Celebrating 300 Posts of Birth of a New Brain!

Photo Three

 

The Very 1st Post:

After a Two-Year-Long Hiatus, I’m Back!

Getting Better, Getting Worse & To Be Continued

 

I can’t believe it has been two years since I last posted to my blog, formerly called “Proudly Bipolar” thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s book No Reservations.  

 

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I love you Anthony! (in a platonic way)

 

I’m a big believer in the power of titles, and I felt it was apt to change my blog’s title to “Birth of a New Brain” to reflect the person I’ve become since November, 2011.  

“Birth of a New Brain” is dear to my heart.  (And brain! 😉   I love the phrase for various reasons. One little thing is that I appreciate its alliterative qualities with the “b”, but I can’t say it well if I have dry mouth syndrome! 

I came up with the title last spring. After doing extensive research, I was slowly tapering off all psychiatric medications . (9/22/15 update – I’m pro-med now! Read on and see why…)  Back then I felt my brain was changing and rebirthing, so to speak, on a cellular level. And the cells were changing. Hypomania was setting in and there would be disastrous consequences from my no-med quest. However, when I was still relatively stable I couldn’t help but love feeling so positive and creative once again, and I thought the title was imbued with my optimisim.

Birth of a New Brain was associated with a forty-page book proposal based on living with bipolar well without medication. The proposal was accepted by my former publisher and I was absolutely thrilled. (I cancelled the agreement when I relapsed with bipolar depression. Obviously my no-med concept wasn’t seaworthy.)

When I wrote the proposal I had high hopes. I secured an extraordinary British physician/author named Dr. Liz Miller, Britain’s first female neurosurgeon, to write the foreword. I discovered Dr. Miller in Stephen Fry’s groundbreaking documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. (You can watch it on YouTube here) Dr. Miller was Fry’s only subject who had bipolar disorder, was medication-free and doing well, so I tracked her down in London and we began corresponding.

Then I crashed and burned big-time.  I relapsed when my lithium dosage was down to 450 mg. I had to go to the psychiatric ward not once, not twice, but three times in less than two months. Once again I asked for electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments as I knew ECT was my last resort. (The first time I had ECT was in 2009 when my Dad died and I was acutely suicidal. I had a unilateral, or one-sided procedure as opposed to having bilateral ECT , i.e. electrodes placed on both sides of my brain.)  

When I relapsed, my hospital’s ECT psychiatrist Dr. L. and I agreed that I’d have bilateral ECT. Bilateral has the most intense potential side effect of memory loss. Why do it then? It can work more effectively for what I had suffered: a heavy-duty, rapid manic-to-suicidal depression state. (When my father died, I wasn’t manic to begin with; I was already deeply depressed.) It was absolutely the right decision.

I upped my lithium dosage to 900 mg. Over time I tried out a bunch of medicines for bipolar, anxiety and insomnia that gave me terrible side effects, bar none.

I worked with my new psychiatrist Dr. D. to find medication that would help me climb out of the terrifying, gripping depression that made me feel so utterly hopeless.  

Finally, in October, 2013 (my favorite month due to the beautiful autumn weather and my favorite holiday Halloween) Dr. D. suggested an old-school antidepressant drug called tranylcypromine, or Parnate.  On an interesting side-note, I recently discovered that Parnate was prescribed to this person six weeks before she died (or was allegedly murdered).

parnate-monroe

I digress.

Parnate is classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).  I’ve tried well over thirty-five medications for bipolar/anxiety/insomnia, but I *never* thought I’d take an MAOI.  This class of meds get a very bad rap because there are strict food/alcohol restrictions, and if one eats or drinks a “no-no”, one can die because of hypertension and other reasons.  

It’s also known as a “last-resort” drug for bipolar depression! Um, why hadn’t any of my previous psychiatrists brought up taking an MAOI???? Well, I suspect I know the reasons. I think they think that their patients are too dumb to follow the dietary guidelines (Stigma much? Yes, some psychiatrists look down at their patients) and they’re pressured by Big Pharma to prescribe the latest meds, certainly not an old-school MAOI that has been used for decades and actually works well. (In a small study done back in the 1970’s Parnate was found to work extremely well when combined with lithium!)

Anyway, I didn’t know until quite recently that MAOIs have helped countless people with bipolar who are considered to be medication-resistant.  

