Monday, December 14, 2009

What I've Learned in 2009

Dear Friends,
I'm having a lovely holiday season. In fact, I feel the best I have in years. It's undoubtedly due to changing patterns that didn't produce happiness or joy, and developing new traditions that do (clearly an ongoing process).

Also, it's also due to all the months this year I spent in therapy in order to resolve old issues and move on. What I learned about myself (in a nutshell) is that I march to the beat of a different drummer. Whether it's due to bipolarity (my therapist didn't think it is) or not, I embrace life fully and completely. In putting myself out there...often times, I meet people who can't or won't meet me halfway. While that used to disappoint me, it doesn't any longer. I see it as their problem--not mine.

With the death of my mother, I now feel my own mortality, and that truly puts things in perspective. I realize that I'm just not interested in spending time with people who cannot honestly express their emotions or feel threatened that I can. I don't want to waste time on people who bemoan their situation, but do nothing to change things. I want to be with people who are enthusiastic, passionate, and uplifting.

When things don't work out, I no longer feel bad about it. I recognize that I have a God-given ability to problem solve (which is a wonderful gift although I truly didn't understand that) and find alternatives that work.

What I've also confirmed this year is that my orientation to life is different than many other people. Actually, it's always been that way, and it's a good thing. My values are different. What I want is different. And what makes me happy is different.

While it's not always easy to feel that way--and this surely was one of the causal factors of my depressive episodes--I know I can remain well if I follow my heart. So far, it's worked really well during the holidays, and I believe things will continue getting better and better.

I believe my happiness and joy have returned because I was able to release a lot of anger inside. I spent a long time in therapy discussing my mother's illness and death, and sharing my outrage over the behavior of my siblings, my mother's friends, and her doctors whose behavior was truly devastating. This was compounded because I had spent a decade--in which my doctors had prescribed medication that almost killed me--experiencing exactly the same kind of treatment from friends and relatives.

For a long time I felt that many of the people I had cared most about had destroyed my ability to trust, and my optimistic core, which has always been my trademark. What I learned is that talking things through...with someone who listens and has insight is a truly healing experience.

While there's a whole lot more I now understand, I have also learned there are things I'm not interested in sharing in a public forum. So, this is the end of my journey for now. Health and happiness to all!

Love,
Susan

Monday, November 16, 2009

Coping with a Seasonal Mood Swing

The fact is that despite everything I do to overcome these seasonal mood swings, I'm not able to eliminate them--at least not now. That's not to say that I feel bad. I don't. I do have a low-grade depression, but the Adderall enables me to live with it.

The problem is that I'm just don't feel as well at this time of year as I do during my best months --which currently are April through September. But, I've decided this doesn't need to be a huge problem. I'll list the symptoms--as I see them--and the solutions.

1. I don't feel like writing my blog five days a week (until I have more energy). So...I've decided (for the time being) to only post on Mondays until I feel like posting more often.

2. For the most part, I don't feel like reading other blogs (for now), and commenting. I'll trust that my online friends will understand this, and realize that as soon as things change, I'll be there to support them.

3. I don't feel like socializing as much as usual. I've decided this is no longer the problem I once thought it was. I know plenty of people who are so busy that they rarely see their friends. I know others who are so self-absorbed that they rarely put themselves out for people. So...independent of the causal factors of my own situation, I've decided I no longer have to explain myself if I need more "alone time."

4. I don't feel like exercising as much as I usually do, except I know how important exercise is in reducing the symptoms of depression. So...I have vowed to continue walking the dog at least once a day, and to try to walk him twice because of the importance of exercise. If I need motivation, I have a few friends in the neighborhood with whom I can walk.

5. It difficult to motivate myself to do things I don't truly enjoy. I've decided that's okay. There are very few things I need to do that I don't enjoy.

6. The good news is that when I feel like this, I enjoy working on personal writing projects, and I have a few really good ideas that I plan on pursuing.

7. After a few months where I didn't feel like shooting photographs, my interest in photography is renewed, and this is a good hobby for me to pursue on my own.

8. Since I have problems with Thanksgiving and Christmas when I feel this way, I've come up with some new ways of celebrating the holidays that should make a huge difference. This year, my husband, son, and I are going to have Thanksgiving at a wonderful restaurant, and we're all looking forward to it. I'll write about our Christmas plans sometime soon.

9. My gardening projects still interest me, and that's a real relief. Next Saturday, I'm going to help my friend do the landscaping job at her daughter's elementary school. And I'm still working on a front yard and backyard project at my house.

10. Most of all, I'm going to accept the way I feel without judging myself. It's the way things are whether I would choose to be this way or not. I don't have to apologize. I don't have to feel bad. I can see all this as a "quirky personality trait" rather than a disability of sorts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wellness Activities: Gardening, Libraries, and Books


Tuesday nights are my botany class, and although I decided not to go last night (I like the people, but I don't like the way the class is being taught), I spent the evening reading gardening books, which is my new passion.

Yesterday I went to a public library I rarely visit, but they had a book on hillside gardening that I wanted to check out. And, I had such a wonderful time that I've decided to start trying new libraries just for fun. It's less expensive than going to bookstores, one of my favorite places. And, I love libraries. What's better than going to someplace with a ton of books on so many interesting topics, and being able to take home so many...for free.

One of the books I chose is The Illustrated Garden Book, an anthology of gardening columns by Vita Sackville-West. She was an English author and poet, and created the garden at her home in Sissinghurst, Kent. I had known about her since college, when I took some women's history courses.

What I love about this book is Sackville-West's writing style. She writes delectable personal essays about gardening and flowers. And, since this is the kind of writing I may wish to do, not only am I enjoying the book, but I'm learning a lot.

As I spent hours reading her marvelous essays and poems, my experience confirmed why I'd chosen to miss class. I'm taking these gardening classes to learn. But, at this stage in my life, I'm truly not interested in listening to people talk who don't inspire me. So...while I may have to rethink my participation in this certificated program, I've realized that my true goal is to continue finding teachers (like my first one) whose love of gardening makes my heart soar!

What wellness activities/hobbies makes your heart soar?

P.S. I don't mean to blow my own horn, but Wendy Love wrote a wonderful essay about my blog in hers, and it made my day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

When a Depression Speaks

One of the best things a psychiatrist ever said to me during a depressive episode was when he told me to ignore my feelings because, "It's the depression speaking."

And while it's difficult to do, it's terrific advice. For those of you who've experienced a severe depression, you know that everything changes when you're depressed, and it changes back again when you're not.

Since it's already November 6th, and I'm not depressed, this is a very good sign for someone who suffers from seasonal depression. However...should a depression hit, for the first time ever I've written myself letters, reaffirming my strengths, and reminding myself which wellness activities work, and which people I consider to be members of my support team.

So...for example, I've written:

1. You are a talented writer.

2. You're a good person.

3. You're upbeat most of the year, so it's okay if you choose to share some of the sadness you feel if you become depressed.

4. It's okay to let the people whom you help during the rest of the year help you if you're feeling sad.

5. Wellness Activity: Gardening.

6. Wellness Activity: Playing the keyboard and electric guitar.

7. Wellness Activity: Walking Jack.

8. Wellness Activity: Photography.

9. Wellness Activity: Watching your favorite musicals.

10. Wellness Activity: Writing poetry.

Of course, this is just a partial list. And, my letters to myself are far more personal. I remind myself of everything I like about me. I'm my best cheerleader and I tell myself what wellness activities I need to do and why.

