“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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Tahoe Ramblings

 

Avi on John Muir Trail w:Lucy

Avonlea and Lucy on the John Muir Trail

 

As we reach the end of our Tahoe vacation we’re celebrating Marilla’s seventh birthday. We just received a text from the girls’ Granny.  She told us to go out to dinner as a gift from her, so the family’s mood is upbeat.  The girls are discussing the kinds of cake they wish to order, which is obviously the priority when you’re about to turn seven. (And, I admit, my priority as well.)

It’s a lazy weekday afternoon and I’ve wasted the entire past hour trying to guess the password for the cabin’s internet connection.  Yes, it turns out there is internet access here in the Munchkin, but we don’t know the password. There’s no record of it to be found anywhere in the cabin. When Craig called the owner about it, she told us she wasn’t adept with computers, and she had no idea what the password was!  As we’ve had a good relationship with her for the past six years, he didn’t want to push the subject of the password.

I decided to create a “Guess the Password” game, trying out different Tahoe-themed phrases. (My personal favorite was “bear country”.) Surrounding homeowners’ wireless connections popped up on my Kindle screen, but they were all locked.  I knew that chances were one in a million that I’d guess the password, but stubborn me – I wanted to give it a shot nonetheless.  I’m sure the password is something I’d never imagine in a million years, so I’m done with my game!

As much as I miss my internet connection and cable television, I know in my heart that it continues to be in my best interest that I keep away from the net and other media during the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death.

Every few days we’ve stopped in front of a library to tap into a wireless connection so that my husband could do some work, but these pitstops have lasted for only a few minutes.   In that amount of time I hurriedly posted to my blog and checked my email.  I could have visited a coffee shop alone to catch up on emails, Facebook, blogs, etc.  I’ve been tempted to do that more than once, but it hasn’t felt like the right thing to do.  My intuition keeps telling impatient me to wait; we’ll be home soon enough.

I went for years not using Facebook, and I only began blogging regularly last December.  My life won’t fall apart from missing ten days of my online creature comforts.  

As I write this post, I’ve been glancing out the window to see if my bear “friend” has decided to swing by and give me another panic attack!  I’m sure Lucy would be less-than-thrilled to spot a live bear; I prefer to see bears via a nature documentary.

Craig and the girls headed out to their special swimming spot they’ve named “Icy Rock” on the Truckee River while Lucy and I hang out in the quiet Munchkin.  The inviting couch, which has a view of the stunning Alpine Valley mountainside pictured below, is the perfect place to stretch out and read a book.

Photo on 2011-07-28 at 09.00 #2 

Now that I’ve finished Jennifer Hentz Moyer’s sobering-yet-inspiring memoir “A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness – A Story about Overcoming Postpartum Psychosis” (and postpartum bipolar disorder) I’m going to read something a little lighter in tone: “Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970’s” by Tom Doyle.  That’s what I’m going to enjoy until the door swings open and two very exuberant, soaked little girls will come in to tell me about their encounters with crawdads and ducks on the shores of the Truckee.

Long before the internet entered my life, my first love was reading a book.  It feels so good and luxurious to sink into my book and to stay there for a while without interruptions.  I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend an afternoon…except, perhaps, for some chocolate gelato.  It just happens that there’s a pint of Double Chocolate Talenti in the freezer, and it has my name written all over it!  (The rest of the family has the sense to know that Mommy’s gelato is hers and hers alone.)

Have a good Friday & weekend, and I’ll catch you on Monday!

take care,

Dyane

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Where the Heart Lies – My New Blogging Schedule & Book Musings

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I love to blog, even though I don’t like the word itself.  “Blog” sounds too much like “frog” (No offense to frogs!) and it simply doesn’t float my boat.  But that doesn’t matter, because blogging has been a wonderful catharsis, and it has inspired my writing.  “Meeting” fellow bloggers has been a total joy.  I thank my lucky stars for this technology which allows us writers to connect with one another.

