My Movember Forward Debut @ MakeItUltra!

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This is an interesting biography about Split Enz, a New Zealand rock group I’ve loved for over thirty years. Co-founder/artist Phil Judd, who created the “Mental Notes” painting on the cover, has bipolar disorder. The Enz’s late drummer Paul Hester (who eventually joined the internationally acclaimed group Crowded House) allegedly suffered from bipolar disorder as well.

Stranger than Fiction popped into my mind since it describes what my life has been like lately…I’ll fill you in on Friday.

                                        

 

Good morning my friends,

I hope you had a good Halloween!

I was honored to have my post The Found Girl kick off the blog MakeItUltra!’s Movember Forward series. Thanks to MakeItUltra! founder Eric and editor Cait for their support.

My month has gotten off to an amazing, surreal, and heartbreaking start. All I can do is keep on moving and visit the redwoods with Lucy for a daily mental/physical reboot. 

Now it’s time for Dia de la Sugar Detox in my house! 😉

Love to you all,

Dyane

p.s. Several years ago my I changed my original blog title “Proudly Bipolar” (a phrase inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s description of his intrepid crew in his book No Reservations) to “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder,” the title of my upcoming Post Hill Press memoir. 

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Resting

This will be a rather short post.

Instead of my typical 1500+ rambling word slush pile, I’m aiming for half of that. It’s good, I guess, because I’m sure you’re busy. Additionally I’ve read that it’s best to keep blog posts around 600 words to attract the most readers. While I’ve completely ignored that dictum, I have no delusions of this becoming a mega-popular blog. 

So…

Last Saturday morning I felt healthy as a horse.

Wait a minute. Why do we silly humans say that phrase?

“Healthy as a horse” comes from a time when health was equated with strength. Presumably, anyone who’s strong is healthy (unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger – hope I don’t offend any A.S. fans!) and in olden times a horse was an excellent example of a large, strong animal.

Therefore, one who hoped to be as “healthy” as a horse was; i.e. to be able to pull one’s own weight, endure rough conditions, and ride all day and night. 

As you know, horses were often used as idioms for other signs of strength or largeness. (You’ll note I’m leaving out a raunchy example.)

There are: 

“Eat like a horse” (which I do) and “Work like a horse” (which I don’t). 

Last Saturday morn it was a sunshiny day, and I was feeling fine and dandy and equine-ish. I had fun recording my vlog with Miss Lucy. Together we conjured up names for phantom Big Pharma meds. The post received some creative replies that were a hoot! You can read it here:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/new-contest-your-suggestions-for-big-pharma-med-names/

But then, woe was me. That same evening I went from being healthy as a horse to sick as a…I don’t want to write “dog” because that has been overdone and my dog is very healthy, knock on wood, thank you very much! – how about sick as Donald Trump?!

I was befallen by my first creeping crud cold of the fall season. I usually get a cold each Halloween. (That’s a big bummer since Halloween is my favorite day of the year.) But I got my cold early and I’ve felt inhuman for the past three days.

I’m coming out of the snot/cough-fest now, but I’m wiped out.

Because of that, I’m resting. Ahhh yes.

I’m so grateful I’ve been able to rest.

Thank God Craig drove the kids to school the past two mornings to help me out. I call the elementary school parking lot the 10th Circle of Dante’s Inferno; it’s where the other parent drivers are off-the-hook rude/aggressive/mean/zombie-like. If you enter that zone, you need to be on it in terms of driving agility. 

Apart from my cold affecting me, guess who chose last Friday night to go off Seroquel again? (with her psychiatrist’s blessing, of course.) Me! Lucky me!

Here’s an equation to express my current state:

Seroquel withdrawal + a nasty cold = you wouldn’t want to be near me today

Those of us who have bipolar know that things could be MUCH worse. That fact never escapes me. But having a cold, feeling drained, and not being able to take my nightly 15mg “golden handcuff” pill has made me one helluva  whiny baby. To cheer myself up, I’ve been watching some television programs that I want to share with you.

