Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Moment...

My daughter, all gangling, coltish legs and arms, folding herself onto my lap to cry because "Everything feels different."

Is this adolescence? Or has she just realized that there is a poet in her soul?

Trazodone Taper, Part 7

After two weeks at 100 mg, and no withdrawal symptoms after cutting from 125 mg to 100 mg, I decided to do another cut this past weekend, from 100 mg to 75 mg, with the option of going back up if necessary.

So far, so good. I've slept well at 75 mg the past week, and so far no headaches or depression. If all goes well, I could finish this thing before summer's end.

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's All About the Journey

Naturalgal had an interesting post up yesterday in which she talks about plugging along with things like weight loss or psych-med withdrawal, and Gianna had a post up the other day where she discussed dealing with pain, whether it be physical or emotional. Both of these posts have something to say about process vs. product, journey vs. destination.

So often, we focus on the Next Big Goal, whether it be losing thirty pounds, becoming medication-free or pain-free, buying our dream home, getting a new job, or whatever it happens to be. So focused that we forget about the journey--how we get there and what we do along the way.

When you're losing weight, the goal is to be fit and trim, but what so many people don't seem to realize is that reaching the goal isn't enough--if you've crashed the weight off, you haven't learned better habits along the way, and you aren't going to be able to maintain your ideal weight for very long. It makes more sense to shift your perspective to the journey and learn healthy habits that you can maintain for a lifetime. It's a slower process, but the results will be long-term.

The same applies to coming off of psych meds. The goal is to be medication free, and it may seem that the fastest way to achieve that is to just stop taking the medication. However, doing that can be dangerous, and withdrawal symptoms can leave you worse off than when you started. It's important to go slowly and allow your body time to adjust. Gianna has some excellent resources for psychiatric drug withdrawal at her blog, Beyond Meds.

As far as pain goes, focusing on how long it will be until the pain goes away can make the whole process seem so much worse. If you can shift your focus to making it through this moment, somehow that's not as hard to manage as making it through the next hour, or until the pain meds kick in, or until the headache is gone. I've used this shift of focus to help get me through the most horrendous migraines, and it does help.

What I'm really talking about here is mindfulness--being fully present in the moment rather than focusing solely on what's going to happen at some future time.

I have a friend who is always thinking about the Next Big Thing, which, of course, is going to make her life perfect. And when the Next Big Thing arrives and fails to do so, she is disappointed...until she decides what the next Next Big Thing is. She lives her life in the grip of a never-ending cycle of anticipation and disappointment. Sometime in the future when she's sitting on the front porch in her rocker covered with grandchildren, I wonder what she will remember about her life. That everything was a disappointment?

I would rather recall a series of moments, lived for what they are, than a series of disappointments.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mt. Laundry

Mt. Laundry looms above me
All shades of off-white and mud brown
Grass stains on lace
Socks dangling limp and grey from the summit.

I stare up at it and plant my feet
And with a sigh, prepare to haul myself
to the top once more.

Past the grubby T-shirts I climb
Over the towels used to wipe dog feet
clotted with mud
Past the unreported ketchup stain
on the white jeans
And finally, perspiring heavily as I brush
socks from behind my ears
I collapse, having reached the top.

With a howl of triumph,
I stab my flag into the soiled ground.
Mt. Laundry has been conquered--solo!
But in three days
It will rise again...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Journal Series: Some Thoughts on Truth

I really thought I was done with this series yesterday, but I guess not. I need to stop taking showers. I get too many good ideas in the shower...

Truth in fiction is the story's truth. It's what makes a story resonate with what you know to be true. Truth in fiction has nothing to do with make believe and everything to do with making us believe.

And then there's the other kind of truth. The one you sometimes have to ask yourself how much of you really want. This kind of truth is for journal writing. This is the kind of truth that can hurt people.

Truth can cut deep. Is your first loyalty in writing truth to yourself or is it to the people in your life whom you love/hate/want to protect? This is where privacy comes in. If you're going to write your truth, you need to protect yourself and others by making sure people who could be hurt by your words don't have access to them.

There is never only one truth to any story. Each of us has our own version of the truth, each of us puts a unique spin on a story that is seen through the filters of our own individual set of experiences. So your truth of an experience will not be the same as the truth of the other people involved.

Truth is what I try to write in my journals. But I'm well aware that what I'm writing is only my truth. Others experienced the same events completely differently. Their story is not mine. But my story is the only one that's going to help me find my way.

Truth is what you should aim for in your journals. Not someone else's truth. Not the truth you think or have been told ought to be yours. Not the politically correct truth, or the truth that isn't going to hurt anyone. The real truth. Your truth.

Even if it hurts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Journal Series: Distance

I was going to wrap up this series yesterday, with my post on resources, but a comment left on Sunday's post got me to thinking that there's more to be said. Well, there's always more to be said, but I thought this in particular, was worth saying.

On the subject of the Altered Point of View technique, Lynn had the following to say:

"For myself, I have found that trying to understand another person's point of view was not always healthy for me. I think that is because of whose point of view I was trying to understand. For me, it was a way to make excuses for other people's hurtful behavior and that blocked my access to my own real feelings about it. I was a mess without knowing the truth of my feelings. I think it was easy for me to do that, though, because the feelings were so unpleasant."

Lynn brings up a good point. Sometimes, I think, if we try to process experiences before we are ready, it can do more harm than good, and it's not always easy to know when you have enough distance from an event to write clearly about it. It's one of those things where you have to trust yourself, I think. And I think, too, that as you write more and get to know yourself better, you get a feeling for when you have enough distance from an event to really analyze it.

I find that when I am actually going through an unpleasant experience, my writing tends to be more cathartic than anything--whining and complaining and raging against whatever or whoever it is that has hurt me or made things difficult for me. At that point, and often for a long time after, I am too close to the event emotionally to process it in a rational way. So I let myself whine without trying to analyze too deeply.

Sometimes you have to let yourself whine for a long time.

I am only now coming to the point where I can begin to face and process the events that led up to my bipolar diagnosis (the Big Mania), and that was nearly five years ago.

So writing about things that have happened to us in order to heal isn't just about getting it down on paper the minute it happens--although that catharsis is very helpful. Writing to heal is also about examining those events and your reactions to them after you have gained some emotional distance. Time helps us heal, and it gives us perspective.

How much time varies from person to person, but I think that if you are journaling regularly, you are going to know when you are ready. It's a question of learning to trust yourself.

