Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blogging to Heal

I must admit that ever since I started blogging about being bipolar, I feel better--for a number of reasons. First, it has allowed me to find a community of like-minded people.

It has also allowed me to share feelings that I've kept inside for so many years. There's a great book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, by James Pennebaker, Ph.D. Many years ago I interviewed Dr. Pennebaker for a chapter called "Kvetching" (it's a Yiddish word that means whining) in The Mommy Guide because I felt that new moms needed the release of whining in order to be able to make the transition to motherhood.

I'm now feeling that those of us who have a chronic illness occasionally need to kvetch as well. Now I must admit that I have begun reading a lot of other blogs by people with illnesses --bipolar and non-bipolar ones alike--and a lot of people kvetch. So perhaps it truly is therapeutic. But I think it's more than just kvetching that helps. The following are some of the reviews on Opening Up from Amazon.com.

"Dr. Pennebaker has demonstrated that expressing emotions appears to protect the body against damaging internal stresses and seems to have long-term health benefits."
--Daniel Goleman, in The New York Times

"This book is the very best that scientific psychology has to offer. Pennebaker has made remarkable discoveries that show how disclosing our deepest secrets can make us well...throws open new doors of understanding and offers new hope for gaining control of our lives."
--Daniel M. Wegner, author of White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts

You get the drift. The fact is that I think that blogging may be the ideal way of opening up. I'd like to know how you feel about blogging. Why did you start? What has the experience been like for you? What do you like best about blogging? Has it helped you heal?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hypomania (Part 2)

Please read yesterday's post for continuity.

6-7 A hypomania of this magnitude begins to scare me. And this is when I feel things are spiraling out of control. There is a moment when I know that whatever skills I've developed for self-regulation aren't working so I go to my doctor and see what my alternatives are.

Since none of the mood stabilizers work for me, it's difficult to find a quick-fix. But sometimes, taking Depakote for a day or two will stop the episode. It also makes me physically ill (it doesn't matter what dosage I take, I get flu-like symptoms that don't go away). As I've said before, neither Lithium, Tegretol, or Lamictal work, nor do a long list of other medications.

Again, I must say that prior to taking medication, my hypomanias (and I use the term loosely) were very low level. These days, I no longer experience any that are above a 3 or 4 on a ten point scale but in the past, I remember talking so fast that it must have been difficult for others to follow me. I was so enthusiastic about whatever my passions were that it wasn't "normal." I had feelings of grandiosity that were more than just being optimistic or excited about the future.

As a freelance grant writer (a former profession), I had difficulty writing grants because my thoughts were racing. Rather than narrowly focusing on the task at hand, I would involve myself in all aspects of a client's business. While my time management skills are ordinarily excellent, I would find myself spending way too much time researching potential donors, or talking to a client about issues that had nothing to do with the grant. I won't bore you with the details but there were a few disastrous years that I try not to think about.

During a hypomania that was a 6-7, I found myself more irritable and less patient than usual. Since I was aware of my behavior, I tried to take a deep breathe before I responded to people who annoyed me. If I needed a moment to compose myself, I would say, "I'm sorry but I need to go to the bathroom." I felt it was better for them to think I had a bladder problem than to know that my behavior was "over the top."

If I was at home, I would try and do deep breathing exercises or do physical exercise. If things were moving too fast, I would take a small dosage of Ativan (which I use to sleep at night during hypomanias).

I don't have episodes like this any more because as I've mentioned before, I'm off the medication merry-go-round. I only take medication during depressions, and once they're over, I go off it. While I sometimes experience a low-level hypomania following a depression, I am well-aware of the symptoms and I won't allow them to disrupt my life.

But when I look back, there was certainly behavior I exhibited that embarrasses me. When possible, I have apologized (years ago) for offending people during these episodes. I destroyed some professional relationships and it was unfortunate. A few years later, I decided that grant writing as a profession isn't for me because it exacerbates my illness (and I had stopped enjoying the work). I reinvented myself as a freelance writer (I'd been doing that work for the last 20 years as well).

These days, I no longer think about the bad times. They're over. I no longer experience those kinds of hypomanias. I'm grateful. It's history.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hypomania

I have often felt that hypomanias are one of the least understood aspects of this illness. Is being hypomanic a bad thing? I don't think so. Do you?

If all you feel when you experience a hypomania is a slight elevation of mood, what's wrong with that? What are the other symptoms? I'm assuming it differs for everyone.

Are there stages of hypomania? When does a hypomania become a mania? How would you define a 1-3 hypomania? A 4-5? When it turns into a 6-7, is that when it becomes a mania? How does it feel at 8-9? What's a 10? What do you think?

1-3 For me, this just means that I feel good. I have a lot of energy. I can accomplish a tremendous amount in a day. I have a feeling of joi de vivre! I enjoy being with people again. It's a better than "normal" feeling. I can write lists, organize myself, move ahead with projects, and renew old acquaintances.

4-5 I feel better than good. I don't just like being with my friends; I love being with them. I don't just play the Autoharp at my mom's assisted living facility; I entertain the residents and make sure that everyone feels included. I don't just enjoy writing; I love writing. I don't just blog; I feel it's my calling (just kidding).

The downside at this stage is that I have to self-regulate (because the mood stabilizers don't work for me). However, after so many years, I know the symptoms and work hard to control them.

When I find myself talking too much, I try to stop. If I'm on the telephone, and my husband notices this behavior, we have agreed that he can signal that I seem to be going overboard. Whether I hang up or not is my choice. In person, without my husband around, I try to think if I'm having a dialogue or a monologue. If it's the later, I stop talking and give the other person a chance to get a word in edgewise.

One of the ways I calm down and lessen my energy level is to take a walk around the block or do deep breathing exercises. If I'm driving, I take my harmonica out of my purse, and slowly breathe in and out with it. It works and I find the music calming.

Spending money during a hypomania is no longer an issue. As I mentioned in another post, if I think it's going to be a problem, I give my husband my credit card (I only carry one) and my checks as well. However, it's not really a problem anymore. I know that hypomanic people tend to spend too much money. I know that we have a budget and it's not okay to spend money. If I truly need to buy something, I pick a little gift for myself that's under $10. Last week, I bought myself a new mechanical pencil at a museum shop and that was the extent of it.

I've never been promiscuous so this isn't a problem for me.

I know that sleep is very important so I make sure that I sleep eight to nine hours every night. If I can't, I try to increase my level of exercise so that I'm more tired. If that doesn't work, I try doing breathing exercises and relaxation exercises before I go to sleep. I also take a hot bath. If that doesn't work, my doctor has prescribed sleeping pills that I use with great caution because I also know they're addictive.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Quaker Way (Part 3)

An old friend who's known me for years emailed me to say that she was sure I was attracted to the Quaker Way because of the bonnets. Well, the fact is that I am a "hat" person but I had to laugh. Actually, the Quaker philosophy is new to me and is certainly something I plan to explore further--with or without a bonnet.

The fact is that the more I thought about Parker J. Palmer's discussion with Friend elder Ruth, the more interesting I found it. What if...the bipolar "limitation" isn't a limitation at all but rather a potential?

Marja from Roller Coaster and I probably agree on this (see her comment from my earlier post). What I mean is that for years I was proud of myself for persevering despite adversity. And I believe that one of the main reasons I felt this illness was an adversity--in addition to the psychic pain of the depressions--was because of its stigma.

But what if being bipolar truly isn't a bad thing? What if God chooses us for this illness because we're more sensitive than other people? More moral? More creative? More insightful? More spiritual?

What if being bipolar isn't a weakness but a strength? We feel things more deeply because that's truly the normal way to respond to life. We change jobs more frequently because who in his or her right mind would choose to keep the same job for a lifetime? We are more passionate about things and conversely lose interest in them because when your emotions are more intense it makes sense that you can't sustain them forever?

What if...being bipolar is a gift from God rather than a curse? Perhaps, the limitations we perceive are truly potentials if only we change our orientation?

And if God would sweeten the pot by providing every bipolar woman with a bonnet and every bipolar man with a hat, then perhaps in the future being bipolar might be considered an honor and a privilege. It sure is something to think about!

P.S. Dootz from SurfCountry suggests that perhaps part of the problem is that the American Psychiatric Association has labeled it a disorder. But what if it was called something else? He suggests Supra-Passionate? Maybe we all need to play the "name game" and come up with a new name that stops dwelling on our limitations and celebrates our strengths and potentials?

