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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting to Freak About the Catamaran Writing Conference

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Yes, I’m beginning to feel nervous about leaving my cozy comfort bubble to attend the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference at Pebble Beach. I certainly won’t let my freakiness stop me from going to such an incredible-sounding event. But I’m definitely intimidated about hobnobbing with established writers, not to mention some famous ones. It’s not like I’m a writing neophyte. I have a book deal with Post Hill Press, but I’m not exactly Karen Joy Fowler (our keynote speaker and the winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction) either.

I’m daunted at the prospect of having my writing critiqued by a group, but that’s the primary reason I’m attending. I want a fresh perspective about my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder; specifically I want feedback about Chapter One, the material I submitted for our class to review. An acclaimed memoirist/memoir instructor, Frances Lefkowitz, will discuss her take on my chapter and I’ll gain insights from my classmates as well. 

The last time I was away from my family for more than a day was in 2013. That summer I was hospitalized three times after I slowly, slowly tapered off lithium and relapsed into bipolar depression/suicidal ideation. I admitted myself into Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, a.k.a. CHOMP. (I’ve always found that to be a bizarre acronym; CHOMP reminds me of a vicious shark – no offense to shark lovers!)  While there I requested bilateral ECT (electroshock treatment/electroconvulsive therapy) which brought me up to a functioning level. I have no regrets about ECT and consider it a lifesaver. However, my bipolar depression didn’t go away until I began taking lithium and my MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) Parnate that fall. 

Ironically CHOMP is located very close to the Catamaran Writers Conference site, but I’m determined not to darken its doors unless I suffer from severe writer’s cramp or the like. My meds are doing their job, thank God, and I’m still working out almost every day “Alsuwaidan Style“.  

I think that sometimes after we suffer so much trauma, it’s hard to fully accept the “happy stuff” that comes our way. A part of me feels that this conference is too good to be true. Moreover, thoughts of “I’m not worthy! My writing sucks and it’s not worthy either!” have floated through my mind.

I’ll do my best to let my negative perceptions pass through my brain, and focus on breathing in the fresh ocean air that permeates the campus. My past anxiety crutches of booze and benzos are no longer an option. As hippy dippy as this may sound, I’m going to turn to nature and sweat to help me grapple with my assorted heebie jeebies. There’s a gym I will use on campus, and there are group hiking activities and other outdoor field trips (i.e. to gorgeous Tor House, home of Robinson Jeffers, a John Steinbeck tour, and exploring sites that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, i.e. China Cove and Pelican Point ) for the writers.

I can also blog about my angst to you, right? I’ll have my laptop  and WiFi by my side, and I’ll let you know how it all pans out.  🙂

XoXo,

Dyane

p.s. It’s not too late to join me! August 1st is the registration deadline. Sign up at 

http://catamaranliteraryreader.com/conference-2015/

 

Here are a few hideous campus shots! 😉

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And the atrocious area of Pebble Beach & China Cove!

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Happy Birthday to Us!

Today, March 18th, my beautiful puppy Lucy turns one while I turn forty-five. I love the fact that we share a birthday!  

Being forty-five seems rather bizarre, because in a lot of ways I still feel like I’m fourteen.  

As my favorite American author Madeleine L’Engle said,

““The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

In case you missed it, here I am with Madeleine L’Engle at a writer’s conference at a Santa Barbara monastery.  This photo was taken when I was the tender age of 27, a decade before my postpartum bipolar one diagnosis.

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So here I am having another birthday.  Just as I felt at age fourteen and all the other ages, I’m hoping that something unexpected and magical happens today.  But I just realized that something magical and unexpected did happen exactly one year ago that would affect my forty-fifth birthday and hopefully many more.

This special event occurred last year when Lucy was born on my forty-fourth birthday!  

Pisces girls unite!

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Lucy’s Mom and Dad 

 

My birthday will never feel complete since my Dad isn’t alive to wish me a happy day in his resonant voice, and play me the birthday song on his violin.  Since that can’t happen, I’ll sing a song by a couple of guys named Paul McCartney and John Lennon to Lucy today:

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can’t get more worse)
I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better since you’ve been mine”  

“Getting Better”, The Beatles

For those of you who’ve been kind enough to read this blog, you know that my past year has had its share of shit.  I suffered two “mini-relapses” due to sleep deprivation.  Some other challenging situations cropped up that I didn’t exactly handle with aplomb.  But I’m determined to make this next year better, and the year after that one even better.  

