Author Marie Abanga’s “Darling Dyane, My Heroine”

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Author/advocate Marie Abanga and I belong to our own special Mutual Admiration Society! It constantly amazes me how we’ve forged our bond living on opposite sides of the world, but I’m not that surprised after “meeting” some of you who live continents away from Chez Harwood.

Last night I cried reading a draft of this post that Marie emailed me; thank God they were happy tears!

The immortal words of Wayne and Garth: “We’re not worthy” (as said in the epic “Wayne’s World”) came to my mind while reading Marie’s post. It feels wonderful to be appreciated by someone in this way.

I suggest that this weekend (if you don’t have time to write a tribute post of your own, although there’s always the future. It’s fun to do; I’ve written a few myself.) consider taking some time to spread some warm fuzzies someone else’s way.

Marie didn’t know I had a particularly tough day when she sent me this draft. Her glowing compliments and appreciation went a long way in lifting me out of my own pity party.

Gestures can be small to make a difference. Believe it or not, I got a simple “heart” on a tweet this morning from Postpartum Support International that made me feel great! (It made me so happy that I decided to join their organization!)

Here’s a lower-cost act of kindness: the other day when I pulled over on the highway to let a speedster pass me, he turned on his emergency lights to “thank” me right after he passed my car, and my blood pressure went down a bit. Sometimes, small moves like that can make more of a difference than you’d imagine.

So, in the spirit of Merry Marie, I wish you all a good weekend and take care of yourselves. Let me know if you do any cool acts of kindness, even if they are teeny-tiny ones – sometimes those are the coolest ones of all.

love,
Dyane

 

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

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Lady and her Lovely Lucy Lady and her Lovely Lucy

Have you ever waited for a phone call with much anxiety because you feared the person may end up not calling as promised? Have you ever spoken to someone and you never wanted that conversation to stop? Wait a minute, have you ever left a comment for the first time on someone’s blog and kept your fingers and toes crossed until they replied to your comment? Let me see what more I can ponder about this darling lady Dyane of mine?

Love is in the air huh... Love is in the air huh…

In short, there’s probably no way I can go to that US again without visiting my fair lady as I also call her, and oh sure lovely lucy too.

Yes, I follow my guts very often and they’ve led me very very often to fulfilling encounters! Indeed several life changing lessons have been learnt. It still happens and…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending Flames of Love for a Great Catamaran Getway for Dyane

 

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When I noticed that my talented, radiant friend/author Marie Abanga sent me “flames of love” via her fragrant candles, I was blown away. Marie’s act of love set the stage for my first writing conference to be one of the most exciting, challenging and fulfilling experiences of my life. I feel in my gut that it’s going to continue to be incredible.

I’m at my desk at the end of the second day at the Catamaran Writers Conference, utterly exhausted but proud of myself. I faced one of my biggest fears this morning, which was reciting my writing  to a group of talented writers and our teacher/memoirist Frances Lefkowitz. My voice shook like the leaves of a quaking aspen, but at least I didn’t pass out. I’m not thrilled about my nervous delivery, especially because I know I could do much better, but what matters is that I did it. I got encouraging feedback from Frances and that was better than chocolate, I kid you not.

I was astounded by the high quality of my classmates’ writing and when my pesky insecurity welled up I reminded myself that I was there to learn from each of them. It’s not a competition has become my mantra.

The rest of the day felt like I was at a writing-themed party. I had several spontaneous, inspiring conversations with other attendees. Each chat gave me the chance to practice my spiel about my book.

Lunch was delicious – it’s a luxury to choose from delicious entrees and sides at every meal. I had a turkey burger, housemade salsa, fresh raspberries, fresh pineapple and guava juice. (I forgot to mention that breakfast was amazeballs: Peets coffee – woo hoo!, scrambled eggs, and blueberry muffins. There were a ton of other options but if I indulged then I would’ve rolled out the door. One example is the giant vat of Nutella which beckoned to me, but I walked away from it knowing that it would still be there for us over the next few days.) 

