Friday, June 29, 2007

Gone Fishing

I wish I really was fishing like Marja and her husband. But instead, I'm fishing in my mind. I need to take off a few days to finish my manuscript and rest.

I'm offline until Monday. I won't be blogging or reading other blogs as well. I need to write and spend the rest of my time outdoors.

As you know, for the last few weeks, I'm been somewhat hypomanic and although I've controlled my behavior so that there aren't any obvious symptoms, I'm exhausted nonetheless.

The good news is that it's amazing how much I can accomplish during a hypomania. I wonder how many other people tend to "clean" when they have a lot of energy. I don't just mean straightening up the house. Rather, I mean going through closets and storage and doing major cleaning.

Thus far I've filled the trunk of my mini-van twice and am carting stuff away to the Salvation Army.

I also wonder how many people change their diet during hypomanias. Sometimes, I have this tremendous need for "red meat." But other times, I tend to move toward carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables.

Usually, during a hypomania, I crave protein--and seem to eat a lot of meat, cheese, and eggs. But now I'm in my phase where I eat granola for breakfast, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and only want meat for dinner.

Maybe there's a seasonal element but I'm not sure. Anyway, I wish you all the best and will be back on Monday.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Listening to "Way" Closing; Hearing the Call of Vocation

Two days ago I quit my freelance writing assignment. Because I had to sign a non-disclosure statement, I can't tell you what it was. What I can say is this. I'm 57 years old. I've been a professional writer for the last 20 years. I finally realized that I will never be happy if I have to take orders from people who have less experience and expertise than me.

When I was 27 years old, I was the arts and antiques editor for Architectural Digest magazine. I've written four books (Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out will be published soon. I'll let you know all about it). I've had magazine articles published in national magazines.

I've also been the Director of Corporation and Foundation Relations for a selective liberal arts college. I've worked for KNBC news, KCET (the local PBS station), UCLA Extension, and I've had a few other jobs and careers as well.

Although I've had a number of terrific jobs, I ended up feeling empty with every one--except for writing. It's the only career I've ever had that satisfies every aspect of my being. When it's going well, I thank God for having the luxury to spend my days doing work I love.

For me, writing books has been a spectacular accomplishment. When I was growing up, if someone had told me that I would be an author, I would have been stunned. Not because I didn't have dreams but because I didn't know I could write.

In college, I thought my strength was my ability to do research. And it's still something I love. But when I was 29 years old, I quit Architectural Digest magazine (surprising everyone I knew), sat down, and wrote my first book: Job Search Strategy for College Grads.

It wasn't my best book but it proved to me that I could write a book. I couldn't bring myself to say, "I'm a writer" until I started working on my third book--almost 12 years later. The kind of writing I do best is "personal stuff" (like my blogs). If I have a gift, this is it.

So...when I began working with an editor on this freelance assignment, and felt that she neither liked my writing style nor appreciated the effort I was expending, I quit. And in deciding to make that decision, I remembered what Ruth had told Parker J. Palmer about learning from "way" closing.

What I finally realized--and I should have learned this lesson years ago--is that I don't like working for other people. I don't know how many years I have left (statistics would have us BIPS believe that our life expectancy is 12 years less than normal--although once again I don't agree), but I don't plan on wasting a minute of it taking orders from editors or publishers.

Quite honestly, I don't care what they think of my writing. Writing is a very personal endeavor and I have always written for myself and my readers. I sure don't want or need an intermediary.

Most of all, I dislike having other people determine whether I will succeed or fail.

I was sick for a long time--and my writing career stalled, floundered, gasped, and almost died--but it's alive and well again. And now it's time to take charge of my illness and my vocation.

The "way" that closed was pursuing and accepting freelance assignments. The path that opened is writing my own books (and blogs for that matter) and publishing them myself--with a dear friend with whom I'll partner. We're only at the talking stages but I have no doubt that within six months, we'll be up and running.

This is a huge step for me and I am so excited. I feel I must publicly thank Parker Palmer and Ruth, the birthright Quaker, for their guidance. In a serendipitous sort of way, they have taught me and healed me.

By learning to listen to "way" closing, I feel like I was able to hear the call of my true vocation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Parker Palmer Revisited

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who's been leaving comments lately. Although I try to respond to every comment, I've been swamped. So, please know that I've read what you've written and I do appreciate it. But, this time, I just can't respond except to say thank-you.

For those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, you'll remember that last month I had a series on work. One of my favorite new authors is Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Since I'm still new to blogging, I'm not sure if it's better to link you to my other post or to reprint it here. But since my story only makes sense if you know about Parker J. Palmer's story, I'm reprinting it now. Tomorrow's post will be my letter to Parker Palmer explaining what I learned from his experience.

* * *
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..."

"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."

(to be continued)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Anger (Part 2)

As a result of taking Dr. Weisenger's anger workshop, I decided to experiment with different ways of publicly expressing my anger rather than keeping it inside. All these years later, I can't imagine this was an assignment or even Weisinger's intention, but I did it nonetheless.

At the time, I was working for the department of business and management in the university extension program. We were located near the university but we were running a program at the downtown satellite office (about 15 miles away). It was a costly intensive four-month program, and our office was supposed to be providing the students with a higher level of service.

When they arrived at the building, the nicest classroom was supposed to be open, it was supposed to be clean, the chairs and tables were supposed to be set up in a certain way. None of this was happening.

I was a fairly new employee so the first week my boss and I drove downtown together, I was introduced to the administrative and custodial staff, my boss explained what they needed to do, and we helped set things up before we left.

The second week, I drove there on my own. I reintroduced myself to everyone, and when I went to check the classroom, once again it wasn't open or set up. So I found the custodian, he explained that the administrators weren't helping him, and he had other responsibilities as well. The two of us set up the room and I drove back to our offices to tell my boss about the lack of administrative support.

My boss talked with the administrator from our offices who was in charge of this facility and she promised that things would be taken care of.

When I arrived the third week, and found that once again, nothing has been done, I was furious. This was such a simple task and it not only confirmed the incompetence of the administrative staff but also their attitude, which was surly and lazy. Once again, the custodian and I set up the room.

Then I walked into the office, acknowledged the staff members, and began to walk behind the counter to use a telephone (this was before the advent of cell phones).

A clerk at the desk, to whom I'd first been introduced by my boss, and to whom I had introduced myself a second time the following week, said, "You can't use the phone."

"Of course I can," I calmly said. "I'm a continuing education specialist."

"I don't know you," he said.

This was the trigger; I hate liars. So I shifted into a new gear; one I'd never used before. I raised my voice about two decibels and said, "We've been introduced twice; first by Mr. B two weeks ago. Last week I reintroduced myself when I had to clean up the room for the Intensive Business Program because it wasn't ready for the students. And I just said hello again...for the third time."

He gave me a sullen look. "Well, I don't remember you," he said.

I raised my voice another decibel. "I find that really hard to believe," I loudly said. "But be that as it may, this is my I.D. card, which I showed him, and right now I plan on walking behind the counter and using the telephone to call Mr. B at our offices in Westwood. If you don't like it, that's too bad."

I made the telephone call, walked out of the room, went to my car, and was literally shaking. I was fairly sure there might be some repercussion for my behavior--which I would describe as "controlled yelling." But that didn't concern me. What bothered me most was that yelling at this incompetent clerk didn't made me feel better. In fact, I felt worse.

What was so disappointing was that I never remembered yelling at anyone before and once I did it, it was a horrible let down.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Anger

For years I felt that "anger" caused my depressions. It wasn't that I was an angry person. Far from it, I held all my anger inside. Years later when my therapist asked me what my anger looked like, I said I saw it as a smoke stack.

When events happened that angered me, my anger would sit on the bottom of this smokestack. And after each successive event, the anger would sit on the pile that preceded it. Eventually, there would be so many incidences of anger that the smokestack would be full.

