Friday, August 31, 2007

Disappointing Others

As I have mentioned repeatedly in my blog, I've spent the last few months rewriting and re-editing my manuscript. Actually, some of my fellows bloggers and friends reviewed it and made some great comments. I'm fully acknowledging them in my book so I won't do it here. But it was truly extraordinary to have fellow BIPS give me their thoughts about this illness and let me know if my perceptions resonated with them.

During this period of intense work--concentrating on sickness (Bipolar Depression Unplugged is the memoir of my illness) more than on wellness, I had to insure that I wasn't overwhelmed by sorrow, loss, sadness, and any number of other negative emotions that reliving a decade-long disaster can elicit.

For that reason, during this period, on the days when I finished writing (or the days when I didn't write), I only did those activities that were stress-free for me (other than worrying about my mom and fulfilling family obligations), fun, uplifting, and perhaps "selfishly indulgent."

So...that left a lot of other projects hanging. There are books by friends that I had promised to read and review and didn't (actually I read one and started one but haven't yet reviewed any of them). I volunteered to read the outline for a new website for another friend, couldn't do it in a timely fashion, and now she's withdrawn the offer. And I'm sure there's more...actually I've got a fairly long list.

On the one hand, I do apologize for disappointing people, and I've already begun reading their materials. In almost every case, I believe I wrote to tell them that their material would have to wait until mine was done.

While I feel bad, I guess I've also had to learn to deal with "disappointing others." What I know about myself is that I can only do so much. It's not necessarily a good realization but it is realistic. While I have been reading books during this past few months, they're mostly on photography and art. For some reason, this has been extraordinarily relaxing and has provided a visual and mental vacation of sorts.

While I have continued to write my blog, this kind of writing is far different than reviewing someone else's work. My posts are easy to write. They provide a certain level of catharsis. The more whimsical ones--like Bipolar Bubbling--make me laugh. They allow me to express myself and there is no pressure of any sort--when posting.

All the other work had some degree of stress attached to it. I want my reviews to be thoughtful. I want to spend time thinking about other people's work. I want to carefully craft what I say. If I have been asked for my comments or an evaluation, I want to provide insight and direction.

I'm not sure if I place too much pressure on myself when I volunteer to do this kind of work. And maybe everyone involved would have preferred that I think less and respond more quickly. But after all these years of self-reflection, I know that--for better or for worse--this is who I am.

So, I'm sorry if I disappointed people. I think that those of us who are bipolar are perhaps more understanding when a friend says, "I just can't respond to what you've asked right now...but I will as soon as I'm able."

But what I do know is that I've ended a two-month period of stress without feeling depressed, with very little downtime (just a few bad days), and I've tuned in a manuscript that I'm very proud of. Tomorrow, I'll start turning my efforts toward fulfilling my commitments and I'll do the best job I can--for everyone involved.

This behavior, and my feelings about it, makes me proud. I've come a long way in learning how to take care of myself!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Know Thyself

I finally finished my manuscript and sent it off at almost midnight so I'm pooped today. Instead of writing about my September plans, I want to share a few quotes from and a few photographs by Ralph Steiner, a photographer whom I'm just learning about. (The photo on the left is Typewriter Keys, 1921. The one below is Ham and Eggs, 1929.)

"Fledgling photographers in considerable numbers drift up into Vermont to show me their work, as if to ask a blessing from the patriarch or to seek a key to open the door to successful creativity (whatever "successful" means to them). I am far more able to tell them where the key does not lie--certainly not in technique nor in aesthetics nor in clever self-promotional ideas for photographs.

"If there is a key, it is of Greek manufacture: "Know thyself." Obviously no more valuable photographic ore can be mined from a man than is in residence, and it is helpful for a photographer to know where to dig or where not to dig.

"The painter Edward Hopper said: "The work's the man; you can't get something out of nothing."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Staving Off Seasonal Affective Disorder

Before I talk about one of my best ideas for September--to try and stave off seasonal affective disorder--I' d like to welcome An Untreatable Army BP to our community. Also, in case you didn't know, Howard Freeman of SurfCountry is now writing a new blog, Mead on Manhattan. And Syd from Bipolarity has written a wonderful essay on The Power of Perspective (Part 2) that I recommend to everyone.

