Sisters & Cupcakes – A Sweet & Salty Tale

Image Big and little sis: Avonlea & Marilla, 2014

Over the past year, my daughter Avonlea and I developed a love (a.k.a. an obsession) for the cupcake world of Georgetown Cupcakes.  It all began with the TLC reality show DC Cupcakes which Avonlea discovered while browsing through Netflix listings.

The show features sisters/business partners Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman running their Georgetown Cupcake shop in Washington, D.C.  A more fitting name for the cupcakery could be “Dysfunction Cupcake Junction”, as there are baking and staffing hijinks galore.

DC Cupcakes became a hit for TLC; it was renewed for two more seasons and the sisters’ business grew from one store to six.  As their success grew, the Kallinis sisters appeared on the the Martha Stewart Show, Today, and the holy mecca of shows, Oprah.  They’ve had two books published, The Cupcake Diaries and Sweet Celebrations, and Avonlea owns both of them.  She has thumbed through them so many times that many of the pages are coming out.

Avonlea reveres these two sisters, and she has gotten a big kick out of analyzing their contentious and loving interactions on the show.  Avonlea has one sister, and sometimes they play together beautifully and sometimes, oh boy, they do not.  When the lovely moments between the girls happen, I gaze at them feeling that all is right in the world.  But when they travel to the dark side together with their yelling matches resulting in time-outs, I want to pull out my hair and scream right along with them.  Although the Kallinis sisters are several decades older than my girls, they have similar sisterly dynamics.

To some extent, “DC Cupcakes” has been surprisingly educational for both me and Avonlea.  We’ve learned the value of baking precision, decorating techniques, and we’ve been entertained along the way by the colorful Georgetown Cupcake staff members.  (My favorite one is Andres, the lead baker – he always makes me laugh.) The often ridiculous dilemmas dreamed up by the TLC production company are fun to watch and the sisters often bake projects that benefit worthy charities.

To add icing to the cupcake, the Kallinis sisters have their mother, who everyone in the store calls “Mommy”, come work for them.  I’ll just say that Mommy is lovable, but more-than-a-bit spacey and sometimes annoying. She has a loving, respectful relationship with her two daughters, and I think it’s healthy for Avonlea to watch the depiction of a (mostly) positive mother-daughter relationship.  (But no one walks on water in this show!  Otherwise it would be a snooze-fest.)

Ever since Avonlea was given the Kallinis sisters’ cupcake books, she has gotten into the habit of reading them before bedtime and sleeping with them under her pillow.  This nightly tradition has moved me deeply.  I love that my daughter, the child of two writers, insists not only on bedtime reading but putting both books under the pillow as a talisman.  No tattered teddy bears, or baby blankets for her – she has full-size, hardback books.

Marilla is now asking to read one of the cupcake books before bedtime, and it’s touching for me to see how one sister influences the other.  While I don’t harbor dreams of my daughters opening a business together unless they choose too, I hope that they have a close relationship in the years to come.  Craig and I will do everything that we can to foster such a bond.

God forbid, if either of our girls inherit a genetic predisposition for bipolar, I want them to be there for one another in a big, big way.  (As much as is possible without either of them becoming too codependent, that is.) I’m still hoping that a bipolar disorder cure happens in their lifetime.  They’ve already been through enough bipolar-related agony as it is with me.

When they are older, I want to teach them that if anything ever happens to either of them mental-health-wise, the only choice to make is to show up for one’s sibling while protecting one’s own mental wellness as much as possible.

This tale started out sweet, and then it became salty when I brought up bipolar disorder.  (I couldn’t help it!) But I want to end on a more optimistic note…

It’s amazing to watch two smart, sweet-toothed young girls who I (with the help of my husband) brought into this world.  Now that I’m stable, I can bear witness to their growing up, while before when I was stuck in a hopeless, insidious bipolar-depression, I couldn’t make much sense of anything, or stand up for very long.

I’m thankful that I can notice my girls’ ever-changing behavior.  I love being a fly on the wall when I listen to their interactions with one another – even their  furious “You twits!” and “I hate you’s!” and the “I wish you weren’t my sisters!”  (They always apologize to one another after uttering such atrocious words – they don’t have a choice!)  I’m grateful I can spend time in the kitchen with Avonlea making caramel (OMG: who knew how good mixing cream, sugar, vanilla, butter on a stove would taste?)  and baking cupcakes.  After being depressed in the past for so long, unable to function, baking cupcakes with my daughter is as sweet as it gets.

