The Trip of A Lifetime (St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia)

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koalaYesterday to my chagrin I forgot to charge my MacBookPro before leaving the house.  I am proud to say I did bring my charger, but that didn’t help me when I was stuck in my car for twenty minutes with 1% left of battery power.  My blog post’s parting words, frantically written before the laptop conked out, were “Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown.

I had boarded my flight healthy and raring to go, but my immune system wasn’t strong enough to protect me from the other passengers’ germs. I picked up a nasty cold within just a few hours after boarding.  (I didn’t know that due to germs recirculating within the plane cabin, it was much easier to get sick.  If I had known that fact, maybe I would have doubled up on vitamin C since I had a weak immune system.) Lesson learned.  I was sneezing nonstop when the captain’s voice boomed over the intercom to inform us that we’d be arriving in Auckland in six hours.  “WHAT?” I shrieked inwardly.  “This flight is supposed to go to MELBOURNE!”  The itinerary that I clutched in my quivering hands clearly stated that I was flying from San Francisco to Melbourne. For whatever reason, the flight plans had changed and my plane was making an Auckland layover.  The pilot didn’t mention that we were still Melbourne-bound, and I felt petrified to flag down a flight attendant to clarify matters.  I credit my cold for fuzzying my brain and igniting a panic attack that prevented me from acting rationally.  It would have taken all of twenty seconds for me to settle my fears about our destination, but I wasn’t able to think clearly at all.

I panicked for the remainder of the journey, which felt like forever.  Just before we descended, the captain explained we’d be in Auckland for a short time and then we’d re-board. I let out an enormous sigh of relief and my sinuses momentarily cleared.  After we deplaned, I made a beeline for the gift store for some classic retail therapy.  The shop was full of tempting items, and I wanted one of everything.  I resisted temptation and treated myself to two essentials: an enormous milk chocolate bar and a jar of famous New Zealand honey, which made me feel a little better.

It was time to schlep back onto the plane, and I grew increasingly out of it.  When we landed in Melbourne I felt worse; however, I was relieved there would be someone waiting for me.  At the gate stood my longtime Greek-Australian pen pal “Kara”.  Kara was there with two of her friends, and she gave me a welcoming hug.  We found our way to her small car, and I assumed we’d head to her house.  I was totally exhausted, and even without my cold I would have been pooped.  Instead, we headed to the Australian outback to attend an outdoor 60’s-themed “rave”.  During the many years of our correspondence Kara neglected to mention that she was a psychedelic drug addict and that she enjoyed raves.  I was anti-drugs and anti-raves, and I felt shocked that my seemingly innocent pen pal had left out these key interests in her frequent epistles.

I wanted to be polite, so I accompanied the trio into the woods where the party took place, but I took one look at the tripping flower children and I jogged back to the car.  I gobbled down my Auckland chocolate bar even though I couldn’t taste it, and tried to sleep, which didn’t quite work out in the cramped quarters.  The time change had also really thrown me off and to top it off, it was sunny.  I don’t quite recall how many hours I stayed in that tiny car until Kara returned, but we eventually drove to her home.  She had a large, friendly Greek family complete with Grandma making spanikopita in the kitchen.  Between the gaggle of young children running around, and the television blaring in the background, the overall noise level was high.  I hated to be rude, but couch-surfing in that environment was not what I envisioned for this trip and I desperately wanted to escape.  I didn’t know what to do yet, and I furtively kept my thoughts to myself.

On the second day we went strolling around Kara’s St. Kilda, Melbourne neighborhood.  We encountered one of Kara’s friends on the street, a young woman with a neon orange buzz cut named Marilla.  (Interestingly enough, I’d be naming my own daughter Marilla many years later.  Her name was inspired by the character Marilla in one of my favorite books “Anne of Green Gables”, not by the Aussie Marilla!) Kara, Marilla and I did some mundane errands together, such as banking.  Upon exiting the bank, we spotted one of Marilla’s friends walking towards us, a pretty, dark-haired girl who looked like a university coed.

“This is Amy Judd,” said Marilla.  “Amy Judd?” I echoed.  “No, it couldn’t be…” I thought.

Phil Judd was the co-founder of Split Enz, the rock group I worshipped and that was responsible for my loving New Zealand.  I knew he had a daughter named Amy because he had written a song “Amy” about his little girl.  How many Amy Judds could there be, really?

“Are you Phil Judd’s daughter?” I asked, my jaw halfway to the pavement in true groupie fashion.