I've created a list of people with whom I enjoy being if/when I don't feel well, and I remind myself why I like them. I've also come up with a list of activities we could do together.

Given the way I'm currently feeling, I believe it's possible that my November/December depression won't be realized, or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. While that's undoubtedly due to therapy and my gardening program, maybe the very act of writing these letters has made a huge difference. Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?

Have a happy and healthy weekend. See you on Monday!

(When I originally posted this last night I was tired from gardening and grammar-challenged. Thus, this is a slight revision.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking Baby Steps Towards Pursuing Your Dreams

Susan wrote a heartfelt piece about feeling like she's lost her dreams. If I were her doctor, I'd say, "It's your depression talking. And, I know you'll feel differently when you're not depressed."

The advice I gave to her--and some I didn't--is worth repeating here. I believe that dreams represent hope. In the same way I assumed I'd ultimately be well--even during my darkest days--I also assumed I'd be able to contribute once again.
The mantra that I whispered to myself over and over again was, "You're not a quitter. You're not a quitter. This, too, will pass. You're not a quitter." (It's seems silly to me now, but for some reason, it always made me smile inside.)
Once I was well most of the time, I suddenly realized I was lost...for awhile. I'd spent so much time focusing on illness and then wellness that I didn't know what I wanted to do once I actually became well.

I knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't decide what to write about. I started this blog, which has been very satisfying in many ways, but it wasn't enough. I knew I didn't want to return to grant writing, which is how I made my living for many years. I finally decided I was stuck, and I didn't know how to get unstuck. And it was a very painful and frightening feeling.

Ultimately, I returned to therapy, and one of its many values was to talk about my strengths and the ways in which I feel I can contribute. Luckily enough, I was able to take the time I needed to explore things without feeling like I had to make an immediate decision.

These days I'm quite clear that my path will be to combine my love for the outdoors and gardening with my love of writing. I'm still not sure how this will play out...but I know I'm headed in the right direction.

If I were to give advice to folks who are feeling lost and worried that their illness has destroyed their dreams...it's this: "From experience I know that wellness is possible. I don't know of anyone who's experienced more depressive episodes than I have, but I truly am well...most of the time now. And, if I can do it, so can you."

"And, if you've been ill for a long time, but you're feeling well now, recognize that it's okay to take baby steps towards finding your way again. For me, the first baby step two years ago was to sign up for a six-week photography class at a community college. For years, I wasn't able to commit to anything in advance, and before I took the class, I didn't know if I could remain well for six weeks. So, just completing the class was a huge step forward."

"Then I signed up for a second photography class, which I had to quit because my mother was dying. But, what I learned from that experience was that photography is an interest rather than a passion. And, that was a good realization because it paved the way for me to begin taking my gardening and horticulture classes.

"Now I don't think twice about signing up for ten-week classes, and I know I'll complete them. And, it was a natural progression to commit to a nine-course certificated program, and I know I'll complete it if it continues to interest me."

"Most of all I know that once again, I can pursue my dreams--big and small. Without dreams, there is no hope. But, with dreams, the sky's the limit."

To my friend Susan, I want to add that I know how awful it feels to wonder what you'll do for the rest of your life in order to find meaning. For me, the answer was getting help, and having the courage to move ahead...one baby step at a time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keeping Things in Perspective

Sorry, this is a bit late. I was so tired after my midterm last night that I couldn't write one more word. And I slept in this morning. The bad news is that I can't imagine I did well on my botany midterm since I didn't finish it, and became hopelessly confused after days of studying.

The good news is I decided I need to change my orientation--after so many years as a high achiever in school--and fully embrace the concept that the joy of learning is more important than the grades I get. Having said that, I'll share a few of my feelings about the class, the program, and the responses from my fellow students.

When I started taking gardening classes last April, what I loved best about the two classes I took was their practicality. In the first, all of the students designed and planted a garden at a local community garden, and our teacher shared her vast knowledge of plants--which was extraordinary.

We had weekly assignments where we charted the growth of plants, collected seed pods, and brought in examples of what was in bloom in our garden or neighborhood. Our tests were take-home exams, which leveled the playing field. For the people who had a breadth of background, they could spend very little time answering the questions. For those of us to whom the subject was new, we could spend as much time as we needed, and taking the exam was a learning experience.

The second class was pruning and we saw slides of good and bad pruning jobs, and for four consecutive Saturdays, we spent three hours pruning plants, shrubs, and small trees at our teacher's clients' homes. I learned a tremendous amount that I'm using on a daily basis.

Our teacher was not only supportive, but she learned everyone's name by the fifth week of class. She wrote lovely comments on our papers, and fully answered the questions we posed. After 30 years as a landscape designer, she was still so enthusiastic about her subject that it was inspiring. And, she was a true plant advocate, and had a wonderful sense of humor.

The botany class is a totally different experience. While our teacher is enthusiastic, he clearly needs to rethink the way he's teaching this class. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that.

Last night, when the midterm and class were over, and I walked to the parking lot with a few friends from class, one of them said, "You know, the teacher didn't prepare us for this test at all. What a waste of time." Another said, "I don't know why we have to learn this. It's not helping me at all. And when I get my certificate in gardening and horticulture, no one is going to ask me, 'What was your grade in botany?'"

But, the best comment was from a friend who knew two sisters who were enrolled in the interior design program. She said. "The one sister, who's my friend, really cares about grades. She studied all the time, and while she got 'A's, it was a tremendous commitment of time. Her sister didn't care at all about the grades. She got 'C's', and shrugged it off. All she cared about was learning interior design. She volunteered for all kinds of projects. She truly enhanced her skill level, and she loves the work she's doing."

I told my friend about a man in our first class, who was the most knowledgeable person of all, and although he had a Ph.D in another subject, only got what he called "gentleman C's" in his gardening classes. He said his true interest was the gardening itself, and he didn't have the time to devote to memorization.

So...what is the point of this lengthy post? I've decided I need to change. I, too, care way more about gardening than grades. I, too, don't want to spend ridiculous amounts of time indoors reading when I am taking these classes so I can be outdoors gardening. I, too, would prefer volunteering to work in gardens rather than trying to dazzle people by my intellect, which isn't at all apparent in a botany class.

While I know it's easier said that done, I have decided it's better to be a mediocre student who spends my days with my hands in soil and studies plants in the great outdoors than an "A" student who spends day after day reading books and studying online.

What challenges have you faced when returning to school or learning something new? How have you resolved them?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Depression Recovery Program

It's Tuesday night as I write this, and I've just returned home from my Botany class at UCLA Extension. I think that one of the things I like most about this certificated program in Gardening and Horticulture is the people.

Not only are they a diverse group in terms of backgrounds, countries of birth, age, and so much more...but for many, they are learning about gardening and horticulture in order to change careers--whether now or sometime down the road.

And, this shared interest in gardening and a desire to pursue a new field of study is a terrific combination. I think that when we meet others who are wanting to change and grow, there is an openness and vulnerability that allows us to cut through a lot of the "crap" that usually prevents true communication.

In addition, I believe that people who are willing to commit to something new--by enrolling in a certificated program, which in this case requires nine classes--are a different breed than those who take a class here or there, but are less committed to achieving a specific goal.

I feel blessed that I made the decision to try something that's so far afield from anything I've done before. I am delighted with the course content. It's exciting to immerse myself in nature. And, I believe this program is one of the key components of my personal Depression Recovery Program.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giving Advice about Depression (Part 2)

What's most difficult about giving advice for depression recovery--a subject about which I truly know a tremendous amount--is that I lack patience when people don't listen.