 

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Look – soooooo delectably tasty and only two million calories!

 

Our Home’s Holy Grails

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For more information about DC Cupcakes

http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/dc-cupcakes   http://www.georgetowncupcake.com/

Readers, I adore you! (Yep, another thank you.)

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This week I was way more isolated than usual since I’ve been holed up at home caring for my two sick little girls.  Thankfully, today they are doing much better, and I’m surprised and grateful that I haven’t picked up their nasty bug yet.  (I pray that I don’t!)

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Last week my blogging served as a verrrry welcome break from wiping runny noses, administering cough medicine, and mediating fights.  (Two cranky girls with misery-inducing colds do not make for a peaceful household!)

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve loved reading comments submitted by readers expressing how they’ve appreciated my sharing my experience with bipolar disorder.  When someone writes that he has been inspired by my post, or that she feels less alone with her struggles, I eat up these words as if they were a double chocolate brownie.

I don’t require loads of appreciative remarks - one juicy line or two will keep me floating for a while.  Sometimes I get such a thrill that I practically morph into Julie Andrews singing as Maria in “The Sound of Music”.

 

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Last fall, I thought the ultimate blogging prize would be having a huge readership, getting forty comments a post, and making money from blogging.  Then I realized as fabulous as those things may sound, if it all happened to me, I’d feel completely overwhelmed.  I enjoy responding to comments, and if my blog became uber-popular, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the unique give-and-take between blogger and reader that I find so gratifying.  From this point on, I’ll be happy to gain a few followers a month, but there’s no need for me to be greedy by aggressively seeking more followers.  Fixating on numbers would rob the fun out of blogging – at least it would for me.

To make a blog into a job has never been my goal, but  I’ve been tempted by the allure of making money from blogging.  I live close to Silicon Valley where the first BlogHer conference occurred ten years ago.  I’ve watched the blog craze take off over the past decade, and I can see why the blogging phenomenon took off the way it did.  I’ve read some of the success stories.

Out of curiosity, I visited the BlogHer website.  A full conference pass for the July 2014 BlogHer conference costs $400. Wow!  I’m sure that BlogHer will offer its attendees a wonderful,valuable experience, but even if I did have that kind of money to spare, I’d rather invest it into a writer’s workshop or a perinatal conference.  My top priority is completing my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, not (sniff, sniff) my beloved blog.

It’s not late November, but I’m in a thankful mood this month.  Also spring has cheered me up, although it hasn’t propelled me into hypomania or mania like it does for some people with bipolar disorder.  Recently I wrote another post of thanks containing a few of the topics that I discuss in this post; if you want to take a peek, here’s the link:

http://proudlybipolar.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/a-heartfelt-thanks-a-writers-retrospective/

I’m being a bit repetitive today, but it’s all sincere, and it’s all good.

Thanks for reading this, and have a wonderful weekend!

Dyane :)

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Madeleine L’Engle Inspiration on Writing and Marriage

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The author of A Wrinkle In Time Madeleine L’Engle with her devotee Dyane Harwood at the Mount Calvary Benedictine Monastery in Santa Barbara, California.  I love this picture even though I have a triple chin.  I got that chin in part from eating lots of the delectable, freshly baked cookies made by the monks each day – it was all their fault.

 

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” 

― Madeleine L’Engle

Writing, writers and books are on my mind much of this week while I’ve been primarily homebound with my two sick little girls. (They are getting much better, by the way!)  While I’ve been used to the luxury of being alone while my girls are in school, this week I was faced with the challenge of writing with extra distractions, i.e. the Spongebob Squarepants oeuvre, that set my teeth on edge.

Despite Spongebob’s maniacal laughs, I’ve plowed forth with daily writing because writing has become an ingrained habit.  I feel better when I just do it.  (Ah, Nike, I blame you for planting your smug, little tagline in my brain!)