The Quaker Way (Part 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post and the quote is from Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer.

"Ruth's honesty gave me a new way to look at my vocational journey, and my experience has long since confirmed the lesson she taught me that day: there is as much guidance at what does not and cannot happen in life as there is in what can and does--maybe more."

Palmer goes on to recount his background and then he says something that truly resonated with me. "Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials. We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials. That, I think, is what Ruth and life were trying to teach me."

As I have reread Palmer's book, this passage is the one that I think about...over and over. What have I learned from the limits of bipolar mood disorder? What has this illness taught me about myself?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Quaker Way (Part 1)

One of my new favorite authors is Parker J. Palmer, a writer, teacher, and activist, whom I've written about in an earlier post. The only book of his I've read (and reread) thus far is Let Your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation (but I've ordered a few more books and will keep you updated).

By the time Palmer was 35 years old, he'd changed careers a few times (He dropped out of seminary school to get a Ph.D. in sociology, left academia to become a community organizer, and returned to academia to teach students how to get involved in community organizing) but he still was floundering, which was why he was taking a sabbatical at Pendle Hill, a Quaker community.

He writes: "But when I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite their good intentions, left me more discouraged. "Have faith," they said, "and way will open."

Palmer felt he did have faith, but that he was approaching middle age and was struggling because he hadn't found a "vocational path that feels right."

"After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well known for her thoughtfulness and candor. 'Ruth,' I said, 'people keep telling me that 'way will open.' Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not happening...'

"Ruth's reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking. 'I'm a birthright Friend,' she said somberly, 'and in sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me.' She paused and I started sinking in despair. Was this woman telling me that the Quaker concept of God's guidance was a hoax?

"Then she spoke again, this time with a grin, 'But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding principle.'"

"I laughed with her, laughed long and loud, the kind of laughter that comes when a simple truth exposes your heart for the needless neurotic mess it has become..."

(to be continued)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Top Ten Things I Need To Work On

After coming up with a top ten list of things I feel grateful about, I felt I should also share my top ten list of things I need to work on.

Sometimes, it's easy to look at others and say, "Oh, isn't she lucky that she's feeling well, but I'm not and I've got so many issues that are preventing me from being happy...more productive...more sociable...more successful...and so forth and so on." The bottom line is that we all have issues. Here are a few of mine.

1. I need to lose 40 pounds. After so many years of such debilitating depressions, taking medications that caused weight gain, feeling such a lack of energy that I stopped participating in my favorite outdoor activities (tennis, hiking, and biking) on a regular basis, and eating for comfort, I need to make some life style changes in order to lose weight. Next year is my 40th high school reunion and I've vowed to get back to my high school weight.

2. Although I've begun walking again on a daily basis, for the past few years my psychiatrist has suggested that yoga is healing. He does it and finds it very "grounding." I'm vowing to start a yoga class in June and commit to it for a year.

3. I'm also vowing to try either self-hypnosis or biofeedback to determine if either will help regulate my moods. (If anyone has experience, I'd like to hear about it.)

4. I plan to continue taking one class every semester (or at least a few times a year) at my local community college. It's fun. It's a good way to meet new people. And I enjoy taking classes in subjects I never explored when I was in college--so many years ago.

5. I need to be more "neat" on a consistent basis. My husband and son are very neat. I tend to go in cycles. When I'm hypomanic, I'm a neat freak. When I'm depressed, house cleaning is at the bottom of my priorities. However, I know this is important to both my husband and son and I know I can do better.

6. I'd like to take Autoharp lessons this year. Unfortunately, I can't afford private lessons on a regular basis and no one is offering group lessons. However, I need to figure out a way to "barter" lessons from someone or earn more money so that I can take a lesson a month.

7. I need to gird myself up to begin speaking on mental wellness issues. I'd always planned on using my book as a platform so I need to go ahead and set up some speaking engagements.

8. I need to find a group of people who share my feelings about spirituality and with whom I can pray.

9. I need to earn more money and be more aggressive about getting new writing assignments.

10. Because I've been sick for so many years, my husband and I haven't traveled very much with our son. Again, I need to increase my income so that we can afford to travel together as a family before he's no longer interested in going with us.

Lists change as life changes but I've found that it works for me to write new lists when I feel motivated to do so. I've decided to begin keeping them in my yearly diaries so that I can track how I'm evolving.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Top 10 Reasons for Feeling Grateful

(When I tried to find an image for "feeling grateful," the stuff was insipid. But when I Googled "feeling happy," I found the photograph to the left, which made me smile. And I guess I feel grateful that a picture of kids having a wonderful day at the beach makes me smile.)

As I wrote yesterday's post and thought about how difficult my life was for a decade, I'm so grateful for how well I feel now. It's not that things are always easy. I've only been completely done with my latest depression for less than a week. But yesterday, as I was walking around the J. Paul Getty Museum taking photographs, I felt so very grateful and I'd like to share my top ten reasons:

1. I feel grateful that six weeks ago, despite being in the last stages of a five-month depressive episode, I felt well enough to sign up for an eight-week class and was confident--for the first time in years--that I would be able to sustain my health for eight straight weeks.

2. I feel happy that once a depressive episode is over, I'm able to think of new hobbies and interests that I can feel passionate about as well as returning to activities I've enjoyed for many years.

3. Sunday night when I played my Autoharp at my mother's assisted living facility-- accompanied on the harmonica by her 89 year old friend--I felt grateful that I could bring joy to my mom and her friends.

4. Yesterday, as I picked up my son at school, I felt grateful that despite my illness, my son is a wonderful person who is thriving.

5. Every day I feel grateful that my husband is a saint who has been so very supportive during times that have often been so painful that I try not to think about them.

6. I feel grateful that despite my illness I have friends (and some relatives) who I love and who love me.

7. I feel grateful that my parents loved me so much when I was growing up--and provided such a solid foundation--that despite the difficulties of the last 14 years, I have retained my feelings of self-worth.

8. I feel grateful that despite experiencing disappointment in my career at many different stages, I have continued to pursue my dream.

9. I feel grateful that I was finally able to sell my memoir, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out, and that it will be published as an e-book in July and a paperback in October.

10. I feel grateful that I finally figured out a topic for a bipolar blog that would enable me to find a community of people who are upbeat, supportive, intelligent, and caring.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Asking for Help

I want to thank Marja and Syd for responding to yesterday's post. Perhaps there were others who read about Bipolar Chica on my blog but I'm not sure who they are. When I returned from my photography field trip to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the first thing I did was check my email messages. Then I went to Conversations in My Mind, and I was delighted to read that my "new friends" had left such uplifting comments.

I think that one of the most important lessons I've learned from this illness is how to ask for help. I'll never forget how difficult it was for me to show my vulnerability. My son was in elementary school. I'd begun taking yet another medication that had awful side effects. I was at UCLA (my alma mater) signing up for a summer program for my son. All I had to do was to fill out a simple form.

I asked the guy at the summer program office for the form and began filling it out. I ruined the first copy because my hand tremors were so bad that I couldn't write legibly within the narrow lines. I asked for a second form and the guy seemed annoyed. I tried a second time and it was equally illegible.

Although this happened a decade ago, I still can remember the horror of standing at the desk, starring at my handwriting, and feeling unbelievably miserable. I still can hear my interior dialogue. "Susan, you're a published author," I said to myself. "You've seen your own books in bookstores. You know how competent and capable you are. There's no reason to freak out here. If you were in a wheel chair and needed someone to open a door for you, wouldn't you ask for help? If you can't fill out this form, you need to ask for help."

With trepidation, I got back in line (unfortunately this guy was the only person who was handing out forms). This was the first day to apply and the office was busy. But I knew these classes quickly filled and I needed to take care of this. When he saw me for the third time, he seemed angry, his face was flushed, and his lips were pursed.

I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm taking prescription medication that makes my hands tremor. I'm unable to fill out this application for my son's summer class. If I don't sign up today, I know I won't be able to get the computer class he's interested in taking. But I didn't know I was going to have such a difficult time filling out this form and I don't have the energy to go home, call a friend, and return. (Parking is a problem and I had no more energy.) I'm hoping you can help me fill out this application."