After lunch between 2:00-4:30 there were lots of things going on: four lectures and a field trip to John Steinbeck’s residence in Pacific Grove with a reading by Wallace J. Nichols at the historically preserved Ricketts Lab on Cannery Row where Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck met to create The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The lab isn’t open to the public. While that excursion sounded really cool (especially because over twenty years ago I took an entire UC Santa Cruz course on Steinbeck by the renowned Steinbeck scholar Louis Owens), I was drawn to two campus lectures. Those were Sarah Michas-Martin’s The Lyric Lab: How to Mean More Than You Say, and journalist Peggy Townsend’s The Art of the Interview. Both speakers were fascinating . I was familiar with Peggy Townsend as she wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my local newspaper, for thirty-five years. It turns out that she interviewed Craig about his book at our very messy home when I was out of the house! How mortifying! Small world. I loved her talk and I took notes that might be of interest to some of you, so I’ll share those later when I’m not so wiped out.

There were two other lectures I could’ve attended (Environmental Writing and Speculative Fiction) but I wanted to work out. I opted for a walk around the campus since it was a gorgeous warm day for a stroll. My walk bordered the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course and the air smelled so good; it even cleared up my overstimulated brain a little.

After changing clothes and feasting on a finger-licking dinner (carnitas – I know they aren’t very healthy and I’m trying to eat less meat, but I caved…plus there was homemade guacamole!) it was time for a reception and Karen Joy Fowler, the keynote speaker of the evening. 

A New York Times bestselling author, she has won a ton of ginormous book awards. She wrote The Jane Austen Book Club and five other novels, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to meet someone with a big ego. Luckily, she was hilarious, witty and offered great advice. She reminded me a bit of Anne Lamott, another memorable author whose talk I attended years ago in San Francisco.

At the end of Fowler’s talk it was time for a few questions. I thought of one to ask and I forced myself to do it so I could practice more speaking in front of a group of writers. My question was a two-parter. I knew she lived in Santa Cruz and belonged to a local writer’s group because I briefly checked out her blog. I told her (and I’m paraphrasing) “I live in the Santa Cruz area and I noticed on your blog you mentioned you’re in a writer’s group. Does there happen to be a space in it? (Nudge nudge, wink wink!) I’m curious what you get out of a writer’s group since you’re an established writer?” I said all that without a shaky voice and I had to project well because I sat at the back of the chapel. I was able to belt out my question and I was thrilled to elicit a wonderful answer from Fowler that made the audience laugh quite a bit. 

Fowler went OFF about how awesome writers groups are, and mentioned she was in a Davis, CA group that met for 35 years, but she added they can be terrible. She said her group is full but there might be a space opening, so she suggested that I leave my contact info. with her. (I wasn’t sure if she was joking, but it turns out she was serious.)

I bought one of her books for my Mom (surprise, Mom!) and had her sign it. As my Vistaprint business card order didn’t arrive in time for the conference, I gave Fowler a hastily mocked-up business card with this photo of me and Miss Lucy on it! 😉 

After meeting Fowler, there was one more activity to consider: the Nightly Spoken Word Workshop and Poetry Slam Discussion that meets nightly. Not my usual cup of tea AT ALL, but my classmate and I wound up going after hearing a testimonial by someone who participated last night. 

It was a blast! I’d love to provide some information and links for you, and I will do that when I’m not a zombie. I think some of you would really get a kick out of these extraordinary three-minute-long slam performances we watched in the classroom.

For our discussion we moved outside to sit around an open fire under the stars. It was my ideal classroom.  One of my fellow classmates was the gifted poet/conference instructor/professor Jericho Brown who is co-teaching a class with Ellen Bass. (Mom, he said he’d be happy to sign one of his books for you. He’ll be in L.A. next year at the AWP Conference, so maybe you could go meet him!) 

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Thanks so much for reading this – words don’t do any of this experience justice and I wish you could all be here with me for a blogger’s conference! How cool would that be? If any of you know any rich people who would want to sponsor a mental health blogger/advocacy conference, tell him/her to call me, okay? I’d love to organize that and I have experience in special event production so I could pull it off with some of your help.

take care, my friends!
love, Dy

p.s. Marie, I’m sending extra hugs and blissful dreams-come-true to you, my friend

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If wishes were horses, I’ll gallop all the way to my Lady Dyane’s Catamaran Retreat just to stay by her side for 3 days.

Now that I can’t be there, I have lit 3 candles for her and I hope the scent from the Strawberry Flavoured one, or even the Vanilla stud, warm her mind throughout those days.

My fair Lady Dyane, you know how much loads of us root for you, all plus Lucy right? You can and you’ll do just fantastic. Loads of Love all the way from Cameroon 🙂

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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.) 🙂

 

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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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