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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Writing Paradise – My 1st Day at Catamaran

Unknown-2The Stevenson School, Pebble Beach – what a gorgeous setting for the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference

 

I wasn’t planning on blogging at the Catamaran Writers Conference taking place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

But I can’t help it! I feel compelled to share with you today’s highlights as well as let you know that I didn’t melt into a puddle due to my extreme social anxiety.

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, I’ve battled terrible social anxiety merely going to the coffee shop or market, so imagine what I felt when I showed up at a conference of 100 writers, all perfect strangers. Yikes!

After Craig, the girls & Miss Lucy dropped me off, I was scared. Ten minutes before our arrival, we drove past Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I stayed at CHOMP five horrendous times, and today my PTSD from those experiences was triggered.  I drove on that road so many times to admit myself for suicide-related reasons and also for a ton of outpatient ECT.

At the Stevenson School entrance, I busied myself with the logistics of checking in and finding my room. The weather was my favorite kind: clear, warm and sunny. Thankfully my thoughts moved away from CHOMP as I got caught up with how incredibly beautiful this campus is. The school is sa-weet! It reminded me of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, but it’s fancier.

Here’s a picture of my dorm:

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At 4:00 p.m. the day’s events began with an orientation. That was fine because I didn’t have to schmooze and I only needed to pay attention to the speakers. But after that introduction, the schmoozing began in full force. I took a few drops of the homeopathic anxiety reducer Rescue Remedy; it does help (at the very least on a placebo level) but it’s subtle. 

The first reception began. (Yes, the first one.) It was fine and I had some good talks getting to know a few of my classmates. The next agenda item was meeting with our teacher Frances Lefkowitz, but unfortunately she was running late and couldn’t make it. Luckily for us, one of my classmates, Rayne Wolfe, was Lefkowitz’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” but she wasn’t a mere groupie. She knows Lefkowitz and conference staff assigned her the task of filling in. She gave a fabulous testimonial about her teacher and was hilarious, so she won me over in about 10 seconds. I was already impressed with her submission and intimidating background. (Wolfe’s book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, has garnered the kinds of 5-star reviews writers yearn for and has sold like hotcakes around the world.) Oh, and she worked as a longtime journalist for the New York Times and more! Check out Rayne’s blog – she’s also giving her take on this conference and I love it.  Then our six-member class did a brief round of introductions. It was so cool to meet such passionate writers whose heartfelt submissions I’ve analyzed over the past month.  

Dinner followed and it was all good – portobello mushrooms, broccoli, rice, baked tomatoes – so healthy, yes?  (But thank God, they had chocolate cake, people!)  Then came another reception, also enjoyable, another shot of Rescue Remedy and finally a poetry reading by the two acclaimed instructors Ellen Bass and Jericho Brown.

Yesterday I wondered how the hell I’d get through Day One, let alone the rest of the conference. I was so freaked out knowing I’d have to make small talk with a variety of strangers – it had been a long time since I was in this kind of situation. To add to the fun, as a person who sweats like an Olympic Athlete when anxious, I oooozed wide circles on either side of my tank top and at the breastbone area. It was almost funny, except for that it wasn’t!

It’s difficult to make a seamless transition from sweating to poetry, but here goes: some of you know I’m not a poetry fan. Wow – after I typed that sentence, a bolt of lightning tried to strike me.

I’ve published a couple poems but I didn’t consider them to be Real Poems, if that makes any sense. I wrote them just to give it a try. I was going to pass on tonight’s poetry readings, but at the last minute I decided to give them a chance.

The building used for this reading was a stunning chapel. It had an enormous window overlooking the trees and sky, and unique architecture. It was an uber-cool chapel.

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Jericho Brown gave the first reading, and his delivery alone was absolutely incredible. His poems had palpable power, although it was hard for me to follow them because I was exhausted and I have a “poetry block”. I also had a full bladder and I was too lazy to leave the room, which I don’t suggest if you’re going to a poetry reading. He’s a brilliant scholar/teacher/author and has all kinds of impressive credentials you can read on his website

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Ellen Bass followed Jericho, and she remarked that he was a hard act to follow. Now, she lives in my town and she’s famous there. She has sold millions of books and co-wrote the international bestseller/classic The Courage to Heal. 

I had never seen her in person nor read any of her poems. To my surprise, I really enjoyed her poems as most of them (but definitely not all) were quite funny and easy for me to follow. She was charming and had a great rapport with Jericho, who told us that he considered her to be his “Aunt Ellen” and that one of her poems helped him “believe in God”. (He didn’t say which one – I need to find that out.)

After the intense reading, I walked back to my dorm wiped out but I was happy. Then I realized something icky. Ellen Bass was the contest judge who rejected my poem that I entered for the Felton Friends of the Library Contest!

I wrote this rather scathing blog post about Ellen Bass. While it was quite a let-down to have a muckety muck writer reject my writing, I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t pull her chair out from under her at dinner or anything mean and immature like that. She won me over tonight. 

So that was my day. I’ll be writing about the next huge challenge I face here: getting my writing critiqued by seven writers. I’ll probably sweat a small pool around my feet when that happens, but it’s for the greater good of my book. 