I guess the problem is that during the periods when I have been severely depressed--and would have been thrilled to find anyone who could have helped me--I was unable to find people who were truly effective. And, in periods of great need, like last November and December, once again someone I knew recommended yet another charlatan.

This guy was a psychiatrist, and I had to drive all the way to San Diego (more than 100 miles), and it was a complete disaster. He allegedly had this "secret process," which he couldn't explain to me, but he said had worked with other patients. And, he learned it on the telephone from someone over a two year period. I could go on, but you get my drift. My need for help is sometimes so great that I've been willing to allow charlatans to financially take advantage of me rather than trusting my own instincts.

And, I know that much of what works for me works for others--but only if they are willing to listen, and fully participate in their own wellness. Yet, I also believe that in a deep depression, medication is the only way to end it--if you can find something that works. And, once you feel better, you have an opportunity to start doing all the wellness activities that will enable you to feel better long term.

What I mean by this is that I, too, realize it's very difficult--in fact, next to impossible--to start an exercise program when you're depressed. However, if you start one when you're not, it's much easier to continue with it when your energy level diminishes.

Same thing about finding a new therapist. It's almost impossible when you're depressed. At least it is for me because talking is so very difficult. But, if you find someone you like when you're feeling well, it's far easier to continue this relationship when you're not.

For me, this year will be the ultimate test. Earlier, I spent nine months in therapy resolving my issues. I am participating in this gardening program, which is truly healing, at UCLA Extension. I'm figured out what I dislike about the holidays, and we're developing new ways of celebrating this year. And, I've been reading about how to "embrace the darkness," which is clearly an issue for those of us who have a seasonal depression.

So...if my low-level depression worsens, I know what I need to do to get better. And, I've written myself letters to remind myself what needs to be done, and I've told myself that I am the only healer I truly need.

What works for you?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Giving Advice about Depression

I was trying to tell someone I love about how to determine if she is clinically depressed. This person, whom I'll call Mary, said, "My therapist thinks I'm depressed, but I'm just not sure."

I asked if she knew the symptoms of depression. She said she did, but she didn't feel they fit her situation. "I'm just not motivated," she said. "I can't force myself to do the things I need to. And I don't know why."

"When did you notice a difference in your behavior?" I asked.

"About a month ago," she answered.

"Was there anything that happened which caused you to feel this way?" I asked.

"Not that I know of," she said.

"Why does your therapist think you're depressed."

"Because of the motivation issues," she said.

"Did your therapist say anything else?"

"She suggested I talk to a psychiatrist."

"Are you going to do that?" I asked.

"I've made an appointment," she said. "But I'm not sure whether I'd feel okay about taking medication. What do you think?"

"Well, I'm neither pro or anti medication," I said. "Even though I've had terrible problems with it, I know people for whom it was a Godsend. Still, I strongly believe there are steps you should take before you take medication. I am a big believer in keeping detailed mood charts," I said. "I don't believe things happen in a vacuum or that depressive episodes come out of nowhere. And I strongly believe that you can learn to figure out triggers from mood charts. And...I also strongly believe in exercise, which has been proven to be more effective than anti-depressive medication."

"I won't do either," she said.

I sighed...

(to be continued)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Celebrating My Mother

In Judaism, we light a Yarhzeit Candle to celebrate our loved ones who have died.

Today is the third anniversary of my mother's death. I loved her dearly, and still do. I'd like to share four of her poems--some from my childhood. Only two are dated, but mama typed them in a 6" x 8" black leather book, titled in gold ink: In My Life by Marjorie Schwartz. I had the book made for her many years ago, and it is now one of my favorite keepsakes.

What's interesting is that since my parents died, seeing their handwriting has always made me smile. But, seeing my mother's typed pages does as well. Years ago, I helped her choose an IBM Selectric II at a local typewriter store. Each week, mama sat at her desk (which had been my grandfather's desk and is now mine), and typed (in triplicate with carbon paper between the sheets) her weekly column for a neighborhood newspaper. But, over the years she also typed hundreds of poems, some of which we'd find in our lunch bags at school, and my father would find on his pillow when he went to bed at night.

When I was a child, my mother's poems made me laugh, smile, and sometimes tear up. They still do.

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


I Miss You (for my father)
It's almost 3 years
And your face is beginning to fade
And the plans that we made
I have finally laid to rest
But those 45 years
Were the best
And even though your face is dimming
And you are gone and I am living
I miss you...
with every breath I take.


Would It Be Right? (November, 1992)
Would my children find it shocking
If, for Chanakuh, I brought their children
An absolutely smashing Christmas stocking?


Mama (December, 1975. This one was for my grandmother.)
Mama dear
If I had know you were going to die
I would have hugged you and kissed you
and said goodbye.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Writing Alone and With Others

Another book I genuinely like is Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider. She writes, "The purest and deepest reservoir of material for the writer is his or her own childhood. Most beginning writers go instinctively to childhood images. This is not accidental, nor is it self-indulgent. It's a good instinct, an artistic wisdom. (This is my paragraph break, not hers.)

"Louis Auchincloss said, "Childhood is the writer's only capital." Flannery O'Connor wrote, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

"Childhood images are remembered--and forgotten--for emotional reasons. You may have lost conscious knowledge of the reason that you remember a particular afternoon, but your unconscious mind knows. Childhood images are already polished; the unconscious has already done much of the work of the artist--eliminating what is not important, keeping what is important, transforming it into myth..."

Any thoughts? See you on Monday! Have a happy and healthy weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing to Learn (Again)

I've decided to spend the rest of the week sharing a few more of my favorite books on writing. I think it was more than 15 years ago that I bought Writing to Learn by William Zinsser. What I love about this book is that I can always turn to it and get advice about any subject that interests me. And, although I've read it many times, I always learn something new.

In his preface Zinsser writes: "I wrote this book to try and to ease two fears that American education seems to inflict on all of us in some form. One is the fear of writing...The other is the fear of subjects we don't think we have an aptitude for."

Actually, I'm neither afraid to write nor do I feel there's any subject that's beyond my ability. But, when I decided I wanted to begin writing about nature and gardening, I turned to Zinsser's book and was delighted to find a chapter on The Natural World. (I'd neglected reading it before because the subject wasn't of interest.)

There are plenty of other chapters as well, including those on Arts and Artists, Writing Mathematics, Writing Physics and Chemistry, and World of Music, among others.

In every chapter, Zinsser not only provides advice, but he shares ideas and information. In closing, one quote I particularly like is this one: "The artist Paul Klee once told his students that 'art is exactitude winged by intuition.'"

I love the quote, and I love Zinsser. One couldn't ask for a better writing teacher!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writing to Heal (Again)

Yesterday, I ended up having a very difficult day. So, rather than writing anything original, I'd like to share a quote from Sharon Bray's book, When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer. (For the ease of reading my blog, I've divided Bray's first paragraph into two. And, I've eliminated her third paragraph, which focuses on cancer.)

"In the decade since psychologist James W. Pennebaker first published Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, expressive writing has taken its place among all the holistic, artistic, and spiritual approaches to emotional and physical healing. But the connection between writing and healing is hardly new: poets and novelists have used their writing to transform trauma and to heal themselves for many years.

"All writers, as Henry James said, start from "a port of grief." Writing, whether poetry or prose, allows us to say the unsayable, opening up our buried pain and emotions. Telling our stories unleashes our body's potential to heal. We begin to articulate the meaning of cancer in our lives."