I stopped talking, took a deep breath, and waited for his reply. I was nonplussed to find that the expression on his face had changed from anger to concern (well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration). But the fact is that he said he'd be happy to help. He found another staff member who could hand out the forms to the others moms who were waiting in line. It only took about five minutes for him to help me. I gave him my credit card, signed the receipt, (the only writing task that was easy), and I walked to my car.

Once I was safely inside, I started crying. A few minutes later, after I composed myself and began driving home, I wondered why this had been such an emotional experience. On the one hand, I realized that I felt bad that I was unable to do such a simple task. On the other hand, I was relieved that I had been willing to do what I needed to in order to take care of my son's needs.

Months later, I realized I also felt sad because it was the first time in my life, as an adult, when I was forced to ask for help for a task that was so simple. But I also realized that I had overcome my "shame" and done what I needed to do--with a surprisingly positive result.

These days, when I see someone in a wheel chair who's approaching a door that they might find difficult to open, or I see someone who may be in need of help, I volunteer to help before they have to ask.

Yesterday at the Getty Museum, I was photographing a sculpture when I overheard a woman and her mother asking a guard if he knew of a restaurant nearby. We all could see how backed-up the freeway was from where we were standing. The guard made some recommendations, which would have caused these women to sit in traffic for an hour. Once he walked away, I approached them, told them I was a native Los Angeleno (a rare breed), and I had some great restaurant recommendations that were nearby and available by taking surface streets.

The women were extraordinarily grateful. I felt good that I could help. Once again, I realized that despite all the difficulties of this illness, I am a different person than I might have been without it. In many ways, I am more sensitive to others and more willing to help those in need.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It Takes A Village

I was intending to write more about medication side effects but a member of our "village" needs help and support and it's beyond my area of expertise and experience. Bipolar Chica who writes Conversations in My Mind is suffering from post partum depression as well as anxiety and spent two days in the hospital. I'm leaving early this morning for a day-long field trip for my photography class and won't be home until dinner time. So...

I'm hoping that those of you who have survived post partum depression can provide support and reassurance about your experience. And those of you who have been hospitalized can provide information and support as well.

I know there are mental health sites, which can provide a wealth of information, tips, and guidance and it would be nice for people to make recommendations of their favorites sites. It's been a long time since I've researched them and I'm not sure which ones to recommend.

I know that Psych Central provides a wealth of information. There's a group called Postpartum International, which would seem to be a good resource although I personally don't know about them. Mental Health Sanctuary provides a lot of information but again, they're new to me. Dr. Deborah Serani has a popular blog. Living Manic Depressive provides a wealth of information and this is a site I can personally recommend.

What I also know is that I've had days--like everyone else--where I was feeling so bad that I just hoped that someone would reach out to me and say, "Let me help you. What do you need? What information can I help you find? What concerns do you have that I might answer?"

Or perhaps I would have felt better if someone had just written to say, "I want you to know that I care, I'm thinking about you, I'm praying for you, I'm asking others to send positive energy your way."

Bipolar Chica, hang in there. While my blog is not a "crisis-intervention" type of blog nor do I provide the kind of information I believe you may need at this juncture in your journey, there's a wealth of information out there that people in this "village" may be able to recommend. I hope that today, while I'm gone, others will step forward, and make contact.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Side Effects of Medication

What's interesting about blogging is that I finally realized I have no idea which posts will resonate with readers. Actually, gaining weight was a huge issue for me so I thought yesterday's post would be popular but there were no comments. Still, because the side effects of medications have been so personally distressing, I'm going to continue writing about them this week.

Over the last 14 years, four different psychiatrists prescribed 25 different medications in different combinations and different dosages, including Abilify, Adderall, Ativan, Buspar, Celexa, Concerta, Cymbalta, Depakote, Effexor, Geodon, Klonopin, Lamictal, Lexapro, Lithium, Neurontin, Parnate, Prozac, Seroquel, Strattera, Tegretol, Topamax, Trileptal, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and Zyprexa.

And I experienced the attendant side effects, including anxiety, blurred vision, confusion, cognitive memory loss, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, hair loss, exaggerated response to stress, hand tremors, headaches, insomnia, irritability, a severe rash, shortness of breath, slowed mental functioning, slurred speech, weight gain, and so much more.

Actually, at one time, I listed all the side effects and it was at least twenty lines (or more), I can't remember. In my new book, I have my Top 10 List of Side Effects, kind of like a David Letterman list. Without giving away too much, hair loss ranked number one, cognitive memory loss was two, and weight gain was three.

Now...if we're being honest, obviously cognitive memory loss should have been first. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have experienced it, it's unbelievably terrible. Not only do you forget words--you forget paragraphs. I'd be talking to someone and have no idea what I'd said. And it's not like you can minimize the impact of this by saying, "Uh, excuse me, I just forgot the last four minutes of our conversation."

But as awful as that was, for me, losing my hair was far worse. As you can see by my photo, I've worn the same hair style for 40 years. If you're interested in a brief history of the "bob," it became popular in the twenties, and resurged in the 1960s. With very few exceptions, I've worn my hair like this forever. I actually think it may have something to do with this illness (not the haircut itself but my dislike of changing my physical appearance). However, at the risk of sounding like a true "nut case," I'll keep my opinions on this to myself (although I'm willing to expound on it should there be a groundswell of interest).

To make a long story short, when Wellbutrin caused my hair to fall out, I was devastated. Each day for more than 30 years, I looked into the mirror and saw the same face. It takes me three to five minutes to blow-dry my hair and it looks perfect. But once I lost almost a third of my hair, it became curly, frizzly, and would accommodate no style.

Years ago, doctors had no idea that a high dosage of Wellbutrin caused hair loss. So when I told my psychiatrist about it, he said, "Well I've never had a client lose hair on Wellbutrin." Actually, that was his answer to a lot of my reactions to medication. And you can imagine how annoyed I felt. I was sure that I couldn't be the only person in the universe who had these responses. The Internet was at its infancy so I couldn't find out what was going on with other people. All I knew was that I not only felt lousy but I looked messy.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jabba The Hut and Zyprexa

A few weeks ago, BamaGal asked me to write about medication and weight gain. Although I've suffered a wide array of side effects on medication, weight gain is a real bummer. And while I've gained weight on any number of drugs, the worst by far was Zyprexa. I gained ten pounds a week and by the time I added 30 pounds, I stopped taking it.

Although I have high self-esteem, I felt I had begun looking like Jaba the Hutt from Star Wars. It's bad enough to be bipolar but to be fat and bipolar was more than I could stand. All these years later, I'm grateful I went off Zyprexa as quickly as I did. If you read Bipolar Chica's comments from May 15, she got diabetes from taking Zyprexa and Seroquel.

On January 4, 2007, Eli Lilly, the maker of Zyprexa agreed to pay over $500 million to settle 18,000 lawsuits with others who took Zyprexa and got diabetes or hypoglycemia. (Bipolar Chica, you should check this out because there are more Zyprexa class action suits being waged.)

However, this deviates from BamaGal's question, which is about how we deal with weight gain and medication? In my case, it wasn't like the medications that caused weight gain were effective so it was easy for me to decide to stop taking them. But, for those of you who take medication that is working and yet causing weight gain, what is your advice?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Defining Bipolar Wellness (Part 2)

Although I spent about ten hours in the last four days reading sentences and paragraphs by a slew of famous authors, some of whose books I've read many times and some, not at all, and felt that I was on holiday rather than at work and thinking about "illness and wellness" and what I've been writing about--when I awakened this morning, I realized that I now see my path more clearly.

To me, writing about wellness isn't just focusing on topics related to being bipolar. Before my diagnosis, when I was well most of the time, I felt good because I pursued my passions in the same way that Ms. Prose studies literature.

And these days, despite my diagnosis, I have a range of interests that have nothing to do with being bipolar. I read books on writing, music, photography (a new interest), woodworking, religion, art, wellness, table tennis, politics, song writing, and healing, among others. In the last few weeks, I have read Coming to Light, a biography of Edward S. Curtis, the photographer who spent 30 years taking photographs of Native Americans, In Search of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor, and The Watchman by Robert Crais, featuring Joe Pike, who's one of the private detective characters I truly enjoy (not for the fainthearted).

