Finding Light Amongst the Darkness


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Jonathan Van Ness, host of the hit series Gay of Thrones 

 

Last week I wrote about my friend who fell and suffered a concussion. Shortly after I published that post, he had two strokes. I just received word that he’s being taken off life support tonight, and I’m in complete shock. I’ve been close with this vibrant, loving, wonderful man for almost a decade. I’ve cared for his grandchildren and he frequently took care of my girls as well. To think of him gone is bizarre. It pisses me off. He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met.

I was hoping a miracle would pull him through. I’ve witnessed a health miracle once before in my life. My Dad had a pulmonary embolism and according to his doctors, the blood clot should’ve killed him. When I went to visit my father at St. John’s Health Center, he was attached to various tubes and heavily sedated. I thought there was no way in hell he’d make it out of there alive. To my complete amazement, he pulled through that crisis and lived a couple more years.

So, ever since my friend’s fall, each day I’ve gotten out of bed fervently hoping for a similar miracle, yet filled with dread, wondering if I’d find out that he passed away.

Those of you who have read Birth of a New Brain for a while know that I ruminate on upsetting things more than most people. It has been essential to distract myself from my macabre thoughts with humor and fantasy whenever possible. It’s not so easy to do that, as simple as it sounds.

Have you ever heard of a show called Game of Thrones? 😉

Since its 2011 premiere, I was aware of the HBO series’ massive popularity. Even my favorite singer Neil Finn sings about the show in his catchy song Recluse on the Dizzy Heights album;  Finn’s reference piqued my interest more than anything else:

I make any excuse to stay home
But I can’t do that and I must come back
People that stay at home
Watching a Game of Thrones
And wondering what comes next
Well you can’t do that and you must come back

Recluse by Neil Finn

However, I never felt like taking the plunge to watch Game of Thrones until last week when I ordered the first Thrones disc via Netflix.  After ten minutes of Episode One, I was so grossed out that I screeched like an owl.  I wasn’t hooked, to say the least! I turned off my DVD player with a sigh. (Craig was hanging out with our girls in another room as Thrones ain’t exactly akin to The Wiggles!)

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However, the next day I was mysteriously compelled to watch the rest of the Thrones episode. Weird! I watched the second episode…I wanted more. Like it or not, I was under the Thrones spell. Being impatient for Netflix to bring me yet more Thrones, I thought I might find the third episode for free online, so I Google-searched. I couldn’t find anything that didn’t require payment until this winsome fellow lit up my screen, and, my life:

JONATHAN VAN NESS

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I love JVN…and his hair!

Jonathan is the host of Funny or Die’s super-hit show Gay of Thrones in which he briefly recaps Game of Thrones episodes in his inimitable way. As I watched his first recap I laughed out loud so hard that everyone in the house scurried over to my room to make sure I was okay. My laughing uproariously ’round here is extremely rare, you see. Lucy barked so much that you’d think someone was robbing the house.

Please note: If you think you might be offended by any of the following, please skip the next clip: graphic violence, foul language, marijuana references, Game of Thrones spoilers, poking fun at the gay hairdressing world (but by an authentically gay hairdresser) and many other things I’m sure I’m forgetting to include. I know I’ll lose some followers by sharing my brand of humor, but to be honest, I’ve always loved bawdy, clever comedy. My predilection for the profane is actually a large part of who I am…when it hasn’t been blasted away by bipolar depression.  I’ve kept this aspect of myself under wraps, more or less, until now.

I was hesitant to share this post, but I gotta be me!

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Jonathan’s recaps get better and more far out with each episode! He features hilarious clients/co-stars in his styling chair, some of whom actually appear on Game of Thrones. There’s even a brilliant Princess Bride-esque cameo by George R.R. Martin. Martin wrote the fantasy novels (A Song of Ice and Fire) that the Game of Thrones show is based upon.

Until the next Thrones season arrives, Jonathan is working on other projects apart from his full-time hair design. Today his new podcast Getting Curious will be launched on Maximum Fun about Sunni Shia relations.

Jonathan also collaborates with his friend and client Margaret Cho. You can listen to their podcast on Monsters of Talk hosted by Cho and Jim Short.

Jonathan’s YouTube channel show Gay of Everything premiered last week in which he discusses world events.

In a small-but-inspiring touch of synchronicity, Jonathan works at Sola  Salon Studios which is right near where my beloved Granny lived for many years.

I call that a Good Sign!

