Hypergraphia – Part Two

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In yesterday’s blog post I discussed writing, the creative spark, as well as hypergraphia.  In case you are unfamiliar with the term hypergraphia the Wikipedia definition is:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

The following excerpt describes my experience with postpartum hypergraphia in the preface of my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder :

“Just a few days after my daughter’s birth, I was writing non-stop.  The ideas were flowing from my brain so rapidly I couldn’t believe it.  As a professional freelance writer, I had struggled for years with the common malady of writer’s block.  When I had postpartum mania-induced hypergraphia, I underwent the complete opposite of writer’s block.  I was a virtual writing waterfall with the power of Niagra Falls!   I knew something truly bizarre, terrifying and even a bit magical was happening in my brain, but my racing thoughts prevented me from being grounded enough to do much of anything, including doing enough breastfeeding or realizing that I had bipolar one disorder.  Somehow I was able to surf online about nonstop writing, and I discovered that hypergraphia was associated with many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Yet it still didn’t dawn on me that I had bipolar disorder, although I possessed five obvious clues: little sleep, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, strong hereditary factors and agitation.  I wrote so much that my wrist cramped up in severe pain every few minutes.  I wrote so much that my sweet baby’s birth weight was too low, as I wasn’t breastfeeding her enough.  I couldn’t stop writing, even while I was breastfeeding her on her velvety green Boppy pillow.  I kept typing frantically despite the fact that my husband told me emphatically that he was concerned that I was writing too much and that I needed to pay more attention to our newborn and toddler.”

Hypergraphia is serious, and it’s a real condition.  It’s not just a “neurosis” as writer Valerie Lopes refers to it in her Open Salon article “Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific?”. (The link is posted at the end of this piece.)  The psychiatric literature defines a neurosis as a “relatively mild personality disorder”.  Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that there was nothing  “mild” about my full-blown hypergraphia.   Lopes’ article disappointed me with its ignorance and righteous, patronizing “Look at me – I’m such a prolific writer!” tone.  I wanted to comment and inform her that while I understood that too many mental conditions are slapped with a scary-sounding psychiatric label these days (which she implies in her essay)  hypergraphia is not normal and, in my opinion, it’s definitely not healthy.  I noticed that there were no comments made in response to her article – quelle surprise! Whenever I don’t spot even a single comment about an article on a site with huge readership, that tells me the writing is somehow lacking.  However, when I tried to post a comment, the website informed me it was temporarily closed for registration.   Bummer!

No matter.  For those who wish to read an informed, brilliant analysis of this subject, look no further than Dr. Alice W. Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease – The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.  It’s endorsed on the cover by none other than Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the bestselling classic An Unquiet Mind who writes, “An original, fascinating, and beautifully written reckoning…of that great human passion: to write.”  Flaherty’s book is not just about hypergraphia by any means.  It’s a must-read for any writer.  The Midnight Disease received rave reviews as well and is the only book of its kind written by a neurologist to boot!  The fact that Lopes didn’t even refer to this groundbreaking book once in her article indicates to me that being a “prolific” writer doesn’t mean you are actually a good one.

There have been famous artists who apparently had hypergraphia such as Vincent van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Robert Burns and Lewis Carroll.  Dr. Alice W. Flaherty experienced postpartum hypergraphia like I did.  (I am disappointed that with my  Google Advanced search I only located lists of famous men with hypergraphia.  I’m sure there are famous women who should be on these lists as well, starting with Dr. Flaherty.)  Not only did all these people write enormous amounts of material, but the physical style of their writing would sometimes be indecipherable, which is another hallmark of the condition.  I typed and also handwrote in journals when I had hypergraphia.  When I review my journals today I can’t make out most of the scrawls.   That makes me sad, because I wish I knew what the hell I was writing about!

Apart from that, it all comes down to what my favorite high school English teacher, Mrs. Redlcay, asked her students to answer when they wrote any essay or poem.

“So what?”

Why write about the subject of hypergraphia?  So what?

For me it’s a deeply personal topic.  I’ve been in the trenches with hypergraphia, and it has haunted me ever since.  The feelings it stirred up were connected with mania through and through.  I felt so good about what I wrote, (too good!) even though much of it was dribble.  While writing I felt a sense of purpose that I’ll never encounter again unless I am manic.