Please note that I am not promoting this sort of thing as a substitute for therapy. If you're trying to process something really traumatic, professional guidance is definitely a good idea.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Journal Series: Some Resources

One thing I've found inspiring through the years is reading other peoples' ideas on journal keeping. I've read a number of books on the subject, and found them all to be helpful. Sometimes I pick up a new technique, sometimes I just gain some new insight into what I'm doing. What follows is a list of some of the books on my book shelf. I've checked on Amazon (but I'm far too lazy to put all the links in here!), and all of these are available, although some of them may only be available used.

The New Diary by Tristine Rainer (my favorite)

Writing the Mind Alive by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon

Write Your Heart Out by Rebecca McClanahan

Harvesting Your Journals by Rosalie Deer Heart and Alison Strickland

Notes From Myself by Anne Hazard Aldrich

Keeping a Journal You Love by Sheila Bender

One to One by Christina Baldwin

Writing Your Authentic Self by Lois Guarino

At a Journal Workshop by Ira Progoff

I've only recently started hunting down websites on journaling and on writing to heal, so I'm afraid I don't have much to offer in that department, but the following sites look interesting, and you might want to check them out:

One Year of Writing and Healing

Self Help Healing Arts Journal

I'm sure there are others out there, I just haven't put much time into hunting them down yet, but if you should find something good, shoot me an email or leave the address in a comment.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Journal Series: Some Techniques

In this installment, I describe a few of the different techniques that can be used by journal keepers to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it's easy to write about what's bothering you...other times, it's harder to get a handle on your thoughts and get the words out. At these times, it can help to use a different technique than a straightforward free-write.

Unsent Letters: An unsent letter is just what it sounds like--a letter that you write to someone else, which you don't intend to send. This technique is valuable because it allows you to speak to that person directly without fear of their reactions. You don't even need to write an unsent letter to a can write to yourself in the past or future, you can write to a body part that's troubling you, you can write to a situation...anything you can name, you can write to.

Lists: Lists can be a very powerful tool. When I'm feeling down, I have challenged myself to come up with a list of 100 things I love. As a self esteem booster, you can write lists of things you are good at or things people like about you. Or you can list things you'd like to do in the future, goals, dreams, ideas...even a simple to-do list for the day.

Altered Point of View: Sometimes, when trying to understand a situation involving other people, you run into difficulties because the only head you are actually in is your own. This is where writing from an altered point of view can help. If you are in conflict with someone, or trying hard to understand where they are coming from, try writing about the situation from that person's point of view. If nothing else, it will give you a fresh perspective.

Dialog: A dialog is a conversation between two people...or two things. You can write a dialog between yourself and someone else or between different parts of yourself. When I was in graduate school and feeling the pressure of two opposing forces within, the poet and the engineer, I wrote many dialogs between logic brain and creative brain, in an effort to seek balance.

Tomorrow I'll finish out the series with a list of resources--books and websites that I've found helpful.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Journal Series: Getting Started

All you need to get started is a pen and a notebook. Or some form of computer software--you can use a word processor and password-protect your files, you can use Life Journal, software specifically designed for journal keepers, or, as Gianna suggested in yesterday's comments, start a blog and keep it set on private so that no one but you can read it. You can start a blog with blogger or wordpress, and I'm sure there are others out there, too.

For those who want to go the pen-and-paper route, there are many fancy blank books out there, some with lines, some not. Personally, I prefer a spiral notebook with a sturdy cover, so I can write with it balanced on my knee if I'm out and about. I don't spent a lot of money on my journals because I always feel if I've got this lovely, expensive leather-bound book, then whatever I write had darn well better be worthy of that lovely, expensive leather-bound book...and of course, it won't be, will it? In short, I get performance anxiety.

So grab a notebook that appeals to you and a pen that writes nice and dark, and moves easily across the page. Open the notebook, put the date at the top of the page, and start writing. Don't worry about quality--we're not writing a novel or poetry, we're not making art here, we're not letting anyone else see this stuff--it's for your eyes only. What we're doing here is letting out feelings, we're synthesizing input in an attempt to make sense of the world, we're whining about our problems, and maybe starting to make sense of them and think about solutions...

The most important part of this process, at least in the beginning, is to give yourself permission to write badly, to write ungrammatically, to write in whatever manner you need to in order to get whatever it is out of your head and onto the page.

But what do you write?

There's really no magic formula here: you write whatever happens to be on your mind at the time. But I'll give you some thoughts...

Natalie Goldberg ("Writing Down the Bones") suggests you write in ten-minute bursts (using a timer), and give yourself writing prompts: Write about a sunset. Ten minutes. Go...Write about your favorite food. Ten minutes. Go...Write a about a time when you were unhappy. Ten minutes. Go... Depending on what areas you want to explore, you can make up your own prompts to get you started.

Julia Cameron ("The Artist's Way") suggests Morning Pages, which are three pages of longhand writing done every morning. The idea is not to edit or put a lot of thought into it, but just write whatever comes into your head, and follow your train of thought as best you can, keeping the pen moving the whole time.

A professor I had in college liked the "Ten Minute Autobiography" exercise. You have ten minutes to write your autobiography. You can give an overview or you can focus on one specific event, or anything in between, but you only have ten minutes. I've done it a number of times, and I've found it amazing how my focus shifts depending on what mood I'm in and what's been on my mind lately.

I have used a method in which I pose myself a question to get me started, such as, Well, Jazz, why are you feeling so edgy today? and then I write about that and try to explore what might be causing that feeling and what I might do to help myself.

I usually start my day with Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. I begin by writing, It's Saturday (or whatever day it is) and we have way too much to do today...or It's Monday and I'll be glad to get these kids out the door... And it just goes on from there, a steady stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes it meanders into something big that's going on in my life, sometimes it's just a sort of a game-planning session for the day, but regardless of what I write, I always come away from it feeling ready to start my day.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Journal Series: Privacy

If you are going to do journal work that allows true healing to occur, then you must have a safe place in which to do it. And that safe place must be a place that you and those who may live with you know is inviolate. Self-censorship does not belong in the pages of your journal, because if you are afraid of your work being discovered, you will not write the truth.

Privacy is a touchy issue, but I feel that it is essential to have a sense that the work you do in the journal truly is for your eyes only. Privacy not only protects you, but it protects others--because if you are going to write the honest truth, there is always the potential for writing something that will hurt someone else. And truth is essential to the healing process.