They are:

1) The entire four seasons of BBC’s Scott and Bailey series (This is episode one) This is a show created by women featuring two high-ranking female police detectives in jolly good Manchester, England. Scott and Bailey rocks. This kind of show isn’t usually my cup of tea, but it’s SO good in heaps of ways that I’m hooked! It can be gory, though, so be warned, but it’s not nearly as gross as the U.S. police dramas.

2) Ridiculous pranks that have made my girls laugh incredibly hard – these videos have also served to give us some “educational moments”, i.e., “Girls, don’t do that!” The link to some of that silliness is here

That’s it. I hope you enjoy listening to “Resting”, one of my favorite Tim Finn songs. The New Zealand-born Tim Finn co-founded Split Enz and sang in Crowded House with his brother Neil Finn. “Resting”, from Tim’s solo album Imaginary Kingdom, is a truly soothing song and I love it!

take care, take your vitamin C etc., and I’ll be back next week with a follow-up to the Hawaii post.

Dyane

p.s. On a totally unrelated note, after publishing 300 posts I discovered that if one lists more than 15 tags (including categories) on a post, then the tags won’t work on WordPress. Big whoops! Did all of you know that but me? Well, better late than never, right? Ever since I figured this out I’ve gotten a flurry of followers who were able to find me.

Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press next year.

Another Great Divide

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As I write this post today I’m feeling pretty out of it due to a summer cold that came on strong.  The yucky bug has lingered around our home for almost two weeks!  First it struck Marilla, and then it made mincemeat out of my husband Craig, who doesn’t even usually catch colds.  I stayed healthy while I first cared for Rilla, and then for Craig, but I knew deep down it was only a matter of time until I’d start sniffling.

So here I am, sore-throated, stuffy-nosed and sneezing in mid-eighty degree weather.  For once I am happy that our home is naturally quite cold…it strikes me as similar to a root cellar!  At least I’m able to function enough to take care of the girls even though I become a big baby when I get a cold.  Craig is working at a site with a ninety-minute-long commute each way, which is probably for the best since his bedside manner in regard to the common cold is not his strong point!  To top things off, due to the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) medication Parnate that I take for bipolar disorder, I can’t consume any over-the-counter cold medications or else I’ll get way sicker than the cold itself. 

As crappy and crabby as I feel, surprisingly I haven’t lost my craving to blog  – at least it gets my mind off my cold for the time being!

My last post covered my social anxiety and Meetup groups.  Ever since I wrote that piece I’ve pondered other subjects to write about, including how friendships are affected by mental illness.  This post only touches on the tip of the friendship/bipolar iceberg.  (Sorry for that sketchy metaphor – I’m going to blame my poor writing on my cold.)

Seriously, I’ve wondered about what I can realistically offer as a friend now.  To be honest, I don’t have that much to give this summer.  It has only been a year since my last hospitalization for bipolar depression.  I’ve had a whopping seven hospitalizations, and it feels much less than a year since my last stay at Chez Hellhole.  My therapist, who doesn’t like to throw out psychiatric labels, recently surprised me when she told me that she believes I suffer with PTSD from my hospital experiences.

In some ways I’m doing great, but in other ways I’m still very fucked-up.    

My friends who I feel most comfortable around are ones who have mood disorders.  One example is “S.”.  A few years ago she was diagnosed with bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified; i.e. symptoms of bipolar disorder exist but not fully for a bipolar I or II diagnosis.).  We met through the “Women with Mood Disorders” DBSA support group I created several years ago.  She is supportive, thoughtful, and funny as hell.  I can be my damaged self around S. without feeling ashamed.  S. is strong enough to be able to deal with my ups and downs, and if for some reason she couldn’t handle them at a given time, I know she would be honest with me and tell me her limits.

