Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015: A New Beginning 

Dear Friends,
Today is Thanksgiving, a national holiday. While its purpose is to celebrate the harvest, since neither I nor anyone I know lives on a farm, for years I have viewed this holiday as a time for self-reflection...a time to think about the things for which I feel thankful, the people who are important to me, and the ways in which I am contributing to world in which I live.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~ William Arthur Ward

- See more at: 
When I thought about my life in 2009, I decided to stop writing this blog. I felt I had said all I had to say about illness and wellness. I no longer wanted to share my private feelings in a public forum, and I believed I only could achieve true wellness if I moved on. In addition,
sitting at a computer for hours at a time to read comments and respond to them, and read other blogs, had begun feeling very restrictive. Actually, spending too much time each day on the computer doesn't make me feel well.

When I awakened this morning, however, I suddenly realized that after six years of pretending that I hadn't been thinking about illness and wellness, I had been deluding myself. In fact, almost everything I do and have done is motivated by seeking wellness, and avoiding illness.
During my hiatus from blogging, I've pursued a lot of new hobbies and interests. While other people in workshops or classes wanted to develop new skills, or perfect the ones they had, for me, everything was a wellness activity. So, my motivation and goals have always been different than those of the people I've met.  And, my mood changes have affected my experiences as well.  And I had no one--other than my husband and therapist-- with whom to share that.
"What had been missing during my hiatus was a community of like-minded people with whom I could share my successes and failures."
What I suddenly realized this morning was that despite my enjoyment of most of the activities I have pursued during my time off, there has been a great void in my life. I haven't felt like I've been helping anyone, or contributing anything, and the best way I know of doing that is through writing this blog.
And, thus Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday on which to begin anew. I wish to thank the people who were part of our original community, and those will be part of this new one.

Because this is a spontaneous decision, I will figure out more of the logistics in the coming weeks. However, since I do want to post today, I need to issue a few caveats:

1. To me, the Internet doesn't seem as friendly as it once was. People leave horrible comments and say harmful things. So...the rule here is that I only allow positive comments. My goal when I started this blog--and still is--was to build a supportive community of like-minded people who are trying to achieve wellness.

2. I only will be reading comments once a day...late at night, and I'm not yet sure if I plan on responding to them. When I blogged before, it took a lot of time to respond, and I checked my computer during the day. But, I now spend my days doing wellness activities, pursuing my passions, or being with friends, and it defeats the purpose if I have to be on the computer.  I will initially allow comments without moderation, but that will change if they are mean-spirited or if people post only to advertise a product or promote themselves.

3. During my absence, I removed all the blogs of people I read or people who read my blog. The reason was because blogs come and go, and I've been to sites where few of the links are current. After doing some research, I will add some sites in the future.

4. Finally, for new readers, this isn't a traditional bipolar blog. While I spent 10 years researching bipolar and depression topics, read more than 100 books, hundreds of articles, and was up-to-date on the latest research, I'm not anymore. Nor do I care to be. This is a personal blog about my wellness journey, and topics that interest me. There are many other blogs if you're looking for the standard issues relating to diagnosis, symptoms, medication, etc., and I will recommend some of them in the coming weeks.

To everyone, I hope you have been well in the past six years, and I look forward to having you join me on this leg of our mutual journey! As always, I am thankful for your support!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving!

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving. When I was a child it was my favorite holiday. I think the reason I loved it was because we always had dinner with my maternal grandparents--whom I adored. And, there was none of the commercialism of Christmas or Hanukkah. It wasn't about presents...just about love.

Once my grandparents died, I still loved Thanksgiving. But, after my father died (20 years ago), we began celebrating the holidays with different family members, and our rituals changed (for reasons I don't want to go into). Suffice it to say that there were now presents for every holiday, and a level of tension I'd never felt before.

As a result, my fall depression, which used to last for six weeks, extended through Christmas and beyond. When I look back on it, I wish I had "just said no" all those years ago instead of making myself ill.

Last year, we changed the way we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I was still severely depressed. This year, I figured out why. It was because I'd stopped celebrating all together. After so many years of hating the holidays, I couldn't remember how to enjoy them.

But, this year we're creating new rituals--which will evolve over time--and I've recovered the joyfulness I used to feel. Tomorrow is not only Thanksgiving, but it is my parents anniversary. When I think about how much I loved them, I feel so very grateful.

