Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Weekend of Gardening

As much fun as I've had at the Learning Garden, next Thursday is my last class, and we have to dismantle our gardens. Actually, we have three options. 1) We can take our plants home, which is what I'm doing. So, this weekend I'm transplanting other plants into pots, and preparing the beds where I'll transplant the herbs from my school plot.

2) We can keep our gardens and harvest them for the next few months, and dismantle them in August.

3) We can abandon them, and let students and volunteers harvest our crops and give them to homeless shelters in town.

All three options are good choices. In my case, since I'd never planted a garden before, and because my herbs are flourishing, I'm exciting about bringing them home. And my son has volunteered to help me, so I excited about sharing my new hobby with him.

But, best of all, I've now met my first gardening mentor, my teacher Nancy Harrington from whom I'm taking a pruning class this summer. Also, I met David King, the master gardener at the Learning Garden, and I plan to begin volunteering there on a regular basis.

Finally, I've met a host of new friends--fellow gardeners--with whom I have a lot in common, and I hope these friendships will flourish as we take classes together, and continue talking about gardening and life.

At first glance, when I signed up for this class, I thought it would be one-time shot. I was interested in learning more about gardening and wanted to redesign our background. But, now I know I've learned so much more.

It's a strange realization to think that I've spent most of my life loving nature, but not knowing very much about it. I guess I always viewed hiking and walking in state parks as a right brain activity. Since I spend so much of my time do research, when I was outdoors I turned off the analytical side of my brain, and just delighted in what I saw, smelled, and touched.

But, now I'm delighting in learning about the science of nature, plant classifications, garden design, vegetable and herb growing, and so much more. What a treat it is--at this stage in my life--to have discovered an entirely new passion--and still remain married to the same husband. Just kidding! Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Learning to Pace Myself

If there's anything I've learned in the last few years, it's how to pace myself. In the past, even if I had been sick with a cough and a cold, I would have continued to write "regular" posts, whether I felt like it or not. And I would have tried to finish my "to do" list yesterday, even though I was still recuperating and knew I had class last night.

Instead, I decided to write easier posts, and I spent most of the day finishing my homework and then resting. My goal was to be able to attend class, and I accomplished that. And, rather than spending the first 90 minutes of class weeding, I decided I could do that another day, so I just talked with friends and took it easy. And, thus I was able to remain in class for three hours.

While it may seem like a small accomplishment, it's an important one. How many times do we push ourselves when we don't really need to? How often do we criticize ourselves needlessly just because our expectations were unrealistic, and we didn't feel well enough to achieve them?

I don't do that any more. Yesterday was a slower day, but I did get a lot done, and yet I allowed myself to rest, and to feel good about myself even though I was operating at about a third of my capabilities. Last night, I went to bed early, and today I'm planning on resting so that I can heal from my cough and cold, and have a relaxing weekend.

It took a long time for me to learn how to pace myself, and I think it's a solid accomplishment, and one I feel good about!

I hope everyone has a happy and healthy weekend. See you Monday!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wellness Garden

While I'm still under the weather, I thought you might enjoy a few photographs of my plot at The Learning Garden, where members of my gardening class garden. To me, it's really a Wellness Garden because my participation represents so many aspects of wellness.

Specifically: 1. Meeting new friends. 2. Spending time outdoors. 3. Finding a new hobby about which I feel passionate. 4. Developing a new relationship with nature. 5. Learning about a new subject. 6. Finding a new area to read and write about, and to photograph. 7. Being part of a community. 8. Volunteering (After my class is over I intend to volunteer there). 9. Finding a mentor to teach me about something I don't know. 10. Feeling blessed that I only missed one class because of a physical illness.



Each photograph has a slightly different perspective. My plot isn't easy to photograph because there are other plots all around me, and a compost heap in back. But, at least you get a sense of what I've been up to.

And to end today's post, I'd like to share a quote on weeding that makes me smile from Gerald Manley Hopkins:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Brief Respite

Dear Readers and Friends,
I either have a summer cold or the flu; I'm not sure which, but I feel lousy, and my husband is nursing a cold. I'll be back as soon as I feel better.

Susan

Thinking about My Readers

Dear Readers and Friends,
While I usually only post once a day, this morning when I awakened I realized that today I need to post a second time. I had intended to spend the next few days focusing on Writing to Heal, but after dreaming about a few blogs I'd read last night (I sometimes dream about things that are bothering me or causing some level of discomfort or concern), and about my response to Periwinkle's comment from yesterday, I've decided to address a few other issues.

