Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007 at age 37, for most of my life I thought of myself as the “Queen of Mediocrity”. I felt this way early on as I never accomplished anything of merit compared to my parents, who were both prodigies in their chosen fields. I considered them to be truly extraordinary and so did many other people!
Dad was a world-class violinist who played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for thirty-nine years! He was the youngest musician ever to be admitted into the super-competitive orchestra. Dad was a Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Scholar who lived an incredibly full life despite having bipolar one disorder. My Mom was an award-winning actress-turned speech pathologist and a loving hands-on mother. Mom taught speech therapy to special needs students in the public schools. She developed a unique rapport with both her students and colleagues, and she did an outstanding job.
I considered my graduation from the University of California at Santa Cruz and my A.C.E. (American Council on Exercise) personal training certification as hard-won achievements. However, I didn’t attend an Ivy League university like many of my classmates did. My job as a personal trainer didn’t command great respect either.
Aside from personal training I worked at the gym’s front desk to make ends meet. At the counter I handed towels to members who usually treated me as the lowly “towel girl”. Most of these members had no idea that I had a college degree. When I handed a towel to the high-powered local newspaper editor-in-chief, or the future billionaire/founder of Netflix, I’d inwardly sigh and feel a bit of humiliation!
At long last, I’m happy to report that my mediocre self-image is starting to change, slowly-but-surely. In the space of just a couple weeks I’ve had two wonderful, totally unexpected things happen. These serendipitous events have boosted my confidence even more than a makeover on “What Not To Wear”!
I miss that show, especially stylist Ted Gibson who charges only $1200 for a haircut! ;)
Two weeks ago I received an email informing me that I was nominated by the bestselling author/mental health advocate Wendy K. Williamson (“Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival” and “I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar”) for the WEGO Health Activist “Best in Show Blog” award.
I thought the email was a joke! Then I read Wendy’s nomination blurb on WEGO’s website:
Dyane’s site is the best out there. I love that she tells it like it is and supports her fellow followers. A gifted writer, she clearly conveys through humor and honesty what is happening in her world and the world around us. Dyane taps in to our feelings beautifully, saving us from emotional isolation. Activist, champion, Dyane is both and more. — Wendy
As you can imagine, I was absolutely blown away by Wendy’s generous praise. Out of curiosity I checked out the other nominees’ profiles in my category. Every single one was impressive. I automatically thought,
There’s no way in hell I can compete with these people. I’m not good enough.
I felt tempted to withdraw from the competition, but I didn’t want to let Wendy down. It simply wouldn’t be cool to offend her, especially since she had become my incredible writing mentor. I told myself I could be a “loser” and leave it at that.
I’m not sure what happened next, exactly, but I had a change of heart.
I realized that seeing myself as a loser was not how I wanted to play this game! I could at least stay in the running and promote myself, a necessary task in order to place as a WEGO finalist.
I’ve spent my life promoting other people’s causes and passions. I’ve worked at four non-profits where at an average of $10/hour, I worked my ass off to publicize other people’s missions and events. My first full-time job was at a Silicon Valley special event production company. I promoted a myriad of events and I dealt with the media all the time. I knew what I needed to do in terms of my own promotion.
My defeatist thinking changed to:
I’m going to give this shot & try to win this WEGO, or at least place as a finalist!
Then the second surprise happened. But first, here’s the long-winded backstory…bear with me!
Long before I was diagnosed with bipolar after Rilla’s birth, I had a series of unfulfilling administrative jobs. I wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old, but I wasn’t writing anything except for work-related projects. In 1997, in addition to my day job, I finally began writing freelance magazine and newspaper articles.
My first magazine article was for “Fit” which unfortunately no longer exists. I loved “Fit” because its content was deeper and more interesting than other fitness magazines. Although “Fit” had a air-brushed celebrity on its cover every month, I let that slide because the celebrities they chose seemed more circumspect than the stars featured on other magazine covers.
