Jeannette Walls didn't want her colleagues and friends to know about a past she felt was shameful.
The successful journalist and author spent most of her adult life trying to distance herself from a heartbreaking childhood. In her late 30s, though, Walls finally decided to tell her story.
Her memoir, "The Glass Castle," describes how she was neglected and even abused by her parents, who likely suffered from mental illness.
The book spent 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List after it was published in 2005, and it's being made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence of "The Hunger Games."
Walls will speak about her life and her belief that people can find healing through telling their own stories at Oaklawn's Spring Spectacular Fundraiser in Elkhart on May 9.
The goal of the event is to break the shame that's often attached to mental disorders, according to Matt Lentsch, director of the Oaklawn Foundation.
"There are many people who walk in the shadows, who don’t want to share their story like Jeannette has," Lentsch said. "We've asked her to be very candid and very open and just share her story."
Walls' story in "The Glass Castle" is told from her perspective as a child as she and her three siblings fight to survive. Their parents are highly intelligent but lack basic parental instincts.
As Walls put it in an interview with The Elkhart Truth, her mother isn't going to win any mom-of-the-year awards.
She maintains, though, that she isn't angry with her parents for how they treated her.
"Anger, bitterness … there’s almost none," she said. "And it’s not because I’m a good person. I’m a very pragmatic person. From a very early age, I learned that my mother was not going to take care of me."
An early scene in "The Glass Castle" shows 3-year-old Jeannette boiling hot dogs for lunch while her mother is in the next room painting. The little girl's dress catches fire and Walls is burned over much of her body before her mother notices.
When Walls and her siblings told their mother that they were hungry, her response was often, "What do you want me to do about it?"
This world was Walls' reality, and she cautioned that children who are in bad situations may not be aware of it.
"Especially as a child you can’t change it – you can’t do anything about it," she said. "I did know on some level we were different, people pointed at us a lot. But I thought that’s because we were special."
Walls conquered one of her greatest fears by publishing the story of her childhood, and she said others who have experienced mental illness in their families could find freedom this way also.
"I believe the truth will set you free, I do," she said. "But the truth isn't always easy to get at. Even though something may be accurate, it may not be true. Part of getting to the truth involves not vilifying people in your life."
Walls will speak at The Lerner Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. May 9. Tickets are $20 and are available through oaklawn.org/news.
Program Patron sponsorship of the event is $250 and includes two tickets to the event, as well as a pre-event Patron Party. The Patron Party will feature a meet-and-greet and photo with Walls and hot hors d’oeuvres. For more information about Patron sponsorship call the Oaklawn Foundation at 800-282-0809, ext. 645.
All the money raised through this event will help Oaklawn treat people struggling with mental health and addictions locally.