Okay, since I spent three hours with my mom yesterday when her caregiver, my sister, and I took her to a new doctor who specializes in gerontology (the additional time was spent in drive time and having some tests taken), I'm even more tired than I've been--if that's possible.

So, I said to my husband, "Even though it's a stretch financially, can we go to Santa Barbara for two days?" And, saint that he is, he said, "Yes."

For those of you who don't live near Los Angeles or even in the United States, Santa Barbara (photo on the right is by Galen R. Frysinger) is just wonderful. Perhaps my favorite description can be found in Walk Santa Barbara by Cherri Rae and John McKinney.

They write, "Sometimes we locals tire of the city's Spanish architecture and all that white-washed stucco and black iron grillwork around town seems a bit precious. Sometimes we identify with private eye Kinsey Millhone, created by Santa Barbara mystery novelist Sue Grafton, who just knows there must be no good behind those sun-bedazzled walls, and jaundiced palms, that there just has to be something rotten in paradise.

"But most of the time we admire Santa Barbara's architectural consistency, the town's tenacious resistance to change, and its ability to combine a Southern California lifestyle with a Northern California sensibility."

Well, you can't imagine how excited I am about going next week. Tomorrow, I'm going to begin thinking about which books and musical instruments to bring, and I can't wait to talk with my photography teacher about which class assignments I can do there! I truly believe in "Vacation Therapy."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Yesterday for the first time, I could feel my mood changing due to the weather. I know that my normal September depression is partially caused by seasonal affective disorder. But I've vowed to stave it off. So, I'm planning fun activities for every day of September.

On Fridays I'll be taking my second photography class, Darkroom Photography. The upside is that I'm so excited about it, and I'll be able to spend lots of time outdoors shooting photographs. The downside is that it meets inside for 4 1/2 hours, three of which are spent in the darkroom. So...I plan on sandwiching the class between different outdoor exercise programs--in order to minimize the effect of spending so much time indoors.

On Friday mornings, I plan on walking 3.2 miles around my neighborhood park. In the afternoons after class, I plan on swimming laps at the Santa Monica College Swim Center. As you can see by the photograph, it's a great place.

Also, I'm reading this wonderful book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mirielle Guiliano, and I've decided to plant an herb garden. While my husband is the gardener in our family, he and I will consult on this project, which is my first real gardening adventure. I think this will be another great way to spend time outside.

Since I believe that I can achieve wellness by taking action, let's hope that September is a great month. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Depression

In his book, The Wisdom of Depression: A Guide to Understanding and Curing Depression Using Natural Medicine, Jonathan Zuess, M.D., writes:

"Depression is a quest for vision; its essence is transformation. Depression wells up and encompasses us for a time in a state of painful, dream-saturated formlessness, but its true purpose is to provide the opportunity for healing insight, renewal, and reintegration..."

"Depression is one of the basic responses of human beings, produced when we encounter a difficult emotional challenge...it is a natural and healthy response, and is actually specifically designed to help us deal with problems. It only becomes an illness if something goes badly wrong."

I must admit that when I first read this book, I was in a severe depression and there wasn't one thing this doctor recommended that "helped" me get out of it. However, after all these years, philosophically I believe there is a reason for--and "value" of--depressive episodes.

For myself, I know that they aren't caused by my "biochemistry" but by triggers. If I can't resolve them, a depression will take hold. Once it does, it becomes "biochemical" and then I'm forced take medication until it ends. However, if I can stop it before it takes hold, I can stave off a depressive episode.

In 2003, I resolved the original "triggering event" of my first depressive episode. This was a huge breakthrough for me. In the last few years, I've become much more knowledgeable about situational triggers as well.

Now that I've figured this out, the duration and intensity of my depressive episodes have lessened. My goal is to become depression-free. I'm saying this publicly because traditionally September is not a good month of me. So, I'm implementing all of the "tips and tricks" I've learned to see if I can get through it without a depressive episode.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Mother, The Poet

I was going to going to write more about Mama and Me but I decided instead to share a few of my mother's poems that she wrote while I was growing up. For 40 years, my mother wrote a column, Speaking from Cheviot, in a neighborhood paper. But everyday it seemed, she wrote poems...on scraps on paper, in her telephone book...in fact, she wrote them wherever she happened to be in our house.