"Writing helps us get through illnesses, trauma, or suffering, and even to get beyond them. Writing harnesses our imagination and liberates our creativity. Through it, we embark on a powerful and joyous journey of healing."

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is Hastily Moving Ahead a Bipolar Symptom?

Ever since the medication I took a number of years ago caused hypomanic symptoms, I have found that I rush into things rather than taking my time and thinking them through more carefully.

So...when I decided I was interested in gardening, my first thought was, "I want to write a gardening book and need to find a partner who's a subject matter expert." My second was, "I want to begin writing gardening articles, and need to find someone to partner with me on my first one."

The truth is that in my writing career, partnerships rarely work out. In fact, the only time it really did was when I wrote my first book, Job Search Strategy for College Grads, and ended up partnering with my undergraduate career counselor who had become a good friend.

What's good about this year is that I recognized the problem fairly quickly. I learned that the gardening expert I'd considered for the book doesn't follow through on things. And, the gardening expert for the article isn't as fun to work with as I'd originally thought.

In the past I would have terminated these relationships immediately, because I dislike leaving things hanging, and seeking closure is important to me. But, I've decided to wait awhile and see if I change my mind or let these projects die of their own accord.

I wonder if this rush to hastily move ahead is a bipolar symptom and, if it is, how you deal with it? Any thoughts?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wellness Activity: Sharing Other Blogger's Posts

Sometimes I read posts that truly have an impact on me or I just enjoy them, and I've decided to share a few of them today.

Marja wrote a post about a talk she gave to a suicide loss group, and tears came to my eyes. First, I was touched by her willingness to share her story with this group. Then, I was overcome by a comment of someone who'd attended the event. And finally, my eyes teared again when I read the post Marja wrote about how her experience in speaking to this group had made her feel even closer to her husband. I hope that sometime I will be strong enough to share my own story in a similar setting.

Danielle wrote a post called Disconnected where she said she "never experienced the feelings/things that other people wrapped their lives around." And I felt she was writing about me. I had so many jobs where I worked with people with whom I had no values, hopes, or dreams in common. For many years, I had so many so-called friends with whom I shared nothing I truly cared about. Yet, in the past two years I realize I have written about things that truly matter to me, and have received comments that suggest they truly matter to you as well. And, that's quite extraordinary.

Also, I so enjoyed Tamara's poem, I Am Complete, Howard's essay, Bennett's First Birthday, and David's essay (and photos), The Moors Above Haworth. Sallyo wrote a nice piece about how she copes with her husband David's bipolarity. Wendy wrote an interesting essay about trying to find a writing critique partner. And KJ's witty essay about her mammogram made me laugh!

I hope you share my enjoyment of other blogger's posts!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Inspirational Quotes

I decided that today I would share (once again) some inspirational quotes. I wish you all a happy and healthy weekend, and I'll see you on Monday. My very best to KJ, Susan, and Emma. Like William James (below), I believe that hope, dreams, and aspirations can take you airborne!

"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge,
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts
That hope always triumphs over experience
That laughter is the only cure for grief
And I believe that love is stronger than death."
~Robert Fulghum, Storyteller's Creed

"Become the change you seek in the world."
~Mahatma Gandhi

"Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them."
~William James

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wellness Activity: Pet Therapy

While I've written about this before, I must tell you that aside from gardening, one of the reasons I'm feeling so much better this year is due to my dog Jack. As many of you know, my mother died in October of 2007, my black Lab Murphy died in December, and my black terrier-chihuahua mix Spike died the following August.

Because Spike had been incontinent the last few months (and because our carpeting was 25 years old), after Spike's death we re-carpeted the entire house. And I promised my husband we'd be dog free for a year.

But, this was very difficult for me because I love dogs. I love their companionship. I love taking them for walks. I love petting them. I love how happy they are to see me when I return home. I love taking care of them in every way.

In April of this year, I began checking out Petfinder.com to see if I could find a small terrier-chihuahua mix, but who was a light brown color rather than black because of our new carpeting. I had promised my husband we'd get a light colored dog although I also told him that telling rescue organizations we wanted a dog who matched our carpet might be cause for concern :).

Still, it turned out that about four months ago, I found Jack (formerly named Pinot Gris) who seemed to fit the bill. And when we first met him, we liked him very much, but now I'm madly in love with him.

What is it about a rescue dog that so appeals to me? I guess there is a soulfulness about them that touches my heart. To be abandoned by a family who once loved you must be a terrible thing.

In Jack's case, it turns out that he lived with a family for the first five years of his life. Then their house was foreclosed and they turned him over to a rescue group. But nobody adopted him for two years.

While it's almost impossible for me to figure out why because he is a most loving and smart dog--and he's adorable--actually I know that he barked at strangers when they took him to parks to be seen, he limped because of a car accident, and he didn't like big dogs because he was kept in a foster home with Pit Bulls (and he only weighs 15 pounds).

What's kind of unbelievable to me is that after dog obedience class, Jack no longer barks at strangers on the street or at big dogs unless they're off their leashes. And he no longer limps because walking him twice a day has strengthened the leg that had been operated on.

What's quite wonderful is finding a dog who is everything that I was looking for...and is so grateful to be loved and so loving in return that it brings tears to my eyes, and a song in my heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Refocusing To Achieve Wellness (Part 2)

On Monday, I wrote that a severe depression last November and December was exacerbated by my inability to want to write, which is how I made my living for two decades. And I said that the only thing worse than being depressed, was being depressed and feeling that I was unable to pursue the career path I'd worked so hard to achieve.

After coming out of that depression in January (It didn't end for another three months, but the severity slowly receded), I went back into therapy after a 20-year hiatus. And in April I signed up to take a gardening class at UCLA Extension.

From the beginning, I was hooked. Not only has working in the soil outdoors made me feel better for the last few years, but I genuinely liked the people in my class, and I loved my teacher. What I realized from the beginning was that it was fun to be with people who shared my interest in gardening. There were truly a quirky group.

Most of them were pursuing this as a second career or a retirement career. And, they came from a wide array of backgrounds and occupations. There was an entertainment attorney, a banker, a mechanical engineer, a professor of textiles, the executive director of a non-profit breast cancer organization, and so many more.

Because we gardened together for half the class, we developed an unusual camaraderie. While learning about plant materials is a left brained activity, the gardening itself is a right brained activity. And, I have learned that when I'm depressed, I'm far better off doing right brained activities.

What I didn't know when I took that first class was that I would decide to immerse myself in the field, and go for the Certificate in Gardening and Horticulture, which means taking a total of 9 classes. What I didn't realize was that this entire endeavor would not only open a new world to me, but provide me with a focus during periods when I don't feel like writing.

What I learned from this experience and from therapy, is that it is critically important for me to feel focused when I'm depressed. It's bad enough to feel down, and despairing, but it's worse to think there's nothing I can do that affords me the same pleasure and satisfaction that writing does.

Now that I have this avocation that I enjoy so much, I realize I can face the "dark months" with a new enthusiasm and joi di vivre. How great is this?

What is your focus when you're depressed? How do you cope with feeling like you've lost your purpose?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Refocusing To Achieve Wellness (Part 1)

Last November, I learned there are times when writing isn't healing for me. Although I have made my living as a writer for more than 20 years, I now realize that in the ebbs and flows of each year, there are periods when I don't feel like writing at all.

