My Redwood Therapists

imagesNo, the banana slugs are *not* my therapists…but they are pretty cool, aren’t they?

imgres-2These magnificent redwoods are my therapists!

Last year when I started tapering off bipolar medication, I became an exercise fiend.  I knew how to work out well because I was an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer in the late 1990’s.  After teaching in a gym for a few years, I definitely preferred exercising outdoors.  Bypassing the gym was economical as well, so I felt good about my fitness plan.

The road in front of my home wasn’t pedestrian-friendly; it was “pedestrian-deadly”.  The steep mountain lane was devoid of sidewalks, and speeding cars appeared on it every few minutes.  (If I could do it over again, I would have bought a different house on a street that wasn’t full of near-death experiences!) I needed a safe walking option, so I chose our local high school track.  The track was set against the spectacular redwood-blanketed Santa Cruz Mountains, which served as a beautiful focal point .  The weather was usually warm and sunny, and I brought my iPod so I could listen to my favorite music.  I timed my track walks to take place when students usually weren’t there.  Walking made me feel grounded and healthy and I rarely missed a day.  I knew that I needed to exercise regularly in order to achieve my goal of being medication-free.

One day I wanted a change of scenery.  I headed for a trail next to the track which led into Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park’s Fall Creek sector.  This state park is home to a centuries-old redwood grove.  It’s a tree lover’s dream as it has other old-growth woods such as Douglas fir, madrone, oak and ponderosa pines.  At the risk of sounding like a hippie (which I am, in a way) the energy in this forest feels almost magical.  When I entered the forest I encountered a unique quiet.  The quiet was interrupted when I approached Fall Creek, but its gentle burbling sounds were welcoming and soothing.  Rays of sun peeked through the tree branches so that I didn’t feel claustrophobic.  I loved smelling the fresh, pure air.

I knew the state park attracted many visitors, but I found it so large that I didn’t come across other hikers too often.  An occasional horse or two would startle me, but they seemed mellow. The lack of people, as much as I enjoyed it, was cause for concern, especially as a woman hiking there alone.  As a resident of the area for years, I read reports in our local newspaper of occasional illegal incidents in the park.  I bought a pepper spray and I reviewed how to use it properly.  I always told my husband when I’d be there.  He wasn’t thrilled about my hiking in such isolation but the pepper spray made him feel a little better.  When I walked in the forest I had the spray in my hand, ready to use at any moment.  I didn’t use my iPod in the forest for safety reasons and because I wanted to hear nature’s sounds.  I was surprised to observe another park regular, a female runner, pass me on the narrow, rocky trails wearing her iPod (and hardly anything else) – that definitely seemed like an unsafe idea. I also always brought my fully charged cell phone, and I was lucky I had good cell reception in the forest.

There were other risks besides coming across criminals.  Mountain lions have roamed these hills for ages.  I doubted that my measly pepper spray could fend off an attacking mountain lion, but actual sightings were very rare.  At least there weren’t any bears!  There was the remote chance that I could come across Bigfoot.  Yes, Bigfoot.  The park entrance was five minutes away from the town of Felton’s infamous Bigfoot Discovery Museum.   Despite the museum’s claims of Bigfoot hanging out around here, I never obsessed about running into the hairy beast in Fall Creek.

In case you want to learn about the Bigfoot Museum, (who doesn’t?) here’s the link:

http://bigfootdiscoveryproject.com/

However, there have been a few times when I felt that my sanctuary had a sinister feel.  I think the creepy sensation was more about my projecting my dark moods upon the innocent forest rather than there being actual cause.  This gloominess usually happened when the sun disappeared from view.  Sunlight always has had a tremendous affect upon my psyche, and I’ve used a bright Sunbox light for a decade now.

My med-free attempt did not work.  When I relapsed while tapering off lithium last spring, I admitted myself to the mental hospital yet again.  I was in the unit, off and on, for over three weeks last summer. Patients were not taken outside unless they had a doctor’s note.  (I wasn’t informed of that ludicrous policy when I was there.  I found that fact out long after I was released, to my disbelief.  It was truly insane that patients who were able to be outside safely, with supervision, were not exposed to fresh air and sunlight.)  After I came home, I couldn’t stop thinking about “my” forest.  I felt like a caged animal who was finally given freedom.  The day I was able to drive to Fall Creek and walk on the path I had tread so many times was a momentous accomplishment.  Many days during the past summer I never thought I’d be in the forest ever again.  After being cooped up in what I can only describe was a horrible hell, it was incredible to use all my senses to savor the park once again.  I was still depressed, but it helped to be around my “tree therapists” for their very real comfort.