When there was no more space for my anger, it would implode and I would get depressed. I felt that if I could reverse the course of things--either learn how to directly confront the people with whom I was having difficulties or express the anger, I would stop getting depressed.

It made sense to me so I decided to attend an anger workshop at the university extension program. All these years later, I have to laugh. I'll never forget the guy's name and his book. When I just looked it up on amazon.com, I read the following, "Dr. Weisinger's first book (co-authored by Norman M. Lobsenz), Nobody's Perfect, was a New York Times hardcover best seller and is now a Warner paperback."

As I skimmed his bio, I was amazed to see that he's made his career in this field. WOW. While I don't remember the specifics of the class, I do remember thinking that he was a joke and that the class stunk. In fact, it made me so angry, I stopped going.

(to be continued)

Humorous Quotes

I'm in the throes of finishing my writing assignment, which is on motherhood, and I don't have the energy or stamina to post something thoughtful. So I thought I'd post a few quotes that made me smile.

"I think my life began with waking up and loving my mother's face."
~ George Eliot

"Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent." ~ Barbara Ehrenreich

"Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother." ~W. Somerset Maugham

"A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." ~ Unknown

"I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: ''Checkout Time is 18 years.'' ~ Erma Bombeck

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Sense of Community

Today's post is devoted to Marja Bergen, who writes Roller Coaster. She and her husband have gone fishing (literally). But before she left, she emailed me to let me know that her article, Mental Disorders: The Result of Sin? has just been published.

In her blog, she wrote, "Please have a look. The exciting thing is that there is a place for comments. Another place for dialog on the issues I'm so passionate about."

So I felt that I'd like to throw a little publicity her way. What's so extraordinary about our little bipolar community is how supportive we are of each other. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a few months ago when I began blogging, Marja was the first person to write a comment, and I was thrilled.

I'm not sure how she found my blog. Possibly it was because of a post I'd made about The Reverend Malcolm Boyd, a gay episcopal priest and family friend, who wrote the book, Are You Running with Me Jesus?

In that posting, I did say that I'm Jewish and that there might be people who would consider it a bit strange that I sought guidance from a priest rather than my rabbi. In truth, I sought guidance from both. At the time I was very sick and I was desperate for answers.

Anyway, the point is that Marja responded and she has been reading me ever since, always providing timely comments to my posts, and showing a rare degree of compassion, and empathy. While we come from different faiths, I believe we share many of the same values.

So...while she's away with her husband, watching him fish (a non-hobby we share in common; we both prefer reading in the great outdoors to fishing but we're happy to watch our husbands pursue their passion), and probably writing, and taking some great photographs, I hope that all of us will read her article, make comments, and let her know how pleased we are for her success.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

Almost a month ago, dootz from SurfCountry nominated me for the Thinking Blogger Award. Quite honestly, I wasn't really sure what it meant--and I'm still not sure--but I was pleased nonetheless. Evidently, in order to participate, I have to do the following:

1. Cite the post that he gave me this award for, which you can read here. (Actually I need to check with dootz about this, so I'll get back to you on this.)

2. I am supposed to refer you back to the original post of the person who created the award, which is here.

3. And then I am supposed to cite five blogs that make me think. So, the five blogs I'm nominating for the Thinking Blogger Award are:

  • Roller Coaster (I've also mentioned Marja's blog many times and her strength, aside from writing and painting, is her concentration on faith-based mental health)
  • One Year of Writing and Healing (this is a wonderful blog by a Diane Morrow, a physician and writer who provides a wealth of information on writing and healing)
  • Gay Bipolar Guy (his artwork is super and sometimes he'll surprise you with his sensitive writing and thoughtful selections of poetry); and
  • Tips For New Bloggers (if you need to think about how to improve your blogger blog, this is the site to go to).
For the people I've nominated, all you have to do is follow my lead. You can download the Thinking Blogger icon, note that I've recommended you in today's post, and recommend five other blogs.

I'm not sure what all this means but perhaps someone else who's been nominated can let us know.

Other Hypomanic Symptoms

First, thanks to Syd, Dootz, and Marja for your kind responses to yesterday's post. I really appreciated hearing from you. And thanks to Meredith for commenting on Hypomania Revisited (Part 3).

A few other hypomanic symptoms:

1. My feelings get hurt quite easily. I've always been sensitive. Years ago, I thought it was a "bad" trait because it made me so unhappy. So I tried to desensitize myself but it didn't work. Then I decided it was OK to feel emotions deeply as long as I didn't show them. It was kind of a survival skill. A number of years ago, I just decided to say what I think and feel (within reason). Still, during a hypomania, I sometimes feel like I did as a child--that I'm just too sensitive.

2. I talk too much even though I try not to. In a way, I feel it's OK. I'm mean, my last depressive episode lasted five months. I barely spoke at all, except to my mother, husband, and son. So, I somehow think that if I remained mostly silent for approximately 130 days, it's OK to talk a little too much for a few weeks. But I don't think my friends agree.

3. I am a bit too exuberant. Again, I never felt this was a bad trait although I know that others do. Quite honestly, I find many people to be dull and emotionally unable to communicate happiness, joy, excitement, sadness, pain, or sorrow. Since I'm able to show all these emotions, it truly should be considered a good thing. But I can tell from the expressions of others that they wish I were more even-tempered.

4. I sometimes lose things during a hypomania. Yesterday I lost a ring in the library. I can't write with my jewelry on and usually I'm very careful about placing it in a pocket of my purse. I don't know how I lost it but I did. In the scope of life, this is a small thing. But it's distressing nonetheless.

5. I certainly have a stronger sex drive during a hypomania. For the purposes of taste, enough said! I'm married and monogamous.

6. I do have difficulty sleeping. Although I had vowed to remain off sleeping pills because I can easily get addicted to taking them and it takes weeks to break the habit, I've had to start taking Lorazapam again because without it, I just can't sleep. I'm on a very low dosage but it's also distressing.

7. I do have all kinds of wonderfully creative ideas. But I've learned to keep them in check. I write them down rather than act on them. Once the hypomania dissipates, if the ideas still seem good, I can pursue them.

8. I have difficulty typing the verification letters to post comments on other people's blogs. I just had to type three different ones for Surfcountry. However, the system is accommodating. Each successive time, there are few letters.

9. I crave chocolate.

10. Although I've already mentioned that I've reigned in any spending problems, that doesn't mean I can't dream about how I would spend money if I had it, and if the ideas were practical or fun.

Today, I thought that when our son leaves for college in January, it would be fun to travel around the world and meet all my new bipolar friends. (Don't worry; I'm not going to do it.) I also thought it would be great to go to a dude ranch in Wyoming; my husband could paint and go fly fishing, and I could ride horses, hike, take photographs, and write.

I'd love to visit Alaska and Japan. I'd like to ride a motorcycle from Los Angeles to Manhattan. (I learned how to ride one in college but haven't been on one in years). I'd like to rent a villa in Florence for three months. I'd like to take Autoharp lessons every day. I'd like to join a gym and have a personal trainer. I'd like to begin playing tennis seriously again, try out for the team at the community college I'm attending, and compete. (Since I had my first depressive episode when I was an 18 year old freshman, I missed out on a lot in college.)

Well, those are just a few ideas...what are yours?

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Letter to My Non-Bipolar Friends and Relatives

Last night, my feelings were deeply hurt by an experience with a friend I've known for years. Writing about it made me feel much better but I decided to delete it this morning. The incident is less important than my response, which I do plan on leaving in this blog. As I relaxed in my bubble bath afterwards, I composed the following letter (in my mind, which I won't send) to my friends and relatives.

Dear Non-Bipolar Friends and Relatives:

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it has meant to be bipolar for so many years. And I've recently come to some realizations that I'd like to share with you.

Even though I emailed many of you about my blog, few of you have told me that you've read it or if you have, you've barely mentioned it. None of you have posted comments. Only my aunt in Texas has said that she's really enjoyed what I've written.