So how do we protect our privacy? Sometimes trust is enough. I trust my husband not to read my journals. I've been leaving them lying around ever since we shared our first apartment twenty years ago, and he's never read them. (I don't think he's interested enough, to be honest...) I do not, however, trust the kids not to get into them. Children are curious by nature. So now that the children are old enough to read and begin to understand, my older journals are kept in a locked file cabinet.

But what if you don't have a file cabinet that locks, or you don't trust someone in your household not to go snooping? Or what if you live with someone who would be hurt if they thought you were keeping secrets of any sort from them? What if you don't feel that there is any way to keep your journals private?

Since the journal serves its most important role in allowing you to get rid of and process feelings, destroying what you've written is one way to protect your privacy. I tend not to like this method just because it can take more than one session to work through something, and it helps to have your earlier work to refer back to.

I think the computer offers the best solution to the privacy issue. Microsoft Word allows you to password-protect your files. This is not an ideal solution--I've tried journaling this way, but the file soon becomes huge and unwieldy, and it's difficult to find anything unless you can recall specific phrases you used. There is, however, software designed specifically for journal-keeping. I use a software package called Life Journal. Life Journal allows you to keep your work private with a password, and allows you to assign topics to entries, the way you can in a blog. In fact, I use Life Journal to draft my blog entries, because of that feature. It helps me find things in a hurry.

Having said that, I must also say that I have a strong preference for a pen-and-paper journal. Maybe it's because that's how I started out. When I started keeping a journal and writing, there was no such thing as a word processor. There was me and my notebook and my pen. And there is something about the physical act of writing my words down, having my thoughts flow from my mind to my hand to the page, that is therapeutic for me. So I still keep a paper journal. But...if I am doing work that I feel might be too intense, or work that I would never in a million years want anyone to see, I go to the computer and call up Life Journal. Because when I'm working in pen and paper, I do censor myself. No matter what I tell myself about trust and all that...I honestly feel safer working in a password protected environment. And if I don't have that feeling of safety, the tough work isn't going to get done.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Journal Series: Why Keep a Journal?

Many people think of a journal as a diary. But journaling to heal ourselves isn't so much about leaving a record, as in a traditional diary ("Hot and sunny today. Beans for dinner again. Don't like beans."), but more about learning about ourselves and those around us by detailing and puzzling through the chain of events that makes up our lives.

Journaling with the intent to heal is more about process than it is about product. Yes, it is nice to have a record of where you've been, and reading over the things you've worked through can be helpful, if only to remind yourself of how far you've come. But my sense of it is that the journal serves its main purpose in the moment and then you move on to the next moment, hopefully having gained some insight to bring along with you.

The journal was where I first began to suspect that I had a problem with my moods. It was where I raged and screamed against my bipolar diagnosis. It was where I debated the pros and cons of going off of medication against medical advice. And it is where I continue to go every day of my healing journey.

I journal because it helps me make sense of my life. It gives me a lot in terms of self-knowledge and self-understanding...and if I can be honest with myself--not always easy, even in one's own private journal, to be truly honest--I get more insight out of my journal than I ever got out of therapy.

So...why journal? Because it can be cathartic--the journal is a place to safely release emotions and thoughts that may not be appropriate for those around you to bear the brunt of. Because it can help you gain insight--by examining your thoughts and feelings, sometimes it's possible to identify negative patterns that need shifting. Because it can give you a map of how far you've come, and help you figure out where you need to go next. Because it can help bring order to sometimes chaotic thoughts and emotions. Because it can be a place to brainstorm and problem solve. Because it is always there for you, and it is never judgmental. For all of these reasons and more, a journal can be a powerful tool for healing and a powerful adjunct to talk therapy.

In coming installments, I'll talk about how to start a journal, and about privacy issues. Then I'll present some of the different tools that can be used within the journal to gain insight. And if anyone's interested, I could list some specific journal exercises to get you started. Let me know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Journal Series: An Introduction

This blog is supposed to be about a number of things, but primarily it's about a journey of healing. I'm not quite sure where I'm going on this journey, other than towards wellness, but so far it's been a very interesting trip. And in the end, I think that the journey itself is far more important than the final destination.

I've had some interesting companions on my travels. Bipolar disorder was one. A driving need to write my thoughts is another. And a need to "make stuff", to create, to use my hands, has also been with me for a long time.

The companion that has been the most influential, however, has been my journal. It has been there for me through all the years of teenage angst, through my breakup with The A$$hole, whom I almost married, through my finding my soul-mate in the Chief, much to my parents' consternation (the long hair and leather jacket didn't make a stellar first impression on my Proper British Father), through my not-always-thrilling foray into Mommyhood, through my bipolar odyssey, and now, through my recovery and healing.

The journal has been a huge part of my healing process, just as important, I think, as the healthy eating and the yoga and meditation. So I wanted to write a series on journaling, because I think it's a technique that others might find useful on their own healing journeys.

Those of us who are blogging about our journeys already know that writing can play an important role in the healing process. But I'm not sure that this is common knowledge. And the response I get from a lot of people when I suggest they try to journal their way through one of life's rough patches is often a look of bewilderment: But I wouldn't know where to start, they tell me. I wouldn't know what to write.

So in this series I'll talk about how to start a journal, what to write, and how to make the journal a treasured companion on your own healing journey.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Stupid Fish Quilt

Rejoice, world, The Stupid Fish Quilt is finished!

This is quite a milestone for me, because it's the first quilt I've finished since my diagnosis/drugging took away my ability to design and sew nearly five years ago.

It's also the first quilt I've ever made completely by machine. Most of my stuff up until now has been done in combination, usually machine-piecing and hand-quilting, with a lot of hand applique.

It is also the first "challenge" quilt I've ever attempted. I joined our local quilters guild last year, and in October, they issued a challenge: Make a quilt using this fabric:

Ouch. Makes your eyes bleed, doesn't it?

The rules were simple: the quilt could be any size, and the challenge fabric had to show up in the quilt somewhere. The fabric was distributed, and I quickly stuffed mine in my bag so I wouldn't have to look at it. For the rest of the evening, I was in a state of shock. How was I, a fairly traditional quilter up until recently, going to use this hideous fabric in a quilt that I would like enough to actually want to work on?