“Yeah…” she mumbled modestly.

“Well, then, I must take you out to lunch!” I replied.  She protested modestly, but I insisted, and we three went to a sushi restaurant down the road.  I didn’t say much during the meal, but I couldn’t help at marvel at how ironic it was that I sat across from one of my musical idol’s kids.  It was a surreal occasion, to say the least.  I found it a bit strange that Kara had known of my musical obsessions, but she never mentioned that she had a (distant) connection to a member of Split Enz.  No matter.  I took the happenstance as a good omen, and that my trip would turn around for the better.

I realized that I had to bite the bullet and change my trip itinerary.  I knew I was going to offend Kara with my decision, but I was absolutely sure I wanted to get over to New Zealand as soon as possible.  Call it a gut feeling.  I discovered I had to pay one hundred dollars to change my flight plan, but it would prove to be some of the best money I ever spent.  Kara was understandably hurt, and our friendship would never recover from that blow, but as I sat on the spacious Air New Zealand plane headed for Auckland I felt joyous and relaxed.  My fear of flying was gone, and to top it off, they started playing Crowded House (my other favorite band) songs on their sound system.  I looked out the window at the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds and a sense of freedom washed over me.  Sure, I was nervous about staying at youth hostels for the first time in my life, and not having a friend to meet me at the gate.  I was confident that I’d figure it all out somehow.  I opened up my “Rough Guide New Zealand” to review some of the amazing-sounding places I planned to visit and grinned.

(To be continued!  I really will get to New Zealand!)

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The Trip of a Lifetime – The Land of the Long White Cloud – Part One

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Sometimes I find myself fixating on bipolar disorder to the point where I shut out everything else that matters in my life, i.e. paying attention to my kids, listening to my husband, or the most mundane of all: cleaning the decrepit house and paying bills.

Yesterday I was feeling “bipolared out”.  I was online too much which gave me ample opportunity to notice how many other bipolar-themed blogs and Twitterers have hundreds or thousands of subscribers and sleek designs.  I felt like a sack of beans next to them.  (Comparisons really are odious.) Sure, I only started blogging regularly a couple months ago and I haven’t promoted myself properly, but still…I got caught up in the “Your bank account is way bigger than my bank account” syndrome.  That kind of defeatist thinking won’t help out anyone, particularly myself.

I realized that I needed a little vacation from thinking about bipolar disorder.  It didn’t need to be an elaborate trip.  All it would require was my focusing on a separate time in my life when I didn’t even know what the word “bipolar” meant.  Hell, the vacation I found myself reminiscing about occurred when “bipolar” was referred to as “manic depression”.  (Yes, I’m dating myself!  I’m turning 44 next month.)

I talk a good game about how there’s so much more to me than bipolar, but I don’t incorporate that philosophy into my days enough.  Truth be told, sometimes I am still in disbelief that I have this damn metal illness and it has been over seven years since I was diagnosed.  Talk about denial…but it’s understandable, isn’t it?

Anyway, after I decided to write about a non-mental-health subject, I felt a spark of excitement.

Last night I brainstormed about what to write about.  I used my Kindle to do one of my favorite activities: search for recently published books about my favorite subjects.  One topic I’ve enjoyed learning about, but that I hadn’t thought about for ages was New Zealand.   Yes, New Zealand.  The Maori word for it is Aotearoa, which means “Land of the Long White Cloud”. (I love that phrase!)  I was introduced to New Zealand through music, namely via my favorite bands Split Enz and Crowded House.  The founders of Split Enz (Phil Judd and Tim Finn) and one member of Crowded House (Neil Finn) hail from the North Island of New Zealand.  Over the years as I listened to their music, I noticed how some of their songs featured New Zealand.  They sang about the significance their country had upon themselves.  I couldn’t help but become enraptured with this intriguing-sounding country that had such an impact upon my beloved musicians and their music.

I remember watching a riveting film, Jane Campion’s “The Piano”, in Santa Cruz during my college days. It was filmed in New Zealand and it won three Academy Awards  A pivotal scene in that film took place on the imposing Kare Kare Beach.  Little did I know I’d be walking along that same shoreline in the years to come.