So, here goes. First, I need to tell you that my experience with bipolarity is different than others I've read about, and from many of the bloggers I read. Initially I was diagnosed as "atypical bipolar II," but it's quite possible that was a misdiagnosis. Prior to taking medication, I had never experienced a hypomania or mania. My current therapist and I believe I was probably misdiagnosed.

Subsequently, I did experience a lot of bipolar symptoms, but they were medication-induced. So, while I know how awful it is to rapid cycle, now that I'm off most medication, I don't experience it any longer. And while I know what it feels like to act in an erratic manner, and feel overly emotional or grandiose, I no longer have those symptoms as well. While I have experienced intense anger over inconsequential remarks, that, too has gone--with the medication that caused it. And, of course, there is so much more.

The reason I tell you this is because when people write to me about behavioral patterns they are exhibiting, while I may know what it feels to act that way, it isn't something I ever experienced before I starting taking medication. So, it's not a part of my biochemical make-up. And since I wasn't diagnosed or medicated until I was 43, I lived most of my life without exhibiting any of these patterns.

In an odd way, my experience gives me a somewhat unique perspective. In a way, I know what it's like to manifest an entire array of bipolar behavior without truly being bipolar. What this means is that I view other's behavior as somewhat of an outsider.

Having said that, I'd like to share a few additional thoughts. 1. Periwinkle, I hope I didn't hurt your feelings when I responded to yesterday's comment. From my perspective, the behavior you're describing is a "bit off." But, I truly believe we can all change our behavioral patterns. As far as I'm concerned, the problem with bipolar treatment is that the focus on medication is far too great, and there is a lack of focus on therapy, understanding behavioral patterns and changing them, keeping mood charts to see whether medication is improving our condition or causing it, and so much more. And I do believe--that finding an insightful therapist--can make a huge difference in our lives, and I'll post about this later this week.

2. Wendy, I'm not sure if your moods changed as significantly before you began taking medication. But when I read yesterday's post, I wanted to say, "It's very painful to switch moods every few days, and it suggests to me that your medication isn't working as it should." I also believe there are other methods of controlling moods so that you don't just cycle from depression to hypomania and back. The most thoroughly researched treatments are yoga and meditation, and there has been a lot of research confirming their value, and I'll post about it later this week.

3. Catatonic Kid, I believe that post traumatic stress is a huge issue, and one that hasn't been researched enough in terms of its relationship to bipolarity. I'm glad you're writing about it this week.

4. Marja, I believe that depression so skews our life view that it's very difficult to feel competent and capable even when we know we are. I've often wondered if self-hypnosis could help us deal with this, and I'm going to research this topic further.

5. Gianna, As always, I'm thinking about you and hoping your recovery is going well.

6. Tamara, I'm thinking about you as you take time off to deal with your loss of Wyatt,* and to "recharge your batteries."

7. Nancie, I'm thinking about how exhausted you've been, and I'm hoping you're feeling much better.

8. Katie, I'm glad you're feeling so much better after a lengthy depression, and a tough time dealing with Sophie's* illness.

9. Emma, I'm so glad we've become online friends, and I've been praying for you and Molly.*

10. Mariposa, I know you're doing fine, but I decided I should mention how glad I am that we've become online friends. Your comments are always so heartening for me. Ditto for Paula Joy, who's moved on to other things, but was so thoughtful when I was feeling depressed. And welcome to Florida Sue, and welcome back to KJ.

For everyone who reads my blog, I realize how exhausting and devastating it can be to deal with bipolar symptoms--particularly ones that don't go away. I spent years trying to cope with this behavior--even if it was medication-induced. And while a lot of it has disappeared along with the medication that caused it, some of it has remained--to a much lesser degree.

And I certainly know what it feels like to cope with depressive episodes because I've been working at that for 40 years--25 of which were undiagnosed.

Ever since I started writing this blog, I see a great value in sharing our experiences with each other, seeking advice, and sharing techniques that work and those that don't. I believe it's very important to know that whatever we're feeling, we're not alone. And however difficult things seem, they do improve--with time, treatment, insight, and a lot of hard work. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who's struggling to find wellness!

