Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Arte y Pico Award

Terra Incognita has given me the Arte y Pico Award...which I feel really guilty about accepting considering what a lousy posting job I've done over the past week or so...but that's just my insecurities babbling inanely, so pay no attention...and thank you, Terra!

“This award is given based on creativity, design, interesting material, and overall contribution to the blogging community.

"Here are the rules:
1) Choose 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award based on creativity, design, interesting material, and overall contribution to the blogger community, regardless of the language.
2) Post the name of the author and a link to his or her blog so everyone can view it.
3) Each award-winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award.
4) The award-winner and the presenter should post the link of the Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
5) Please post these rules."

The five blogs I would like to present this award to are:

Create and Live Happy: Hanna blogs about all of her creative endeavours. She has lots of intriguing pictures on her site, and is always trying something new. I've read about art journaling, glass fusing, quilting, crochet, and making your own fancy papers on her site, along with a lot of other intriguing things. If you're looking for artsy-craftsy inspiration, this is a great blog to visit.

A Therapist With Bipolar: Annie writes beautifully about her connection with nature and how it helps her deal with her illness. For some beautiful and insightful writing, pay her a visit. You'll be glad you did!

Joyously Becoming: Katie is an artist/photographer and her blog has lots of interesting pictures of all of her creations. She writes beautifully about her art and her life.

Beyond Meds: Gianna is truly an artist in the way she is handling and writing about her own recovery from being seriously overmedicated on psych meds. Her journey is fascinating and heartening, and her writing speaks of so much hope for anyone who is finding their own path through the maze of psychiatric recovery.

Superlative in All Things: Superlagirl usually manages to make me laugh...and if she doesn't make me laugh, she makes me think. I really enjoy her blog...her writing is awesome, and she has a truly snarky side that I can really relate to.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Serious Lack of Inspiration

I haven't been very good about posting, have I? To be perfectly honest, there's just not that much going on right now.

Mother-in-law is back home and doing fine, although I'm not sure if this latest episode was enough to get her on track to becoming more healthy.

The kids are getting along with each other better than ever this summer, so it's been a lot less stressful for me.

I'm off the trazodone, sleeping well, and my moods are as stable as ever, so there's really nothing to report on the so-called bipolar front.

I'm still working on my notes for the journal class, so I don't feel inclined to write more about that here for the moment...feeling a bit saturated, as it were...

I haven't even been writing much in my own journal at the moment, because I just don't feel like I have anything much to say.

Not that this blog is only about bitching and whining...I guess I'm just suffering from a serious lack of inspiration.

I wonder if there's a drug out for that...

Writing Prompt: What do you write about in your journal when you don't feel like there's anything going on in your life worth writing about? How do you handle it when you just don't feel like writing? Do you excuse yourself? Or do you beat yourself up about it for being lazy? (I think I'm bored. I need a new diversion...whaddya think? Any ideas for cheap, interesting hobbies?)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Family Emergencies

My mother-in-law is back home now, crisis averted for the moment, and we all breathe a huge sigh of relief...until the next time. Thank-you, all, for your supportive comments and emails.

Warning: extreme snarkiness at your own risk...and if you'd like to preserve your image of me as a sweet, gentle, understanding soul, well, perhaps you'd better not read at all...

Over the last five years or so, we've had quite a few family emergencies involving my mother-in-law and her myriad medical conditions. Family emergencies often bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, the women in my extended family do not exemplify this. Quite the opposite. I've learned a lot about human behavior just by watching them, though...when crisis rears its ugly head--which it does with alarming frequency in this family--one can count on the following:

Sister-in-Law #1: (The Chief's sister) will be furious. This is the last thing she needs, and it's so damn inconvenient on top of everything else. The fact that her constant harping and complaining about how this is all she needs puts Mother under a tremendous amount of stress which probably isn't doing a whole lot to help her recovery will not occur to her. Although she will spend more time at the hospital than most of us (with the possible exception of Sister-in-Law-Wannabe, see below), she will refuse to speak with the doctors or be any sort of advocate for Mother because "I don't understand all that medical crap."

Sister-in-Law #2: (The Chief's brother's wife) will visit once, for the sake of appearance, and when she does, she will be dressed like a runway model, wearing a plethora of expensive jewelry she cannot afford. She will sweep into the room with an air of self-importance, being sure to wave her rings and bangles in everyone's face so they get a good look at what her massive credit card debt has bought her. The fact that she will be required to don gloves, mask, and gown before entering the room will probably cause her to rethink her visit--what's the point in showing up if no one can see how much money she's got?--so if MRSA protocols are being observed, perhaps she won't be showing up at all.