After much agonizing, I decided that it had to be either fish or ladybugs. I figured it didn't matter too much which. The point, I told myself, wasn't to make something I would love, it was more to get me back into practice after my long hiatus, and encourage me to learn all the features of the new sewing machine the Chief got for me for xmas last year. And when it was done, I could maybe give it to a certain in-law, who deserves something ugly and tasteless in return for all the dreadful knick-knacks she has bestowed upon me over the years.

Anyway, it's done now. After I've taken it to the next guild meeting to show off, it's going up in Hell's Barrister's room. He decided that he likes it a lot, and would like to have it on his wall. Who am I to argue?

But if he asks for a matching bed quilt, he's on his own!

Monday, May 19, 2008


I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I've written over the last few days concerning the possible connection between my bipolar symptoms and my use of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

If that's actually what happened--and I understand that only time is going to tell, if I remain episode free, and I also understand that even if I do remain episode free, I may never know for sure--am I supposed to angry at someone?

Like maybe the FDA, for allowing this dangerous chemical to proliferate through our food supply?

Or maybe the maker of Nutrasweet, for their advertising hype that would have us believe that eating aspartame was no different from eating milk and bananas?

Or myself, for putting that crap in my body for so long?

Or my psychiatrist, for having absolutely no interest in my dietary habits other than whether or not I was putting too much food in my mouth?

Frankly, I'm not sure how I feel. I'm relieved that maybe I have an answer that makes sense. But I also feel angry at all of the corporations that put dangerous chemicals in food in order to make a buck. And angry that the FDA isn't doing it's job. I'm angry at myself, and I'm angry at a mental health system that sees a checklist of symptoms, hands out life sentences and meds, and doesn't inquire any further as to other possible causes.

Hmmm. I suspect the focus of my Writing to Heal project is about to make a rather dramatic shift.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Shift In Perspective

I feel a bit like the rug's been pulled out from under me.

Let me explain. I've been reading and commenting on a lot of blogs during the past few months, following interesting links, and doing some research of my own, and one of the things I've learned is that in some people, symptoms of bipolar disorder can be caused by ingesting aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in that Diet Coke I used to drink by the gallon from the ages of about 19 to 40 (with a break in there when I was pregnant and nursing).

Considering the lack of family history of bipolar itself (not denying the suicides, or the depression that runs rampant on my mother's side, or the one cousin who could possibly be cyclothymic), and considering that I have been stable for the three years since I stopped most of my psych meds and the aspartame, I've got to consider that perhaps my experience of bipolar disorder was chemically induced, and perhaps now that I'm not using aspartame any longer, I may not have any more symptoms.

This little piece of information doesn't change the story in any way. I still had the depressions, I still had the Big Mania, I was still diagnosed with bipolar, and at the time, that diagnosis was correct...No, the essential story is intact.

What has changed is my perspective, my perception of the story. There is another lens through which to view those events, and that changes everything.

It's interesting how a shift in perspective can completely change how you interpret and how you feel about the story in question. With this new way of interpreting my feelings and my behavior over those twenty years, I now find myself feeling a lot more hope for the future. I don't feel, in the back of my mind, that I'm somehow broken, that I'm living on borrowed time, or that I'm an episode waiting to happen. I feel more optimistic that the healing I have done in the last three years might actually be permanent, and not just a nice lull in the bipolar storm.

Amazing what a difference that makes.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ogre Mommy

I hate disciplining my kids. I do it, because I want them to grow up to be responsible, loving, caring human beings who know the difference between right and wrong, and who consider the consequences of their actions. But taking away my son's favorite activity for the next three weeks really hurts my heart.

The Chief and I have always used natural consequences to discipline the children, which teaches them that their actions have consequences, and hopefully teaches them to think before they act. You leave your bike outside all night where it could be stolen? The bike goes up in the garage rafters for a couple of weeks. You deliberately break your sister's toy? You replace it with your own money.

And when Hell's Barrister deliberately blows off assignments at school, and admits that it was because he'd rather play his new video game, obviously the video game privileges have got to go. I hate taking away his video games, because his games seem to be the only thing he really enjoys. He's not a social kid--doesn't have many friends. Doesn't really have any hobbies other than reading and playing elaborate strategy games by himself. I've been trying for years to help him discover where his passion lies. We've bought art supplies, encouraged him to take community ed. classes, helped finance things that he was interested in that had the potential to become a lifelong passion and hobby...with no success. I've made myself available to take him to friends' houses, made our house available if he wants to have friends over, but he just doesn't seem interested. The video games are his passion, and I guess I just have to accept that.

And when I have to take away the only activity he seems to truly enjoy, I feel like the terrible, growling, teeth-gnashing, baby-eating Ogre Mommy.

Must dash now, it's time to polish my fangs...

Friday, May 16, 2008


Hope is something there is precious little of in the mental health system. Once you are labeled with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, you are told that you are going to need to take medication for the rest of your life. That you have a lifelong condition, and that although you may have periods of stability between episodes, it is not something that ever goes away. You are told that you will ruin your life if you don't take your medication. And you are told that the side effects from the medications just aren't that important in light of the alternative--losing your sanity. Oh, there are things you can do to help--you can chart your moods diligently and look for can make sure you get enough can eat right and can get therapy...but even if you do all of those things, there's still basically no hope. You will be saddled with this illness for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, once you get into the mental health system and start believing these things about yourself, what they've told you becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And rather than look for different answers when the medications they give you makes you worse, they nod knowingly and tell you that this is the natural course of the illness, and isn't it a good thing you started taking medication when you did. Think how much worse it would be if you hadn't!

But there is hope out there. There are people out there looking for alternative answers and treatments--and finding them. And there are many of us who were misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed. I've been reading a lot about hope lately, and in my readings, I think I've found some of my own.

When I was in college--about the same time I started showing mild symptoms of bipolar disorder--I went on a diet. Here's the thing. I needed to study. I needed to work. I needed caffeine to stay awake. But I hated coffee. For the first year of college, Mountain Dew was my drug of choice. But it didn't take long to notice that I was packing on the pounds (C'mon, Jazz, six cans a day, what did you expect?) Hence the diet. Which led to the Diet Coke. Which led to me consuming vast quantities of aspartame--six or more cans a day, for years on end. Which continued until--wait for it--the day I went off the bipolar meds, and decided I was going to start taking proper care of myself. Aspartame, I have learned, can cause all of the symptoms I experienced, and more.