When the Indian Summer shifted in much colder weather, I dressed for the chill in a down jacket and gloves, with plenty of layers.  Finally, when my walks became too uncomfortable despite all my gear, I stopped my Fall Creek hikes to use my home elliptical trainer.  I missed Fall Creek but I was still lucky enough to be able to look out the window and see trees and sky on the elliptical.

Being in a mental hospital does many things to you.  For some very resilient souls, they stay at a unit, they get out, and they don’t really look back.  On the other hand, and I don’t use this term lightly; I feel that I have PTSD from being in these places numerous times. The difference between a locked-down unit full of suffering and a spacious forest comprised of graceful trees and streams is enormous.  It doesn’t get more “bipolar” than the difference between sterile civilization and majestic nature.

I will return to my hallowed forest when the weather changes yet again to warmth.  Now more than ever before, I am grateful for the freedom of being able to visit such a stunning, peaceful place.

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My Freaky, Malodorous Urgent Care Life Lesson

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Dyane’s Disclaimer:

The contents of this post may be a little much for some of you.  Good writing is full of details and I try my best to write descriptively.  While I was tempted to add even more graphic detail to this piece, I held back for reasons you will understand if you read on. 

Here I’m following writer Natalie Goldberg’s advice:

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” 

― Natalie GoldbergWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within  

A couple weeks ago I was finally hitting my stride.  I was writing daily, exercising regularly, enjoying time with my family and sleeping pretty well.  I still had a doomy and gloomy “other shoe is about to drop” feeling behind it all, but it was not that bad.

Then I let the other shoe drop.  I cannot blame anyone else for what happened.  (Damn!)

I began noticing that when I responded to the call of nature, an unfamiliar, icky smell emanated forth into the toilet basin.  I had no other symptoms – no pain, no infection, no signs of anything wrong.  It was a 100% “olfactory symptom”.  This started happening when our decomposing rat’s smell was strongly wafting throughout our house, which grossed me out to no end.

Between the “eau de decomposed rat” and my own stench (which was almost as bad), I was on the verge of gagging all the time.  One fine day Craig finally located the rat’s remains and cleaned them up.  One fetid smell down, one to go.  Each day my smell grew worse.  I was not only more and more worried, but I was embarrassed.  My family could smell the odor too; it was lingering on my clothes.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, why didn’t you go to your doctor right away?”

Good question.  I was utterly terrified to go to a doctor.  I didn’t even have a current general practitioner at the ready.  I only had my psychiatrist.  I emailed him about my problem and he, along with my husband, advised me to get a urinalysis test at Urgent Care. I knew that they were both right.

I resisted seeing a general practitioner for a couple of deep-seated reasons.  First, I was burned out on all doctors.  I had seen so many of them for bipolar, and I had such a bad association with the medical establishment that I wanted to stay far away from them.  Second, I was frightened that once I met with a doctor, there would be lots of drawn-out tests and then catastrophic news.

I searched the internet to see what others with my problem wrote about it, but I couldn’t find anything conclusive.  My thoughts turned to what would be the worst outcome: cancer, specifically ovarian cancer.  A sweet, young friend of mine had died from ovarian cancer leaving a beautiful little girl behind. Maybe I had ovarian cancer too, even though bad smelling pee did not seem to be a symptom.

I shut down emotionally, unable to think rationally about the situation.  It had been ages since I went to bed during the day, but that’s what I wound up doing on that Saturday.  I became hysterical and I started to shake and cry for hours.

It was a nightmare.

My husband offered to take me to Urgent Care.  In my stubborn panic I refused his kindness. Because of my decision, I prolonged my agony of not knowing what the hell was wrong with me.  The next morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m., and ruminated for hours.  I finally decided to haul myself into Urgent Care.  I arrived at the office forty minutes early to ensure that I’d be first in line.  That worked out well because a long line of people showed up soon after I got there.  The doctor on call that day, Dr. K., was awesome.  I had seen her in the distant past, and I remembered I had a good experience with her.  The medical assistant tested my urine sample and got immediate results: they were completely normal.