Sister-in-Law-Wannabe: (The Chief's other brother's girlfriend) will spend almost as much time at the hospital as sister-in-law #1, but she will wander vaguely about the room with a shell-shocked look on her face, wringing her hands and making whispered comments about How Awful It All Is. She will let everyone know that she's been so worried that she hasn't eaten or slept in spite of the fact that she has taken large doses of narcotic medication and sleeping pills. She will make sure that she is seen hovering solicitously over Mother in the hopes that we will all forget that she was an instrumental factor in other brother's divorce. If this does not garner her the appropriate amount of attention, she may pass out dramatically across Mother's bed.

Family emergencies often bring families together...but this family is enough to make me want to run for the hills...


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Family Emergency

I may not be around much this weekend...I've just had word that my mother-in-law has been rushed off to the hospital. She has a history of heart problems (quadruple bypass surgery just over a year ago), so I do not know what the weekend will hold.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Social Anxiety? Or Just Me?

I quit my quilters' guild. I was supposed to go on Monday night, and I just couldn't deal with sitting in that room with all those women that I don't feel I have anything in common with...except that we all make quilts. Of course, my quilts don't look anything like theirs...mine aren't these pretty, traditional things in country blues and pinks with perfect points and lovely neat blocks. My quilts are abstract-flowing-full-of-rivers-of-color things that look like someone spilled a paintbox and then threw water all over it...

Okay, well I like them!

So anyway, I'm not sure what it is with me...I have a really hard time belonging to groups. Part of it is never feeling like I have anything in common with the people in the group. Part of it is not wanting to commit to anything too far ahead (this comes from the bipolar thing...not knowing if I would be too depressed to get my butt off the couch when push came to shove). Part of it is me being me, which is to say, shy and introverted and just not needing or wanting to have a whole lot of people around me. Crowds irritate me to the extreme. I can't stand that amount of energy around me.

I'm sure my psychiatrist would be happy to diagnose me with Social Anxiety Disorder and put me on Seroquel for life. But what if I'm quite happy with the way I am? What if I've learned to adjust and accommodate for my needs, and know what I need to do to keep myself happy and functional? Is that still a disorder? Or is it just me?

And why should someone else decide that I'm not the way I should be, that I should be more like everyone else, and that I should therefore be medicated?

Writing Prompt: In what ways are you different from the rest of the world? Do you see these differences as strengths, or do you wish you were like everyone else?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Product of My Environment

For yesterday's writing prompt, I asked what is one thing you are thankful that you learned, and one of the responses I got was from Susan at Wellness Writer, who said:

"By her example, my mother taught me how to write. She wrote a neighborhood column for a community newspaper for 40 years. And from the time I was child, she wrote poetry to tell us how much she loved us, or to make us laugh! I just assumed that everyone's mom wrote poetry!"

Susan's response made me think about my own experiences growing up. I never had a mentor like that for my writing. My parents both grew up in London during WWII, an experience which molded them into the serious, practical, financial-security-seeking people that they are. When I showed an interest in writing around age 10, I was indulged and told how lovely my poems and stories were, but I was not really taken seriously. The prevailing attitude was that it was fine for a hobby, but really, one had to be practical. How was I to support myself?

And so I grew up with the idea that art was something that other people did for a living. People who had lots of money, or people who didn't mind living in rat-infested garrets. People like me had to be practical, had to support ourselves. A career in the arts wouldn't allow that, and was not even to be considered.

I wish it had been different. I wish I had defied my father and majored in English or art anyway. And I hope that when my own children are ready to make decisions about what they will do with their lives that I will not influence them to abandon their hearts' desires. One of my greatest fears as a parent is that by being a product of my environment, I have influenced them in some way that they will regret, but only realize later on.

Writing Prompt: We are all products of our environments. The things we are told growing up can have a huge influence on us. In what ways has being a product of your environment been an advantage for you? How has it been a disadvantage?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Snippets

Two weeks after my last 25 mg of trazodone, and I finally feel like I am sleeping normally again without it. I am falling asleep quickly, and staying asleep, and I feel much more rested and alert. I'm still taking Benadryl...but that's normal for me this time of year. I have allergies, and as August and ragweed season approach, there is no way I can leave off the Benadryl right now. Once we have a killing frost I will stop taking it.

It sounds like the Journal Workshop class will be happening this fall. Now I just have to keep my momentum going until October...I've almost finished my notes for the first of the four sessions. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Gianna at Beyond Meds posted the abstract for a very intriguing looking paper the other day, all about how iatrogenic illnesses may be caused by mitochondrial damage, and how the psych meds many of us take may be the greatest culprits. My initial response to reading it was that I'm not at all surprised, and it would be arrogant in the extreme for medical science to assume it knows everything about the ways in which our bodies function. And if it's true, well, no wonder psych meds have so many horrible side effects and can do so many awful things to people. Case in point right here...

