The PTSD Highway

 

Unknown

Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)

 

 

 

Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.

Unknown

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Writing Envy Redux & My Dog Lucy Is Writing A Book!

dog-writer

 

My hound Lucy looks twice as focused as this dog when she spots a fly!

 

 

I’ve written before about my writing envy

And while I’d love to rhapsodize how much brilliant writing inspires me to better my craftor exclaim how thrilled I was when my friend’s debut novel hit the New York Times Best Seller list, I won’t. 

I’ve been reading such incredible books and blogs lately. When I looked at my Seroquel belly this morning, it was a rippling, verdant hue. 🙂 

During the years I was mired in bipolar depression, I couldn’t care less about others’ writing because I no longer felt human. I abandoned the freelance writing relationships I had nurtured, but what hurt the most was that my writing identity vanished.

When I had the great fortune to find a psychiatrist who suggested an “out-of-thebox” medication, my depression lifted. In late 2013 I resumed writing and began blogging. And I remembered someone I used to be friends with in junior high named Aimee Bender.  

We weren’t very close, but we shared a mutual love for books. On a whim, I sent a photograph of us to my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle. A couple months later, L’Engle mailed me a postcard with a picture of the Milky Way. (A fitting image to represent the author of A Wrinkle In Time.) L’Engle wrote few lines thanking me, and added, “I always enjoy seeing what my readers look like.” I treasure her postcard and keep it near my laptop.

Toward the end of junior high, Aimee and I lost touch. Thank God no drama was involved in our parting – we simply went our separate ways and I wished her well. 

In 2011 Aimee’s book The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was published, and it received rave reviews along with the Los Angeles Times best seller status. I bought it and while I found the book unique, it didn’t wasn’t my taste. I was envious of Aimee’s success, but it was a fleeting feeling. 

Recently I checked the internet to find out about Aimee’s most recent book. Her writing career is nothing short of amazing: a prolific output of books, heaps of awards, a book made into a film, a cult following, fancy teaching positions, healthy twins at age 43, a relatively good-sounding marriage, etc. The one thing she didn’t seem to have was a severe mental illness.  That’s the day I knew it was time to stop following her accomplishments! 

My literary envy is often triggered when I can’t put down a compelling book that’s so beautifully written it makes me wish I had written it. I finished such a memoir last night. As with any intense, engaging book I immerse myself in, I was sad to reach the last page. 

To Have Not is about the author’s life growing up poor in San Francisco. It was written by my upcoming Catamaran Writing Conference instructor Frances Lefkowtiz. To Have Not is an unforgettable, lyrically written memoir.

You could say that I’m a wee bit envious of the gifted Lefkowtiz. 

Gulp.

Despite the intimidation I’ll feel in the presence of this accomplished writer, I’d rather have a fantastic nonfiction instructor than a mediocre one.  More than anything, I’m incredibly grateful that I won the fellowship award to attend her class.

What helps me grapple with my nasty emerald bits is reading insightful posts by those who expose their writing jealousy. Today I found a refreshingly honest post about this very topic! Acclaimed author Robin Black reveals the not-so-nice parts of herself after her writer friends hit the literary lotto. Interestingly, Black discusses how bestselling authors possess cases of the envies just like the neophytes do. She includes original advice on how to handle waves of envy, and trust me, her post is definitely worth the read.

Happily, I didn’t get consumed with jealousy over Robin Black’s talent. Well, I wouldn’t mind having one or two of the achievements listed on her bio; they’re nothing major, really…I mean, being published in small rags like the New York Times Magazine and receiving several major grants is not that big a deal.  

http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/green-eyed-writer-literary-envy

On a separate note, you might be wondering about my collie Lucy’s blossoming writing career. Well, being a goofball, I thought I’d touch upon another phenomenon that freaks me out: the fact that almost everyone I encounter is writing a book, even my beloved beast.

With her two furry paws bursting with creativity, Miss Lucy has already amassed 80,000 words about her life. 

il_570xN.478172114_2z82

 

With the enormous amount of books being published annually, sometimes I wonder what’s the point of adding my book to the mix. Will Birth of a New Brain truly help anyone or is it primarily a quest to massage my ego? 

Although I believe these are totally normal thoughts, I must kick them to the curb.

I can reflect upon this gem of a mood booster: 

If books such as Reusing Old Graves, Why Cats Paint, Mommy Drinks Because You’re Bad (Arch Books – Quality Religious Books for Children), Make Your Own Sex Toys, The Bitch Who Forgot Birthdays, and the page turner Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns can be published, then my book has a place in our world!

I remind myself that my book will be a worthwhile read. I’m writing for a niche market, with absolutely no aspirations of having it become a bestseller. Madeleine L’Engle said, “You must write the book that wants to be written…” and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So what if there are trillions of books out in the world?

It’s okay.

So what if  countless writers possess such off-the-hook talent that I feel odious by comparison?

It’s okay.

It’s not easy being green, but at least I’m not alone…

* Lithium and tranylcypromine/Parnate (an MAOI, which stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor)

 

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of  Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016.