But believe me, I’ve come to terms with all that as I never want to be manic again.  I want to write at a “happy medium” level.  I know that it’s possible now for me to write in moderation, and I’ll do all that I can to make my writing dreams a reality.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

“Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific” by Valerie Lopes

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

 

Writerly Ramblings and Hypergraphia Part 1


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L.M. Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle, my two favorite writers.  (Love those glasses!)

Lately my writing output has skyrocketed.  After being creatively blocked for most of the past eight years,  I’m grateful to have the opportunity and the luxury to write.  I’ve been typing for at least an hour every day for several months now.  I even managed to write on days when I felt under the weather.  I wasn’t being a complete fool – I merely wished to write because I felt better after doing it.

For all I know perhaps my writing compulsively has boosted the serotonin level in my brain. While daily writing sounds rather obsessive, it has felt so good and write; I mean right. 😉

Writing definitely exercises my brain cells.  I can feel it.  After I’ve completed an article I get a buzz that’s similar to one achieved from a sweaty workout on my elliptical.  As an A.C.E.-certified personal trainer, I’ve been a fervent believer in cardiovascular exercise for a long time.  I never considered writing to be a “workout” until this year, so now maybe I’ll buy a groovy belt, leg warmers and leotard a la Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect to wear at my desk.

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On a more serious note, typing away for hours on a daily basis may sound alarm bells to those close to me.  When I’ve been manic and hypomanic, I’ve had the rare condition of acute hypergraphia.

Hypergraphia is defined in Wikipedia as:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

I plan on writing more about hypergraphia in tomorrow’s blog post.  It’s a fascinating topic, and to this day I’ll never forget how it felt to actually experience it.  Luckily, electroconvulsive therapy has not wiped out my recollection of what it felt like to write in that otherworldly, amazing, exhausting, and, at times, terrifying way.  

I shouldn’t make light about hypergraphia, because it’s a serious condition.  I became annoyed yesterday when I found a snarky article online. (Dare I write this?  Why not: a “snarkticle”) It was written by a woman who clearly had no idea what she was discussing when it came to hypergraphia.  While she made some valid points, I disagreed with the majority of them and I want to have some fun and address them on Thursday.  To get a head start you can read the piece here:

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

If one hasn’t really, truly lived with this state, I feel 90% of writers should stick to the classic adage that I believe in with all my heart: “write what you know”.

What’s really behind this ramble?  Fear.  Fear of my creative drive leaving as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived.  I am especially scared about next week when I begin the heavy-duty work on my draft of Birth of a New Brain.  I am afraid of not being able to write a damn word – I’m scared of writer’s block making its gruesome return.  This fear has been the primary force in driving me to write every day, even when I knew I wasn’t creating memorable turns of phrase.  I felt that if I just wrote something, the act of writing could, at the very least, keep the flow of words coming day after day.  There are entire books written about this subject, of course, not to mention writing seminars and conferences.

I’ll carry on.  Today I am going to take a break from writing during most of my free time to read instead.  I actually have bona fide homework: to read a review copy of Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White.  I’d rather write, but I promised my counselor I’d read the book.  I’m also planning to write a review about the book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.  I read and write in front of my Sunbox DL.   I’ve had this therapeutic light for the past decade, and it’s designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder among other conditions.  My light energizes me and literally brightens my day.  I’ll return tomorrow with yet another discourse; until then, I wish you a wonderful day!  Thanks for reading!

The Fateful Week – A Journey with Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

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Yesterday I was honored to be asked to submit a piece of writing about my experience with postpartum bipolar disorder to Postpartum Progress (www.postpartumprogress.com).  Postpartum Progress is a highly acclaimed organization helping women with postpartum mood disorders all over the world.  Here is a description on their website about what they offer:

“Postpartum Progress® offers in-depth information, community and hope for pregnant and new moms with postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth (including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression during pregnancy, post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, depression after miscarriage or perinatal loss and postpartum psychosis). We know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD are temporary and treatable with professional help.  We are fiercely proud to be the world’s most widely-read blog dedicated to these illnesses, with more than 1.1 million pageviews annually. Our award-winning site is consistently ranked among the top blogs in both the categories of depression and pregnancy/childbirth.”

The below article is a highly condensed version of what took place before and after my diagnosis.  This post will give you an idea of the main events that occurred during the fall when I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.  

