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.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wellness Activity: Visual Relaxation Therapy

Yesterday, my husband and I went to the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden at UCLA. It is truly beautiful, and I felt renewed all day! I guess I would call my experience Visual Relaxation Therapy. Hope you enjoy the photos.



Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reclaiming the Morning

After so many years of taking Ativan as a sleeping pill to counteract Adderall for depression, I'm not on any medication at all. And what I love best about it is that I've become a morning person once again.

What's kind of unbelievable to me is that about 12 years ago, my psychiatrist at the time told me that it was critical for me to get eight hours of sleep a night. And, if the antidepressant I was taking--which, at that time was Zoloft--was keeping me up, I should take Ativan to sleep.

He said that becoming addicted to Ativan was a real possibility, but I shouldn't worry about it because getting regular sleep was so important. What he didn't say was that Ativan--at least for me--had a residual effect in the morning. So, when I take Ativan, no matter what time at night--I can't awaken early.

This psychiatrist also didn't see a problem in my needing more and more Ativan as time progressed. So, if my records are correct, at one time I was taking almost 7 mg. of Ativan at night to sleep. What's amazing to me is that I was able to get up at all. What's very distressing is that I now know that the Ativan was helping cause the depressions.

The good news is that for the first time in years I've become a morning person again. It is an unbelievable feeling for me to awaken at 6:00 in the morning and feel great! It adds hours to my day. Jack (my dog) and I can take walks when the grass is dewy and the morning fog cools the air.

It is truly an extraordinary blessing, and I thank God each and every day for my recovery!

P.S. The photograph isn't of my neighborhood, but it's still an L.A. sunrise, and I got it from Sydney Maria's site.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stories from Our Imaginings

I went to my photography class last night, and was quite tired when it was time to write this post. So, I picked a book I like very much, Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life's Journey by Deena Metzger, and I'm going to share a quote I find meaningful.
"I don't think I would have become a writer if I hadn't imagined myself as one. When we fail to imagine our lives, we may live someone else's life, becoming the victim of another's imagination--advertising has such an effect--or we may live out something that only passes for a life, is less than a life. When we begin to imagine our lives, we discover that it is our life, our whole and entire life that we are imagining."
I have not only imagined myself as a writer, but I have imagined myself as well! What do you imagine?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wellness Activity: Asking Yourself "What If?"

I was skimming through a book in my home library, A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley, and came across the following quote: "Pretending is the most open-ended of all activities, providing the opportunity to escape the limitations of established rituals. Pretending enables us to ask "What if?"

I, too, believe that "What if?" is a very important question. So...in the context of bipolarity (and life), I pose the following questions.

What if...

1. Bipolarity was considered a personality trait rather than a mental illness?

2. Hibernation was okay for humans, so if you were depressed during the winter it wasn't considered a bad thing, rather just part of the natural process?

3. Mood shifts were good, and people whose mood remained the same all the time were considered very boring and, in fact, mentally ill?

4. Being an introvert was considered a more advanced stage of evolution than being an extrovert?

5. Reading about sad things and bad things and feeling depressed about them was considered a strength rather than a weakness?

6. Needing/wanting to work outdoors during the day was considered a terrific quality, and people who chose to remain indoors sitting at desks were scorned?

7. Being honest, productive, and a creative problem-solver were considered to be the most important qualities for promotion?

8. Doing meaningful work that helps people was considered preferable to being an attorney or a CPA?

9. Working in the arts was considered one of the best professions of all?

10. No one could call himself or herself a healer if he/she truly didn't heal others?

What are some of your "what ifs?"