Also of note, Philip Dawdy over at Furious Seasons is celebrating his one-year anniversary off meds. Congratulations, Philip!

Writing Prompt: What is one thing that you are thankful that you learned to do? For me, it would be sewing. My mother taught me how to sew when I was about five. By the time I was twelve, I was making some of my own clothing, and when I moved into my first apartment, I made all the drapes and home dec. stuff for it. Now I work on art quilts, things which have very little in common with the little pin cushions and doll clothes I first learned to sew. But I will never forget that it was my mother who first opened this door for me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What is a Writer?

What, exactly, is a writer? I think a writer is someone who writes. And I think a real writer isn't necessarily someone who has been published (as some of those who have will tell you--like it's some sort of exclusive club or something), but I think a real writer is someone who can't not write.

It's a mind-set rather than a list of accomplishments. Because when it comes down to it, published or not, we're all doing the same thing. We're all writing. Sometimes it sings, sometimes you cry. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes you sweat blood. Even the professionals--those who've "made it", those who've published a dozen books or more--admit to fear of the blank page.

For me, like anyone who I consider a real writer, writing is an integral part of life. If I'm not-writing, there's a problem. Every big not-writing period in my life has corresponded to a time when I didn't want to face the truth the writing would make me face head on. Writing cuts through the shit. Writing reaches the essential core of my being, brings forth the dreams, the truths, and the mortal dreads.

A writer writes.

Writing Prompt: What is your definition of a "real" writer? Do you consider yourself to be one? Why or why not?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Knowing When to Slow Down

Part of being well and staying well is knowing how to pace yourself. Sometimes we load too much on our plates and then we get stressed out and don't do any of the things we're trying to do to our satisfaction.

My sleep is still disturbed after my trazodone withdrawal, and I'm trying not to take anything to help because I feel like then I'm just trading one chemical for another. As a result, I'm a little more tired than usual, and a little less alert.

I think I need to slow down and be kinder to my body and mind.

I am not doing well with coming up with anything to say today. In addition to it being summer and having the kids home all day and needing attention, I have a couple of other projects going--coming up with the curriculum notes for my journal class this fall, and working on a book about bipolar disorder and wellness strategies. I think I need to post a bit more I will try to get something up a few times a week, but I think I need to slow down a little...I'm running out of steam, I don't want to push myself so hard that I end up dropping the blog entirely. I'll still be visiting your blogs, but I don't think I can keep up the pace I've set so far!

Writing Prompt: How do you know when you are trying to do too much? What signals does you body give you? What signals does your mind give you? Do you listen?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fitting In...Or Not

Ever since I was a little kid, I've felt like I was on the outside looking in. While I was growing up, much of what the people around me felt was important--the "right" clothes, the "right" hair, being part of the "right" group--all bewildered me no end, and still does. I find it very hard to relate to this culture's value system, and now, as an adult, I have realized that I will probably never find a place where I really fit in. And I have to wonder if perhaps this is the source of the anxiety that has dogged me as far back as I can remember.

Oh, I've found a few like-minded travelers in my journey. My husband, for one, and a few dear friends that have come and gone through the years, but for the most part, people and what they want out of life are so hard for me to understand.

I often wonder why this is so. Is it part of whatever anomaly made me chemically sensitive and prone to mood swings? Is it because of my experiences of alienation as a child, having been brought to America and dumped into a world where everything that was familiar to me was gone? Is it because of the way I was raised? But my brother doesn't seem to have had any problems taking this culture's value system to heart.

Saying I don't belong here, of course, begs the question, well, where do you think you would fit in? Honestly, I don't know. I often think that perhaps I would do better in a place (or perhaps a time!) where people live in tune with the rhythms of the earth. Where time moves slowly through the turning of the seasons, and my days would be set out according to the seasons' demands rather than the siren song of the holy dollar.

I guess the best I can do is try to find peace within myself...but I find it sad that I have never found my "herd", never felt like I truly belonged.

Although I must note that since I started blogging, I seem to have found more individuals who think like me than I have ever found in real life!

Writing Prompt: Belonging seems to be an important human need. Where do you think you belong? Are you content with where you are now, or do you find yourself wishing you belonged somewhere or somewhen else? What are the consequences to you of not feeling a sense of belonging?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Positive Feedback and Goals

One of the things that has helped me stick with my wellness routines--such as eating healthy, exercising, meditation, and sleep hygiene--has been the positive feedback I've received. And I'm not talking about positive feedback from other people--I'm talking about the positive feedback I'm getting from my own body.