I’m making up for many chunks of lost time.  Time that stolen by my evil bipolar depression.  

I’m working hard to (I hate this phrase, but I’ll use it anyway) practice self-care. What’s my version of self-care? Part of my laundry list includes exercising the Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan way*, getting enough sleep, family time, taking meds religiously, and laughing at Alpura Dancing Cows. and anything else funny. (I loved watching Russell Brand’s Messiah Complex over the weekend!)  My new support group for women with mood disorders rocks.  And how could I forget mentioning Lucy?

Lucy.  She’s the hound of a lifetime. I’m so used to referring to her as a puppy, but she’s a dog now.  My children and I adore her, and the feeling seems mutual, but she worships alpha male Craig, so he can’t resist her charms either.  I thank God for this beast every day.  It’s not easy to take good, responsible care of a dog – my last two dogs Tara and Shera were with me for fifteen years to the end, when they both died in my arms… but she’s worth it.  I held Lucy when she was eight-weeks-old in a way similar to how I held my newborns. I gently cuddled her with reverence and a deep, pure love.  

While it might be nice to win the California SuperLotto Plus, land a book contract with a great publisher, or win a session with the kooky Long Island Medium, I have my family: Craig, my girls and my angel with paws, Miss Lucy.  

I wish you all an unexpected birthday gift that you’ll treasure the rest of your life; something awesome such as my furry girl.  

Have a great day, friends!

Dyane

 

 

 

 

* http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/

Earthquakes & Tsunamis of the Soul & How to Move On

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 This sign is located less than seven miles from where I reside.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had a great fear of tsunamis.  I grew up less than half a mile from the Pacific Ocean.  I frequently discussed my tsunami terrors with my father who shared my fascination with the killer waves.  He always assured me that if a tsunami struck nearby, it would fill up the large Las Pulgas Canyon (The Fleas Canyon!) that our home overlooked long before the water could possibly reach us.  Dad’s confident explanation soothed me, although I continued to have nightmares about giant waves over the next few decades.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have the same obsession with another force of nature that occurred where I lived: earthquakes.  The Los Angeles earthquakes I felt as a child didn’t frighten me. Those jolts were nothing compared to what I experienced while living in Santa Cruz during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The quake, which lasted only fifteen seconds, was 6.1 on the Richter scale, and it caused massive destruction and death around the Bay Area.  I started fearing earthquakes after that day.  

Last night while browsing on the IMDB website to see what was new, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I spotted a preview of an upcoming summer blockbuster containing both tsunamis and earthquakes made to the tune of 100 million dollars!  (That’s a disgusting amount, I know.)

The film’s title said it all in big, bold scary-looking font:

SAN ANDREAS

As a film buff, I squealed in both fear and excitement!  I called out to my husband Craig, a certified engineering geologist, and asked him to define what the San Andreas was, exactly.  He explained that the “San Andreas Fault is a major break in the earth’s surface running hundreds of miles along the California coast. It’s a boundary between two tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.” Craig laughed when he saw the following preview, as he said the most shocking scenes are virtually impossible.

After 26 years, I’ve forgotten how truly terrifying the Loma Prieta quake really felt; I know I was frightened enough to sleep in my Jetta that night. I worried that my old apartment building would fall upon me. Ninety minutes north of where I lived, the quake caused an entire upper section of the Nimitz Freeway to collapse upon drivers on its lower section, crushing them to death.  Newspaper images of the scene haunted me for months.

However, I was fortunate to have no losses – none of my loved ones perished, and I didn’t have a loss of property.  

I was able to get over my immobilizing fear relatively quickly, unlike an earthquake of the soul.

My inner earthquake, if you will, was my 2007 postpartum bipolar diagnosis and my unremitting, severe depression over the past eight years.

When you haven’t been able to trust your brain for a long time, there’s a residual trauma – at least there has been for me.  Now, I’m not saying I’m a hopeless case, and if you’re suffering right now with bipolar disorder, you’re not a hopeless case either.  

Our lives won’t turn into sweetness and light, but there can be real improvement.  I’m starting to see that I can keep bipolar disorder from destroying me like a giant wave or a megaquake. There are steps I’m now able to take so I can keep my bipolar depression at arm’s length.  

I was able to feel glimmers of hope only once I found medications that worked for me. I tried well over 25 medications and I had two different rounds of ECT, both unilateral and bilateral, before I was fortunate enough to find effective medications. 

