Triggered Once Again…


A photo from the hospital’s website…my room looked nothing like this.  

The words “dreary”, “desolate”, and “sterile” sum up my room’s decor.   

It was eight months ago when I was last locked up in the loony bin for bipolar depression/suicidal ideation.  The relapse occurred during my tapering off lithium, and it was so nightmarish that I asked for bilateral electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments.  The ECT worked in tandem with a new medication combination, and I was incredibly fortunate to have minimal side effects.  While I’m not cured by any means, I’m 360-degrees better.

I know that “loony bin” is derogatory; I’ll use the euphemistically named “Garden Pavilion” at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula instead.  I suppose I should wipe the snide tone out of my words at the get-go, and give this hospital much more credit.  C.H.O.M.P.’s confines and staff did help to save my life.  But the way in which that was done left much to be desired.

For one thing, I was cooped up worse than our three chickens.  We allow them to “free range” every day in our yard, and they truly seem more tranquil after these excursions.  During my lengthy time at the hospital I wasn’t taken outside once with staff for a breath of fresh air and natural sunlight.  As small a thing as that may sound, I believe that staying in an ugly, uninspiring, yucky-smelling, bleak unit 24/7 prolonged my recovery, and worsened my depression.  I’ve always loved nature, and during my deepest depressions getting out in nature gave me moments of comfort and hope.

A few months after my hospital release, I made some calls to Bay Area hospitals out of curiosity .  I learned that numerous mental health units with the same population as C.H.O.M.P. take their patients out for walks or even field trips.  Why C.H.O.M.P. couldn’t do that, I don’t know.  I called the unit about it and I couldn’t get a clear answer.

And then there is the cost of hospitalization.  I manage our bills, and we’re going to be paying C.H.O.M.P. for a very long time.  My hospital visit cost TONS of money not covered by Medicare.  I could have bought several new cards for what my hospitalization cost.  Again, I realize that I sound ungrateful and that my life is worth any exorbitant medical bill, but it still, for want of a better word, sucks.  I would have rather saved up all that money for my children’s college education.

The truth of the matter is that I feel triggered this afternoon..  My husband and daughter left for Los Angeles this morning.  Craig’s acclaimed book Quest for Flight – John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West is being honored for winning the Regional Literature Award by the Great Southwest Book Festival in Hollywood.  I could have accompanied them, but I chose to stay home to write and relax. The tedious eight-hour-long drive to L.A. and and eight-hour-long drive back for only a three-day-long visit didn’t appeal to me.  (Flying there was too expensive.)  Fortunately Craig is so easygoing that he didn’t mind my staying home in the slightest.  He’s even making time to visit my Mom while there, and she’s thrilled she’ll see her eldest granddaughter.

It’s just that I haven’t been away from either Craig nor Avi since I was hospitalized and that makes me feel nervous and sad.  Memories of prior separations (I’ve had seven lengthy hospitalizations since 2007) are surfacing that I don’t want to dwell upon.  I have no concrete reason to be nervous or sad – I’m in good physical health, way better mental health than I’ve enjoyed in years, and I’ve set up plans for a few fun activities to do while they are out of town.

I am lucky to have my other daughter with me.  Rilla deserves to have me be in relatively good spirits during this one-on-one time.  So what I’ll do to get in a better frame of mind is:

1) Work out on the elliptical – this always puts me in a better mental state 

2) Plan a couple fun, special things to do with Rilla (Our big splurge is going to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which she has been begging me to do for ages.)

3) Use my Sunbox (I use this bright light for thirty minutes in the morning when I write or surf the internet. It helps me keep depression at bay)

4) Write 

5) Invest in some good quality chocolate!

and lastly…

6) Don’t be a recluse.  When I stay in the house all day long, it’s very bad for my mood.  Even getting out for a little while makes a big difference.

Time flies by so quickly that the three days will pass by in a heart beat anyway.

I can’t help but have a Pollyanna moment after sharing these thoughts.   I’d rather be home, freaked out, than back in that cold, scary hospital.  All I have to do to feel better is look out my window at beautiful redwood trees and the clucking trio of chickens.  It’s a pretty damn good life.  So I’ll just take the myriad of hospital bills in stride, and I’ll deal with my Garden Pavilion memories that come and thankfully go.  I have my life back in my own hands, and that’s what matters now.

I dedicate this Crowded House song “Better Be Home Soon” to Craig & Avonlea; the lyrics have a different meaning than my situation, but it’s a classic song!

How Do You Explain Heaven To A Child?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward, take two.

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

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

“Mommy, where is Shera now?”

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

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

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

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