On a warm Indian summer night, I was a sweaty nine months pregnant when my water broke.  During my pregnancy I tested positive for Group B streptococcus, a bacterium in my body that could result in a life-threatening infection to my baby. Right after my water broke, my husband Craig called the hospital to see if there was a room available. Due to my having the Group B bacterial infection, he was instructed by the maternity nurse to get us to the hospital right away. In pain, I stayed up all night in labor, not sleeping one wink.  This innocent-sounding act — enduring one night without sleep — would be my biochemical trigger for postpartum bipolar disorder.  Despite my having a strong family history of bipolar disorder, at age thirty-seven, I didn’t have any inkling that mental illness was latent in me.  My first daughter Avonlea had been born almost two years earlier, and I was incredibly fortunate that I did not have a postpartum mood disorder following her birth.

My second daughter Marilla was born at noon, on August 26th, 2007; I was thrilled she was a robust seven pounds.  During the first two days of Marilla’s life, obstetricians and nurses examined me at the hospital, and I visited with family and friends, but no one detected that I was in jeopardy.  At first I was hypomanic, exuberant with joy over the birth, and I appeared relatively normal.  Sweet Marilla attracted most of the attention.  However, I sensed I was in growing trouble of some kind, but my fear of being an inept mother caused me to keep my feelings inside.

Since we didn’t have family members immediately available to help us, my mother gave us the gift of a postpartum doula named Grace.  Grace and I had planned that she be with us after Marilla’s birth, but she had a completely unanticipated allergic reaction.  She wasn’t able to join our family until four days following Marilla’s debut.  As Grace hadn’t known my personality well before coming to work with us, and she didn’t realize that my manic behavior was different than how I had been before Marilla was born, although she was absolutely concerned with what she witnessed.  Grace was wonderful with our girls and with me and Craig; she was an excellent doula, but she couldn’t rescue me from my dire situation – no one could at that point.  Grace had worked with over 150 mothers; while some of them suffered from postpartum depression, none of them presented with postpartum mania like I did.

The deceptive part of postpartum mania is that people often think the new mother is simply happy to have a baby.  After Marilla’s birth, I was filled with an overwhelming amount of joy and energy.  However, not one of my state-of-the-art maternity center nurses, OB-GYN’s, or our pediatrician detected my mania right away.  My father had bipolar one disorder, so I had a genetic predisposition to the mood disorder.  Furthermore, I had suffered clinical depression ten years prior to Marilla’s birth.  (Recent studies have shown that women with clinical depression prior to childbirth have a much greater chance of being diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.) 

During my hypomanic state, I could feel my brain thinking much, much faster than it had before.  I also had a very rare condition triggered in tandem with bipolar called hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing.  I had been a freelance writer for years, but this kind of writing was totally different than how I wrote before childbirth.  Once I returned home from the hospital, I simply could not stop writing.  I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, and it was completely bizarre!

During my sleepless nights postpartum, in a well-meaning effort to get me to stop typing, Craig hid my laptop.  As he slept, I cleaned for a good part of the night as quietly as I could.  While I scrubbed countertops and organized drawers at 3:00 a.m., I yearned to have some semblance of peace and balance in my life. I also went online and typed lengthy emails to friends.  I didn’t realize that my friends would be able to view the actual time I sent their emails, and some of them later told me they were puzzled that I was writing such lengthy epistles to them in the wee hours, night after night.

After I barely slept for so many days in a row, I was feeling much the way I imagined a coke addict would feel.  I was revving with energy, but I felt exhausted and I was on the brink of an emotional outburst. Still, nothing too dramatic happened, so no one thought I should consult a psychiatrist.  During that fateful postpartum week, my brain chemistry was markedly awry in every part of my body.  Apart from cleaning the house, I had the other classic signs of mania: tons of energy, pressured speech, no appetite and loss of weight.  Because it was hard for me to sit still for any length of time, my mania affected my ability to adequately breastfeed my baby. At Marilla’s one-week check-up we discovered her weight had dropped almost a pound, which perplexed my pediatrician, but at that point he did not recognize my mania.

After five days without sleep, I knew that I was sinking fast and that something needed to change. I called my OB/GYN and told her medical assistant Priscilla I couldn’t sleep. Priscilla suggested I try an over-the-counter drug such as Benedryl, but I sheepishly asked if I could try something stronger than that, because Benedryl had never made me sleepy in the past.  With my OB/GYN’s approval, Priscilla phoned in a prescription for Ambien.