I also participate in a lot of other activities. I take walks around the park near my house. I play the autoharp at my mother's assisted living facility. I'm taking a photography class at the local community college. I spent Saturday watching my friends' daughter participate in a drill team competition at a local high school. I love eating out and watching films. In the last month, my husband and I have rented Apocalyse Now (also not for the feint of heart), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, March of the Penguins, and The Asphalt Jungle (it's film noir and somewhat dark), among other films. I'm researching a one-woman show, editing my memoir, and adding ten new chapters.

While Francine Prose concentrates on words, sentences, and paragraphs (and perhaps a wealth of other things as well), I concentrate on writing, reading, playing music, exercise, watching films, and taking photographs. It is these activities and interests that make me well.

So, when I think about writing about bipolar wellness, I realize that I don't have to focus as narrowly as I have in the past. Truly, I can write about anything that interests me.

Years ago, I pursued "cures" for this illness with a single-minded purpose. I felt that I would get well if I only could find the right vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. I hoped an acupuncturist would "cure" me if he could only find the right meridian points. I prayed a holistic psychiatrist would heal me if only she could do "whatever it was that she did" (which is a whole other story).

Before my diagnosis, I enjoyed my life because I pursued my passions. During the worst of my illness, I forgot all that because I was so sick. These days once again, I am pursuing my passions. Perhaps that's what wellness is all about.

Defining Bipolar Wellness (Part 1)

I took three days off from blogging because my posts had gotten a little too intense--for me. After fourteen years of remaining silent about this illness, at least publicly, it seemed as if I had so much to say that I couldn't just write short posts or "fun" posts. I felt compelled to tackle difficult topics and write about "important" subjects that I had longed to read about--for all those years--but couldn't find in the books and blogs I was reading.

I realize that I am an "all or nothing" type person, which is either a personality trait or a part of my illness. Maybe it's a bit of both. Yet, after a few days of rest...I asked myself, "What does it mean to be a bipolar wellness writer? What is my responsibility to my readers? How can I help people achieve wellness? How do I define wellness? What are bipolar wellness topics?"

I spent a few days noodling this over. I "noodle" in different ways. Sometimes, I think about specific questions. Sometimes, I do research--either in the library, bookstores, or online. Sometimes, I put my questions on the back burner, and engage in other activities, and noodle unconsciously.

For the past few days, I've been cycling a bit. On Thursday, I was busy from the moment I awakened until I went to bed. I spent most of Friday napping and reading. One of the books I've been reading is Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Ms. Prose (yes, it's her real name) is the author of 14 books, a finalist of the National Book Award, and she has taught writing and literature in major universities for the last 20 years.

Her thesis is that the best way to teach writing is to teach students how to read like writers. In the first chapter, she says she left graduate school years ago because her professors and fellow students didn't share her love of literature. After she had written a number of books, she began teaching literature at universities. What surprised her was that her students--even the best and the brightest-- seemed so stressed out by reading.

She writes, "...I was struck by how little attention they had been taught to pay to the language, to the actual words and sentences that a writer had used. Instead, they had been encouraged to form strong, critical, and often negative opinions of geniuses who had been read with delight for centuries before they were born."

She goes on to say that she changed the way she taught. She began focusing on words, sentences, and paragraphs. Rather than asking her students to critique and criticize authors, she taught them how to find pleasure in well chosen words, "true" sentences, extraordinary paragraphs. By doing this, she feels that she can teach her students to remember the joy and excitement they felt when they first learn how to read.

So how does this relate to me? To you? What did I learn from Francine Prose that has helped me define bipolar wellness?

(to be continued)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gone Fishing

This Norman Rockwell painting is one of my favorites. I'm feeling a bit tired and somehow just looking at it makes me smile. I only wish that I lived on a lake, owned a small boat, and could nap with my two dogs in the sun under an umbrella. Alas...

Still, I'm taking a few days off from blogging. I'll be back on Monday. See you then!

P.S. I just received my monthly newsletter from ProBlogger. I particularly liked the article entitled "How Not To Become a Grumpy Blogger."

To Do List

When a depression ends, one of my first tasks is to write a to do list. I've been doing this for years and I've always wondered if other BIPS (bipolars) do this as well. While the tasks on my list vary, there are always so many things that fall through the cracks when I'm ill that's it's often overwhelming to try and get back on track. Still, I've learned that the process of writing the list is healing because I feel like I'm beginning to regain control of my life.

The following is a typical list and it's just for me. I used to have a list of things to catch up on for my son although now that he's older and my husband is retired, there's not a lot of catch-up work here. Still, I've always had great empathy for women (and men) who have more children and more responsibilities than I do (and whose spouses don't shoulder as much of the responsibility as my husband always has). Because it's too painful, I try not to think back on the days when I had freelance clients and was trying to keep my business afloat as well.

(When I write my fantasy list of bipolar support services that we all truly need, perhaps I should add a "personal assistant" to drive us on errands during our first month of wellness after an intense depressive episode. Wouldn't that be great?)

Here goes, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

1. Call dentist and make an appointment for teeth cleaning. (Tell Rachel you cancelled appointment last December and find out if you need x-rays.)

2. Call gynecologist for appointment for pap smear. (To my male readers, I apologize. Perhaps you have a "like" task. To my female readers, isn't this a drag? I dread making these appointments when I'm well.)

3. Call mother's dentist and make an appointment for her.

4. Find all insurance correspondence. Write insurance company a letter forcing them into arbitration for refusing new policy. Research options. Write a protest letter to Governor Schwarzenegger since he's requiring that all California residents carry health insurance. Ask him if he knows the problems that BIPS have with insurance.

5. Send jury duty notification to psychiatrist's secretary.

6. Update resume.

7. Go through photos for a good picture for jacket cover for new book. Take to lab and have it made into jpeg file.

8. Buy birthday cards and presents for Annie and David.

9. Write thank-you note to WK.

10. Write notes to SM and BK and apologize for not returning their phone calls. Buy new stamps since postal rate has increased. (Find out if they have email addresses.)

11. Get battery for silver watch.

12. Find out what shoe repair man did with sandals he's had for five months. Buy dark brown shoe polish.

13. Call SS and make appointment for hair cut and dye job.

14. Buy toner for printer.

15. File the ton of stuff in back cupboard.

16. Call NK and find out his recommendations for quick freelance writing assignments. Draft letters and get everything out ASAP. (Might consider moving this up to top of list since it's a higher priority than everything else combined.)

17. Go to the library and get books on stress, biofeedback, and hypnosis to research for blog. Find out if anyone is effectively using these methods for treatment. Also, see what's been written on "forgiveness." After yesterday's post, it's going to be quite evident that this is not an area in which you excel.

18. Find Myers-Brigs test results (in a box in the studio I think) so you can tell Jo what personality type you are.

19. Remember to respond to JayPeeFreely's comments on Prayer post.

20. Buy wall calendar for 2007 since you've already missed half of this year!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 4)

After all these years, I have to admit that while I think it's very important to reconnect with friends and family members after a depression ends, I also believe it's important to periodically think about the people with whom I'm reconnecting.

I ask myself the following questions: Are they life-affirming or are they part of the problem? If being with them is "making me sick," are they worth it? Do I love them? Do they love me? Have I tried to resolve things? Have they? If they stopped being part of my life, would I miss them? If I was "on my deathbed," would I want to see them? What would I say to them? Can I say it now? What are the repercussions of ending this relationship? Am I currently depressed or hypomanic? (If so, I don't do anything until I'm "normal.") Do I need to discuss my feelings with a therapist? A clergyperson? A friend? Have I done everything in my power to try and make this relationship work? If not, what more can I do?

Through the years, I've discarded friends and in most cases, there was a good reason. Although it took a long time for me to figure this out, the people I used to befriend during a hypomania were rarely people I liked when I was "normal." Actually, my husband used to tease me about finding people during a hypomanic episode whom I could "save." And he was right.

What I learned was that while it may initially feel good to think I'm strong enough to "save" someone, it never turns out for the best. The truth is that I really do believe that people need to "save" themselves. While those of us who feel stronger can offer support and solace to others, in fact, we can only "save" ourselves.

There are a few people I "dropped" whom I shouldn't have. If I still cared about them and wanted to try and salvage those relationships--even though years had past--I made the effort. I felt great when it worked out. When it didn't, I felt good that I had tried.