P.S. The names with an asterisk are all people-dogs as Annie used to call them.

Writing to Heal: Another Look (Part 1)

Although I've written before about James W. Pennebaker's book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, I've been rereading it because of a new book I'm working on.

And, once again I am struck by how much I agree with Dr. Pennebaker concerning writing about trauma or emotional upheaval in a positive way rather than continuing to dwell on the negative.

Here's what Dr. Pennebaker has to say about this important facet of healing: "Traumatic experiences have the potential to touch every part of our lives in good and bad ways. After a tragedy, for example, people often report that they come away with a stronger sense of social connections, and a rediscovered sense of meaning in their lives. Analysis of various writing samples consistently finds that those people who can express positive emotions while writing about tragic events tend to benefit more from expressive writing."

He continues, "After you've experienced a trauma, people often want you to be happy because your pain is difficult for them to deal with. If you could put on a cheerful upbeat face, they would be more comfortable. But, clearly, such false happiness is not true positive emotion. In this chapter, you will find a number of exercises that may be helpful in encouraging you to draw on some of your deeper reservoir of love, meaning, and contentment. No false grins or cheerfulness is expected (or wanted).

(to be continued)
FYI...Scientific Blogging has an interesting article on the importance of writing things down.
P.S. The graphic is of a woman writing a letter, but I liked it so well that I'm using it anyway.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day


In the United States, today is Memorial Day, which is a national holiday in which we honor people who have died while in military service. My father and his three brothers served in World War II, and I always think about them on this day.

But, since my readership is international, I would like to honor all those who have died defending their countries. During my lifetime, I have always hoped we might "make love, not war." But then, I was a college student during the 1960s.

Still, my thoughts and prayers today are with all of those who have lost people they loved while in military service.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Harmonica Healing

Last night was my gardening class. And since I'm too tired to write a new post, I'm going to re-publish my very first post that ran on February 2, 2007.

In the introduction to The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit, author Don Campbell writes, "In an instant, music can uplift our soul. It awakens within us the spirit of prayer, compassion, and love. It clears our minds and has been known to make us smarter.

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

While listening to music makes me feel good, playing an instrument is a healing experience. I recently decided I needed a simple instrument, which I could teach myself to play. So I bought a new harmonica and a David Harp book. Wow!

The beauty of the harmonica is that you make progress quickly. It's little so that you can take it everywhere. But more importantly, I had decided to add deep breathing and meditation to my wellness activities and the harmonica works for both.

I practice every night before I go to sleep and it allows me to breathe deeply, to focus solely on the sounds of music, and to smile. I sure hope that I become more skilled at playing the harmonica than I have at playing the accordion and the ukulele, my two other instrument picks during the last few years. Hope springs eternal!

FYI...By means of an update, my favorite instrument is now the Autoharp, and I play that best. But in the intervening two years, I've also taken up the electric guitar, and the keyboard. So...while I no longer play the harmonica every night, music still is a big part of my life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wellness Activity: Laughter

For the last few days, I've been extraordinarily tired at night, and I'm finding it difficult to write. So, today I decided to re-post something I'd written in March, 2007. Hope you enjoy it!

I've always known about the importance of laughter in healing. But Ronald Jenkins has some nice explanations and quotes in his book, Subversive Laughter, The Liberating Power of Comedy. Perhaps he explains his theory best in the introduction where he writes:

"Laughter is a biological imperative, a complex cognitive and physiological response to the human condition that is as necessary for survival as water, air, and freedom. While I have no evidence that comedy is encoded in our chromosomes, it is plausible that a genetic impulse for adaptation and survival might explain the persistence of laughter in life’s most urgent moments."

I also enjoyed the following quotes:

"In a world fraught with danger and despair, comedy is a survival tactic, and laughter is an act of faith."

"Our sense of humor is a mirror of our aspirations, reflecting our desires to escape the limitations that circumscribe our lives."

"The global persistence of laughter as an adaptive response to human hardship makes one suspect that at its most visceral level, comedy is linked to our species’ instinct to survive."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Zen of Ironing

Because I've been so busy these past few days, and couldn't get a second wind, I decided to follow Emma's lead and post today on the zen of ironing. After I wrote yesterday's post, I learned that Emma, Marja, and I all agree that ironing is a very relaxing activity. So, since I'm too tired to write, I'm going to share a video, Ironing 101, that I found on You Tube. Enjoy! (P.S. This is the first time I've ever posted from You Tube, and the video seems to skip although I'm not sure why.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When a Depression Is Over (Part 1)

Laundry Therapy

Last week, I talked about some of the differences I feel when I'm depressed, and when I'm not. Today, I want to share some of the things I do as a form of "reentering life" again.

