Introducing DBSA Santa Cruz with a Board Full ‘O Chicks!

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Last week after I published my postpartum bipolar post, I was so happy that it was reblogged, retweeted, and received wonderful comments – thank you so much! That same day I got some more good news. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) confirmed that my DBSA Santa Cruz County Chapter application was accepted.

Years ago I founded a DBSA chapter but when I relapsed with bipolar depression, I wasn’t able to continue. My replacement wasn’t able to keep it going either, so it folded.

I renewed the chapter for a variety of reasons, but here are just a couple: I wanted to give the “Women with Mood Disorders” support group I facilitate more credibility in our community. When I promote our support group to the press it sounds more legitimate if we are affiliated with the DBSA. I wanted to utilize DBSA’s numerous Chapter Resources as well.

I live in a mountain valley comprised of four towns and we need more than just one free mood disorder support group – my group is the only one around. That’s unacceptable in a community of thousands, and my goal is to recruit other peer leaders to run more groups.

A DBSA Chapter needs a Board of Directors and I’m honored that the co-authors of the bestselling Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival Wendy K. Williamson (author of the bestselling Im Not Crazy Just Bipolarand Honora Rose are serving as Vice President and Secretary.

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We have my husband Craig S. Harwood, author of the award-winning Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, as Treasurer.

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Lucy is our mascot and as some of you know, she’s working on her first book

When Your Human Has Bipolar! to be published by Life Is Ruff Press.

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Meanwhile, I’ll be quiet on WordPress during the next few weeks. We’re returning to Tahoe to the internet-less Munchkin Cabin – the very spot where a bear cub came into the house, quiet as a mouse, while we were all home. (It was someone’s fault. Someone forgot to shut the front door and left a sack of garbage in the hallway – a big no no in bear country!)

I’ll miss my daily check-ins with your blogs.

Have a great few weeks and I’ll check in upon our return!

love,

Dyane

Alpine girlsAvi on John Muir Trail w:LucyEvening at Squaw

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 Growthwill be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016. 

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June is Sasquatch Respect Awareness Month

 

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Yes, my friends, it’s that time of year to honor our furry neighbors.

Sasquatches endure so many challenges such as being demonized by the media and ostracized by their fellow habitat dwellers.  Even the banana slugs roaming our redwoods disdainfully slither away from the Sasquatches.

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I don’t know if these mysterious creatures also struggle with bipolar disorder, but hell, I wouldn’t be surprised given their allegedly high level of intelligence.

 

All in all, Sasquatches get no respect! People fear them more than they fear that Freaky Ronald McDonald & his wormy burgers.

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Sasquatches get unfriended on Facebook all the time

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So I beseech you to take a moment out of your busy day and think of the Sasquatches. By the way, they are real.

(I live near the world-famous Bigfoot Discovery Project and Museum http://bigfootdiscoveryproject.com/ and they have genuine proof of their existence.)

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The next time you suspect you see a Sasquatch or two wandering in the redwoods or wherever, send them a smile along with some love.

We all need love.

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See you next Friday!

xoxoxoxo

Dyane

Dyane is the author of the memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder to be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. She’s the founder of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) Chapter of Santa Cruz County and facilitates free support groups for women with mood disorders. She’s considering starting a support group for Sasquatches. Dyane has been both Facebook and Seroquel-free for a month and feels really good about it. 

I am an Area Girl: Post dedicated to my dear Lady Dyane

This brief post is an amazingly beautiful, touching tribute from my virtual Fairy Godmother Marie Abanga.  Marie’s compelling tale of her journey & her vibrant photos (not to mention the other parts) brought tears to my eyes.

I couldn’t ask for a better way to start today.

Marie, you beautiful lady, thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for this post. I just wrote the group’s agenda and during my welcome, I’m mentioning that you’re lighting a candle in faraway Brussels at the very moment we begin to help set us up for success!

I’m so deeply moved.  I rarely re-blog as you know, but I felt compelled to share the love and positivity that you, my “Area Lady”/Fairy Godmother possess.

Love, love, love,

Lady Dy,

a.ka. Area Girl

p.s.  the line “Their language and writing are another Discovery Channel of their own” is beyond-the-beyond! Fantastic!

p.p.s. The photo of you drinking the special Ethiopian coffee is sublime. I want some now! (please.) 🙂

 

MAG's Blog

Who is a proud Area Girl? Who is a proud Area Girl?