Years ago, I gave my mother a small black three-ring binder for her poems. On the cover, I had an artist write: In My Life by Marjorie L. Schwartz. My mother typed her poems on her IBM Selectric and put them in her book. These are a few of my mom's many poems.

For Susan
do you have the problem of a middle child?
the consensus is...you do
if you've an older one and a younger one
psychiatry says you're through.

in our house...the big one
is the very first grandson
and the little one is
precocious and wild.

but...our one in the middle
plays the fiddle
and her charm has us
completely beguiled.

On a Sad Day
Don't cry for me
I have loved and been loved
With more sweetness than most
I promise to be a gentle ghost
with only a reminder here and there
an off-key song...a steak that's rare
an ice cream cone...a silly poem
So, smile awhile and think of the stories I'd tell
then remember me...and laugh like hell!

His and Hers...March 1973
i'm not a religious person
nor have i ever been
but i could be swayed
and possibly saved
if God were a Her...not a Him!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Multitasking and Leisure Time

In the last few years, I've recognized that I no longer choose to multitask. I'm not sure I consider it a disability, but I do feel the need to write about it.

For weeks now, I've been concerned about finishing the final edit of my manuscript. I had asked a number of friends and acquaintances to read it and I needed to input their recommendations, copy-edits or edits that I agreed with. Working from a few different versions of the manuscript took way more time than I had anticipated. And although I sent a version of the manuscript to the publisher 14 days ago, I suddenly felt the need to make some significant changes. I'm almost done--but not quite.

At the same time, I had been asked (or I volunteered) to write reviews of two books, to make comments on two others, and to help a friend evaluate her plan for a new website. Although I feel guilty (not a usual emotion for me), until I finish my manuscript I have put all these projects on hold.

Why? I'm not sure. What I do know is that having too many things on my plate at the same time is very stressful for me. I also know that when I work four to six hours a day rewriting and editing my own work, I can't work on other people's writing projects.

What I've learned--over time--is that once I'm done working for the day, I need to ensure that my leisure time is "truly" leisure time. And for me, since my work involves sitting in front of a computer screen and writing and editing, my leisure time must be spent outdoors, or playing an instrument, or taking photographs, or reading for pleasure (with no work attached to it).

Most of all, leisure time must be a period where I don't feel any stress or pressure.

These days I'm handling my hypomania so much better. My family and I are having a lovely summer. I feel like I finally have this illness under control on a daily basis...and I'm so happy...and relieved. Maybe it has something to do with my refusal to multitask and my understanding of the real value of leisure time. Time will tell.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Rock and The Bubble

I'm pushing to make some last minute changes to my manuscript: Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out. So, since my last post was about Bipolar Bubbling, I thought I'd share a poem by Louisa May Alcott.

The Rock and The Bubble

Oh! a bare, brown rock
Stood up in the sea,
The waves at its feet
Dancing merrily.

A little bubble
Once came sailing by,
And thus to the rock
Did it gayly cry,

Ho! clumsy brown stone,
Quick, make way for me:
I'm the fairest thing
That floats on the sea.

See my rainbow-robe,
See my crown of light,
My glittering form,
So airy and bright.

O'er the waters blue,
I'm floating away,
To dance by the shore
With the foam and spray.

Now, make way, make way;
For the waves are strong,
And their rippling feet
Bear me fast along."

But the great rock stood
Straight up in the sea:
It looked gravely down,
And said pleasantly

Little friend, you must
Go some other way;
For I have not stirred
this many a long day.

Great billows have dashed,
And angry winds blown;
But my sturdy form
Is not overthrown.

Nothing can stir me
In the air or sea;
Then, how can I move,
Little friend, for thee?

Then the waves all laughed
In their voices sweet;
And the sea-birds looked,
From their rocky seat,

At the bubble gay,
Who angrily cried,
While its round cheek glowed
With a foolish pride

You shall move for me;
And you shall not mock
At the words I say,
You ugly, rough rock.

Be silent, wild birds!
While stare you so?
Stop laughing, rude waves,
And help me to go!

"For I am the queen
Of the ocean here,
And this cruel stone
Cannot make me fear.

Dashing fiercely up,
With a scornful word,
Foolish Bubble broke;
But Rock never stirred.