Dr. K. seemed a little baffled at first, but then she said, “Let’s take a look.”  I felt really sorry for her.  I was humiliated at how much I reeked, and apologized to her about it, but she told me not to give it a second thought.

While examining me, Dr. K. exclaimed “Ah ha!”

I had left a tampon in.  It had moldered there for way too long.  Sorry to be so explicit, but we all come from the place where tampons are used.

The relief I felt at Dr. K’s news was extraordinary.  After I put my clothes back on and she threw away her putrid medical gloves, I gave her a big hug.

If I had done a more thorough internet search I could have found the answer to my problem, as the “lost tampon” subject exists on many websites.  But by the time I began to do my internet research I had become unglued, and my search skills were sorely lacking.

As I left Urgent Care, I realized that I really had to slow down and ground myself much more than I had been doing.  The lost tampon was a metaphor for my needing to pay better attention to myself and to my life in general.  I lost not just a tampon, but over three days of my peace of mind that I will never get back.  I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but I’ve lost too much time in this life already to illness.

Life is scary sometimes…we all know that to be true, unfortunately.  However, if I can be proactive with my health and prevent needless stuff like a lost tampon from happening, then I’ll be happier.  Speaking of scary, a lost tampon could have had a much worse outcome, i.e. infection, fever, chills, and the worst case scenario: Toxic Shock Syndrome which can result in death.  I am so grateful it didn’t go that way.  I lucked out this time.  I also will be using pads instead of tampons for a while until I feel a little more present.

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The power of the internet for good and bad

imgres-1imagesOver the past few months I’ve learned more about the power of the internet.  I’ve discovered firsthand that what we put “out there” lasts a long, long time.

I knew about the maxims discussed in this blog intellectually, but I didn’t have direct experience with them until the last few weeks.  It has really hit home for me how important it is not to slander anyone because you never know who will read your words.  Here’s a (slightly) drawn-out example: some of my blog posts have discussed specific authors and their books.  Not one, not two, but three of these writers contacted me within just one week after my blogging about them.  They found me through the magic of Google alerts.

What is a Google alert, you may ask?  Here’s my non-techie definition:

One can use this feature to create different category “alerts” so that Google searches the vast internet daily (or more frequently, you can set the parameters) for any mention of these categories.  Google emails you the alert links so you can track them down yourself.  For example, you can set up an alert to find a mention of your name, a book title, and pretty much any subject under the sun!  I have Google alerts set for my favorite bands, postpartum bipolar, and my name.

Google has a better description of their alerts that I thought I’d add here in case you’re not familiar with them:

“Google alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new results — such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs — that match your search term. You can use Google Alerts to monitor anything on the Web. For example, people use Google Alerts to:

  • find out what is being said about their company or product.
  • monitor a developing news story.
  • keep up to date on a competitor or industry.
  • get the latest news on a celebrity or sports team.
  • find out what’s being said about themselves.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You enter a query that you’re interested in.
  2. Google Alerts checks regularly to see if there are new results for your query.
  3. If there are new results, Google Alerts sends them to you in an email.”

It was so much fun for me to get the following blog comment from the writer Cristina Negrón. She was alerted about my blog post which mentioned her wonderful book So Far.  She wrote, “Dyane: I was truly surprised and delighted to discover your blog post about my book. Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful, and beautifully written review. Being so close to the material (I couldn’t possibly be closer!), I didn’t know how it would be received by people who don’t know me. So your post, from an outside reader and a fellow writer no less, is especially gratifying. All the best to you, Cristina Negrón”

The other two author comments in response to my blog were written by  Martha Rhodes (author of the inspiring 3000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression Without Medication) and Elizabeth Sims (the upbeat You’ve Got a Book in You! A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams).  Both of their comments were complementary.  Rhodes graciously offered to give me guidance with my own book and Sims’ message was funny and encouraging.

“I could get used to this awesome feedback!’ I thought.  I was also greatly relieved that I did not write anything harsh about them or their work!  Don’t get me wrong – I believe in constructive criticism, and I do like to be honest about the books that I read, but now that I know for a fact there’s a good chance the very authors I analyze could read my posts, I’ll be a little more cautious about what I offer to the internet.