I told Dr. D. to bring it on!

I researched internet anecdotes written by those who’ve used this medication. Some people noted that Parnate worked within just a few days.  One woman recounted how Parnate lifted her ten-year-long depression in two days!

I read those accounts and thought, “They’re the lucky ones – that will never be me.”

I took my first, Pepto Bismol pink-colored pill Sunday morning.  The next morning I woke up feeling rather different.  Better.  

No way.  This has to be a dream!  I thought groggily.  

Later that morning I was feeling even better than before.  Not too much, i.e. hypomanic or manic, but I thought that maybe something was shifting in my  crappy-med-battered, shocked brain of mine.  

The next day I genuinely felt much better.  I was able to smile again, and laugh. I felt hopeful.  I felt like myself – the self I was before I ever heard or read the word “bipolar”.  I spent time with my two precious little girls and took them out places that made my skin crawl, like Toys ‘R Us and to the Night of the Living Dead mall so my older girl could get her ears pierced.

I was looking forward to interacting with people again – even the seemingly “normal” parents at the girls’ school!  I met with my longtime therapist Ina and she was amazed at what she witnessed.  She was cautiously optimistic.

Were there drawbacks to Parnate? Yes, just one, but it was intense. A daily afternoon fatigue set in (it’s a notorious Parnate side effect) but I felt that it was completely worth it compared to the benefits of the depression lifting. The majority of the anecdotes said the fatigue would go away after a few weeks. I hoped and prayed that this medication would keep working.  

Three weeks later, it was still working.  

Three weeks and a day later, I felt the depression creeping back.  

I tried denying that the Parnate had stopped working so magically, but each day my depression grew stronger.  We were on the verge of taking our biggest family vacation ever – it was one we cancelled three times before due to my bipolar depression. It was a trip for which we had scrimped and saved: the Holualoa region of Hawaii.

To be continued…

 

Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.  

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The Seroquel Withdrawal Blues

Let me tell you a little story

(da da da da dum)

About the Seroquel blues

(da da da da dum)

Those pills are mighty powerful stuff

and they’ll make you constantly snooze

(da da da da dum)

Seroquel was my blessing and my curse

And ever since I said bye bye

(da da da da dum)

I’ve been sufferin’ the Seroquel blues

The withdrawals been making me cry

(da da da da dum)

———————————————————————————————-

(We meant to practice this a lot more for your sake, but, uh, obviously we didn’t. I can’t believe Lucy didn’t howl in protest. My apologies.)

Out of all the bipolar meds I’ve taken, the effects of the controversial antipsychotic Seroquel have been twofold. This drug has been my true blessing and also a total pain in the ass.

(A pain in the brain is more like it!)

I could easily write a 2000-word post about quetiapine (the generic form of Seroquel), but I’ll spare you and write around 1000 words as I have my memoir Birth of a New Brain to write. 

In 2013 my psychiatrist prescribed quetiapine for my hideous, agitated insomnia that hit me out of nowhere.  I filled my prescription but I kept putting off taking my first pill because I was scared of the potential side effects. It wasn’t likely that my head would fall off after taking quetiapine, and I probably wouldn’t start speaking in tongues, but I was plain-old-spooked.

Well, I finally became so desperate that I took the quetiapine and it totally helped me, so much so that I will never tell anyone not to try this stuff if they’re seriously considering it.

Yes, I had major daytime grogginess and yes, that sucked, but suffering with that side effect was worth it since I finally got my all-important sleep. 

My other side effects were weight gain (15 pounds since Fall, 2013) and some late night hunger. Since I worked out every day the “Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan way”* I wasn’t too worried about an extra fifteen pounds. As a former certified personal trainer, I knew I could lose the weight safely when I simply committed to improving my diet.

Extra adipose tissue a.k.a. blubber has been something I was able to live with for the time being. Quetiapine also caused me to have trippy, vivid and disturbing dreams – not nightmares, exactly, but not feel-good/warm fuzzy dreams either.

I also believe that Seroquel may have triggered a weird phenomenon that lasted about nine months. I felt totally inspired to write regularly, and I blogged almost every day. I fell in love with writing all over again.