For much of my life, I didn't feel this way. But, for the last few years, I've realized that when I am experiencing a low-grade depression, I do. Last year this was a terrifying realization because being a writer is not just what I do, it is who I am.

For the last two decades, I have understood that I make sense of my life through writing. And it's the way I express my creativity. But last year, when I experienced such a devastating depression, I realized that I wasn't interested in writing about it. In fact, I wasn't interested in thinking about it.

In retrospect, this presented a huge conundrum because my lack of interest in writing made me question the very essence of who I am, and what my mission is. After working for so many years to become a writer and an author, I couldn't imagine how I'd survive if I quit. Worse, I couldn't imagine what I'd do to find meaning. (to be continued)

FYI...I'll be moderating comments and responding to them later this afternoon. I'm working on a gardening project and will be gone much of the day! But, know that I care about each and every comment, and, as always, I appreciate your willingness to respond to what I write.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Staving Off a Depression (Part 3)

For me, the final step in staving off a depression is to be aware of how I'm feeling, to be conscious of what triggers a depression, and to pay attention to what reduces the symptoms.

Late Saturday afternoon, I met with my digital photography class to photograph Sunset Boulevard. We not only concentrated on photography, but we walked for more than a mile. I had a really fun evening. But what I realized the next morning was that it was the first time in two weeks where upon awakening, I didn't need to take an Adderall.

For me, the question was "Why?" I only could figure out two possibilities. The first was that a long walk at night staved off the depression. The second was that four hours of photography--which means concentrating on a right brain activity--made all the difference.

I won't truly be able to tell if there's any lasting value to all this until this morning when I awaken (I post before I go to sleep each night) and see if I need another Adderall.

Whether I feel better or not, the questions are: Will it be possible for me to spend more time doing photography every day? And the answer to that is "yes." The second question is whether an extended walk at night might reduce depressive symptoms. And, if it does, is it realistic to assume that I will be able to do that.

Actually, I do walk twice a day with Jack. And we probably walk for about 1/4 of a mile each time. For years, I walked around the park near my house, which is a 3.2 mile walk from door to door, but that didn't stop my depressions.

Figuring out whether night time walks work in reducing my depressions, and whether art helps will take some time. But, this is a part of my process. I believe that part of the battle is just noticing the things that make us feel better. Another part of the battle is pursuing those activities that seem to work. And the rest is keeping a mood chart as a record.

What do you do to reduce your depressive symptoms?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Staving Off a Depression (Part 2)

Another important component of staving off a depression is to stop thinking about feeling depressed. I used to think that I wasn't thinking about depression, when, in fact, I was. If I spent my days writing about depression (like I am right now), responding to comments about depression (like I've been doing), and reading about depression healing (which is still a facet of thinking about depression), then everything in my day was related to coping with depression.

However, now I find that I can write about it without dwelling on it. I can respond to comments a few times a day, and leave it at that. And I no longer read books or articles about depression because it's rare for me to find any information I don't know, or learn anything that's helpful to me.

The best thing in the world for me was to develop new hobbies that have nothing to do with writing and/or depression. So, yesterday I spent my morning studying for my botany exam next week. I got a haircut, which I find relaxing. And then a friend and I met one of our gardening teachers at the elementary school we're going to help landscape, and the three of us went out to dinner.

What I've learned is that doing something that's creative, fulfilling, and fun is truly the best medicine of all. I no longer dwell on why I'm feeling depressed. I know there's a seasonal element to all this, and so be it. I try not to worry about the duration and intensity of the next depression. Just because last year's episode was extraordinarily painful doesn't mean that this year's need be.

And finally, I don't discuss my feelings about depression with anyone, but my husband and a few close friends. Last year I made the mistake of thinking that sharing my feelings about what was happening with others would make me feel better. And it made me feel worse.

Tomorrow, I'll finish this series and talk about the support team I've lined up in case I need them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Staving Off a Depression (Part 1)

Over time I have learned that when I feel a depression on the horizon, it is critical for me to assess my situation, see what factors might be contributing to it, figure out whether I'm engaged in the appropriate wellness activities, and set a schedule for moving forward. It is also important that I seek help if I need it.

As my regular readers know, my annual depressions have a seasonal element. And each day I am feeling the days getting shorter, and I am noticing signs of depression. I counter balance this in number of ways.

1. I reduce my stress level to the minimum. This year I had to cancel a conference I was going to participate in, and while I feel bad about that, I can live with it.

Then, I sat down at my desk and listed the other projects I'm involved in. I love my Botany class, and I'm committed to completing it. I have two gardening pro bono projects, both of which I'm committed to. I'm helping someone who's got a vision for a Wellness Center, and I'm going to participate in that project as well. I'm supposed to write a gardening article, but I'll pursue that at a later date. I've been taking a digital photo class, but I've decided not to participate in a group photography show.

2. I outline all the component parts of each project. When I'm depressed, my organizational ability suffers. So...I've decided to sit down this week, and figure out every element of every project and organize it in a notebook.

3. I need to exercise more, and come up with a plan for doing that. I know that exercise is more effective than antidepressants. And while I walk my dog Jack twice a day, I need to participate in some additional activities.

A few weeks ago I said that I was going to jump rope, but I can't seem to make myself do it. I've decided that I really need to try a yoga class. I've talked about doing this forever, but I haven't done it. There's a yoga studio ten minutes away and I'm going to try out a class early next week. I'm also going to check out a local swimming pool, and find out when the exercise classes meet.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ebbs and Flows Again

Ebbs and Flows
by Hilda Green Demsky


This was a difficult week for me in many ways. But, life is about ebbs and flows, and on the whole I'm dealing with things much better than I used to.

On Monday, we had some work done on the roof of our house--and while it was a necessary expenditure--it certainly isn't a fun way to spend hard-earned money, is it? I was so exhausted when the roofers left that I took a two hour nap.

On Tuesday, I opted out of a writing and wellness conference I was going to attend in Atlanta in October, where I was going to lead a Blogging to Heal workshop. I realized that the stress was adding to the low-grade depression I've been experiencing, and I can't afford the airfare and accommodations. While I felt bad about cancelling, my top priority always has to be my health.

I also started my new botany class, which was a good thing, but a bit stressful as well. And I had a communication problem with a new friend...and that made me feel sad. But, I let her know how I felt, and we've resolved it, and now I feel much better. Late in the afternoon, I received the most wonderful book and card from another new friend...and that made me feel really good.

On Wednesday, I was dragging all day...and did chores, read a chapter from my botany book, and took my son for a check-up at the eye surgeon's (which was good since my son is recovering so well). While I was waiting for him, I had a lovely cup of iced tea at one of my favorite bakery/restaurants, and spent a half hour reading a new gardening book, which made me feel better.

On Thursday, I spent the entire day cleaning our house, organizing a ton of files at my desk, and meeting with a young woman from my photography class who will help me learn Photo Elements, and help me create a new web site for my soon-to-be-renewed freelance writing career. And, I felt like I'd accomplished a lot.

Today, if the weather cools off a bit (it was in the low 90s yesterday), I plan on gardening all day. I need to stop thinking so much, relax by working in the soil, and see if I can lighten my mood.

Hope everyone has a happy weekend! See you on Monday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Accepting Myself (Part 2)

The reason I returned to therapy in January was because of a severe depressive episode last November and December, which continued through March (to a much lesser degree). I couldn't understand why I was suffering so terribly when I had changed so many aspects of my life, engaged in a ton of wellness activities, had stopped seeing relatives (and a few friends) whose behavior was making me ill, and was very happy with my life.