There are two main reasons why I dedicate this post to my dear Lady Dy over at Birth of a New Brain. First of all, she calls me a global traveler (l don’t travel that much to be honest, but am happy to be called one because l sometimes travel that far in my head). Secondly, I hope the post inspires her ahead of her support group meeting this afternoon. So my lady, if you face this meeting like an Area Girl, you’re sure to survive and why not thrive.

And so my story goes, I so was sent on a mission to Abyssinia (I learnt there that it was the Amharic name for Ethiopia). This Country is so unique in several ways. Ok, for a start their calendar is 5 or so years behind “ours “. Their time is 6 hours behind…

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Support Group Nerves & How-To’s – Part One

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As thunderstorms roll in tomorrow afternoon, I’m meeting with a bunch of women I’ve never met before.

Each of them has a mood disorder including bipolar disorder, anxiety and/or depression.

This is not my the first time meeting strangers at a mood disorders support group.  I’ve been around the support group block three times before as a creator/facilitator.  I know I can get through this meeting in one piece! But I’m still nervous – it’s a similar feeling to stage fright because I’ll be in front of at least 36 unfamiliar eyeballs for part of our meeting.  

A ginormous plus is that I have three women attending who I do know – I’ve been friends with two of them for years, and they’ve stood by me during all my mood swings.  One of these gals has graciously offered to be my timekeeper during our self-introductions.  I could easily ramble on for ten minutes – just look at my blog posts if you doubt me – but if everyone does that, then we’ll have no time to talk about other topics.  Each member will have a few minutes to introduce herself to the group, and a way is needed to track her amount of time.  

Enter my faithful friend with her timer.  We also have a bull whip as backup.  (Just kidding.)

As with planning and executing any special occasion, be it a wedding or a music festival, you can’t rest easy thinking that the event will roll out effortlessly.  I planned our wedding and I used to work in large-scale special event production, so I know that for a fact. There’s also a given that something unforeseen will happen.  That’s what freaks me out the most, but I must kick that fearsome thought out of my brain and tell myself I can handle it, and ask for help too.

At my other support groups I arranged for us to meet at church social rooms or at non-profit community centers.  That worked out pretty well (although some of the complicated alarm systems totally frazzled me!), but those rooms were sterile or had a churchy vibe, which is a turn-off to some attendees.  So this time around, with visions of spring, I assumed we could meet at a beautiful spot in the redwoods.  I had it all plotted out until a few days ago.

Enter unpredictable weather.  I naively thought that rain wouldn’t be likely, and if it did rain I’d have a Plan B for an indoor location.  Unfortunately all the possible Plan B locations I scouted said they couldn’t help me. 😦  So Plan B is now my small home (which I had deep-cleaned back in November, but you’d never know that now.)  I’ll do some basic cleaning, but I’ll try my best not to wig out.  It’s not like members will walk around with white gloves testing for dust.

It’ll be, um, cozy!

Inspired by forming this group, I wrote my monthly post for the International Bipolar Foundation about forming space alien support groups.  Below is the first section in all its glory…if you’re on the fence of creating a tribe of your own, please check it out.  I’ll let you know how my adventure goes (without sharing details compromising the group’s confidentiality, of course) – I have a hunch it won’t be boring. 

Send me good luck please, and I wish you all a great weekend!!!

XOXO,

Dyane

Thinking of Creating A Support Group? You Can Do It! – Part I

During the past year I received wonderful online support from bipolar-themed social media contacts and bloggers.  As fulfilling as their encouragement was, I also craved real life support, connection and friendships with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

A peer-to-peer support group is a great place to do just that! 

The bipolar support group located closest to my home is run by the acclaimed organization National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).  I found my local NAMI chapter by searching on their website at http://www.nami.org/Find-Support.   However, this particular support group has a Christian-focus (Please note: not all NAMI groups are religious-based). Despite the fact that the support group has a kind, experienced facilitator, it was not the right fit for me. 

As much as I wanted to attend a support group, I knew I had to wait until someone else created a group that fit my interests, or I’d need to form one myself.  Months passed by, and there were still no other local mood disorder support groups in sight.  After much deliberation, I knew the time had come for me to form a bipolar support group. 

Big gulp! 

Now, I should disclose that I’ve created a bipolar support group in the past.  I formed a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) for our county, and I served as the primary organizer.  Unfortunately after two years I left the chapter when I had a relapse of bipolar depression, and my successor closed the chapter soon after my departure. 