I also felt compelled to speak with another mother who had experienced a postpartum crisis.  I called our local Postpartum “Warmline” but the number was disconnected!  I was incredulous and angry that such an important hotline had vanished. (I later found out it disappeared due to a budget cut.) I called information asking if they had some kind of a postpartum support line, but the operator couldn’t find a number, and I got even more discouraged. Finally, I called our local maternity hospital’s lactation center and they gave me the number of the Postpartum Support International (PSI) Bay Area hotline. The PSI volunteer I called, Linda, encouraged me to consider medication to help me sleep.  Her suggestion validated my earlier decision to ask my OB/GYN for a sleep aid.  After we ended our conversation, I felt so comforted in speaking with someone who understood how difficult the postpartum period was.   After taking my first sleeping pill, I got the first decent night’s sleep I had in five nights and I felt a little rested the following day. 

A month after Marilla was born, I knew I had mania; after all, I had witnessed mania firsthand in my Dad.  Before I told Craig or anyone else, I surfed the internet looking for anything related to postpartum mania.  I located a statistic that one in one thousand mothers who give birth will succumb to postpartum mania.  Then the name “Dr. Alice W. Flaherty” appeared in my postpartum mania search.  She was a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard professor, and renowned author of The Midnight Disease, an examination of the drive to write, writer’s block and the creative brain. In The Midnight Disease Dr. Flaherty courageously shares her own experience with hypergraphia, the heartbreaking death of her newborn twins, and her hospitalization for a postpartum mood disorder. I couldn’t believe my luck, for I had the gut feeling that this woman could help me.  I made the necessary calls to track down her assistant. 

Miraculously, I was able to reach Dr. Flaherty the following day.  Before we spoke, I shared with Craig about my suspicions and he wanted to be part of our conversation.  Dr. Flaherty generously made time for us to have a brief, pro bono phone consultation. Dr. Flaherty recognized my mania as she heard my pressurized speech pattern, and helped me calm down.  She said right off the bat, “I need you to focus right now.”  Focus I did.  Dr. Flaherty shared with me how medication stabilized her own postpartum mania.  She also strongly encouraged me to consider using formula as a supplement for Marilla, which I did. 

I scheduled an appointment with the psychiatrist I had seen for depression, but before I saw him, it was time for Marilla’s six-week checkup.  I brought Marilla in to our razor-sharp, UCLA-trained pediatrician.  Before arriving at his office I had gathered a bunch of thank-you gifts for him.  When I greeted him, he listened to my racing voice and observed the plethora of presents.  I’ll never forget how he blurted out, “You’re manic!”  I immediately burst into tears.  While I felt embarrassed and ashamed, a part of me felt relieved that he figured out what was happening with me.  From the point on, my mental condition deteriorated and instead of seeing my former psychiatrist it was clear to me that I needed hospitalization. It broke my heart to leave my family, but I admitted myself into our local hospital’s mental unit.  It was there I was officially diagnosed with bipolar one disorder and I took my first mood stabilizer. 

In the eight years since I was diagnosed, research organizations have been studying postpartum bipolar disorder.  A prominent 2013 study appeared in the journal Bipolar Disorders.  This study suggests that women with a prior history of depression should be screened for hypomanic symptoms after giving birth.  Canadian researchers asserted that childbirth is a potent, specific trigger for mania or hypomania.  They found the number of women who transition from depression to bipolar II disorder following birth is 11 to 18 times higher than rates reported for women who hadn’t recently given birth. 

I feel that it’s imperative the doctors and other caregivers who assess women for postpartum depression also screen them for hypomanic or manic symptoms.  My two daughters and husband have suffered immeasurably due to my postpartum bipolar disorder.  On the bright side, they have also observed my hard-won recovery.  After years of trying many medications, numerous hospitalizations and even two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, I am finally stable.  Bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, but Craig and I have been married for fifteen years.  With the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists, our marriage is stronger and more precious than ever before.  I am a member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Board and I blog for them as well.  With any mood disorder, community support can be incredibly helpful.  To that end, I founded the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) chapter where I live and I facilitated a free women’s support group for two years.  I’m now focusing on my family and working on my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar.  Life will always be a challenge living with bipolar one disorder, but my girls have inspired me to work on my recovery with every ounce of my being. 

 Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s bio:

Dyane holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dyane was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder in 2007 at age thirty-seven.  A writer, Dyane’s articles have been published in numerous magazines.  She has worked with one of her favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic A Wrinkle In Time.  She had the thrill of meeting Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the groundbreaking book An Unquiet Mind, to interview her for an article about women, depression and exercise. Dyane is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise.  Dyane founded the Santa Cruz, California chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  She is a member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s (IBPF) Community Action Board and blogs for them at www.ibpf.org.  She was selected as the IBPF’s first 2014 “Story of Hope and Recovery”. Aside from raising her two daughters Avonlea and Marilla with her husband Craig, Dyane is a women’s mental health advocate.  She is a group facilitator for women with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. Dyane lives in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains that attracts a variety of holistic health experts, and she enjoys researching alternative fields in her quest to thrive with bipolar disorder.  She is working on her first book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and you can read Dyane’s blog “Birth of a New Brain” at http://www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com.

 

 

Hitting Rock Bottoms and Dealing with Diabolical Dust!

images-1During most of my life, I’ve needed to hit rock bottom before I’ve been able to make a significant, lasting change.  I hit rock bottom hard last spring in my quest to become medication-free.  I almost completely tapered off lithium and just when I thought I was going to achieve my goal, mania set in, followed by suicidal depression.  I wound up back in the hospital for a good chunk of the summer.  I’ll just say it wasn’t quite like visiting Maui.

After my relapse, I finally uttered out loud that I needed bipolar medication.  I wasn’t simply spouting a Big Pharma party line.  I was truly sincere in declaring that I needed the meds because I finally found a combination that lifted my bipolar depression.

A year later I’m hitting rock bottom in a different, much less alarming way.  I’ve begun to spring clean. It sounds a little ridiculous, not to mention uber-boring, but please bear with me.  The fact that I’ve been able to clean more than a couple of dishes is huge.  A mere five months ago I was bedridden with fatigue a good part of each day due to Zoloft side effects.  I am actually excited that I can eradicate heaps of dust that accumulated in my living spaces during my depression era.  Usually the only thing that can cause that much excitement in my world is a brand-new book or a Green & Blacks milk chocolate bar.

Although Spring, 2014 won’t officially begin until March 20th, last Friday our warm, sunny weather felt it had arrived in full force.  “Springy signs” such as daffodils and blooming Japanese plum trees have appeared over the past week.  That particular Friday I chauffeured the girls to school without too much drama in the car’s backseat.  After I walked them to class, I navigated driving home amongst my fellow parents.  Just exiting the school parking lot has always been challenging, and I needed to be fully alert.  Some of these parents have the driving manners of a felon on methamphetamine and possess the IQ of a squid.  I returned to an empty house where I could write in peace.  But something stirred in my veins besides wanting to write my blog and surf Facebook.  At first I couldn’t quite believe it, but I realized I felt an overwhelming compulsion to clean our decrepit home.  I tanked up on some super-strong coffee and I stood quietly for a moment.

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Due to detritus just about everywhere, I would need to clean in baby steps.  The easiest task to start with seemed like vacuuming.  Little did I know that vacuuming one bedroom and one living room would be so time-consuming, physical, and utterly gross.  Our rat colony, now in Rat Heaven, left droppings galore which they emitted during their time on Earth.  I knew that underneath my queen bed there was a ton of dust.  After moving the bed and pulling a muscle in my back, I discovered that one of our girl’s hobbies was hiding candy wrappers underneath the bed.   There was a huge amount of chunky dust everywhere I looked – so much so that I emptied the vacuum’s dirt receptacle three times in half an hour.  On the bright side, I was happy to have a vacuum that actually worked.  Best of all, it was awesome to experience the gratification that comes from the sweat and toil of cleaning.

I am very fortunate that I don’t live with a Neanderthal-type of husband who demands his wife to keep the house in spotless condition.  Craig has had every right to drop me a hint to clean.  I am a stay-at-home-mom and I have time to do some rudimentary tidying up around here.  He knows I’ve felt too exhausted, depressed and overwhelmed to impersonate Martha Stewart, and I’m forever grateful to him for his understanding.

My daughter Avonlea knows we can’t afford a housecleaning service, and told me she would give me her piggy bank money to pay someone to clean our home.  She explained that she felt embarrassed to have friends over due to the mess.  I felt like I won the “Worst Mom of the Year” award in that moment.  I’ve considered asking for a one-time professional deep clean as my upcoming birthday gift rather than books, a facial, or chocolate.