There have been periods in my life when I wrote all the time, such as my four years majoring in English/American literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Conversely, there were many months in which my bipolar depression prevented me from writing a single word.  While daily writing can seem rather extreme, my rule is that as long as I enjoy it and I pay attention to the other key areas of my life (kids, husband, laundry, and the like) it’s fine.

I also take comfort in the fact that I’m following the advice of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors.  She asserted, “Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”  (hmmm, perhaps I could get that tattooed on my writing hand to remind me!)

During my most severe bipolar depressions, one of the few things that took my mind off my mind were the Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  I continue to read her books periodically without experiencing any boredom.  With each re-reading I notice details that slipped by me in the past, which is always fun.

Her books give me a satisfaction akin to easing into a warm, fragrant bath, and I share my appreciation of her work with millions of her other fans of all ages.  It truly amazes me that L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award-winning book A Wrinkle In Time was rejected so many times by publishers before it made the big-time.

In some of her non-fiction books  L’Engle recounted her decade of writing rejection in which she felt so down that she contemplated giving up writing altogether.  But when she came to the brink of carrying out that momentous decision, her heart and faith (she was highly religious) kicked in.

This revealing quote explains her perspective when she wasn’t a famous writer:

“If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.  I’m glad I made this decision in a moment of failure.  It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well.  When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one’s own decision at all.”

― Madeleine L’EngleA Circle of Quiet

Apart from her writing advice, L’Engle’s marriage to her husband Hugh Franklin as depicted in her book Two-Part Invention has influenced me deeply.  Two-Part Invention is one of my favorite L’Engle books, and I have probably read it at least twenty times!  The structure of the book starts with present day, in which L’Engle’s husband of forty years is dying from cancer, and shifts to the past revealing how they met and developed their relationship.

Back and forth the narrative flows, in a seamless, beautiful way.  Their marriage most definitely wasn’t without numerous terrible times, many of which were not included in the book, such as the death of their son Bion.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a treat.  Her “story of a marriage” will make you appreciate your own relationship whether you are married or not, and it will allow you to observe love in action during one of the most difficult times of life: witnessing the death of a beloved.

If you’ve never read one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books before, I strongly encourage you to do so!  A Wrinkle In Time is a great start (billed as a children’s book, but appropriate for all ages) and aside from Two-Part Invention I highly recommend A Small Rain (the first of L’Engle’s books, and semi-autobiographical) and A Live Coal in the Sea.

Happy Reading!

 

“The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

“Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe – these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

 

This blog post is dedicated to my husband, the author Craig S. Harwood, pictured on the left with his co-author Gary Fogel.  Together they wrote the award-winning book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  I am fortunate to have a husband who encourages me to write and gives me writing/publishing advice when I ask for it.  (And sometimes when I don’t!)

Barnes-Noble book signing copy

 

 

 

To read more Madeleine L’Engle quotes about a wide range of topics, visit: 

395 Quotes of Madeleine https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/106.Madeleine_L_Engle

I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It

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Dyane with Madeleine L’Engle, the bestselling author of A Wrinkle In Time

Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

I’ve always had concentration challenges when it comes to writing.

I need quiet, quiet, and more quiet.  Sometimes I can write with mellow music in the background; lately I’ve listened to the Pandora Channel’s Hawaiian or Snatam Kaur stations.  I write my best when all I hear is the faint rush of traffic on the mountain highway below our home.

The topic of concentration is on my mind while I’ve been housebound for the past four days with my little girls.  They each caught a nasty bug.  I’ve spent time with them reading one-on-one, doing homework that was sent home by their teachers, and cuddling with them.  Coldy cuddles?  Yeah, that’s crazy, I know, since I don’t want to pick up their colds!  But I’m one foolish gal.

Apart from interacting with my congested kids, I’ve been able to write while they’ve watched Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, or playing the highly educational  Littlest Pet Shop game on my Kindle.  However, I can’t go in another room away from them to write because they want me nearby.  I can’t blame them for wanting me within eyesight when they are feeling so awful.

So I write in a noisy, interruption-filled room, because I’d rather write and make plenty of typos and syntax errors than not write at all.  Which brings me to Madeleine L’Engle.   I’ve always been intrigued by the writing method of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors for over thirty-five years.