What I realized was that I was carrying a ton of anger related to how I had been treated when I was so ill. What still amazes me is that I am kinder and more supportive of complete strangers than some of my relatives and friends were to me. (And I was certainly deserving of their support because I'd done everything humanly possible to get well.)

What I didn't realize was that I had internalized their criticism of my behavior, and was judging myself harshly at every turn. I was angry at myself that I'd become depressed after working so hard to remain well. I was angry when I talked too much. I was angry and disappointed if a freelance assignment didn't work out. I was angry if a friend disappointed me. I was angry about every single person who had abandoned me during my darkest hours.

And I knew that my anger was preventing me from getting well. So, I decided it was time to stop being angry, and to begin therapy again.

I don't want to belabor this topic, but I will tell you that my eight months of therapy were terrific. For the first time ever, my therapist had insight. He was a great listener, and truly supportive. He helped me regain my self-confidence, and finally let go of my anger.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accepting Myself (Part 1)

While most of my bipolar symptoms ended when I stopped taking medication, a few have remained. Sometimes, I still have energy ebbs and flows, and while it's no longer rapid cycling, there are days when my energy level is too high.

That doesn't translate into hypomania, but sometimes I talk too much. While I try to be conscious of it, it's not always possible.

One of the best things I learned in the eight months I recently spent in therapy was to be more accepting of my behavior. When I explained how bad I felt about a number of residual bipolar symptoms, my therapist continually said, "I have lots of patients who aren't bipolar and they do that (whatever "that" was)."

"Really?" I would ask.

"Yes," he responded. "I just don't see all this behavior as bipolar. Sometimes, people talk too much about themselves, and don't listen. Sometimes, they have a lot of energy even though they're not bipolar. Sometimes, they're very enthusiastic about something, and then their enthusiasm wanes. Everything you're describing to me is within the realm of 'normalcy.'"

As I listened to my therapist's perceptions of my behavior--week after week and month after month--I realized that all the negative responses I had gotten during my 15 year illness when the medication caused erratic behavior and rapid cycling--had taken their toll. And I had become hyper sensitive about everything I did, and how people responded to me.

But, after hearing my therapist discount all the "crap" that I'd felt had been piled on top of me and was so suffocating, it was time to dig my way out of the pit, and stop accepting a "bipolar label" for every behavioral inconsistency.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thanks to Our Virtual Support Group

One of the best aspects of blogging is meeting so many people online who are so supportive. As many of you know, fall is the worst time of year for me. And last year, I experienced one of the most devastating depressive episodes ever. However, I believe that just because something has been a certain way in the past doesn't mean it needs to remain that way in the future.

During these last days of September, and with October on the horizon, I am suddenly feeling better rather than worse. And that's great news!

Part of it is because I realized that a lot of the tension I'd been feeling was related to my son's Lasik surgery. Not only was the surgery successful, but my son has healed very quickly. And I thank God for that!

And part of my feeling better surely has to do with the support I've gotten from all of you. As I write this, I'm too tired to thank everyone personally and list the links to your blogs, but know how much I appreciate your kindness, advice, empathy, and goodwill! It has made a huge difference!

P.S. My botany class meets tonight and I'm leaving early because it's the first session. So...thanks for leaving comments. Know that I won't be able to moderate them until much later tonight, and I hope to respond before midnight (my time).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 3)

The question I posed yesterday is this: Why does writing about negative things make me feel worse, while writing about positive things make me feel better.

Perhaps the best source on all this is James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., who, for more than two decades, has been a key researcher on the topic of writing to heal. In his book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, Pennebaker differentiates between writing about negative things or traumas for a few days--until you understand what happened, and writing about it every day.

While writing about traumatic events so that we can understand them and can move on is beneficial, dwelling on negative experiences isn't. "I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea," Pennebaker says. "I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity."

On the other hand, writing to figure something out or problem solve is beneficial. And using positive words and expressing optimism truly does make you feel better.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 2)

After I started writing this series about Bipolar Blogging and Depression, I decided I needed a week off. So, I ended up posting about the importance of playing for adults, and toys I enjoy. The stats on these days were lower than usual, and there were far fewer comments.

And I realized once again that when I post on topics that people don't perceive as "important," there isn't as much participation. But, I also know that whether or not my readers feel these topics are important, in fact, they are.

After years of trial and error, I have learned that when I personally begin feeling depressed, writing about it and thinking about it makes me feel worse. While my readers are quite empathetic with my situation, and that's always nice, writing about negative feelings engenders more negative feelings.

Yet, writing about wellness activities like playing and toys makes me feel better. So, why is that?
(to be continued)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 1)

It's difficult for me to know if I just need a small respite from blogging or whether I'm experiencing the beginning of a depressive episode. But, tonight--after more than 640 posts--it suddenly seemed more like a chore to write this rather than a pleasure.

I do know that when I feel depressed, I don't feel like sharing my thoughts and feelings with others. I also know that I had a very busy weekend and I'm tired. I am aware that the weather has been changing, and I can feel it.

But, I also know that depressions have triggers.

Am I feeling slightly depressed because I'm worried about my son who is having LASIK surgery on Tuesday? Possibly. Despite the fact that he's very excited about the procedure because he's worn glasses since he began reading when he was five years old (and he's now 20), I'm quite nervous about it. Somehow, elective eye surgery is something I personally wouldn't do.

Or am I slightly depressed because I've had a tremendous amount of energy for the last few months, and after a while it's exhausting? That could be the case as well. I'm pleased because I've monitored my behavior very well. Still, I've taken on a lot of projects, and I'm trying to take those things off my plate that others can follow through on, and just work on the things that I find relaxing.

Are there other triggers? Possibly. Do I feel like figuring them out? Oddly enough, "no."

(to be continued)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wellness Actitivity: Using the Right Side of My Brain (Part 3)

This is the final post of photographs for this week. As I stated in parts 1 and 2 of this series, for the last few weeks I've felt tired and rather than taking a few days off from blogging, I decided to brainswitch by posting photographs rather than writing.

Today's photograph is from Joel Meyerowitz, a New York photographer who was born in 1938. I've seen a few of his books and really like his work. Just looking at this photograph made me feel better! I felt like if I could just dive into this pool I'd feel rejuvenated! See you on Monday!

The Elements: Air/Water 1, 2007
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

P.S. On the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, my heart goes out to those who died, and to their families and loved ones who mourn them.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wellness Actitivity: Using the Right Side of My Brain (Part 2)

As I wrote yesterday, I've been more tired than I should be, and so rather than using the left-side of my brain (the analytical side), I've decided to brainswitch and use the right side by posting photographs I like a lot. Henri Cartier-Bresson is another favorite photographer.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris, 1932
A Gallery

Rue Moffetard, Paris, 1954
A Gallery

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948
A Gallery

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wellness Activity: Using The Right Side of My Brain (Part 1)

I have learned that when I'm really tired, and can't seem to rejuvenate myself--even with the right amount of sleep--it's usually because I need to clear my mind a bit. And, in order to do that I need to switch from using my left brain (the more analytical side) to my right (the more artistic side). So, for the rest of this week, rather than taking a few days off from blogging, I'm going to post photographs instead. Next Monday, I'll begin writing again.

Today's photographs were taken by Walker Evans, an American photographer (1903-1975) who was best known for documenting the Great Depression. However, the three photographs I'm sharing show some scenes of New York, which I really enjoy!

