Sunday, September 30, 2007

Healing Food

I'd like to thank Sydney, Marja, JayPeeFreely, and Tery for their thoughtful comments during my absence.

While I had hoped to spend my week doing fun things, writing, and renewing myself, I had the flu for three days and I'm just beginning to feel better. For me, physical illness is just an inconvenience. Still, I was feeling so lousy that my only pleasure was eating.

I assume that everyone has healing food items that work for them. In my case, it's matzo ball soup, although I must admit that the matzo balls are more important than the type of soup they're in. I like them in everything. Last night, I had them in potato leek soup and earlier in the week I ate them in Sapporo Ichiban.

So, what you you eat when you're sick?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Appropriate Emotions

I've got an ailing mother, an ailing family friend, and an ailing dog. Quite frankly, I'm feeling overwhelmed. While I'm ordinarily upbeat and when I'm well I can effectively deal with crises, these days my shoulders feel bowed from the pressure, and my heart is heavy.

Since I love Ken Brown's stamps, I've decided to pick two to illustrate my moods. I alternate between feeling like the woman moving the Maytag washer (upper left) and being competent and capable of handling everything, and the woman Brown calls "The Sobber" (upper right), who undoubtedly cycles in and out of crying spells.

While it would be easy to "blame" the bipolarity of moods on my illness, I prefer to see the intensity of my emotions as a sign of my humanity. Given the circumstances, feeling competent and capable and sad is "appropriate."

For me, the best way to deal with stress is to seek joy and spiritual renewal. So, for the next week, I will spend more time outdoors, take walks and hikes, play music and sing, take bubble baths and photographs, seek counsel, read books, pray, and write.

I will spend time with my mother and my dog, and try and figure out how I can help both of them. And I will think positive thoughts for our friend--who lives in another part of the country--and pray for the remission of his cancer.

I plan on taking a one week vacation from blogging. I'll return on September 31. During my absence, I wish you well and hope you all have a happy and healthy week!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seeking Wellness (Part 2)

I agree with my friend that people who seek wellness are more likely to find it than those who don't. I have also learned--mostly by writing this blog and reading other people's blogs--that some people don't seem to want to get well.

Quite honestly, I have been stunned by the number of bipolar blogs where people dwell on the negative aspects of life, ruminate about all the bad things that have happened to them, and act as if they're powerless to make changes.

I've spent years reading about healing and wellness and all the literature confirms that dwelling on the negative without finding the positives will only make you feel worse and worse. While we all have bad days and unhappy thoughts and feelings, and I do believe it's important to "write them away," I also believe that keeping a sense of humor, putting things in perspective, and finding the "good stuff" is a critical part of healing.

Unlike my friend, I do believe in miracles. In my case, the miracle was "hope." For years, despite my best efforts, I wasn't getting well. I finally realized it was because the medication worsened my condition, the bipolar books I read were downbeat and disheartening, and my psychiatrists' lack of belief in wellness was debilitating.

Now that I'm mostly well, I know I can mitigate bipolar symptoms and their impact. I'm no longer frightened that depressive episodes will last for extended periods because my episodes are becoming shorter and shorter. I am far more knowledgeable about what triggers depression (for me), and far more skilled at defusing the triggers.

I believe that just because psychiatrists say that bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition doesn't mean they're right. I truly believe that wellness is a realistic goal.

* * *
For a different take on this subject, I suggest you look at Sydney's blog: Bipolarity. I highly recommend her essay on Outsmarting Depression (Part 1).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Seeking Wellness (Part 1)

I was talking with a friend who suffers from clinical depression and he said, "Don't you think there are some people who just don't want to get well?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, you know how hard you worked to try to get well when you were so sick? You read everything there was to read about depression and manic-depression. You took your medication religiously. You tried mega-vitamins, acupuncture, therapy, naturopathy and a host of other activities that didn't work. But you didn't quit. You found that doctor of integrative medicine, and continued your research, and starting exercising regularly and playing music, and well...you get my point."

"Yeah," I said.

"I did the same thing, and now we're both well--most of the time."

"It's a miracle, isn't it?" I said.

"It is," he answered. "But I don't believe in miracles. I believe that if you work hard enough, and are willing to pursue every available option, and you use all of your energy to try and get well, then the odds of getting well are far greater for us than for people who don't."

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Travel Therapy

For the last 14 years or so, September has been a difficult month for me. I'm sure it has to do with the changing season--even in Los Angeles. But...in anticipation of this and trying to stave off a possible depressive episode, I'm spending much more time outdoors and trying to walk every day.

Ordinarily, some of the stress that has been on my plate--an aging mother who was hospitalized for five days, a beloved uncle who was hospitalized for three days, a sick dog (we're waiting for the biopsy), and now a very sick friend--might trigger a mood swing, but I vowed not to let this happen.

So, I'm not pushing myself in any way. If I'm tired, I take a nap. If I feel stressed, I spend time doing my own relaxation exercises, which usually involve playing music, or reading uplifting books that help me look at the world in a new way.