1. Apologize when necessary. Sometimes, during a depression, there are things I say I'll do, but I'm unable to because I just don't have the motivation and energy. During the period of time when I was so sick so much of the time, I became tired of apologizing for not meeting people's expectations. But, these days I feel I do meet most expectations of the people I care about--much of the time. So, if I'm not able to, the moment I feel better I try and write notes or emails of apology to explain myself.

2. Catch up on milestones. Often, during a depressive episode, I miss birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. Again, while I used to feel really bad about this, I don't any more. The fact is that I do the best I can. However, once a depression is over, I try and catch up by sending cards and/or gifts to people whose milestones I've missed. Over time I've learned that a belated card or gift is better than none at all. So, in the last few days, I've bought and mailed two gifts, one card, and one note-of apology.

3. Write an extended "To Do" list. When I'm not depressed, I'm really well-organized so this isn't a difficult task for me. But, the top things on my list are usually dentist appointments to get my teeth cleaned, doctor's appointments I need to catch up on, a haircut appointment to get my hair colored and styled, and so forth and so on. So, today, I made three doctor's appointments, and I'm trying to find a new hair cutter and colorist and will make that appointment this week as well.

For some people, I know that bill paying is an issue, and for others it's housework. But, my husband pays all the bills in our family. And, knowing how important a clean house is to my husband and son, I never let things go--even during a severe depression. In fact, I could write an entire post on Laundry Therapy, but who would read it?

(to be continued)

P.S. I'm out and about most of the day, but I'll respond to comments as soon as I return.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Visual Relaxation Therapy

I had a very busy, but fun weekend. And today is going to be a busy day as well. So, rather than posting, I'm just going to share a few pleasurable images. But, before I do, I want to thank everyone who responded to my "prayer circle" post. I think it's a wonderful sign that we can pray or send positive thoughts to someone whether we're feeling well or ill ourselves. And I thank each and every one of you!

Japanese Footbridge, 1987, Claude Monet

The Sisters, 1885, Mary Cassatt

Brook Among Rocks, John Singer Sargent

Nichols Canyon, David Hockney

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Prayer Circle

While I rarely post twice in one day, my dear friend Gianna from Beyond Meds, is at a special detox facility trying to recover from a five-year struggle to get off medication. I've recently read a few books by Dr. Larry Dossey about the power of prayer, and so I'd like to recommend that all of my readers who know her (and even those who don't), spend a few minutes each day praying for her recovery.

Without sounding like a California "woo-woo," which you probably know I'm not, I do believe that the strength of our love and our prayers (which can just be considered positive thoughts for those of us who are more secular) can make a difference!

Gianna, if you read this, I want you to know I've emailed a few friends whose belief in God is so strong that I'm hoping you're already feeling their love and mine!

Depression Wellness and Illness (Part 4)

For the last post in this series, I thought it might be interesting to list a number of other changes I notice in myself when I'm depressed, and when I'm not.

5. Music. When I'm depressed, I don't listen to music. While I know that music is healing, I don't like the "noise" when I don't feel well. When I'm well, I love listening to and playing music. And my listening tastes are fairly eclectic. I love classical music, jazz, folk, rock (mostly from the sixties and early seventies), and musicals.

In fact, I can sing all the songs to the following musicals: My Fair Lady, Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music, Chorus Line, The Music Man, Annie, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, Bye Bye Birdie, Cabaret, Chicago, The King and I, and Westside Story (and a few others I can't think of right now).

6. Exercise. When I'm depressed, as hard as I try, I find it really difficult to exercise on a regular basis. When I'm well, I participate in the following activities: Walking (I walk 3.2 miles around the park near my house), badminton, biking, hiking, and swimming!

7. Outdoors. When I'm depressed, I can force myself to garden and do outside home improvement tasks. When I'm well, I love being outdoors, and my favorite spots in Los Angeles are: the beach, Will Rogers State Park, Temescal Canyon State Park, the Palisades Park above the Pacific Coast Highway, The Huntington (pictured above left) the Santa Monica Bike Path, and so much more.