I pursued the editor to give me a shot at writing an article. At that point I was twenty-seven and I had already experienced clinical depression. Using “write what you know” as my motto, I wanted to write an article about women, depression and exercise. After an enthusiastic phone pitch to the editor, she gave me the assignment! Landing my first national magazine article was a major thrill, and I knew I needed to do my best to get off to the
write right start as a freelancer.
I compiled a list of people who I wanted to interview for my piece. My first interviewee was Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. I was astounded that I was able to get ahold of the bestselling writer of “An Unquiet Mind”. Ironically when I called Dr. Jamison I had no idea I’d be diagnosed with bipolar myself a few years later. I interviewed another doctor I admired: psychologist/author Dr. Martha Manning, whose profound book Undercurrents detailed her experience with depression and ECT. I hadn’t a clue that one day I’d have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) just like Dr. Manning did.
Next I questioned several young women who suffered with depression, and I spoke with assorted exercise experts. After submitting my article, my jaw dropped when I got a paycheck for doing something I loved to do.
I wrote several more articles for “Fit” and was told I’d become a regular contributor. I was over-the-moon about having a regular writing gig! Unfortunately the New York media group that owned the magazine called it quits and my job opportunity vanished.
My “Fit” experience was a propitious start to my freelance writing career. With my confidence level high, I approached my favorite local weekly paper “Good Times” helmed by editor-in-chief Greg Archer.
I had been a faithful “Good Times” reader for years. I admired Greg’s vibrant, top-notch, often-hilarious writing – I was jealous of his talent! I contacted Greg’s managing editor about some of my story ideas. I suggested that I interview a writer who wrote books I picked up and couldn’t put down – the one and only Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain was slated for a book event in our town, and my timing was right. I was given the job and I turned in a solid piece. I wrote two more articles for “Good Times” about another favorite author of mine called SARK. Once again it was awesome to have the chance to interact with one of my writing heroes and get paid for it.
As you can imagine, my freelance writing career went down the drain after my bipolar diagnosis. I couldn’t do anything, let alone write. But some of you know that I came back to life a little over a year ago thanks to my new medication combination of lithium and the MAOI drug Parnate, plus exercise, good quality sleep and finding a good psychiatrist.
After I recovered from a bipolar depression relapse, I invited Greg Archer to a delectable Italian lunch to learn more about his writing philosophy. We became friends and I hid my jealousy of his talent well. ;) I felt instantly comfortable with Greg as he reminded me of a close friend I grew up with in Los Angeles. It was a joy to be friends with another writer who I looked up to as a role model.
The longest backstory ever is now complete!
Last week Greg emailed me to ask if I could send him a photo of myself for a future article that I assumed had something to do with bipolar. I was out of it and didn’t ask him for details. To my chagrin, I emailed him a blurry selfie but that’s all I had. Then I got distracted by my girls and forgot all about it.
An hour later I got a brief email from Greg simply saying to visit the link copied below.
I thought it was his recent Huffington Post article that profiled 5 inspiring men.
After opening the link I spotted my photo I just sent him and I almost fell off my chair. The photo was accompanied by Greg’s beautiful description of my writing and how I’m “one to watch” in the mental health advocacy movement! I was part of a group of 5 “inspiring agents of change” including Kathleen Turner, for God’s sake!! (I loved her with Michael Douglas in “Romancing the Stone”!)
I thanked Greg profusely and then I emailed or called everyone I knew to tell them my happy news. The fact that my Mom shared the Huffington Post article link with her friends, relatives and her Facebook network was especially moving. It was such a lovely moment for me to hear pride in my mother’s voice when called to congratulate me.
I’m no longer feeling all that mediocre. Don’t get me wrong – insecurity still lurks within my psyche each and every day. I’ll keep plugging away to repair my damaged self-image with therapy – that’s all I can do right now.
In the meantime I want to thank you so much for reading this lengthy post. I’d like to send a special shout out to my writing gurus Greg Archer and Wendy K. Williamson!
I encourage you to read their books. Soon I’ll be sharing some information about Greg’s second book “Grace Revealed”, a fascinating memoir to be published in January, 2015.
p.s. I’d be grateful if you could endorse me for the WEGO Health Activist Award – it’s easy & takes 20 seconds!