Then said the sea-birds,
Sitting in their nests
To the little ones
Leaning on their breasts,

Be not like Bubble,
Headstrong, rude, and vain,
Seeking by violence
Your object to gain;

"But be like the rock,
Steadfast, true, and strong,
Yet cheerful and kind,
And firm against wrong.

Heed, little birdlings,
And wiser you'll be
For the lesson learned
To-day by the sea.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bipolar Bubbling

I've had to postpone my Bipolar Bubbling event due to a lack of supplies. If you read Bipolar Anger (Part 2), you'll see that I devised a Bipolar Bubbling Away Anger Event. I planned to develop a Transgression List, read each one aloud, and free myself of it by using kids' bubble wands to send them into the universe.

The problem is that I haven't had time to get the bubble wands I want. I Googled "bubble wands" and found this great place, Bubble Rock, that is about a 45 minute drive from my house. (And when I look at their wands, I'm thinking this bubbling activity would not only be great for me but for my mom and her friends at Casa Del Mar--that's not the real name but it will do.)

So, I plan on a field trip to Bubble Rock and I won't be able to take it until next week. I do want to thank Marie, Gay Bipolar Guy, and JayPeeFreely for their comments on Wednesday's blog. Marie, yes I do believe that some people shouldn't be forgiven. Staggo, I know that bubbles pop and float away...which I think is a good image for what I'd like my anger to do. JayPee, the idea of batting away anger at a batting cage is very appealing. Although I haven't mentioned it, I'm a terrific athlete and this could be quite fun!

But, here's the thing...now that I've written about anger for a few days...I'm kind of done with mine. However, I still think that Bipolar Bubbling would be great fun. And I'm thinking I might turn it into a more spiritual activity. And...I'm also thinking it would be fun to do it from the shore rather than the bluffs.

Thus, this is an event in progress. My first step is to go to Bubble Rock. My second is to do more research on bubbles. Also, I plan on finding a new book on forgiveness and think that perhaps that I may recite some prayers, poems, or passages on forgiveness (before or after bubbling).

If there are others who are interested in Bipolar Bubbling, we might consider synchronized bubbling (kind of like Esther Williams and swimming) or just write about our bipolar bubbling experiences.

I welcome any and all suggestions. As always (at least for the last few weeks), I'm offline all weekend. See you on Monday!

P.S. A fellow blogger at "depression introspection" (see blogroll because the link is doing weird stuff)is sliding into a depression. Just thought you might want to visit her blog and wish her good thoughts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bipolar Anger (Part 3)

Although I've been writing about anger, a few people whose advice I treasure, have privately emailed me about forgiveness. And it's certainly something to think about. I haven't liked any of the books I've read on forgiveness so I think I'll go to the library and see what's new in the field.

Still, I think "anger" is an important topic for BIPS and non-BIPS alike.

What's interesting to me is that I just looked at the indexes of three books on bipolar disorder--Surviving Manic Depression: A Manual on Bipolar Disorder for Patients, Families and Providers by E. Torry Fuller, M.D. and Michael B. Knable, D.O.; The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide by David J. Milkowitz, Ph.D.; and New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder by Jan Fawcett, M.D., and Nancy Rosenfeld--and there's no listing for anger at all.

So I looked further in my home library, and found The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D. The following quote is from chapter 1: The Challenge of Anger.

"Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right...

"Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self--our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions--is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth...

"Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say "no" to the ways in which we are defined by others and "yes" to the dictates of our inner self."

Any comments?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bipolar Anger (Part 2)

I thought I was only going to write one post on bipolar anger but I need to follow up. However, first, I'd like to thank everyone--Marja, Syd, bamagal, jaypeefreely, Marie, and Gay Bipolar Guy--for their support. I so appreciated it.

Now, here's what happened. Two nights ago when I was so angry and wrote the journal entry about how I felt, the act of writing made me feel better. And then I posted it--and thought that would make me feel better too--but it ended up making me feel worse.

Why? Perhaps because I was sending forth such negative thoughts into cyberspace. Who knows? But the point is that last night, after spending a wonderful day with my husband and our good friends, I kept on dreaming about what I'd written. And each time I awakened, I felt worse and worse.

I think the problem could be categorized as "rumination," which just means that you keep replaying the bad stuff. In my case, I kept on thinking and thinking about all of the ways I felt slighted during the worst part of my illness, which lasted so many years.