I have another friend, “D”, who suffered postpartum depression and she took antidepressant medication for it, which served as a godsend.  While D. doesn’t have a chronic illness like I do, I still feel deeply understood by her.  Unfortunately we don’t see each other in person very often, but she stays in touch with me through the internet.  I’m fortunate to have another friend “M”, a mom who I neglected during my years of hospitalizations.  M reconnected with me recently.  Ssuffers with depression and she’s incredibly compassionate.  I feel at ease in M’s presence – that’s no small thing in my book!  I’m thankful that she chose to reach out to me again.

I have a couple other mom friends who don’t have mood disorders and who I don’t see often.  However, I want to stay connected with them for several reasons, mainly because of our children’s longtime friendships and I also genuinely care about them.  This is not an exhaustive list of my friends, but I don’t have many friends, though.   Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I had twice as many friends as I do now; some of them very close, others more of the acquaintance variety.  

Friendships are precious and they’re also a slippery slope to navigate, especially when living with bipolar disorder.  I know I’m limiting myself by focusing on friends who live with mood disorders, but I really can’t help it!  I feel compelled to spend time with my “tribe” of people who can truly empathize with me, and who don’t harbor stigma.  

This post’s title “Another Great Divide” is the name of one of my favorite Split Enz songs.  The song lyrics brilliantly depict the breakup of a romantic relationship using simple mathematical terms, but for me the title “Another Great Divide” also evokes a rift between any two important subjects, i.e. the divide of a friendship between a “normal” person (if one exists, right?) and a person with serious mental illness.

I would love to know how any of you who live with mental illness regard and handle your friendships with those who aren’t living with bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc.  This is a subject so near and dear to my heart, so please comment away!  Take care and take your vitamins! 😉

Dyane

“Another Great Divide” by Split Enz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmWbVeu-vBM  

 

Making Sense of It

If you shed a tear when the nightmare breaks
Just remember dreams go in opposites
You’re holding on
Yes, you’re holding on to make sense of it
You realize you’re not the only one
Who’s trying to make some sense of it”

Split Enz, “Make Sense of It”, Time and Tide

Yesterday I wrote about stigma towards mental illness in regard to my relationship with my Mom.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much fun writing about that painful topic as I did when I blogged about adorable Boo the Pomeranian and Gywneth Paltrow’s $300 pillows.  But the topic of parental stigma has festered in my brain for some time, and after I finished writing the stigma piece, I found that writing about it helped me feel better.

Two nights ago I had a phone conversation with my Mom.  We discussed the postpartum bipolar book that I’m writing.  At first she said I was “obsessed” about my topic.  Her choice of words really hurt me, but in retrospect I think she was oblivious that her saying “obsessed” would upset me so much.  Mom has such a deep-seated stigma towards mental illness that it can’t help but affect her perspective, and I’m at the very beginning of coming to terms with that.  It’s highly unlikely that she’ll magically change her views – she’s almost eighty-years-old, and while I hate sounding like a pessimist, I just don’t see it happening.  So the change needs to be on my end.

Stigma aside, sometimes I feel like scrapping my book project.  There are days when I feel like I’m too immersed in the bipolar world, but I can’t help feeling obsessed so interested in it!   Despite having a father with bipolar and then being diagnosed with it myself, I still haven’t completely made sense of bipolar disorder in my life.  Writing about it helps me to crystalize my feelings, and in doing so I feel empowered instead of apathetic.

I want to reach other mothers who have lived through my kind of experience.  At first I wasn’t sure if there were any other moms who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after childbirth. But I’ve been coming across these brave women here and there.  Some of them have graciously agreed to be profiled in my book.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I’m writing the book I would have wanted to read after I was diagnosed, and I’ve been told by some mothers that there is a need for it.  That’s all the validation I need!