Coincidence? Maybe. Irrelevant? Possibly. But I'd prefer to think of it as extremely relevant, considering the fact that I have been more stable in the three years since I stopped taking medication and stopped consuming aspartame than I have ever been.

It gives me hope.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Labels: A Cautionary Tale

Labels damage us. They steal our truth.

Until my diagnosis, I was unique. I was different, and I was proud of that. I forged my own path, discovered my passion, abandoned some of the dearly held beliefs of my upbringing, and set the world on fire. Well...maybe not the whole world, but my little corner was burning pretty darn brightly, thanks.

I considered myself a student of my own mind. I knew myself better than a lot of people twice my age know themselves, and felt that I had achieved a level of comfort with myself and awareness of myself that many people never achieve. I knew that I had highly energetic, productive periods when my sex-drive was through the roof and I needed very little sleep. I knew that I also had darker, more contemplative periods when my energy ebbed, leaving me feeling empty and leaden. I never really thought of this as a problem. It was just the way I was, the way I knew myself to be. The way I was comfortable being. Obviously, my writing drove my moods. If I had a project I was excited about, my mood was expansive. And if I had passion for nothing, then I lost interest in life and depression set in. Curing it involved the search for the thing that would spark my interest and get me writing again. Perfectly normal stuff for me. Writers, after all, are supposed to be a bit screwy, no?

That all changed when I was diagnosed.

When I was labeled "bipolar" I became "bipolar". I did not, at that time, really understand what that meant. My doctor insisted that it meant that my episodes, which had always been fairly far apart--a few years, at least--would become closer and closer together as I grew older, and much more severe. He told me that in order to protect myself and my family from these terrible, uncontrollable moods that I would experience, I would need to be on medication for the rest of my life.

He told me to educate myself. So I read all the books I could get my hands on, and I learned that there was no hope for me. I would, as my doctor had said, have to be on medication for the rest of my life, and even if I took my medication faithfully, I would still suffer from these episodes, although they would hopefully be farther apart and less severe. In addition, it might take years before the correct combination of medications was found. And during those years, I would have to put up with medications that didn't work well, or that had intolerable side effects.

Of course, I cooperated; I was too scared not to. Becoming "stable" became my new goal in life. I became a student of my moods, diligently charting every change, pathologizing every fluctuation, and frequently calling my doctor for medication adjustments.

The promised "stability" didn't happen. The medications didn't help, and in fact they made things worse. I had more episodes in the two years I was on medication than in the six years before my diagnosis. The side effects were intolerable. I was unable to write, hand tremors stopped me from most of my artistic pursuits, my short-term memory was shot...

In those two years, I completely lost myself. I resigned myself to spending the rest of my life overweight, mentally compromised, and in chronic pain...but deep down, I never really accepted it, and part of me was still in there, kicking and screaming and rattling the bars of my chemical cage. I should have listened to myself. I knew my own truth, once...

I talked to my doctor about stopping the medications, or at least lowering the doses to help relieve the side effects. He prophesied Doom and Gloom: "You are an intelligent woman," he said. "You know you will ruin your life if you cut back on your medications."

It took my husband nearly dying for me to realize how out of touch I was with myself. When he had his heart attack, I found myself unable to respond to this life-threatening, life-changing event with anything other than apathy. It was time for a change. It was time to take a break from medication and figure out how much of a problem being "bipolar" really was.

Turns out that it wasn't. (And when they cart me away, raving and delusional, you may all nod sagely and say I told you so.)

It has taken a couple of years, but my writing is slowly coming back, working its way into the corners of my life, and becoming part of what defines me once more. "Bipolar" doesn't define me at all...even if I start experiencing those high energy/low energy periods again, "bipolar" doesn't fit. Maybe it never did.

Labels should be used with extreme caution.

All a label does is take away your own truth and replace it with someone else's.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Write?

Why on earth, when there are so many easier things to do, would I want to write? Why, when there are so many talented writers who remain unpublished, and so much rubbish that does get published? Why, when it seems no one has time for books anymore, what with their television schedule and their cell phones and their text messaging...? Why, when it is so damn much work to write a novel, and so heartbreaking when no one will even look at it? Why, when I'm sure I could find something else I would enjoy doing?

The truth is, I don't really know.

What I do know is that things get unbalanced pretty quickly if I'm not writing. It doesn't need to be a novel, or anything for public consumption...journaling will fill the need. But that need has existed since I was ten years old and first started writing poetry. Or maybe since I was four years old and first started making up stories about my imaginary friends.

It's not about approval...if it was, I would have made more of an effort to get published...or given up long ago. It's not about money...I've made nothing from my writing so far, and the writer who can actually make a living writing fiction is a rare beast indeed. It's not about prestige...If I ever do publish, it will be under a pen name so that no one can ever find me. It's not about immortality and leaving something behind for future generations...because one of my greatest dreads is the family gathering round after my death, reading my journals, and muttering uncomfortably to each other, Geez, Grandma sure was a twisted bitch, wasn't she? (I need to invest in a self-destructing file cabinet that is tied in to some sort of biomonitor...and the moment my brain ceases to function, *poof*, up in smoke.)

So what is it about, then?

I think it's about needing to write about my experiences in order to validate them. It's about knowing that storytelling is the one thing that I've always wanted to do, right from my earliest memories.

And it's about knowing right down to the bottom of my soul that no matter how hard it is, no matter how useless it seems, no matter how much I'd rather be doing something else sometimes, it just plain hurts too much not to write.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What To Do About This Pesky Diagnosis

In the nearly three years since I stopped taking most of my psych meds I've been trying to come to terms with the bipolar diagnosis I've been handed and figure out what it is I really need to do about it. The way I see it, there are a number of options...

1. Embrace the current paradigm of mental illness and take the damn meds. Been there, done that, and discovered that psychiatry has little to offer me besides a chemical cage, which I'm not particularly enamored with, thanks ever so. Mood stabilizers did not seem to stop my mood swings, and antidepressants reduced the time between episodes to months rather than years.

2. Deny the diagnosis--it was all a Big Mistake. But then I have to take full personal responsibility for my actions during the Big Mania, and that would make me a Horrible Person. And since I cringe and shudder in retrospect, I have a feeling I'm not a Horrible Person. Not really.

3. Ignore the diagnosis and go along my merry way. Except that it isn't just me I have to think about. I have a husband and kids, and if I go off the rails again, it's not just me that will suffer. So that seems a bit irresponsible.