When I turned twenty-four, I worked full-time as an office manager at a special event production company.  I was in a troubled, passionless relationship and we broke up.  I was long overdue due for a vacation, so soon after my break-up I took two weeks off. I used my brand-new credit card to travel solo to Australia for a week and then over to New Zealand the following week.  I chose Australia because I had a pen pal in Melbourne who graciously offered her family home for my week’s long stay gratis. We had never met in person, but we had been corresponding for years.  In New Zealand I would stay at youth hostels in Auckland and elsewhere around the North Island.

I was a little worried about the lengthy plane ride.  The previous year I had an upsetting experience on a plane that flew from San Francisco to Kansas.  I had panic attacks during heavy turbulence.  Ironically, I had loved flying up to that point, so much so that I actually started attending ground school to get my pilot’s license.  Because of the Kansas flight I wondered if I would be fit to fly the twelve hours from San Francisco to Melbourne.  I didn’t ponder that too much, thankfully, and I packed my backpack to the hilt.  Friends dropped me off at the airport, and I hopped on Polynesian Air.  I had located a discount price for my round-trip ticket (this was hard to do in the pre-internet days!) but it was still incredibly expensive to fly.  I threw caution to the wind, which was easy to do when using one’s very first credit card.  Charging that amount of money didn’t quite seem real.

Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown that I will cover in tomorrow’s post due to the fact that my computer is about to lose power.  Until then, I wish you a bon voyage whether you are making a trip to your local Safeway or if you’re headed for exotic, distant shores!

Are You Shocked That I Got Shocked?

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I’m still shocked…

that I had the guts to request ECT, otherwise known as electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock.  (Yeah, I like the term “electroshock” best…NOT!)  There was nothing other than pure desperation that drove me to do something so frightening and controversial.

It was January of 2009.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years earlier, and I was teetering on the edge of sanity.  Then my father died.  If you read the previous post “Stigma – Part Two” you know that my relationship with my father was a close one, and I loved him unreservedly.  His health had been failing for several years before he passed away, but each time it seemed that when he reached his end, he’d make a miraculous recovery.  No matter how many remarkable recoveries Dad made, I knew that it was inevitable that I’d lose him forever.  I had been dreading his death every day since he became frail in his seventies.

Dad never liked to talk about death, unlike me.  I enjoyed discussing death, generally speaking, that is, and especially the afterlife.  I considered Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a pioneer in near-death studies (On Death and Dying) and Dr. Raymond Moody (Life After Life which has sold 12 million copies to date) to be among my favorite authors.  Dad, an avid reader, wouldn’t allow me to discuss either of those books in his presence.

When I got the phone call that Dad died exactly the way he had feared: alone in a mediocre assisted living center, I became catatonic.  My depression plummeted into depths it had never reached before.

Before Dad died and before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I faced the death of another very close relative, my Granny. I fell into a clinical depression after she died, but I was able to function more or less.  Not so with my father.  When he died I asked to go to C.H.O.M.P., the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. C.H.O.M.P. had a locked-down mental health unit euphemistically called the “Garden Pavilion”.  When I was hospitalized there, my depression was so severe that I experienced suicidal ideations – I had no specific plan, but I felt utterly devoid of hope.

Prior to this hospitalization, I demonstrated that I was medication-resistant, meaning I tried a plethora of mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants and none of those medications helped lift my depression.

At C.H.O.M.P. I was given the option which psychiatrists offer to their medication-resistant patients: electroconvulsive treatments, a.k.a. E.C.T., in which seizures are electrically induced in patients who are given anesthesia and a muscle relaxant.

My first association with E.C.T., along with many in our society, was a photo of Jack Nicholson’s character receiving it in the Academy Award-winning film “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  I never read Ken Kesey’s book or saw Milos Forman’s entire movie, but I had a very negative impression from viewing that disturbing image of Nicholson’s grimace while undergoing E.C.T.

In my late twenties after Granny died and I suffered clinical depression, I found a beautifully written book titled Undercurrents in which the author, psychologist Dr. Martha Manning, fell into a depression so deep that she opted for E.C.T.  The treatments helped her enormously, and while she struggled after the procedures with fatigue and short-term memory loss, she made it clear that it was the right, lifesaving choice for her.

I was affected profoundly by Undercurrents and when I began my freelance writing career, I contacted Dr. Manning for an interview.  I included her quote in my article “Shades of Gray” which examined the connection between depression, women and exercise for Fit magazine.  It was an honor to interview her. I kept our topics to exercise and depression only, for at that point I never imagined I would need, let alone demand, E.C.T.