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Now that I’ve got that out of my system…(well, for now, anyway!)

Other not-quite-so-exciting news: last week I surprised myself by taking a cold-turkey break from Twitter. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did! Today is day #7, and I don’t miss it very much. I was becoming too wrapped up in Twitter-land, a la Facebook, which some of you will recall I quit because I got unfriended twice in one week.

I didn’t have anything super-negative happen on Twitter, thank God, but I read a few tweets from a postpartum organization I followed & supported & genuinely liked very much. I  was frankly shocked they tweeted them for I found those characters offensive and disappointing. I questioned the organization about it, but they patronized me. My reaction to these unethical, hypocritical tweets told me it was time to take a break.

Despite icky tweets, etc. that are inevitable when using social media, Twitter holds a special place in my heart. I would love to return there in January, but only if I can keep my Twitter use & reactions to a low roar. 😉

Plus Jonathan VanNess is on it, so that’s a big plus: @thegayofthrones

I send each of you a big hug and hopes that you have a holiday (or non-holiday) that surpasses your expectations! (In a most excellent way!)

love,

Dyane

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 2017.

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My Brother-in-Law Died Today

 

This Crowded House song, one of my all-time favorites, is for my brother-in-law of seventeen years. He died at his home earlier this morning, surrounded by his family. He was too young to go. He’ll never hold his first grandchild.

My husband is in shock, as are my children. And me. 

I dedicate the Crowded House song “How Will You Go”, one of my all-time favorite songs, to Don.

 

“How Will You Go”

written by Neil and Tim Finn, performed by Crowded House

Escape is on your mind again
Escape to a far away land
At times it seems there is no end
To long, hard nights of drinking
How will you go?
How will you go?
Drive through the wind and the rain
Cover it up
Cover it up
I’ll find you a shelter to sleep in
I fell over on the couch again
But you know not all sleep is wasted
The dreams are alcohol inspired
I can’t find a better way to face itHow will you go?
How will you go?
Drive through the wind and the rain
Cover it up
Cover it up
I’ll find you a shelter to sleep in

And you know I’ll be fine
Just don’t ask me how it’s going
Gimme time, gimme time
‘Cause I want you to see
‘Round the world, ’round the world
Is a tangled up necklace of pearls

How will you go?
How will you go?
Drive through the wind and the rain
Cover it up
Cover it up
I’ll find you a shelter to sleep in

How will you go?
How will you go?
Drive through the wind and the rain
Cover it up
Cover it up
I’ll find you a shelter to sleep in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just When Life’s Getting Better, Here Comes Death!

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Recently the incredible Marie Abanga, a friend of mine, joked that my WordPress tags section could make a blog post of its own. And she’s right! A lot is going on, which is reflected in the tags. Too much is going on. 

I hesitated to write about these recent events for fear that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, but all the parties involved don’t read my blog. 

Just before I attended the Catamaran Writers Conference on August 12, my husband received alarming news. His close family member had been admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice/dehydration. I immediately knew the cause for this ER admission: full-blown alcoholism.

Selfish me. My first thought was, “Don’t let him die now. I want to go to this fucking conference! I worked so hard to get this scholarship.”

Add to that, I have issues with alcoholism. Mine are deep-seated, festering pustules full of rage and resentment. My father was an alcoholic. The red wine he guzzled each night turned him into someone I no longer recognized; someone who I feared for good reason. I believe my Dad was desperately trying to crush out the demons caused by his bipolar disorder and the abuse he suffered as a child.

As a result of seeing how alcohol affected my father and our family, I despised alcohol for most of my life. At 37 I received a postpartum bipolar disorder diagnosis. My mental illness was treatment-resistant and at my wit’s end I became an alcoholic, finally understanding to some extent why my father drank.

Red wine and tequila became my daily meals. “Unhappy Meals” without clowns, if you will. I knew I had a serious problem when I switched from evening to daytime drinking, as early as  10:00 a.m. On Monday through Friday I filled a large coffee tumbler with red wine and downed every drop, hating the taste but wanting the buzz of oblivion. I was passively suicidal during those years.

My former psychiatrist, the one who talked behind my back to Craig about how I was such a frustrating patient because no medication was working, the one who complained to me about his hatred of his ex-wife and his myriad problems with his four children, the one who was put on probation for overprescribing meds, wasn’t much help.

Ever since I started drinking heavily, I’ve considered myself an alcoholic. On November 18th, 2013 I gave up alcohol cold-turkey. That was the day I took my first pink-colored Parnate pill, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in addition to lithium.