How do you think that makes me feel? Two days ago, I recorded my 100th post. I've made an entire community of new friends. I've had people who were total strangers to me only a few months ago, respond with so much kindness and empathy to my posts, that I've been touched to my very core.

Yet, those of you that I've known my entire life or for much of it, haven't responded at all. Could it possibly be that in 100 posts you haven't read anything that's touched you at all?

Or is it that you haven't taken the time to read what I've written because you're not bipolar so you're not interested. You know, it was bad enough when I wrote my three books and you never even wrote me a note to say what a great job I'd done.

Personally, I can't understand it. If you had ever shared one thing you'd written, I'd have been so proud of you. If you had the courage to share your thoughts as I've shared mine, I've have understood you so much better.

I must admit that I find your lack of interest appalling. During the last 39 years, I've experienced 120 depressive episodes. I've survived an illness that few people survive--with my sense of humor in tact. I've seen "death" as surely as if I'd had a terminal disease. I've felt such excruciating psychic pain that it's indescribable.

I've read books about people climbing Mount Everest and I feel that we bipolars who survive this illness have conquered something far more important than climbing a mountain--even one that's so high. And we've done it without Sherpa guides.

In fact, for the most part, we've done it without great empathy from our doctors (there are exceptions and I feel fortunate that my psychiatrist is very empathetic), without effective medication, without adequate health insurance, and without sympathy and empathy from bosses, friends, and relatives.

So, perhaps you can understand why finding a bipolar community has been so important to me. For the first time, I am living--if only virtually--in a community of bipolar people. So, I don't really have to be concerned with being bipolar. I know that whatever emotion I've felt, they've probably shared. I know what however sick I've been, they've probably felt similarly.

I know that however much my feelings have been hurt by people who unconsciously (or not) have said unkind things, my fellow BIPS know what it feels like. Most importantly, I know I don't have to explain my behavior to them. And I don't have to apologize.

Could it be that we who are bipolar are the only people in the universe who can honestly share our feelings? I've got to say that it sometimes feels that way. Otherwise, how could it be that you've read 100 blog postings and have remained silent?

I just don't get it. I'm beginning to feel that I like BIPS better than other people (except "older" people who I also find extraordinarily honest and giving). I am beginning to feel that even with our weaknesses and flaws, we are more sensitive and more caring that others.

I am writing this letter to you with the hope that at least some of you will respond so that I can understand your absence--both emotional and physical--during the last 14 years when I was so very ill.

Love,

Susan

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hypomania Revisited (Part 3)

I so appreciate everyone's contribution and comments on today's post, namely, JayPeeFreely, Marja, Gay Bipolar Guy, Polly, and Syd. In answer to some of the questions and comments:

1. I love it that JayPee spent $50 on ink and 28 pound paper. Even though my grandfather was a printer, I'm not sure that I've ever bought 28 pound paper. But now that's my goal. Question: Should I truly use JayPee's possible excess as behavior worth modeling? Answer: Absolutely yes!

2. Marja, I, too take on too many projects. What I didn't mention is that I volunteered to teach H's (the woman who gives me manicures and has become a good friend) daughter how to play the guitar. In the midst of this big writing project, I gave her a lesson yesterday. I also jumped rope with her and gave her some little gifts (things from home) that I thought she'd enjoy.

3. Gay Bipolar Guy gave some good ideas on how to reign in spending. In my quest to be honest, I must admit that today I bought a new address book and 10 of my favorite erasers for pencils (I lost my last supplier and found them at the community college).

4. I agree with Polly about the books. But I think it's great that all of us seem to love books, pens, ink, paper, and those kinds of things. Just something else we have in common.

5. Syd, I'd like to know about the software program that helps control budgeting. I, too, used to come up with all these wonderful creative and business ideas when I was hypomanic that I wasn't interested in pursuing when I was depressed.

Tomorrow is my day to play the Autoharp at my mom's assisted living facility. And I'm still furiously writing and interviewing. But my deadline has been extended to Monday so I'm feeling good about it!

Hypomania Revisited (Part 2)

How do I control spending during a hyomania? With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning...Let me count the ways. I control it to the depth and breadth and height...oh well, let's take a look at Browning's famous poem and then we can discuss spending.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Back to spending...as I mentioned in an earlier post, when I used to have problems controlling spending during a hypomania, I voluntarily gave my credit cards and checks to my husband. It wasn't that my spending was "outrageous" because it wasn't. It's just that I'm a responsible person and I felt that my husband had worked too hard for us to be in financial jeopardy.

These days, I sometimes feel a need to buy things during a hypomania and rather than deny myself entirely, I pick really small items that I like. So... during my recent hypomania, I have bought the following:
  • Pencils
  • A new pencil sharpener (I've had the other ones for 15 years so this didn't seem excessive. Needless to say, I write by hand with pencils so it's not like this is a huge luxury.
  • 2 books (They satisfied my need and I go with regularity to the library)
  • 3 new picks for my Autoharp
  • 2 pairs of socks for my mom (she likes little gifts and we're both sock people)
  • cards for my husband and a few friends
  • moleskin notebooks (my favorite and they only cost $9.95 for three booklets)
And that's it! Once again, I'm proud of my self-control.

While I used to read bipolar books about people who spent unbelievable amounts of money during a hypomania (or maybe it was a mania and perhaps that's a whole other thing), I couldn't understand it. Like every other aspect of this illness, it seems to me that once you recognize you've got certain symptoms, you need to figure out ways to control them.

But that's just me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hypomania Revisited (Part 1)

Although I already wrote about hypomania, I'm not sure I can write about it enough since so much of what I've read--over the years--has been a complete waste of time. So let's revisit it once again.

For the last few weeks, I've been feeling hypomanic. There were days when I awakened and felt marginally depressed but once I took a small amount of medication, it went away. However, I know a full-fledged hypomania is upon me when I stop taking anti-depressant medication and still feel great upon awakening. (For those of you who are new to this blog, I'm medication resistant and all mood stabilizers make me feel worse, not better.)

So, after all of these years with all I have learned, how do I handle a hypomania? Well, the first thing I do is exercise. Usually, I try to walk but this morning I decided to garden, and I use the term loosely.

Today is the day our gardeners come and I decided that I needed to prune a bunch of shrubs and a few trees so that they could do the clean up. Many years ago, my husband used to kid me that I should actually pursue a career in the demolition business.

"Prune" is not exactly the word I would use for what I used to do; "plant reduction" might be a more appropriate phrase.

However, I don't do that anymore. Instead, when I attacked (possibly too harsh a word) the bougainvillea, which had gotten way out of control, I carefully pruned it. I also "pruned" our neighbor's bottle bush plant which hangs over her fence onto our driveway and mucks up my car.

As pretty as these red flowers look, they are sticky and you can't imagine how messy they are on a nice clean car. So, every so often I cut them back--on my side of the fence.

From there, I cleaned up some shrubs further down the driveway that were hitting my car as I backed down our fairly steep driveway each day. I also cut back the birds of paradise that smack me in the face each day because I have to stick my head out the window in order to back out carefully.

After about 45 minutes of plant reduction, one would think I would feel a tiny bit tired...but no...indeed. Still, I showered, and cautiously went forth into the universe, careful to stay on top of all "hypomanic behavior" as a good BIP should.

Tomorrow...I'll talk about how I control "spending money" during a hypomania. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Other Bipolar Blogs

I'll finish the Family Loyalty post when I've got more time. Marie, thanks again for your comment. In the meantime, during this period when I don't have a lot of time to write, I'd like to recommend a few other posts at other blogs.

Syd from Bipolarity has written two wonderful posts on Forgiveness. Be sure to check them out. They're heartfelt and thought-provoking! She's the author of a new book, which I'll let her tell you about. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I know it will be good. She's a terrific writer.