I tried blogging seven years ago.  It was the year after I diagnosed with bipolar, so I called the blog “Proudly Bipolar”.  My blogging habit didn’t take back then, for I relapsed and let the blog fall to the wayside.  Last November I gingerly re-approached the blogosphere, and the second time was indeed the charm.  When I began getting positive, helpful feedback from other bloggers I admired, it solidified my commitment to blogging.  Five months ago, I surprised myself by posting each day, never imagining that I’d keep it up for any length of time.

I’ve blogged every single day since deciding to write daily, and I’ve published over 140 posts.  

In sickness and in health.

I, in essence, married my blog! 😉

Blogging relieves my tension, and brainstorming for topics is challenging, but satisfying.  It’s particularly gratifying to write on a regular basis because I was unable to write during so many lengthy, debilitating bipolar depressions.

I’ve known the day would come where I’d break my record of daily blogging.  I know it’s healthy to take breaks from everything we do in life, except breathing, perhaps.   Even professional bloggers take days off from their blogs.  Call me stubborn, call me silly  – I just didn’t want to stop!  (Waaaaah!)  

The main reason I need to change my ways is because of my book.  Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder has been taking a backseat to my other writing, i.e. my blog, my International Bipolar Foundation blog, and articles for the website Stigmama.com and the revamped Anchor Magazine plus more.  Every fiber of my being tells me it’s not good to put my book on the back burner.  I want the satisfaction of completing it, and I feel in my gut that I was meant to not only write this book but for it to be published by an established publisher.

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As gratifying as it is to write a memoir, make no mistake – it’s hard as hell.  I can easily spend three leisurely hours writing a blog post, and still have plenty energy to spare.  In contrast, when I spend an intense, focused thirty minutes working on my book, I’m worn out for a while afterwards.  The subject matter is tough, extensive medical research is involved, and I want the writing to be top-notch.  

Just this morning, in a moment of exasperation, I wrote to a friend about this subject.  I emailed the great writer L.E. Henderson, author of A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom,  

“If I can birth two children and have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) done, I can write a book!”  

To clarify, I know I can write a book! 😉  What will make this knowledge a reality is that I need to create more energy and time to do it.  No one is going to supply those two key conditions for me except myself.  After completing over a hundred pages, I’m more determined now than ever to see this project through.  

When I become dejected about the book writing process, I remind myself that I have the potential to realize my dream.  In 2013, I submitted a detailed book proposal to a respected publisher, and I was offered an honest-to-God book contract.  It pains me to write this, but I cancelled my contract when I relapsed with bipolar depression and had to be hospitalized. Now I’m going to wait until my book is done before approaching any agent and/or publisher. That feels like the right way to go for the time being.

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So I’m making it official by stating it here: I’m going to force myself to only blog three times a week.  I plan on posting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.   Three times weekly as opposed to seven times a week will definitely free up some book-writing time.  (Ya think? 😉 

I’m also going to watch yet another Nick Ortner EFT YouTube video (even though he’s so hideous, ha ha ha!) because I couldn’t help but notice the title – it definitely applies to me, as does the clip’s description:

“Use EFT To Clear Patterns of Self-Sabotage” – Nick Ortner at Wanderlust

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwgFIKjTpWY

Description:

“These days,” says Nick, “we are activating our fight or flight responses in a variety of circumstances. Frustrated goals, mounting stress, patterns of self-sabotage: at the most basic level are stress responses related to fight or flight responses. The latest research shows us that when we hit these meridian points in the body while focusing on certain issues, we are actually sending a signal to the amydgala in the brain. The amygdala is the fight or flight response center.” In this Speakeasy lecture, Nick explains how tapping can release these fears and patterns.

 

As I promised to the amazing blogger Doreen Bench of “Always Recovery”, I’ll report back here with my EFT findings at some point, hopefully soon.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll continue reading my blog, and I wish you lots of fulfilling blogging and reading of your own.