8. Cultural Activities. When I'm depressed, I try to force myself to go places, but it's never easy. When I'm well, I love going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOCA, Walt Disney Concert Hall (pictured above right), McCabes Guitar Shop, The Hollywood Bowl, The Greek Theater, The Getty, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and so much more.

9. Interesting Neighborhoods. When I'm depressed, it's difficult enough to walk around my own neighborhood. When I'm well, I love to explore different neighborhoods in the City of Angels, including, Chinatown (pictured above left), Little Tokyo, Pasadena, Third Street Promenade, Watts Towers, Westwood/UCLA, the Miracle Mile, and so many more.

10. Entertaining. When I'm depressed, I find it very difficult to entertain people at our home. The last think in the world I feel like doing is sitting at a dinner table and trying to pretend that I care about what is going on in other people's lives when I can barely function. When I'm well, I love to entertain, and spend time with friends and family members. And perhaps this is the most difficult aspect of feeling depressed, because I know people just don't understand my behavior at all!

So...how do you deal with the transition from depression to wellness? If you decide to post about it, please link to this post or let me know, and I'll mention your blog so we can have a group discussion of sorts!

Have a lovely weekend! See you on Monday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Depression Wellness and Illness (Part 3)

Yesterday I wrote about how I feel about blogging when I'm depressed. Today, I'll focus on how I feel about blogging--and relationships with others--when I'm well.

When I'm well, I post on a wide array of subjects with the hope of helping others--and I don't need anything in return. I try to think of issues that might be helpful. If I've recently figured out a life lesson and/or read something I think might be inspirational, I like sharing it.

Knowing how horrible depressive episodes feel, I like trying to help others find insight. I find meaning in using my blog as a platform from which to discuss issues that might be helpful to us all.

For the most part, because I try to concentrate on positive aspects of healing, or share behavioral patterns that I may not like about myself but feel strong enough to publicly admit because I'm working hard to change them, I usually feel good about the comments I receive.

I genuinely like my readers, and I feel that within this universe we are the most upbeat and positive people.

I know the major difference between blogging while I'm depressed and blogging when I'm not has more to do with my own needs than with the response from others.

When I mentioned the blog stats yesterday (Immi, this is for you), quite honestly I know how to build an audience, but I'm not willing to do it in the traditional way. I'm not interested in posting more than once a day, which I know boosts my numbers. I don't want to write about "popular" topics that don't interest me. I choose not to spend my free time (other than this blog) talking about mental wellness or illness. I'm not interested in networking within this field nor do I wish to have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. And, I know that a key element of healing for me is engaging with people face-to-face, participating in activities I enjoy, and delighting in feeling so well!

In general, when I'm well, my relationships with people are positive. After years of medication-induced rapid cycling, it's no longer an issue for me. So, I no longer go from a depression to a hypomanic state. Usually, once I can feel the depression is over, it won't reappear until the season changes in October or November.

And now that I'm in therapy, I'm working on ways to see if we can prevent its recurrence altogether. My goal this year to "end" or totally diminish the impact of depressive episodes. Now that I'm feeling so much better, I've got a "to do" list of daily wellness activities that I think will make a difference.

What is so great about shifting out of my fall depression is that I no longer have to worry about it for the next five to six months. It's an amazing feeling to know I'll be well for such an extended period of time. And since is the third year running that I've felt like this, it's getting increasingly easy to return to "normalcy."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Depression Wellness and Illness (Part 2)

This week I'm posting about the changes I notice in myself during a depression episode, and when it's over.

4. Blogging. When I'm depressed I find it very difficult to write this blog. The first reason is because my blog is entitled Wellness Writer, and I always feels it's somewhat hypocritical to call myself a wellness writer if I'm undergoing a depressive episode. A few months ago I wrote a post about this, and the answers I received suggested it isn't a problem for my readers.

But the second reason remains a real impediment. When I'm severely depressed, I need to marshal all my resources to aid in my own healing. So, spending a few hours a night writing a post, responding to comments, and visiting other people's blogs is exhausting.

During a major depression, I'm also unable to read about other people's problems (something Marja discussed in a comment from yesterday). A depression makes me feel so vulnerable that I can't set appropriate boundaries. So, if someone writes to me about how miserable they feel, I'm devastated for them. If they tell me about their problems, I can't cope with their unhappiness and my own. And if they write a comment I feel isn't sympathetic or kind, my feelings are terribly hurt.