I won’t lie.  Creating and facilitating a bipolar peer-run support group takes work.  I also have social anxiety, so it’s a challenge to take on a leadership role, even among kindred spirits with whom I feel comfortable.  But under the right circumstances, being part of a group of like-minded members is totally worth the effort.

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons from my support group experience that makes me hopeful that my new group will thrive over the long-term. (I’ll be sharing those tips with you in my March post.)

Before I did anything, however, I decided to keep the support group logistics as simple as possible.  Instead of re-affiliating with the DBSA, which I don’t rule out doing again in the future, I created a Meetup.com group for the time being.  In Part Two, I’ll discuss the nuts and bolts of how I created my Meetup group, and I’ll share how our first meeting turned out, making sure to keep all identifying details of the group confidential.  I’m nervous, but I’m very excited about this new peer-to-peer support group! Stay tuned!

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The link to this post on the International Bipolar Foundation website is: is: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thinking-creating-support-group-you-can-do-it-part-1)

 

The Most DANGEROUS Support Group In Town!!!

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After I published my blog post last Friday, I received a phone call from a beloved friend who reads my blog.  By the icy tone of her voice I prepared myself for criticism about my topic.

“I must tell you,” she said soberly, “that I’m very concerned about this support group you’re forming.  I’ve spoken with Jabba the Hutt (her counselor) and he and I agree that it seems dangerous!”

At first I thought she was referring to the recent mountain lion sightings in the area roughly where our first meeting will take place.

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Nooooooooooooooooo, she was not!  

She wasn’t referring to those magnificent-yet-potentially life-threatening beasts!

Her disparaging comments concerned a cat of an entirely different color.  

She declared, It’s just not safe to be around those BI-POH-LAHS!”

Yes, the very “bi-poh-lahs” who would be in attendance, including…

BI-POH-LAH ME!

 She addedJabba and I think that you need to have a professional with you!”  

Matt Foley

(Chris Farley in his SNL role as the “professional” motivational speaker Matt Foley*)

While yes, it’s a wise idea to have a professional facilitator at some groups, I deemed it unnecessary at my informal, social group.  I had sound reasons for my decision, some of which I wrote about in my last post.

Now I knew that my friend didn’t intend to hurt me.  I realized that her opinion was based, in part, upon decades of deep-rooted stigma imbedded into our society. However, her opinion and tone still cut me to the core.  

What also angered me was that my experience in forming and facilitating other support groups wasn’t acknowledged by my friend.  I created the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) ** Chapter of Santa Cruz County.  The DBSA is a credible, national organization that provided me with group training materials and other resources designed for leading (safe) support groups.  

I arranged for a therapist to attend our first DBSA group to give me feedback after the meeting. I was grateful for her help, especially as she donated her time.  The therapist offered useful advice, but frankly her points were ones I had realized on my own.  

As you can guess, my conversation with my friend ended badly, and I was very upset.  I turned to some friends for support (thank you Lady K. & Sista Sweet), and I worked out on my elliptical.  I calmed down.

Over the next few days I thought about what separates a good, safe support group from a bad one.  I became a little paranoid.  What if I was creating a dangerous support group after all? Meetup can only give me so much information in each applicant’s profile. I had asked prospective members to fill out a detailed questionnaire before I accepted them into the group, but who’s to say they were telling me the whole truth in their answers?

My paranoia grew.  I envisioned a few members turning up at our first gathering brandishing large knives, ready to strike if they encountered anyone resembling the dumbass FOX commentator Tom Sullivan!  

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Other members might be of the unwashed hippie persuasion.  Their five-foot-long, crusty dreadlocks could be filled with families of mice. I’m sure that their body odor would be fetid enough to make anyone sitting close by them become woozy or even pass out!  

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Lest I forget, several ambiguously Pagan folks might grace us with their presence, carrying some cauldrons and magical wands.  They’ll surely wear enough Stevie Nicks-style velvet to clothe a small village.  Their patchouli oil perfume will be so pungent that it’ll scare away all the approaching hungry mountain lions!

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Of course it almost goes without saying that a cannabis grower will take a seat, ready to share a batch of medical marijuana brownies and a cannabis cake topped with edible flowers.  To round out the group, a Scientologist or two will probably join us so they can convert us to stop taking our medications!  

ha ha Guess who?  

My imaginary support group is truly dangerous…  

Not a support group of women with bipolar, anxiety and/or depression.

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“Matt Foley” Saturday Night Live skit – it’s truly funny!