Thanks for reading!

Dyane

 

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A Happy *Tail* of Delurking

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Yesterday I was high on puppy.  I know that sounds silly, but I really was.  And guess what?

I still am!

Nevermind the fact that Lucy woke me up with a whimper at 4:00 a.m., and I never got back to sleep.  I’m wiped out, but I’m still high on this furry bundle of joy.  It’s also a pleasure that many of my blogosphere friends have been encouraging about the addition of  this “fur child”.  

Yesterday six-year-old Marilla narrated a twenty-second video about Lucy that I’d love for you to watch – you can find it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaGUX129lYs&feature=youtu.be

I’m telling you, yesterday I felt so intoxicated about our puppy that out of the blue, a 1980 Stephanie Mills song started playing in my brain.  I felt compelled to find the video. Remember that song  “Never Knew Love Like This Before”?  Watch this and you can let it creep around your brain & drive you a little nuts too:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLbC0dRIjX0

Apart from my happiness while enjoying my first full day with Lucy, I had an unexpected incident occur with my Mom.

Ever since I started “Birth of a New Brain”, I didn’t share my blog with my mother in case I’d offend her.  I definitely didn’t want to censor my writing – the whole point of blogging was to freely express what I felt.  I certainly wasn’t out to defame my family, but I wanted to write about my experience growing up with a father with manic depression, and occasionally examine my relationship with Mom.  I could have blogged anonymously, but that didn’t appeal to me.  

From my first post on, I doubted that Mom would locate my blog.  She has admitted repeatedly that she’s not the savviest Grandma on the block when it comes to computers, and that fact kept my fears at bay.  However, I wasn’t completely naive; I knew that according to Murphy’s Law, she would most likely encounter my blog in spite of her being a luddite.   In my heart, I knew it was only a matter of time until Mom found my blog.  

So yesterday my mother, who lives far away, called me to discuss how Lucy was doing on her first day with us. Mom is a dog lover of the highest degree, and she fully understood the significance of bringing a puppy into our household.   We were having a very upbeat, positive conversation.  

Then, quite casually she murmured, “I’ve read your blog.”

I gulped.  My heart sank and I prepared myself to be chewed out for blogging about family matters, namely about her, and she was not always depicted in the best light.

“Oh really?” I said meekly.  “What do you think?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

To my shock and delight, she told me in her proudest tone of voice, “You are a Writer!”  Fortunately, we didn’t get into detail about my blog topics, but she addressed one issue.  She said, “I’m a little concerned….”  

This laconic reaction is too good to be true.  I thought. Now she’s going to flip out! 

“You wrote something about drinking too much coffee, and I want you to be careful with that…” she said.

“Oh, yes,” I chucked.  “You’re right. I have been drinking too much coffee and I plan on cutting down.”  

In the past Mom and I have butted horns about many things.  One sore point between us was my writing.  I am drawn to writing non-fiction, and I’ve always been that way.  However, she saw me as a fiction writer, which has never been my interest nor my forte.  

So, at the close of our conversation, when my mother said to me “I can see you writing both fiction and non-fiction.” that was high praise.  While I felt supremely good at her reaction, I also was unnerved to be “out” with my Mom about my blog.  I wondered how restricted I would feel from now on.

I knew I’d figure out a way to come to terms with this situation.  If I have to tweak some lines or subjects here or there, it’s not the end of the world.  What matters most is that I appreciated the fact that she delurked, and for the manner in which she calmly revealed herself as a reader.

I can see the appeal of being a lurker, although I’ve only lurked a couple times.  When you’re lurking on a close family member’s blog, that’s a cat of a different color.  Or a puppy of a different coat? (See how tipsy I am on this Lucy???!!!)

When I write future posts that may affect my Mom, the most compassionate thing for me to do is to check in with her about the topic and go from there.  No blog post is worth causing her pain.  