Marja from Roller Coaster wrote a wonderful post about Faith and Mental Well-Being. She's also the author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders , which I plan on reading and reviewing as soon as I have a moment to breathe. I've just read the introduction and it looks great!

Staggo Lee from Gay Bipolar Guy has posted some beautiful art work on his site as well as a lovely poem from Frederico Garcia Lorca. Also read his piece called Chapter 9, which is on his childhood in Cleveland. I found it quite moving.

Howard Freeman from SurfCountry has written a wonderful book, Lullabye, which I plan on reviewing as soon as I have time to write something thoughtful. His daily essays are a treat!

The Mental Feminist has newly linked to me. She's a college student. Check her out!

JayPeeFreely from No More Mr. Nice Guy has written a touching piece called Take You Back: My First Blog Entry. He writes about baseball but he's also written some wonderful fiction pieces that are sort of difficult to describe.

Polly from polarcoaster has written an interesting piece, I Fear I Am Not in My Perfect Mind. It's worth reading!

If I've left you out and you're writing posts I should know about, let me know. I'm swamped and don't have a lot of time to spend online these days.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Family Loyalty (Part 1)

When I was a child, my father taught us (I have two siblings) that family loyalty was the most important trait there is. He was the youngest of four brothers and he idolized his older brothers.

Growing up, I never tired of hearing stories about how my dad's brothers were wonderful athletes, how well they did in school, how popular they were, how many offices they held and so on and so forth.

My dad has been dead for 18 years so it is impossible for me to ask him when he stopped--idolizing them, that is. What I do know is that he and his eldest brother were the only ones to attend college.

After college, my uncle moved to North Carolina, married someone outside of his family's faith, and rarely returned home. It wasn't because of my grandparents' attitude toward his wife; they were very accepting. All these years later, I wonder why my uncle abandoned his family.

My dad's second oldest brother was captured in World War II and may have been a hero but wasn't very successful once he left the service. He was unemployed for many years during the great Depression. His never seemed to find his path after that although he worked steadily in low prestige jobs, remained married to the same woman, and had three children.

I don't know very much about my dad's third oldest brother. After he died, I heard some unpleasantries about him from my cousin--his son. I don't know why my dad once admired this brother although I do know that Dad loved him.

One of my father's favorite books was My Glorious Brothers by Howard Fast, which is the story of the Maccabees. I won't bore you with the history but the short version is that they were a priestly family of Jews in the 2nd Century B.C. who organized a successful rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Palestine and reconsecrated the defiled Temple of Jerusalem. They are responsible for Hanukkah but that's another story.

It wasn't the history that made my father love this book, however. To me (and to him), it was the most amazing story of brotherly love. While John was the oldest brother, and Simon was next, Judas was the kind of brother everyone admired...strong, brave, loyal, fearless, and courageous. In Fast's novel, the other brothers are Eleazor (who is known for his strength) and Jonathan (who is known for his brilliance).

(to be continued)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Accepting My Limitations

After so many years of being sick, it's difficult to describe what it's like to be well--most of the time. After so many years of feeling like there were no other BIPS (bipolars) in the universe to whom I could relate, it's difficult to describe what it's like to find a community of people who share my feelings, concerns, and attitudes about this illness.

After so many years of having to refrain from taking classes because I felt so terrible when I had to quit due to illness or I knew my expectations were unrealistic (because prior to the class I hadn't been well for eight straight weeks for 14 years), it's difficult to describe my feeling of accomplishment when I completed my photography class a few weeks ago.

It's easy for others--who are not bipolar or who don't truly understand the heartache of this illness--to minimize my success. It's easy for people who knew me before my illness spiraled out of control to wonder why completing a class at a community college would be a "big deal" when I have a degree from UCLA and three published books and many magazine articles with my byline.

It would seem like my former accomplishments would dwarf this one. But I am as proud of this as I have been about anything else I have achieved. Different times require different expectations.

It's easy for people who are not bipolar or who don't know me to minimize my success because they have no idea how devastating my failures were--for me.

For those of you who understand the feelings of excitement that accompany a hypomania (even a fairly benign one), you undoubtedly understand how delighted I was to sign up for the next class in the photography certificated program, which starts on Monday. But as all of you--who regularly read this blog know, I also have a huge writing assignment that's due on Wednesday. And my manuscript for my memoir is due at the publisher's on July 1.

It's 12:45 in the morning. I've only been asleep for an hour, and I just awakened because I realized that I can't possibly take the design class, which starts on Monday. I cannot commit four hours a day, four days a week for the next six weeks. I can't possibly lose the 12 hours I badly need to work on my writing assignment nor the subsequent hours I need to finish editing my memoir.

I awakened because I suddenly realized that in my excitement to continue pursuing my goal (even though it's just for fun, not for career advancement), I have taken on more than I can realistically hope to accomplish.

For me, recognizing this limitation and accepting it is a good thing. And it's okay to feel a little disappointed that I won't be moving ahead with my new hobby. It's okay to feel a little sad that I won't be able to meet a whole new group of fellow photography students.

It's okay to feel a little proud that for the first time in a long time, I am realizing my limitations and accepting them. For the first time in a long time, I'm making a decision based on my desire to maintain wellness, not due to the constraints of illness.

It's a somewhat bittersweet realization but an important one nonetheless. It's the first time in a long time that I feel I'm postponing a goal rather than failing to achieve my objective. While people who aren't bipolar or who don't know me might not recognize how important this distinction is (for me), I recognize it as a small miracle.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dick Van Dyke, Mama, and Me

Although I was stressed about meeting my work deadline yesterday, I did take some time off for a birthday celebration for my son. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. We all were having a wonderful time when I happened to look up and saw Dick Van Dyke at another table.




For those of you who don't know him, he not only played Rob Petrie in one of my favorite childhood TV shows, The Dick Van Dyke show but he played Bert, the chimney sweep, in Mary Poppins, one of my favorite musicals to which I know all the songs. He has had an illustrious career.

Because of my grandparents, I have known many celebrities. When my mother was a child, my grandparents were friends with George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack and Mary Benny, Ed and Sylvia Sullivan, the Marx brothers, Sophie Tucker, Fred Allen, Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler and so many more. When I was a child, I met many of them at my grandparents' country club.

The first job I had once I graduated from UCLA was as an NBC Page and I worked the Tonight show, Chico and The Man, Hollywood Squares, and so many more.

Still, I do get a kick out of celebrity sightings. As I returned from the bathroom of the Mexican restaurant and was passing Mr. Van Dyke's table, I said, "Shall I pretend not to notice you or should I tell you that I've been a fan for most of my life?"

He laughed and said, "It probably has been most of your life."

"I may be your only fan who can sing Chim Chim Cheree (a song from Mary Poppins)."

"Do you sing in my key?" he asked with a smile.

"No, but I sing your part and Julie Andrews' as well."

We both laughed and I went back to my table. We left the restaurant, and the valet pulled our car to the entrance. My mother was tired and I had some difficulty getting her in the car from her wheel chair. She said, "I just can't do it."

"Of course you can," I extolled, and looked up to see Mr. Van Dyke holding the door.

My mom didn't see him and still was complaining when I said, "Mama, if Dick Van Dyke is going to hold the door, then surely you can get inside the car."

Everyone, including my mother, laughed. I turned to her and said, "After all, it's only in Los Angeles that a celebrity will help you get into your car."

That brought the house down! Once mama was seated in the car, we waved to Mr. Van Dyke and the other valets, and drove off. Only in L.A.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Feeling Stressed


I'm feeling stressed about getting all my work done. I'm taking the day off. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what this graphic means but I'll link to it (It's the Cattleman's stress test.) You can be the judge.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Depressions and Westerns

Within the last week, two members of our community are trying to stave off a depression and another returned from three weeks in hibernation. There may be others; these are just the ones I know about. As I thought about them, I have felt great empathy and compassion. I remember so many times when I could feel a depression coming on and wondered what I could do to stop it before it took hold.

