Writing with Distractions Without Screaming Like a Banshee

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Name that banshee!

It’s pretty quiet in these parts, and I’m overjoyed to tell you there are no rodent adventures to report.  I haven’t spotted any errant hamsters in the middle of the night, nor have rats taken up residence in my new Schwinn elliptical…yet.  

The past week has been Spring Break for my daughters, which means I lost the luxury of quiet chunks of writing time. So I did my best to pretend that I was one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. (Ha!  I wish I had .01% of her talent, but that’s a subject for another post.)

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Yep, here we are in 1997 – Madeleine L’Engle, me and my double chins!

 

No, what I mean by pretending to be Madeleine L’Engle is that during her many interviews she remarked that she could write almost anywhere, with any distractions.  As a child L’Engle was sent to boarding school in Switzerland where she barely had any privacy, even in the bathroom (!). She learned to ignore distractions while writing in her journals, and she further strengthened her concentration skills as a Broadway actress. L’Engle wrote prolifically backstage, on trains, in hotel lobbies…you name it!  

To write, I need quiet or mellow background music. I recently started listening to classical guitar and like it very much. I also tune into the Snatam Kaur channel on Pandora, but that’s risky as that style of music has the potential to put me to sleep. 

I’m also lucky that Lucy the Writing Muse often sits next to me and places her warm, furry flank on my right foot – it’s the sweetest thing. However, sometimes Lucy is viciously flatulent, but that’s the only downside to her company. 

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We live in a very small house so when my girls are here, I can barely think straight.  They are lively.  Yes, I have some old, crappy headphones. I don’t like wearing them when the kids are around when an argument breaks out or God forbid someone gets hurt.

Right this moment I’m trying my best to drown out “The Littlest Pet Shop” television show that’s blaring ten feet away.  The uber-peppy, high-pitched theme song will surely haunt me the rest of the day.

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I’ve managed to write more of my book “Birth of a Brain” each day despite the distractions.  It’s trippy and difficult work, as I’m chronicling a few of my hospitalizations and that includes some suicide-related material.  I’m not going into a ton of gory details – there are plenty of books that have done that already.  Those books definitely have their place, and I commend any author who re-visits her darkest experiences and writes about it.   I just am not drawn to writing that kind of book.

The advantage to sifting through my thick folders of hospital records, doctor reports, medication notes, etc. is that I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have “made it”.  I don’t mean to sound smug – I can’t say with absolute certainty that I won’t ever relapse again and darken a unit door. Despite my working my ass off at clean livin’, the fact remains there’s no cure yet. I can work as hard as I can, but fate and my brain might have other plans in store for me.

After hours of reflection during this Spring Break, I still can’t believe that I was never taken outdoors by hospital staff even for a few minutes – yes, that was my experience.  After my last hospitalization, a year or two later I called the unit to ask them why I was kept inside all the time. The woman answered, “You had to get a doctor’s note to go outside.” I was never informed of that policy as an inpatient. I don’t know – it was just fucked up.  Don’t get me started about what the coffee situation was like.

So yeah, I have anxieties, aches and pains, I have “bipolar wrinkles” and white hair. I have belly fat that bugs me despite my working out every day.  But in the writing of my book and in sharing this post with you, I feel a lot better.  Writing can serve as an attitude adjustment, because I’ve been reminded that holy shit, my situation could be a LOT worse!  

On a related note (bear with me – please) aside from Madeleine L’Engle, one of my other favorite bestselling authors is SARK.  The San Francisco-based author and artist has over 2 million books in print, and she has a free “Inspiration Line”.  

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SARK has run this line for over 15 years and I’ve been calling it since it began.  (1-415-546-EPIC)  She changes the message every few months when she feels inspired.  SARK talks for a few minutes and then you can hang up or leave her a message.  Lately she has been VERY inspired as she’s getting married for the first time in her life and she turned 60 last year.  Never say never.

SARK has often closed her inspiration messages with the line “My gift to you is….” She’d come up with all kinds of creative, fanciful “gifts” of ways her callers could appreciate beautiful moments in life in a non-throw-uppy way.  (Yes, that’s a word.)