My Mom influenced me to be a reader, as well as a writer and lover of the fine arts.  Now that she has delurked, and I’ve outed her as well, I hope that she’ll consider commenting if she feels inspired to do so, because she’s a wonderful writer.  Furthermore, she approaches a certain decade (I’m not naming it!) she has an incredible wealth of wisdom which would lend her comments weight. 

While Mom and I have shared many hard times, she’s a part of me and I don’t want to forget that.  It’s fitting that I write about her today, as it would have been her 45th wedding anniversary with my Dad.  Perhaps he played a hand in her positive attitude towards my blog.  I believe that we all get help from the unseen world once in a while.  

In any case, I am honored to write this blog, I’m thrilled that you are reading it, and if you’re a lurker, I invite you to delurk — if not here, why not delurk on another blog?  I think it’s safe to say that most of us bloggers write for the feedback and the “likes”.  If we didn’t yearn for that give-and-take, then I believe we’d stick to private journals for the most part.

Thanks for reading, friends!

Lucy’s Human Mom

 

Furry SiblingsLucy’s Furry SiblingsMom Layla & DadHere’s Lucy’s mom Layla on the left, and her dad Aztlan is on the right.  The father is the spitting image of my dog Tara who I had for fifteen years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lonely Calm Before the Puppy Storm

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This morning is the last morning our household will be dog-less for hopefully the next fifteen+ years.  Tonight we’ll pick up “Puppy”, name t.b.d.  I’m feeling really nervous about this change.  It’s silly, because I consider this to be a joyful occasion, and I’m excited to bring a puppy home.

There’s no need for me to feel insecure about my abilities as a dog owner.  I lovingly cared for my two dogs Shera and Tara for fifteen years, half of those years as a single gal.  I know I can be a great dog mom.  Despite my confidence, I’m freaked out all the same.

As I type away it occurs to me that change must be behind my anxiety.  I’ve read that positive change can be just as difficult as negative change.  I’m also wondering if PMS could be contributing to my uneasiness and heightened sensitivity.  While PMS could be a culprit, heck, I’m forty-four – for all I know, menopause might be heading on its merry way into my life.  But I hope NOT this year!!! Please God!

At the crack of dawn, my geologist husband jetted out the door to a work site.  I nagged and hurried our girls to get them ready for school.  Our home was filled with frenetic activity and LOTS of noise – our daughters are a handful, and they were amped up with anticipation about tonight’s furry arrival.

After I dropped them off at school, I realized I felt lonely and isolated; more than usual.  Returning to my cold, empty, dark, quiet home did not appeal to me at all.  Despite feeling on the verge of PMS-like tears, I visited one of my favorite coffee shops, Surf City Coffee Co., so I could sit around people and treat myself to a mocha.

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Surf City has a very mellow vibe which lends itself well to writing.  There’s free WiFi and I made sure to bring my laptop.  After I walked into Surf City, I received a providential sign from God that I was in the right place.  This event happened while I stood in line waiting to order.  The barista said loudly, out of the blue,

LITHIUM!

Some of you know that lithium is one of my primary meds for bipolar disorder.  My Dad took it long ago, although he suffered the classic side effect of shakiness.  That wasn’t good for his career as a professional violinist, but lithium helped him for a while.  I’ve taken lithium off and on during the past eight years.  My periodic blood level tests check out fine, my initial side effects (shakiness, some hair loss) subsided, and it has worked well for me, especially to prevent mania.  I’m still creative and I don’t feel flat while taking it, as some people unfortunately experience.  I also like the fact that it’s an “old-school” drug, it’s cheap and it comes in generic form.

I wondered why the barista said “lithium” so loudly for no apparent reason!  I laughed after she said it, as a matter of fact, because it simply tickled my fancy!

When it was my turn to order, I asked the barista why she belted out the word “lithium”.

“It’s the answer to our Question of the Day!” she answered cheerfully.