Parnate is known as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression; it’s old-school and has been used since the 1950’s. Parnate has been shown to be most effective when used with lithium. There are rules when taking the older MAOI’s which consist of dietary restrictions and no alcohol if you want to avoid having a stroke.

I didn’t want to stroke out, so I stopped the booze.

Parnate and lithium gave me my life back. The dietary sacrifices, the giving up the booze were 1000% worth it.

It occurs to me that in writing about alcoholism, I’ll come across as a hypocrite. Even so, I’m willing to share with you about how flawed I am – I learn from reading about other flawed souls, so I hope this might help one or two of you in some way.

My current psychiatrist Dr. D. has been such a useful sounding board. His specialty is addiction medicine. I didn’t know he had a specialty when I decided to work with him, but of all the specialties he could have, this one would prove to be extremely helpful.

Ironically I learned about Dr. D. at my neighborhood liquor store during a chat with the owner. I was there posting a flyer promoting my “Women with Mood Disorders” support group, and the owner started telling me about his wife who had OCD. He said, “I’ve found her a great shrink!”  As we spoke surrounded by vodka, the owner added emphatically, “Dr. D. helped my wife so much!” and he handed me the psychiatrist’s business card. Even though I still met with my misogynistic psychiatrist, something told me to take that card.

When I met with Dr. D yesterday for my routine appointment, I told him what was happening with my hospitalized family member. He had plenty of insights. Something that stuck in my mind was this: he explained that if both parents are alcoholic, then each child has a 70% chance of becoming alcoholic. I was clueless about that statistic, but it made complete sense. I’m relieved I no longer drink nor does my husband. Our kids have suffered enough hellish shit with my bipolar disorder; they certainly don’t need two alcoholics “raising” them.

Alcoholism, like bipolar disorder, runs in families. My mother-in-law died from it, and I witnessed her death firsthand. I was manic at the time, and I was strangely numb to the grief surrounding me. The hospice team told me how “great” I was dealing with my husband’s grief. It was all a ruse. My mania took away 99% of death’s sting; I only felt bad when I saw my usually stoic husband break down in sobs.

When I was alone in her hospital room, I told my mother-in-law that it was okay to die. Giving someone permission to die was not something I’d have been able to do when I was my usual, deeply depressed self. She passed away shortly after I spoke with her.

Today I’m not manic. I’m raw – I’m susceptible to others’ grief, especially when I sleep with the person who’s grieving. And I’m scared.

I don’t do death “well”. Does anyone?

I’m always worried that I’ll relapse if presented with an extremely tough situation. I haven’t “overcome” bipolar. I’m not a fucking warrior. Far the fuck from it. 

At least I’m a realist. I examine my personal history, I see what happened, and because of what occurred it makes sense why I fear death so much now.

Here are three more examples of my “getting an F in Death”:

When my father died, I was so devastated that I became suicidal. I asked to be hospitalized and Craig threw the girls into the car and drove me to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). While there I begged for my first round of ECT. They gave it to me. ECT helped immensely to mitigate my acute suicidal impulses.  While I no longer wished to kill myself, I was still severely depressed. 

I missed my father’s memorial service, which is probably the biggest regret of my life apart from all the traumatic, crazy shit I pulled on my little girls and husband during my bipolar episodes.

When my grandmother died a gruesome death from lung cancer, I went into a clinical depression for which I should have been diagnosed/medicated, but no one recognized it at the time.

This happened was when I was 27, ten years before my bipolar diagnosis. When Granny died I felt frozen, hopeless, inhuman. I took time off from my job working as a certified personal trainer and flew with my family to New York. We buried her in upstate New York.

While in New York I remained frozen. I didn’t want to go explore New York City with my family. They didn’t seem nearly as fucked up as I was. I wanted to disappear

When I had my fifteen-year-old American Eskimo Shera euthanized in my arms, I plummeted into an evil darkness within a day. 

Granted, these people who died were hugely significant in my life. My beloved dog Shera was a family member too – she went to my wedding and accompanied us on our honeymoon. She loved me through so many of my depressed-filled years.

What I’m about to write is harsh. Please don’t go off on me in the comments. This particular death by alcoholism enrages me. Our family member has been drinking heavily for years. I don’t know the specifics of the nuclear family dynamics – what I mean by that is I’m ignorant whether or not anyone tried to do an intervention. I have never been close to them. None of them visited/called/contacted me during my 7 hospitalizations.