Also, my husband and I rented a slew of DVDs from the library, featuring Rudy Maxa, who hosts PBS Smart Travels, and is a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler magazine. Each night, we've been transported to some wonderful European country. Tonight, it was Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Sometimes, I believe that the best salve for the soul is to concentrate on new vistas that make your heart soar!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bipolar Etiquette (Part 2)

The second thing I used to do to maintain friendships was to contact my friends when my depressive episodes were over. Whether it was an email or a telephone call, I would say, "I'm back," and meet them for lunch or dinner (or talk on the telephone) to catch up on their lives. I made it a point to send birthday cards (even though it might be months later).

I let them know that even though I may have missed important events or milestones in their lives, it wasn't like I didn't care about them. And I focused on letting them talk.

I think that one of the worst aspects of this illness is that it causes people to become self-absorbed. At least, that's how I felt. Of course, when I've been really sick, all I could think about was how I was going to get better. And...the everyday matters of other people's life weren't very important to me.

But once I was well, I realized that it's not acknowledging the small stuff that hurts people's feelings and makes them feel like you don't care about them. After all, friendship is defined (at least by Wikipedia) as cooperative and supportive behavior between two people.

I'll end this post by sharing a few of my favorite quotes on friendship:

"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." ~Aristotle.

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.'" ~C.S. Lewis

"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bipolar Etiquette (Part 1)

A friend who's bipolar and I were discussing some aspects of our illness when I mentioned how solicitous I used to be of my friends when a depressive episode began and ended. Since she hadn't thought to engage in what I consider Bipolar Etiquette, I figured that maybe others haven't as well and might find it useful.

I have written before about how sad and hurt I have been by friends who have deserted me because of my illness. But I should also mention the love and gratitude I feel for friends who have not only stood by me, but have helped in various ways.

A few friends were particularly sensitive to the financial devastation of this illness and were always there to offer freelance writing assignments once I recovered. Some would leave sweet voice mail messages just to let me know that they didn't need a call-back but they were thinking of me. During one particularly bad depressive episode, one friend came up with a list of potential support groups in case I needed to talk to other people. And during another painful episode, I fondly remember those people who wrote me such kind and touching letters.

In order to maintain these relationships over the years, I always made sure of doing two things. First, when I could feel a depressive episode coming on--and I always had at least three days to try and stave it off--I emailed my friends to let them know that I wasn't feeling well and might not be available for a few months. Usually, I just sent a fairly short note, something like this:

Dear Friends,
I'm feeling a depressive episode on the horizon. Hopefully, it won't be a bad one, but if it is, I want to apologize in advance in case I miss your birthday, anniversary, or other milestones. I'll be thinking of you and I'll let you know when I'm well again.

Love,
Susan
P.S. Although I'm not feeling like talking on the telephone, for the time being I will respond to email--although it might take a few days. If I feel worse and can't answer your emails, I'll try and let you know.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Prayer Therapy

When I was really sick and my son was in Sunday School and later Hebrew School, I realized how much I dislike organized religion. Or maybe it just was the people at our temple. The two families with whom we carpooled kicked us out of the carpool because they said I drove too fast.The truth was that they drove too slowly. In fact, I'm a terrific driver and I haven't had a ticket or an accident since I was a teenager (and perhaps had one of each).

I believe they chose not to carpool with us because of my illness. It hurt my feelings, made me angry, and was truly a hardship. Once we no longer had a carpool, it meant that I had to drive my son on Wednesdays and Sundays (although my husband helped out when I wasn't feeling well).

What bothered me most was that here we were, participating in religious activities, reciting prayers about "loving our neighbors," and their behavior toward me was as uncharitable as any I've experienced.

Once my son was finished with Sunday school, I quit the temple and wrote a letter to the executive director explaining why. By this time, the rabbi I liked so well had retired. From then on, I only attended temple with my mother, who was still a member. I didn't enjoy it although I liked being with her.

A few years ago, when mom became less mobile, I began celebrating the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) with my mother in her home. I would bring the booklets we'd used in the services and we would recite prayers together. We would alternate reading the rabbi's part. It was better than any of the services I'd ever attended.

Last night, I went to Casa del Mar to visit my mother and I brought the Rosh Hashanah booklet. She wasn't feeling well so once I'd gotten her in bed, I read an abbreviated service aloud to her. I read all the parts and she lay there with her eyes closed. I wasn't sure whether she was asleep or awake but I felt that my voice, and the prayers she's known for some many years, would be comforting.

While I no longer consider myself a religious person, spirituality is very important to me. As I sat reading the prayers, I felt a peacefulness and calm. I have dear friends (whom I met through this blog) who find comfort and solace in their religion. Last night, I understood why.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How to Deal with Family Members Who Won't Help

At the end of yesterday's post, I promised to address Chas' comments on Bipolar Anger (Part 3). He wrote the following:

"I am so f**k**g (this is a PG blog) pissed at my mother. I am 42 and was diagnosed when I was 21. I have never been able to accept that she cannot handle learning about the illness and helping me. When I push the issue (I recently suggested a book), I get hostility and criticism. When I try to avoid my mother, I feel guilty and fearful that I am hurting her. I have siblings and a father but really do not care as much about their ignorant, inhumane approach. Anyway, I do not see how to let this go. Right now I am worried about having to go home for Thanksgiving."