After my warm and fuzzy week of author responses, I encountered the net’s darker side.  I was planning my daughter’s ninth birthday party, and I opened up my Evite account.  While reviewing my contacts list, I noticed that I had invited one of her classmates “Xavier” to a past party.  For the life of me I couldn’t remember who Xavier was.  There were no identifying details attached to his name except for an email address.  To satisfy my frustration at my inability to remember Xavier or his parent, I copied the email address and I plugged it into Google.  I honestly didn’t think I’d find anything, but I did.  Xavier was the son of “Cassia”.  Cassia had posted on a religious website many years ago, and my Google search located her comment almost immediately.

Cassia wrote that she was in desperate need of help due to a longtime disorder.  She added that none of her good friends were religious like she was, nor did any of them struggle with that specific disorder.  She noted that she was reaching out to strangers on the website because she didn’t feel like she could turn to any of her friends for support.

Finding this deeply personal information out about Cassia made me feel sad.  I felt that I knew too much about a stranger.  I was alarmed about running into her at a future party, because I realized our kids were in the same circles.

A few days later I spotted her email yet again on an Evite I had  received for a upcoming child’s birthday celebration.  I was concerned about running into her there, because I knew I’d be uncomfortable with the private knowledge I possessed, but obviously there was nothing I could do about it.

It’s one thing to write for the internet and reconcile yourself that you’re going public with whatever you contribute; it’s completely different when you are writing about highly personal, potentially damaging issues that are discovered by strangers within fifteen seconds.

I find the ease of finding such personal information sobering after what I read about Cassia – most of which I did not include here in the highly unlikely (but definitely possible) event she would read this blog post.  I’m a little freaked out about what I’ve sent out to cyberspace during times of mania, but it’s too late now to do anything about it.  I’m not going to spend much time lamenting about those emails because I wasn’t well.  I can let that one go for now, at least.  (It does occur to me that someday I may apply for a job in which my unsavory emails could be located, but I can’t worry about it…yet.)

After my positive and disturbing web experiences, I am simply going to be a little more careful about what I write.  I won’t select the “send” option glibly on my laptop, that’s for sure.  I don’t want to edit my writing to the point of it being monotonous, God forbid, but I don’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I can save the really angry, slanderous comments for my journal or therapist.  I’ve been naive all along about the internet, but my naivete is slowly but surely changing.  There’s also the added bonus that as I  get older (I turn 44 in one month) I just might be getting wiser.

Two Mavericks I Admire: Dr. Liz Miller, med-free author of “Mood Mapping” and Stephen Fry’s “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”

search                                            Dr. Liz Miller, author of “Mood Mapping”imgres                                            Actor and bestselling author Stephen Fry

Some people with bipolar disorder can live healthy, thriving lives without medication. Despite my doing tons of research, consulting with top experts and giving it my absolute best shot, I could not live medication-free.  Maybe in the future, but definitely not now.

A person with bipolar who is able to live without medication is neurosurgeon and general practitioner Dr. Liz Miller.  I discovered her in actor Stephen Fry’s acclaimed documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”; she was one of his subjects.  If you haven’t seen Fry’s film yet, I highly recommend it – he profiles both celebrities and regular folks, and it’s inspiring and fascinating.  I got emotional watching him as he narrated the film.  I felt tears come to my eyes as he shared about his suicide attempt. He has been there in bipolarland hell, and he has made it back to the other side to help people and has become a major mental health advocate in the U.K.  Fry is vulnerable, funny as hell, and immensely likable, plus he has the British accent going for him!  You can watch the film on YouTube – here’s the link for the first part, and you can easily find the other parts on YouTube :

Dr. Miller was the only subject in Fry’s film who was living medication-free and doing well.  I was impressed by her philosophy and I appreciated how she shared what helped her stay sane, i.e. healthy eating, etc.  Aside from working part-time, she co-founded the Doctors Support Network, a confidential self-help group for physicians in the U.K. with mental health concerns.  I liked what Dr. Miller had to say so much that I tracked her down through the internet.  I asked her to write the foreword to my book, which would chronicle my becoming medication-free.  I conservatively planned my tapering process to take a full year.  After reviewing my proposal and sample chapters, Dr. Miller agreed to write the foreword, and I was thrilled.  Unfortunately, when I relapsed, that version of my book went out the window.  I cancelled the book deal I secured with a women’s health publishing company, and I never thought I’d write more than a few lines again.