I always tried my usual fare: playing music, spending time outdoors, forcing myself to walk--if only for a few blocks, racking my mind to determine the trigger, trying to talk it away, trying to write it away, gardening, doing physical labor, praying, trying my own form of meditation, trying to ignore it, going to films, watching funny videos, spending time with people who love me and whom I love, seeking out friends who make me laugh, and the list goes on.

Sometimes it worked; other times it didn't. I wish I could figure out why.

Coming back from a depression isn't easy either. For me it seems to go in stages. Once the really bad part is over, I don't feel happy or sad. I'm able to accomplish tasks although I don't have much enthusiasm. I'm able to read, which is one of my favorite ways of escaping from life as well as a primary source of pleasure. I'm able to see selected friends. I may email a few people I haven't been in contact with, who I know won't pressure me. I try and complete small tasks so that I have a sense of accomplishment. I write--another saving grace.

Also... and this is something I have never publicly admitted, I watch Westerns on TV. I've seen almost every film that John Wayne has ever made. I've seen almost every version of Wyatt Earp. My favorite is Tombstone with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer--who in my opinion is the very best Doc Holliday ever--Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton.

I've watched dozens of John Ford Westerns. I love Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Randolf Scott, Clint Eastwood, Audie Murphy, Kurt Douglas, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd, Burt Landcaster, Lee J. Cobb, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Sam Elliott, and dozens of other actors.

Since I'm too busy to come up with my list, I'd recommend anything from 30 Great Westerns because I've seen them all.

When my husband once asked me about the allure, I said, "Westerns are morality plays, plain and simple. It's about good versus evil and the good guys win."

I realize that these days it's not politically correct to watch Westerns because of the treatment of Native Americans. But that's never been what it's about for me. I guess it's just that my illness defies rationality and I enjoy the simplicity of Westerns. I also love the great outdoors and on vacations, I enjoy horseback riding.

I'm not sure that Westerns can bring me out of a depression but they sure can entertain me. Maybe it's just that I see myself as a "good guy who's fighting a bad guy" (I think a little anthropomorphization is probably okay) and I live vicariously through the cowboys.

The bottom line is that I'm a huge Western fan. Kinds of shocks you, doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Writer Needs New Glasses

Today I was all set to put forth a "super-human" effort to meet tomorrow's deadline. Then I reread all the material I was given (more than a hundred pages...with sample interviews, resources etc.). Somehow, I missed the fact that they changed the deadline from the 13th to the 19th. Or maybe I just need new glasses.

I've been reprieved. Hallelujah! My first to-do item is to call the optometrist for an appointment. My second is to take a few deep breaths. My third is to read today's newspaper while slowing sipping a cup of coffee.

When We Are Sad

A friend who shall remain anonymous, wrote me to ask if it is okay to post when we are sad. Like me, she tries very hard to keep her blog on a positive note. I immediately wrote to say that it is okay. I'm concerned since I haven't heard back from her. Although I won't reveal the email I wrote in response to her, I hope she reads this.

Dear Friend,
I was very very sick for six years. There were so many days when I considered it a blessing, just to survive. While I wasn't comfortable sharing my feelings online, and I barely had the energy to write at all, during my darkest moments, I used to compose letters to God in my mind.

I not only asked "why me," but I implored Him to let me survive. I explained over and over again what it was like for me--to be in such despair, such darkness, such excruciating pain. I asked what I had done to offend Him because I was sure that somehow I must be to blame if I was being punished so mercilessly and thoroughly over and over again.

"I am a good mother, a good daughter, a good wife, and a good friend. When I am well, I have tried so hard to help others. I realize that I wasn't always the best person I could be. I recognize that I made some mistakes. I know that my sense of humor is a bit quirky and I am irreverent by nature.

"Still, I have never hurt anyone on purpose. I have been sick on and off since I was 18 years old. There were things I have done that I didn't realize were a result of my illness--but I wasn't aware I was bipolar until I was 43. Forgive me.

"During the worse of my illness, I sometimes literally crawled out of bed and prayed on bended knee. I have cried so many times that I have no tears left. I have felt such blinding pain and I have suffered so greatly that I don't know how I can survive one more depression. How can you continue to ignore me day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year?

"I would never hurt anyone as much as you have hurt me by your silence," I wrote. "Whatever I have done was done in ignorance, not by design. But I cannot abandon my son. I will not abandon my son. I waited until I was 39 to give birth. I may not be able to be with him during his entire life but I won't leave him by my own hand. I may be disappointed that I am not the mother I could have been without this illness, but I am doing the best I can.

"Please...and I am truly begging you," I wrote, "please deliver me from this darkness so that I can be there for my son, my husband, and my mother. Give me the strength to go on. Realize that I am at the end of my rope. I don't have much more inside me to continue to fight for my life again and again.

"Please help me. In Judaism, we do not pray on bended knee but I am laying prostrate before you and begging you to take this pain away so that I can survive. I was taught that you never give a person more than he or she can bear. But I need you to know that I can't bear one more minute of pain. I just can't."

My dear friend...I have written this to allow you the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you need to so that you can survive your current sadness. No matter how strong I seem, I, too have faltered. I, too, have suffered. I, too, have barely been able to survive.

In these last few months, I feel we have developed a community of people who are there for each other--if only in cyberspace. I wish I was your neighbor so that I could be there for you in person. I wish I could offer a hug, a word, a smile, or some solace in person. But we are separated by miles and miles.

Despite that, feel free to lean on me. Don't hold your emotions in check; it's not what you need right now. Express yourself completely and fully. There are so many of us who are there for you...who care for you. And if you need to talk in person, I know there are people in your life whom you can call for help. You just need to ask.

It is great that you are strong and provide solace to others. But you do not always have to be the strong one. Reach out. Ask for help. Tell your friends that you need them. Tell your pastor that you need him. Tomorrow when you awaken, make that call, post your feelings, ask for help.

With love,

Susan

Monday, June 11, 2007

On A Positive Note

(I was seeking a graphic of a woman rushing around but since I couldn't find it, I went to Stamps USA and found a Ken Brown stamp entitled "Woman Moving Maytag." For some reason, it ticked my fancy. I also liked "Pencilhead.")

I'm rushing around today because it's not only my son's birthday but I've got a huge writing assignment to complete by Wednesday. So...I don't have the time or energy to write a lengthy post. Instread, I'd like to include some info that was sent to me by James, a new reader from Australia. It's the first positive thing I've read about this illness in a long time.

"There is a wonderful book called A Lifelong Journey: Staying Well With Manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder. I have found it immensely helpful, especially because medicines only seem to do so much.

The author Sarah Russell also wrote a journal article which forms the basis of the book. It can be downloaded for free from http://www.researchmatters.net/publications.html."

All the very best,
James

He followed up with the next post:

"I just remembered another resource from the Black Dog Institute in Sydney. The link is:
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/bipolar/bep/index.cfm.

Sarah Russell is one of the speakers and her presentation is about 10 minutes long. You can listen to it online. I was lucky enough to take part in the pilot of this programme which was excellent, and I would recommend any of the other speakers as well."

Best regards,
James

Thanks James. FYI...I've ordered the book on Amazon. I'll let everyone know what I think.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Letter to God

(Some people pray aloud; some pray silently. I do both but I also write as a method of prayer. And because I'm a bit quirky, I frequently write letters to God.)

Dear God,
I've gotta tell you how grateful I am (Monday is my son's 18th birthday.) I'm hypomanic and having a little trouble sleeping so I figured I'd write to you now. You and I have had our moments these past 14 years. I thought the difficulties with this illness would never end. And I wondered how you could smote me when I had such a wonderful child and was actually such a good person.