I explain all that because I want to give you a gift, too.  I can’t come up with anything truly SARK-like, as much as I wish I could. Moreover, I don’t have money I can throw your way, but I want to give you the gift of appreciating something today that you might be taking for granted.   

It doesn’t have to be deep – it can be the kind of soda you’re drinking.  It can be the warm socks you’re wearing.  The purring of your cat.  The CD you’re listening to, or the fact that your internet is working.  

It can be deep too. 

What am I appreciating today? The sunny weather. I love it.  When I suffered with bipolar depression for years at a time, I obsessed about the phrase “The tyranny of a beautiful day”.  I felt like such a failure for hating the gorgeous, sunny days because all I wanted to do was to hide in the darkness beneath my blankets – I wanted to fall asleep forever so I could escape the pain.

Now I want to get dressed and go out into that sunshine.  Today.

I don’t take today for granted, and I never will again.

Love to you all,

Dyane

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Don’t It – Redux

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Hello friends!

I wrote a different version of this post a few months ago. I decided to revise half of it and added a section about “micromovements”, a concept created by the bestselling author SARK.

What’s a micromovement? you may ask.  (Hint: it’s not a tiny bowel emission! 🙂

Read on and you’ll learn what a micromovement is and how to incorporate one into your life…

During the 1980’s a trendy Nike campaign caught the world’s attention with the tagline “JUST DO IT!”  Nike’s message was loud and clear: when it came to exercise, there were no excuses.  I think it was a brilliant campaign as it motivated countless people to work out.

The catchphrase is just as true today as it was a couple decades ago.

To me, Nike’s slogan holds a special significance.  As a teenage long-distance runner in the 1980’s, I wore Nike running shoes long before I’d be diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.  Since my diagnosis I’ve experienced a marathon of seven hospitalizations.

I tried over 20 different medications, and when my father died I was desperate and demanded ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), which brought me out of the suicidal state I was in. I finally reached stability with the right meds and self-care program, and to say I’ve been grateful for my recovery is a massive understatement!

However, just because I became stable (the International Bipolar Foundation even profiled me as a “2014 Story of Hope and Recovery”, an honor I frankly never thought would be bestowed upon me in a million years!), life has been a daily challenge and I know it always will be that way.

The past few weeks have been particularly rough ones. An unexpected family crisis popped up that tested my hard-won stability.  The good news is that I’ve gotten enough sleep each night thanks to my antipsychotic medication Seroquel. (This medication has been key in keeping me on the straight and narrow path of mental stability.)

Even so, I’ve struggled with some unhealthy habits I call “JUST DON’T ITS!” that could potentially affect both my mental and physical health, and it’s time to kick them out the door. (I wonder if any of you do these nasty bugaboos too?)

Here are some of my “JUST DON’T ITS”:

1) Yelling too much at my family members. (I often have bona fide reasons to raise my voice, but I’ve been overdoing it.)

2) Eating an entire pint of gourmet (a.k.a. ultra-high fat) ice cream far too often. This is a biggie “JUST DON’T IT”! As a former certified personal trainer, I should know better than to do such a heinous thing to my body. I definitely don’t recommend consuming this much ice cream if you want to maintain your overall health and specifically, your weight!

3) Spending too much time on social media at the expense of my other projects and duties. It’s fun, but I want and need to cut down. Facebook has become my social media version of gourmet ice cream. (I can see you mumbling “Hunh?”)

4) Feeling intimidated to ask friends I’ve helped over the past year (i.e. providing them with childcare) to please return the favor once in a while. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but it would lessen my stress if I had some child-free time to do errands or have some quiet time to relax and recharge.

This is an incomplete list, but you get the idea. It’s better to have a short list to focus on anyway, so I don’t get overwhelmed.

Now, as far as “JUST DO IT!” is concerned, Nike was right all along in their message to cool it with excuses and take a very simple step to break a sweat.  One of my favorite bestselling authors/artists SARK (“Inspiration Sandwich”) calls these tiny steps “micromovements”. The author of over 2 million books in print, SARK uses micromovements with her writing, but micromovements can apply to many other actions.  I’m sure you’ve heard different versions of her concept, but I like her approach best, which she describes in some of her books.