Since I put these routines in place, I have lost 45 lbs, and the benefits of this are enormous--I no longer huff and puff going upstairs; I don't get a sweat rash on my thighs in the summer; my feet don't hurt anymore, and I'm actually finding that I'm able to do exercise involving some impact work, something I thought I'd never be able to do again.

I also have a lot more mental clarity. Some of this is due to stopping the psych meds I was taking, but I am convinced that a large part of it is due to my instituting a sleep schedule and being absolutely rigid about sticking to it. Getting the right amount of sleep is extremely important for your mind and body.

My moods are much more stable, and I attribute this to my stopping aspartame, stopping antidepressants, eating a much more nutritious diet, and getting myself into a regular exercise routine which includes yoga. I also have a greater sense of peace, and a greater sense of contentment. I think that my mental health is better now than it has been for most of my adult life.

The only problem with this scheme is that it has been slow to incorporate and slow to show results. The difference over time is amazing... but it has taken a long time for me to fully incorporate these wellness activities into my life, and a long time to see results. And I still have times when I backslide. I've been working on losing my Depakote weight for two years now, and I'm still not finished (I'm close, though! Fifteen pounds to go!). I know intellectually that losing weight slowly through a combination of sensible diet and exercise is the safest, most-likely-to-be-permanent way to lose weight, but it has not been easy, and I would like to see those numbers going down faster!

So while it's nice to have someone notice that I've lost weight, it's even nicer to be pain free and to feel happy and content most of the time. When I get impatient, I just have to think about all the positive feedback I'm receiving from my mind and body--and that's enough to keep me going.

Writing Prompt: Many things that are worth achieving take time, and in our culture of quick fixes and I-want-it-now, a lot of people don't have the patience to work slowly towards a long-term goal. Are there any long-term goals you have been putting off working towards because they look so big and so impossible? Reaching those goals is a matter of small steps, taken successively.

When I started losing weight, my long-term goal was to lose sixty lbs. Sixty! Even at a healthy two pounds a week, we're talking the better part of a year, and that was assuming I could lose two pounds a week. So I broke it down into smaller parts. I wasn't going to concentrate on losing sixty pounds, I was going to concentrate on losing the first five. Losing five pounds was a small amount that I felt I could lose in a reasonable amount of time.

What is a small, positive step you can take today towards achieving a long-term goal? Is it possible to break the goal down into smaller parts that don't look as daunting? What is a reasonable way to break it down?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Media Break

I really need a media break, so I'm going off-line for the weekend. I'll be back Monday to check up on everyone's blogs! Have a great weekend!

Trazodone Taper, Part 10.5: Sleep

While tapering off of trazodone has been really good for my mental acuity and creativity, I am still struggling with sleep. I took my last 25 mg of trazodone last Saturday night, and since then I have had a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sunday night I tried Sleepytime Tea (by Celestial Seasonings)--the one with valerian and chamomile...which did actually make me sleepy, but not sleepy enough to ignore the fact that I had to get up to go to the bathroom several times because I drank tea at bedtime!
The next few nights it took ages to fall asleep, and it felt like I was awake a good part of the night...although I didn't feel too bad in the morning, so I must have gotten more sleep than it seemed.

I wonder if maybe when I'm not on trazodone, I just don't need as much sleep. I got it beaten into my head by my psychiatrist that I needed to get 8-9 hours a night or I would get hypomanic...but before my diagnosis, I did fine on 7 or 7 1/2 hours. I'll have to play with my bedtime and see what happens.

Last night was actually much better...I think because I made an effort to avoid caffeine after lunch. I fell asleep fairly quickly, but was rudely awakened at 1:30 am by my weather radio telling me we had a severe thunderstorm watch (a watch, for Pete's sake! I think that after 10:00 they should really only have the thing go off if a tornado is bearing down upon my house...anything else, I'd rather sleep through, thank you!). I had no sooner gotten back to sleep when the storm hit, keeping me awake for over an hour.

Writing Prompt: Yesterday I wrote about journal writing rituals, and now I'm thinking about bedtime rituals. Do you have a bedtime ritual? If so, what do you do to get your mind ready for sleep? (If you've got any good ideas, go ahead and post them in comments--I'd be interested to hear what other people are doing to get to sleep!). My kids have a bedtime ritual, and it seems to help them settle down. Me, I don't really have anything other than grab a glass of water, go upstairs, brush teeth, hop into bed and read for fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe I need to do some yoga or meditation before bed...I think it's a matter of, well, I know I should do this, know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Journal Writing Rituals

Rituals can be extremely helpful in centering ourselves and preparing our minds for journal work. If we engage in a ritual for long enough, it can help give our minds the push they need sometimes to get into the mental space where we do our journal work.

