Hell in Paradise – Part Two – Seeking The Real Aloha


Our family in front of the Kona Inn Restaurant in Kailua-Kona at sunset, November 2013

To read the revised version of Part One please visit here

December, 2013

I know it sounds ridiculous to complain about being in Hawaii, but anyone who has experienced bipolar depression can empathize with this seemingly narcissistic attitude. No matter where you are, it doesn’t matter – being in such despair is a malady of the spirit that turns heaven into hell.

There were moments when I was able to acknowledge and appreciate my family’s joy during their various activities, but I was leaden and ashamed that I couldn’t be like them. 

We arrived at a gorgeous beach in Kua Bay that was perfect for boogie boarding. My girls and husband Craig made a beeline for the gentle aquamarine waves. I used to love to go boogie boarding when I was a teenager in the (much) colder waves in Santa Monica, California. In Hawaii I watched my family play in the waves from afar, unable to join them.  

I baked on the sand and people-watched instead, envious of the beach-goers glued to their books under umbrellas. I was so apathetic that I hadn’t even bothered to bring a good book with me. This was the complete opposite of how I behaved when I wasn’t depressed. Normally I’d never travel more than a couple feet without clutching a riveting book or my Kindle Fire.

Each day in Hawaii I desperately hoped for my unrelenting depression to lift so I would feel the Aloha spirit I heard so much about.  While the word “Aloha” is often used to mean “goodbye”, “hello” and “I love you”, there is a deeper meaning to the word.  The website http://www.huna.org explains:

Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!

I was full of anti-Aloha sentiment. That attitude felt all wrong in such a glorious setting.  In an attempt to feel better, I self-medicated with food and beverages.  On a humid, seventy-five degree day I inhaled a bag of “Donkey Balls”.  Yes, they were called Donkey Balls consisting of macadamia nuts covered with multiple layers of chocolate. The balls were a temporary sugar fix and they left me feeling nauseated and plumped up.


My psychiatrist discouraged me from drinking caffeine due to the contraindications associated with the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor, a class) medication I recently starting taking with lithium. The  MAOI, called Parnate or tranylcypromine, was known to help treatment-resistant bipolar depression and like lithium, was old-school. MAOI’s were the first type of antidepressant developed, but Dr. D. didn’t think the Parnate would send me into mania as long as I took the mood stabilizer lithium.

My meds didn’t stop me from sucking down the famous Kona coffee of the region.  

High-quality Kona coffee often sells for at least $30.00 a pound.  Once I sipped some of it I understood why java addicts with cash to burn paid such an astronomical price for these beans. When we arrived at Al’s Kona Coffee Farm rental, Al left us a bag of his Kona blend.  I made a pot of it every day on his farm, and all that tasty coffee left me jittery and contributed to my insomnia.

Parnate’s dietary restrictions also prevented me from binging on certain comfort foods which I previously enjoyed such as aged cheeses and cured meats. MAOI’s require that patients relinquish eating anything high in the amino acid tyrine. I made up for that restriction by gobbling a large bowl of granola each night – it was a temporary sugar high.  Not to mention gross. Of course the sugary cereal also worsened my sleeplessness.

I was desperate to feel better, but since I felt so hopeless, I didn’t have much self-restraint.

To complicate matters, I obsessed about mortality.  We had brought my mother-in-law’s ashes and planned to scatter them in a spectacular location.  This type of ceremony was a fitting way to memorialize her because she loved the region. I knew she would have appreciated it.  But I was sickened by the macabre fact that her ashes were hidden a mere room away from where I slept every night.

We found the perfect place to disperse her ashes. It was a reef just off the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Park.  Also known as the Place of Refuge, this park was once the home of royal grounds and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers.  Kapu, or sacred laws, were tantamount to Hawaiian culture.  (If you’re thinking of that Brady Bunch Goes to Hawaii episode you’re not the only one!)

Seriously, the breaking of kapu could mean death. A kapu-breaker’s only chance for survival was to evade his pursuers and make it to a puuhonua, or a sacred place of refuge. Once there, a ceremony of absolution would take place and the law-breaker would be able to return to society.

On the surface, this park was a gorgeous, peaceful spot. As I learned a bit about its intense historical background, that distracted me a little bit from my depression   

Near the visitor center I walked by a huge plumeria bush and I surreptitiously picked a handful of the lovely, fragrant blooms.  Upon my return to the beach once again I was a passive observer rather than a participant.  I gave a few white and yellow plumeria blossoms to my husband and daughters and then I plopped down on my towel.  They walked out onto the reef together and tossed the plumerias into the ocean in remembrance of my mother-in-law.  (Craig decided to scatter her ashes alone.)