“Ahhhh.” I replied.  In my previous Surf City pitstops, I hadn’t noticed the obvious “Question of the Day” bulletin board hanging from the ceiling right in front of me.  This time I looked up at the board, which read, “At room temperature, what is the LIGHTEST solid element in terms of density?”  I didn’t know this fascinating fact about lithium until today!

After today, when I have my six-hour-long stretches alone at home, I’ll have some very-much-wanted, furry, loving company by my side.  It’s always nice to have quiet, solo time, and I’ll still arrange for that in the months ahead.  But I don’t think I’ll require 100%  alone time, sans dog, all that much.

As a longtime dog owner, I didn’t realize how much I missed having “dog energy” around me since Tara and Shera died six years ago.  Ever since then, I never openly acknowledged the fact that an important part of my life was missing: my pets.  My bipolar depression took over, similar to ooozing lava smothering the land, and depression obliterated my desire for a pet.  Last week I gave myself permission to open my heart to a pet again, and I’m counting the minutes to meeting our new family member.

As my fellow dog-loving friend Carrie said to me, “Spring is the perfect time to get a dog!” and she’s right. I’ve always considered spring to be a symbolic time of renewal.  (Carrie blog’s contains an intriguing animal telepathy post that can be found here: http://fleetiris.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/animal-telepathy/)

Having a pet also marks a positive step in my recovery with bipolar disorder.  I am strong and stable enough to be the primary caretaker of a puppy.  It feels really good to reach this point, and I’m excited to share with you what happens as I adjust to having a delightful “furry baby” charm her way into my heart…and shred some family heirlooms or what have you along the way! 😉

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The Furry Antidepressant


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As of this writing on Tuesday morning, I’m unsure which puppy pictured above will join our home tonight.  We don’t care which collie shepard we shall be graced with -we’ve spent time with them and they are both amazing, wriggling fluffs of joy.  

Our family is totally freaking out about our new addition…in the BEST way possible!

And now more than ever, I believe in “furry antidepressants”.  Please allow me to explain:

In my late twenties, a decade before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I suffered the demise of a relationship that sent me reeling into my first full-blown clinical depression.  A Paltrow/Martin-like conscious uncoupling it was not!  My boyfriend betrayed me with a born-again Christian.  (I didn’t think either of them acted in a very Christian-like manner to tell you the truth.)  To be honest, he was literally not in his right mind when that all went down.  This person who I had been faithful to for almost five years turned out to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Life is stranger than fiction.

Thank God I had my two dogs Tara and Shera to see me through during those dark months of despair.  My depression hit so hard that I quit my full-time special event production  job.  I applied for temporary disability to make ends meet.  

I saw my first psychiatrist Dr.C. at age twenty-six.  He was the close friend of someone I knew and trusted. Although he reviewed my family history in which I mentioned my father’s bipolar disorder, he didn’t think I had any tendency for the same mood disorder.  Dr. C. diagnosed me with clinical depression and prescribed Paxil, my very first psychiatric medication.  I took Paxil for about five months and I slowly but surely pulled out of that nightmare depression.  

Aside from Paxil and therapy, what helped me most were my dogs.  While I let just about everything in my life go to the wayside: job, cleaning my studio, cooking, etc. I couldn’t coop up my dogs every day.   I lived close to a beautiful field in Santa Cruz called Lighthouse Field.  This once-dog-friendly state park, bordered the Pacific Ocean and it overlooked the famous surfing point Steamer Lane.  The Mark Abbot Memorial lighthouse, built in memory of a young man who drowned while body surfing, loomed over the surfers.

Lighthouse Field became my second home.  Every afternoon, Tara, Shera and I explored the numerous park trails.  I had plenty of time, and the habit helped to structure my day and give me exercise.  I let Tara and Shera run off-leash to their heart’s content.  They absolutely loved that field and, along with my dogs’ happiness, I appreciated the park’s natural beauty.  