Journal writing rituals are as varied and individual as the people who come up with them. What's important is not so much what the ritual is, as that you have a small thing that you do before each journal writing session. Eventually, this ritual signals your mind that it is time to slide into your mental writing space. Over time, the ritual can facilitate getting you to that writing place even during stressful times when it would otherwise be a difficult place for you to come to.

Rituals I have used and enjoyed include the following:
* having a special place where you sit to journal, or a special time of day when you do it.
* lighting a candle before you start and allowing it to burn during your writing time. Blowing out the candle is a signal that the session is finished.
* if you like incense, choose a favorite scent and reserve that scent for journal writing. The scent of sandalwood and frankincense means journal time for me.
* reserving certain music to use during journal time. I find that instrumental music works best--vocals can be distracting, unless it's something like a Gregorian chant.
* reserving a favorite tea to make to accompany your journal writing time. I used to drink Numi's Monkey King Jasmine Green Tea sweetened with a bit of honey during my journal writing time...and I still get in the mood to write whenever I drink it!

Writing Prompt: What are some rituals that you have used for journal writing? Did you find them helpful? In what way? If you have never used rituals for journal writing, consider what kind of ritual might be helpful for you and give it a try.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Unsticking Yourself

Beyond Meds has an interesting post up today about a Newsweek article in which Dr. James Gordon is interviewed. Gordon is the author of the book "Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression."

I read the interview, and it really struck a chord with me because these are exactly the recovery methods I used to get myself off of bipolar meds and to stabilize myself: excellent nutrition, plenty of exercise, and meditation.

The fact that Gordon has had success working with people suffering from PTSD is particularly encouraging, as the number of people with wounded psyches coming home from Iraq increases.

Gordon's method sounds like plain old common sense to me, although I suspect it will be a hard sell to a culture that would rather pop a pill than do the hard work involved in a radical lifestyle change. Still, it's nice to see some alternatives to medication getting some press. It's important for people to know that there are other ways to get through depression than to take potentially dangerous medications.

Writing Prompt: What are some small, common-sense things that you can do to improve your quality of life right now? Remember, they don't have to be big things...some ideas: coming up with three things to be grateful for, or three things that you find beautiful, every single day. Taking a ten minute walk...or a five-minute walk, if that is all you can manage. Lighting a candle and sitting quietly for a few minutes watching the flame and centering yourself. These are all small steps we can take toward wellness...and even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Beginnings, Endings and Disclaimers

I just filled up another journal notebook. This was volume 51. Volume 1 was begun when I was thirteen years old. So for those of you doing the math, that's 51 volumes in about 30 years, since I started around December of 1978 (when I got a blank book for xmas and decided that it should be a journal). The last 25 volumes were filled during the past ten years.

I don't know what it is, but I have this thing about beginnings and endings...they ought to be special somehow, they ought to be marked or noticed in some way. So whenever I begin a new volume of the journal, the first page always starts with a sort of where-I-am-now entry. When I finish a volume, the very last page is reserved for a summary, where I write about where I've been during that volume, whether there were any huge life-altering events, or whether I had any life-changing epiphanies. And then there is the little ceremony of naming the volume, and taping an index card on the front with the title, the dates, and the volume number written in permanent marker.

The last thing I do is tape my Standard Journal Disclaimer on the inside of the front cover...this is an open letter to anyone who might find the damn thing after I'm gone...I'm paranoid about my mother reading my journals and thinking she's raised a's one of my Mortal Dreads, to borrow Harlan Ellison's words. Not that I have a bad relationship with my mother or's just one of those little things that keeps me up a night.

My Standard Journal Disclaimer goes like this:

Jazz's Standard Journal Disclaimer (version 1):
The following should be understood by anyone attempting to decipher the ramblings which lie herein.

1. This is not, strictly speaking, a diary. I always thought of it as a writer's notebook or a writer's journal. In these pages, the lines between truth and fiction often blur imperceptibly. Some entries are traditional diary entries; others are pure fiction. Many fall somewhere in between.

2. The writing is often cathartic. Entries are often emotionally charged. I write in the heat of anger/frustration/annoyance/(insert your own emotion). It's better than strangling someone. Or breaking something. And provides a wealth of raw material to be mined for my fiction later on.

3. It is practice. It is where I play with ideas and characters that may not be all bunnies and flowers. Things I need to work out or understand. So if it seems, for a while, that I'm obsessed with something unsavory, well, it's probably because it's part of an idea for a story or character. I have these thoughts on paper so that they can be mined later. You who don't write don't need such devices. But I do. I can't possibly remember every scene that's ever played through my head, can I, now? Especially when the movie never stops.