But, it finally seems like everything is under control. It's not like I still don't suffer from occasional depressive episodes but they're far less severe and aren't as frequent. Most importantly, I seem to have figured out a lot about this illness. And I've started blogging about bipolar wellness and hopefully I am helping others.

However, that's not what I'm writing about in this letter. No, this time I just want to say, "Thank you." Despite all that's happened to me, my son is truly a wonder. I recently accepted an assignment where I'm writing about "new motherhood" and I've been reliving what it felt like almost 18 years ago--to give birth and become a mom for the first time at 39.

It truly was a peak life experience and remains so. I realize now how grateful I am that my illness wasn't diagnosed earlier. Had it been, and had I had such a difficult time years earlier, I might have felt that I shouldn't have a child. I undoubtedly would have worried about the impact of the illness on him. I would have known the statistics and would have been concerned that he could inherit the illness from me.

Worst of all, I might have questioned my suitability for motherhood!

But, the good news is that since it wasn't diagnosed until my son was four years old, I just "went for it." And I've got to say that my son has been my saving grace. In the darkest hours, I believe it was my love for him that saved me. I waited so long to have him that I never would have considered abandoning him.

It's a long story and one that I'll discuss more with you at a later date. I'm feeling a bit tired now and need to get some rest. But I just wanted to thank you for allowing me to be a mother at 39 and for having given birth to someone who's such an intelligent, kind, empathic, and wonderful person.

My love for him has saved me time and time again. For that, I am deeply grateful!

Love,
Susan

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Researching My Malady (Part 2)

This is the final part of a chapter (a short one) that I eliminated from my upcoming book, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out. The reason it's "out" is because when I started writing my memoir 14 years ago, there were very few books about bipolar disorder so people could relate to my experience. But times have changed and as we all know, there are dozens (albeit still very few that provide hope, I might add.) Some names have been changed for reasons of privacy.


"Uh, how can I help you?" he asked in such a quiet voice that I could barely hear him.

"I’m interested in buying the best books you have on manic depression," I said, sighing. I was becoming so fatigued that I had to force myself to talk. "Can you make some recommendations?"

"No, uh, I can’t," Virgil said. "The bipolar buyer, well, um, she's not bipolar but she buys the bipolar books, is on vacation."

"Oh," I said with no energy and great sadness. "Is there anyone else who knows this stock?"

He shook his head. "If you leave your phone number at the cash register, she can call you in a few weeks."

A few weeks sounded like eternity. I turned away from Virgil because I could feel the flood gates opening. After I’d taken a handkerchief from my purse and wiped my eyes, I turned back around to find that he was gone.

I guess my fantasy had been to read about people who suffered from depression or manic depression and were otherwise highly functional. But the information I read was discouraging and disheartening.

Of the more than 19 million North Americans who experience a depressive episode each year, I learned that only one out of three get help. There were stories of people who had stayed in bed for years or walked around like zombies. Some common characteristics of the clinically depressed are low self-esteem, helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

I read about people who felt so bad they had to be institutionalized and others who attempted suicide. I learned that untreated depressions can lead to chronic and severe illness; that relatives of people who suffer from clinical depression are two to three times more likely to have depressive episodes themselves.

The good news was that manic-depressives were often considered charming, charismatic, and creative. Famous bipolar writers included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and Emily Dickinson. Composers like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were bipolar, and bipolar artists included Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock.

I was relieved to find that more than 2.5 million North Americans suffer from manic depression and that it is treatable. I guess misery loves company. The bad news was that 20 percent of manic-depressives kill themselves.More than 60 percent abuse alcohol and/or drugs, the more untreated episodes a person has, the more difficult it is to treat subsequent ones, and the norm is for patients to see three to four doctors over an eight year period before getting a proper diagnosis.

I closed my last book. By now tears were streaming down my face. I put on my sunglasses and walked out of the bookstore. What a nightmare!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Researching My Malady (Part 1)

The following chapter is one that I eliminated from my upcoming book, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out. The reason it's "out" is because when I started writing my memoir 14 years ago, there were very few books about bipolar disorder so people could relate to my experience. But times have changed and as we all know, there are dozens (albeit still very few that provide hope, I might add.) Still, I thought you might enjoy this chapter. Some names have been changed for reasons of privacy.

I left Pasha’s (my psychiatrist; I call them all by their first names to level the playing field) office with a diagnosis and a prescription for Zoloft, but no substantive information about bipolar mood disorder. I still didn’t understand what was wrong with me and I was frightened and fearful. I decided to spend the following few days doing research at libraries and bookstores. (It was 1993 and I hadn’t even heard the word “Internet.”)

The next afternoon after my depression lifted, I went to the UCLA Biomedical Library. I don’t know what I expected to find there. It had been a long time since my undergraduate days and I had been a history major besides. Still, I bravely walked into the stacks and picked out a few dozen books, most of which turned out to be incomprehensible. My initial reaction was that my inability to understand the material was due to the virulent nature of cancer-like depression cells, which were destroying my healthy brain cells.

After an hour or so, I realized that even if I had felt well, the books were too technical. The authors, mostly psychiatrists, were talking about epidemiology, the Kraepelinian Synthesis, biochemical models, and pharmacological studies. I wanted to know how to define my illness, how many people had it, how they dealt with periods of unparalled sadness, and what the treatment options were.

I wanted someone to explain to me why this illness was classified as a mental one, with all the attendant stigma. Most of all, I wanted to find a cure. Exhausted by my experience, I went home and slept for two hours.

The next afternoon I drove to my neighborhood library and later to a bookstore specializing in psychology. I talked to librarians and booksellers but they were of little help. Nobody knew anything about manic depression; all they could do was direct me to the psychology section. Once again I skimmed a bunch of books that didn’t help me. After a few more wasted hours, I returned to my car with a sense of futility and began crying.

Just another clueless L.A. woman weeping in her Volvo station wagon.

I rested my head on my steering wheel and fell asleep for about twenty minutes. When I awakened I knew what to do. There was an alternative bookstore I used to frequent many years earlier. It was one of those whole-earth incense-burning places where they have loads of books on psychology, healing, and spiritualism. From what I remembered, their salespeople knew their stock.

Wrong again! My salesperson, whose name tag read Lark and who wore a wrinkled rock and roll T-shirt over a long black skirt, knew nothing about psychology. When I asked her to recommend some books on unipolar and bipolar depression, she slowly walked me over to some tall shelves and said, “Here.”

“Here?” I asked, pointing at literally hundreds of books on four bookshelves. I was overwhelmed by the selection.

“Yeah,” she distractedly answered.

I loudly sighed.

“Well, um, they’re kinda mixed together,” she slowly responded as she turned to the first bookshelf and started reading aloud the names of books in which the illness was the title. “Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Cognitive Disorders, Depression…”

“They’re listed alphabetically,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Lark, I’m really sick,” I said. “I have no energy. I can’t look through all these books. I need help.”

“Wow,” she said.

After observing her lack of movement, I said again, “I need help.”

“Oh yeah. Just stay right here, you know,” she said, patting my shoulder.

I thanked her and began perusing the books when a second salesperson, Virgil, appeared. He looked worse than I felt. It might have been transference but his appearance—a pale white pallor and anorexic physique—bespoke an aura of illness.

(to be continued)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Oh Happy Day

FYI...the photo on the right is by one by one of my favorite photographers, Berenice Abbott. It's called "Brooklyn Bridge, Water, and Dock Streets," and was taken in 1936.

Thanks to Polly and Chica for their good wishes for my photography final. Although I studied, I haven't taken a final in decades and I never took a multiple choice exam when I was in college. Also, since the technical side of photography was so new to me, there was a tremendous amount of information to learn and I was a bit overwhelmed by the exam.

As I sat down to take it, I got that feeling in my stomach that I used to have in my geometry classes in high school (the last time I took math). As a "math challenged" person, it wasn't the most pleasant feeling either.