For example, if you want to take a walk, tell yourself you’ll walk for half a block.  Yup, just half a block.  As you begin your stroll, you might surprise yourself by going just a little further than that half  block.  In your next walk, you can continue to build upon your initial success to go a slightly further distance. (Walking can totally reset your mood for the better, and it’s an ideal way to try out micromovements.)

If you’ve been putting off paying an intimidating stack of bills like I do, commit to paying just one bill.  Once you start writing the check, see where your energy level is after picking up (and moving!) your pen – maybe you’ll find that you can pay one more bill on the same day!   

This all may sound overly simplistic, but micromovements are really a great way to “JUST DO IT”! It feels so good to accomplish a small thing; for those of us who live with bipolar disorder, completing a mundane chore can be profound.  Recently I’ve used micromovements in cleaning our one bathroom (an always odious task) and with our incredibly messy dining room table/office.  I had partial success with both tasks, but there was definite improvement (i.e. clean toilet, half the table was clear) and I can try again.

When we experience days when we’re depressed, if we take on a seemingly “little” task such as making a bed or taking a shower, that action can shift our energy and attitude the lasts longer than one would think!

I’ve followed SARK’s micromovement advice during both good days and bad ones, and I’ve found that even if I don’t do a whole lot, they definitely work to shift my attitude.  

I wish you strength in getting rid of some unhealthy habits of your own and I hope you incorporate the art of micromovements into your life.

Thanks for reading!

Dyane

p.s. What single “JUST DON’T IT” would you like to phase out of your life this fall?  I’d love to know!

 

  

 

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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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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How Sixty Seconds Made A Difference

 on Valentine’s Day

Today I received an extraordinary Valentine’s Day present from beyond. 

 But let me back up a bit…

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It was 1999, I was twenty-nine years old and I owned a standard answering machine.  Remember those?  Ancient machines like mine used tape cassettes.  I grew up with tape cassettes instead of DVD’s, and I still have forty tapes of my favorite band recordings from the feel-good seventies and the big-hair eighties era.

When I was twenty-nine I was a fan of the bestselling writer/artist SARK (www.planetsark.com) I’ve written about her before:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/meeting-a-fave-author-sark-the-inspiration-line-juicy-pens-thirsty-paper/

SARK now has over two million copies of her books in print and has gazillions of fans, but it wasn’t always that way, of course.  I discovered her when her fan base was still modest.  Over the years SARK has maintained an “Inspiration Hotline” (415-546-EPIC) that she has offered free to the public.  SARK uses the line to record messages sharing her unique views. You can hang up after listening, or leave her a message. 

  Before SARK became a bestselling writer, she claimed she listened to every single message she received from her fans. In 1999 I contacted her to arrange an interview for an article I was writing about her latest book.  SARK called me back and left a message on my answering machine.  I loved her message so much, in which she said she considered me a friend and she would always return my calls, that I kept the tape as a memento.

I meant to listen to the SARK tape again, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t do it. 
  On a whim, today I took this cassette out of my drawer for the first time since I listened to it 1999.  I placed the tape in my old Suburu Forrester’s cassette tape player.  I drove to the girls’ school to pick them up, and arrived in the parking lot with some time to spare.  I took in the gorgeous day’s cerulean blue sky and smattering of puffy clouds drifting above me.  A brisk wind blew gently, hinting that spring is on its way.

I noticed the majestic redwoods which served as a stunning backdrop to the school, and I popped in the tape.  First SARK’s sweet voice rang out of the speakers.  She spoke at length, bringing a big smile to my face.  A long beep sounded out after she finished, and then a male voice came out of the speakers that I didn’t recognize.

“Who the hell is this?” I wondered for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me.