A chunk of my book focuses upon my decision to try living without bipolar medication.  The section chronicles my carefully researched and planned year-long tapering process off bipolar medications, and what happened to me as a result of that decision. (A hint: it was a disaster.)  If my cautionary tale helps even one mother avoid suicide, then I have no problem being “obsessed” with bipolar!  (I don’t wish to sound histrionic, but I almost lost my life to suicide as a result of being med-free and using natural supplements/modalities.)

These days, as a research tool, I check Amazon.com regularly for new releases specifically about bipolar.  There are at least one or two new books published every week.  Some of these books will be great to use as references for my book,  i.e. Perinatal Psychiatry by Carmine Pariente et al, Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose, and  Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White. While other books won’t necessarily help me, they have brought a smile to my face, such as the racy cover of Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me.  I never know what new listings I’ll discover in the bipolar literary genre.

Bipolar

 Gotta love it

 

Sometimes our re-commitment to a project emerges from unforeseen sources.

I’ve been in need of a little fire underneath my kettle about completing my book.  Lo and behold, I got fired up yesterday when a new bipolar-themed book appeared on my Kindle titled Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally using the Med Free Method by Aspen Morrow.  Out of curiosity, I bought Med Free Bipolar, which is free and published by the independent publisher Pottenger Press.  So far I’ve read the book’s description, the first chapter, and the Recommended Products section, in which I tried one of the suggested products, Q96, that didn’t work for me.

The Amazon description page reads,

The primary goal of Med Free Bipolar is to show that treating bipolar effectively through natural means is not only possible, but highly likely.”

I don’t know how someone in good conscience could promise such a thing, especially in writing.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the the book, Morrow writes, “If you are not sure if the Med Free Method bipolar edition is right for you, take the quiz…” and a link to Morrow’s blog is provided.  The quiz is detailed in an attempt to screen out people who should not try the Med Free method, yet Ms. Morrow still implies that most people with bipolar can live “med free”, which I find to be contradictory and unethical.

This is obviously a sore subject for me.  I’m not stating that all people with bipolar disorder must depend upon bipolar medication in order to live stable, healthy, fulfilling lives.  According to my research over the past two years, a small percentage of people with bipolar can live well without medication.  I’m just not one of them!

Unless I consulted a medical school graduate/bipolar disorder expert who had supervised many patients who proved they could live well without meds long-term, I would never trust following anyone’s “method”, no matter what they write is possible.

No way, no how.

Queston Dr

The blessing in disguise is by my reading a bit of Med Free Bipolar , my resolve has been strengthened to finish writing Birth of a New Brain.  Nothing will stop me from sharing my postpartum bipolar experience, as well as including other mothers’ experiences, with the world where our stories belong.

I don’t work for Big Pharma – I’ll state that for the record.  I didn’t want to have to take meds and of course I’d rather not now.  But my meds have saved me .  Anyone who reads my book who’s on the fence about living without bipolar meds will have second and third thoughts, which is one of my goals in writing the book.  I’ll also be able to sleep well at night knowing that I’m not giving people false hope and/or putting them in danger.

I know that Ms. Morrow has the best of intentions in helping others, and I’m sure she has played a part in some powerful success stories that will be discussed in her book.  But I stand by what I wrote here.  My goal is to be as authentic, ethical and inspiring in my writing as I possibly can.  If my book can help moms make more sense of how to live well with postpartum bipolar disorder, and how to do that safely, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.

Mara hair

 

Blithe Friday: A Platonic Groupie Adventure

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Recently I’ve declared that I’ll write more about non-bipolar-themed tidbits.  I thought today would be the day that I enact my edict, but I’m not in the mood.  (Oh, we writers with bipolar are so mercurial!)  I am in the mood to write about something a little bit funny, a little bit rock n’ roll.

Please bear with me.

It helps me to remember the funny moments in between the dark ones.  Yes, there were some rather ridiculous happenings that took place during the hypomanic and manic times. Several of these incidents are firmly etched in my brain, and thank goodness ECT didn’t erase them.  Interestingly, they are connected with musicians.

