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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