The problem was that since it took 25 years for my illness to be diagnosed, I didn't realize that my moods went in cycles. And, before therapy, I found it difficult to tell people--even those I truly cared about--when they did things that really bothered me. I would wait until I got so angry that I couldn't stand being their friend for one more minute. These days, I am quite able to express my feelings, positive and negative. I feel that my ability to do this is one of the best outgrowths of my illness and the subsequent work I did in therapy.

In terms of family members, after years of anguish and thought, I have changed my fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of family, and my actions. When I was a child, my father taught me that nothing is more important than family loyalty. While I loved my dad dearly, I no longer agree.

I have stopped believing that I must love and forgive family members because of our "blood" relationship. I now believe that when family members are toxic, when they have taken advantage of me because of my illness, acted selfishly over and over despite my remonstrations, and have been deceitful and dishonest, it's healthy and life affirming to eliminate them from my life.

I realize that some of you will disagree and I can certainly understand why. But, rest assured that my feelings are based upon years of reflection, thought, and prayer. I have not taken this position lightly.

Because of my depressive episodes, I have lost "years of my life." In the time I have remaining, I intend to spend it--within reason--with those people I love and who love me. And actions speak louder than words. Whether the people I truly care about are related by "blood" is less important to me than how much they care about me (my husband and son), whether I trust them, whether I feel good when I'm with them, and whether I can count on them during the bad times as well as the good.

When I think about what I like best about my friends, for some reason the following poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow comes to mind.

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 3)

What I think is so interesting and unnerving about this illness is that my entire life can change within a day. The moment I emailed my friends, it was as if I had begun linking anew to everyone.

Once again, the visual image of hibernating animals came to mind. At first I pictured bears in caves, waking up, and going forth into nature. Since they know that every other bear has been sleeping for months, reentering life is a natural part of their cycle. And that must be quite comforting.

When I looked up "hibernating animals" online so that I could learn about other animals, I found the picture on the upper left of a marmot who's on display at a $5 million marmot interpretive center in Europe.

Actually, I was jealous when I realized that scientists can raise this kind of money to study marmots and yet no one has funded a Bipolar Wellness Center. However, my envy quickly faded when I thought about reawakening from hibernation and finding myself in a glass case with a bunch or psychiatrists, psychologists, and medical residents starring at me.

All kidding aside, I think this is an important issue and one I don't want to diminish through humor. In my first post on reentering life, I said I believe it's okay to "drop out" for awhile. And I do feel that way. Maybe it's not the best response to depression but it's a realistic one. What was always interesting and disturbing to me--was that none of my doctors seemed to understand this.

So, I stopped talking about it. Since I'm an intelligent person, I obviously knew that "dropping out" was not the optimum response to a depressive episode. What made me angry was that my doctor's advice was so ridiculous. Yes, it's easy to say to a severely depressed person, "You should maintain relationships with your friends. You should continue to exercise. You shouldn't withdraw from life because it exacerbates the situation."

In response, I wanted to say, "Surely you realize that if I could do all that, I obviously wouldn't be clinically depressed. And your telling me to do this isn't helpful. How can I be with my friends when I cannot speak? Or do you not understand that depressed people physically find it difficult to talk? How can I exercise when I can barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom? Or do you not understand that depressed people have so little energy that it's almost impossible to get out of bed? How can I engage in life if I feel so debilitated that it takes every ounce of energy I have to engage with my son, who I love more than life itself?"

What would have been far more helpful was if any of my doctors could have said, "I understand how debilitating a depression is for you. I'm so very sorry that there is no medication that works for you. I'm so sorry that the pharmaceutical companies haven't been developing new mood stabilizers for bipolar depression or new antidepressants for bipolar depression, which won't throw you into a hypomania.

"But rest assured that all of my colleagues in the international psychiatric and psychological communities and all of our professional organizations have been participating in a huge letter-writing campaign to the National Institutes of Mental Health (and like organizations worldwide) about this. We've used our clout to force them to contribute $100 million annually to this effort and we won't let up until there are better medications for bipolar depression that are faster acting and don't have such awful side effects. We're also working hard to push through legislation for expanded insurance coverage and parity."

"In the meantime, I want you to know that we're offering new treatment options to try and accommodate your needs, and those of others, during your depressive episodes. Because you've survived so many depressive episodes--and I'm assuming I've told you how much I admire your resolve in doing so--with your permission I would like to enroll you in a pilot program that I think will be very beneficial for you. It's fully funded and we hope to replicate it on an international basis.

"When you're feeling truly despairing and can't come in for treatment, I will be offering online therapy sessions as well as a series of adjunct treatments. Because we know that depression is more debilitating that many physical illnesses, during a severe depressive episode, I will be sending a psychiatric nurse to your home once a week. She can take your vital symptoms and assess your situation. If necessary, she can have a bathing nurse visit you twice a week. When you're feeling better, we will start a physical therapy at your home. We recognize how important exercise is but we also realize that it's almost impossible for people who are deeply depressed. However, we've found that a gentle program of physical therapy works wonders.

"We have also learned that massage is a critical element of healing and I am prescribing a weekly massage. Although we know that deeply depressed people may not like physical contact, we have found that a masseuse with proper training (she doesn't expect you to speak to her) can make a big difference."

"We will also provide educational classes for your friends and relatives. We'll explain to them that we now understand that while people undergoing a depression need social interaction, they obviously can't communicate in 'normal' ways. So, we'll teach them how to be with you without talking. We'll explain the physical and psychological aspects of clinical depression so they can understand it. We'll discuss how sometimes, it just helps if they can sit by your bedside and read to you. And we'll also offer immediate family members, a wide array of services to help them while you're incapacitated."

Well, the fantasy is over but perhaps I'm making my point. For most of us who experience debilitating depressions, our needs are great but we are offered nothing but insipid advice. If we were truly given the services we need, we might not have to disappear for months on end.

But since we're not (offered helpful adjunct services) and we do disappear (and I believe it's okay given the circumstances), tomorrow I'll talk more about reconnecting with friends and relatives.

P.S. If you've thought of other services you'd like to receive during a depression, I'd love to hear about them. Quite honestly, I've just touched the tip of the iceberg here. Given how many depressions I've survived, I have quite a rich fantasy life.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 2)

On May 5, I wrote a post called Reentering Life, in which I talked about how increasingly difficult I find it to reengage with my friends after a depression is over. I wrote that I find it easier to be with people I don't know rather than good friends who want to talk about their lives and ask me questions about mine. I said that once a depression is over, I'm not really interested in listening to a recitation of what's happened to everyone during my absence nor do I feel like talking about what I've been doing or perhaps more appropriately, not doing.

I received a few different takes on this from Paul, Marja, and BamaGal, which you can read in the comments section. Yesterday, I received an email from Syd at Bipolarity that made me realize that my post was not entirely truthful. (I've linked to her post so you can read her response in context.)

Actually, let me rephrase what I've just said. When I expressed my feelings on May 5, I was truthful about how I felt...then. However, what I didn't realize at the time, was that my depression wasn't quite over. It was on its last legs but not completely gone. In fact, when a depression still has its tentacles in me--no matter how thin and weak they may be--I am not interested in reengaging with friends. However, all of that changes once I'm truly well.

Yesterday marked my first day of "real wellness." And so I emailed ten friends (and three relatives) and announced, "I'm back." In one case, I invited a friend who lives a few blocks away to take a walk with me this week. In a few other cases, I told friends who live further away or in other cities or states that I'm well again and just wanted to say "hi" and catch up. I wrote highlights of what's been happening to my husband and son and told how I sold my book, started this blog, and am taking a photography class--all topics I am interesting in discussing.

Most of all, I was letting everyone know that I'm willing to reengage, and I will respond to telephone calls and emails. The reason I want to clarify this is that I don't want Syd or others to feel that when I'm truly well, I feel it's healthy to remain reclusive or cut off from those people I care about most.

I don't want to give the impression that I feel that intimacy isn't important because I believe it is. I don't want to suggest that I feel this illness is an excuse to shed friends or relationships just because it's sometimes so difficult to maintain them.

(to be continued)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Almost on Oprah on Mother's Day

A few years after I'd written The Mommy Guide, book sales were lagging and I wanted to jump-start them again. So I talked to a friend in public relations and we decided that I should become the Mothers Day expert--primarily because no one else was.