And when I think about how good I'm feeling, I realize that, for me, this seasonal depression was clearly triggered by situational events. A part of me feels so very sad that I didn't put my foot down many years ago, and "just say no, I won't celebrate the holidays this way."

But, another part of me is so very grateful that I was able to change the holiday dynamics so that my son will begin enjoying the holidays for the first time in years.

When I think of it, it's unbelievable that I allowed a holiday called Thanksgiving to turn into the worst day of the year for me. But, today, I feel so very happy that I can truly give thanks for all my blessings!

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I've Learned in 2009

Dear Friends,
I'm having a lovely holiday season. In fact, I feel the best I have in years. It's undoubtedly due to changing patterns that didn't produce happiness or joy, and developing new traditions that do (clearly an ongoing process).

Also, it's also due to all the months this year I spent in therapy in order to resolve old issues and move on. What I learned about myself (in a nutshell) is that I march to the beat of a different drummer. Whether it's due to bipolarity (my therapist didn't think it is) or not, I embrace life fully and completely. In putting myself out there...often times, I meet people who can't or won't meet me halfway. While that used to disappoint me, it doesn't any longer. I see it as their problem--not mine.

With the death of my mother, I now feel my own mortality, and that truly puts things in perspective. I realize that I'm just not interested in spending time with people who cannot honestly express their emotions or feel threatened that I can. I don't want to waste time on people who bemoan their situation, but do nothing to change things. I want to be with people who are enthusiastic, passionate, and uplifting.

When things don't work out, I no longer feel bad about it. I recognize that I have a God-given ability to problem solve (which is a wonderful gift although I truly didn't understand that) and find alternatives that work.

What I've also confirmed this year is that my orientation to life is different than many other people. Actually, it's always been that way, and it's a good thing. My values are different. What I want is different. And what makes me happy is different.

While it's not always easy to feel that way--and this surely was one of the causal factors of my depressive episodes--I know I can remain well if I follow my heart. So far, it's worked really well during the holidays, and I believe things will continue getting better and better.

I believe my happiness and joy have returned because I was able to release a lot of anger inside. I spent a long time in therapy discussing my mother's illness and death, and sharing my outrage over the behavior of my siblings, my mother's friends, and her doctors whose behavior was truly devastating. This was compounded because I had spent a decade--in which my doctors had prescribed medication that almost killed me--experiencing exactly the same kind of treatment from friends and relatives.

For a long time I felt that many of the people I had cared most about had destroyed my ability to trust, and my optimistic core, which has always been my trademark. What I learned is that talking things through...with someone who listens and has insight is a truly healing experience.

While there's a whole lot more I now understand, I have also learned there are things I'm not interested in sharing in a public forum. So, this is the end of my journey for now. Health and happiness to all!


Monday, November 30, 2009

Welllness Activities: Making Changes

For those of you who commented about Thanksgiving, it was a huge success. My husband, son, and I loved the freedom of spending the day pursuing our interests and hobbies without having to cook, clean, and gird ourselves up for what can only be described as a high tension day with disappointing results.

The restaurant we'd picked for our celebration exceeded our expectations. It was festive and fun, but low key. While my husband is a turkey cooker extraordinaire, even he agreed it was the best turkey we ever ate. And, the rest of the courses were unbelievable. My son thought the candied yams were the best ever (He loves vegetables). My husband loved the sauteed Maine scallops (his choice of a first course) with mangoes, mango coulis, toasted almonds, organic mixed greens, and vanilla-satsuma tangerine vinaigrette. I thought the pumpkin pie was extraordinary. What more is there to say other than the fact that I didn't have to wash a ton of dishes and pots and pans?

And, the day itself was lovely. I spent most of it (and the rest of the weekend) gardening in my front yard. And, what I found most interesting (again) is how many people walk by and chat. Perhaps, it's because we live a half block away from a major street, and in our neighborhood people walk to do their errands and to a park and mall, which are a few blocks away.

On holidays, they also tend to walk around the block--either with their children, parents, and/or dogs. And, since I've been relandscaping a small portion of our hillside, I can't tell you how many people I don't know very well, said hi, and asked me what I was doing.

And I had lively discussions with people I do know (or who are related to people I know) despite the fact that my hands were caked with mud (so were my clothes for that matter), and I looked like a day laborer. One neighbor needed advice on a book she's writing. Another neighbor's parents were here from Northern California, and we had a lovely meet and greet conversation. Since I'd volunteered to help their daughter mulch (and slightly amend) the soil so that her newly planted Agapanthus don't die, they expressed their appreciation for my gardening expertise (which, as we all know is in a nascent stage).