Despite the fact that I refuse to toss away my pills, I can still incorporate some of Dr. Miller’s suggestions for remaining stable and healthy.  She wrote a  book titled  Mood Mapping (Rodale) and it’s for anyone who wishes to keep track of her moods and learn from them.  Mood Mapping is on Kindle and here’s the Amazon description:

Mood mapping simply involves plotting how you feel against your energy levels, to determine your current mood.  Dr. Liz Miller then gives you the tools you need to lift your low mood, so improving your mental health and wellbeing.  Dr. Miller developed this technique as a result of her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder (manic depression), and of overcoming it, leading her to seek ways to improve the mental health of others.  This innovative book illustrates: * The Five Keys to Moods: learn to identify the physical or emotional factors that affect your moods * The Miller Mood Map: learn to visually map your mood to increase self-awareness * Practical ways to implement change to alleviate low mood.  Mood mapping is an essential life skill; by giving an innovative perspective to your life, it enables you to be happier, calmer and to bring positivity to your own life and to those around you.

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I am the Procrastination Queen…

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I’ve had Dr. Miller’s book for a long time, and I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t read it all yet.  However, I intend to finish her book soon, try out Dr. Miller’s Mood Map, and report back here.

Here’s Dr. Miller’s Facebook page link for Mood Mapping:

https://www.facebook.com/moodmapping

“The End of the Day” – Singing My Song About Bipolar Disorder

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For the past twenty years I’ve been a closet songwriter.  During my first year attending the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), I was a regular at open mike night and I belonged to UCSC’s Concert Choir.  Our final concert was an exotic piece sung in the Esperanto language with an Indonesian gamelan orchestra.  I loved all kinds of music, and I still do!

I wrote the song “The End of the Day” when I was in solitary confinement for four hours in the hospital’s mental health unit.  That unforgettable censure took place during my first hospitalization.  Why was I put in solitary?  You’ll have to buy the book! 😉  Anyway, it was October, 2007, just a couple months after my second daughter was born.  I was diagnosed with bipolar one disorder during my stay at the unit.

In solitary I practiced my song at the top of my lungs.  To my surprise, the unpadded room actually had excellent acoustics!  I remember one of my fellow patients could hear me through the wall and he yelled “Great job!” Another patient shouted something not quite as complementary, but I didn’t care –  I was manic, so I was immune to his criticism.  I sang most of the Beatles catalogue, as well as every Crowded House song I knew.  I couldn’t believe that I remembered all the words, as I usually didn’t have a good memory.  Mania activated a part of my brain that recollected lyrics.

In the accompanying PhotoBooth clip which I recorded last year, I introduce my song and then sing part of it.  I apologize because I’m off-key for half of it, and I’m nervous. Please forgive me.  I recorded “The End of the Day” when I was doing my grand experiment of tapering off my bipolar medication.  It was difficult for me to watch this clip today and revisit that time.  When I sang the song back then, it seemed like I had a shot at living med-free.  I was acting fairly stable.  I had no idea that going off my meds would backfire in the worst possible way.  I wound up relapsing so severely that not only was I hospitalized three times during the subsequent summer, I asked for bilateral electroshock. (ECT)  It was a long, long road back to recovery and took almost half a year.  I’ll be writing more about what influenced me to make the decision to taper off meds soon.

For now, I’m going to keep popping my pink & white pills, be with my family and friends, exercise, be grateful, and write.  I’m going to work on cutting down on sugar, which is unfortunately still my nemesis. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do!

The End of the Day

by Dyane Harwood

I have an illness in my head, I have an illness in my head

And it seems…I go to extremes

And everyone wants me to do it, everyone wants me to do what they say

Although I have my own way….

I don’t know, but I do care

At the end of the day

You can call me crazy and I’ll agree

At the end of the day

I know I’ll be okay

I have two little girls, I have two little girls

I miss them more than words can ever say

It has been five long days, it has been five long days

since I was with them all day…and night, yeah

I don’t know, but I do care

At the end of the day

You can call me crazy and I’ll agree

At the end of the day

I know I’ll be okay

You know I do see how this frustrates you

But I ask you, have you ever been in my shoes?