It was the clear, melodious voice of my Dad.  He died five years ago, and his death was the end of a nightmarish, drawn-out illness.  In his last couple years, his once-magnificent, rich voice was transformed into a quivering, weak voice full of fear.  He always told me he was terrified of dying.  When he realized he was on the decline, his voice was affected by that knowledge both physically and emotionally.  That depressing version of his voice stayed with me since his death in 2009.  When he died alone, I became so devastated that I slipped into bipolar depression that caused me to become suicidal.  I asked to be hospitalized for treatment.  I had been resistant to all the psychiatric drugs I had tried so desperately for my bipolar depression.  Feeling like I was at the end of my rope, I requested ECT treatment (electroconvulsive therapy ) that, ironically, my Dad had done at UCLA for his own bipolar depression…to no avail.

As a result of my week-long hospitalization, I missed my father’s memorial service, but the ECT did help me lift me slowly out of the depression.  I now have no regrets for doing it, although I don’t know what the long-term effects will be on my brain until I am older.  I didn’t have a single adverse side effect from the ECT such as memory loss, although I was scared shitless to go for it.

I heard firsthand about others’ ECT experiences at the hospital.  One I called “J. Lo”.  She was a beautiful Latina who took great pains to put on full makeup in the locked-down unit each day.  Before I had my first ECT session, J Lo told me that after her ECT she couldn’t remember her wedding day or the births of her children.  Undaunted, I was so low, I didn’t give a damn.  I just told my psychiatrist to flip the switch without a second thought.  I’ll never forget the amazed reactions on the faces of the other patients in my unit when I was brought into our community room after my first ECT session – they were impressed with my improvement after just one treatment.

I felt at that time that ECT was a miracle and after each treatment I felt a buzz as if I had a really great Italian espresso.  The hospital staff was top-notch and my medical team was compassionate and humorous. I looked forward to my ECT treatments, and it didn’t hurt that the anesthesiologists who put me under each time all looked like GQ models.  Maybe the hospital planned it that way.

  Since I had ECT done I have taken Nordic Naturals fish oil, which has seemed to boost my brain in some way.  I can remember details from my childhood and eighties song lyrics that I couldn’t sing to you five years ago if my life depended on it.

However, 

I digress.

When I heard my Dad’s vibrant voice ring out and tell me that he was hanging out in his hotel in Santa Cruz, I was transported into remembering him at his very best. He sounded happy and full of life.  He said he was off to go play his violin.  (He was a professional violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over twenty-five years.)

“On second thought, I think I’ll go take a walk!” he proclaimed. “I’ll see you at dinner!” The tape quality was perfect – he sounded so clear it was as if he stood right in front of me.

Right there in my dusty car in the school parking lot, I began to cry.  I rarely cry in public, but these were tears of joy that I couldn’t hold back.  This was one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts I could ever receive.

Mom and Dad had been married for forty years and while their relationship was quite difficult, especially because Dad had bipolar one disorder, they loved each other very much.  Mom nursed Dad through his decline with incredible dedication and she was his powerful medical advocate with the hospital as well.  After Dad died, Mom very reluctantly sold their home of four decades to a young couple and she moved into an apartment five minutes away from her former home.  She put up pictures of Dad all over her apartment, and also had a vase of his ashes in her room.  From that point on, anytime we’d talk she would always mention how she missed Dad a great deal.  Mom expressed that despite having a close circle of friends, she often felt lonely without Dad.

As soon as the tape ended, I queued it up at the start of Dad’s message.  I called my Mom on my cell.  She answered her phone and I told her I had a surprise for her.  “Mom, you are not going to believe this!” I said as unchecked tears continued to trickle down my face. “What?” she replied with slight irritation in her voice.  I knew that her tone would change in a moment for the better.  “Listen!” I implored.  I played Dad’s voice for her.  She was quiet throughout the minute-long message. “I can’t believe it!” she said. “This is the best Valentine’s Day gift you could give me…I fell in love with Dad’s voice. Thank you so much, sweetheart!”

I knew then for sure, although I had suspected it for a long time, that our loved ones are around us, watching us, and once in a great while they will send us a reminder that their love for us remains strong and everlasting.

Listen to Luka Bloom’s song The Man Is Alive from his “Riverside” album

A beautiful song by my favorite Irish singer that reminds me of my Dad.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpr7qj2cDtE

INSERT AMAZING MATT SAMET QUOTE INTO BOOK THAT’S IN EPILOGUE AND ASK PERMISSION

How Sixty Seconds Can Make A Difference

Something quite extraordinary happened last week that was a wonderful Valentine’s Day present from the universe.