* * *

I'm hoping that those of you who have had a similar experience will share some of the things you've done--hopefully that have worked--with Chas. As I've mentioned before, despite my disappointment with many family members and friends, my mother and husband have always been wonderfully supportive. (And my dad died four years before I was diagnosed.)

Chas, obviously my first suggestion would be for you to discuss all this with a therapist or counselor. (If the fee is an issue, there are plenty of people who are available at no cost.) My own experience is that severe disappointment with others greatly exacerbates this illness. And while we always hope the people we love will be there for us, sadly enough, often that is not the case.

It's difficult to know if the problem is the "stigma" of the illness or whether there are other underlying problems. Sometimes, people are so afraid of the label, "mental illness," that they are paralyzed to help. I'm not sure what your mother's problem is with this but it certainly is important to explore. Clearly, you're very angry--understandably so--but unless you can resolve this in some way, I'm afraid it will have a real negative impact on healing.

In terms of holidays, that is probably a universal problem for many of us. For years, I tried to celebrate holidays with family members--even those who were not supportive and whose behavior contributed to my illness. I primarily did it for my son but it was a mistake because these two days--Thanksgiving and Christmas--caused me to be sick for months and that didn't help him or me.

And it's not like I didn't try to "change the way I felt" about the holidays. In fact, I spent hundreds of dollars discussing it in therapy and I couldn't resolve it. What I learned is that for me, some people are toxic, and so are some environments.

So, these days we celebrate the holidays with family members who are supportive and affirming. I know other people who have such a terrible history of celebrating the holidays with their families that they've developed new traditions with friends, which is another possibility.

Sometimes, writing a letter of explanation as to "why you can't attend" a family holiday can alleviate the guilt you feel as long as it's written in love rather than anger.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Salute to Other Bloggers

First, I'd like to thank Gay Bipolar Guy and Jay Pee Freely for their lovely welcome back comments. They made me feel good! Also, last night I spent a lot of time reading other people blogs and I'd like to recommend some particularly enjoyable posts.

My dear friend Sydney from Bipolarity has been writing some pretty wonderful stuff. I'd recommend reading all of her new posts but I particularly liked A real-time exercise in forgiveness and What does it mean to be "black enough"?

A few weeks ago, the Gay Bipolar Guy posted a very painful but beautifully honest post, What Took a Lifetime to Write, about childhood abuse in Ohio that every anti-gay politician should read. Staggo has not only survived but flourished and I salute him.

Jay Pee Freely loves baseball. If any of you do too, I'm sure you'll enjoy his Timeline from the Baseball Project. If you're not a baseball fan, he does write on other topics. One of his pieces that touched me was Milestone or Millstone: Being 35 and Hating It.

Also...Marja from Roller Coaster has written two new manuals on faith-based support groups for mental illness, which are timely and I'm assuming--extraordinarily helpful--for those people who'd like to set up similar groups at their churches.

Marie from Somewhere in the Middle has written some very nice poems on her blog The Poet Laureate...Not. I particularly liked the one from August 4, entitled Voices.

Howard (formerly SurfCountry) from Mead on Mantattan has written a very funny piece about one of his sons called Porcelain piranha. And Cindy Lawson's (from Quotidian Light) essay on The Tooth Saga made me laugh.

P.S. Today, I had intended to discuss Chas recent comment on Bipolar Anger, but I'll address it tomorrow. For those of you who have parents who haven't been helpful with this illness, I'd appreciate it if you'd offer him advice in tomorrow's post. My husband and mother (my dad died before I was diagnosed) have been wonderfully supportive so I'm not really the best person to know what to suggest to him. Also, if you've written posts about this subject, let me know and I'll link to them. Thanks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Vacation Therapy

My husband, son, and I spent a glorious two days in Santa Barbara, CA--although I took an entire week off from blogging.

It's amazing how wonderful new vistas are for the soul. It's not only a beautiful beach community but our favorite motel, the Franciscan Inn, has a lovely little pool where I went swimming every day--which is a real tonic for me.

We ate at wonderful restaurants, the Paradise Cafe (always a favorite with its oak wood grill giving the oh-so-fresh fish and vegetables a unique taste) and Arigato, which is the best sushi restaurant I've ever been to (and this is the third time we've eaten there).

Our first evening, there was a terrific Farmer's Market on State Street, which is the main drag. Also, I shot some wonderful photographs at the Marina, and I went to Chaucer's Books, one of my very favorite bookstores.

We also went to Elings Park, which has a very touching Veterans War Memorial, I bought a few photographic items (for my class) at Samy's Camera, and we shopped at The Walking Company, which may be my new favorite shoe store (I'm not a big shopper but for some reason I enjoy shopping on vacations).

While I've taken more adventuresome vacations and traveled to foreign countries (many years ago), I can't remember when I've enjoyed myself more.

P.S. One of the new books I bought, which I'm enjoying so much is The Best Travel Writing 2007, which is published by Traveler's Tales, and Brainswitch Out of Depression: Break the Cycle of Despair by A.B. Curtis. She may be on to something!

Stay tuned!