I remained responsible. I took care of the girls, and I didn’t alarm my husband by writing at all hours of the night as I did when I was hypomanic/manic and hypergraphic. (My hypergraphia will be explained in my book!) 😉

Every morning I woke up, I got the kids dressed and fed, and I drove them to school. I returned home to write for a few hours without fail. I wasn’t manic, but it definitely seemed like my brain was firing unusually, that’s for sure. I can’t think of another explanation for why this sudden burst of writing happened because the only thing I did differently was add quetiapine.

My psychiatrist didn’t think the medication caused any kind of mania either.  I don’t know. Could this have been a seasonal affective disorder of some kind? Maybe. But when I reduced my quetiapine dosage, my daily writing compulsion and my highly creative juices dwindled.  I was still creative and I still wrote, but my need to write was nowhere nearly as intense as it was before.  My intuition was that I had to reduce the (relatively) high dosage of 100 mg/night of quetiapine and not stay at 100mg for the sake of my writing habit and drive. 

So with my psychiatrist’s blessing, over the past year I tapered down to 25 mg a night of Seroquel. Even though 25 mg sounds tiny, it’s not! I’ve still felt groggy during the day, and I wanted to see if I could sleep without relying upon Seroquel.  I don’t know how people can open an eye at 800/mg a day of this stuff – that just shows how different we all are.

It turns out that I can sleep on my own once more!  Hurrah! I’ve been off quetiapine for over three weeks.  However, if I need to take it again I won’t hesitate. I added a $9 magnesium supplement (manufactured by Source Naturals, a reputable company located in my town) and it seems to help me with sleep too. I’ve used lavender essential oil off and on, which is safe and it always helps me (a least a little bit) when it comes to insomnia.

I’ve read that it can take weeks or months for a quetiapine withdrawal period to run its course. I’m not allowing myself to surf endlessly on the internet about it because God knows I’ve done that before, and in this case I think it’s a total waste of time.

What matters most is that each day I feel a little better. I can sense the Seroquel withdrawal blues slowly dissipating.  I’m more alert and my freaky dreams are gone. My “Seroquel belly” is even shrinking a tiny bit.

I’ll have more to report on the withdrawal front next Thursday or Friday. If you’re tapering off a med or suffering some withdrawal blues of your own, good luck and feel free to vent your heart away here.

Until then, take care, and thanks for reading!  

XOXO

Dyane

* Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan’s International Society for Bipolar Disorders webinar that (sorry to get all Tony Robbins on you ) totally changed my life!  Exercise Treatment for Mood Disorders: A Neurobioloigcal Rational

http://isbd.org/education/webinar-series

Dr. Alsuwaidan’s brief post. This article contains simple “exercise for mood” guidelines I follow religiously every day.

View at Medium.com

My husband was so convinced that my Alsuwaidan routine has helped my mood that when my exercise machine broke, he went out to Sears that same day (despite being swamped with work) and he got me a better machine. (I know I’m lucky!)

Yes, I could’ve gone walking or hiking or jumped rope or walked up and down the stairs, but he knew how much I loved using my elliptical. I believe my Schwinn is worth its weight in gold. Or chocolate.

“Why I Keep Away From Madness” – A Stigmama Contribution

Me and my writing muse Lucy 

 

Since its inception a year ago, I’ve been a Regular Contributor to the groundbreaking website STIGMAMA.  There’s nothing like this website out there…you can take my word for it!  I’m so glad it exists because STIGMAMA has become one of my virtual tribes.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”, which I love, and its Facebook page has almost 17,500 likes, clearly demonstrating that there’s a need for an outlet and resource such as STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA has given me a platform to share my feelings about living with postpartum bipolar disorder. The fact that I can receive feedback and encouragement from its followers is fulfilling, to say the very least. 

I encourage you to check out STIGMAMA http://stigmama.com/about/ and consider becoming a contributor.  You can submit any type of writing, be it a poem, fiction or nonfiction, that addresses women and mental illness. (PLEASE NOTE: you do NOT have to be a mother to submit a post. Check out my friend Elaina’s contribution “I Am Not A Mom” for an excellent example:

http://stigmama.com/2014/09/24/i-am-not-a-mom-by-elaina-j-martin/

STIGMAMA offers monthly themes that contributors can write about. March was “March Madness” month.  April is “Open Submission” month, and May is “STIGMAMA# Poetry Slam” month. 