*http://www.hulu.com/watch/4183

** To read my DBSA Life Unlimited Profile & my friend Kitt O’Malley’s profile, please visit this page:

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=peer_life_unlimited

Coming Full Circle

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Years ago when I suffered with unrelenting bipolar depression, I wanted to connect with other people who understood what I was going through.  During that time I wasn’t using the internet very often.  The internet, in the form of online bipolar support groups and forums, could have helped me feel less alone with my agony, but it simply wasn’t on my radar. 

To this day I don’t know how I did it, but I formed a chapter of the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  First I had to raise $125 to create a chapter. (I wish that DBSA could have underwritten the cost, but unfortunately they didn’t have the funds.) I had no money to spare, so I approached a popular Halloween haunted house located in my town.  Each year they selected a community organization to receive its proceeds, and I qualified for their generous donation!

Although I was very depressed, I hadn’t lost every bit of my sense of humor.  I found it funny that of all things a haunted house helped create a group dedicated to bipolar & depression support. I LOVE Halloween – it’s my favorite holiday, so I was pleased with the outcome.

With the credibility of the DBSA behind me and with access to their resources, I created a free support group for women with mood disorders.  As you can imagine, it definitely was NOT the right time for me to take on such a demanding project.  I was a complete mess with my bipolar disorder, but I felt motivated to form something that could help with my sense of isolation and help others as well.

The silver lining of that experience was that I learned what to do and what not to do regarding support group leadership, promotion, and management.  I contacted a therapist who agreed to accompany me pro bono to the first meeting who could give me me feedback.  I found a church that let me use their community room for free.  I publicized the DBSA group all over our county, and I drew upon my promotions experience which I gained while working at a Silicon Valley special event production company.

I contacted Peter, the young, ambitious editor of the Press Banner, our local newspaper.  I interviewed with Peter despite the depression and on top of that, horrid social anxiety. I still don’t know how I pulled that off either!  Peter wrote a feature article complete with a color photo of me and my girls, so I came out to my community in a big way about my mood disorder. Every residence receives the Press Banner in its mailbox each week, and almost everyone reads it.  I didn’t let the fear of social stigma stop me – I was focused like a laser on the DBSA group.  I think that knowing I’d be meeting women with mood disorders gave me the strength to reveal my own struggle in newsprint.

Here’s a snippet of the article at BP (Bipolar) Magazine on Facebook, as the article is no longer available in the Press Banner archives.  My girls are so little in this photo, unlike their Mom!  I wasn’t exercising at the time, and I was eating comfort food all day long, so I was much heavier back then.  

I love the optimistic title Peter chose for his article: “A New Day Dawning

https://www.facebook.com/bpMagazine/posts/214165082055695

Unfortunately after several months of DBSA meetings, I became too depressed to function.  Another member took over the leadership, but she was unable to sustain the group until I got well enough to return and didn’t renew the chapter.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t finished with forming support groups!  A couple years later I made the ultimately disastrous decision to taper off lithium.  When I first started tapering and became hypomanic, I created a new, independent group with a “natural, holistic” theme.  While I tried desperately to be able to live without medication, it didn’t work.  I relapsed and I had to be hospitalized for 3 weeks.  

After that nightmare hospitalization experience, I began seeing a new psychiatrist.  He was the one who eventually figured out medications that I credit with saving my life. I resumed taking lithium during the hospital stay, but when I was discharged I was still depressed.  My psychiatrist added an MAOI (monamine oxidase inhibitor) called Parnate, and Seroquel for agitated insonia.  This is the cocktail that restored my creativity and my quality of life.  Yep, I’m a walking pharmacy, but it’s totally worth it.

So next year I may try once again to offer a free support group for women in my area. I’d make it simple. It can be independent of the DBSA and I can do it through Meetup and/or Craigslist.  As far as I know, there are no support groups for women where I live in the mountains, and I know there’s definitely a need.   I know there are other women living with mood disorders in my community who are “closeted” and who would appreciate connecting with others for encouragement, a social outlet, and more.

What does “Coming Full Circle” have to do with anything?  Well, today the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance featured a profile about me called “Life Unlimited” on their website.  Here’s the link:

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=peer_life_unlimited#Dyane_Leshin_Harwood

I’ve come a long way since I formed the DBSA chapter.  Someday after I finish writing my book, maybe I’ll swing by my favorite haunted house, apply for another grant, and bring a DBSA chapter back to life for our county.  You never know! 😉