In the same vein, when I'm feeling bad about myself, I focus far too much on the blog statistics. If my numbers are down, I feel unappreciated. If they're repeatedly down, I feel like I'm investing too much effort in a project that isn't giving me the returns I need. If I go through the blogroll, and read a series of posts that I find depressing, I find myself eliminating blogs from the blogroll.

If people reach out to me, and I respond, and they don't thank me, I feel unappreciated. If they don't respond to the comments I leave on their blogs, I stop reading them. If I can't find helpful tips and advice, techniques that work, stories that inspire me, and quotes that uplift me, I stop reading all the blogs that don't help me achieve wellness.

Tomorrow I'll write about how differently I feel about blogging when I'm well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Depression Wellness and Illness (Part 1)

Usually, my depressive episodes abruptly end...the same way they begin. Although nothing changes in my life, all of a sudden, I awaken one morning and I feel fine without taking Adderall. But, this time, the depression is receding in a slower fashion. I've been feeling progressively better--although there have been days of feeling worse, but they were usually caused by situational incidents.

So, how do I know a depression is ending? There are some obvious changes in the way I feel.

1. I enjoy gardening and home improvement tasks. If I'm feeling blue, I make myself go outdoors and garden or work on home improvement projects. I don't necessarily enjoy myself, but I know that being outdoors and focusing on clearly defined projects works for me.

Often, it takes hours for a bad mood to lift. While doing these tasks, my thoughts may not be uplifting, but I know that action outside is better than inaction inside. And the more mindless the task, the better. I prefer weeding to planting. I prefer sanding a wall to painting, which requires more precision and a higher level of skill.

When I'm well, I love doing these activities, and they made me feel happy!

2. I enjoy talking on the telephone. When I'm depressed I have to force myself to talk on the telephone, and rarely do it. I prefer communicating with my friends by email. It's actually easier for me to talk with people in person than it is on the phone. Perhaps the reason is because there were years when my voice sounded so off...so sad...when I was depressed that I could barely recognize it myself.

3. I enjoy being with people. Again, the difference is that when a depressive episode lessens, I can force myself to be with people (during certain times of the day). Actually, when I'm depressed and lonely, I prefer being in public places (like libraries) with people, but I'd rather not have to engage them. And when I do interact, oddly enough, it's often easier to be with strangers than with friends.

When I'm well, I genuinely enjoy interacting with others. It's as if my personality switches from introversion to extroversion. Perhaps my gardening and photography classes are good examples. As I've already mentioned, the first day of my gardening class, I felt the other students weren't very friendly.

The second week, I realized that most people talk with others they know. And they weren't unfriendly, just reserved. That week I began identifying the people I thought I'd like. Five of the top qualities I look for are a sense of humor, intelligence, a generosity of spirit, a certainly level of openness, and people who can readily smile and laugh.

The third week, we gardened together so it wasn't an issue. Somehow, communal work brings out the best in people. And so it goes.

My photography class was quite different. The first night I was stunned by how rude six of my classmates were. They talked when our teacher was lecturing, and the tone of some of their questions was rude. I immediately found a friend, a guy who was sitting behind me, because he had a lovely smile, and a ready laugh. But I thought that might be it for this class.

During the second week, I realized that the rude people continued to be rude, but I wasn't the only person who was offended by their behavior. I identified more people I like--some who were shy, and took awhile to open up, and a few who were insecure, but came across as arrogant.

What I realized, and I know this about myself and sometimes forget it, is that the way I respond to people has a great deal to do with my mood. When I'm marginally depressed, everything affects me, and I take everything personally. When I'm well, I don't.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 11, 2009

What We Can Learn from Our Rescue Dogs

As I wrote yesterday, on Friday my husband and I adopted Pinot Gris (a name we've changed twice, but still don't feel we've got it right yet), who's a five-year old male Chihuahua-Terrier mix. He's only 15 pounds, which is about nine pounds smaller than Spike.

What's amazing is that Pinot has so many of Spike's best qualities--without any of his baggage. And yet, as I write this, I realize I rarely thought about Spike's limitations because I loved him so much. But when Trudy, the rescue person, brought Pinot to our house, it brought back a flood of memories about Spike.