Of my latest STIGMAMA March post, Dr. Walker Karraa, founder of STIGMAMA and author of the bestselling book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth” wrote,

“The amazing STIGMAMA Regular Contributor Dyane Harwood rounds up our month of posts regarding the topic of “Madness”.  I want to thank Dyane for her deeply felt embodied response to the topic, to the word itself. There are millions of images, interpretations, insinuations, and myths held within the concept of ‪#‎madness‬. Dyane poignantly reveals the lived experience of how the concept can be an insult to injury. Thank you, Dyane for your work, your writing, and your leadership in the advocacy movement.”

 

WHY I KEEP AWAY FROM MADNESS

In the past I considered “madness” to be a fascinating topic. I never shied away from facing it through books, movies, or art until I was diagnosed with postpartum onset bipolar one disorder (PPBD) at age thirty-seven.

My PPBD manifested as hypomania immediately following the birth of my second daughter.  As the weeks flew by, I became more and more manic.  I even became hypergraphic, a little-known, bizarre condition in which one writes compulsively.  I wrote hundreds of pages in less than a week, often while tandem breastfeeding my newborn and toddler.

Something was clearly wrong.

Six weeks postpartum, I voluntarily hospitalized myself in our local behavioral health unit for treatment. I used to live one block away from the distinctive redwood building.  Every day while I drove to work at a state park non-profit, I glanced at the “B.H.U.”, never imagining in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be locked inside there.

I had been in locked-down mental health units before, but as a visitor. My father, a professional violinist, had manic depression like so many of his brilliant colleagues.

I visited my Dad at UCLA’s renowned Neuropsychiatric Institute.  As soon as I got my driver’s license at sixteen, I drove alone to visit him during one of his numerous hospitalizations. I brought his Stradivarius violin and his favorite Wrigley’s spearmint gum to cheer him up.

How naive I was back then – I didn’t realize that neither item was allowed in such a place, especially the million-dollar violin!  When I left his unit, I felt like I had just gotten out of jail.  I felt so guilty to see him that depressed.  As I watched my father shuffle away in an ugly hospital gown instead of the elegant black suit he wore for his Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts, I never thought I’d be a patient in such a hellhole.

When my turn arrived to be a mentally ill patient, I had to walk away from my six-week-old baby and my toddler and husband into a sterile unit. That was my first hospitalization among the “mad”, and I wish with all my heart it had been my last.

During my six subsequent mental hospitalizations, I was stigmatized by some of my own family, friends, and by a variety of hospital staff.  It was crystal-clear that I was regarded as “mad” and nothing else.

When I was housed among the “mad” I lived with many different kinds and degrees of madness.  I have PTSD from my time spent in those locked-down wards. As a result, I’ve experienced enough madness to last the rest of my life.

I hold a Bachelors of Arts degree in English and American Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  I’ve been an avid reader since a young child.  Since my PPBD diagnosis, I’ve read many bipolar memoirs and bipolar-themed blogs that have become ubiquitous, but I’ve become much more cautious with what I read when it comes to bipolar disorder.

Nowadays, I automatically avoid anything with the title “mad” or “madness” in it.  I refuse to read all accounts of mental hospitalizations.  I may seem like I’m burying my head in the sand – and yes, I might be missing out on a gem of a read, but I can no longer immerse myself in the world of the insane.

I first went mad when I wanted to hang myself with my thick, green bathrobe belt hours after I took one amitriptyline (Elavil) pill.  Even in my darkest moments, I had never wanted to hang myself before I took that medication. It was obvious that the amitriptyline was causing the suicidal ideation in
my brain, and – thank God – my husband was home.

“I need to get to the hospital,” I told him, unable to look into his eyes. Once again he took me to the behavioral health unit with our baby and toddler in tow. I entered the ward as a ghost of my former exuberant self.

Losing myself that way – losing my will to live and wanting to take my life using a method that had formerly been anathema to me – traumatized me.  I don’t want to read about others’ experiences in insane asylums.

Because I’ve spent weeks in mental hospitals and I have PTSD as a result, I don’t want another glimpse into those environments.  I understand why others wish to learn about people’s experiences with madness, but I’ll refrain from examining those mental states as much as I can.

As I continue to keep away from creative works that focus upon madness, I feel empowered. I value the freedom I have to make this decision, as for far too long I felt powerless when it came to my own sanity.

I’ve been mad for long enough. Thanks to the help of medication, a good psychiatrist, therapist and self-care, I’m able to stay sane.

Avoiding the world of madness helps keep me that way.