Brooklyn Bridge, 1929
Lee Gallery

Truck and Sign, 1930
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Broadway, 1930
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, September 4, 2009

Courage Boosters for Writers

Since today is Friday, and it's been such a busy and exhausting week for me, my post today is a list of courage boosters--always a good way to end a week--for writers from The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes. They are as follows:
  • Read about successful writers, paying attention to their fears and how they dealt with them.
  • Take a writing course or two.
  • Attend an occasional writers' conference.
  • Join a serious writers' group.
  • Develop anxiety-easing rituals, no matter how eccentric.
  • Devise fear-taming work techniques, no matter how gimmicky.
  • Write at times of day when you're most productive and least anxious.
  • Identify your censor in chief and mentally rehearse how to deal with that person.
  • Get to know yourself well enough not to be too terrified by what escapes from within onto the page.
  • Convert fear into excitement.
  • Write.
It all sounds like good advice whether it's about writing or how to live your life. Have a lovely weekend. See you on Monday!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wellness Activity: Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon shooting photographs with my digital photography class. It was the first "group shoot," and I was very disappointed with my photographs. The goal of our class is to shoot photographs for a group show.

We met on Monday night to critique our shots, and mine were the worst of the lot. But, rather than feeling bad about it, I decided I could look at what my classmates shot and learn from them. And I did.

Today, I had promised to shoot "head shots" for my cousin who's an actress. Rather than approaching the shoot in a negative way because I'd done so poorly last week, I approached it in a positive way because I'd learned so much on Monday night. And not only did I have a great time, but I got a lot of really good shots.

My approach to photography is the same approach I use in seeking wellness, and in living my life. I believe I'll be successful. More importantly, I believe that if I try hard enough, I'll overcome any obstacles that are preventing me from achieving my goals.

I believe there are two kinds of people in this world. Some see the glass as half empty. Some see it as half full. Which kind of person are you?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

Since my depressions have always had a seasonal element, which suggests some form of Seasonal Effective Disorder, and since I've decided that I can overcome all this, I figured that one area I need to deal with is darkness.

It is the darkness of night and the shorter days that contribute to my feeling worse in October, and escalate in November and December. And independent of whether I live in Los Angeles or Norway, the fact is that for years I've known I have a sensitivity to seasons and light.

I believe that one of the best ways of changing behavior is confronting the fears that cause it. And I recently realized I have become frightened of the darker days. Before writing this post I reread an essay, In Praise of Sweet Darkness, by Shepherd Bliss, (which can be found in Ecotherapy:Healing with Nature in Mind). While I've quoted from Mr. Bliss's essay once before, today I'll provide two different quotes, which are illuminating for me.

"Darkness can allow transformation to occur. Seeds benefit from darkness in their hulls, and can drink from it for many long years before becoming beautiful plants when they finally burst into the light. Common caterpillars can crawl about with a hidden treasure within them, and then suddenly sprout into butterflies, flap their wings and soar into the air. Other small flying creatures can also penetrate the darkness. "

"...'How Sweet It Is' is a little sign that greets me when I drive from my small farm past another nearby small farm that specializes in honey. Whereas some honey is a light amber color, other honey is darker. Busy bees transform pollens and other tasty items into that sweetness, as chickens transform bugs, grass, and other tasty items into eggs. The Spanish poet Anthony Machado captured this transformation in lines that describe 'the golden bees.../making white combs and sweet honey/from my own failures.' The darkness of one's 'old failures' can indeed be transformed into something sweet. Bees and birds are among the many flying creatures that benefit from the benevolent darkness."

Any thoughts?

P.S. The graphic is by Chato B. Stewart, and I found it at Mental Health Humor and Cartoons.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking Charge of an Illness (Part 3)

This is the final post in my three-part series, Taking Charge of an Illness. As I've mentioned before, October is usually the month when my depressive episodes begin, and it's probably due to the darkness of the sky, less light, and also the holidays. I've discussed a number of prevention method I'm implementing to try to stave off these depressions. Here are the last two:

9. I've decided I no longer need to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. While I've never been diagnosed as SAD, there's always been a seasonal element to my depressions. I've read Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Norman Rosenthal, M.D., and instituted many of his suggestions.

I've changed the curtains in my bedroom so that I let in optimum light. We changed the carpeting in the house so that it's much lighter. We've painted the walls a warm white. I've tried a dawn simulator, which doesn't work for me. I've also tried a 10,000 Lux light, which doesn't work for me. But, I spend a lot of time outdoors every day, which does work for me.

While I realize that some people do suffer from winter blues, I also believe I can overcome anything if I put my mind to it. And it's not like I live in a climate where there's real darkness, a lot of rain, or snow. For goodness sakes: I live in Los Angeles where I can spend almost every day outdoors.

So...I've decided to overcome SAD the same way that other people overcome cancer or high blood pressure. I realize what the issues are. I've changed my lifestyle to the best of my ability. And it's now time for me to let my SAD feelings go.

10. As a family, we are going to change the way we celebrate the holidays. I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas (which I've always celebrated even though I'm Jewish). However, once I got married, the holidays changed for me for a number of reasons I won't elaborate. But the basic problem is that for me, the holidays are spiritual, not about presents.

And, the emphasis should be on making it special for my son, rather than the adults. Because I was so depressed last year, we celebrated the holidays alone, but that wasn't the answer either. This year we're going to begin developing new rituals that focus on my son and our values and sensibilities. (I'm not sure what they are yet, but I'll keep you posted.)

I guess if there's any true lesson to be gained from this series, it's that at the very depth of my being, I believe in recovery and wellness. I'm a problem-solver by nature. For years I've tried to get rid of these winter depressions to no avail.

But, perhaps the problem was that I wasn't willing to tell my husband how I felt about the holidays, and come up with new rituals. After a severe depression last year, and the subsequent months of therapy, I now realize that my own health and my son's happiness are my top priorities and my guiding light! And we will overcome!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking Charge of an Illness (Part 2)

As I mentioned in Taking Charge of an Illness (Part 1), since I know that my Fall depression usually starts in October, I've taken a number of steps to stave it off, and/or to make it more palatable if it does hit. The following portion of the list are the activities I've been doing for months, and a few new ones as well.

6. Exercise. I've written before that regular aerobic exercise has been proven more effective than antidepressant medication. And while I haven't instituted an aerobic program, I have been walking my dog Jack twice every day since we adopted him a few months ago. I also garden at least three times a week.

But, starting today I'm adding an aerobic component, which is jump roping (there are also other exercises on this link). It's easy to do and I'll let you know more about it after I buy my jump rope this afternoon and do further research. Actually I think tap dancing would be way more fun, but we all need to be realistic about what we think we might actually stick with.

7. Spending Time with Friends. Actually, in this case, it was spending time with "old" friends, and making new friends (whom I've now known from three to six months), and whom I've told about my possible depressive episodes and know they are willing to spend time with me, whether I'm my usual upbeat self or not.

8. Developing hobbies I can do alone. Both gardening and digital photography fit into this category. I've now been gardening since April, and I can plant, prune, and garden with little instruction (if need be). I've also taken three digital photo classes since last April. My current one runs through November, but I think that's fine. I've also been teaching myself Photo Elements, and it's a great solitary activity, and I have lots of photos to work on.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taking Charge of an Illness (Part 1)

In anticipation of Fall, which is usually when my yearly depression starts, I've developed a new program to stave it off. It is as follows:

1. I've gone to a hypnotherapist and discussed that there's no logical reason to feel worse in the Fall. She put me in a "trace" like state, and we worked on getting rid of the feelings that are preventing wellness.