Still, once the exam was over, I felt great. Our very last task was to go through all our slides (or digital images) and pick the top 20 for our final project. When I looked back at how far I'd come in only eight weeks, it was quite gratifying!

Actually, the class represented so much more. For the first time in 14 years, I finally felt that I would be well enough to commit to an eight-week class. And so I was. It was a great way to meet new people. Four of us will be taking the next-level class in the fall (and that feels good too).

As one of the older students, it was fun to be in a class with kids who are my son's age (as well as my peers and a few people in their thirties). This was a truly diverse group in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, and background. And I genuinely liked most of the people.

Not only did I learn about photography, but this was the first art class I've ever taken. When I was an undergraduate years ago, I took art history, but not art. I must admit that I'm rather "art challenged" as well as "math challenged." But I do have a "good eye" and at this time in my life, I feel that I can pursue all areas of interest--whether I'm good in them or not.

While I'm still somewhat tired today and have a slew of other work (writing projects with deadlines) that I need to catch up on, yesterday was truly a happy day. And for that I am deeply grateful.

P.S. Got a comment from Lena who wrote that when she's hypomanic, her face and ears hurt. Anyone have those symptoms?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Taking A Final Examination

A picture says a thousand words; especially to someone who's taking a photography final exam. I'll post again on Thursday.

Stretching Myself at UCLA

I'm almost finished with my photography class. The written final is on Wednesday. Yesterday morning, I was up at 6:00 a.m. to finish my "final project." I was planning on doing a photo essay at UCLA. It's my alma mater and my husband's as well as my mother's and father's. I thought I would be able to define what UCLA means to me, but the outcome was disappointing (The shots I'm using aren't mine because I don't have a digital camera).

Still, I had a wonderful time at UCLA. I felt like I was a sophomore all over again (I attended UC Berkeley my freshman year).

It's kind of interesting at this stage of my life to begin a new hobby at which I'm so inept. But I'm truly enjoying myself and getting better each time. There's a certain humility in trying something new and remembering what it's like to be a novice.

My illness is the only thing in my life I haven't been able to overcome. With most every other endeavor, I find that self-discipline, hard work, a positive attitude, a determination to succeed, and a willingness to persevere enable me to excel.

With photography, I feel like I'm stretching myself in new ways...finding a new vocabulary to express my feelings...developing new skills...learning about new equipment...allowing myself to learn through my failures as well as my successes...using the right side of my brain...

It feels good!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bipolar Creativity and Online Success

Today's post is about creative activities in our "village" and online success. Obviously I can only write about things I know...so if you're doing a new project or involved in something wonderful, let us know. Also, I'm happy to review books although I must admit that money is scarce these days so if you want me to review yours, you'll have to send me a review copy.

One of the most wonderful things in the world is to be able to recommend a book I like very much written by someone I like. Later this week I will review Howard Freeman's new book, Lullabye. Howard, a new friend, is perhaps better known as "Dootz" and he writes SurfCountry. Well, he just self-published a book of essays that I genuinely like. He's a talented writer and I think you'll love his new book. My review will run as soon as my photography final is over. Stay tuned...

I highly recommend that everyone go to Marja's site, to see a new watercolor she's painted. I think it's great! Also, she's the author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders. Although I haven't read it, she gives great advice so I'd urge you to buy it!

I've just been hired to write for a relaunched website although I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement but I'll tell you about it when I can. Also, my memoir, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out will be released as an Ebook in July and a paperback in October. I'll give you the particulars when I know more.

I guess that's all I know except that I've been nominated for Best Health Blog as have some others. It would be nice if you would vote for us. My blog is listed as BipolarWellness.blogspot.com because that's the official name. I've also been nominated for the Thinking Blogger Award but I'm not yet sure what that means. Howard "tagged" me. He's been nominated too.

If anyone else has been nominated for anything else, let us know. While I'm new to all this award stuff, I think it's great if we support each other and contribute to each other's successes.

And I'd like to share the best online success story that I know. A few years ago, I took an online class from a guy named Jim Edwards who wrote an Ebook on How to Write an Ebook in 7 Days. While I don't really believe it's possible to write any book in seven days, it was Jim's "hook" and his class was about how to launch a mini-website to sell your book. It was my first real immersion in all this online stuff.

Each week, Jim sent us CD's with class materials. He taught us through group conference calls. I was amazed by all that was available online.

Most of all, I liked Jim's story. As I remember, a few years before he wrote his first Ebook, his business had failed and so had his health because he was so down and out. He and his wife were in debt, and things looked bleak. But...then he wrote an Ebook about buying real estate without an agent (as I recall) and he turned his life around. Of course, I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Jim's point was that with every site he launched, he would generate a mailing list of 13,000 people within a year. At the time I took his class, I believe he was earning over a million dollars annually. And he and his friends (mostly computer geek types) were involved in multiple businesses with each other.

I was amazed by what I learned although at the time I couldn't figure out how to adapt it to my sensibilities. The problem was that Jim and I have different aesthetics and a different orientation to life. He's really a marketeer and I'm a writer. So, I'm not interested in writing books just to make money. Rather, I need to write what I feel passionately about--whether they sell or not.

But I did learn a lot from Jim. Someday, I think I'll be able to utilize what I learned and make a living online. But not quite yet. The funny thing is that I was intending to try and make a little bit of money from this blog but within a few days of launching it, I realized that I couldn't include "Google Ad Words" because they recommend products I don't necessarily endorse. And I can't even list "Amazon.com" book recommendations because I don't necessarily agree with the bipolar books they endorse.

However, recently a dear friends suggested that we might develop an online business together and I'm mulling it over. And suddenly, after quite a drought, I'm getting writing assignments again and genuinely enjoying myself. And I do believe, "if you do what you love, the money will follow."

Sunday, June 3, 2007

How We Deal With Bipolar Disorder (Part 2)

Although I said I wouldn't be responding to the comments in my blog until Monday night, I've changed my mind. Because of my two week hypomanic period, I've been in bed most of today, crashing. It hasn't been a bad thing. I've just been very tired. And because I fell the other day, I'm also very sore and the aspirin I've been taking knocks me out.

Every few hours when I've awakened, I checked my blog to see who has made comments. In the midst of a hypomanic recovery, it seemed to me that my last posting was perhaps the most important one yet...to me.

Since February 1 of this year, I've posted 83 times. So, it's a big deal for me to say that these posts have been the most important. As I look back and reread what I've written, I realize that some of the posts were meant to be amusing; others were heartfelt. But perhaps none have been as important to me as those I've been writing in the past few days.

Why? Because it took me so long to figure all this out.

For years I didn't realize that hypomanias beget depressions. And at least one of the five psychiatrists I've seen in the last fourteen years has said, "The worse the hypomania, the worse the depression."

I always thought that was an odd thing for him to have said...to me. Because by the time he said it, he had already categorized me as medication resistant. He knew nothing I had taken could end a hypomania. He also knew that I'd tried acupuncture, naturopathy, mega-vitamins, and exercise (in this case as a means of tiring myself out) in addition to traditional treatments. And the alternative treatments didn't work either.

Years later, I sought help from a holistic psychiatrist (she was the biggest charlatan of all and I only wish I was going to "name names" in my upcoming book because she truly deserves public ridicule) and she prescribed amino acids in addition to $157 worth of other worthless remedies.

It was only when I began seeing the doctor of integrative medicine that I began believing that I could "heal myself" if I believed I could. Again, that doesn't mean that I have ended my depressive episodes or the hypomanias but both are way more manageable and I have lessened the severity and duration of each. At the same time, I began to feel that if I could identify symptoms and triggers and deal with them, it would help, and it has.

Now...to address the comments...first of all I want to thank everyone who's commented these past few days. As I'm writing this, I would like to thank Marja, Sydney, Dootz, Terry, and Cindy. (If other people post after 4:30 today, I can't thank you until tomorrow night because as soon as I write this, I need to leave and won't be home until late.)