4. Accept the diagnosis, but reject the current paradigm of mental illness, and do all I can to preserve stability. This is a lot of work, because it involves a lot of self-monitoring, self-awareness, and Being Honest with Myself. It also involves being able to say, "Okay, this isn't working, maybe I do need meds on a short-term basis." But if it keeps me off medication, then the work is definitely worth it.

And the fifth and only acceptable alternative, which both Gianna (Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal and Recovery) and Susan (Bipolar Wellness Writer) pointed out in their comments on yesterday's post, the reading of which helped me to finally be able to articulate:

5. Accept that I did once fit the criteria for a bipolar diagnosis, but that I have healed myself and that the diagnosis no longer fits. Of course, my doctor will not agree with this assessment. He will tell me that I'm a train wreck waiting to happen. He would, after all, like to get me hooked on his pet drug, Abilify.

In the spirit of continuing my healing journey, I am starting a more focused writing program, something that will help me examine specific issues rather than just my usual Daily Bitch session. I'm planning to use Julia Cameron's "Vein of Gold", and Deena Metzger's "Writing for Your Life."

It's cheaper than therapy, at any rate, and in my experience, writing is a very powerful healing tool.

Trazodone Taper, Part 6

I wasn't actually planning to cut my trazodone again this past weekend. And I definitely wasn't planning to cut by a whole 25 mg, but there I was on Saturday night, already in bed, tired out due to the Benadryl I've been taking for my allergies, when I realized that all I had on the bedside table were 100 mg tablets. I didn't have any of the 50's I'd cut in half, and I hadn't yet cut any of them into quarters. And even if I had, they were downstairs, and I was just too damn tired to drag my butt out of bed, slither downstairs and muck about cutting pills into tiny bits.

So I just took 100, and told myself that if I felt lousy on Sunday, I'd take 125 again, and not try to taper until next weekend.

But I felt fine on Sunday. No headaches, no depression. And I felt good on Monday, too. And so far (except for the allergies), I'm feeling good today, as well. So we'll see. As I keep reminding myself, I always have the option to go back to 125 mg for a while if I need to.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Do I Really Have Bipolar...

...or am I just a horrible person looking for an excuse for my sometimes admittedly rotten behavior?

Self doubt occurs with alarming frequency, these days. If I do have bipolar disorder, then where are all these "episodes" I'm supposed to have, one after the other? Seems the only time I had episodes one after the other was when I was taking medications that were supposed to help. Go figure.

And the thing I call the Big Mania happened during a period of incredible stress and Family Bullshit. I don't know how anyone could survive it intact.

So maybe I don't have bipolar disorder.

But...there is a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic "writing on fire" episodes that must then be explained. And I can't explain them. All I can do is look at some of the things I got up to when I was supposedly manic and shake my head and mutter, "WTF was I thinking?"

So, okay, maybe the diagnosis does have some merit.

But...if that's the case, don't I need to be on medication for the rest of my life? Because if I really do have bipolar disorder, isn't it awfully irresponsible of me to be running around unmedicated? I mean, after all, it's not just me, here, I have a husband and kids...

But...I'm doing everything I can to stay stable...and it seems to be working...other than the nasty effects of the trazodone withdrawal, but that's the medication, not me... doctor shakes my confidence every time I see him, because he says I'm taking a huge risk, and wouldn't I like to try Abilify, because it's got a really benign side effects profile...

This is the crap that keeps me awake at night.

(See Furious Seasons post today about the overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder for the post that inspired this one and got me thinking, again, about whether I am bipolar or just horrible...)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Path to Wellness, Part Three: Where's the Map?

Getting off the drugs wasn't hard. I just stopped taking them. Gave a bit of thought to the fact that since I'd been on them for nearly two years, I probably shouldn't stop them cold turkey, but I did stop them pretty damn fast. Within two weeks, I was done. The third week was pretty hellish in an emotions-all-over-the-map sort of way, but I was convinced that all the medications had done was make me sicker, and I was determined to get off them as quickly as possible.

I guess I was lucky.

I had no professional advice on stopping the meds, other than my psychiatrist telling I'd be stupid to stop taking them. I didn't have internet access at the time, so I wasn't aware of all the wonderful, supportive people who were out there trying to do the same thing I was. Of course, perhaps if I'd known then what I know now, I might have been too scared to try to stop the meds...who knows?

As my mind began to clear, I realized that I had a hell of a lot of work to do. My body was shot. My blood sugar was borderline high. I was overweight, in constant pain, and was completely out of touch with myself.

I started myself on a program of yoga, healthy eating, music, and writing. The yoga I started by default--it was the only sort of exercise I could do that was bearable for my sore feet--they hurt so much that even walking any distance was out of the question. The healthy eating was much easier to do once I didn't have Depakote giving me carb cravings. I picked up my guitar for the first time in about ten years and started playing again. I tried to write every day, just a little in the journal at first, and then more as my mind cleared. Slowly, things got better. I lost weight. My feet started to feel better. And I started to get a clearer picture of who I was through my writing.

I just wish there'd been a map of some sort. A book. Some information on how to reclaim my mind and my life...

Hmmm....maybe I should write one...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Path to Wellness, Part Two: The Ice Princess

Something had to change.

It took a near-disaster to make me see that. The Chief had a heart attack at age forty (three years ago). I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. His father died of heart disease at 62, and his older brother had his first heart attack at 38.

The people who took care of him were amazing--within 40 minutes of my 911 call, they had transported him to the local hospital, determined that he should be sent elsewhere, air-lifted him to another hospital, and got him in surgery, where they placed three stents in his heart. He had two coronary arteries that were completely blocked. The doctor told him one of them was referred to as the "widowmaker" because 40% of the people who go in to the hospital with a blockage in that artery do not come out.

While this was going on, I had to find someone to take care of the kids and then figure out how to get myself to a hospital I'd never been to in the heart of downtown Minneapolis (eeeeeeep!). Thanks to my wonderful neighbor, who didn't think I ought to be driving under those circumstances, I didn't have to drive myself.

Within three days, the Chief was back home with a fistful of pills, a schedule for cardiac rehab, a new diet, and three months off work. I was terrified when they released him so quickly. He'd just had a heart attack, after all! At night I would lie awake, listening to him breathe, afraid to fall asleep in case he stopped.