2. Since January, I had been in therapy, and dealt with any and all issues I believe were holding me back from healing completely. It's been terrific. I finished last week, but we've discussed that if I feel at all unwell when the weather changes, we'll resume, and see what we can do about it.

3. I've also gone to a sound, vibration, and light healer. Again, if there's a problem in the Fall, she'll see me as well.

4. I realize that when I feel depressed, I can't write, and thus have a problem with how to constructively spend my time. My participation in the Gardening and Horticulture program at UCLA Extension resolves this problem. Not only am I enrolled in a Botany class, but I'm involved in two pro bono programs at schools, and am setting up another volunteer gardening relationship where I can work every day if I don't feel like writing.

5. I'm engaged in a photography project with my teacher and classmates from the high school night school program. This is another right brained activity that I can work on in the Fall.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Courage to Write

Another favorite book on writing is The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes. I particularly like the following paragraph(s), which I've divided in two although the author didn't.

"The longer I wrote, the more my admiration has grown for those who set out on this journey. They are apprehensive and should be. Writing is a daring act. Any time we put so much as a word on paper we're in jeopardy. (What if someone thinks we could have chosen a better one?)

"Whoever writes for public scrutiny is subject to a form of what psychologists call 'performance anxiety.' Polls routinely confirm that public speaking is our number-one fear. (Dying ranks sixth according to one such poll.) Writing is merely public speaking on paper, but to a much larger audience. For some, writing to publish is even more daunting than speaking in public. Spoken words blow away in the wind. Published ones last as long as the paper on which they're printed."

And Mr. Keyes quotes some other writers in his book, as well.

"If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage."
~Cynthia Ozick

"Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts."
~Voltaire

"Anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation and everything that is finest in human history."
~Charles Frankel

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top 10 Tasks as a Writer/Artist

I hope you don't mind if I seem to gush about the books I've been reading, but one is better than the next. I'm currently reading Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider, and loving it.

"This is a book about being an artist/writer. Whether your purpose is artistic expression, communication with friends and family, the healing of the inner life, or achieving public recognition for your art--the foundation is the same: the claiming of yourself as an artist/writer and the strengthening of your writing voice through practice, study, and helpful (as opposed to damaging) communication with others. Your task, as a writer/artist, is to:

1. Give your art/writing time.

2. Sound more and more like yourself.

3. Experiment, play, take risks, be brave.

4. Believe in the freshness, vitality, and importance of your experience and imagination.

5. Practice in ways that will teach you to recognize your own voice and to increase its range (as a singer learns to sing higher and lower--as a painter increases the number of colors on a palette).

6. Believe in yourself as an artist-in-training, and protect yourself from everyone and everything that undermines that belief.

7. Observe.

8. Remember.

9. Imagine.

10. Find and keep in contact with other writer/artists who can provide you with an intimate community of support, give you honest critical response, strengthen you, and encourage your work."

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guidelines for Writing About Trauma

I guess my theme this week is writing to heal, possibly because I'm researching a workshop I'll be leading at a conference in Atlanta in October. To that end I uncovered another wonderful book, which I highly recommend. It's called Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, and it's written by Louise DeSalvo, Ph.D., a professor of English at Hunter College.

She provides a list of do's and don'ts for writing about trauma, which might be of use to some of you. Much of this material is an adaptation from James W. Pennebaker's Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others (which I quoted in yesterday's post).

Do's
1. Write twenty minutes a day over a period of four days. Do this periodically. This way you won't feel overwhelmed.

2. Write in a private, safe, comfortable environment.

3. Write about issues you're currently living with, something you're thinking or dreaming about constantly, a trauma you've never disclosed or discussed or resolved.

4. Write about joys and pleasures too.

5. Write about what happened. Write, too, about feelings about what happened. What do you feel? Why do you feel this way? Link events with feelings.

6. Try to write an extremely detailed, organized, coherent, vivid, emotionally compelling narrative. Don't worry about correctness, about grammar or punctuation.

7. Beneficial effects will occur even if no one reads your writing. If you choose to keep your writing and not discard it, you must safeguard it.

8. Expect, initially, that in writing in this way you will have complex and appropriately difficult feelings. Make sure you get support if you need it.

On the second side of my note card, I wrote a set of warnings I'd gleaned from Pennebaker.

Don'ts
1. Don't use writing as a substitute for taking action.

2. Don't become overly intellectual.

3. Don't use writing as a way of complaining. Use it, instead, to discover how and why you feel as you do. Simply complaining or venting will probably make you feel worse.

4. Don't use your writing to become overly self-absorbed. Over-analyzing everything is counterproductive.

5. Don't use writing as a substitute for therapy or medical care.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Telling Our Untold Stories

Years ago I read Dr. James W. Pennebaker's first book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others, and interviewed him for my book, The Mommy Guide. The following quote made a huge impact.
"We don't need to talk to others to tell our untold stories. Nonetheless, our untold thoughts and feelings should, in some way, be verbalized. Whether we talk into a tape recorder or write on a magic pad, translating our thoughts into language is psychologically physically beneficial. When people write about major upheavals, they begin to organize and understand them. Writing about the thoughts and feelings associated with traumas, then, forces individuals to bring together the many facets of overwhelmingly complicated events. Once people can distill complex experienced into more understandable packages, they can begin to move beyond the trauma."
But, there is another side to Dr. Pennebaker's research that I feel is equally important, and one that I think most people either don't understand or don't follow. What he writes is this:
"Writing resolves traumas that stand in the way of important tasks. Following major upheavals, people tend to obsess about them. In thinking about the traumas, and even in trying not to think about them, individuals use a great deal of their thinking capacity. Hence, they become forgetful and cannot sustain their attention on large new tasks. Writing about traumas helps to organize the traumas, thereby freeing the mind to deal with other tasks."
What this means to me, and what I think Dr. Pennebaker believes is that it's important to move on from trauma in order to heal. Any thoughts?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wellness Activity: Saying Thank You

It's been an exhausting week...in a good way. And quite honestly, I'm too tired to write a post. So, I thought I'd do what my friend Danielle does, which is to thank people who are so supportive. I think she actually thanks everyone who comments in a given month, but first and foremost I'd like to thank the small coterie of supporters who are there for me almost every day--week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Thanks yous go to (and this isn't in any order): Emma (She doesn't have a blog, but should because she's such a good writer), KJ, Paula Joy, Mariposa, Marja, and Nancie. What dear friends, and staunch supporters!

Two newer readers who have bipolar blogs that might interest you are: Sue from Dragon in the House, and Will from WillSpirit. Also, David writes a lovely blog for his business Quillcards.

A salute to old friends: Howard who writes Mead on Manhattan, Gianna from Beyond Meds, Duane from Discover and Recover, Catatonic Kid, and Katie from Joyously Becoming.

And...thank you to everyone who reads me, and sometimes comments--sallyo, GirlBlue, Toria/Deb, John W, and Marie (among others), and those who read me, but don't comment at all. I genuinely appreciate all of your support.

Finally, thanks to Sandra Kiume and John Grohol from PsychCentral who picked my blog as one of the Top Ten Bipolar Blogs in 2008, a validation that has increased my readership, and caused some readers to find me who might otherwise have not.

P.S. I found the photo at Greenwich Daily Photo.