So...I researched Mother's Day and learned that it was started by Anna May Jarvis, the ninth of eleven children born in 1864 in Webster, West Virginia. When they moved to Grafton, a town four miles aways, her mother, Ann Marie, taught Bible classes at a local church. When Anna was twelve, after her mother finished teaching one of her lessons, she folded her hands and said, "I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it."

This had a huge impact on Anna. In 1907, two years after her mother's death, she organized a church service in her mother's memory. She then organized a letter writing campaign to try and turn the event into a national holiday. In May 1914, at her request, a joint resolution was introduced in both Houses of Congress, and approved by President Woodrow Wilson, naming the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day. Later, it became an international holiday although in some countries and continents, it's celebrated on a different day.

Steeped in Mothers Day history, we sent out press releases to television and radio shows proclaiming me as the Mothers Day expert. We said I could speak on Anna May Jarvis and the history of Mothers Day as well as doing a piece on the best and worst Mothers Day gifts. To make a very long story shorter, I was interviewed on two radio shows, and one TV show. And I auditioned for a spot on Oprah.

Although we had sent out the releases six weeks before Mothers Day, an assistant producer from Oprah didn't call until three three days before the Mothers Day show was to be taped. The purpose of the call was to determine if I was entertaining enough to appear on national TV. Since I was a bit hypomanic, as I remember, I talked for ten minutes straight, without taking a breath. She seemed impressed and said another producer would get back to me the next day. Since this was before the advent of cell phones, the next day I sat and waited by the telephone for six hours. When no one called, I figured that was it.

But the following day, when I was practicing my speech for a local radio show, a higher level producer from Oprah called back, and we talked for a half hour. I guess I passed the test because she invited me to fly to Chicago the next day, which was Thursday. The show would be tapping on Friday, which was two days before Mothers Day.

The downside was that I would have to pay for my own airline ticket and accommodations. They couldn't promise that I would appear because the show was already "locked in." However, if they were running short, I might get to do my bit.

While I was feeling okay at the time, I wasn't well enough to try and get new props together at the last minute. The gifts I had chosen for the local show were cute and funny but that wouldn't wash on national television. And I was overwhelmed at the thought of finding someone from a high-end department store who could put together new props the next morning.

The cost of booking a flight at the last minute was prohibitive. The logistics of arranging for a rental car, hotel room, and all the rest was daunting--particularly without a guaranteed appearance. The thought of having to rewrite all my material without having time to fully practice it was extraordinarily stressful. So I regretfully declined, the producer said she understood, and promised they would consider me in the future (which, of course, never came to pass.)

But at 6:00 in the morning on Mothers Day, when my son was still in preschool, I did appear on my local NBC affiliate. Unfortunately, I think my husband and mother were the only people who saw me. My son has never been a morning person--even when he was a baby. Book sales didn't soar as a result of my appearance, which my son watched later on videotape, but I did get my 15 minutes of fame.

So did Anna May Jarvis although I must admit that her life didn't end well. Once the retail industry saw the potential in Mothers Day, they turned it into one of the most commercial holidays of the year. And Miss Jarvis spent the remainder of her life trying to turn back the tide and recast Mothers Day as the more spiritual holiday her mother had envisioned.

What's the moral of this story? If you do something nice for your mother on mother's day, you'll be punished!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Why Prayers Are Not Answered

When my son was young, I bought a number of books about God and religion in order to try to explain my beliefs to him. Every so often, I reread these books because they're helpful to me as well. Today's quotes are from When Children Ask About God: A Guide for Parents Who Don't Always Have All the Answers, by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. He is also the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Independent of your religious affiliation, I believe you'll find his words helpful.

In the preface to this edition (1989), Rabbi Kushner writes, "Most of the religious problems I have helped people with in my thirty years as a rabbi have ultimately been traceable to this tendency, acquired in our childhood and never completely outgrown...'How could God let that happen? Why didn't God grant my prayer, when I offered it so sincerely?"

"There is a quip which some of my colleagues seem to appreciate more than I do: 'God always answers your prayers, but sometimes His answer is No'. This strikes me as bad theology and bad psychology to boot...

"In fact, no prayer which treats of changes in the world outside is ever really 'answered.' Only when we pray for a change within ourselves is it possible for our act of prayer to influence the results...

"Only the man (or woman) who prays about what sort of person he wants to become, the man who prays for clarity of understanding and strength of purpose, has a chance of getting a response to his prayer. He invokes not the 'Father in Heaven,' who evaluates all of his requests and stamps each of them 'Yes' or 'No," but his own better self, and if he prays sincerely, the answer may be close at hand."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blogging My Way to Wellness: A Confession (Part 4)

(Final post of this series)

I decided that independent of past experience,I would try blogging once again. For me, the key was to figure out a blog name that would attract positive and uplifting people. And I wanted to write content that would make me feel better, not worse.

My first title was Bipolar Wellness. I tried that for a few weeks before I decided that perhaps it was a misnomer. While I seek wellness, I'm not well all the time. So I changed it to Bipolar Wellness Seeker. I think that I kept that title for a few weeks before I decided it sounded kind of wishy-washy. I imagined myself "seeking wellness forever but never finding it."

My next title, which I only kept for few days was Bipolar Wellness Warrior. While it's true that I sometimes dream I'm a Wellness Warrior, I was afraid that others might think I have a violent side. In truth, I was thinking more in terms of the book, Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior.

So, now I've become the Bipolar Wellness Writer, and that seems as good a title as any. In the meantime, I have been attracting readers whom I can relate to and that's really a joy. As I remember, Marja from Roller Coaster was the first person to write comments and I was thrilled. I think it's great that she is about my age and although our experiences are quite different--and perhaps we even see this illness in a different way--she's been a terrific supporter.

After a time I began to hear from Syd from Bipolarity (who's been quite affirming), Dootz from SurfCountry (one of his recent comments made me feel like I'm accomplishing what I had hoped to), and Polly from polarcoaster (sometimes we disagree but I always appreciate her point of view). I'm not sure if I contacted them or if they wrote to me. But I have enjoyed their comments, their positive reinforcement, and their input.

I was delighted to find Jinnah from LivingManicDepressive, the website and blog. He and I seem to share a similar philosophy about this illness and I always appreciate hearing from him. In the past few weeks, BamaGal has gotten on board and she's a real hoot. Her comments always make me smile. And recently I've begun hearing from JayPeeFreely from No More Mr. Nice Guy. I'm not sure how he found me since he writes on baseball but I enjoy hearing from him. I've also heard a few times from Jo, who's fairly new to all this bipolar stuff (and I will get back to you on my personality type, which I can't seem to remember right now), and a few others who write on occasion.

After all these years, I know that once again, my psychiatrist was wrong. There are people out there--like me--and it's very comforting to know that.

I'm not sure how this blog will evolve. I realize that I'm going to have to pace myself a bit better. Unlike others, I can only remain online for a limited amount of time each day or I don't feel well. For me, being outdoors is very important for my health.

Also, if I'm spending a lot of time blogging and reading other blogs, it detracts from the time I can spend writing my new book--a project I've recently begun. And it's almost time--although the thought isn't a pleasant one--to begin seeking freelance work again (It's too darn bad that I have to work for a living but until I write a bestseller, I guess that's my lot in life for now.)

Anyway, I'm not sure how I will reinvent this blog...maybe I'll just update a few days a week...maybe I'll write shorter posts. But I'm winding down and we'll just have to wait and see. Still, I must say that this has been a extraordinary satisfying few months. After remaining isolated with this illness for so many years, it has felt very good to be part of such a vibrant community. Thank you!

P.S. Thanks to bizwhiz from Tips for New Bloggers, who has been a terrific help in the technical aspect of all this and I'm deeply grateful for his expertise.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Intermission

For those of you who are old enough--like me--you'll remember the early days of going to films when there was an intermission. Usually, they continued to run the sound track throughout and it was an opportunity to stretch, use the facilities, and buy refreshments.

Well, for the next day or so, I need to take an Intermission from blogging. Last night, due to a family commitment, I didn't return home until late. Today I have a big project due for the photography class I'm taking at a local community college. We had to pick a photographer whose work we admire and who's got an least one published book of photographs, shoot 12 images from the book--outside on a table and bracket them--(Marja, it's too bad you live in another country. I sure could have used your expertise.), prepare a five to ten minute talk, and make an oral presentation.