This morning, before I awakened, I felt like I needed to come up with a creative way to rid myself of this anger--once and for all. I've written about forgiveness before and so has Syd, Marja, and perhaps some others as well. As I said then, I don't believe that everyone deserves to be forgiven.

I decided my mission was to "release my anger" rather than forgive the people who were so unkind and hurtful. So, I've decided to write a list of the worst transgressions. At first I thought about writing them on balloons and releasing them but the environmental impact of that was going to be a big negative.

My second idea was my best. Today, I'm going to a toy store where I plan on buying bubbles and bubble wands. I plan on looking at my Transgression List and ranking them 1, 2, and 3. I'll use a small wand for the ones, a bigger wand for the twos, and the largest wand for the threes.

On Friday, after I play Autoharp for my mom and her friends, I'm going across the street to the bluff overlooking the beach, and I'm going to participate in my first Bipolar Bubbling Away Anger event by reading each item aloud, and releasing a bubble for every transgression.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bipolar Anger (Part 1)

Although I had a lovely day, I got very angry later in the afternoon. It was personal; I'm not going to tell you what caused it, but I wrote the following in my journal:

For ten years I watched people "walk away" from me, whether it was because of an illness that was unrelenting, erratic behavior (caused by medication), a weight gain (caused by medication) that made me a pariah in body-beautiful La-La land, a diminution of status (caused by jobs that were less prestigious), and a loss of social standing (caused by a reduction of income, due to my inability to work).

I watched and I hurt and I mourned and I never said a word. What was there to say?

"I'm sorry you don't want to be my friend because I'm no longer an editor of Architectural Digest magazine or the Director of Corporation and Foundation Relations at Occidental College or the successful author of The Mommy Guide.

"I'm sorry you're looking at me with pity because I'm 30 pounds overweight and one-third of my hair has fallen out (because of Wellbutrin), and sometimes I perspire so profusely that my remaining hair is wet (medication once more), and sometimes I forget entire sentences (it's cognitive memory loss caused by medication).

"I'm sorry you find it uncomfortable to be with me because I seem sad, and I can't talk about current events, and haven't seen the latest films or eaten at the "hot" restaurants, or I can't stop talking and I can tell you everything that was on the news last night-verbatim."

These days, I'm sorry no more. When you hurt my feelings because you don't return my telephone calls or my emails, or try to usurp my authority, or you don't include me in your plans, or you're angry with me but you don't say why, I'm angry back.

I don't care if you're a BIP (bipolar person) or non-BIP. It only takes a moment to write, "I'm sorry I didn't respond to your email or telephone call; I was depressed or I've been really busy." It takes sensitivity to write, "I'm sorry I didn't think to include you in our plans. I forgot that you can now accept invitations in advance." It takes courage to write, "I'm sorry I didn't respond but I'm angry with you because...or you hurt my feelings because...but I love you and know we can resolve it."

I apologized for ten years. It's your turn. I'm sorry no more!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Bipolar Store (Part 2)

Thanks to everyone who contributed yesterday about what they'd like to see in a Bipolar Store. I had meant to post part two early today but I spent the day moving furniture while we had our carpets cleaned. Yikes! What a chore. Anyway, here it is...

6. Puppies. Pet therapy is also effective and wouldn't it be healing to have a puppy adoption center for SPCA dogs? Did you know that petting an animal lessens stress?

7. Aromatherapy. Again, this works in an adjunctive way. I'm big on bubble baths and I'd love to see a department with my favorite labels as well as soaps.

8. Food. Well, I'm currently on a diet so naturally I'm thinking about food...all the time. But, I think that a juice bar, coffee bar, and hors deuvre's bar would be just the thing. Maybe we'd serve High Tea. (The graphic is from the British Council.)

9. Massage. The newest addition at my local mall is a storefront where you go in for 15 minute massages. Looks good to me.

10. Chapel. We could have a small chapel for contemplation and prayer. If you're not familiar with the work of Dr. Larry Dossey regarding prayer and meditation, you should read his book, Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer.

These are some of my fantasies. What are yours?