Less than ten days after we returned home, once again my bipolar depression lifted.  How did that happen?

A few days after our return my insomnia grew even worse and I experienced two completely sleepless nights.  Even one sleepless night could trigger mania and I could end up in the hospital, so I called Dr. D.  He prescribed Seroquel (generic name: quetiapine), a heavy-duty atypical antipsychotic.  It nipped my insomnia in the bud. As controversial as Seroquel is, I’ll always be deeply grateful to this medication for helping me in a crisis.

I noticed that my depression subsided a few days after I started taking the quetiapine.  It seemed to me that there could be a connection between my depression vanishing and starting the quetiapine, so I remained on it  despite the side effects  I had of daytime grogginess and some weight gain/nighttime hunger.

I was able to laugh again – not fake laughs, but the real deal. I had fun with my girls and Craig, and I felt hope trickle back into my brain. To my utter relief, I could write again. I stopped waking up every day wishing I could escape back into an agitated sleep. I knew that life would continue to be difficult, but I hoped with every cell in my being that I wouldn’t return to the hell of bipolar depression ever again.

10/9/15 Meds Update: I’ve been taking 900 mg of lithium/night, 30 mg of tranylcypromine/Parante a day ever since Hawaii. I slowly tapered off Seroquel, but I resumed taking it last August when I became hypomanic at the Catamaran Writers Conference. Today marks the second week I’ve been off Seroquel. So far, so good, but if I find myself becoming hypomanic I’ll take it again in a heartbeat! 

Dyane is completing her memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth).

34 thoughts on “Hell in Paradise – Part Two – Seeking The Real Aloha

  1. Very well said, Dyane! This IS the real aloha. Happiness comes from within, and is far from guaranteed, even in the most beautiful, tranquil settings. I am so happy to hear your depression is lifting! Beautiful post.

  2. I remember being at Disneyland. This was a long time ago. It wasn’t so much so that I felt horrible about how I was feeling, and it being strange or anything. But Disneyland, and I basically went through the motions of going there. It actually felt normal. But your description of being in Hawaii and not capturing the beauty of the place reminds me of the “no big deal flat affect” that I felt even in childhood.

    No one was labeling it then. Things didn’t get “bad” for me, until they started labeling things, and giving me drugs.

    • I am so glad to see you here, Jigme. Thank you for your insightful comment. I am so sorry that you’ve been through the fire of labels and drugs; you know I completely understand that kind of experience. I look forward to reading more of your comments – they always give me pause to think and reflect. I appreciate you being there for me. (I’ll be asking for your WordPress coaching soon!)

      • I know less about WordPress.com than I do about WordPress.org. I still have a huge amount to learn about WordPress.org. I am tending to move some of the sites to WordPress.com depending on what the goal of the site is.

      • I’m totally ignorant of anything WordPress-related, be it WordPress.com or WordPress.org, but that’s okay – it’s fun to learn about something new & it’s fulfilling too. I must admit that I’ve been known to curse quite a bit, though, while trying to figure out certain features on WordPress.com. Patience is not my strong point. 😉 Thanks for commenting and please keep in touch!

      • I looooove to curse! I always have!!! It’s such an outlet for me, although it’s not so great when I do it around my girls. They know certain words that shouldn’t be uttered from the mouths of a young’un, but I never said I was perfect, did I? And I’m working on that bad habit!

      • They will soon learn when they can use those words, and when they can’t.

  3. So glad you were able to find relief when you got home and I’m proud of you for being so on top of your symptoms. (Reading your posts and love your raw honesty and commitment to your long-term treatment plan and staying well.)

    • Wow – what an honor to have you read my post, Jennifer! 🙂 I adore your blog (as you know) so I guess I’m a stalker, but it’s a fantastic, unique blog. It shows your evolution as a mental health advocate and is so honest and moving. I have been reading a few of my recent posts here and I saw typos and other things I want to change, but what matters is just writing. I’ll improve over time and I know you understand how that goes. Thank you so much for stopping by. I know how busy you are with producing the show and doing a million other things. I look forward to connecting with you next year!

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  5. There is a lot to get from this post but I thought you would appreciate if I kept it light. So here goes….never thought I would say this but I am craving “Donkey Balls” in my mouth…


    LOL! Take care!

    • HA HA HA!!!! They WERE yummy!!!

      Beware – there are imposters! You can order them online from the original company, although I think they use fake vanilla, which sucks (pun intended!). No worries about whether a comment is light or dark. Which makes me think of chocolate….I think I’m losing it! 😉

      And on that note, I’m off to work out!
      Thx so much for speedy reading and your comment, Vic – you’re on it!