Have you ever had bipolar too?

‘Cause I do, and now I know what to do…

How Sixty Seconds Made A Difference

 on Valentine’s Day

Today I received an extraordinary Valentine’s Day present from beyond. 

 But let me back up a bit…

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It was 1999, I was twenty-nine years old and I owned a standard answering machine.  Remember those?  Ancient machines like mine used tape cassettes.  I grew up with tape cassettes instead of DVD’s, and I still have forty tapes of my favorite band recordings from the feel-good seventies and the big-hair eighties era.

When I was twenty-nine I was a fan of the bestselling writer/artist SARK (www.planetsark.com) I’ve written about her before:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/meeting-a-fave-author-sark-the-inspiration-line-juicy-pens-thirsty-paper/

SARK now has over two million copies of her books in print and has gazillions of fans, but it wasn’t always that way, of course.  I discovered her when her fan base was still modest.  Over the years SARK has maintained an “Inspiration Hotline” (415-546-EPIC) that she has offered free to the public.  SARK uses the line to record messages sharing her unique views. You can hang up after listening, or leave her a message. 

  Before SARK became a bestselling writer, she claimed she listened to every single message she received from her fans. In 1999 I contacted her to arrange an interview for an article I was writing about her latest book.  SARK called me back and left a message on my answering machine.  I loved her message so much, in which she said she considered me a friend and she would always return my calls, that I kept the tape as a memento.

I meant to listen to the SARK tape again, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t do it. 
  On a whim, today I took this cassette out of my drawer for the first time since I listened to it 1999.  I placed the tape in my old Suburu Forrester’s cassette tape player.  I drove to the girls’ school to pick them up, and arrived in the parking lot with some time to spare.  I took in the gorgeous day’s cerulean blue sky and smattering of puffy clouds drifting above me.  A brisk wind blew gently, hinting that spring is on its way.

I noticed the majestic redwoods which served as a stunning backdrop to the school, and I popped in the tape.  First SARK’s sweet voice rang out of the speakers.  She spoke at length, bringing a big smile to my face.  A long beep sounded out after she finished, and then a male voice came out of the speakers that I didn’t recognize.

“Who the hell is this?” I wondered for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me.

It was the clear, melodious voice of my Dad.  He died five years ago, and his death was the end of a nightmarish, drawn-out illness.  In his last couple years, his once-magnificent, rich voice was transformed into a quivering, weak voice full of fear.  He always told me he was terrified of dying.  When he realized he was on the decline, his voice was affected by that knowledge both physically and emotionally.  That depressing version of his voice stayed with me since his death in 2009.  When he died alone, I became so devastated that I slipped into bipolar depression that caused me to become suicidal.  I asked to be hospitalized for treatment.  I had been resistant to all the psychiatric drugs I had tried so desperately for my bipolar depression.  Feeling like I was at the end of my rope, I requested ECT treatment (electroconvulsive therapy ) that, ironically, my Dad had done at UCLA for his own bipolar depression…to no avail.

As a result of my week-long hospitalization, I missed my father’s memorial service, but the ECT did help me lift me slowly out of the depression.  I now have no regrets for doing it, although I don’t know what the long-term effects will be on my brain until I am older.  I didn’t have a single adverse side effect from the ECT such as memory loss, although I was scared shitless to go for it.

I heard firsthand about others’ ECT experiences at the hospital.  One I called “J. Lo”.  She was a beautiful Latina who took great pains to put on full makeup in the locked-down unit each day.  Before I had my first ECT session, J Lo told me that after her ECT she couldn’t remember her wedding day or the births of her children.  Undaunted, I was so low, I didn’t give a damn.  I just told my psychiatrist to flip the switch without a second thought.  I’ll never forget the amazed reactions on the faces of the other patients in my unit when I was brought into our community room after my first ECT session – they were impressed with my improvement after just one treatment.

I felt at that time that ECT was a miracle and after each treatment I felt a buzz as if I had a really great Italian espresso.  The hospital staff was top-notch and my medical team was compassionate and humorous. I looked forward to my ECT treatments, and it didn’t hurt that the anesthesiologists who put me under each time all looked like GQ models.  Maybe the hospital planned it that way.