Initially, Trudy was concerned because Pinot growled at my husband for the first half hour. I said, "Oh, don't worry, when Spike came to our house the first time, he ran around in circles for a half hour until he was frothing at the mouth. Martha, the woman who brought him, didn't know what to say because she had told me Spike was low-key, when in truth, he was skittish and nervous with strangers for the duration of his life. Eventually, I'm sure Pinot will stop growling at my husband."

And he did. But what sold me on Pinot is that he's got a spunky personality, he loves being held, and he loves kissing me on the face. And yesterday when I took him to the park for a few hours, it was an amazing experience. He did well with people and other dogs. I had a wonderful time with him, and it was so relaxing.

While I could take Spike on walks, I couldn't take him to the park because he hated most men (he'd been abused by a man) and all other dogs aside from Murphy. And when people came over to our house, Spike had to get used to them, and he didn't like a lot of people although he mellowed with age.

Although I had asked for a dog who was good with children, low-key, and calm, Spike had none of those qualities. Yet, we overlooked Spike's limitations because we unconditionally loved him.

But, as I've said before, I was diagnosed soon after he arrived, and when I was so sick on medication and went through a year-long nightmare depression, Spike never moved from my side. In a way, I've often thought that Spike wasn't the dog I thought I wanted, but he was the dog I needed.

When I was severely depressed, it was very reassuring to know that Spike loved me despite my limitations. When I felt like I had nothing to offer others, I somehow knew that Spike thought I was wonderful--just because I was so gentle with him. When I could barely get out of bed, it was helpful to know I always had the energy to feed Spike, and take him outside when he needed to go.

What I learned from Spike was that even when I felt I was damaged goods, he didn't see me that way. And that's an important life lesson I hope I never forget. When we feel like we have nothing to offer, there are always others who don't see us that way.

Conversely when I was well, I was impressed by how smart Spike was. When I was healthy, I was glad to know I still could be accepting of Spike, who had so many problems with people and his peers.

When Spike bit a child who frightened him, I was proud I handled the situation with the child and his parents so well, despite the fact that the boy's father reported us and Spike was quarantined for two weeks. Yet, I not only protected Spike by being on top of the situation with Animal Control, but also with our vet, whom we stopped seeing because he said, "Spike's a biter, and you should put him down."

To me, our vet's attitude was unconscionable. I felt he was just like my psychiatrist who emotionally abandoned me when I was depressed.

Not only did we keep Spike, but I implemented a program at home so that every child learned how to behave with him so he didn't feel threatened. Yet, I was very careful to insure Spike never bit one of my son's friends again by keeping Spike on a leash with me when there were children in our house.

When Trudy said, "How lucky Spike was to have found you," I shook my head.

"No, I was blessed to have found him," I said.

And while no one will replace Spike in my heart, I now know my heart is big enough to fully and completely love Pinot as well. How wonderful is that?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Anna May Jarvis, pictured above, created Mother's Day in memory of her mother. I had intended to tell you the story about how I once billed myself as The Mother's Day expert after I'd written The Mommy Guide, because it was a great way to publicize my book and because no one else had claimed the title.

But...on Friday we adopted a new dog, Pinot Gris (a name we'll be changing as soon as we think of a better one), and I'm just pooped. He's a wonderful dog and a great addition to our family, but because he was in a new house last night, he had difficulty remaining asleep and so did I.

So...the story will have to wait until next year! But, for all of you celebrating Mother's Day, I wish you a lovely day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bipolar Blogging

Now that I'm reading a lot of gardening blogs, I see major differences between posting about bipolarity, and posting about a hobby like gardening. The latter is so much easier.

However, in keeping with my promise to myself to spend this month relaxing, and to refrain from thinking about bipolarity so I can concentrate on my personal writing, I've decided to mention the topic in case someone else wishes to blog about it, but not to post about it myself (at least for now).

I have also begun to realize how exhausting it is to tackle difficult topics and try to write thoughtful posts five days a week. This evening, my husband and I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. And it was one of the most satisfying and thought-provoking films I've seen in a long time.

If I weren't taking this "mental" vacation, I would blog about it and tell you what similarities I see between Benjamin Button's disease and bipolarity. But since I am trying to relax my brain, I won't discuss it (at least for now).