Hunkering Down

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HUNKER

Dictionary.com defines “hunker” as: to hide, hide out, or take shelter (usually followed by down):

“The escaped convicts hunkered down in a cave in the mountains.”

 

Now, I’m not an escaped convict, but on Tuesday I’ll be hunkering down in a cave-like office in the mountains to finish writing Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.  I have seventy pages written so far, and it has “only” taken me over two years to do that, ha ha ha!

I have some amazing mentors willing to help me, including the bestselling author Wendy K. Williamson (I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar and Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival), Lisa E. Henderson (author of A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom and Thief of Hades) and last but not least, my husband Craig, who wrote the multiple-award-winning Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  

Despite having had the opportunity to “just do it”, I keep procrastinating.

Today my Facebook newsfeed reminded me of my dilemma.  A famous Maya Angelou quote appeared:

 

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While I’ve always admired Maya Angelou’s writing, I’d have to say there are greater agonies than bearing an untold story, such as drug-free childbirth and a little thing called bipolar disorder.  But I definitely feel like I was meant to write this book, I yearn to make it happen, and I won’t feel complete until it’s finito.

Anyway, last week I read a few chapters in Darien Gee’s book Writing the Hawai’i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story.  (I’m not from Hawai’i, but I love anything related to the Aloha State, especially Kona coffee and chocolate macadamia nuts!)  Gee states early on that it’s tantamount to set a deadline to complete one’s memoir.  She was so convincing about it that I felt inspired to set a deadline.  One of my favorite authors SARK prefers to call it a “completion date”, but I don’t mind the rather grim tone of “deadline” – it has a certain weight to it.

Deadline.  It’s a simple-sounding action, isn’t it?  Deceptively simple.  Perhaps setting a deadline will work some kind of magic into my subconscious and it’ll nudge me into accomplishing my dream.

Why not? 

I chose March 18th, 2015, my 45th birthday, to complete my first draft.  Coincidentally, March 18th the same day as my American Collie puppy Lucy’s birthday, so I consider it to be quite a powerful day.  If things go as planned, I’ll buy a vegan chocolate cake from Black China Bakery (they made our wedding cake) and invite you all to come enjoy a piece!

I originally meant to work on Birth of a New Brain during the summer, but my “best laid schemes” fell to the wayside.  At first I felt so discouraged, but after my initial disappointment, I let it go. (Don’t you dare start singing the song from “Frozen”!)  

In any case, I knew I’d be able to concentrate on my writing when my daughters’ school began.

Avonlea and Marilla  return to school Tuesday, which is also Rilla’s seventh birthday.  I like the fact that I’ll resume writing on Rilla’s birthday, and that I’ll end on the birthday that I share with Lucy!  The birthday bookends seems propitious to me – I’m into that kind of superstitious way of thinking.  

When the girls are in class, I’ll have the luxury of time and quiet.  Last year I was usually the only one in the house, and while it was wonderful to have a peaceful environment, it was a little creepy too.  This year I’ll have my canine muse Lucy to keep me company.  She likes to sit on my feet as I write at my desk – I love her soft warmth, and fortunately she isn’t so heavy that I lose the circulation in my toes.

Lucy Muse

I’ll take advantage of the school year to finish writing Birth of a New Brain, even if I’m the only one who reads it! If I can grow two humans, surely I can finish writing half a book.  Right?  (Uh oh…I hear crickets chirping in my mind.)  I’m going to try really hard.  

This leads me to the subject of my blog.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’ve never had aspirations to be a professional blogger.  I live half an hour away from Silicon Valley where BlogHer was created.  I knew from reading the San Jose Mercury News that blogging was hip, lucrative, and a creative outlet for writers, but I still didn’t feel drawn to it.  Then seven years ago I opened up my first WordPress blog, but my blogging didn’t “take” because I was still severely depressed.  

Last December, after trying over 20 medications, I finally started taking a medication combo. that worked to lift the bipolar depression.  I impulsively gave blogging a half-hearted second try and it took ahold of me in a profound, very cool way.  

I thank my lucky stars that blogging has been such a pleasure.  While writing has been stressful and frustrating at times (and I’ve written about feeling jealous of the mega-successful bloggers!) my participation in the blogging community has been overwhelmingly positive.  Blogging has helped me strengthen my writing discipline and introduced me to many gifted writers.  Another perk that I know you can relate to has been the “likes” and comments I’ve been fortunate enough to receive; they’ve made me feel heard, appreciated and understood.