Through all of this, I did not, could not, cry. I called myself the Ice Princess, because I just couldn't feel anything. I mentioned this to my psychiatrist. He said, "Well, the medications protected you! That's a good thing." Yeah. Right.

Something had to change, all right. I had to get off the damned drugs.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Path to Wellness, Part One: Beginning

The path to wellness wasn't something that was immediately obvious to me when I stopped taking my bipolar medications nearly three years ago.

I was a mess when I stopped the meds. I was sixty pounds overweight and in constant pain from plantar fasciitis, a painful form of tendonitis that affects the tendon running across the bottom of the foot, and is caused by putting on a large amount of weight.

My once-brilliant mind, (once upon a time I earned a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, published in scientific journals, and worked as a post-doctoral fellow at a national laboratory) had gone dim and dark. My writing voice was silenced, my creativity drugged away...and I was not even left with the emotional capacity to mourn its loss.

My ability to multitask, or even stay focused on a single task, was gone (which explains the wet laundry that sat in the washer until my husband wondered what that smell was; I'd forgotten I was doing laundry).

I was on high doses of a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant, and I was cycling in and out of mood episodes faster than ever. I saw no light in my future--I had resigned myself to being bipolar, overweight, brain-dead, and in constant pain for the rest of my life.

Something had to change.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nervous? Try An Antipsychotic...

Furious Seasons reports today on problems with the antipsychotic drug Seroquel , which is soon to be approved for treating depression and anxiety. Last year, Furious Seasons reported that Seroquel has been studied as a "treatment" for "social phobias." Of which, fear of public speaking is apparently one.

I cannot believe that any responsible doctor would prescribe an antipsychotic to people who are exhibiting what is a completely normal fear of looking ridiculous in public. Given how much importance is attached to appearance and performance in this culture, of course people are going to worry about looking stupid in front of their peers. And let's face it, public speaking is one of those activities that carries with it the very real potential for Embarrassment and Humiliation.

Seroquel is a powerful drug and the list of possible side effects associated with it is quite frightening. It can cause weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, over-sedation, and carries with it the risk of tardive dyskinesia, a movement disorder that can become permanent even after the drug is discontinued.

AstraZeneca, Seroquel's manufacturer, is seeking FDA approval for using Seroquel in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.

Talk about using a sledgehammer on an ant.

Or in this case, on the American brain.

It disturbs me greatly that our culture should deem this acceptable.

I suppose I should not be surprised, given that worship of the Holy Dollar seems to have more converts every year than all of the traditional religious traditions combined.

Still, it's one thing for someone to be prescribed this drug for psychosis, and quite another for someone to see an ad on TV and ask for this medication from a doctor who is not a psychiatrist, and knows nothing more about the drug than what Big Pharma has deigned to share over lunch in a five-star restaurant.

Where are the checks and balances in this system?

The whole thing makes me Nervous and Anxious.

Perhaps I need a good slug of Seroquel...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Fun Police

Seems like it's been all doom and gloom for the last week or so...we need a bit of Fun...but don't let Canis Feisticus know, because she takes her role as The Fun Police extremely seriously.

Canis Feisticus hasn't always had this role...she used to pounce on butterflies, chase birds, and disrupt ants' nests. Several times she came inside brushing her face with her paw, and when I looked more closely, I could see hundreds of ants crawling all over her whiskers. But last year, when she turned two, she suddenly stopped acting like a puppy and started to take life more seriously.

Unfortunately, like many males I know, Canis Dafticus is a bit slower in maturation department. He still takes great joy in pouncing upon anything that moves, trying to get under the fence to the neighbors' dog (one of those fluffy little lap-dogs, which I am sure he thinks is a rabbit), and falling over from dizziness whilst engaged in the never-ending pursuit of his own tail.

But that's okay, because it gives Canis Feisticus something to do. If it appears, even for one minute, that Canis Dafticus is having Too Much Fun, along comes his sister to put him in his place.

Canis Feisticus has a number of tools in her arsenal. There is the grab-the-boy-by-his-collar-and-don't-let-go move, which is generally not too successful, as both dogs wear break-away collars. There is the get-the-boy-in-trouble-with-Mom move, which I detailed last week. And there is the most annoying howl-until-the-boy-stops-enjoying-life-so-much move, which is okay when they are outside, but gets a bit much at 6:00 on a Saturday morning.

Canis Feisticus doesn't limit her policing activities to her brother, either. Oh, no. If the rest of the family seems to be having Too Much Fun, she puts herself right in the middle of everything and begins howling. If the Chief decides to wrestle with the Barrister, or tickle Little Mouse, she's right in there, making sure nobody has Too Much Fun.

Too Much Fun, after all, can be dangerous for your health. Hell, I've had a psychiatrist increase my medication because he thought I was having Too Much Fun. It's lucky that we have Canis Feisticus to keep us all under control...otherwise we might all have to be medicated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Depressed? Try an Antipsychotic...

Furious Seasons reports today that AstraZeneca, manufacturer of the atypical antipsychotic Seroquel, is seeking approval from the FDA to have Seroquel XR approved for the treatment of both depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It is, apparently, already approved for bipolar depression.

What disturbs me about this is the idea of using an antipsychotic medication as maintenance therapy for anything. I was under the impression that these drugs were designed/intended for the short-term treatment of psychosis, which can occur during both acute mania and severe depression.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that these drugs do have their place. Zyprexa (another atypical antipsychotic medication) knocked my manic ass right down when I took it during my last big mania. I took it for about six weeks, and it really helped. But it's not the sort of thing you want to be taking long term. Antipsychotics are psychiatry's big guns, and they are very scary drugs. They work by shutting down higher brain functions. In addition, these drugs all carry with them the risk of tardive dyskinesia (a movement disorder which can be permanently disfiguring). Not to mention the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (which all of the atypical antipsychotics can cause, to varying degrees). And sedation. Which is the last thing anyone needs when depressed--something to sap even more of your energy.

I don't know which scares me more: the thought of psychiatrists (or even, I shudder at the thought, GPs) handing out antipsychotics like candy, or the thought of the American public seeing ads for them on TV and actually asking for them.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land

When I was a child, I didn't have words for what it was inside of me that was "different" or "wrong", but I knew that it was there. From the moment I was forced into nursery school, large groups into which I must try to fit in bewildered and frightened me.