When E.C.T. was presented to me as a viable way to recover, I vaguely remembered Dr. Manning’s book. Without any hesitation I told the psychiatrist on duty, “Do it.”  I didn’t care about its risks; I didn’t care about anything. To say I felt desperate was a massive understatement.  I was told by my psychiatrist Dr. C. that I would have unilateral rather than bilateral E.C.T., which meant that the electrodes used to stimulate my brain would be placed on one side of my head instead of both sides (bilateral).  This meant fewer side effects, most notably less memory loss.

The E.C.T. treatments started promptly at the grisly hour of 6:00 a.m. in the Short Stay Unit which used for outpatient procedures and E.C.T.  I was rolled up to the floor above the Garden Pavilion in a padded gurney by B., a compassionate longtime hospital aide.  If I had to be taken up to E.C.T. by anyone, B. had the perfect kind of personality for the job.

After B. dropped me off in a small, curtained room, I was prepped by a friendly nurse who immediately saw how down and scared I was and she did her best to set me at ease.  She started the I.V. line that would be used to inject me with general anesthesia.  I’ve never had a problem with needles or injections, so that didn’t faze me one bit.  I was looking forward to oblivion very much, thank you.

At 6:10 a.m. in walked Dr. C. holding a big coffee mug, accompanied by an extremely handsome anesthesiologist.  (Even though I was in a depression-induced stupor, I was able to notice physical beauty.)  Dr. C. gently placed several electrodes on my scalp and temple….it was no big deal.  A small, clear gas mask was placed over my nose and I remember finally being able to relax.

I wasn’t scared at that point; I felt like I was being taken care of and because I genuinely liked the staff surrounding me that went a long way in diminishing my anxiety.  The anesthesiologist said “Okay, Dyane. I want you to count backwards from 10”, which I started to do and when I reached “5”, boom!  I was fast-asleep.  I didn’t feel a thing. There was no pain.  Not during, and not afterwards.

When I woke up within the hour, I was a little groggy, but then I was completely coherent within about ten minutes. That surprised me. I was fed a hot breakfast I had selected beforehand, and I had the appetite to eat most of it. My short-term memory loss was minimal. While I was still heartbroken over the loss of my father, I definitely felt better than I had before I went under, and with each treatment I felt a little better.  After my week at the hospital I had additional treatments as an outpatient.

I firmly believe that E.C.T. saved my life, and it was completely worth it.  I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would also recommend it to others who feel suicidal, who have been medication-resistant, and who need to function as quickly as possible, i.e. a mother with young children or the breadwinner of the family.  My health insurance covered most of the procedures’ cost, and I was able to arrange an extended payment plan for the remaining balance.

Since I had the treatments in 2009, I have learned of another procedure used to treat major depression called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or T.M.S. Wikipedia defines T.M.S. as a “noninvasive method to cause depolarization in the neurons of the brain. T.M.S. uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents” and no anesthesia is required.  Last month I read an entire book about a woman experience with T.M.S. healing her depression after she had made a suicide attempt, been hospitalized and tried many medications to no avail.  (3000 Pulses Later by Martha Rhodes); I’ll be reviewing this book soon. I liked her memoir very much, but I disagreed with the one-sided depiction of E.C.T.

One important distinction between T.M.S. and E.C.T. (which have comparable success rates) is that with T.M.S. one must commit to almost daily procedures for up to six weeks.  The good news  is that the patient can drive back and forth to treatment unlike with E.C.T., in which a ride must be arranged due to the anesthesia  However, T.M.S. does not usually start working until midway through the four-to-six-week series.  E.C.T. can cause the depression to remit much sooner than that timeframe,  like it did with me.

Depending on one’s situation, it would be most worthwhile to closely examine both E.C.T. and T.M.S. pros and cons before undertaking either treatment.  E.C.T. is an enormous commitment and it requires a major leap of faith.  It’s expensive, even with health insurance.  (T.M.S. can be costly as well.) Moreover, there are risks when undergoing any kind of anesthesia, or when subjecting oneself to potential memory loss.  But if it’s between life or death, I can unequivocally state that doing E.C.T. was the best decision I ever made.

 

Stigma – Part Two

ImageA whopping twenty-eight years ago, I harbored the very stigma that I now find so repugnant in others.  My prejudice generated from my calling my Dad at U.C.L.A.’s venerated Neuropsychiatric Institute.  Dad, who also had bipolar one, would need to stay at  “N.P.I.”  from time to time.