I should state for the record that I am a groupie, although I don’t fit the exact definition in that I don’t aim to sleep with musicians .  I’m a very selective, innocent groupie of semi-obscure rock musicians who hail from New Zealand .  Aside from the Beatles, the band that has had the most influence upon me is of Kiwi origin, and it came into my life when I was thirteen.  A junior high school friend, a gifted musician herself, gave me a cassette tape marked “SPLIT ENZ”.

I listened to this tape incessantly on my tape player and on my Walkman.  (Remember those?) The music was odd but melodic, and the songs dug into my brain and stayed there. The band was co-founded by two best friends, New-Zealand born and bred Tim Finn and Phil Judd.  Tim’s younger brother Neil Finn (who would go on to form the internationally successful band Crowded House) also joined Split Enz.  Crowded House, a mix of Kiwi and Aussie members, became one of my favorite bands too.  I felt that I should be an honorary member of the Finn family.

The only time I had the opportunity to meet the Finn Brothers was was two weeks after the birth of my first child.  The Finns had recorded a beautiful album called “Everyone Is Here” and they were playing in San Francisco.  I had not yet been diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder; that wouldn’t happen until almost two years later.  I hemmed and hawed about whether I would attend the concert.  I had a two-week-old baby who I had been with almost every moment since she was born.  But I knew this would most likely be my only chance to see the Finn Brothers perform and to meet them.

What no one detected at that time was that my latent bipolar disorder had started to emerge, only to recede a few weeks later.  It was triggered due to hormones, genetics, and my losing a full night’s sleep when I went into labor.  I became hypomanic and I had the hallmark signs: increased energy, little sleep, pressurized speech, and other uncharacteristic behaviors.

I finally decided I’d attend the show.  A friend kindly volunteered to accompany me, and she drove us for ninety minutes in the pouring rain.  As soon as we left, I felt massive remorse at leaving my precious cutie.  I was breastfeeding her and I brought along my pump.  I had an agitated feeling of just wanting to get the evening over with and instead of happy anticipation.

The musicians gave the concertgoers their money’s worth and more.  It was a wonderful show, even though Neil Finn told us had a cold.  Trouper that he was, the show went on.  In true freaky fan fashion I brought cards and thoughtful gifts for each Finn.  They both were avid surfers and I brought them each a coffee table-style book about the famous surf break Mavericks.  The gifts and cards were how I expressed my appreciation for the countless hours of their music that I had enjoyed for the past twenty-four years.

After the show I found out where the fans would gather.  There was a designated roped walkway reaching approximately thirty feet from the venue directly to the tour van.  We fans lined up on either side of the ropes for a glimpse of them.  I clutched my cards and gifts and I felt nervous.  Most of all, I missed my baby – I wanted to get the hell home to her – forget these guys after all!  But I needed closure to my pilgrimage.

First sick Neil came out.  I didn’t want to interact with him because I didn’t want to breathe his germs and pass them onto my newborn.  I leaned back and handed him the goodies.  Being the consummate professional that he was, he charmingly thanked me.  It took all  of twenty seconds.

Then it was Tim’s turn to come out.  Tim strode by us and it was clear that he didn’t want to converse with anyone.  I was pissed.  He wasn’t sick!  At least on the outside!  And I had left my baby and come all this way to simply hand him a gift!  This is when my mania kicked in…

I somehow got over the rope and sprinted after him, yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN, GIFT FOR TIM FINN!!!” – I just wanted to shove it at him and leave.  My breasts were actually leaking through my shirt at that point, and I wasn’t a happy camper.  Then I heard him mutter, “You’re too much, you’re too much!” (At least he didn’t yell it at me.)  I shoved the gift at him as he jumped into the van, fleeing what I’m sure he thought was a psycho fan.