Way back in 1999, I had an answering machine. Remember those?  Yes, they contained classic tape cassettes, not CD’s, DVD’s, or MP3’s in them!

When I was 29 in 199, I had already become a huge fan of the bestselling writer/artist SARK (www.planetsark.com) who now has over 2 million copies of her books in print.  The San Francisco-based SARK has maintained a Inspiration Hot Line (415-546-EPIC) which she has offered as a free public service for many years.  SARK (which stands for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, a name that came to her in a dream from the author Henry Miller) records an inspirational outgoing message whenever she feels the urge to share her quirky, profound views with her fans.  You can simply hang up at the end of her talk, or leave your own message.

SARK listens to every single message she receives.  I had contacted SARK in 1999 to arrange an interview for an article I was writing about one of her books, and she called me back and left me a message on my answering machine.  I loved her message so much, in which she said she considered me a friend and she would always return my calls, that I kept the cassette tape as a record of her wonderful call.  I have been meaning to listen to this tape to lift my spirits for almost 14 years.

A few weeks ago I took the cassette out of the drawer fort he first time since I placed it there in 1999, and I brought it into our old Suburu Forrester “Raindrop” (yes, all our cars have names…I grew up with “Baby Volvo”) Raindrop has a cassette tape player.  As I waited in the carpool line at Marilla’s school last Valentine’s Day, I had some time to spare.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with a cerulean blue sky and a smattering of puffy cumulo nimbus clouds hovering above me, with a brisk wind gently blowing that foretold that Spring was on its way.  I stared out at the magnificent redwoods on the Santa Cruz Mountainside that provided a stunning backdrop to San Lorenzo Elementary, and popped in the tape.  First SARK’s sweet voice rang out of the speakers and she spoke at length, bringing a big smile to my face.  A long beep took place after she finished, and then a male voice came out of the speakers that I didn’t recognize.  “Who the heck is this?” I wondered for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me.  It was the clear, melodious voice of my late Dad at age 69.  My father died at age 82 in 2009, and his death was a nightmarish, drawn-out descent in which his once-magnificent, rich voice was transformed into a quivering, weak voice full of fear.  He had always told me he was terrified of dying, and when that time approached, he knew he was on the decline and his voice was affected by that knowledge both physically and emotionally.  That depressing version of his voice stayed with me since his death in 2009 in which I was so devastated that I slipped into bipolar depression that caused me to become suicidal and I asked to be hospitalized for treatment.  I had been resistant to all the psychiatric drugs I had taken for bipolar depression (totaling around 14 medications compete with horrible side effects) so I requested ECT treatment (electroconvulsive therapy ) that, ironically, my Dad had done at UCLA long ago to no avail for his own bipolar depression.

As a result of my week-long hospitalization I missed my father’s memorial service, but the ECT actually did help me lift me slowly out of the depression.  I now have no regrets for doing it, although I don’t know what the long-term effects will be on my brain until I am older.  I did not have a single adverse side effect from the ECT such as memory loss, although I was scared shitless to go for it.  One patient, who I referred to affectionately as “J. Lo” for she was a beautiful Latina who took pains to put on full makeup in the locked-down unit each day, told me that after her ECT she couldn’t remember her wedding day or the births of her children. Undaunted, I was so low, I didn’t give a damn and just told my psychiatrist to flip the switch.  I’ll never forget the reactions on the faces of my fellow mental ward patients when I was brought into the community room after my first ECT session – they all looked amazed at my improvement after just one treatment. I felt at that time that ECT was a miracle and after each treatment I felt a buzz as if I had a really great Italian espresso.  The staff at Community Hospital of the Monterey Hospital was top-notch and my medical team was compassionate, humorous and all-together fantastic.

Moreover, since I started tapering off lithium last year and started taking Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Xtra liquid fish oils, my memory has come back very strong. I am remembering details from my childhood that I thought were gone forever, and old song lyrics that I couldn’t sing to you five years ago if my life depended on it!