L’Engle said that she learned how to write virtually anywhere, with all kinds of distractions.  She cultivated the habit while growing up in a girl’s boarding school.  L’Engle was a loner, and while her classmates listened to records or gossiped away, she was able to tune out their chatter.

L’Engle further developed this extraordinary ability when she became a Broadway actress and assistant to the star/director Eva LeGalliene.  The lengthy amounts of time that L’Engle spent backstage provided her with ample opportunity to write.  She also took advantage of writing time on trains when LeGalliene’s theater productions toured the country.  L’Engle didn’t wear ear plugs, either!

Neal Porter worked with L’Engle during his tenure at her longtime publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He remembered her in a Publisher’s Weekly tribute after the bestselling author died in 2007.  Porter remarked, “When we were on the road together, she would agree to meet me in our hotel lobby at such and such hour.  When I found her, she invariably had a notebook in hand and was scribbling away.”  I would give my eyeteeth for the ability to write well in hectic locations!

I don’t want to slap another label on myself, i.e. ADD, or blame my meds for making me unable to focus.  I’ve had this challenge for decades before I was diagnosed.  I think I can do just fine by continuing to carve out blocks of writing time while the girls are at school.  I also think it’s fine to use headphones and music as a way to tune out distractions as long as I don’t put my children in harm’s way.

Apart from my writing environment, I have another writing-related dilemma that has developed over the past six months. This quandary happens whether I’m in a silent room or a in house full of chainsaws.  (Or in a room where a truck seems about to run into me at my writing desk – see my post “Almost” for more details on that one.)

Almost

I’ve developed a habit I call “Facebook/Twitter hopping”.  You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s an example: I’m working feverishly on an essay.  Then I become frustrated or bored with what I’m writing about, so I hop over to my perpetually open Facebook and Twitter pages to take a peek.  My peek becomes an extended break, and my writing subject is a distant memory.  Finally I hop back to the writing, sometimes refreshed and able to re-connect with the material, but usually my focus is blurrier.

This “back and forthing” is a guilty pleasure, and it’s so tempting to do!  Hopping is not always such a bad thing, if done in moderation.  That’s where I get into trouble, for I’m often not great with moderation when it concerns Facebook surfing or chocolate inhalation, for that matter.  I’m attempting to cut down on the internet hopping.

We shall see if I stick to my hopping resolution – I don’t want to be eighty when I finish my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder!  Thanks for reading, and please, if you like to write too, tell me what your challenges are and what helps you as well.  I’d love to know about it!

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Madeleine’s granddaughter, the writer Lena Roy, writes a brief-but-entertaining blog post about her writing process. Here’s the link:

http://writeplacewritetime.tumblr.com/post/18496071594/lena-roy

Two Awesome Madeleine L’Engle Quotes about Writing

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

If you like these L’Engle writing quotes, there are 32 more of them at Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=writing%2C+L%27Engle&commit=Search

 

 

Wherever You Go, There You Are

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Hawaii an awful lot.

Last November, our family scrimped and saved for months to take a sentimental trip to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.  My mother-in-law died last spring, and we brought her ashes with us, for she loved living in Hawaii for many years.  My husband Craig knew she would have approved of his scattering her ashes in such a meaningful location.  We also thought our two little girls would benefit from an informal family ceremony in their grandmother’s honor.

So yes, this trip was a big deal for us to take –  we definitely knew how lucky we were to visit such an exotic place.  We stayed at Al’s Kona Coffee  Farm, a rental unit with a kitchen so we could make the majority of our meals and save money.  My husband knew the Kona area well from visiting his Mom when she lived there, and he planned our activities to be mostly free or low-cost.

We had scheduled the trip twice before, but Craig had to reschedule due to my hospitalizations for bipolar depression relapses.  Al was very understanding of my medical situation, and not only was he flexible in our rescheduling; he gave us a good deal.

Look at how spectacular Al’s Kona Coffee Farm is!

Al's

Lone tree - Halualoa copy

A month before our trip, my bipolar depression had finally lifted due to my trying an “old-school” medication.  I started taking the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) named  tranylcypromine or Parnate.  My pdoc added it to the lithium I was already taking, and within two days – kaboom.  My evil, hated, soul-sucking depression was gone.