“That’s all well and good, but how can I improve my life?” you might ask.

Here’s my list of suggestions – they might seem familiar to some of you as I’ve written about some of them before.

1) Medication – keep working with your psychiatrist to find something that helps you. Believe me when I say I know how hard it is to be on the med train.  It’s hell.  But please persevere.  (To those who are anti-meds, go away!  Just kidding. I’d like you to know I’ve been in your shoes. The truth of the matter is that a very small percentage of the bipolar population can live well without meds.  I’ve read it’s 10-15%.  I thought I could beat those odds, but I almost died.  I’ll take meds until there’s a cure for bipolar.)  

So yes….meds.

2) Consistent check-in appointments with preferably a psychiatrist, or your medication prescriber.  (I know how tough it is to find a doctor who’s skilled *and* kind, but don’t shortchange yourself.  Try to find someone who treats you with respect.)

3) 6-7  days a week of vigorous exercise for thirty minutes; whatever you choose, you must break a sweat and not be able to carry on a conversation!  I now regard exercise as important as taking medication – in fact, I look at exercise at my 4th “medication”.  (I take lithium, Parnate & Seroquel.) The brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan has studied the efficacy of this routine.  He attests that his patients are profoundly helped by working out this way, and he has told me it’s the “missing link” for those with bipolar depression.  I’ll be interviewing him later this spring about this topic for the latest, but this is plenty to go on for now.  In the meantime, please read his brief post for more details about why you need to work it:

http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/  

imgres-1Dr. Alsuwaidan – he practices what he preaches, and works out 6-7 days/week too, even after he’s exhausted from seeing bipolar patients all day long!

4) Therapy if at all possible

5) Social support – either in person through a support group, a friend, or online.  I consider our blogging community to be a key part of my social support. I love you guys!  

6) Relatively healthy diet and no or minimum alcohol.  I can’t drink alcohol due to my MAOI Parnate and my liver and brain are the better off for it. 

7) A pet.  I don’t care if it’s “just” a hermit crab or hamster.  A pet to give you unconditional love and for you to care about, who will keep you company.  

8) Bibliotherapy – reading takes me to my happy place and I bet it does for you too; it’s also supposed to be healing and superhealthy for our brains!  

9) Being out in nature, even for just a few minutes on your doorstep looking at plants, each day.  

10) Light.  I use an old Sunbox (sunbox.com) for 1/2 an hour in the morning and it really does help.  Sometimes you can get your insurance to reimburse for one if you have a doctor’s note.  You can also use sunscreen and sit out in the sun like a lizard! My puppy Lucy loves to sit out in the sun despite her thick, honey-colored coat – she’s so cute.

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I’m sorry this became another novella.  I keep telling myself to write posts under 500 words.  I know that I usually prefer to read posts around that length, and I know most of you probably do as well.   Oh well.  Give me another chance.  Next Friday I’ll shoot for 500 words or less! Miracles can happen!

In the meantime, have a good weekend, everyone.  I hope you can all do something that brings you a real smile.  Want to make me smile, for real?  Go do an “Alsuwaidan-style workout” and tell me about it in the comments.  Sweat is the best makeup!

XOXO

Dyane 

  

Then and Now: Thank you MAOI’s & Lithium!

3 bunnies

 Sunday morning smiles

 

I’ve had a lazy, Indian Summer-soaked weekend.  As much as I love the springtime, this is my favorite season of the year, bar none. (Plus Halloween is my favorite day of the year!)  

This morning I reflected upon how different my “lazy weekend” was than my lazy weekends of a couple years ago…

In 2012 and part of 2013, “lazy” was my doing virtually nothing during the weekends.  I stayed in bed or on the couch much of the day, feeling depressed, lethargic and hopeless.  There were also my intermittent crying jags during which I unsuccessfully tried to hide from my children.

In contrast, my current “lazy weekend” included:  

Doing laundry, dishes, straightening up the uber-messy house, completing homework with Rilla, cleaning up poop (Lucy most likely ate chicken poo), working out twice, surfing the internet, & watching an illuminating documentary called “Fed Up”.  It’s a film that was suggested by the blogger Bipolar on Fire.  “Fed Up” is so freaky and mind-bending but I’m glad I watched it!