4. I never asked anyone to read this stuff, so I make no apologies for what you might find here. Remember only that living and personal growth are dynamic processes, and the best you can hope to glean from these pages is a snapshot of my thoughts, my process, at any given moment. The journal speaks of who I have been, not necessarily who I am.

5. If you're reading this, I'm probably dead.
I wrote this for me. Not you.
You hold my soul in your hands.
Come into my garden and play for a while…
Happy Hunting…

Writing Prompt: If you keep a traditional paper-and-pen journal, chances are that unless you've left explicit "Chuck it All in the Bonfire" instructions to be carried out by someone you trust implicitly, someone is going to get their hands on it after you're gone. What would you want that person to know before they read it?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Trazodone Taper, Part 10 (The End!)

Last night, for the first time in a few years, I didn't take any trazodone. I had a cup of chamomile and valerian tea before bed...which was a mistake, because then I had to keep getting up to use the bathroom. The tea did make me sleepy, but not sleepy enough to ignore my brain, which kept yammering on at me in a particularly shrill tone that I hadn't taken my trazodone and that I would never get to sleep.

I did not sleep well. It took hours to fall asleep, and then I kept waking up...and looking at the know the drill: if I get to sleep now, I'll get five hours...hmmm...I can probably get by on five hours... and an hour later: if I get to sleep now, I'll get four hours... I know I'm not supposed to be looking at the clock, I do know this...but I looked at the clock anyway.

Still, I shall persevere, as overall, I'm feeling much better than I did on 200 mg of trazodone. I imagine I will adjust and hopefully tonight will be a better night. No naps today. No caffeine this afternoon.

Writing Prompt: Sleep is an essential part of our lives. We spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping. What role does sleep play in your life? Is it a time to mine the subconscious for dreams and wake up clutching a fistful of gold? Or is it something that interferes with the things you really want to do? Do you welcome sleep, or do you dread it?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

If it Ain't Normal, Drug It!

The range of behaviors society is willing to call "normal" seems to be narrowing at a rather alarming rate. Behaviors that only twenty years ago were considered part of the incredible diversity of human expression are now considered pathological, and we are encouraged (every night during numerous television commercials sponsored by Big Pharma) to seek help and take powerful medications (whose actions on the brain and long-term effects are only vaguely understood) to control our symptoms.

When I look at the sweeping changes the Age of Technology has wrought in our society just in the past twenty years or so, I have to ask myself, is it any wonder that some of us just can't deal with our environment? Our genetic heritage has us hard-wired to be running around outside in the sunlight, foraging and hunting in order to feed ourselves, not slumped in front of a computer or a television screen under artificial lights eating processed chemical cocktails marketed as food day after day. But instead of asking what we can do to make the environment more healthy?, we ask what is wrong with these people? and medicate them so that they might better fit society's ever-tightening definition of "normal".

I'm thinking about something Furious Seasons reported on a while back about workplaces offering ADHD screening for their employees. And I'm thinking about antipsychotics being used for "social phobias" including fear of public speaking. And I'm thinking about the questionnaire I got on depression the last time I went to my GP's office for a thyroid check.

This trend to medicalize and pathologize every emotional condition that deviates even slightly from the norm worries me. I foresee a grim future in which all that is unique and brilliant and different in a person, all that sets us apart from each other, will be drugged out of us so that we better fit in the nice little boxes society uses to classify and control us.

Brave New World, anyone?

Writing Prompt: When I was about fourteen, I refused to grow up to be anything like my parents. I thought they were dull and boring, and I told them so (my mother has never let me forget this!). I wanted lights and music and excitement, and I couldn't figure out what was so great about a weekend spent sewing and reading and gardening. The Box People, I called them, all fitting so nicely into their middle-class suburban boxes. It's easy to label people when you're looking at them from the outside in. What labels have you carried? Do they tell the whole story? Why or why not? What labels would you give yourself?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Identity Theft

One of the most insidious effects of my bipolar diagnosis was the way it robbed me of my identity...

I was not suicidal, nor was I psychotic, or even a whole lot out of control. I initially went to my GP because I couldn't sleep. I hadn't slept more than a few hours for nearly a week, and wasn't feeling tired, and I figured that wasn't normal, I ought to be maybe I better get this checked out. I was also under an enormous amount of stress, and my anxiety levels were sky-high due to some extremely stressful Family Bullsh*t that was going on at the time. Did anyone ask about that? No. Instead, I was asked if I'd ever been depressed. And since I said yes (although I'd never been diagnosed or medicated for it), I was sent home with Zyprexa and Ambien, and told I should call a psychiatrist.

