I Get By with a Little Help from Total Strangers…



This post is dedicated to one of my favorite bloggers Blahpolar of Blahpolar Diaries



I’m sitting near Woman’s Best Friend at this very moment.  My sweet puppy Lucy is reclining next to me while I hunt and peck slowly, groggy from taking a bit too much Seroquel the previous night.  Lucy sidles up next to my foot so that we’re touching skin-to-fur.  I can feel her soft warmth as she snoozes, and our being together is one of the best parts of my day.  

I want to apologize for whining repeatedly about my difficulties with keeping up healthy friendships – both in the flesh and online.  I’ve blogged ad nauseam about how lonely I’ve felt in this conservative mountain town ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2007.  I’m going to whine a little bit more, but please bear with me.  The whining might will eventually end! 

As Kathy Griffin says, “Here’s the thing.”

(I don’t love everything about her, but I do think she’s funny.)



After one of my few local, longtime friends “S.” unexpectedly moved 500 miles away in December, I felt even lonelier.   Years ago S. experienced postpartum depression and she took medication for it.  I never felt for a second that she judged me for having a mental illness and taking meds.  S. often told me that I meant a great deal to her, not because I was needy and I required her to do that, but because she wanted to shower me with gratitude!  

I knew that if I mentioned to S. that I was experiencing major fatigue from a medication adjustment, she’d immediately offer to help me.  Indeed, I had medicated-related fatigue hit me hard last fall, and lo and behold, S. was there for me from the start.  I didn’t have to ask her to help me – she figured that out on her own.

Empathy and offers of help didn’t occur to several other friends who I informed about my fatigue.  It’s possible these women had never taken psych meds, and therefore they couldn’t imagine what that level of med-related exhaustion was like.  But perhaps they were taking meds in secret.  I don’t know.  I wondered, but I never felt comfortable enough to ask any of them if they were taking medication for mood disorders.  There are numerous moms who still don’t want to tell their mommy friends if they take meds due to the insidious, ever-present stigma. But I digress.

Now more than ever before, I’ve wanted to form friendships with women who have psych diagnoses, who take meds, and who are willing to share that information with me.  Being the only one in my IRL circle who’s “out” with my stigmatized mental illness has made me weary. It may sound limiting to focus on being friends with other “labeled” women, but that’s what I want.  Hell, I’m not asking anyone else to do it!  

I knew that in order to meet women living with mental illness, I’d have to take the plunge and create another support group for those with mood disorders.  Been there. Done that.  I made a shitload of mistakes in the doing, but at least I learned a thing to two! 

This time around I’ll have the group primarily be about having fun and nurturing friendships; I don’t want it to be a replacement for intense group therapy. We won’t just sit on our butts either – we’ll go on hikes and embark on other fitness/nature activities. After all, I am a former American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and P.A.C.E. Circuit class instructor!  

To that end, last month when I spied a 50% special on Meetup.com to create a group, I made a split-second decision to sign up, just like Meetup wanted me to do!  I found out after I signed up that the 50% deal was for first-time Meetup organizers only, which I was not.  However, I emailed Meetup and told them I thought anyone could get the 50% off, and a friendly customer service representative gave me the special anyway. I took that as a good omen.

The last time I tried forming a Meetup group it didn’t go so well.  I made that group’s requirements far too limited (i.e. a group for moms with bipolar who lived in this county).  As a result, only one person applied who lived two hours away, and she wasn’t a mom.   

Within just two days of my new group’s inception, I got an awesome, strong response. Twelve women are confirmed, and there are two members pending!  I went a little gung-ho on promoting it, so I’ve made a waitlist.  I’ve learned from facilitating a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) support group with 22 women in attendance that having too many people is counterproductive and overwhelming for everyone.  

I felt sad that two members who wanted to join my new group were concerned that people from other Meetups would notice they were in a group for those with mood disorders.   Of course they were scared of the stigma of mental illness, and I completely understood why they wanted confidentiality.  I explained how they could hide their personal Meetup information from others online,and that made all the difference.   I was reminded yet again that despite the strides being made in mental health advocacy, there is a LONG way to go!

We don’t have our first meeting until the end of February.  I’ve scouted out a peaceful outdoor location near a State Park.  This area has gorgeous redwood-lined trails where I’ve spent hundreds of hours hiking alone. For safety reasons, that wasn’t the greatest idea, although I carried my cell phone and pepper spray.  I’ll take a friend along from now on, since unfortunately Lucy isn’t allowed in the State Park. 😦  

Anyway, a couple days ago I was informed of a mountain lion sighting in the general area where I plan to hold the group.  The big cat wasn’t in the exact same spot as our meeting place, but I had to laugh.  Was this some sort of sign?  

The mountain lion’s appearance has created quite a stir in my two neighborhood Facebook groups. Several members have shared a ton of mountain lion lore with the others.  I figure that chances are good that if we have a large group of women meeting together, we won’t be attacked by mountain lions.  There are humane actions we can take to scare it/them away – if you’re interested, check out this local link:




While I’m scared to organize yet another support group, I have a much better feeling about this one than I did with the other four support groups I ran.  Despite all my problems (including social anxiety and the Seroquel sleepies) I’m in a better place to do this sort of thing than I ever have been before.  

My daily “Dr. Mohmmad Alsuwaidan” workouts are helping me tremendously.  Plus, once I get to know the other group members in person, you can bet I’ll ask them for help, and recruit a co-organizer or two.  Going it alone is foolish!  

I’ll return next week to write about…drum roll please…WRITING!  I might be posting earlier than my regular day on February 6th, so stay tuned.  

Thanks for your wonderful comments.  I swear that when I read each one I get a little spike of serotonin in my brain.  I’ve read articles that suggest that a serotonin spike actually does happen! So don’t hold back if you want to comment, and if it’s only a two words, I bet the serotonin is still activated. 🙂

I’ll see ya round!




I had to include this classic – I’ve always loved this song.



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:


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.