Marja posted multiple times (as always, thanks) and I don't have time to address all her comments but the one I will address is about her book (obviously we all need to read it) and her belief that we must help ourselves. As you all probably know, Marja from Roller Coaster leads a group at her church and provides a lot of comfort to others. While she does have her up times and sad ones as well, what I've learned about her these last few months is that, like me, she's always trying something to heal herself. Perhaps more than me, she reaches out to others.

Syd from Bipolarity wrote to say that she experiences all of the hypomanic side effects I mentioned. I was stunned and delighted and it wasn't because misery loves company. (I like Sydney too much to want her to suffer.) But after all these years, I was just shocked to find that anyone else could share these symptoms. Every single time I've mentioned these symptoms to psychiatrists, they've shook their head or shrugged and said, "I've never had a never patient tell me that." Go figure!

Dootz from SurfCountry makes an interesting point about his doctors and you should read what he says. (You should also read his new book Lullabye. He's a terrific writer and I plan on reviewing Lullabye next week after my final exam, which is on Wednesday.)

Thanks to Gay Bipolar Guy from his comments regarding hypomania. His experience with medication was awful. But it sounds like he's a real survivor. Also, the artwork on his site is terrific.

I want to thank Terry (do you have a blog I should add to my list?) for asking whether our doctors pay more attention to us when we're ill. What do you think? Actually, in my new book, I've written that I felt I would have received far better treatment if I'd ever gone to a psychiatric session and appeared unwashed and messy rather than clean and well-coiffed.

At my very worst--which has been unspeakably awful--I still forced myself to bathe and blow-dry my hair. In saying this, I do not mean to minimize other peoples' pain and suffering. It's just that we all have personal standards that are important to us; that make us who we are. I've always felt that the beginning of the end for me would be to walk out the door with unkempt hair. (Again, you realize that I am a bit quirky.)

Finally, I want to thank Cindy for writing three comments today and for contributing to the post on Volunteering. I think she's right on target and is a great role model because she's been so successful in staving off the worst of this illness.

I've got to dash out (although given my level of physical pain, "dash" isn't quite the right word choice). I hope this discussion continues in my absence, and I hope the rest of your weekend is happy!

How We Deal With Bipolar Disorder (Part 1)

My purpose in the last few posts regarding hypomania was to learn the following: What symptoms do you have when you're hypomanic? How do you deal with them? I appreciate hearing from those people who responded and I would hope to hear from more of you. (As I mentioned, I'm swamped until Monday after my class and won't be able to respond to your comments until Monday night.)

My reason for asking these questions is to see if my symptoms are common, to learn if other people have different symptoms that I may not have identified (or perhaps I don't have), and to learn about other coping strategies.

What fuels my questions is my philosophy about this illness. When I was first diagnosed (25 years after my first depressive episode), I was somewhat relieved to learn that there was a biochemical reason for my depressions. Later, I realized that whether this illness has a biochemical basis or not (and I'm still not convinced that it's the full story), like everything else in life, I believe I have to assume responsibility for myself.

In my case, the medication didn't work and so I needed to find other ways to "cure" myself. However, even for those people for whom it does work, I believe we all have to assume responsibility for our own healing.

For years, what I so disliked about what I read in books, websites, and later blogs, was the lack of empowerment (I'm not sure if this is the best word) for bipolars (BIPS). What I felt doctors and other BIPS were saying was "there's nothing you can do about this illness except take medicine. And if it doesn't work, all you can do is to try new medicine or hope that something new will be developed."

I felt I was spending my entire life waiting...and getting sicker and sicker. Finally, I had enough. I realized that this was not a philosophy I adhere to in any other aspect of my life. Why would I accept such a passive role in trying to heal myself?

After a lot of thought, research and prayer, I believe there are dozens of things we can all do every day to feel better. I'm not saying that we can end a depression by positive thinking. Nor do I believe we can end a hypomania by utilizing self-control but I think our daily actions can make a huge difference.

I know that if I can identify hypomanic symptoms, and develop strategies for coping with them, I will feel better. I know that if I can identify the triggers that cause depressions and resolve them, I can stave off a depression or lessen its impact.

I also know that there are positive actions I can take to seek wellness, including exercise, spending time outdoors, seeking counsel when something bothers me, finding methods of reducing stress, choosing not to spend time with people whom I consider toxic, participating in creative outlets and the list goes on.

What I'm trying to find out is whether other BIPS agree or whether they feel that they must accept the limitations of this illness. I am interested in finding out about coping mechanisms that I may not be aware of, healing techniques that others have found effective, and the ways in which BIPS are empowering themselves.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

One More Hypomanic Symptom

It's 5:00 in the morning and I've hardly slept all night. I could have taken an Ativan but I've been taking 1/2 milligrams for the last ten days, and I'm already addicted. So, I've decided to stop. I just took another bath. As I lay in the tub, I began thinking about my day and I came up with an additional hypomanic symptom.

My cranium hurts. I know this sounds like a weird one and if anyone else has ever felt this, I'd really like to know. What I mean by this is that my skull actually hurts. Again, I used to think it was due to medication but now I know it's the hypomania. I've often wondered if a hypomania can cause a slight swelling of the brain. The worst pain is at the bottom of my skull near the back of my head and the top of my neck. But if I touch my face near my cheekbones, and my temples, they are very sensitive as well.

Solution: A massage or acupuncture, neither of which I can afford these days. But...what if those of us who have medical insurance (and I don't as you may recall from earlier posts) could call our doctors and say, "My cranium is swelling; could you prescribe a massage?"

The fact is that when I did have insurance (which was all of my life until three years ago when we could no longer afford my policy, which cost about $10,000 a year), I had a $15 copay for medication. What if my copay covered the complementary medicine options that I would have preferred...rather than medication?

So...when my cranium hurts, rather than taking a muscle relaxant or aspirin (both of which knock me out), I could see my chiropractor/acupuncturist or better yet, get a massage? I think the reason this option isn't available is because we're being punished for being bipolar.

On Wednesday, when my mother's new doctor visited her, he prescribed physical therapy for the neuropathy that accompanies her diabetes. Because it's a physical illness, there are limitless options. What does that say about the treatment of mental illness?

An aside...actually I'm in terrible physical pain all over...and it's kind of my fault. What I forgot to mention in my last post, was that when I went to my mom's assisted living facility to play music yesterday, I forgot my Autoharp despite the fact that I'd practiced playing for two hours the night before and I had tuned it.

I think the problem was that I was thinking about too many things. I had to load all my camera equipment plus a tripod in the car and I was in the throes of setting up a series of interviews for my new writing assignment.

Anyway, once I arrived at my mom's place, I realized that while I'd brought my music stand, my music, and the music for all the residents, I'd left my Autoharp at home. And I didn't have the time to retrieve it, which is a 25 minute drive both ways.

So, I decided to play a tambourine and sing a capella with Monroe's accompaniment. It was a disaster...for me...everyone else seemed to enjoy it.

First, I needed to hold the music in one hand and so I banged the tambourine on my leg and knee. By the time I got to UCLA to shoot photographs, I was not only stiff but both my knee and leg had black-and-marks. Second, I realized that my Autoharp covers a lot of mistakes. Evidently, Monroe and I are never in tune with each other, which became quite evident when I was singing without a loud instrument. Third, everyone else is out of tune--which I heard for the first time yesterday.

Finally, and this had nothing to do with anything and I'm not sure why it happened (other than the Ativan) but I was perspiring so freely that I was drenched. I kept on drinking water and wiping my face with a handkerchief but what I really needed what a shower--midway through.

The corker came at UCLA when I had climbed on a small wall in order to get a special shot of the medical school graduation, and fell over backwards. My only salvation was that if I'd been really hurt, I assume the new doctors could have helped me--although perhaps they wouldn't have because of my insurance issues!