I've never had a herd mentality, and the idea of striving all my life so that I can be like everyone else, so that I can have the "stuff" that makes everyone around me "happy" and makes me look "successful" makes me sick.

Most of the people I know who are deemed "successful" don't seem awfully happy to me.

I can't even figure out what this whacked-out culture has for a collective value system, beyond the all-important amassing and showing-off of the newest, latest, most expensive, designer "stuff."

This media-driven excuse for a culture continues to bewilder me, but now, as an adult, I can choose to avoid as much of it as possible. Why does everyone else seem content to have The Media constantly telling them who to be, what to like, what to eat, how to look, what to wear...even what's funny (laugh tracks drive me ballistic). No wonder everyone is medicated.

What happened to the quiet spaces we used to make in our lives? What happened to slowing down and taking one's time? What happened to taking a moment to just breathe, just be? What happened to forging your own path and being true to yourself, regardless of What Everyone Else Thinks?

I used to wonder if perhaps aliens had abandoned me here on this planet, and dream about the day that they would one day come back for me and take me "home." Someplace where there would be people like me. Someplace where the multibillion dollar corporations running the world wouldn't have the audacity to try to tell me who to be.

I don't wonder about the aliens anymore; I'm stuck here, and I know it. But sometimes I look up at the stars and wish things were different.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

depression is...

...slogging through glue only to find i have arrived at a bleak, colorless place that is no different from the place i left...and the fact that i've been here before is no help...there is no map to help me find my way out...and if others have left tracks here, they've long since sunk back into the mire...

...a muffling wall of thick, heavy air surrounding me. i can see out, but nothing can get through...not light, not sound, not emotion, and to fight my way through it requires far more energy than i can ever remember having. something has sucked all the joy from me and replaced it with numb indifference. absence. an emptiness. a lack of life, of energy, of purpose, of light. inability to decide the simplest things...can't decide what to eat...not because i don't know what i want, but because i lack the will, the volition, the energy, to even make a decision. any decision. it is too much to ask of me right now.

...slow motion. move through glue. think through glue. breathe through glue. feel nothing.

...wanting to cry but not even having the energy for that.

Sorry, Mum. A nice hot cup of tea just doesn't cut it...

Trazodone Taper, Part 5: Holding Pattern

I was planning to cut my trazodone dose from 125 mg to 100 mg this weekend, but I have been having headaches all week--not bad ones, just annoying ones--and have been feeling depressed and anxious, all of which are possible side effects of trazodone withdrawal. So I'm going to stay right where I am for a while, and see if these symptoms abate. Ideally, I should not cut the dose until I'm feeling as good as I was before I started tapering. I'm also revising my idea of how quickly this taper should go, after reading Gianna's post on the dangers of withdrawing from psych meds too quickly. I should probably drop to 112.5 mg instead of 100 mg. After all, I've been on this med for five's not unreasonable that it would take a while to get off of it. And the idea here is to try to make myself feel better--not worse. Patience, Grasshopper, patience.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It Speaks So Loudly...

I hate this feeling of detachment that floats down from above and smothers me like a warm, wet blanket. It makes me feel stupid and foggy.

I cannot think, focus, rest, imagine, dream, anticipate, work, care, love, touch, reach out...

I wander around here, restless, bored, and unable to settle to anything.

My thoughts are dark, a never-ending carousel of "what's the point?" and "is this all there is forever?" and "what did I used to fill my days with when I didn't feel like this?"

I know this is just the insidious voice of depression, and I should try to ignore it. But sometimes depression speaks so loudly, it makes me deaf to all but its grating voice...

Hopefully this is just another symptom of trazodone withdrawal.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My Dark Gift

I have a great imagination.

It has made it possible for me to write poetry and lyrics, short stories and novels, journal entries and satire, and have an amazingly rich inner life. It also assists me in coming up with the curvy, organic quilt designs I love best.

But it also has made me more anxious and unhappy than I would have been without it. My Dark Gift is the ability to take a joyful event or experience and pick it apart until a dark tangle of what-ifs is revealed. Then I focus on those what-ifs, following them to some inevitable conclusion (always bad) until I can't concentrate on anything else.

For instance: Little Mouse and her best friend are competing in the regional science fair tomorrow, which is being held at a college campus about an hour away. The Chief is taking her, and she will meet up with her friend there. As it is an all-day event, I shall stay home with the Barrister and the fur-children. And instead of thinking about how much fun she'll have, and how her dad is going to take her someplace nice for lunch, and that they'll have a great day together, all I can think of is car-wrecks and kidnappings. Or some disgruntled college kid opening fire upon the proceedings.

Intellectually, I know that they will have a great time, and everything will be fine. But I will be worrying about them all day.

Why does my mind do this to me?

Why can't I just enjoy life without always looking at the dark side?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

I come from a family with a scientific background. My father was a research chemist for a Fortune 100 company, and my mother was working on a degree in biology when she quit to start a family.

There was never any question about whether I would go to college...I don't recall it even being a choice. And I would, of course, go into the sciences.

So I did the College Thing...and then the Graduate School Thing...mostly to prove to various and sundry parties that I could. And all the while, the urge to write never let up. A craving, a need, an itch that I did not have the time or energy to scratch.

I wanted to change my major to English, but my father--who was footing the bill--wouldn't hear of it. So I spent ten years clawing for a few stolen hours. Feeling like there was all this stuff that needed to come out building up within me to the point that it hurt. All the time.

I became aware that I was split by a serious conflict. I had trained for a career in engineering, a rigid, logical world...but my heart yearned for a life of writing. I felt trapped; I had sacrificed my very soul for a place in Corporate America. Sacrificed it for a life I didn't want.

I could see myself hurtling towards this Career/Mommy kind of life that would deny me the one thing I truly wanted--time to write. And more importantly, energy, for what good is time if you're too tired to take advantage of it? An engineer with the soul of a poet, I joked, but I cried and bled inside.

That was when I knew that I was really a writer. Trapped in a box I had helped build, with the knowledge that I couldn't not write burning me alive from the inside.

When the Chief fell into a job that would earn us enough to manage on one income, I gave up my career aspirations in a heartbeat. Stay home and raise kids...and write? No problem!

So here I am. Happy Ending. Except for the damn Bipolar Disorder. Which led to the damn Medications. Which led to Me Not Being Able to Write.

Now I have the time. I have the energy. But I don't have the desire. Or the drive. Or the ability, anymore, I think.