Thursday, June 5, 2008

Writing to Heal (Part 3)

FYI...Gianna's resumed posting again. It would be nice for people to drop by her blog and give her support!
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There is so much more to Dr. James Pennebaker's research than what I've presented. But if you go to his website, you can read about some of it. Today, I promised to discuss my own experiences.

As soon as I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993, I began writing about my experiences. Part of the reason I wrote about it was to learn more about the illness, and part of it was to get the negative emotions out of my head and heart and onto paper. In this case, I became so sick so soon after taking medication, that I was dumbfounded by the experience.

And yet at the time, I felt that the only way I could deal with my debilitation caused by medication was through humor. So, I immediately started writing a new book, Honk If You're on Lithium: A Journey Toward Wellness. The following piece is from the Honk marketing plan, which I submitted to my agent, and she in turn submitted to a slew of publishers (all of whom rejected it).

"What do Buzz Aldrin, Patty Duke, Tim Burton, Sandra Cisneros, Carrie Fisher, July Collins, Francis Ford Coppola, Margot Kidder, Jessica Lange, Ben Stiller, and Brian Wilson have in common?

"They all suffer from manic depression (also called bipolar disorder) or unipolar depression, as do so many others. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 2.5 million people (they now say 5.7 million) in the United States suffer from manic depression.

"Here are some additional stats and facts (they're from the same period so they may have changed): An estimated 19 million people suffer a depressive illness each year. Between 1.5 to 3 million college students suffer from depression. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States. The clinical symptoms of unipolar depression and those of the depressed phase of manic-depressive illness are virtually identical.

"Consumers with bipolar disorder face up to ten years of coping with symptoms before getting an accurate diagnosis. Bipolar disorder results in 11 years reduction in expected life span; 20 percent of the bipolar population commits suicide.

"'The failure to adequately fund research on manic-depressive illness is one of the major scandals of American psychiatry. It is the main reason why so little is known about the causes of this disease and why better treatments are not available,' writes E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Executive Director of the Stanley Foundation Institute (one of two private foundations in the United States which funds research on bipolar mood disorder)."

to be continued)


J said...

I choose to write for the same purpose but for some reason when I am in the FOG of depression I cannot write. I always end up writing about what happened after the cloud has passed and it just doesn't come out with the same intensity. My stats. 11 years not knowing what was going on with me. One psychiatrist that just gave out drugs and while on Lithium she upped my dose subsequently for 5 days I slept all except for 20 to 30 minutes per day.

Thanks for the advice on exercise!

Jazz said...

I am reading this series with great interest...which of Pennebaker's books would you recommend to start with?

Hey, I nominated you for a Flower Smelling Award...details are on my blog on today's post.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear J,
Thanks for commenting. I was never able to write during the worst of the medicated depressions. But, even when I couldn't write on paper, I could somehow write "in my mind."

By that I mean that I was in bedroom without the energy to even pick up a pen or pencil (which is how I used to write before I got a laptop). And I would feel so awful that I didn't see how I could survive.

And, in my mind, I would start writing these letters to God, or essays, or poems. The thing was that I was in such bad shape that I could barely speak, the sound of music was too loud, and all I had left was my brain and imagination.

But it sounds like you were so over-medicated that its understandable you couldn't do anything.

Also, J, I have been a professional writer for a long time. So, it may be that the skill I had worked so hard to develop was able to penetrate the fog. I'm just not sure about that.

P.S. You're welcome about the exercise comment on your blog. It's made such a huge difference for me lately that I feel compelled to recommend it. The thing is that it won't end a depression that's started (at least for me), but it can help stave one off.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
Thanks for the Flower Smelling Award, although I'm not sure what it is. I'd recommend Writing to Heal. I'm finding it absolutely fascination. And it dovetails so well with your series about journal writing!


marja said...

"'The failure to adequately fund research on manic-depressive illness is one of the major scandals of American psychiatry."

That's what makes me so mad. And it's stigma that's responsible for that. Mental illness just isn't taken as seriously as other illnesses. Lack of compassion is one reason. Lack of understanding it as a disorder and not a character flaw is another. People with mental illness are just not considered as worthy or important as people with other illnesses, are they?

I HATE stigma. We have to fight that stigma. We have to make society realize that we are the same as everyone else - human with feelings. They need to make people realize that they could very well become mentally ill themselves. After all, one in five will, at some time in their life, have a mental illness.

We need to educate, educate, educate.

You got me all riled up, Susan. And that's a good thing once in a while. It's good to remember what we're fighting for.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
This information should make everyone feel "riled up." I'm sorry I'm not providing the stats for British Columbia and the rest of the world. But I was submitting to a North American publisher.


Annie said...

Susan,This is a very helpful post. I was intrigued about your comments of how you were able to write in your mind when you were depressed. I have not experienced this and seem more like J. My writing is more retrospective. I have been away from reading and commenting. My remodeling project is over now and I can get back to blogging. Annie

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
Glad you're back. I don't really know how to explain it, and actually I've never thought to mention it before. But I "wrote in my mind" for almost six years. It was not only healing, but a somewhat "unusual" way of continuing to perfect my craft!