What I realized is that front yard gardening is a true tonic. It allows me to combine my love for gardening with socialization. So...once I've finished planting a portion of my hillside (a truly difficult task given 30 years of ivy roots embedded in the soil), I'm going to redo our parkway (replacing the grass with drought tolerant plants), and perhaps even get rid of our patch of front lawn and plant vegetable boxes for Square Foot Gardening! How's that for a Thanksgiving weekend resolution?

P.S. The photo on the upper right is Mel Bartholomew, the Square Foot Gardening Guru.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Coping with a Seasonal Mood Swing

The fact is that despite everything I do to overcome these seasonal mood swings, I'm not able to eliminate them--at least not now. That's not to say that I feel bad. I don't. I do have a low-grade depression, but the Adderall enables me to live with it.

The problem is that I'm just don't feel as well at this time of year as I do during my best months --which currently are April through September. But, I've decided this doesn't need to be a huge problem. I'll list the symptoms--as I see them--and the solutions.

1. I don't feel like writing my blog five days a week (until I have more energy). So...I've decided (for the time being) to only post on Mondays until I feel like posting more often.

2. For the most part, I don't feel like reading other blogs (for now), and commenting. I'll trust that my online friends will understand this, and realize that as soon as things change, I'll be there to support them.

3. I don't feel like socializing as much as usual. I've decided this is no longer the problem I once thought it was. I know plenty of people who are so busy that they rarely see their friends. I know others who are so self-absorbed that they rarely put themselves out for people. So...independent of the causal factors of my own situation, I've decided I no longer have to explain myself if I need more "alone time."

4. I don't feel like exercising as much as I usually do, except I know how important exercise is in reducing the symptoms of depression. So...I have vowed to continue walking the dog at least once a day, and to try to walk him twice because of the importance of exercise. If I need motivation, I have a few friends in the neighborhood with whom I can walk.

5. It difficult to motivate myself to do things I don't truly enjoy. I've decided that's okay. There are very few things I need to do that I don't enjoy.

6. The good news is that when I feel like this, I enjoy working on personal writing projects, and I have a few really good ideas that I plan on pursuing.

7. After a few months where I didn't feel like shooting photographs, my interest in photography is renewed, and this is a good hobby for me to pursue on my own.

8. Since I have problems with Thanksgiving and Christmas when I feel this way, I've come up with some new ways of celebrating the holidays that should make a huge difference. This year, my husband, son, and I are going to have Thanksgiving at a wonderful restaurant, and we're all looking forward to it. I'll write about our Christmas plans sometime soon.

9. My gardening projects still interest me, and that's a real relief. Next Saturday, I'm going to help my friend do the landscaping job at her daughter's elementary school. And I'm still working on a front yard and backyard project at my house.

10. Most of all, I'm going to accept the way I feel without judging myself. It's the way things are whether I would choose to be this way or not. I don't have to apologize. I don't have to feel bad. I can see all this as a "quirky personality trait" rather than a disability of sorts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wellness Activities: Gardening, Libraries, and Books

Tuesday nights are my botany class, and although I decided not to go last night (I like the people, but I don't like the way the class is being taught), I spent the evening reading gardening books, which is my new passion.

Yesterday I went to a public library I rarely visit, but they had a book on hillside gardening that I wanted to check out. And, I had such a wonderful time that I've decided to start trying new libraries just for fun. It's less expensive than going to bookstores, one of my favorite places. And, I love libraries. What's better than going to someplace with a ton of books on so many interesting topics, and being able to take home so many...for free.

One of the books I chose is The Illustrated Garden Book, an anthology of gardening columns by Vita Sackville-West. She was an English author and poet, and created the garden at her home in Sissinghurst, Kent. I had known about her since college, when I took some women's history courses.

What I love about this book is Sackville-West's writing style. She writes delectable personal essays about gardening and flowers. And, since this is the kind of writing I may wish to do, not only am I enjoying the book, but I'm learning a lot.

As I spent hours reading her marvelous essays and poems, my experience confirmed why I'd chosen to miss class. I'm taking these gardening classes to learn. But, at this stage in my life, I'm truly not interested in listening to people talk who don't inspire me. So...while I may have to rethink my participation in this certificated program, I've realized that my true goal is to continue finding teachers (like my first one) whose love of gardening makes my heart soar!

What wellness activities/hobbies makes your heart soar?