 

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I used my blog as a way to prove to myself that I could write on a regular, even prolific basis.  I still don’t know how the hell I blogged every single day for several months straight.  I wasn’t hypomanic or manic.   It sure wasn’t hypergraphia (compulsive, extreme writing) which I actually experienced right after Rilla was born.  I wasn’t on illicit drugs of any kind.  Moreover, I was taking fairly high doses of three sedating medications: lithium, tranylcypromine (Parnate, an MAOI) and the infamous Seroquel.  

I believe that writing regularly stimulated my brain and actually kept me from becoming depressed

If I didn’t feel such a deep-seated drive to write my book, a goal which I’ve had ever since I was nine-years-old, I’d blog all the time.  But I know that I need to hunker down and take the energy I’ve directed towards blogging and funnel it into….you-know-where! (It rhymes with “nook”!)

I don’t want to quit blogging cold-turkey because that would make me depressed!  I don’t need to write novella blog posts like I used to do, either. I plan to blog once a week and see how it goes.  Blogging weekly seems reasonable, and it’ll keep me connected to the blogosphere.  I’m telling you, it really lifts my spirits to stay in touch with my blogging friends on a regular basis.  

I’ll aim to post on Mondays so I can use the weekend to free-write and have fun with it!  I’ll keep you updated about my life and the progress of  Birth of a New Brain, and I’ll stay in touch with you via your blogs, without fail. 

Take care, friends, & I wish you a wonderful week!

Dyane

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Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care – gimme some!

imgresI’ve always loved the very sound of the famous Shakespearean line from Macbeth:

“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”

Although I have a degree in English literature and I read Macbeth, that was over twenty years ago, so I’ve forgotten most of the play, but not that line.  “No Fear Shakespeare.com” and “italki.com” explained the full meaning of the words very well:

“Here Shakespeare means that sleep ‘knits up’ or secures what has become confused or tangled in our lives. (something that is raveled is tangled confused or knotted) Sleep brings loose ends together. It lets things settle down and smooths out what was giving us problems before we went to sleep.”

Oh wow, I’d kill for sleep like that.  My sleep has been much better since I started taking Seroquel at bedtime, but I often have what I call “Seroquel dreams” which are bizarre, slightly disturbing dreams.

I’m writing this post on my forty-fourth birthday.  I hoped that I’d wake up this morning after a decent’s night sleep, without too many freaky Seroquel dreams.  I was crossing fingers and toes that I’d leap out of bed refreshed and ready to start the day with a nice, sparkly attitude.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and as a result I’m a bit of a zombie.

Our two little girls like to take turns hopping into our bed at ungodly hours.  Time and time again, we lecture them about this, and explain how important it is for Mommy and Daddy to get enough sleep.  They promise us they’ll stop their interruptions, but their promises are made in vain.  We can’t lock them out of our room because our room is connected to theirs and there is no lock.  (Even if we had a lock, it wouldn’t solve the problem.)  When we insist that one or the other girl returns to her own bed, ear-splitting cries ensue and all in all, it’s not a pretty scenario.

It’s not a hopeless situation.  I know they will stop when they turn eighteen.

Meanwhile, besides the girls’ nighttime unpleasantries , my digestive system had unpleasantries of its own.  I had an upset tummy right before bedtime.  Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that I mussed up our bed at 2:00 a.m. Yes, me, not either of my children.

T.M.I.  Sorry.  Please forgive me.  (Can I blame my oversharing on my lack of sleep?)

Waking up at 2:00 a.m. scares me, because I know if I don’t go back to sleep, a bipolar mood swing could be triggered.  Like many people with bipolar disorder, I am incredibly sensitive to sleep loss.  I remember back in the early 1980’s my Dad, who also had bipolar, was prescribed sleep deprivation by his U.C.L.A. psychiatrist.  The doctors advised him to use sleep deprivation to lift his depression.  I don’t recall if sleep deprivation worked for Dad, but I know it would be absolutely disastrous for me.