Thanks for reading this!

lots of love,

Dyane

p.s. I wouldn’t be here if not for the encouragement of bestselling author, friend, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County’s Vice President, my fellow Board Member Wendy K. Williamson! 

 

 

 

I Love Having My Writing Rejected…

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Trigger Warning: Potty talk and scary photo

Not! 😉

I don’t like having my writing rejected!

My skin is getting a little bit thicker; it is, I swear. The encouragement I received after publishing my last rejection-themed post really helped give me an attitude adjustment. However, I still have room for improvement.

Case in point: Rejection #1

Yesterday I had a ridiculous hissy fit and it wasn’t pretty!

Two months ago I submitted a poem to our conservative mountain town’s annual poetry contest/public reading. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library.  I used to work for another Friends of the Library organization, and I was also library clerk, so libraries hold a special place in my heart.  

Ellen Bass, one of our local big shot bestselling authors (The Courage to Heal), judged the entries. This year’s theme was “What Have You Lost?” My “Out in the Milkweed” entry delineates what I’ve lost due to bipolar disorder.  My poem reveals that I’m in recovery, so it’s optimistic. “Out in the Milkweed” doesn’t contain anything inappropriate (i.e. detailed accounts of suicide or cutting) for a public reading. It’s vanilla.

When I discovered last night that I was a big, ‘ol loser, I morphed into this:

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I spewed vitriol right, left and upside down as Craig watched me with raised eyebrows.

I made sure our kids were out of range as I ranted, “Ellen Bass is a fucking bitch! A snob!  I bet this rejection is about stigma towards those with mental illness!!!  A lot of people liked my poem! She could’ve accepted it, even as a “mercy yes” if she thought it was shitty! This small-minded, closeted community needs mental illness discussed in public and I could’ve done that!  I bet no one else contributed a poem about bipolar! I’ve lost all respect for Ellen Bass and the Friends of the Library! Assholes”

Then I sat in front of my laptop and wrote a bitter email to the contest sponsor and cc’d it to Ellen Bass.  I reproached them for their obvious stigma towards bipolar. After I wrote a couple paragraphs, ten-year-old Avi walked in the room and asked me what I was doing. I gave her a quick summary, and that awesome kid said matter-of-factly,

“Mom, c’mon, don’t send it!”

That’s all I needed to hear to shake off my rage, and I immediately deleted the email.  I knew if I sent it, my message about stigma wouldn’t be heard; they’d see it as a sour grapes/sore loser syndrome and lest I forget to add: a “crazy bipolar freak-out”. I’ve burned enough bridges around this town as it is so it’s good Avi was a sweet voice of reason.  

After I calmed down I looked at “Out in the Milkweed” again. Right after I wrote it months ago, I thought the piece was truly good. Upon reviewing it yesterday I knew it wasn’t my best work.   I actually felt embarrassed, since it was waaaaaaay too long and waaaaaay too wordy.  It would have been hard to read “Out in the Milkweed” to an audience based on its clunky sentence structures alone.  

What was the lesson I learned here? (Did I learn anything?) 

That it’s okay to be upset upon learning one’s writing is rejected, but I must limit the sulking time, I can’t fire off any emails written in fury, and I need to move on.  

 Rejection #2

I am proud to say I didn’t flip out upon receiving this rejection last Monday, but I was still really disappointed since it was for the Huffington Post.  Okay, so it’s not the New York Times. However, I don’t mean to sound obnoxious, but if my submission had been published, I know the information would help some readers as the Huffington Post has a large readership.  

Before I pitched them, I received awesome editing help and feedback from a seasoned HuffPo blogger/mentor. After receiving her notes, I spent a considerable amount of time improving the piece. I trust her with all my heart, and she wrote that my piece was good and worthy of publication.  She’s not one to offer praise unless it’s warranted, so when I sent the final pitch and the article, I was feelin’ pretty damn spicy.  I thought I had a chance.

Then I heard nada.

Last October I was profiled in the Huffington Post.  Greg Archer, a regular contributor, included me as an “Inspiring Agent of Change”.*  Archer gave me a ginormous compliment  in noting that my writing had a “smooth creative style…by sharing her vulnerabilities and truths on living with bipolar disorder, she captures attention and wonderfully lures readers into wanting to know more about the illness…this is one to watch.”  As cool an honor as that is, the Huff editors just weren’t into my pitch/article.

Boo hooooooooo!  They are meeeeanannnn monsters!

At least I didn’t become Linda Blair, or eat all the chocolate gelato in the freezer.  I knew that the HuffPo editors probably thought my topic wasn’t broad enough and/or they thought my writing wasn’t that great.  Who knows?  

I remind myself that Madeleine L’Engle recceived 26 rejections for A Wrinkle In Time. While I’m sure as hell not Madeleine L’Engle-caliber, I know I have some worthwhile writing to share. Gotta just carry on and keep the f-bombs to a low roar.  Maybe next time I shoot for the stars and pitch The New York Times.  

I have nothing to lose except my temper.

 

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-archer/agents-of-change-5-inspir_b_5992870.html#es_share_endedHAAwards