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.