This led to an ever-descending spiral of self-doubt. In my reading, I learned that my writing highs--those times when I could just let go and write for hours on end--were actually "hypomania". And those times when I felt like I just loved life and really enjoyed everything I was doing--that was "hypomania", the last two or three years of my life, which had been wonderful, happy years in which I felt productive, and excited about my future, suddenly took on the sinister aspect of an "illness". Which must be "managed." I learned that if I ever felt that way again--exuberant and loving life--that I should talk to my psychiatrist immediately, because I urgently required a "medication adjustment." And that if I didn't have my medications adjusted, the hypomania could steamroll on into full blown "mania" in which I would be completely out of control and need to be hospitalized (even though I had never been close to being "out of control"). I also learned that if I felt just a little bit sad, I needed to consider that a "warning sign" and to talk to my doctor because I might be getting "depressed". Which would require that another medication or three be added to my "cocktail" in order to prevent me from becoming so ill that I might kill myself (even though I'd never really considered that seriously before). Overnight, my perception of myself went from creative, confident and happy to "very sick and in need of medication for the rest of my life."

For the next two years, I would be haunted by the question, "How much of my personality is me and how much is it?" The answer, according to my psychiatrist, was that a lot of my drive, my energy, my productivity, and my creative whirlwinds could be attributed to it. So I figured whatever was left over once the medications were working, that was probably the real me. And since I lost my ability to think, laugh, create, write and enjoy life once I was medicated, I began to think that the real me wasn't worth very much, was she? She was actually a hopeless, dull-witted, exhausted lump who couldn't even speak without stumbling over her words, and didn't want to do anything but sit on the couch.

Life was pretty dismal for those two years. I no longer had the capacity to enjoy life, and the medications I was taking actually made me more sick. My moods began to cycle, and within a year I'd had three "episodes" each requiring that my medications be adjusted (read "increased") and that new medications be added. My doctor pointed this out to me as proof of just how sick I was.

I am so glad that I retained enough clarity and sense of self to say Enough. Unfortunately, it took a near-tragedy to shake me back to my senses (my husband's heart attack and my inability to respond to it in any sort of normal way). But however it happened, I did finally see the light and realize that my misplaced trust in psychiatry was only making me sicker, and that there had probably been nothing wrong with me in the first place that a little therapy or education in stress management wouldn't have taken care of.

I stopped taking medications over a very short period, probably too short, but then I didn't have much in the way of medical support--my psychiatrist's view of stopping medications was that it would be "stupid" and that I would "ruin my life". He didn't say It would be a bad idea, but if you're hell bent on doing it, here's how to do it safely, no, he just said Don't.

When I came off of meds, I was a mess. I had no idea who I really was anymore. After being told that all the things I had loved about myself were due to my illness, my self-confidence had taken a serious hit. I was terribly overweight and out of shape and dreadfully ashamed of myself for having let myself get into that condition. It took a long time for the anger to fade, for me to accept what I'd allowed to be done to me. And in some ways, I think I am still working on that acceptance, because the anger is still smouldering away in there.

After I was off most of the drugs, my sense of self, my sense of humor, and my ability to enjoy life slowly returned over a period of a few months. It took a longer time for my creativity and my confidence in myself as an artist to return--after all, I'd been told that all of my artistic achievements were actually manifestations of my "illness". For a long time I wondered if my drive to create--to write and to "make stuff"--would ever come back, or if the medications had damaged my brain in some subtle way and I'd never be able to create again--or worse, even want to.

Thank goodness I took my life back into my own hands. I dread to think where I would be now if I hadn't. I certainly wouldn't be myself.

Writing Prompt: Has there ever been a time in your life when your identity, your sense of self, was threatened by a label, an event, or a person/group? How did you deal with it and in what ways did this experience change you? If you've never experienced a threat to your sense of self, what sort of event do you think it would take to do this? Where are your vulnerabilities?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

"Mom...will you help me get a quilt started?"
"Mom...I spilled paint on the dog."
" socks feel funny!"
"Mom...will you put sunscreen on my back?"
"Mom...I'm hungry, when's dinner?"
"Mom...I trapped a squirrel...can I keep him?"
" does this toast-making contraption work?"

Independence Day, huh?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Journal Class

My Journal Workshop proposal was accepted by our community education program, and so assuming my background check comes back all right (tremble, shiver, whimper), I will be teaching the class in October. The class will be taught in four ninety-minute sessions.

I've never taught a writing class before...but I was on speech team and drama club in high school, I gave a lot of seminars in graduate school, and I have volunteered to come into my children's classrooms several times to talk about poetry writing, so I don't really have a problem with getting up in front of people and talking...but I would like to ask you, my bloggity friends (to borrow Coco's wonderful word!) what you would hope to get out of such a class.

The class description I submitted to be published in the course offerings magazine is as follows:

Whether you are already keeping a journal or just thinking about it, come join us! We will talk about the benefits of keeping a journal and look at different types of journals and a variety of techniques to try in your own journal writing. We will also discuss how journal entries can lead naturally into other types of creative writing.