Sleep deprivation actually triggered my bipolar mania.  In 2007, after I went into labor at 9:00 p.m., I didn’t sleep, and I became hypomanic.  Ultimately I became full-blown manic.  I experienced hypergraphia as well.  (Hypergraphia is compulsive writing triggered by changes in brain chemistry.  I’ve blogged about hypergraphia here: https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/writerly-ramblings-and-hypergraphia-part-1/)

So, at 2:00 a.m. after cleaning up my mess, I was wide awake and I didn’t foresee sleep in my future anytime soon.  After hemming and hawing, I decided to take another 100 mg dose of Seroquel.  I thought that the extra amount would do the trick, although I was hesitant to pop the pill because I didn’t want to be super-groggy the next day.

It didn’t work.

I believe my insomnia culprit was a seemingly innocent cup of extra-strong Columbian coffee that I had a few hours after breakfast.  I grind our coffee beans daily, and yesterday I used a lot more than usual.  Not the smartest move.  I used the usual amount today and I’m hoping tonight is better on all counts.  I think I’ll sleep better as long as I don’t eat all of my velvety chocolate birthday cake and get high on sugar!

Thanks for reading, and please comment about what helps you sleep.

Sweet dreams!

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Hypergraphia – Part Two

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In yesterday’s blog post I discussed writing, the creative spark, as well as hypergraphia.  In case you are unfamiliar with the term hypergraphia the Wikipedia definition is:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

The following excerpt describes my experience with postpartum hypergraphia in the preface of my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder :

“Just a few days after my daughter’s birth, I was writing non-stop.  The ideas were flowing from my brain so rapidly I couldn’t believe it.  As a professional freelance writer, I had struggled for years with the common malady of writer’s block.  When I had postpartum mania-induced hypergraphia, I underwent the complete opposite of writer’s block.  I was a virtual writing waterfall with the power of Niagra Falls!   I knew something truly bizarre, terrifying and even a bit magical was happening in my brain, but my racing thoughts prevented me from being grounded enough to do much of anything, including doing enough breastfeeding or realizing that I had bipolar one disorder.  Somehow I was able to surf online about nonstop writing, and I discovered that hypergraphia was associated with many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Yet it still didn’t dawn on me that I had bipolar disorder, although I possessed five obvious clues: little sleep, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, strong hereditary factors and agitation.  I wrote so much that my wrist cramped up in severe pain every few minutes.  I wrote so much that my sweet baby’s birth weight was too low, as I wasn’t breastfeeding her enough.  I couldn’t stop writing, even while I was breastfeeding her on her velvety green Boppy pillow.  I kept typing frantically despite the fact that my husband told me emphatically that he was concerned that I was writing too much and that I needed to pay more attention to our newborn and toddler.”

Hypergraphia is serious, and it’s a real condition.  It’s not just a “neurosis” as writer Valerie Lopes refers to it in her Open Salon article “Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific?”. (The link is posted at the end of this piece.)  The psychiatric literature defines a neurosis as a “relatively mild personality disorder”.  Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that there was nothing  “mild” about my full-blown hypergraphia.   Lopes’ article disappointed me with its ignorance and righteous, patronizing “Look at me – I’m such a prolific writer!” tone.  I wanted to comment and inform her that while I understood that too many mental conditions are slapped with a scary-sounding psychiatric label these days (which she implies in her essay)  hypergraphia is not normal and, in my opinion, it’s definitely not healthy.  I noticed that there were no comments made in response to her article – quelle surprise! Whenever I don’t spot even a single comment about an article on a site with huge readership, that tells me the writing is somehow lacking.  However, when I tried to post a comment, the website informed me it was temporarily closed for registration.   Bummer!

No matter.  For those who wish to read an informed, brilliant analysis of this subject, look no further than Dr. Alice W. Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease – The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.  It’s endorsed on the cover by none other than Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the bestselling classic An Unquiet Mind who writes, “An original, fascinating, and beautifully written reckoning…of that great human passion: to write.”  Flaherty’s book is not just about hypergraphia by any means.  It’s a must-read for any writer.  The Midnight Disease received rave reviews as well and is the only book of its kind written by a neurologist to boot!  The fact that Lopes didn’t even refer to this groundbreaking book once in her article indicates to me that being a “prolific” writer doesn’t mean you are actually a good one.