As we drove back home, I felt let down from these less-than-stellar moments with my musical heroes.  I felt ashamed about what happened with Tim.  Years after this all happened, I realized that Tim nailed it when he remarked I was too much; I was too much, and “too much” is exactly what you could say of manic behavior.  I felt seen by him!

While he has never admitted in public to having bipolar disorder, I’ve wondered if he has it, for some of his songs (His autobiographical “Haul Away”) alluded to his “nervous breakdown” and his “Cruel Black Crow” song depicted his depression.  He has shared in interviews that he suffers from panic attacks.  Mental illness runs in his family – his aunt committed suicide.  New Zealanders are known for being reserved, but her death became public knowledge in the haunting Crowded House song “Hole in the River”.

Tim has been around bipolar disorder for much of his life.  His former best friend Phil Judd was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Tim’s bandmate and close friend Paul Hester committed suicide due to bipolar disorder as well.  It’s so common for musicians to suffer with bipolar disorder.  I know this for a fact from growing up with my own musician father who had bipolar; quite a few of his orchestra colleagues had it as well.

Well, this isn’t the goofy, lighthearted post I meant it to be, but I am glad I wrote it all the same.  I do look back at that moment when I ran after Tim Finn yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN!” as pretty funny.  You could say my behavior was as “Bold As Brass”, a classic Split Enz song penned by none other but the great Tim Finn.

The Trip of a Lifetime – Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa – Part Three

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I should let you know that today’s reminiscence focuses on being a Kiwi music groupie, rather than upon the magnificent natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.  I will be writing about the scenic wonders I visited over the next few days.  I only went to a handful of them (Rotorua, Kare Kare, Waiheke Island, Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach Sand Dunes)  but I’ll never forget their grandeur.  This journey took place over twenty years ago, and I thank God that electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT did not wipe out those memories!   

After a perfect landing at Auckland International Airport, I experienced deja vu when I walked by its lovely gift store.  I was tempted to stop in to buy more of the New Zealand milk chocolate (I wanted to actually taste it this time now that my cold was gone!) but I was distracted with finding the baggage claim.  I made my way to a Auckland youth hostel and was lucky enough to register for a single room at a reasonable rate.  After opening the door and throwing my heavy backpack on the floor, I promptly passed out on the bed.

The next day it was sunny and temperate, and I walked up and down Queen Street, one of Auckland’s main thoroughfares.  Queen Street reminded me a bit of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue in that there were hippies and street performers galore.  I hit Real Groovy Records and bought a sleek, silver-colored, special edition Split Enz CD box set.  I would never find anything like that in the States and the price was reasonable with my beneficial exchange rate.  The set would be my most indulgent purchase while on the North Island and definitely worth it.  After I left Real Groovy, I found a nearby bakery and sat down inside for a snack.  On impulse, I looked through my box set and spotted a folded-up sheet tucked between the CD’s.  I opened up this paper to find I had the original autographs of Enz band members Neil and Tim Finn, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Noel Crombie.  This was a true autograph boon as the band had broken up, and surprisingly it was included with the box set with no fanfare.  I crowed with glee over my unexpected luck!  I put away the box set in my roomy purse, and took out my well-thumbed North Island travel guide to review my itinerary’s must-see spots.

One of these must-sees not in the book included “Hang out with Auckland John”.  Over the past few years I cultivated an internet and phone friendship with John Dobbyn.  We “met” in a Crowded House fan club internet forum.  John originally hailed from Seattle and worked at Microsoft.  He immigrated to Auckland’s Microsoft branch to work there for a year.  We arranged to meet up after I settled in Auckland so he could show me some North Island sights. I had corresponded with John for so long that I felt relatively safe in terms of meeting him in person.  Now that I reflect upon my trip, I realize that it wasn’t the best idea to trust a strange man, no matter how comfortable I felt with him.  I was very, very fortunate that he was a stand-up guy.