The last thing I want to do is visit this jaundiced, bloated, tubed-up, dying person in the hospital. I have hospital PTSD from my seven psych unit hospitalizations. Hospital PTSD is an honest-to-God condition, and unless you’ve suffered in this way, it’s hard, if not impossible to understand it. My therapist believes I have it, yet she implored to me during our last session that I need to work through it in this particular case. She suggested that I visit the family member to support my husband, to say goodbye and to be ethical. I’m forcing myself to do it.

If I was still drinking, I’d drink to get through such a thing. If I still took benzodiazepines, I’d have a few. Or smoke pot if that would help me – it doesn’t do a thing except make me tired and relieve nausea.  All I can do to get through this hospital visit is to try anxiety-reduction techniques, use some Rescue Remedy, and inhale essential oils such as lavender & orange, two of my favorites.

And keep the visit short.

 At the Catamaran Conference the renowned poet Ellen Bass read a poem called “Relax” that resonated with me deeply in light of what has just happened in our family.  Bass, the co-author along with Laura Davis of the bestselling The Courage to Heal, wrote something so real. I loved how she recited “Relax” to us in the campus chapel – her rather deadpan tone did her poem justice. You can hear Ellen Bass recite it at the link listed below.

I  joked with a Jewish classmate sitting next to me that the poem should be called “Jewish” instead. (We Jews worry about everything….)

At almost 2000 words, and having been all over the place, I wonder if any of you are still reading this post. It’s more like a novella, but sometimes I can’t stick to the much-more-readable length of 200-400 words. Please forgive me. Brevity is the soul of wit, but I’m not feeling so witty today.

Love to each of you,

Dyane

Visit this link to hear Ellen Bass read “Relax”:

http://www.ellenbass.com/books/like-a-beggar/relax/

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Miss You Dad


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Dad

I dedicate these beautiful lyrics to my best friend on the other side, Richard David Leshin, who died January 6th, 2009.

p.s. Dad, I know you’re reading this. I’m gonna kick your ass when I see you again for leaving us way too soon. I’m sorry I missed your funeral, but I wanted to join you wherever you wound up going, you see?

I had to admit myself yet again, but you know that too, don’t you. That place had shit food by the way – no homemade pesto or grilled swordfish, or, God forbid, red wine.

The pain of losing you will never go away in my lifetime, but I can finally live with it now.  Your death almost destroyed me.  Bipolar depression almost destroyed me, but I made it.

I made it.

I love you.

your “little Dyane”

La Historia de un Sueño

 Sorry I came without calling first
This is not the time or place
But I had to tell you
That in heaven, it’s not too bad
Tomorrow you won’t remember
“It was only a dream,” you’ll tell yourself
And my reply will be in the form of a shooting star

Now you’d better get some rest
Let me tuck you in like I did years ago
Do you remember when I used to sing you to sleep?
They only let me come,
Enter your dreams to see you
It’s just, that on that sad night
I couldn’t tell you goodbye

And when it was time for me to go
To that land of peace
I just wanted to tell you goodbye,
Give you a kiss and see you one more time.
I promise you, you’ll be happy
So put on that beautiful smile

And like that, only like that
Do I want to remember you
Like that, like before,
Like that, looking forward
Like that,
You made my life better
Like that

And now I anoint you
Only you will continue our journey
Well, it’s getting late
I have to leave now
In a few seconds you’ll wake up.

This is a loose translation of the song “La Historia de un Sueño” by La Oreja de Van Gogh. I want to thank Michelle Mendoza Ward for sharing this song in her blog SuperMom Mentality; the post is:  http://theearthquakers.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/the-story-of-a-dream/

Dyane & Dad 002I was eight months pregnant with my first daughter Avonlea 

Cemetery Days

 

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I swore I’d never do it.  I vowed I’d never live next door to a cemetery.  I was a fervent believer in ghosts, although I never actually saw one.  Even so, I thought that if I resided next to a graveyard I’d be in constant fear that I’d spot a spook or maybe a bunch of them…and they’d get me!

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No way, no how would I spend most of my time next to a bunch of dead folks who could come and get me!

In 2001, my then-fiance and I rented a hovel owned by a wealthy landlord who charged an obscene amount of rent.  The house contained mold all over the place, and it was truly decrepit.  When the rainy season arrived, the small backyard’s inadequate drainage allowed a bona fide creek to run through the moldering garage.