So if you were signing up for a class of that description, what would you hope to get out of it? What kinds of things would you want the instructor to talk about? I'm going to ask this question of the class as well, so I can tailor the material to their interests, but it never hurts to be able to anticipate what sorts of things might come up.

If you want to respond to this but haven't signed up for a Blogger ID or OpenID, go ahead and shoot me an email at jazz_in_pieces(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Writing Prompt: Every single one of us has an area about which we are knowledgeable, something that we know well or do well. What do you consider your own area of expertise? Maybe you make the world's best chocolate chip cookies, or maybe you have a flair for decorating, or are a world-class story-teller. Have you ever considered passing on your knowledge? What would be the best way for you to do this?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Deep Journal Work: A Quandary

I'm still working my way (slowly) through Ira Progoff's "At a Journal Workshop", which is all about working with the different periods of your life and building a life history from them. There's more to it than that, but I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book, working through the exercises as I go.

The problem I'm running into is that the first time period I chose to work with surrounds my bipolar diagnosis. This was a particularly tumultuous period for me, and some of it is difficult to write about, even at a distance of five years. A lot of it is stuff I don't want anyone else to read. And so even though I've never worried about anyone reading my stuff before, I've gone to the computer to do this work.

But...I don't feel the same connection with the work when I type it out on a keyboard as I do when I'm writing it out longhand. I'm not sure what the difference is, but there is definitely a difference. So I'm not sure how I should approach this work. I feel like I will write more deeply and honestly if I write in a notebook. But on the other hand, I only feel free to write that deeply and honestly if I'm writing in a password protected file.

One of my books on journaling says that when you have concerns about privacy, you need to ask yourself, What's the worst that could happen if someone read this? And that usually, when you put it in perspective, the worst isn't that bad. But it doesn't really have any sage advice to offer if your answer is Well, duh, empires would fall!

Writing Prompt: Under what circumstances are you most comfortable doing deep journal work? Do you worry about privacy? If so, what safeguards do you have in place? What is the worst that would happen if someone read your deepest thoughts?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thoughts on Wanting Wellness

Susan, the Bipolar Wellness Writer had an interesting post up yesterday about wanting wellness. Her key question to people who are on medication for bipolar disorder or depression but who are not moving in the direction of wellness is "What are you doing besides taking medication?"

It's a good question because so many things feed into our health and well-being, and taking medication is only one of them. I have a friend who has been battling depression on and off for most of his adult life. He takes medication when the depressions come on but other than that has done nothing to change his lifestyle, which is incredibly stressful both in terms of his emotional well-being and his physical health. It is frustrating to watch him lose hope and lose heart when there is so much else that he could be doing for himself. But he is not willing to make any of the changes that might help him.

Or is it that he is not able to make those changes?

I am reminded of the place I was in three or four years ago. Bipolar medications made me so ill that I was unable to do the things I knew I should be doing. I had no energy, no motivation, no clarity of thought. The things that would have been good for my body--like eating more healthfully and exercising--were beyond me, as I literally had not the energy to do them. Planning healthy meals was an exercise that was beyond my mental capabilities...and cooking healthy meals was beyond me physically--because of the 60 lbs I had put on (due to the medications) I was suffering from painful tendonitis in my feet, and was unable to stand for more than ten minutes at a time. The things that would have been good for my spirit were also beyond me--I was too mentally dulled to do much of anything. Writing would have helped me a lot, as that is the way I process things and gain insight...but Depakote took that ability away from me.

I wanted wellness badly at that point. I wanted to have the energy and clarity to care for my family, I wanted to be able to do the creative things I'd always done. But I was not able to do any of the things that would have moved me in that direction. Because I trusted my doctor, I believed that the choice was medication or illness and chaos. There was no middle ground, and I was not encouraged to do things that might minimize the amount of medication he thought I needed. I was not able to make healthy decisions for myself until I decided to trust myself and stop the medications that were making me so sick.

I think that our doctors need to take more responsibility for making sure that we have the ability to pursue wellness. Drugging us into oblivion may make them feel safer, but it is not conducive to wellness.

Writing Prompt: The pursuit of wellness often requires us to make sacrifices. Sometimes it's something as simple as sacrificing some of your hard-earned free time to exercise when you'd really rather be doing something else, or perhaps sacrificing your favorite foods because you know they are not good for you. Sometimes these sacrifices have a far deeper impact, both on yourself and the people around you--like cutting toxic relationships out of your life or making a decision to pursue an alternative treatment for an illness that those around you may not approve of. What have you sacrificed in your pursuit of wellness?