Most of the other dog owners who visited Lighthouse Field were conscientious; the neighborhood in which the field was located consisted primarily of middle-to-upper class residents.  Obviously that didn’t always mean that those well-to-do dog owners knew what they were doing.  Some of them couldn’t care less about picking up after their dogs, which gave me “trail rage”.

In any case, the field became a profound place of healing.  As my dogs were the reason I made the commitment to walk there, I give Tara and Shera just as much credit as Dr. C, Paxil and therapy for helping me recover. Being outdoors in the fresh ocean air contributed to my depression lifting, while exposure to the natural sunlight helped me as well.  

 

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 Lighthouse Field State Park

Ever since Tara died in my arms, and I held Shera as she was put to sleep, I’ve had a void in my life.  I didn’t fully realize this emptiness until a few days ago, believe it or not. Over the years since their deaths it was difficult for me to look closely at anything pet-related.  When I was around other people’s pets, I felt the loss of my dogs, even though I enjoyed petting the animals and being present with them as best as I could.

As soon as I realized last weekend that we were opening our home to a pet once again, my heart soared.  What makes this time extraordinarily special is that it’s not just me who wants a dog so much – my two girls have been begging us for a dog for literally years.  They are beyond excited.  I know that when I see them shower our puppy with their love and learn how to care for a pet, it will be an incredible experience for me and Craig.

One of my best memories growing up was spending time with our two Irish Setters Tanya and Amber.  My Dad loved his dogs, and he passed that love for pets on to me.  I think that when he experienced his bouts of manic depression (as it was referred to when he had it) his dogs really gave him comfort.  I like to think that wherever he is now, he’s really happy to see me bringing a dog into not only my life again,  but his granddaughters’ lives as well.

Mental Health Warrior Kelly, who has become my friend through the blogosphere, often writes about the wonder of her dog Molly and how she has helped Kelly with mood challenges.  Apart from that, Kelly won me over in a heartbeat when I discovered she created  beautiful mental-health-based e-cards for depression , anxiety, and hope & support.   She offers these cards for free through her website!

http://mentalhealthwarrior.com/send-a-mental-health-ecard/

Here’s the link to Kelly’s popular, classic post 31 Powerful Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog:

http://mentalhealthwarrior.com/2014/04/31-life-lessons-i-learned-from-my-dog/

It’s time for me to reluctantly move on to the more mundane part of my day.  I’ll end with writing that if you, dear reader, have bipolar disorder and you have a pet, please give yourself a LOT of credit.  It’s hard enough to take care of ourselves, isn’t it?  But when you add a dependent creature into your world, your life becomes more challenging.  I believe that anyone with bipolar disorder who has a pet, be it a fish, a rabbit, a chicken, a cat, a dog or whatever (but not a pet rock!) is helped by that pet very much, in all kinds of ways.

I really do believe that having and caring for a pet is more therapeutic than most of us realize.  Pet stewardship is not all honky dory – I didn’t miss cleaning up dog poop during my pet-less years, and I didn’t miss the other pet “liquid emissions “and stressful trips to the vet.  But this time around I know it will be worth it to have these inconveniences if it means having more love in our home.  I know my Dad would want that for us.

 

The author/artist SARK wrote and illustrated her bestselling poster called “Dogs Are Miracles with Paws”.

(Yes, feline lovers,  there’s a cat poster too!)

“A dog’s nose in the palm of your hand can cure almost anything, dogs are made of love and fur, let your dog take you for a walk, dogs are a sure thing, here’s a little known dog secret: dogs have no secrets, dogs are like vanilla ice cream – reliably delicious, dogs are wise agents directly from heaven, if you had a tail, wouldn’t you wag it?, there are no bad dog’s, be your dog’s best friend, dogs like dancing, drive-in movies and dreaming, God made dogs and spelled his own name backwards, dogs make great therapists, kiss your dogs all the time, some dogs are nap dogs, dogs invented unconditional love, dogs are party animals, apply dog logic to life: eat well, be loved, get petted, sleep a lot, dream of a leash-free world, live your dog’s life!”

 

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