After we gave our notice at Chez Mold, the rich landlady kept most of our deposit, even though we left the house in better condition than we found it.  We were ecstatic to move on to a better place owned by a more responsible, ethical landlord.

A friend had informed us of a cute cabin for rent.  It was located below the Chaminade, a gorgeous five-start resort that had previously been a monastery.   We drove over to the property to take a look.  As with many rentals in our town, the landlords lived on the same piece of property as their rental.  The husband and wife seemed friendly enough, and the personal reference certainly helped us seal the deal.  There was only one problem.

The studio was situated directly next to Oakwood Memorial, one of the largest cemeteries in the county.

As I looked around the beautiful landscape I decided to make an exception to my no-cemetery rule.   The cabin had a peaceful view of trees, and in the cheery cabin there was no mold in sight, anywhere.  I had been so unhappy at Chez Mold and I felt pretty desperate – I wanted to live in a relatively clean, bright and airy place with a reasonable rent.  The cabin fit that bill.  I told myself I’d try hard not to perseverate about our very, very quiet “neighbors”.  Craig assured me it would be fine – he never was creeped out by cemeteries, the lucky guy.

We moved in and I started to relax about my cemetery credo more than I had expected I would.  It helped that cemetery grounds were truly lovely, with lots of green grass and old trees scattered throughout the property.  An avid reader of our local news, I read articles and obituaries announcing when someone had passed away, and I’d take note if the person would be buried at “my” cemetery.

Over the next few days when I drove by the cemetery on my way to work, I’d notice a new headstone and a fresh patch of earth.  I’d spot the multitude of flowers, decorations, balloons, and the mourners around that plot.  Watching such a display often made me appreciate being alive more than ever before, but the new graves also gave me the shivers.

When I reviewed the obituaries of these people, their deaths felt more personal to me since they were literally so close to my home.  The most disturbing and heartbreaking aspect of my proximity to Oakwood was when I knew a teenager or a child had died and would be buried there.  Those displays had the most flowers, the most balloons, candy canes, pin wheels, and stuffed animals.  But overall, what mattered most about those tragic deaths was that love permeated through those new graves’ decorations.  Love erased the macabre element of those gravesites for me.

I finally overcame my fear of cemeteries when I started walking around Oakwood on a daily basis. I needed the exercise because I was sitting too much in my job as an administrative assistant.  I strolled around Oakland in loops, noticing the historic headstones and reading the quaint dedications on them.  Many of these markers had been there for over a hundred years, and some were impossible to read.  I know this will sound a little New Age-y, but at first I was concerned I might pick up “negative energy” by being around so much death, both recent and of bygone times.  Fortunately I didn’t sense anything disturbing once I meandered through the fields.

After our first daughter was born, Craig walked around Oakwood with her in the Baby Bjorn on his chest.   I always found it poignant that such a new, little life wandered that landscape, blissfully unaware that she was around a lot of folks on the other side.

That cabin turned out to be a very symbolic place for me to live, apart from the “carpe diem” inspiration I derived from my cemetery walks.  We also literally lived two blocks away from the  hospital.  I drove by the locked-down mental health unit every single day and would look at it, thankful that I had no reason to be there.  During the time I lived next to Oakwood, a close friend of mine needed treatment at the mental health unit and he told me horror stories about the place.  Little did I know that I would admit myself in there several years later when my postpartum bipolar disorder struck.

I think back to my cemetery days with a bittersweet smile.  I don’t mean to make light of the enormous pain of the mourners and those who died.  I think they all would appreciate my take on that final resting place that I first vilified, and then I found peaceful and beautiful.  I lived by Oakwood before my bipolar diagnosis, when I was joyfully pregnant with my first baby, and when I was innocent of all the suffering that was to come.  I am grateful that I faced my fears of cemeteries, for in facing my fear, I found beauty in unexpected places and deepened my awe of life and death in the process.

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How Do You Explain Heaven To A Child?

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Photo of an “Eskie” puppy who looks exactly like my Shera.  Everyone told me she looked like a stuffed animal, and she did.

Today is one of those days where I am not getting anything done.  Dirty dishes fill the sink. Clean clothes that are meant to be put away are strewn all over my unmade bed.  It’s a gloomy, rainy Thursday; this weather drains my energy, but our community is relieved for the outpour because we’ve had scary drought conditions.   According to my favorite trusted astrologer Risa D’Angeles we are experiencing Mercury Retrograde in Pisces.  I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I know it’s not good.