 

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There’s more: I read some of the works of two New Zealand authors: a memoir “All That Glitters” by the Auckland fashion designer/depression advocate Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, and the “The Nutters Club: Helping Nutters from the Inside Out” by Mike King, a comedian/host of the hit radio show “The Nutters Club” with psychiatrist David Codyre.

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At Avi’s request, we went on a family picnic at the park, and last but not least, I watched the season finale of the highly intellectual TLC reality show“Long Island Medium”!

I swear, each time I watch it I feel my I.Q. rise a few points! 😉

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So what, Dyane?, you may be thinking.  

You might also wonder,

Frankly, I don’t care about your laundry list of tasks – they are kind of boring.  And you are not the intellectual you claim to be when you reveal you’re a fan of TLC reality shows like “Long Island Medium” – aren’t you a college graduate, or so you say? 

This all may be true, although the books and documentary film I mention are worth checking out, as well as Bipolar On Fire’s blog, which is one of my favorites.  Before I forget to mention it, her blog is:

http://bipolaronfire.com

I must also state that “Long Island Medium” is worth a look if you’re interested in psychic mediums and if you want to be entertained and inspired. 

But back to ultimate point of this post – I wouldn’t be doing ANYTHING unless I had my medications at the ready, namely my MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) called Parnate, (generic name: tranylcypromine – say that ten times fast!) and lithium.  

I’ve written about these meds before, but I’m bringing them up again for any new readers and because I enjoy expressing how I continue to feel grateful for them.  

The combination of the MAOI & lithium made it possible for me to not merely get out of bed each day, but to function and experience joy again.

I had no idea that MAOI’s have been prescribed for treatment-resistant bipolar depression for literally decades (i.e. since the 1950’s I believe) until 2013, when my most recent psychiatrist brought them up.  I found it mind-boggling that no other doctor thought to even mention them as a possibility since I was a textbook case of being med-resistant (I tried well over 20 drugs ) plus two rounds of ECT.

Duh!

When my psychiatrist suggested I try an MAOI in the fall of 2013, I did a little research on my own. I located two studies done in the 1970’s that would make ANY person with treatment-resistant bipolar depression rob a pharmacy if she had to in order to give an MAOI combined with lithium a try. (If an MAOI is combined with lithium, the two study findings indicated that the lifting of the bipolar depression is much more likely to happen.)  

While I’m by no means “cured” of bipolar disorder, and I have a long way to go in terms of my recovery, you can see how I’m still light years ahead of where I used to be.  Anxiety, and depersonalization/derealization continue to haunt me on a regular basis.  I’m working on all of this stuff with my counselor and on my own, and this work (yes, it’s work) is a full-time job unto itself that unfortunately few people understand.

After an intense Mental Health/Bipolar Awareness week, I celebrate my pills, the teeny tablets I once demonized until I relapsed without their help.  I’m grateful to these remarkable medications for helping me get my life back, and giving me hope again.  I’m on a quest to inform others who have been medication-resistant like me about MAOI’s if they haven’t tried them yet. They don’t work for everyone by any means, but you never know unless you a) know about their existence in the first place and b) give them a try.

Have a good week, dear readers!

Dyane

 

 P.S. I have a small favor to ask each of you!   I’ve been honored with a nomination by the

bestselling author Wendy K. Williamson (“I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar”, & “Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival”)

for the WEGO Health Activist “Best in Show” Blog Award.  I need your endorsements to win!  

Just visit the below link, select the purple tab that says “Endorse Dyane Leshin-Harwood”

and go from there – it takes only 15 seconds to endorse me.  Thank you so much!

https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/4811

 

The Bipolar Blogger Network & Why I Smell Like Salsa!

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T.G.I.F.!!!

I’ve had a weird week, but I’m relieved there hasn’t ben any serious drama in my neck of the woods.

Hurrah! 

A few days ago I got some good news: I was accepted into the Bipolar Blogger Network.  I’ve known about the BBN for over a year, and while I wanted to apply for membership, I kept procrastinating.  (It wound up taking me less than two minutes to email them!)

I’d already been following a third of the BBN bloggers, and I’m sure that the other two thirds listed are worthy blogs to follow.  I encourage you to peek at their website to check out the assortment of bloggers.  If you’re interested in joining, please contact them, as they’re constantly on the lookout for blogs to add to the network.  