P.S. I don't mean to blow my own horn, but Wendy Love wrote a wonderful essay about my blog in hers, and it made my day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

When a Depression Speaks

One of the best things a psychiatrist ever said to me during a depressive episode was when he told me to ignore my feelings because, "It's the depression speaking."

And while it's difficult to do, it's terrific advice. For those of you who've experienced a severe depression, you know that everything changes when you're depressed, and it changes back again when you're not.

Since it's already November 6th, and I'm not depressed, this is a very good sign for someone who suffers from seasonal depression. However...should a depression hit, for the first time ever I've written myself letters, reaffirming my strengths, and reminding myself which wellness activities work, and which people I consider to be members of my support team.

So...for example, I've written:

1. You are a talented writer.

2. You're a good person.

3. You're upbeat most of the year, so it's okay if you choose to share some of the sadness you feel if you become depressed.

4. It's okay to let the people whom you help during the rest of the year help you if you're feeling sad.

5. Wellness Activity: Gardening.

6. Wellness Activity: Playing the keyboard and electric guitar.

7. Wellness Activity: Walking Jack.

8. Wellness Activity: Photography.

9. Wellness Activity: Watching your favorite musicals.

10. Wellness Activity: Writing poetry.

Of course, this is just a partial list. And, my letters to myself are far more personal. I remind myself of everything I like about me. I'm my best cheerleader and I tell myself what wellness activities I need to do and why.

I've created a list of people with whom I enjoy being if/when I don't feel well, and I remind myself why I like them. I've also come up with a list of activities we could do together.

Given the way I'm currently feeling, I believe it's possible that my November/December depression won't be realized, or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. While that's undoubtedly due to therapy and my gardening program, maybe the very act of writing these letters has made a huge difference. Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?

Have a happy and healthy weekend. See you on Monday!

(When I originally posted this last night I was tired from gardening and grammar-challenged. Thus, this is a slight revision.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking Baby Steps Towards Pursuing Your Dreams

Susan wrote a heartfelt piece about feeling like she's lost her dreams. If I were her doctor, I'd say, "It's your depression talking. And, I know you'll feel differently when you're not depressed."

The advice I gave to her--and some I didn't--is worth repeating here. I believe that dreams represent hope. In the same way I assumed I'd ultimately be well--even during my darkest days--I also assumed I'd be able to contribute once again.
The mantra that I whispered to myself over and over again was, "You're not a quitter. You're not a quitter. This, too, will pass. You're not a quitter." (It's seems silly to me now, but for some reason, it always made me smile inside.)
Once I was well most of the time, I suddenly realized I was lost...for awhile. I'd spent so much time focusing on illness and then wellness that I didn't know what I wanted to do once I actually became well.

I knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't decide what to write about. I started this blog, which has been very satisfying in many ways, but it wasn't enough. I knew I didn't want to return to grant writing, which is how I made my living for many years. I finally decided I was stuck, and I didn't know how to get unstuck. And it was a very painful and frightening feeling.

Ultimately, I returned to therapy, and one of its many values was to talk about my strengths and the ways in which I feel I can contribute. Luckily enough, I was able to take the time I needed to explore things without feeling like I had to make an immediate decision.

These days I'm quite clear that my path will be to combine my love for the outdoors and gardening with my love of writing. I'm still not sure how this will play out...but I know I'm headed in the right direction.

If I were to give advice to folks who are feeling lost and worried that their illness has destroyed their's this: "From experience I know that wellness is possible. I don't know of anyone who's experienced more depressive episodes than I have, but I truly am well...most of the time now. And, if I can do it, so can you."

"And, if you've been ill for a long time, but you're feeling well now, recognize that it's okay to take baby steps towards finding your way again. For me, the first baby step two years ago was to sign up for a six-week photography class at a community college. For years, I wasn't able to commit to anything in advance, and before I took the class, I didn't know if I could remain well for six weeks. So, just completing the class was a huge step forward."

"Then I signed up for a second photography class, which I had to quit because my mother was dying. But, what I learned from that experience was that photography is an interest rather than a passion. And, that was a good realization because it paved the way for me to begin taking my gardening and horticulture classes.

"Now I don't think twice about signing up for ten-week classes, and I know I'll complete them. And, it was a natural progression to commit to a nine-course certificated program, and I know I'll complete it if it continues to interest me."

"Most of all I know that once again, I can pursue my dreams--big and small. Without dreams, there is no hope. But, with dreams, the sky's the limit."

