?

Right now, I’m reading a lot of books written by my future podcast guests. One of them is The Greater Freedom: Life As A Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes by Alya Mooro. Another is Grief Is Love: Living with Loss by Marisa Renee Lee. I’m also reading To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara and re-reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?

Currently, I share a flat in London with some people, and since we’ve all been working at home during the pandemic, it’s been a challenge. I like to work alone, be in my own head, so I need silence to be able to focus. I generally write better in the mornings and I’ve learned to adapt by listening to music while I work, but in general, I prefer to write alone. Luckily, I’m moving to a new space soon. 

How have you been staying connected to your friends/family/community during COVID-19?

I’m part of the London Writers Salon, and they host regular writing hours; a free weekly event where you go online and write together. It’s like an accountability group. When I was writing my book, I’d log on and do that. That was big during the pandemic for me. Other than that, I’m lucky that I live so close to my family and friends. They’re only fifteen minutes away in London, so it’s much easier to go see them. I grew up in north London, currently live in Holloway, but soon I’ll be moving a little more toward east London.

Do you have exciting projects coming up? If so, please tell us.

Yes, I have a new podcast coming out. It’s called Totally Fine with Tiffany Philippou. Basically, it’s an extension of my book and will come out this week. My mission, as it is with the book, is to help others feel less alone. We’ll be talking about mental health, life-altering experiences, generally touch on tough topics like ADHD, and share stories with one another in a safe space.

What is your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?

I love the work of Brené Brown, so I’d love to meet her and thank her for the work she’s done. Since she and I live in different countries, I’d probably go to her instead.

What is your ideal comfort food?

Pasta. Just a simple penne pasta with tomato sauce. There’s nothing like a bowl of pasta on the sofa for comfort and warmth, especially during the cold months.

Which authors inspire your work the most?

I love Glennon Doyle’s work, and I also like Emilie Pine, Curtis Sittenfeld, Diana Athill, Dolly Alderton, and Sally Rooney, just to name a few. 

To learn more about Tiffany, be sure to check out her website, her podcast, or her newsletter. Then grab a copy of her book and let us know what you think!

Hoang Samuelson
Hoang Samuelson is a writer, editor, and lover of British dramas, including Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Great British Baking Show. When she’s not reading or baking or watching one of the shows above, she enjoys outdoor activities including running and hiking. She also works as an accountant by day. Currently, she lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and to children, ages five and eight.
Favorite book: Too many to count, but a recent one is The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Favorite brunch item: chicken and waffles! with a side of coffee

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