Here’s a brief explanation about the Bipolar Blogger Network’s philosophy:

“The Bipolar Blogger Network is the brainchild of a couple of friends bemused by the lack of networking options for those with various flavours of bipolar.  We intend for this place to be a hub for all who have an experience to share. If you have any questions, queries, comments, or a desire to join the network, feel free to drop us a line!  We are always happy to add new bloggers to the network; in joining, you make us all stronger together by sharing your slant on life with bipolar.  (http://www.bipolarbloggernetwork.com/)

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Meanwhile, a few weeks ago I found a blog called “The Oil Experiment” focusing upon the blogger’s experience in using essential oils for health concerns.  Blogger Michelle Rocker addresses specific essential oils that she uses on her children who have autism, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.  Michelle uses essential oils for anxiety among other maladies.   

Even though I love essential oils, when I first read Michelle’s blog post about bipolar, her son and essential oils, I was miffed.  My first thought was,

How stupid and unethical for someone to suggest essential oils as a treatment for bipolar disorder!!! 

Over ten years ago I worked at the College for Botanical Healing Arts (www.cobha.org) which offers extensive training in their essential oil practitioner program.  In 1998, COBHA’s practitioner program required the student to complete 440 hours of vigorous classroom studies plus an internship and exam.  It wasn’t a hippy dippy curriculum to say the least.  The directors are world-renowned experts in the field of essential oils, and the other teachers had tons of experience and credibility.  From my time there as an office manager, I learned a bit about the basic therapeutic use of essential oils.  

I only took a few of COBHA’s courses, including Level One, their introductory course.  I don’t recall learning about essential oils being used for bipolar disorder in the late 1990’s.  However, I hadn’t been diagnosed with bipolar yet, so bipolar wasn’t on my radar like it is now.  That said, my father had bipolar disorder and he was alive back then, so I would’ve paid close attention if we were taught anything about “e.o.’s” that could benefit his mood disorder.  

After reading more of Michelle’s blog regarding her children who have bipolar, ADHD, and Aspergers (and who she claims have benefitted greatly from using essential oils under their close M.D. supervision) I was curious about using the oils for anxiety.  I didn’t want to try using any essential oils for bipolar, however, as my lithium & my MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) are working well, thank God.  I don’t want to mess with them at all!  

 I purchased two essential oils from a friend.  I know these two e.o.’s (wild orange and cilantro) are safe for me to use in tandem with my MAOI.  (Those who take MAOI medication have food and alcohol restrictions.) I’ve used orange essential oil for years, and I’ve eaten cilantro for years.  I’m not allergic to either oranges or cilantro, and they aren’t contraindicated for consumption if taking an MAOI.  

I followed Michelle’s lead in putting a few drops of cilantro underneath each big toe (she places it on her toes due to the fact she dislikes the smell of cilantro and it’s also a reflexology point) and I put the orange on my wrists as she suggested.

I smelled VERY strongly of cilantro – this stuff is POTENT.  Luckily I like the smell of cilantro, but even so, it’s a little much for me.  I don’t mind smelling like salsa if my anxiety level drops!  It could be a worse smell, right?  I absolutely love the smell of orange – I’ve adored orange – and I think that its smell cheers me up rather than lowers my anxiety level.  Michelle implies in her anxiety blog post that cilantro is supposed to be the heavy-duty essential oil for anxiety.  (The link is posted below.)

So, what’s the verdict?  

I think cilantro essential oil helps in a subtle way, but I’ve only tried it a few times.  I’ll keep using it, perhaps in different spots than underneath my toe, and I’ll see if I notice a difference in my anxiety level.

During my next meeting with my psychiatrist I’ll ask his opinion about using essential oils for mood disorders. (I’ll make it clear that I’d use the e.o.’s in tandem with my meds, not in place of them!) I didn’t feel the need to ask him about orange or cilantro oils due to the fact these e.o.’s are food-derived and safe to combine with my MAOI.  I’ve been using orange essential oil for many years with no problems.  But I would want to ask my pdoc about the more obscure essential oils that aren’t food-derived, i.e. vetiver, melissa, frankincense etc.

Here’s Michelle’s post about using the essential oils for anxiety

http://oilexperiment.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/cilantro-essential-oil-anxiety/

Do you use essential oils? If yes, why & which ones do you use?  Do they help you?

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend everyone!
Dyane 🙂

Wherever You Go, There You Are

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Hawaii an awful lot.