I located two studies online conducted in the 1970′s that found MAOI’s combined with lithium had a greater effect together to lift bipolar depression than when used separately.  I also read a document that described MAOI’s as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression.  When I spotted that, I said “WTF?”   Why no psychiatrist had ever suggested the MAOI class to me before, since I was super-medication-resistant, remains a mystery to me.  There are food and beverage restrictions with MAOI’s, but they aren’t the end of the world, and the restrictions are totally worth it if the depression goes away.

Anyway, three days before we took off on our flight, my depression returned.  Words cannot express the level of disappointment and fear that descended upon me.  I’ll cut to the chase right now and let you know that three weeks later, after we returned from Hawaii, my doctor added Seroquel to the lithium and Parnate.  The depression went away and it has stayed away ever since.

But the entire time I was in Hawaii, my depression was unrelenting.  I contacted my psychiatrist and we upped my Parnate dosage, but it made me feel too wired and didn’t alleviate the depression, so I returned to the prior dosage.  While I was able to appreciate my little girls’ joy as they boogie boarded, and I took in the natural beauty of the Big Island as much as I could, I still felt like a zombie.

I’m attempting to fake being happy in the picture posted above.  Underneath the smile is utter hopelessness.  Despite the beaches with warm aquamarine water, the incredibly tasty Kona coffee, the fresh poke fish, the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, the dolphins, and the sunsets, I felt beyond horrible.

The lesson I learned was that it didn’t matter if I was in Paradise if I didn’t have the right meds.  Some of you know that’s way easier said than done!

We could have cancelled our trip yet a third time, but  since we were so close to our departure date I didn’t have the heart to cancel.  Plus I was praying for a miracle to happen.  At least Craig and the girls had a great time.  He didn’t hold it against me that I was a less-than-ideal travel companion, and I am very grateful for that.

Someday I hope we get a “do-over”.

When Craig took his mother’s ashes out to a stunning reef on the bay by the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, I was unable to join him.  I sat in the sand, motionless for the most part, unable to even read a book.  I am hoping that some day we’ll have the good fortune to return to that area and I can pay my respects properly.

While there I’d pick a few plumeria flowers, which are flowers that my mother-in-law adored.  I’d walk out on the reef and toss the blossoms in the water in honor of the woman who gave me the best husband I could ask for.   Then I’d walk down to the beach and swim a little, because when we went to Hawaii last year I was so down, I couldn’t even swim in the ocean.

I know that many people in our world could never afford a trip like the one I describe.  Recently I watched the documentary “Happy” that profiles different cultures with authentically happy people.  None of the “stars” of this film were wealthy, most of them lived on small incomes and some were what our society would consider extremely poor.  All of these people truly appreciated their day-to-day lives.  We could all learn from these individuals.  I may never get a chance to return to Hawaii, so I want to appreciate my “here & now” better.  (I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to do this in the spring when it’s warm instead of freezing!)

I wish each of you the trip of a lifetime, wherever your dream place may be.  And I wish even more that your love and appreciation for your here and now grows significantly over time.  It would be awesome if each of us, especially those of us suffering with mood disorders, could not only appreciate the present, but experience some simple happiness every day.

I am sooo not there yet, but I’ll let you know when I’m making some headway.

Coffee time copyHilo Girls copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Sense of It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bipolar

 Gotta love it

 

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

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

The Amazon description page reads,

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

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

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

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

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

No way, no how.

Queston Dr

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

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

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

Mara hair

 

Stigma from the Source

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“Stigma = a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.

I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder in October, 2007, six weeks after the birth of my second daughter.  I was thirty-seven-years-old when I admitted myself into a locked-down mental facility at our local hospital.  While there, a psychiatrist met with me and within two minutes he informed me that I had bipolar disorder.

Everything changed.

I called my father on the unit’s pay phone.  We were very close and I loved him with all my heart.  My Dad had bipolar disorder, and while growing up I never dreamed that he and I would share the same mental illness.  He cried when I told him the news.

I was manic, and while I was frightened to be in such a sterile, intimidating unit, I took Dad’s sorrow in stride. I’d fall apart in agony later on.

My father only lived a few years after my first hospitalization.  During that time he never judged me for having bipolar disorder.  If he did make a disparaging remark, he would have been a hypocrite, but parents with bipolar have been known to condemn their children for also having the same mental illness.