The day began at 5:00 a.m. with a screaming match between my two little girls who woke up ninety minutes earlier than usual.  Ever since then I have felt somewhat off kilter.  Today’s Risa D’Angeles horoscope for my astrological sign of Pisces states that I “need uninterrupted sleep”.  She’s right.  (You can check your horoscope at http://www.gtweekly.com – I highly recommend it.  I’ve been reading this paper for the past two decades and I always flip to Risa’s page first!)   After schlepping the girls to school in bumper-to-bumper traffic I played around on Facebook when I should have been working on my writing.  Facebook writing most assuredly does not count towards my writing project, as much as I wish it did.

I did have an exciting, positive interaction happen since the crack of dawn.  I was contacted by the author Martha Rhodes.  Her powerful book 3000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression Without Medication details her journey with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and she explains how it alleviated her severe depression.  I have tremendous admiration for Martha, who survived a suicide attempt and is now a mental health advocate.  I didn’t know that TMS can also help with bipolar disorder symptoms – you can check out Martha’s Facebook page 3000 Pulses later or her website http://www.3000pulseslater.com for more information.  Martha was notified of my blog through a Google alert. (Do you know about Google alerts?  If not, I suggest you research them – they are very cool!) I mentioned 3000 Pulses Later in my “Memoir” blog post, and Martha got in touch with me.  Hearing from a talented author certainly brightened my day.  This was the second time that I’ve had an author contact me this week.  I could get used to this happening with other authors as well!

On a more serious note, the topic I planned to cover today sounds a bit lofty: heaven. Unfortunately I don’t think I will do this subject matter justice in the time I have to write. It’s also difficult to analyze heaven since I connect it with death and that brings up some painful memories.  However, I’ve found that when I write about upsetting matters, the writing serves as a catharsis.  I always feel better afterwards, so to quote one of my favorite writers Greg Archer: “Onward!”

(Greg wrote the entertaining, insightful book Shut Up, Skinny Bitches! and he is the editor of “Good Times”.)

Onward, take two.

My six-year-old daughter Marilla has been struggling lately at bedtime.  She has been telling me repeatedly how scared she is.  When I explain that she has no reason to be frightened, she disagrees with me.   “I’m going to have bad dreams about vampires or zombies again!” she whimpers, and I feel terrible and powerless to help her.  I do everything I can to reassure my girl that the bad dreams can vanish.  I remind Rilla to think about the good things in her life to get her mind off the spooky stuff.  I suggest that she focuses on what cheers her up: her toys, her friends, her favorite foods, etc.  She eventually falls asleep and then we repeat the same scenario the following evening.

Two nights ago we were having this nightmare discussion and our talk took a different turn.  She was fixated on talking about my dog Shera, an American Eskimo cutie who died when Rilla was just three years old.  I had Shera for fifteen years, ever since she resembled the photo above at six weeks old.  Shera took part in my wedding and and she accompanied us on our honeymoon in Mammoth.  Like me, Marilla is a ginormous dog lover.  I didn’t think that Rilla had many memories of Shera, but she does.  She sobbed as she told me she misses Shera “so much”.  Rilla has pictures of Shera in a little photo album that she made.  As I wiped her tears away with my hand, Rilla asked me the Big Question:

“Mommy, where is Shera now?”

I took a deep breath.  I wanted to answer my precious girl with conviction, not cynicism.  I wanted to give her a smidgen of hope that Shera was not gone forever and that she existed in a better place.  You see, Rilla has suffered enough already.  Most six-year-olds have not had their mothers locked up in loony bins five times since they were born.  Rilla has witnessed agonizing scenes due to my bipolar outbursts that no child should be exposed to. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to her.

I found myself able to tell Rilla what I now believe.  “Sweetie, Shera is in heaven.  Someday we will go to heaven and we will see her again.”

I wouldn’t have been able to say this to her last summer when my bipolar depression was so severe that I was stuck in the mental hospital for almost three weeks.  I didn’t believe in heaven back then; I believed in hell because that’s where I was living.  One does not beg for bilateral ECT (electroshock treatments) like I did unless one is in a hell of some kind.

Now that I finally got the medication cocktail right, and now that my depression is gone I can be stronger for my daughter.  I can tell her my truth, and while I can’t force her to believe in heaven, I will certainly try my best.  I want to give her a solid belief in heaven so that when she faces the hard times, she will have some hope in her soul.