John was even more of a Crowded House groupie than I was, so we were quite the pair.  He too had just gone through the end of a relationship, but we had a low-key, brother-sister dynamic between us that set me at ease.  We drove to Te-Awamutu, the “Rose Town” of New Zealand located in the Waikato Region.  Te Awamutu means “the river cut short” in Maori language, as it is the end of the navigable section of the Mangapiko Stream.  Te Awamutu is the birthplace of Neil and Tim Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz fame.  There is now a Te Awamutu Museum with a Finn Brothers exhibit, but unfortunately it hadn’t been created when we were there.  (The Finns have been called the “Lennon and McCartney of New Zealand”.  Like Sir Paul, they were awarded OBE’s by Queen Elizabeth II for their contributions to New Zealand music.)  All I remember of our Te Awamutu sojourn is taking a picture in front of Te Awamutu’s entry sign festooned with roses, and another photograph in front of the obscure Te Awamutu Shell.

To our credit, we didn’t stalk the proud Finn parents who still lived there, thank God.  If we did accost them, Neil may have written a song about us like he did about an American girl who stalked him in New Zealand.  Neil wrote “Mean to Me” for Crowded House’s first hit album about his stalker, and it’s a great song.  John and I drew the line when it came to stalking.  However, later on after I left the country, John would cross the line from fan to actual friend in a most enviable way.  Somehow John was able to contact Neil Finn in Auckland.  I don’t remember how he pulled it off, but he impressed Neil with his computer expertise.  This was the era just when the internet took off big-time.  Neil, who had a keen interest in technology of all kinds, decided to get to know John and arranged for some computer help.  He invited him to his home in Parnell, known as Auckland’s oldest suburb.  John visited the Finn home numerous times for dinner, and he would tell me about Neil’s wife Sharon cooking lamb chops for them.  I was wistful and a bit jealous, but at the same time I knew that I would never be able to handle having dinner with the Finns.  It would be a bit like watching how sausage gets made.

The Trip of A Lifetime (St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia)

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koalaYesterday to my chagrin I forgot to charge my MacBookPro before leaving the house.  I am proud to say I did bring my charger, but that didn’t help me when I was stuck in my car for twenty minutes with 1% left of battery power.  My blog post’s parting words, frantically written before the laptop conked out, were “Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown.

I had boarded my flight healthy and raring to go, but my immune system wasn’t strong enough to protect me from the other passengers’ germs. I picked up a nasty cold within just a few hours after boarding.  (I didn’t know that due to germs recirculating within the plane cabin, it was much easier to get sick.  If I had known that fact, maybe I would have doubled up on vitamin C since I had a weak immune system.) Lesson learned.  I was sneezing nonstop when the captain’s voice boomed over the intercom to inform us that we’d be arriving in Auckland in six hours.  “WHAT?” I shrieked inwardly.  “This flight is supposed to go to MELBOURNE!”  The itinerary that I clutched in my quivering hands clearly stated that I was flying from San Francisco to Melbourne. For whatever reason, the flight plans had changed and my plane was making an Auckland layover.  The pilot didn’t mention that we were still Melbourne-bound, and I felt petrified to flag down a flight attendant to clarify matters.  I credit my cold for fuzzying my brain and igniting a panic attack that prevented me from acting rationally.  It would have taken all of twenty seconds for me to settle my fears about our destination, but I wasn’t able to think clearly at all.

I panicked for the remainder of the journey, which felt like forever.  Just before we descended, the captain explained we’d be in Auckland for a short time and then we’d re-board. I let out an enormous sigh of relief and my sinuses momentarily cleared.  After we deplaned, I made a beeline for the gift store for some classic retail therapy.  The shop was full of tempting items, and I wanted one of everything.  I resisted temptation and treated myself to two essentials: an enormous milk chocolate bar and a jar of famous New Zealand honey, which made me feel a little better.