A Bipolar Store (Part 1)

Today, I had to go "wheel chair" shopping for my mother. As I looked around this store that has all kinds of equipment for those who have physical disabilities, I thought...what would I like to see in a Bipolar Store? So...I'll share my top 10 list (actually 5 today and 5 tomorrow) if you'll share some of yours.

1. Books. This is would be number one. However, I wouldn't just want to see books on bipolar disorder and depression (actually the less of these the better) but I would like to see a wide array of books on healing, wellness, music, art, spirituality, writing, gardening, hobbies, crafts, exercise, humor, travel, and other uplifting topics. And I would be be able to sit on cushions on a window box to read them. (The graphic is by Jessie Wilcox-Smith.)

2. Greeting cards. I love greeting cards. And you know...if someone developed a line of greeting cards for people who suffer from depression and hypomania, they might make a fortune.

3. Notebooks, pens, and pencils. Since I believe in "writing to heal," I'd love to see a wide array of notebooks (preferably from Moleskin), pencils, and anything from Levenger.

4. Musical instruments. While JayPee and Tery responded to Sunday's post about what instruments (and music) they like, I'd love to see an entire department of musical instruments and CDs. In the last few days, I've been listening to some of my favorite groups and artists from the 60s. Singing along with Mama Cass, Jim Croce, Janis Ian, and James Taylor has been quite healing. (The graphic is a Georges Braque.)

5. Gardening equipment and plants. Again, horticultural therapy is highly effective and I love flowers.

(to be continued)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Mozart Effect

One of my favorite books on the healing power of music is The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit by Don Campbell. The following are some quotes from this book.

"In an instant, music can uplift our soul. It awakens within us the spirit of prayer, compassion, and love. It clears our minds and has been known to make us smarter.

"Music can dance and sing our blues away. It conjures us memories of lost lovers or deceased friends. It lets the child in us play, the monk in us pray, the cowgirl in us line dance, the hero in us surmount all obstacles. It helps the stroke patient find language and expression..."

"Yet it is more than all those things. It is the sounds of earth and sky, of tides and storms. It is the echo of a train in the distance, the pounding reverberations of a carpenter at work."

"From the first cry of life to the last sigh of death, from the beating of our hears to the soaring of our imaginations, we are enveloped by sound and vibration every moment of our lives. It is the primal breath of creation itself, the speech of angels and atoms, the stuff of which life and dreams, souls and stars, are ultimately fashioned."

I play the Autoharp and the banjitar and I'm learning how to play the harmonica. What do you play?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Thanking God

My son had all four wisdom teeth taken out today. He's fine. It went really well. I'm posting the prayer I wrote in my diary to God. I'm very tired although I feel fine. I won't be online again until Monday--except to approve comments. Have a good weekend!

Dear God,
I'm so thankful that Alex's oral surgery went well. We scheduled it at the right time, three of his four teeth hadn't yet attached to his jaw, and the oral surgeon said it was "a piece of cake." Ordinarily, I'm not sure I would write you a thank you note for this although I'm so very grateful.

But, as I lay down to take a nap, I realized how lucky I feel. A few years ago, it would have been difficult for me to have committed to an appointment in advance (Bernie would have had to take Alex if I didn't feel well.) Also, I couldn't have been able to accept a morning appointment (which was available at the last minute) because even on the "good" days, I couldn't awaken early because I was taking far too many sleeping pills (although they were prescribed and I wasn't aware it was a problem).

While I've always been good in the clinches, there were so many years when I felt so awful that I truly had to "push myself" to do the things I had always considered no-brainers. I just can't tell you how happy I am that I feel so well so much of the time. It's like I'm back to the person I was--so many years ago--only better! (But that's another story.)

Anyway, from the bottom on my heart, I want to thank you for protecting Alex and for allowing me to take care of him. It was truly a blessing!

Love,

Susan

Stress (Part 1)

When I think back to 1993, when I was first diagnosed with this illness, I wish I had understood the impact of stress on bipolar mood disorder and on health in general. One of my favorite books on healing is Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

In the section on stress, Kabat-Zinn talks about Dr. Hans Selye who popularized the word "stress" in the 1950s. Kabat-Zinn writes: "Selye opted to define stress as a response, and he coined another word, stressor, to describe the stimulus or event that produced the stress response. He defined stress as 'the nonspecific response of the organism to any pressure or demand.'