I digress.  It’s a bad habit!

So when I heard my Dad’s vibrant voice ring out and tell me that he was hanging out in his hotel in Santa Cruz, I was transported into remembering him at his very best.  He sounded happy and full of life.  He said he was off to go play his violin, and that he was a little sleepy, although he didn’t sound groggy at all.  “On second thought, I think I’ll go take a walk! He proclaimed.  “I’ll see you at dinner!”  The tape quality was perfect – he sounded so clear it was as if he was talking right in front of me.  Right there in my car at the front of the carpool line, I started to cry tears of joy.  This was the best Valentine’s Day gift I could ever imagine being given, aside from the beautiful present my husband gave me later that evening.  As soon as Dad’s voice disappeared, I called my Mom on my cell.

Mom and Dad had been married for 40 years and while their relationship was quite difficult (especially because Dad had severe bipolar disorder from age 18 on; 90% of marriages in which one spouse has bipolar end in divorce and they beat those odds!) they loved each other very much.  Mom nursed Dad through his decline with incredible dedication and she was his powerful medical advocate with the hospital as well.  After Dad died, Mom very reluctantly sold their stunning home of four decades to a young couple and moved into an apartment five minutes from their home.  She put up pictures of Dad all over her apartment as she missed him dearly.  Four years later, at age 77, anytime we’d talk she would always mention to me how she missed him a great deal and she expressed that she often felt so lonely despite having a close circle of friends and keeping up an active social life.

Mom answered her phone and I told her I had a surprise for her.  “Mom, you are not going to believe this!” I said as unchecked tears continued to trickle down my face.  “What?” she said with slight irritation in her voice.  I knew that would change in just a moment for the better.  “Listen!” I implored.  I put Mom on my cell’s speaker played Dad’s voice for her.  She was quiet throughout the minute-long message.  “I can’t believe it!” She said. “This is the best Valentine’ Day gift you could give me…I fell in love with Dad’s voice.  Thank you so much, sweetheart!”

I knew then for sure, although I had suspected it for a long time, that our loved ones are around us, watching us, and once in a while they will send

 

Meeting a Fave Author: SARK, The Inspiration Line & “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper”

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Throughout this blog I have written about two authors who have influenced me the most during my life.  The writers are Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle In Time”, and L.M. Montgomery, best known for “Anne of Green Gables”.  There is a third author whose numerous works have also brightened up my life immeasurably, and she is the artist known as SARK.  (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)

While my mother bought my first copies of L’Engle and Montgomery books, I discovered and bought SARK’s book all on my own, which is symbolic unto itself.  I had come up to Santa Cruz to attend college and I majored in English and American literature.  One day in 2004 I was shopping in one of the artsy stores on Pacific Garden Mall.  I spotted the colorful, hand-drawn cover of “A Creative Companion – How to Free Your Creative Spirit” with the author’s intriguing name of SARK on front.  I recognized SARK’s unique art style from a poster she had created called “How To Be An Artist”, pictured above.  This poster was SARK’s first bestselling item and she handmade a whopping 11,000 of them in her “Magic Cottage” in San Francisco.  There are now over one million of them in print.  Since that time, SARK has become famous for her fifteen other books, posters and various products.

I was lucky to meet SARK before she hit the big-time and I knew she’d become famous in her own right, or write. (hee hee!) I think I’d be a great talent scout, come to think of it, because I have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing star power.  Case in point: long ago I saw a little movie called “Mystic Pizza”.  I told my movie buddy at the time, “Someday that girl with the big teeth will be famous.”  You could say I was right about spotting Julia Roberts’ potential.  I spotted major talent in other actors and writers I encountered in their early careers as well.

SARK and I first “met” through the air.  I read in one of her books that she offered The Inspiration Line.  The Inspiration Line was a voicemail system she used to record a different message every few months, whenever she felt like doing so.  You could leave your own message for her to listen to (she claimed she listened to every message) or just hang up.  SARK has loved this 24-hour line so much that she still maintains it: 415-546-3742 (EPIC).   She used it to discuss her general observations about life and sometimes narrated sections of poems that moved her by poets such  as Rumi and Susan Posin.  I have never been a huge poetry lover, but SARK picked poems that were truly incredible and they never ceased to inspire me.