  6. YOU SUCK DONKEY BALLS! Oh man I’m sorry you couldn’t enjoy Hawaii, bit thank you for that laugh, you have no idea how much I needed it. And I can relate – I didn’t enjoy a helicopter ride down the coast last year and it’s the kind of thing that generally turns me into a happy hypo grinning fool. Ahhhhhh two years old and that post is as fresh as a daisy.

    • I’m thrilled you got a laugh from good, ‘ol Donkey Balls! I wish you saw the store’s sign – rather garish. A helicopter ride seems like it would be so exciting – we see them land and take off across the street at the emergency landing pad for LifeFlight and it never gets old for me when I see them/hear them coming in for a save — so for you not to have fun speaks volumes. 😦 You must have a do-over! Thanks for this comment & for taking the time because I know you just got a gazillion comments over at glorious Blahpolarland! Please don’t forget me when you’re super-famous!! 😉

  7. Dyane, I love reading your posts. I always get a, “Wow, I’m not the only one,” when you write about your feelings and experiences. I’ve been on a combination of meds now that have kept me out of depression and mania for years, but mostly I go through life feeling a completely flat affect. I praise God for a friend who, when we’re together, makes me belly laugh out loud. I’ve come to cherish those times. Truthfully, though it’s uncomfortable when I compare myself to other people, I’d rather have the stability and flat affect than the wildness and unpredictability of the swings between depression and mania. I actually find it incredibly peaceful now.

    • I always getting an extra lift when I see one of your comments, Susan.

      I don’t mean to sound syrupy-sweet, but I feel honored!!! 🙂 Thank God you’ve been depression/mania-free for a wonderful chunk of time, but the flat affect aspect sounds less-than-ideal. Sigh. But yes, give me that state over the extremes any day.

      Yesterday I read about a woman who wrote that when she lowered her lithium by 150 mg, the flat affect she was experiencing dissipated. But insomnia and a feeling of unease were there instead, so she returned to the higher dose. I was wistful as I read about her experience, because I thought “Maybe if I went down just a little bit, I’d *feel* more and that would be fulfilling!” but I knew that was wishful thinking and dangerous. While I don’t have a totally flat affect I know there’s something different going on due to lithium, but I am a big, big proponent of it as long as there are no bad organ damage issues going on. So far, so good – I get regular blood tests.

      In any case, it’s ***great*** that you can still get those belly laughs with your friend – I bet that you appreciate them more than most people.

      Most significantly, you have peace in your life.

      That is truly precious!!! OXOXOXOXOX

    • I still have a ways to go, dear Van, but thank you for being such a kindred spirit. When I read one of your comments I feel supported! 👏
      My ultimate goal is to be a motivational speaker, as you know. As far as living in a van down by the river – I think I’ll stick to our house, but I can go give my Tony Robbins-eque talks down by the river. It’s so pretty and they have weddings and birthday parties there. But I won’t do it during rainy season! ☔️

  8. Oh Dyane, I’m so sorry you weren’t feeling well in Hawaii of all places. I can relate so well, no positive feelings, not being able to enjoy yourself, stuck in an awful negative quagmire. I am so glad the Parnate/Seroquel/ lithium combination worked for you. Keep writing your amazing posts and hope you keep feeling well. Xxxxoooo

    • As always, thank you beautiful Malificent, I mean Samina!!! 😉 You rock that costume so well – you could’ve been a body double for Angelina Jolie in the movie!

      Thank you so much for your positivity & encouragement; I’m so lucky to have my lovely Seroquel Sis in my life!💜❤️💙

    • OMG – are no apologies for missing posts are ever needed from you! I don’t expect you to read every post, as long as you’re always my friend! 😉

      You’re a great friend & you’ve *been there* for me in a big way over and over again – I’m forever grateful! I’m still tired, by the way. It has been proof. 20 days off Seroquel and that might have something to do with it apart from my shameful sugar intake. 😦 Hope you’re hydrated, rested up and that you cancelled your Mt. Everest trip you planned for this Friday, followed by an ultra-marathon and triathlon simultaneously done whilst levitating!!!! 😉 XOXOXXO

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  10. I love this story because I have felt the same way. My depression has robbed me of enjoying the last 4 years of my daughter’s life – years I will never get back. We keep doing vacations and I periodically check out. It’s too much stimulation sometimes. Parnate has helped me tremendously, but I still don’t feel happy most of the time.
    I’m glad you’ve found a combination that works!

    • Thank you so much for this comment – you understand! I’m so sorry you’ve suffered too.
      I’m glad that Parnate has helped you a lot, but I hope you feel (much) happier ASAP!
      You deserve that! It took me about 7 years to find something that finally helped, so please don’t give up

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