"In his terminology stress is the total response of your organism (mind and body) to whatever stressors you experience. But the picture is further complicated by the fact that the stressor can be an internal as well as an external occurrence or event. For instance, a thought or a feeling can cause stress and therefore can be a stressor. Or, under other circumstances, the same thought or feeling might be a response to some outside stimulus and therefore be the stress itself."

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sleeping and Work

Kira has a question that I'm attempting to answer but perhaps others have suggestions as well.

Susan,
What do you do when you notice that you are becoming hypomanic? I'm feeling frustrated because I can't do anything about my two main triggers for hypomania right now (job stress and insomnia), so the symptoms just keep getting worse and worse. I'm afraid that it will turn into agitated depression soon, and I don't know what to do to prevent a full blown episode. My current situation at work prevents me from taking any time off, and I can't sleep no matter how hard I try.

Kira

Dear Kira,
Sleep is a big problem during a hypomania. My doctors have always said it's very important to get at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and I've religiously followed their advice. Of course, it's very difficult during a hypomania.

There are some natural ways to try to fall asleep, including making sure you exercise during the day so that you're more tired, taking a walk after dinner to calm down, meditation, and deep breathing exercises before you go to sleep. There's also calming music to listen to and trying to engage in "peaceful" activities at night to try and bring yourself "down."

I've also taken homeopathic remedies that were supposed to work as well as drinking tea that was supposed to be calming. If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that I'm medication resistant so that I've tried everything and very little of it has been effective. I've also tried a slew of alternative treatments and they haven't worked either. That's not to say that they won't for you...but that's been my experience.

The only thing that's worked for me is "sleeping pills." These days I take Ativan (which is prescribed for some people for anxiety but for me, it's always been prescribed for sleeping). If the hypomania isn't a bad one, I can take 1/2 mg. and fall asleep within an hour. Lately, I've had to take 1 mg.

Over the years, my doctors have prescribed other pills for sleep, including Ambien and Klonopin, but both were way too strong for me and had a residual affect in the morning. But, medication affects everyone differently. For me, a little goes a long way--and always has.

I don't know what to recommend if you can't get medication. In the comment you left yesterday, you said you're living in an ashram and can't afford medication. I think it's really important to find a mental health facility nearby where you can get medication for free.

For most people, the mood stabilizers work to level out the highs and lows and anti-depressants work for depressions. And sleeping pills work when you're need to sleep but can't. If you haven't tried any of these drugs, you should. But I'm not sure where you can get them in your current situation. Perhaps someone else knows more.

Anybody got advice here?

In terms of stress at work, that's a tough one and I'm not the best person to answer this. In my younger years, I worked without difficulty. Once I started taking medication, I had a lot of problems with stress causing depressions.

These days, I'm semi-retired. However, I know there are people who read this blog who are working and I'm sure they have good advice for you. I'm rushing off and wanted to respond to you before I leave. I have three important appointments today and I won't be home until this afternoon. I live in Los Angeles so there's a time difference as well.

So...I'm turning off the "comments moderation feature" so other people can respond directly to you. When I come home, I'll read what they've said, and see what I might add. Hang in there!

Susan

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Yesterday was the first day that I could truly feel the difference in my mood. While I had a lovely day and got a lot accomplished, by dinner time, I was dragging. For the first time in months I had to force myself to take my dogs for their evening walk.

It's not clear to me how much of this is due to the fact that I've spent most of the last two weeks indoors working on my manuscript. While I try to limit my writing and editing work to six hours at a stretch, the last few days I've worked far longer spells.

But...since my goal is to stave off a change of mood in September, I've started developing lists of fun activities for the entire month. Given how important direct sunlight is for me, I'll have to make sure that I'm spending lots of time outside.

While I plan on walking every day, I also look forward to my new darkroom photography class, which starts Friday. The upside to the class is that I'm really excited to learn a new skill. The downside is that it meets for 4 1/2 hours every Friday--three of which are spent in the darkroom.

So...to counter the inside time, I'm going to do my daily walk (3.2 miles around the neighborhood park) soon after I awaken. And...I'm planning on swimming laps after class in the pool at the Santa Monica College Swim Center. As you can see by the photograph, it's really great!