I’ve had a diametrically different relationship with my mother.  I love her very much, but we’ve had a turbulent connection ever since I was a teenager.  She frequently told me that I was “oppositional” and she was right, for I seldom agreed with her on many points. We did (and do) share some things in common, but when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a much greater rift formed between us.

I now regret that I never had very much compassion for what it was like for my Mom to live with a husband with bipolar one disorder.  I had no idea what she endured before my diagnosis.  She rescued Dad many times from dire situations that were caused by his mania or depression, including saving his job numerous times by contacting his employer.  Then again, the world of bipolar disorder was murky to me, and no one in my family sat me down to explain it clearly.

Mom cared for Dad when his health began to fail, she advocated for him with his grossly incompetent doctors, and she kept watch over Dad until his dying day.  It had always been crystal-clear to me how much she loved him despite his severe mental illness.

My Mom, who is nearing eighty, comes from a generation that I call the “stigma generation”.  Although she’s a freethinker in many respects, I believe she harbors stigma toward those with bipolar disorder in spite of her high intellect.

That includes me…especially me.

Part of me doesn’t blame her for being a stigmatizer, but a much bigger part of me does hold her responsible for her disparaging attitude.

The mother-daughter relationship is often one of the most deep-rooted, intense bonds that can exist.  That fact in itself explains why it’s so hard for me when she puts me down for having bipolar.  We live hundreds of miles apart, so the berating usually happens over the phone.  When she tells me that I’m  “being manic” in a belittling tone when I simply disagree with her about something, I wind up hanging up the phone on her in anger.  Nothing triggers me like my Mom when she calls me “bipolar” in a demeaning way.

Last night, when I told her I was working on my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, she said that I was “obsessive” in choosing that as my topic . (Well, maybe I am a little obsessive, but I prefer the term “focused”) She said she envisioned me writing novels.

I laughed!  Barbara Cartland I’m not!  I’ve never been a creative writer, and I never stated that’s what I wanted to do with my life.  I’ve made my peace with my choice.  I love the non-fiction realm, and I’ve been writing in that genre for over fifteen years.  All I wanted was her approval, really.  I wanted to hear her say, “Oh Dyane, I’m so proud of you.  That’s a worthy topic to write about!”, or something along those lines.

I couldn’t hold back and I told her that encouragement was what I wanted, not put-downs.  She backtracked a bit, and she conceded to me that yes, it was a good idea after all. But I knew it was really lip service from her.  I was well-aware that she didn’t want to tell her high-society friends that I was writing a bipolar-themed book.

“Is this a memoir?”  she inquired.

“Well, uh, yes.” I replied.  (It’s half-memoir, half-other stuff, but I didn’t want to get into detail with her just then.)

“Am I going to be in it?” she asked.  I knew I couldn’t lie to her about that question.  I had been worried that if I told her about my project, she’d freak out at any mention of her, even a superficial one.

“Well yes, just a little.  It’s mainly about me and Dad.” I  back-pedaled.  To my surprise and relief, my brief explanation soothed her for the time being.

“Well, you’re going to write about what you want, aren’t you?” she retorted a tad haughtily.

Uh-oh, I thought, this could go south real quick.

“Yes, but it’s a good thing.” I replied reassuringly.

Mom’s storm clouds were averted for the time being, and I could take a deep breath. When my Mom had a tempter tantrum, it made my two little girls’ explosions seem like gentle burbles in a stream.

I can condemn my Mom all I want, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a child with bipolar disorder and I want to step up my empathy.  The jury is not out on either of my girls as far as whether or not they have inherited the genetics for bipolar.  I’ve read various reports that children could have between a 15-30% chance of inheriting bipolar disorder if one parent has bipolar.

All I can do is learn from my mistakes that I’ve experienced with my Mom, and (this is the hardest thing for me to do by far) accept that it is likely she will never change her attitude towards bipolar disorder as far as I’m concerned.   Stigma is so insidious, and if you’ve harbored stigma towards mental illness for almost eighty years, it’s unlikely to disappear.  I try to be a positive person, and the phrase “Never say never” comes to mind, but unless there’s a cure for bipolar disorder, I’ll most likely always be damaged goods in her eyes.

 

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