There have been famous artists who apparently had hypergraphia such as Vincent van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Robert Burns and Lewis Carroll.  Dr. Alice W. Flaherty experienced postpartum hypergraphia like I did.  (I am disappointed that with my  Google Advanced search I only located lists of famous men with hypergraphia.  I’m sure there are famous women who should be on these lists as well, starting with Dr. Flaherty.)  Not only did all these people write enormous amounts of material, but the physical style of their writing would sometimes be indecipherable, which is another hallmark of the condition.  I typed and also handwrote in journals when I had hypergraphia.  When I review my journals today I can’t make out most of the scrawls.   That makes me sad, because I wish I knew what the hell I was writing about!

Apart from that, it all comes down to what my favorite high school English teacher, Mrs. Redlcay, asked her students to answer when they wrote any essay or poem.

“So what?”

Why write about the subject of hypergraphia?  So what?

For me it’s a deeply personal topic.  I’ve been in the trenches with hypergraphia, and it has haunted me ever since.  The feelings it stirred up were connected with mania through and through.  I felt so good about what I wrote, (too good!) even though much of it was dribble.  While writing I felt a sense of purpose that I’ll never encounter again unless I am manic.

But believe me, I’ve come to terms with all that as I never want to be manic again.  I want to write at a “happy medium” level.  I know that it’s possible now for me to write in moderation, and I’ll do all that I can to make my writing dreams a reality.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

“Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific” by Valerie Lopes

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

 

Writerly Ramblings and Hypergraphia Part 1


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L.M. Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle, my two favorite writers.  (Love those glasses!)

Lately my writing output has skyrocketed.  After being creatively blocked for most of the past eight years,  I’m grateful to have the opportunity and the luxury to write.  I’ve been typing for at least an hour every day for several months now.  I even managed to write on days when I felt under the weather.  I wasn’t being a complete fool – I merely wished to write because I felt better after doing it.

For all I know perhaps my writing compulsively has boosted the serotonin level in my brain. While daily writing sounds rather obsessive, it has felt so good and write; I mean right. 😉

Writing definitely exercises my brain cells.  I can feel it.  After I’ve completed an article I get a buzz that’s similar to one achieved from a sweaty workout on my elliptical.  As an A.C.E.-certified personal trainer, I’ve been a fervent believer in cardiovascular exercise for a long time.  I never considered writing to be a “workout” until this year, so now maybe I’ll buy a groovy belt, leg warmers and leotard a la Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect to wear at my desk.

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On a more serious note, typing away for hours on a daily basis may sound alarm bells to those close to me.  When I’ve been manic and hypomanic, I’ve had the rare condition of acute hypergraphia.

Hypergraphia is defined in Wikipedia as:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

I plan on writing more about hypergraphia in tomorrow’s blog post.  It’s a fascinating topic, and to this day I’ll never forget how it felt to actually experience it.  Luckily, electroconvulsive therapy has not wiped out my recollection of what it felt like to write in that otherworldly, amazing, exhausting, and, at times, terrifying way.  

I shouldn’t make light about hypergraphia, because it’s a serious condition.  I became annoyed yesterday when I found a snarky article online. (Dare I write this?  Why not: a “snarkticle”) It was written by a woman who clearly had no idea what she was discussing when it came to hypergraphia.  While she made some valid points, I disagreed with the majority of them and I want to have some fun and address them on Thursday.  To get a head start you can read the piece here:

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

If one hasn’t really, truly lived with this state, I feel 90% of writers should stick to the classic adage that I believe in with all my heart: “write what you know”.

What’s really behind this ramble?  Fear.  Fear of my creative drive leaving as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived.  I am especially scared about next week when I begin the heavy-duty work on my draft of Birth of a New Brain.  I am afraid of not being able to write a damn word – I’m scared of writer’s block making its gruesome return.  This fear has been the primary force in driving me to write every day, even when I knew I wasn’t creating memorable turns of phrase.  I felt that if I just wrote something, the act of writing could, at the very least, keep the flow of words coming day after day.  There are entire books written about this subject, of course, not to mention writing seminars and conferences.

I’ll carry on.  Today I am going to take a break from writing during most of my free time to read instead.  I actually have bona fide homework: to read a review copy of Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White.  I’d rather write, but I promised my counselor I’d read the book.  I’m also planning to write a review about the book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.  I read and write in front of my Sunbox DL.   I’ve had this therapeutic light for the past decade, and it’s designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder among other conditions.  My light energizes me and literally brightens my day.  I’ll return tomorrow with yet another discourse; until then, I wish you a wonderful day!  Thanks for reading!