One day I listened to The Inspiration Line and left SARK a message telling her how much her work meant to me.  On a last-minute impulse I gave her my work number, never imagining that she would actually call me back.  I thought nothing of it after I hung up until one day at work the phone rang.  I picked it up and I heard someone giggling.  “Good afternoon, Santa Cruz Productions,” I said in my most professional, twenty-four-year-old office manager voice. “Hello, is Dyane Leshin there?”  inquired the giggler.  “Yes…” I said, wondering who this jolly-sounding person was.  “This is SARK!”  she exclaimed with glee.  I was totally in shock to have one of my favorite authors call me!  I wish I hadn’t been at work because I shared that one room with three other employees and we could all hear one another’s conversations.  I felt pretty inhibited, but SARK and I both spoke enthusiastically about our mutual love for Madeleine L’Engle’s writing.  Our talk was brief, but it’s a very happy memory for me.  I still call The Inspiration Line and I leave a message for SARK every few years.  I always leave my phone number just in case, but SARK hasn’t called me back except for work-related purposes.

I met SARK in person for the first time back in the mid-90’s before she became so well known.  Her longtime love for Big Sur and admiration for one of her favorite authors/Big Sur residents Henry Miller sparked her to host an art workshop at the Henry Miller Library.  Only twenty people attended the event.  We spent the sunny afternoon painting giant pieces of paper with bright colors and sitting in a circle discussing our creativity and dreams.  SARK was down-to-earth and very approachable.  It’s always such a disappointment when those we look up to are prima donnas or derriere-holes, and thank God SARK didn’t fit into either of those categories.  I had a blast!

A few years later I encountered SARK again in her adopted hometown of San Francisco at her special event.  It was an extraordinary weekend for me as I had literally just fallen in love with my husband-to-be.  It was so difficult to tear myself away from him, but I had a very good reason.  SARK was throwing a Pajama Party at a downtown hotel, and I had registered to attend it with my Mom.  In a gratifying role reversal, I had introduced SARK’s books to my mother and she became a fan, so she flew up from Los Angeles to accompany me. We chatted with SARK briefly, as she had many more fans by this time.  We were treated to a concert by an Aussie duo called “The Velvet Janes” and we all wore soft SARK commemorative pajamas. I forget which hotel it was, but the concierge service loaned us a bubble fish to keep us company in our room during our stay!

Years after that memorable weekend, I wrote articles for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines.   I was a loyal reader of our local weekly “Good Times”.  I never missed an issue as it had the best astrological column I had ever read by Risa D’Angeles.  I queried the editor about interviewing SARK about her latest book, and I was thrilled to be told to go for it.  I reached SARK’s business staff and they set up a telephone interview time for us.  Although I had previous interactions with SARK, I was nervous as hell this time around; my hands were icy cold.  I was grateful that I was not face-to-face with her – I’d probably faint or drool or do both.   I had prepared my list of questions and I made sure my little tape recorder worked and had fresh batteries.  I had my speaker phone at the ready.  Our talk went well and there was lots of laughter, to my relief.  I wrote a decent piece, which enabled me to do it all over again when SARK’s following book was released.

I am re-visting my SARK memories because I began re-reading her motivating book “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” last night, which focuses on…wait for it…writing!  SARK’s books are easy-to-read and they possess an almost-childlike format.  For me reading this book is like reading it for the very first time.  I don’t remember its content at all – whether that’s due to my poor memory I’ve had all my life, or because of the ECT I do not know ; it’s definitely not because her advice is poor!  I actually like the fact that the material is all fresh to me.  Between SARK’s book and my other unique, fun writing book by Elizabeth Sims (“You’ve Got A Book In You!”) I need to read them and “move the tool!” as SARK asserts.  I also need to stop browsing for other writing books and move that damn  tool…well, maybe I could buy just one more!

I encourage you to watch SARK’s awesome Ted Talk:

Her website (or websight as she likes to call it!) is:

http://www.planetsark.com