Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim My Brain
by Jackie M. Stebbins
“Jackie Stebbins’ UNWILLABLE is an inspiring story of a brilliant woman’s battle with autoimmune encephalitis and the circle of support--from loving family members to dedicated physicians--who helped guide her through a hard-won recovery. Her story is as moving as it is important and is destined to help so many others facing this condition.”
Susannah Cahalan author of NYT #1 Bestseller Brain on Fire
I was easily confused, and I did abnormal things. I said, “This looks weird,” or “Why can’t I do this?” about routine objects and tasks. Right after I got out of the ward, Sean asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was doing my laundry. When he went upstairs to check on me, I had put my clean underwear on the floor beneath my dresser and was putting my sweats and shorts in and around the sink in our bathroom.
Once, as I sat in my recliner and my legs were shaking badly, I told him I couldn’t feel them.
I thought my phone looked “weird,” and I kept commenting to him that something was wrong with it, because the screen was green. When he looked at it, everything was fine. I also texted Lacie and Betsy some odd things about seeing them when I hadn’t. Sean finally took my phone away from me. When I no longer had my cell phone, I picked up our landline phone, believing it was my cell phone. I tried to text from it, but could not do so, so I asked Sean to help me. He remembers almost losing it with me at that moment.
About the Author:
Jackie M. Stebbins was living her dream as a nationally recognized family law, criminal defense, and civil litigator. But Stebbins’s career as a lawyer abruptly ended in May, 2018, when she was diagnosed with a rare brain illness, autoimmune encephalitis. Stebbins persevered to make a remarkable recovery and turned herself into an author and motivational speaker. Stebbins is the author of the JM Stebbins blog and host of the Brain Fever podcast. Stebbins’s side hustle includes raising three lovely children with her wonderful husband, Sean, in Bismarck, North Dakota, and in her leisure time she can be found reading, trying to be funny, and aqua jogging.
Q&A With the Author
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The best part about writing Unwillable was the therapeutic benefit it rendered. Unwillable is a memoir about my journey from a young, healthy, successful, juggernaut trial lawyer, wife, and mother, to being diagnosed with a disease that I had never before heard of, autoimmune encephalitis (AE). AE stole my mind, body, and spirit, and because of its devastating onset and long-term consequences, it also took my beloved legal career. Writing Unwillable allowed me to process my trauma and grief, and even though it was hard to repeatedly relive the ordeal, it’s now the repository for where most of the story and dark memories are kept. Literally closing the book to send it off for publication was like closing that bleak chapter of my life, to start anew.
And I can’t lie, I also really enjoy my new life as a published author and motivational speaker. It definitely helps me find the silver lining in what would be an otherwise tragically black cloud.
Do you have any other books you are working on that you can tell us about?
I’m currently working on my second book which is part memoir and part guidebook about law school. Once that’s finished, I plan to deliver Unwillable’s sequel, which I’m thrilled about! I also wrote a novella as part of NaNoWriMo in 2022. It was super cliché (a big city lawyer who has given up on love returns home and falls in love with a fireman who was burned by his only relationship) so I’m not sure if any other eyes will ever see it.
Can you tell us about what you have planned for the future?
I’m determined to finish my law school book in the very near future, so I can begin what I believe will be a lengthy process of planning and preparing all the necessary information to write Unwillable’s sequel. I also dabble in ideas for devotionals and journals that I would love to work on.
When AE destroyed my life in 2018, I first had to survive to get away from the serious and possibly fatal health conditions I was battling. Once my health stabilized, I realized that I had to begin the long recovery process and I hoped to someday be able to rebuild my life. Writing was instrumental in building a new life. I also had to pivot away from all I ever knew as a trial lawyer and find new ways to use my skills and passion for advocacy. Along with writing, I dug up an old dream from high school of becoming a motivational speaker. I now frequently speak to small organizations and large groups about my story and resilience. I also have a global podcast called Brain Fever that I enjoy hosting. Along with keeping my family moving, keeping my chronic health conditions managed, and marketing my work, I believe I’ll continue to make a lot of exciting opportunities for myself in the future.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. In fourth grade, I remember writing about the song, “The Circle of Life, and feeling just like the little boy in the movie A Christmas Story (like my teacher would hold up my paper and the whole class would clap for me) (it’s also funny, because I’m Elton John’s self-proclaimed biggest fan). In sixth grade, I loved a poetry unit we did in our English class. Through high school, I thought I was a strong writer for term papers and essay exams, which greatly benefitted me throughout college. When I entered law school, it was an uphill battle to learn the nuances and unique way of legal writing, but I caught on quickly and became a very strong legal writer. For my decade spent in trial work, I wrote legal briefs for much of my day, which I always enjoyed. It was like putting a complicated puzzle together on paper. And I loved the nature of persuasive writing.
Prior to my AE onset, I had never, ever considered writing a book, and thought the bulk of my writing would always be confined to my work. But once my life was derailed in 2018, that all changed.
I don’t have an exact memory of when I began saying that I too would write a book about AE to follow in the NYT #1 bestseller Brain on Fire’s footsteps. My husband and mother diligently helped me during my frightening onset and long-term recovery, but no one remembers when I first declared that I was also going to write a book. We all just remember that once I found out about Brain on Fire, I was adamant I would pen my memoir (which was a pretty gutsy move coming off of an illness that impaired and injured my brain).
I think I intuitively knew that in order to heal and rebuild my life, I would need to take control of my narrative. Writing Unwillable, quite literally helped me survive and recover from AE. It was also essential for me to regain my confidence and find my new life’s path.
I began writing Unwillable on the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis in 2019, and I’ve been steadily journaling, blogging, writing contributed articles, and my books ever since.
Anything more you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Unwillable was born from destruction and grief. It was traumatic to interview my mother, husband, and a few close friends to be able to piece my story together. It was also painful to relive the gory details time and time again through the writing process. But the final product, a published memoir, brings me great joy and gives others hope that there is new life after this illness.
There are countless books about medical journeys and resilience, but Unwillable stands next to Brain on Fire about a young woman’s battle with the rare, debilitating, horror story brain illness, AE. And for that I’m so proud.
www.jmstebbins.com/blog (Blog Link)
Jackie M. Stebbins will be awarding a custom #StebbinsStrong t-shirt (US only) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
a Rafflecopter giveaway