  Since I had ECT done I have taken Nordic Naturals fish oil, which has seemed to boost my brain in some way.  I can remember details from my childhood and eighties song lyrics that I couldn’t sing to you five years ago if my life depended on it.

However, 

I digress.

When I heard my Dad’s vibrant voice ring out and tell me that he was hanging out in his hotel in Santa Cruz, I was transported into remembering him at his very best. He sounded happy and full of life.  He said he was off to go play his violin.  (He was a professional violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over twenty-five years.)

“On second thought, I think I’ll go take a walk!” he proclaimed. “I’ll see you at dinner!” The tape quality was perfect – he sounded so clear it was as if he stood right in front of me.

Right there in my dusty car in the school parking lot, I began to cry.  I rarely cry in public, but these were tears of joy that I couldn’t hold back.  This was one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts I could ever receive.

Mom and Dad had been married for forty years and while their relationship was quite difficult, especially because Dad had bipolar one disorder, they loved each other very much.  Mom nursed Dad through his decline with incredible dedication and she was his powerful medical advocate with the hospital as well.  After Dad died, Mom very reluctantly sold their home of four decades to a young couple and she moved into an apartment five minutes away from her former home.  She put up pictures of Dad all over her apartment, and also had a vase of his ashes in her room.  From that point on, anytime we’d talk she would always mention how she missed Dad a great deal.  Mom expressed that despite having a close circle of friends, she often felt lonely without Dad.

As soon as the tape ended, I queued it up at the start of Dad’s message.  I called my Mom on my cell.  She answered her phone and I told her I had a surprise for her.  “Mom, you are not going to believe this!” I said as unchecked tears continued to trickle down my face. “What?” she replied with slight irritation in her voice.  I knew that her tone would change in a moment for the better.  “Listen!” I implored.  I played Dad’s voice for her.  She was quiet throughout the minute-long message. “I can’t believe it!” she said. “This is the best Valentine’s Day gift you could give me…I fell in love with Dad’s voice. Thank you so much, sweetheart!”

I knew then for sure, although I had suspected it for a long time, that our loved ones are around us, watching us, and once in a great while they will send us a reminder that their love for us remains strong and everlasting.

Listen to Luka Bloom’s song The Man Is Alive from his “Riverside” album

A beautiful song by my favorite Irish singer that reminds me of my Dad.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpr7qj2cDtE

INSERT AMAZING MATT SAMET QUOTE INTO BOOK THAT’S IN EPILOGUE AND ASK PERMISSION

How Sixty Seconds Can Make A Difference

Something quite extraordinary happened last week that was a wonderful Valentine’s Day present from the universe.

Way back in 1999, I had an answering machine. Remember those?  Yes, they contained classic tape cassettes, not CD’s, DVD’s, or MP3’s in them!

When I was 29 in 199, I had already become a huge fan of the bestselling writer/artist SARK (www.planetsark.com) who now has over 2 million copies of her books in print.  The San Francisco-based SARK has maintained a Inspiration Hot Line (415-546-EPIC) which she has offered as a free public service for many years.  SARK (which stands for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, a name that came to her in a dream from the author Henry Miller) records an inspirational outgoing message whenever she feels the urge to share her quirky, profound views with her fans.  You can simply hang up at the end of her talk, or leave your own message.

SARK listens to every single message she receives.  I had contacted SARK in 1999 to arrange an interview for an article I was writing about one of her books, and she called me back and left me a message on my answering machine.  I loved her message so much, in which she said she considered me a friend and she would always return my calls, that I kept the cassette tape as a record of her wonderful call.  I have been meaning to listen to this tape to lift my spirits for almost 14 years.