The wing he stayed in had a pay phone, and when I called I was given instructions to ask for my Dad by his first name only.  Chances were that another patient would answer the phone and needed to hunt around for Dad.  I was very close to my father, and so I called as often as I could.  When his fellow patients answered the pay phone, their voices would frighten me.  I knew that I was calling the “loony bin” and that the people staying there were not in their right minds.  I could tell by the uncanny timbre of their voices that something was gravely wrong.

If I had been told when I was sweet, naive sixteen that I would be staying at very similar placxe years later, my jaw would have touched the ground.  I loved my Dad with all my heart and a big part of me was in massive denial about his illness; I simply didn’t regard him as one of “Them”.  He didn’t belong in a “nuthouse” as far as I was concerned.

My father came across as utterly charming, funny, and he was a brilliant professional violinist  as well.  He had graduated from Juilliard, received a Fulbright scholarship, and won a coveted spot playing in the first violin section for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Many years later, when he left the orchestra, over one hundred musicians auditioned for his spot.  When he was acutely mentally ill he didn’t drool, or speak in tongues.  He would hole up in his room on a gorgeous, sunny day, drawing the curtains so that it resembled a cave, and stay there for days, risking the loss of his job.

I didn’t understand what was going on with him, although I spotted many medicine containers labeled with unfamiliar names scattered on his bureau. (What the hell was “lithium”? I wondered.  It was a pretty-sounding word that rolled easily off my tongue, and it would become a cornerstone of my life just like it was with Dad.  Luckily his hands didn’t shake too much from the drug when he played his Stradivarius.)

Today, even though I consider myself a mental health advocate, I still catch myself not practicing what I preach.  I live in a rural area close to a tucked-away facility for adults with mental challenges.  Although their building is off our main highway, I spot these residents every day.  They walk from their home to cross the road on which I drive back and forth several times  a day.  They are heading for the neighborhood liquor store, and I notice that they usually purchase cigarettes.  I worry when I see these people, as they shuffle and we have many speeding commuters on the highway they cross back and forth.

They usually look disheveled and lost, appearing overly medicated, and I have looked at them with repulsion.  I am not proud of myself for this fact.  I feel this way in part because I see myself in them.  I could easily be one of them, and I’ll never bury that possibility from my consciousness.   I also spot the residents waiting at the bus stop, often smoking, some of them listening to iPods.  When I drive by in my old-but-zippy Forester, I say a prayer of thanks for having my independence, for having my own car and the ability to drive it wherever I want.  God knows that wasn’t always the case during my five locked-ward “staycations” in mental hospitals.   Those visits now seem like a world away, but my last hospitalization was less than a year ago.

I need to work on deepening my compassion for others, including my neighbors at that facility.  It won’t be easy, but I’m finding as I get older that the old adage is true: nothing worth anything is easy.

Aside from wanting my children to have fulfilling, rich lives free of tragedy, my greatest hope is to never have to be treated in a hospital again, for any kind of malady.  When I reach my  life’s finish line (I’m pulling for an ultra marathon rather than a 10K!)  I would like to die at home surrounded by my family, guided by a hospice team.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I am deeply grateful for all that I have, and for the little things, like being able to make coffee in the morning, or drive to drop my girls off at school, or for the fact that I can write freely on this blog.  I’ll never be 100% stigma-free, but I’ll give it my best shot.  It’s the least I can do.

Stigma – Part One

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For my post today I had planned to discuss a couple examples of how I used to look down upon the mentally ill, and how I sometimes still do, despite everything I’ve been through.  Then I got sidetracked from writing altogether as I had two sick little girls to take care of all day, and I was coming down with the same yucky bug they had.  Now it’s dark outside, and thank God the girls’ cooped-up energy levels are winding down.  Although I’m coughing & blowing my nose every two minutes, I can take a break to air my thoughts on the topic of stigma.  (It makes me feel better to do so!)

I’ve been using the word “stigma” more frequently than ever, but if you asked me to define it, I would stumble a bit in giving you an accurate description. Dictionary.com states “stigma” as being “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.”  (That works for me!)

Earlier today I visited my personal Facebook page and noticed that the International Bipolar Foundation posted a link to an article titled “The Stigma of Mental Illness” by Callie Parrish in the Daily Cougar.  (The Cougar is the official student-run publication at the University of Houston, and Ms. Parrish is an art and mathematics senior and their “Opinion” columnist.)  I read Ms. Parrish”s article with interest and I agreed with her clear, compassionate point of view.  Then I scanned the comment section below the article.  There was only one comment there, and I was surprised to see it was written by a man who had offended me in 2010. The commentator was the so-called “retired mental health editor” Harold Maio.