I suddenly realize how writing about experiences and trying to make sense of them is very taxing. And even if what I'm writing about resonates with my readers, and helps people perceive things in a different manner, it takes its toll on me.

So, I'm thinking that perhaps there is a way to help others, but to do it in a different way so that I don't keep on burning myself out. It remains to be seen, but rather than spending one more minute thinking about it, I'm going to keep to my resolution, and rest by mind by sharing some images that I find relaxing.

A California Beach

A Lighthouse in Maine

Mottistone Manor Garden in the U.K.

A Waterfall in the Philippines

Tonight is my gardening class. So I'll post again on Monday. Have a happy and healthy few days!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wellness Activity: Images That Make Me Happy (Part 3)

It's a pleasure to spend time thinking about what images make me happy. There are truly so many, but one of my favorites is dogs. I've written before about the value of Pet Therapy, and it's a miracle to me that something that makes me so happy could also be so therapeutic.

According to Holistic Online, "The therapeutic use of pets as companions has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of patients--people with AIDS or cancer, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Unlike people, with whom our interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals bring out our nurturing instinct. They also make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. We can just be ourselves around our pets."

While I wouldn't recommend that anyone who's feeling depressed adopt a puppy because they're just too much work, I'm big on adopting animals from animal shelters and rescue organizations. A great site for finding them is Petfinder.

Still, the following photos made me smile, and perhaps they'll make you smile as well. And if I go back to my slide carousel analogy that I wrote about on Monday, I must admit that it's a great idea to remove four slides (from my mind) about illness and replace them with these!







My dog Spike who died last year.



Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wellness Activity: Images That Make Me Happy (Part 2)

I so enjoyed writing yesterday's post that I'm going to continue posting images I like or ones that make me smile! Today, I'm featuring photographs by Irving Penn (Yes, he is Sean Penn's uncle), a famous American photographer who was born in 1917, and is known for his portraiture and fashion photography.

Woman with Roses
Lisa Fonssagrives; 1950

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Update: A Mind Like a Slide Carousel

This morning--as I was between dozing and awakening--I began thinking of my mind as a big slide carousel. Using that analogy, I realized that perhaps the older I get, the capacity is no longer infinite because it's jam-packed with images.

When I feel well, I'm able to click through to all the happy images in my life. When I'm depressed, I can only access the sad ones.

These days, since I'm at the end of a depression that's lasted six months, I can access both. Still, when I think about difficult periods in my life, dwell on the negative aspects of bipolarity, or read depressing blogs, it's like the sad images reproduce themselves. So, there is slide after slide of downbeat and depressing images.

Conversely, because I'm feeling better, I can chose to access the happy and more pleasurable images. This morning, when I began thinking of all the flower images I've been reading about in books and seeing in gardening blogs, I could feel a "lightness of being." So...I'll end this post by sharing a few of these images.


The Heirloom Garden

What images make you smile?


P.S. For the month of May, I only will be posting on Mondays. But you can leave questions as comments, and I will respond. See you next week!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Taking Time Off (Part 2)

Dear Friends,
In yesterday's post, I said I was taking the month of May off to concentrate on other writing. But, after reading a comment from Periwinkle (You might want to check out the flowers on her blog. Wow!) who's a new reader and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I decided that I should write the following:

If you have any questions about bipolar disorder, SAD, or depression that I can answer, feel free to leave them as comments, and I will respond. Or if you're posting about some topic that you think might interest me or my readers, feel free to leave it as a comment. That way, we can continue a quasi-dialog in my absence.

And, I'll post a photo, a quote, or an update on Mondays. Take care!

Susan

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taking Some Time Off (Part 1)

I'm working on another writing project, and finding it difficult to blog and write every day. So, I'll be taking some time off. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and healthy month of May.

And perhaps, in my absence, I might recommend some others blogs I enjoy. If you want to read a new upbeat blog on depression, you might check out Wendy Love's Dipsy Doodling Around Depression. She's been a loyal reader, and has a real positive and upbeat attitude.

The bipolar/mental health blogs I read with regularity are Beyond Meds, Roller Coaster, and Discover and Recover.

Also, I love Howard's essays at Mead on Manhattan, and Mariposa's spirit at Mariposa's Tales. If you're interested in healing from abuse, you should check out Tamara's Desire to Heal. If you like gardening, Garden Rant is very entertaining.

See you in a month or so!