A few weeks ago I took the cassette out of the drawer fort he first time since I placed it there in 1999, and I brought it into our old Suburu Forrester “Raindrop” (yes, all our cars have names…I grew up with “Baby Volvo”) Raindrop has a cassette tape player.  As I waited in the carpool line at Marilla’s school last Valentine’s Day, I had some time to spare.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with a cerulean blue sky and a smattering of puffy cumulo nimbus clouds hovering above me, with a brisk wind gently blowing that foretold that Spring was on its way.  I stared out at the magnificent redwoods on the Santa Cruz Mountainside that provided a stunning backdrop to San Lorenzo Elementary, and popped in the tape.  First SARK’s sweet voice rang out of the speakers and she spoke at length, bringing a big smile to my face.  A long beep took place after she finished, and then a male voice came out of the speakers that I didn’t recognize.  “Who the heck is this?” I wondered for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me.  It was the clear, melodious voice of my late Dad at age 69.  My father died at age 82 in 2009, and his death was a nightmarish, drawn-out descent in which his once-magnificent, rich voice was transformed into a quivering, weak voice full of fear.  He had always told me he was terrified of dying, and when that time approached, he knew he was on the decline and his voice was affected by that knowledge both physically and emotionally.  That depressing version of his voice stayed with me since his death in 2009 in which I was so devastated that I slipped into bipolar depression that caused me to become suicidal and I asked to be hospitalized for treatment.  I had been resistant to all the psychiatric drugs I had taken for bipolar depression (totaling around 14 medications compete with horrible side effects) so I requested ECT treatment (electroconvulsive therapy ) that, ironically, my Dad had done at UCLA long ago to no avail for his own bipolar depression.

As a result of my week-long hospitalization I missed my father’s memorial service, but the ECT actually did help me lift me slowly out of the depression.  I now have no regrets for doing it, although I don’t know what the long-term effects will be on my brain until I am older.  I did not have a single adverse side effect from the ECT such as memory loss, although I was scared shitless to go for it.  One patient, who I referred to affectionately as “J. Lo” for she was a beautiful Latina who took pains to put on full makeup in the locked-down unit each day, told me that after her ECT she couldn’t remember her wedding day or the births of her children. Undaunted, I was so low, I didn’t give a damn and just told my psychiatrist to flip the switch.  I’ll never forget the reactions on the faces of my fellow mental ward patients when I was brought into the community room after my first ECT session – they all looked amazed at my improvement after just one treatment. I felt at that time that ECT was a miracle and after each treatment I felt a buzz as if I had a really great Italian espresso.  The staff at Community Hospital of the Monterey Hospital was top-notch and my medical team was compassionate, humorous and all-together fantastic.

Moreover, since I started tapering off lithium last year and started taking Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Xtra liquid fish oils, my memory has come back very strong. I am remembering details from my childhood that I thought were gone forever, and old song lyrics that I couldn’t sing to you five years ago if my life depended on it!

I digress.  It’s a bad habit!

So when I heard my Dad’s vibrant voice ring out and tell me that he was hanging out in his hotel in Santa Cruz, I was transported into remembering him at his very best.  He sounded happy and full of life.  He said he was off to go play his violin, and that he was a little sleepy, although he didn’t sound groggy at all.  “On second thought, I think I’ll go take a walk! He proclaimed.  “I’ll see you at dinner!”  The tape quality was perfect – he sounded so clear it was as if he was talking right in front of me.  Right there in my car at the front of the carpool line, I started to cry tears of joy.  This was the best Valentine’s Day gift I could ever imagine being given, aside from the beautiful present my husband gave me later that evening.  As soon as Dad’s voice disappeared, I called my Mom on my cell.

Mom and Dad had been married for 40 years and while their relationship was quite difficult (especially because Dad had severe bipolar disorder from age 18 on; 90% of marriages in which one spouse has bipolar end in divorce and they beat those odds!) they loved each other very much.  Mom nursed Dad through his decline with incredible dedication and she was his powerful medical advocate with the hospital as well.  After Dad died, Mom very reluctantly sold their stunning home of four decades to a young couple and moved into an apartment five minutes from their home.  She put up pictures of Dad all over her apartment as she missed him dearly.  Four years later, at age 77, anytime we’d talk she would always mention to me how she missed him a great deal and she expressed that she often felt so lonely despite having a close circle of friends and keeping up an active social life.

Mom answered her phone and I told her I had a surprise for her.  “Mom, you are not going to believe this!” I said as unchecked tears continued to trickle down my face.  “What?” she said with slight irritation in her voice.  I knew that would change in just a moment for the better.  “Listen!” I implored.  I put Mom on my cell’s speaker played Dad’s voice for her.  She was quiet throughout the minute-long message.  “I can’t believe it!” She said. “This is the best Valentine’ Day gift you could give me…I fell in love with Dad’s voice.  Thank you so much, sweetheart!”

I knew then for sure, although I had suspected it for a long time, that our loved ones are around us, watching us, and once in a while they will send