I chose Irving Penn because I like his style and there was a wonderful book of his photographs in the college library. What I particularly enjoy is the drama of his compositions, his choice of subjects, and the extraordinary quality of his prints. The photo on the right is of Martha Graham. (I didn't shoot it. It was online. I've got to pick up my work this morning at the lab.)

My day hasn't started and I'm already pooped--just thinking of all I need to do. I would love to spend tomorrow eating bon bons and reading a "trashy" novel (actually my vice is detective novels and mysteries) but I'm not sure that I'll be able to. Still, it does sound enticing, doesn't it?

I appreciate all the comments about yesterday's blog. Thanks to Javier, Carolyn, Jo, JayPeeFreely, and Marja. I've read what you've written but I haven't had a moment to respond. You've brought up some interesting points that I need to think about.

Congrats to BamaGal (she sings) and Jinnah (he wrote a poem) who've passed the Support Group Auditions. Welcome to my imaginary online support group with a name that is yet to be determined. Any ideas? A friend of mine (who's not bipolar) wants to join so that she can play the spoons. (I believe she qualifies just because she asked to participate in an imaginary group.) If you'd like to join, let us know how you can contribute (Do you sing, dance, play an instrument, write, or have any other skills that might amuse us?).

That's it from La-La land. See you in a day or so!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Finding BIP Soul Mates: A Confession (Part 3)

"Why is that?" my husband asked, after I told him I thought I might be frightened of developing relationships with other people who are bipolar.

"I'm not really sure," I said. "Part of it might be that I'm just not a group person. I don't define myself by my vocation, religion, or political party. I certainly don't see myself as "mentally ill." Years ago, when I first started visiting chat rooms, I felt worse, rather than better.

"I was desperately seeking advice to real-world problems and I couldn't find anyone with insight. To me the Internet felt like the World Wide Wound. At the time I couldn't identify one BIP (bipolar) who had a good job (that wasn't in the field of mental health or illness); was married, had children, and responsibilities; felt good about him or herself (despite the illness); was a problem-solver by nature; had a positive attitude; was self-disciplined; had a sense of humor, and thought about the bigger picture.

"Later, when I read bipolar blogs, I couldn't relate to anyone. I even discussed it with my psychiatrist."

"What did he say?"

"He said that I'm 'unusual' and it would be difficult if not impossible to find other people who are like me."

"Did that make you feel better?" my husband asked.

"No. At the time, I really needed to identify some other BIPS to discuss this illness with. I was feeling isolated from my friends. Even those people who are sympathetic couldn't provide insight. I was hoping to compare notes with other like-minded people and try to figure out some solutions."

"I was sure that somewhere in the universe there must be people who are bipolar thinkers and problem-solvers--if only I could find them. The problem with all the bipolar books I've read, mostly by doctors, is that they view this illness as a form of pathology. What if it's not? What if BIPS are just different? What if we share certain personality traits that are not as common among others--that make it more difficult to survive?

"What if every BIP was given a Myers-Briggs Personality Test (that's the only one I've taken), and it turns out that we're mostly one particular personality type (which is quite rare), and that this is the cause of our problems? What if we deal less well with stress than others? What if we're more idealistic? What if we tend to be dreamers or thinkers rather than doers? What if we're more likely to idealize situations and also more likely to feel disappointed when things don't work out? What if we see the world more in terms of "black and white" instead of gray and are less adaptable?

"While none of this may be true for others, as far as I know, no one is doing this kind of research. What if the solution to this illness--at least for some of us--is simply that we need to understand our differences, and learn different coping skills?"

"Those are interesting questions," my husband said.

"But I can't seem to find other people who are asking them," I said. "Either people are waving the NAMI banner and declaring how proud they are to be mentally ill, or they're not discussing these issues at all. Maybe, the BIPS who have figured all this out--don't feel the need to talk about it."

(to be continued)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Support Group Auditions: A Confession (Part 2)

The point was that I was somewhat at a loss. On the one hand, I said I wasn't defined by this illness. On the other hand, I couldn't seem to write about anything else. Actually, I would start writing about other subjects but whatever I was working on would always end up being about depression or bipolar disorder.

And all my ideas at night--when I was asleep--which is one of my most creative periods, revolved around my illness in some way. One of my dreams was that I was a Depression Diva, kind of like a Dear Abby for the depressed set. I came up with these very amusing questions and answers, and I awakened myself because I was laughing so hard.

When I told my husband about it, he said, "Honey, I'm not sure that most depressed people share your sense of humor."

"Well, my audience is really bipolar depressed people," I answered. "Maybe they won't think I'm funny when they're depressed but they'll really laugh when they're hypomanic."

"Maybe you should call yourself the Bipolar Depression Diva," he suggested.

"It's not as good a name," I responded. "But it might target a better audience for me. I think I'll start the Bipolar Depression Diva blog."

So, a number of years ago, I started the Bipolar Depression Diva blog, wrote a few posts and ended it. I received some nice comments but the people who wrote to me were so depressed that I felt worse each time I read a new comment.

"I can't be the only bipolar person who pokes fun at this illness as a way of healing," I said to my husband.

"Well, you've kind of got a quirky sense of humor," he answered.

"C'mon," I responded. "Don't you think that there are other BIPS (bipolars) out there who are like me?"

He paused before saying, "Honey, I'm just not sure how many bipolar folks go to bed at night and wake up with the idea of writing a play called 'Support Group Auditions.'"

"But don't you think it's a great idea?" I asked him and then continued without letting him answer. "You see, the thing is that when I started researching support groups, and talked to a few people, I found them so depressing. One woman told me that their group not only met at a neuropsychiatric hospital but they spent the entire time talking about all the inappropriate things they did during the week. I was stunned. And a man who was the leader of another group told me he's no longer participating."

"That's great news," my husband said. "He's feeling so much better that he's moved on?"

"That's what I thought. But when I asked him, he said he lives in a room in a hotel, he doesn't work, can't afford car insurance any more, and so he can't drive to the meetings. When he's manic, he said he thinks up schemes for bizarre businesses--like that is a healthy activity. When I hung up the phone, I had such a headache that I went to bed for two hours."

"Now that's depressing," my husband said.

"That's what I thought. So I decided that the best way to find a support group would be to hold auditions. I'm kind of thinking it would be like a Bipolar Chorus Line. I could play my Autoharp or my banjitar (it sounds like a banjo but the fingering is like a guitar) and sing some of my best bipolar lyrics. It would be great to find other bipolar writers, poets, dancers, singers, or musicians. Maybe the people don't even have to be bipolar. Personally, I find that cancer survivors are a funnier group. You should read some of their books and blogs. But that's just me."

My husband, who is my best fan, agreed that holding support group auditions was a splendid idea. I wasn't sure how to orchestrate it so I filed it in my Splendid Ideas Box and haven't yet pursued it.

"The bottom line is that I think I may be afraid to meet other BIPS," I told my husband.

(to be continued)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Confession (Part 1)

When I started this blog a few months ago, I had only communicated once before with someone who's bipolar. Although my illness was diagnosed almost 18 years ago, and I started researching it on the Internet a few years later, if you think back, the Internet was fairly new then--at least for me.

Initially, there were few sites from which to seek advice. At the time, the one I liked best was Dr. Ivan Goldberg's Depression Central. He's a well-known New York psychiatrist and researcher with credentials up the kazoo. What I liked best about his site was that it wasn't funded by pharmaceutical companies, and he included articles in their entirety. He didn't have a point of view. And he published a ton of information that I couldn't find elsewhere.

I learned a lot but I found it very depressing. Within a few years, I had evolved from an "atypical bipolar II" to a "medication resistant rapid cycler." Although I could find almost nothing on bipolar II, I learned that "medication resistant rapid cyclers" were one of the most difficult populations to treat. At the time, I felt that my reading validated the lack of success I was having with medication.

The other site I frequently turned to was Dr. Philip Long's Internet Mental Health. As far as I remember, he was the first person to provide non-biased information on medication. Each time I tried a new drug, I looked it up on his site. He, too, wasn't sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies so I felt that his information was non-biased. I tend to trust people who aren't making a profit on this illness.

When I just looked up Internet Mental Health to find the link, I see that in 2005 they launched three support groups: for bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. FYI...They say they offer "state of the art interactive psychiatric tools at their new website, MyTherapy. You can use your computer to: make psychiatric diagnoses, keep a private diary (to document, graph and statistically analyze your week-by-week progress), and test your brain (memory, concentration, verbal fluency, orientation, and thinking speed or executive functioning)."