As a teenager long before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I took good care of my surroundings.  When I attended college, I’d clean whatever room or studio I was renting on a regular basis.  I’ve actually had a stint as a professional housecleaner.  In my early twenties I had the good fortune to visit Vail, Colorado.  While I was there I was hired to clean condos for seventy dollars a day.  I did a reasonably good job and I took pride in my elbow grease.

I expanded my cleaning repertoire when I worked at a gym for a couple years.  I began as the morning front desk greeter, and then I became a certified personal trainer.  My daily responsibilities included cleaning the gym before we opened and throughout my shift.  I cleaned all the gym equipment, the jacuzzi, and the large women’s and men’s bathrooms.  I’ll never forget one morning when I discovered that a female member had left me a disgusting fecal “present” in one shower.  I couldn’t comprehend how a woman could expect another human being to clean up after her in that way.  I think that’s when I started searching the classifieds for an office administration job.

Over the past fifteen years during our marriage, we’ve vacationed at housekeeping-style rentals.  These spots have usually required a cleaning fee, but of course we couldn’t leave the places a pigsty for the cleaner.  We were instructed by the owners to follow basic cleaning checklists before leaving.  Since I knew what it was like to clean professionally, I’d go above and beyond those lists’ requirements; I’d strip beds, remove all hair in the sinks and showers, and make sure that nothing skanky was in the toilets…that kind of thing.

Last year when I became manic during the med-free experiment, I  agreed to housesit for a friend.  As a surprise gift to her family, I decided to clean her home.  I had a tremendous amount of  energy, and I cleaned as if my life depended upon my doing a meticulous job.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when my friends walked in the door to see my handiwork.  During that same time period, I also cleaned our own home before throwing a surprise birthday party for Craig.  I didn’t do as thorough a job as I did at my friend’s place, but it wasn’t bad.  At least I didn’t go on a $30,000 shopping spree or do other disturbing and/or dangerous things people sometimes do when they are manic!

I am most definitely not hypomanic or manic now.  My meds are working, knock on wood.  I’m sleeping, exercising, and my psychiatrist is comfortable with how I’m doing.  A few days ago I took it as a good omen that I was asked by the International Bipolar Foundation to be their “Story of Hope and Recovery” which they featured on their website.

Cleaning, although not the most exciting or profound topic, has become a meaningful metaphor in my life.  By removing some of the squalor around me, I feel less lethargic.  Whisking away the nasty grime has allowed me to enjoy where I live instead – I no longer feel guilty for neglecting our home.  My inner hippie also believes that when I clean my small workspace this week, I’ll clear stagnant energy left over from my depression.  I’ve observed some friends wave burning clusters of dried sage in their rooms for purification purposes.  I prefer the smell of orange essential oil, and will dig up my old mini-diffuser in the closet.

Once my workspace is complete, I will finally be able to finish giving birth (pun intended) to Birth of a New Brain.  Some of you reading this essay may be “clean freaks” (lucky you!) and may not relate to letting dirt reign supreme.  For those of you whose depression has influenced you to sully up your surroundings, consider downing a pot of black coffee (even if you don’t drink it) and do just one thing.  Vacuum.  Clean the refrigerator.  (It won’t take as long as you think.)   God forbid I forget to mention the toilet.  If you do any or all of these tasks, I promise, you might end up with sore muscles, but you won’t be sorry.

Good luck, and I can’t resist writing this: May the force be with you.

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Recluses

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This topic is often on my mind as I live in a neighborhood full of recluses.  I’m referring to people who prefer to live in seclusion, not to the venomous recluse spider.  (Sorry to trick you with that spider cover model shot!)

Last week my favorite musician Neil Finn released his song “Recluse” on his “Dizzy Heights” album.  The refrain is “It’s people that you lose…when you become a recluse.” It’s true, oh yes, it’s true  – I’ve lost many friends in shutting myself off from them, literally and figuratively, especially since I suffered from bipolar depression for so long

Here’s a link to Neil performing “Recluse”:

When we moved into our neighborhood to buy our first home, I was naive.  I didn’t research what kind of housing situation would best suit our family. For over fifteen years I had been a renter in run-down, depressing apartments, studios and houses with landlords out of a Dickens novel. Our yearning to be homeowners clouded our judgment.  I didn’t ask our realtor to show us a variety of homes.  My confidence was lower than a snake’s belly, my depression was high, and there was a part of me that felt I didn’t deserve to have the home of my dreams.