To my friend Susan, I want to add that I know how awful it feels to wonder what you'll do for the rest of your life in order to find meaning. For me, the answer was getting help, and having the courage to move baby step at a time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keeping Things in Perspective

Sorry, this is a bit late. I was so tired after my midterm last night that I couldn't write one more word. And I slept in this morning. The bad news is that I can't imagine I did well on my botany midterm since I didn't finish it, and became hopelessly confused after days of studying.

The good news is I decided I need to change my orientation--after so many years as a high achiever in school--and fully embrace the concept that the joy of learning is more important than the grades I get. Having said that, I'll share a few of my feelings about the class, the program, and the responses from my fellow students.

When I started taking gardening classes last April, what I loved best about the two classes I took was their practicality. In the first, all of the students designed and planted a garden at a local community garden, and our teacher shared her vast knowledge of plants--which was extraordinary.

We had weekly assignments where we charted the growth of plants, collected seed pods, and brought in examples of what was in bloom in our garden or neighborhood. Our tests were take-home exams, which leveled the playing field. For the people who had a breadth of background, they could spend very little time answering the questions. For those of us to whom the subject was new, we could spend as much time as we needed, and taking the exam was a learning experience.

The second class was pruning and we saw slides of good and bad pruning jobs, and for four consecutive Saturdays, we spent three hours pruning plants, shrubs, and small trees at our teacher's clients' homes. I learned a tremendous amount that I'm using on a daily basis.

Our teacher was not only supportive, but she learned everyone's name by the fifth week of class. She wrote lovely comments on our papers, and fully answered the questions we posed. After 30 years as a landscape designer, she was still so enthusiastic about her subject that it was inspiring. And, she was a true plant advocate, and had a wonderful sense of humor.

The botany class is a totally different experience. While our teacher is enthusiastic, he clearly needs to rethink the way he's teaching this class. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that.

Last night, when the midterm and class were over, and I walked to the parking lot with a few friends from class, one of them said, "You know, the teacher didn't prepare us for this test at all. What a waste of time." Another said, "I don't know why we have to learn this. It's not helping me at all. And when I get my certificate in gardening and horticulture, no one is going to ask me, 'What was your grade in botany?'"

But, the best comment was from a friend who knew two sisters who were enrolled in the interior design program. She said. "The one sister, who's my friend, really cares about grades. She studied all the time, and while she got 'A's, it was a tremendous commitment of time. Her sister didn't care at all about the grades. She got 'C's', and shrugged it off. All she cared about was learning interior design. She volunteered for all kinds of projects. She truly enhanced her skill level, and she loves the work she's doing."

I told my friend about a man in our first class, who was the most knowledgeable person of all, and although he had a Ph.D in another subject, only got what he called "gentleman C's" in his gardening classes. He said his true interest was the gardening itself, and he didn't have the time to devote to memorization.

So...what is the point of this lengthy post? I've decided I need to change. I, too, care way more about gardening than grades. I, too, don't want to spend ridiculous amounts of time indoors reading when I am taking these classes so I can be outdoors gardening. I, too, would prefer volunteering to work in gardens rather than trying to dazzle people by my intellect, which isn't at all apparent in a botany class.

While I know it's easier said that done, I have decided it's better to be a mediocre student who spends my days with my hands in soil and studies plants in the great outdoors than an "A" student who spends day after day reading books and studying online.

What challenges have you faced when returning to school or learning something new? How have you resolved them?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Depression Recovery Program

It's Tuesday night as I write this, and I've just returned home from my Botany class at UCLA Extension. I think that one of the things I like most about this certificated program in Gardening and Horticulture is the people.

Not only are they a diverse group in terms of backgrounds, countries of birth, age, and so much more...but for many, they are learning about gardening and horticulture in order to change careers--whether now or sometime down the road.

And, this shared interest in gardening and a desire to pursue a new field of study is a terrific combination. I think that when we meet others who are wanting to change and grow, there is an openness and vulnerability that allows us to cut through a lot of the "crap" that usually prevents true communication.

In addition, I believe that people who are willing to commit to something new--by enrolling in a certificated program, which in this case requires nine classes--are a different breed than those who take a class here or there, but are less committed to achieving a specific goal.

I feel blessed that I made the decision to try something that's so far afield from anything I've done before. I am delighted with the course content. It's exciting to immerse myself in nature. And, I believe this program is one of the key components of my personal Depression Recovery Program.