By 1998, when the first Weblogs were launched, there were literally hundreds of different bipolar sites, many of which I was familiar with. While I spent 10 straight years researching this illness and related subjects, I never joined any of the bipolar communities. I only posted once on one site (as a visitor), and in a moment of desperation, when I was losing hope, I wrote to a group leader on another site. To her credit, she was very supportive and provided a lot of information (most of which I knew but still, I appreciated her willingness to share).

According to Rebecca Blood, who's a well-known author in the field, the blogging movement didn't take off until 1999 when Blogger was launched, and well, the rest is history. You can find the entire story on Rebecca's Pocket.

By then, I had read almost 100 books on bipolar mood disorder, depression, and related subjects. I had downloaded 1,000 pages of information. I knew about tons of sites and online support groups. Although I had literally spent years trying to find "real success stories," I couldn't find examples that resonated with me. In 2003, when I began seeing the doctor of integrative medicine, I began researching wellness and healing and stopped researching all things bipolar.

And now for the confession...a few months ago after I arranged to have my new book published, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out, I decided to launch this blog. Over the years, I'd tried writing a few other blogs--even a few on this subject--but never stayed with it. As I have mentioned before, when I'm depressed it's never made me feel better to share my darkest feelings. When I'm hypomanic, I've never been interested in thinking about this illness.

For most of my life, I never thought that my illness defined me. Still, I've been writing my memoir, on and off, for the duration of my illness. For more than 15 years, I've written essays about being bipolar in diaries and journals. I've also written bipolar song lyrics. My career as an author stalled because there was nothing else I wanted to write about besides this illness.

(to be continued)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Reentering Life (Part 1)

I think that one of the most difficult aspects of surviving a depression is reentering life. Years ago, when I told a new psychiatrist how hard it is, he said, "Well, I tell all my patients that they should continue with their activities during a depression so that they don't feel so isolated when it's over."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry in response to his pronouncement. We'd only seen each other a few times. I wondered if I needed to tell him how smart I am so that he wouldn't continue to make such ridiculous statements in the future--which ultimately would cause me to stop seeing him.

What I wanted to say to him was, "After all your experience with patients, is this the best advice you've got? If you had told me that you'd established a Bipolar or Depression Wellness Center where patients could go every day during their depression and receive a multitude of services, get massages, listen to music, work in a garden, remain silent among other people, or take classes, that would be different. But to say that 'you're encouraging them to continue activities'--as if this is newsworthy or insightful--is an insult to my intelligence."

However, I held my tongue because this was a new relationship for us and I didn't want to be perceived as hostile. But the bottom line is that it's quite difficult to "reengage with people" after a depressive episode and, for me, it gets more difficult each year.

Why? Maybe it's the sheer numbers of episodes I've had and the toll they have taken. When I was younger and had more energy, rebounding was no big deal. I'd immediately call all of my friends, say, "I'm back" and schedule a slew of lunches and dinners.

These days, I'm not inclined to do so. I've tried to figure out why. I think that part of the reason is because I've now experienced depressive episodes for almost 40 years--seriously difficult ones for about 20 years.

Over time, I have gotten used to the solitude. As a depression winds down, I don't feel despairing, sad, or lonely. During the final phase, I just have less energy and I feel more subdued than normal. It's easier to return to activities I enjoy than it is to reengage with people.

When I'm interested in spending time with people again--other than my husband, son, and mother--oddly enough, I'm less interested in seeing people I know than total strangers. Why? Because with strangers, I can enjoy the social interaction without explanation. I don't have to account for my period of hibernation. I don't have to apologize for what I've missed in their lives. I don't have to share what's been going on in my life for the last four to six months or ask what's going on in theirs.

While this may seem antisocial, I don't believe it is. The fact is that I have now survived 120 depressive episodes. Some have been so debilitating that words can't do them justice. During years past, I often felt that I knew what it was like to almost die--because of the severity of the depressions--and experience a rebirth of sorts when I came out them.

After months of such intense anguish that was indescribable, from experience I knew it didn't make me feel better to talk about it. During depressions I think about life, death, love, meaning, relationships, and God. Once the episodes end, I not only am uninterested in "sweating the small stuff," but I don't feel like talking about it.

While I enjoy being with people I like, I don't always enjoy talking to them. And it's not easy to say to someone I haven't seen in months, "I'm happy to spend time with you and I'd like to take a walk with you, play music with you, have a meal with you, sit in silence with you, or pray with you--but I don't feel like talking to you. "

Maybe that's why I'm genuinely enjoying the photography class I recently started at a local community college. Within the last three weeks, I've met 30 new people--some of whom I like very much. The teacher is intelligent, articulate, well-organized, and knowledgeable. And for the first time--ever--I'm learning how to express my feelings, interests, and passions--without saying a word.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Ayurvedic Medicine and SAD

According to Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, "Ayurevedic medicine (meaning "science of life") is a comprehensive system of medicine that combines natural therapies with a highly personalized approach to the treatment of disease. It places an equal emphasis on body, mind, and spirit, and strives to restore the innate harmony of the individual."

The most famous proponent of Ayurvedic medicine is Deepak Chopra, M.D., a western-trained endocrinologist, who is the co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California. He's also the person who has undoubtedly introduced more westerners to this type of healing than anyone else.

"Ayurvedic medicine is founded on the concept of metabolic body types, or doshas," which are somewhat similar to the Western view of thin, muscular, and fat. But that's far too simplistic a definition and in Ayurevedic medicine, they have a far greater influence on your health.

Without going into a whole lot of detail, according to Dr. Vasant Lad, the founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico and author of The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, "there are three doshas or humors which govern our psychobiological functioning. Vata-pitta-kapha are present in every cell, tisue, and organ. When out of balance, they are the cause of disease."

Although he doesn't discuss bipolar mood disorder in his book, Lad does mention depression. According to him, dependent upon the kind of person you are--vata, pitta, or kapha--your depression should be treated differently.

He says that "Pitta-type depression is generally associated with anger, or with fear of failure, of losing control, or of making mistakes...Pittas are most vulnerable to SAD and among the remedies he recommends are rubbing coconut oil onto your scalp and the soles of your feet at bedtime, drinking gotu kola or brabmi tea two or 3 times a day, taking certain herbs, and meditating."

While I never tried these remedies, I did try other alternative "cures." They were always very expensive and never worked. However, the concept of Ayurvedic medicine intrigues me. I like the fact that they accept that seasonal differences affect mood. I appreciate their integration of mind, body, and spirituality. I only wish that I believed that this type of alternative medicine would "cure" bipolar disorder.

If anyone has tried it, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What If Human Hibernation Was Okay?

I've often thought that maybe those of us who suffer from seasonal depression aren't truly sick at all. Perhaps we're just a slightly different species. Within the animal kingdom, I'm can't imagine that lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes and others go around criticizing black bears, badgers, bats, chipmunks, fat-tailed lemurs, ground squirrels, hamsters, woodchucks, prairie dogs, and raccoons just because they go to sleep for a couple of months in the winter and awaken in the spring.

Why do we get such grief for similar behavior? What if it wasn't considered a bad thing to just need a brief respite each year? What if we knew that it was okay to eat more, gain a little weight, prepare to have a long snooze, and awaken in the spring when it's sunny and nice?

Bears prepare themselves. They rake leaves, twigs, and other plants to make a nest of sorts. They make dens in burrows, caves, hallowed-out trees, and crevices. They go to sleep with their loved ones, and wake up months later.

And when they reappear, no one says, "I'm so pissed because you missed my anniversary while you were hibernating." Or "It's difficult to remain friends with you because you disappear for months at a time."

Quite honestly, animals seem far more accepting of each other's behavioral differences than humans. Have you ever heard about a bear yelling at a bird for flying south for the winter? Can you imagine a horse saying to a fish, "You shouldn't have to swim to warmer water during the winter because I don't have to leave my home."

Perhaps the bottom line with all this is that those of us who experience seasonal affective disorder--wouldn't feel so bad about it--if we stopped getting such slack.

Personally, I may start using black bears as a role model of sorts. I sure like their nightshirts although they're a bit pricey. But perhaps if I still need to hibernate next winter, it might be a good investment.