It was time to schlep back onto the plane, and I grew increasingly out of it.  When we landed in Melbourne I felt worse; however, I was relieved there would be someone waiting for me.  At the gate stood my longtime Greek-Australian pen pal “Kara”.  Kara was there with two of her friends, and she gave me a welcoming hug.  We found our way to her small car, and I assumed we’d head to her house.  I was totally exhausted, and even without my cold I would have been pooped.  Instead, we headed to the Australian outback to attend an outdoor 60’s-themed “rave”.  During the many years of our correspondence Kara neglected to mention that she was a psychedelic drug addict and that she enjoyed raves.  I was anti-drugs and anti-raves, and I felt shocked that my seemingly innocent pen pal had left out these key interests in her frequent epistles.

I wanted to be polite, so I accompanied the trio into the woods where the party took place, but I took one look at the tripping flower children and I jogged back to the car.  I gobbled down my Auckland chocolate bar even though I couldn’t taste it, and tried to sleep, which didn’t quite work out in the cramped quarters.  The time change had also really thrown me off and to top it off, it was sunny.  I don’t quite recall how many hours I stayed in that tiny car until Kara returned, but we eventually drove to her home.  She had a large, friendly Greek family complete with Grandma making spanikopita in the kitchen.  Between the gaggle of young children running around, and the television blaring in the background, the overall noise level was high.  I hated to be rude, but couch-surfing in that environment was not what I envisioned for this trip and I desperately wanted to escape.  I didn’t know what to do yet, and I furtively kept my thoughts to myself.

On the second day we went strolling around Kara’s St. Kilda, Melbourne neighborhood.  We encountered one of Kara’s friends on the street, a young woman with a neon orange buzz cut named Marilla.  (Interestingly enough, I’d be naming my own daughter Marilla many years later.  Her name was inspired by the character Marilla in one of my favorite books “Anne of Green Gables”, not by the Aussie Marilla!) Kara, Marilla and I did some mundane errands together, such as banking.  Upon exiting the bank, we spotted one of Marilla’s friends walking towards us, a pretty, dark-haired girl who looked like a university coed.

“This is Amy Judd,” said Marilla.  “Amy Judd?” I echoed.  “No, it couldn’t be…” I thought.

Phil Judd was the co-founder of Split Enz, the rock group I worshipped and that was responsible for my loving New Zealand.  I knew he had a daughter named Amy because he had written a song “Amy” about his little girl.  How many Amy Judds could there be, really?

“Are you Phil Judd’s daughter?” I asked, my jaw halfway to the pavement in true groupie fashion.

“Yeah…” she mumbled modestly.

“Well, then, I must take you out to lunch!” I replied.  She protested modestly, but I insisted, and we three went to a sushi restaurant down the road.  I didn’t say much during the meal, but I couldn’t help at marvel at how ironic it was that I sat across from one of my musical idol’s kids.  It was a surreal occasion, to say the least.  I found it a bit strange that Kara had known of my musical obsessions, but she never mentioned that she had a (distant) connection to a member of Split Enz.  No matter.  I took the happenstance as a good omen, and that my trip would turn around for the better.

I realized that I had to bite the bullet and change my trip itinerary.  I knew I was going to offend Kara with my decision, but I was absolutely sure I wanted to get over to New Zealand as soon as possible.  Call it a gut feeling.  I discovered I had to pay one hundred dollars to change my flight plan, but it would prove to be some of the best money I ever spent.  Kara was understandably hurt, and our friendship would never recover from that blow, but as I sat on the spacious Air New Zealand plane headed for Auckland I felt joyous and relaxed.  My fear of flying was gone, and to top it off, they started playing Crowded House (my other favorite band) songs on their sound system.  I looked out the window at the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds and a sense of freedom washed over me.  Sure, I was nervous about staying at youth hostels for the first time in my life, and not having a friend to meet me at the gate.  I was confident that I’d figure it all out somehow.  I opened up my “Rough Guide New Zealand” to review some of the amazing-sounding places I planned to visit and grinned.

(To be continued!  I really will get to New Zealand!)