Our street wasn’t conducive for walking anywhere safely.  There were no sidewalks, it was steep, and people sped on it.  Driveways were hidden from view, as were all of our neighbors.  Every time I backed out of our driveway, which was just past a blind curve, I prayed no one would slam into me.  (I found out that the curve had a history of many car accidents which, ahem, our realtor had failed to mention to us.)

After we moved in we had one neighbor personally welcome us, but her visit was quite odd and brief.  Someone knocked on the door, and when Craig opened it he faced a woman with a bright red, unnaturally shiny face.  She shoved a freshly baked loaf of bread at him without saying a word. Then she fled back to her house next door.

We later discovered that “Jenna” had a chemical peel done on her face and wasn’t up to socializing.  I was touched by her gesture and stopped by her house to thank her.  We had a long, enjoyable conversation, but she soon moved away.

Once when we had guests over, I had them park in our small driveway.  I parked in front of a neighbor’s house on a side street.  I wasn’t blocking anything and there was plenty of room for others to park.  I returned to my car to find “NO PARKING” traced in the dust on my dirty rear window, along with a note on my front window saying not to park there.  The messages seemed overkill to me – one note or the other would have done the trick.  I could understand the neighbor’s righteous  ‘tude if I was doing something egregious, but I was innocent!  I found the curt notes to be downright unneighborly, to say the least.  It’s safe to say that I won’t be trick or treating at that house in the future!

I have mixed feelings living around my fellow recluses.  I suspect we all may be mentally unhealthy to a certain degree as a result of this isolationist-style of living.  Living among non-social people wasn’t a problem for me during the years I was depressed, but now that I don’t spend all my time in bed, I feel differently.  I don’t know what 99% of my neighbors look like, let alone what their names are.  It’s weird.  But even if we wanted to sell our home to move into a more family-friendly area, we couldn’t swing it unless my SuperLotto ticket hits the jackpot.

I’ve visited beautiful communities perfectly designed for families.  These locations have playgrounds, tennis courts and picnic areas accessible to everyone living within a certain area.  Kids linger on the sidewalks and hang out on driveways to play with one another.  I wish that style of living was what we could afford.

I grew up in a neighborhood chock full of families.  However, most of our neighbors were unfriendly and some were downright obnoxious.  Most of my town’s population consisted of wealthy, white people.  The nicest neighbor on our block was African-American; she became a family friend and always greeted me warmly.  She and my Mom, now both in their late seventies, are still close.

The families that lived directly on either side of our house were awful.  Then again, my parents alienated them because of their disturbing, deafening arguments.  I’ll never forget the woman who lived right next door to us.  I’ll call her Mrs. Hideous.  She sent my parents an “anonymous” poison pen letter, but it was obvious that it was written by her.  When my parents read her letter, it upset them so much that it caused a terrible argument in our household.  I’ve never been able to forgive Mrs. Hideous for her cowardice, ignorance, and for making me sick with anxiety during that argument.

Thank God we don’t live next door to someone like Mrs. Hideous – I prefer to reside next to a recluse any day, either human or spider!

I’ve had moments of fancy (usually when hypomanic) in which we throw a block party here.  I’m sure we’d get a decent turnout since there never has been a block party in the seven years we’ve lived here.  Free food and drinks will bring out even the reclusive types.  I imagine such a scenario for sixty seconds, and then I think, “Nah.”

 

Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful for a roof over my head.  I know there are many folks who are less fortunate and they wouldn’t care if they lived next to hermits.  Whenever I obsess about a subject, I know there’s a lesson in it somewhere.  If our situation changes unexpectedly and we are able to relocate, I’ll make sure our search will be in a circumspect manner.  I won’t desperately bid for the first possibility that comes up.  If we are lucky enough to move to a place with the characteristics I desire, I’ll be able to fully appreciate it and never take it for granted.  Being a quote-o-holic, I found two quotes from the website Goodreads to inspire me about this topic, and I hope they inspire you as well.   The first quote is from the one and only Oprah Winfrey, who knows a little something about lack and abundance.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough” 

The other quote is from Elbert Hubbard.  I never heard of him until Goodreads, and that’s the beauty of this website  – it’s fun to discover new sources.  He was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher who lived in the 1800’s.  Hubbard was an influential advocate of the Arts and Crafts movement and said:

“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” 

It’s all about perspective.  I’m slowly but surely changing my point of view…is there anything in your life, momentous or tiny, that you are changing?  I’d love to hear about it so please feel welcome to comment away.