I’ll back up.  In 2010, I created the Santa Cruz County chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), a wonderful non-profit that helps those with mood disorders, and I formed a free women’s support group.  I contacted all the local papers to promote this group, which was sorely needed in our community, and a nice piece was written up by the editor of the Press Banner titled, appropriately enough, “A New Day Dawning”.

I eventually figured out that Mr. Maio, being retired, had lots of time to scan the internet for any articles that had the word “stigma” in them, and then he would write ridiculous comments.  He found the Press Banner piece about me and my group.  His comment in response to the article that delineated my suffering with a mental illness was this:

“I do not pose “stigmas” I do not support people who pose “stigmas.” I do not repeat “stigmas” people pose.  I do not support journalists who do.

Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor”

Now, obviously this man has some emotional problems, and my intuition tells me he may very well harbor his own mental illness. However, at the time the Press Banner printed my story, I felt quite vulnerable in “coming out” with my mental illness, and his non-supportive, bizarre comment totally rubbed me the wrong way.  Several of my friends and Press Banner readers I did not know took one look at what Mr. Maio wrote and came to my defense with intelligent, encouraging comments.

Here’s the Press Banner article link and a cute shot of my little girls:

http://www.pressbanner.com/view/full_story/7251763/article-A-new-day-dawning?

I like what a compassionate woman wrote today on the Facebook page of the International Bipolar Foundation, in response to Mr. Maio’s comments about stigma:

“He serves to bring home the author’s points. While (those types of comments) make me sad, they also make me determined to educate those who are so in the dark & greatly hinder the bipolar tribe from stepping into the light …where they deserve to be. We have to join together in the spirit of hope & harmony to change these harmful & hurtful mindsets.”

She’s 100% right.

I need to develop a thicker skin when it comes to this kind of situation, because spotting Mr. Maio’s asinine comment today triggered me.  I let that trigger run all over me and wasted valuable time freaking out about it – time that would have been way better spent comforting my girls, or writing my feelings out here.

In the Cougar article link below, you can see for yourself what Harold wrote about stigma: http://thedailycougar.com/2014/01/16/the-stigma-of-mental-illness/

Mr. Maio’s Cougar remarks include: “The stigma of mental illness. No one who calls prejudice and discrimination “stigma” should be trusted. See rape/stigma if you have forgotten. Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor” and then “The purpose of the term “stigma” is to discriminate. See rape/stigma for how successful it was. Women stopped directing that one only late in the 20th century.”

Okaaaaay.  Hate women much, Mr. Maio?  I shouldn’t poke fun, I know, because his views are disturbing on several levels.  It takes all kinds, I know, but I want to gravitate to the kind that is positive, helpful, and compassionate.   The kind that will fight the stigma against mental illness.  The kind that makes a difference for the greater good.  I’m still optimistic that we mentally ill people will be treated with more dignity in the years to come, and all the Mr. Harold Maios of the world can’t dampen that spark of hope inside of me.

Synchronicity

Image Last night I had something happen that blew my rather jaded, electroshocked mind.  It was a relatively minor occurrence, but it made me really happy.  The sequence of events that led up to the evening’s serendipity began yesterday morning, when I purchased a beautiful-looking book on my Kindle Fire.  It was titled “Day 6: When Motherhood and Madness Collide”.  The book’s Amazon blurb described “Day Six” as:

“a story of one of the roughest introductions to motherhood you can imagine. Jen Wight breaks the taboo around mental ill health to honestly recount her experience of developing postpartum psychosis and then severe postnatal depression. She tells the story of being convinced that she was Cameron Diaz; that she and Obama were going to use Facebook to save the world; and that she was going to cure cerebral palsy with dental floss. And it all started on day six of her son’s life.”

I don’t usually buy books about postpartum depression anymore; I’m on a quest to find books more specific to my experience of bipolar disorder, but this book caught my eye.  First I fell in love with its absolutely stunning cover .

ImageTo say I’m picky about book covers is an understatement; I don’t think that I’ve ever even written that I “fell in love” with a book cover.  Call me superficial, but I feel that if a cover is excellent, it’s a good sign that the content will be on that level as well.  The reviews and endorsements were overwhelmingly positive.  One testimonial in particular, a glowing paragraph of praise by the actress and UK mental health charity MIND patron Juliet Stevenson, bowled me over.  Stevenson, an award-winning British actress, was in one of my favorite films, “Truly, Madly, Deeply” with Alan Rickman.