Last November, our family scrimped and saved for months to take a sentimental trip to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.  My mother-in-law died last spring, and we brought her ashes with us, for she loved living in Hawaii for many years.  My husband Craig knew she would have approved of his scattering her ashes in such a meaningful location.  We also thought our two little girls would benefit from an informal family ceremony in their grandmother’s honor.

So yes, this trip was a big deal for us to take –  we definitely knew how lucky we were to visit such an exotic place.  We stayed at Al’s Kona Coffee  Farm, a rental unit with a kitchen so we could make the majority of our meals and save money.  My husband knew the Kona area well from visiting his Mom when she lived there, and he planned our activities to be mostly free or low-cost.

We had scheduled the trip twice before, but Craig had to reschedule due to my hospitalizations for bipolar depression relapses.  Al was very understanding of my medical situation, and not only was he flexible in our rescheduling; he gave us a good deal.

Look at how spectacular Al’s Kona Coffee Farm is!

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A month before our trip, my bipolar depression had finally lifted due to my trying an “old-school” medication.  I started taking the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) named  tranylcypromine or Parnate.  My pdoc added it to the lithium I was already taking, and within two days – kaboom.  My evil, hated, soul-sucking depression was gone.

I located two studies online conducted in the 1970’s that found MAOI’s combined with lithium had a greater effect together to lift bipolar depression than when used separately.  I also read a document that described MAOI’s as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression.  When I spotted that, I said “WTF?”   Why no psychiatrist had ever suggested the MAOI class to me before, since I was super-medication-resistant, remains a mystery to me.  There are food and beverage restrictions with MAOI’s, but they aren’t the end of the world, and the restrictions are totally worth it if the depression goes away.

Anyway, three days before we took off on our flight, my depression returned.  Words cannot express the level of disappointment and fear that descended upon me.  I’ll cut to the chase right now and let you know that three weeks later, after we returned from Hawaii, my doctor added Seroquel to the lithium and Parnate.  The depression went away and it has stayed away ever since.

But the entire time I was in Hawaii, my depression was unrelenting.  I contacted my psychiatrist and we upped my Parnate dosage, but it made me feel too wired and didn’t alleviate the depression, so I returned to the prior dosage.  While I was able to appreciate my little girls’ joy as they boogie boarded, and I took in the natural beauty of the Big Island as much as I could, I still felt like a zombie.

I’m attempting to fake being happy in the picture posted above.  Underneath the smile is utter hopelessness.  Despite the beaches with warm aquamarine water, the incredibly tasty Kona coffee, the fresh poke fish, the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, the dolphins, and the sunsets, I felt beyond horrible.

The lesson I learned was that it didn’t matter if I was in Paradise if I didn’t have the right meds.  Some of you know that’s way easier said than done!

We could have cancelled our trip yet a third time, but  since we were so close to our departure date I didn’t have the heart to cancel.  Plus I was praying for a miracle to happen.  At least Craig and the girls had a great time.  He didn’t hold it against me that I was a less-than-ideal travel companion, and I am very grateful for that.

Someday I hope we get a “do-over”.

When Craig took his mother’s ashes out to a stunning reef on the bay by the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, I was unable to join him.  I sat in the sand, motionless for the most part, unable to even read a book.  I am hoping that some day we’ll have the good fortune to return to that area and I can pay my respects properly.

While there I’d pick a few plumeria flowers, which are flowers that my mother-in-law adored.  I’d walk out on the reef and toss the blossoms in the water in honor of the woman who gave me the best husband I could ask for.   Then I’d walk down to the beach and swim a little, because when we went to Hawaii last year I was so down, I couldn’t even swim in the ocean.

I know that many people in our world could never afford a trip like the one I describe.  Recently I watched the documentary “Happy” that profiles different cultures with authentically happy people.  None of the “stars” of this film were wealthy, most of them lived on small incomes and some were what our society would consider extremely poor.  All of these people truly appreciated their day-to-day lives.  We could all learn from these individuals.  I may never get a chance to return to Hawaii, so I want to appreciate my “here & now” better.  (I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to do this in the spring when it’s warm instead of freezing!)

I wish each of you the trip of a lifetime, wherever your dream place may be.  And I wish even more that your love and appreciation for your here and now grows significantly over time.  It would be awesome if each of us, especially those of us suffering with mood disorders, could not only appreciate the present, but experience some simple happiness every day.

I am sooo not there yet, but I’ll let you know when I’m making some headway.

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