I'm also going to talk to my husband about planting a new herb garden. He's the gardener in the family but I've been reading this terrific book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano about French cooking and I've decided that an herb garden would be a terrific outside project for September.

Actually, the planning of my schedule for September is turning out to be great fun. Stay tuned!

Serial Blogging: A Hypomanic Symptom (Part 2)

In terms of the responses to yesterday's blog, Kira said that before her diagnosis, she was so critical of herself because she moved from project to project and lacked focus. Tery discussed how much she can accomplish during "hypomanic states," and said there are "pros and cons" to hypomania. Marie said it was good that I paced myself and mentioned that she's starting another new blog.

Of course, everyones' experience is different. Because my illness wasn't diagnosed until 25 years after my first depressive episode, I didn't realize I had a "problem." Although my interest in a subject (or a person) might fade, I always felt sorry for people who weren't as passionate as I was.

While I realized that few people had as many jobs as I did, I attributed the career changes I made to my decades-long quest to find my true "calling." Since I've had three books published (and a fourth one is on the way), I also know what it's like to work hard on projects and follow them through to fruition.

My point was that I believe it is important to "pace" myself. In many ways, I'm thankful to have found blogging as an outlet. Whether I write one blog or 100 (just kidding); it's free. That sure beats the days when I would write book proposals for books I would decide not to write when my mood changed (and spent hundreds of dollars buying books for research).

While, I too, think it's great to have varied interests (and see nothing wrong with starting blogs that I decide to stop writing), for me it's important to be aware of my behavior. I know that starting and stopping activities is a sign of hypomania. Since medication doesn't end my hypomanias and I need to self-regulate, it's very important for me to be aware of symptomatic behavior.

That's not to say that I won't start and stop "serial blogging" in the future. The same day I stopped writing my John From Cincinnati blog, I began one on photography--a new hobby and passion.

In the end, my purpose in writing about hypomanic symptoms is to discuss my own patterns, learn whether others share them, and help educate people who may not realize that this behavior is symptomatic of hypomania.

In the ten years I researched this illness, I never found anyone who identified the kind of behavior I was exhibiting. If I had, it would have saved me a lot of grief, heartache, and money, and I could have begun the self-regulation process years earlier.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Serial Blogging: A Hypomanic Symptom

I've decided that my newest hypomanic symptom is "serial blogging." I feel like I should go to a Bloggers Anonymous Meeting and say, "Hello, my name is Susan Bernard and I'm a serial blogger."

Since March of this year, I've started four new blogs: Bipolar Wellness Writer, Honk If You Blog to Heal, John From Cincinnati, and Photography Learning (yesterday). In my defense, I've stopped writing two of them. I realized that writing two blogs is my limit.

In the last six months, I've leaned a lot about myself from my blogging experiences. This blog provides the greatest satisfaction and while I sometimes wax and wane about writing it, I imagine I'll continue writing it for some time.

Initially I thought my "Honk" blog would allow me to reach a broader audience of people who might not be bipolar but who write to heal and share my mission of concentrating on wellness rather than illness.

After a few months, I decided that the "Honk" blog was too similar to this one. I stopped writing it when I realized that I'm learning a lot about my illness from writing this blog, I like the community we've established, and if I'm going to write about wellness, I wish to reach people who share my symptoms and experiences.

I started John From Cincinnati (it's based on a television program for those of you who don't know about it) on a lark. I'd written a few posts on the last few episodes of The Sopranos and I was amazed by the number of people who read those posts. I went from an average of 60 readers to 299 on my best day.

After writing the John From Cincinnati blog for a few weeks, I started getting 400+ readers on my best days. It was kind of heady to be read by so many people. Also, writing about an aspect of popular was such a departure for me. I was amused and somewhat stunned that I found it so much fun to write about a TV show.

However, like many "hobbies" that I pursue during hypomanic periods, I finally decided that this wasn't a good use of my time. Also, one morning I awakened and decided that it was no longer fun. From one day to the next, it felt more like a chore than a hobby.

What I found so interesting about all this is that while "serial blogging" was a new experience, shifting interests during a hypomanic period isn't. In fact, it's quite common--for me. I wonder how many of you find something (whether it's a hobby, a person, or even a job) compelling and then one morning you awaken and can't imagine how you could have spent so much time pursuing it (or him or her).

(to be continued)