As I’m a major Anglophile and “Australiaophile” and the author Jen S. Wight has roots in both countries, I was further drawn to her book.  The price was equivalent to the cost of a double mocha and a cookie.  This purchase was meant to be, as far as I was concerned.  (It’s a good thing I’m addicted to buying books rather shopping at Macy’s. I frequently remind my husband of this fact.  He’s lucky I wear mostly hand-me-downs and the occasional Costco item.)

I digress.

I stayed up late reading “Day Six” while positioned next to my poor six-year-old girl Marilla, who had a bad cold and whose legs burned in fever despite my giving her regular doses of medicine.  I was doing my best to take care of her, and I knew she was not in danger, but it was such a comfort to have the escape of devouring a good book.  I was drawn into its excellent, descriptive writing from the foreword.  The story was intense from page one. If I wasn’t so exhausted from the events of the day and from my worry over having an feverish child, I would have stayed up much later to read it.

I took a break from the book to get another dose of medicine for Rilla.  When I returned to my reading roost, I decided to quickly check to see if the author Jen S. Wight had a blog I could subscribe to, and lo and behold, I found she also had a WordPress account.  I selected the “Follow” button for her blog and then I returned to her book.

I had my WordPress account opened on my Kindle screen while I read “Day Six”.  A few minutes after following Wight’s blog, I spotted that someone had just “liked” one of my “Birth of a New Brain”posts .  (Yes, this was slightly disjointed behavior to flit back and forth from reading my book to checking out my WordPress statistics.  It’s a bad habit that I’m trying to break.)

To my delight, I realized that it was the author Jen S. Wight who had read my post literally moments before, and she “liked” it! (She really liked it! 😉 )   She must have noticed that I subscribed to her blog, and then she was able to check out my own blog in return.  The fact that she liked the post was the equivalent of my eating a Green & Blacks milk chocolate bar.  It felt good.

I got such a kick out of these turn of events. From reading about Wight’s background, I knew that she currently lived in Australia. It amazed me that in less than twenty minutes I had connected with an author on the other side of the world in this way.  I wondered if she even knew I had purchased her book that very day.  The old Police song “Synchronicity” started to play in my head, and I cracked a smile before I hit the pillow.

It was, for this complete and utter bibliophile/writer, an ideal way to fall asleep.

Trust

ImageToday is the first day that writing a blog post feels like a “have to” instead of a “want to” activity, in part because I know that hardly anyone (and oftentimes no one) reads these posts.  I must admit that the prospect of having a chunky blog audience is alluring.  Having a large readership would provide me with a powerful incentive to write even if I didn’t feel gung-ho when first creating each post. (Like exercise, I find that once I start writing, no matter how resistant I feel beforehand, I always feel better once I tap the keyboard for a measly few minutes.)

I am barely promoting this blog.  Truth be told, I’m using blogging more for a daily writing practice rather than a lofty platform to reach thousands of readers.  Blogging is more gratifying than journaling these days; I used to keep journals for years and I got burned-out on the process.

My blog is also a very convenient way to procrastinate focusing on the project of my heart, my book.  So today instead of taking an hour or two to write a five-hundred-word blog, I will use this time to open my “Birth of a New Brain” file and read more of what I wrote over the past few years.  I’ve only been able to read up to page eight, for it’s daunting material and it’s an intimidating task.  I need to trust the process of writing and I want to trust my own capability as a writer.

As a voracious reader, I have noticed the rise of mediocre books now available complete with typos, syntax errors, crappy content, and amateur covers.  (Yes, I sound like a snob, and I suppose I am one!)  Virtually anyone can write a book and sell it to the public via Amazon and other internet avenues.  If those books make it, why can’t mine?   I must trust that my idea is valid; it’s also original, and while I won’t win the National Book Award anytime soon, my writing quality is solid.  I remind myself that I didn’t buy my degree in English from the University of California; I earned it with blood, sweat, angst and a ton of writing.

Again, it all comes down to trust…self-trust.  We can’t take our book accolades to the grave with us.  I’ll give “Birth of a New Brain” my best shot over the next year, and if it works out, great, and if it doesn’t, I’ll know that I tried with all my heart, I trusted myself at long last, and that is what matters.