Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What is Preventing You from Getting Well?

About five years ago, I was at my wit's end, and didn't know where to turn. I had never felt sicker. I'd read a study that confirmed that most of the medication I'd taken had barely been studied for its clinical application. I felt like a disappointed "bipolar guinea pig."

I called everyone I knew and asked, "Who is the best doctor you know?" I didn't care whether the person they recommended was a psychiatrist or not. An acquaintance who has a big job at at a university medical center recommended Dr. H, who was the director of integrative medicine at a major medical center. When I met with Dr. H, she said the following:

"I realize you've thoroughly researched bipolar mood disorder. You've talked about your mood charts in which you've recorded six years of detailed information about your illness. You've been a model patient and I appreciate that. Having said this, I need to ask you a question that I want you to think about. 'What is preventing you from getting well?'"

At the time--and all these years later--I think this is a great question. Because I'm a professional writer, she asked me to make a collage to answer the question. The reason for this was she wanted me to use another part of my brain rather than the thinking and analytical side.

Question: What's preventing you from getting well? Consider making a collage to answer this question. Use photographs, pictures from magazines, or any other materials that will help you express what is holding you back.

If you'd like to, you can email your response as a JPEG file and I'll post them all a week from today. I'm including an email address you can use to send me any files. It's sbwrites@yahoo.com. Or, if you'd rather write about it, feel free to leave a comment.

P.S. Jazz commented that she "hates" collages, and this led me to think that it doesn't matter what format you use to express yourself...it would be a poem, a song, a drawing, a list, rubber stamps, a comment, WORDART, or anything else.


marja said...

What a great idea, Susan. I had a plan to do something similar at Living Room this Friday - but writing instead. Will have members take some time to think about it and write down what helps them to be well. Then we will compare notes and discuss.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I'll be interested to know how it works out.


Jazz said...

I hate collages with a passion, but I can answer in writing better anyway... I think what kept me from taking matters into my own hands and getting well for the years I was on meds was partly that the mainstream information that is out there is completely supportive of the medication-for-life mindset, and that was all the information I had. You know yourself what a hopeless, dismal picture those mainstream books paint for us. And the other part of it, of course, what the medications themselves, which pretty much neutralized my brain, my mind, my imagination, my free will...they turned me into a zombie who had little interest in anything other than when she could sit down and stare at the wall again. So it wasn't so much that I didn't want to get well, but the medications kept me from even imagining that such a thing was within my control.

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. What was interesting for me--and as you know, I share your views on medication--was that I looked at the question as "What is preventing you from getting well at this moment in time?"

And, at that particular moment, I felt that the things that were truly holding me back were the following:
1. Because of erratic behavior that was medication-induced, I'd destroyed my freelance grant writing career and needed to find a part-time staff job.
2. I was feeling a lot of stress because we were financially strapped (and a job would help that as well).
3. My memoir on my illness had been rejected by 30 publishers, but I still wanted to find a publisher.

So, within three weeks, I found a part-time staff job, started making money, and sent out another ten book proposals.


Jazz said...

Oh, I agree, there are always little stumbling blocks that feel insurmountable, but if we can just take some positive actions--like you did by sending out a bunch of book proposals--suddenly things don't seem so bad, because rather than sitting back passively and saying "No one wants my stuff" you've taken action yourself to move things forward. And a lot of times, just that feeling of movement that you create by doing something positive is enough to make you feel a whole lot better about yourself.

Wellness Writer said...

When I talk to others who are depressed, and read blogs where people are going through a difficult patch, I want to say, "Force yourself to take one baby step toward wellness every day."

A baby step can be getting up, showering, and getting dressed even if they have to go to bed for the next four hours.

It can be cleaning off a table that's cluttered, watering a plant, taking your dog for a walk, writing an email, reading a section of the newspaper, telling your child or husband, "I love you," or writing a poem.

It can be writing one check to pay off a bill, mailing a birthday card to a friend, reading a chapter of a wellness book, or praying in silence.

I think what's worst about depression is the lack of forward movement of any kind, which results in feeling powerless.


Mary said...

I so agree with you Susan. I remember the days when I couldn't get out of bed, how sad I felt. Even now when I mope around I feel awful inside, but when I do the littlest thing, like I just finished doing, vacuuming, I did feel a little better inside. Writing my poems helps me also. I know I have a long road to cover yet, but I hope and pray someday I will get there, and feel free again..Mary

Wellness Writer said...

I think it's just feeling any little sense of accomplishment. And accomplishment is relative. When I was terribly ill, vacuuming seemed like a fine accomplishment, and if I could just do the living room, well, that was better than nothing.

Of course, I see your poems in a far different way. I used to feel poetry was just another form of writing to heal, but after reading Poetic Medicine, it seems like the format is as important as the words.


Rob Johnson said...


I read through the comments and this quote seems appropriate.

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

I have not been reading your blog long, but I find it has depth and substance. You clearly enjoy helping others.

This is a very good topic. I'm at a loss to answer the question. I'm hoping that by reading, the answers that I need will come to me.

Thank you for sharing of yourself.


Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for sharing the quote and thanks for your kind words. When one is as sick as I was, it's important to find meaning in the experience.

The only reason I can give for having been ill for so many years is now that I'm well, I can use my writing ability and my understanding of the illness to help others.