Happy Saturday!

Dyane 🙂

Story of Hope and Recovery for the International Bipolar Foundation

Photo on 2014-02-20 at 09.43

Yesterday I was asked by the staff of the International Bipolar Foundation to be their first “Story of Hope and Recovery” for 2014.  I’m honored and thrilled to have been selected and I’d like to share my story with you!

This Q&A will appear on their new website later on today, http://www.ibpf.org, which has a ton of great resources.

Their Facebook page is:  https://www.facebook.com/InternationalBipolarFoundation

Dyane Leshin-Harwood is a forty-four-year-old married mother of two young girls. Raised in Los Angeles, Dyane grew up close to her father who had bipolar disorder one, and who played violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over twenty-five years. Dyane has a B.A. degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz in English and American Literature. She has been a freelance writer for the past fifteen years and has interviewed such mental health luminaries as Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison and Dr. Martha Manning for nationally published articles. Dyane lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where she is working on her book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and blogs at www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com.

Q: When did you first learn of your diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

A: I had given birth to my second daughter, Marilla, at age thirty-seven.  Immediately after her birth I became hypomanic and experienced the rare condition of hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing. Two months later I had full-blown postpartum mania and admitted myself for hospitalization, where I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder one.

Q: Could you describe your support network, positive influences and how you find balance and stability?

A: A few years ago I founded the DBSA Chapter (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) for our county and I created a women’s support group. It was there where I met two women with bipolar disorder who have become close friends. I also find support online through Facebook’s miscellaneous private bipolar groups and the Mental Health Bloggers network. BP Magazine’s bloggers are a great resource as well. (www.bphope.com) International Bipolar Foundation’s Facebook page offers a newsfeed that shares inspiring pictures and quotes.  That really brightens my day! I find balance and stability in five key ways: seeing my “team” (psychiatrist and counselor) regularly, medication, steady exercise, writing, and of course enough sleep! My goal this year is to improve my diet and try meditation.

Q: Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

A: My two daughters Avonlea, age 9, and Marilla, age 6. The love I feel for them is ineffable, and their unconditional love for me makes me want to be stable with bipolar more than anything; after all the trauma they’ve been through (I’ve been hospitalized five times for this illness since Marilla was born.) I am motivated to do all I can to show them that one can live well with a mood disorder.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: As a writer I can’t resist quoting my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle. I had the incredible experience of working with her at a writer’s workshop. It was impossible for me to choose just one quote, so here are two short ones: “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.” This quote is from her best known work A Wrinkle In Time: “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” Speaking of the mind, I love what author Melody Moezzi (Haldol and Hyacinths) said in her recent webinar for International Bipolar Foundation. While Melody asserted she didn’t want to glamorize bipolar, she noted, “There’s something extraordinary about a mind that works differently.”

Q: What is your message of hope to others living with Bipolar Disorder?

A: The beautiful Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” comes to mind as I write this. There were many times I wanted to give up. I know this will sound like a cliché, but if you are feeling stuck and hopeless, please reach out to others. Seek a therapist and/or psychiatrist. My Dad always told me that by the time I was older, a cure would be found for bipolar. Although that hasn’t happened yet, we shouldn’t rule out breakthroughs with the tremendous amount of research happening. I was cynical about feeling hopeful regarding my recovery for such a long time, but that finally shifted. We can hope together for medical advancements, and in the meantime, do all you can to ask for help so you feel supported, not isolated. You don’t have to suffer needlessly – there is hope for each and every one of you!

 

Getting Past Being Our Community Horror Story

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On Presidents’ Day, a school holiday, I awoke to an unscheduled day.  I needed something to do with my daughter Marilla, so I decided to take her to the park. (My other little girl, Avonlea, headed for her best friend’s house.)   The weather was clear and sunny, but my mind was stormy and gloomy.  I wanted to hide in my bed, read a book, and not have to interact with anyone.  It was actually a promising sign of my recovery that I was able to leave the house, so off we went.

The park was near our home and frequented by many families.  During the seven years of my visiting it, my park experiences have ranged from enjoyable to atrocious. One of my worst visits occurred when I tripped over an innocent-looking root on a perfectly flat trail.  I was alone and no one saw me fall.  I slammed down to the ground, breaking my collar bone from the impact.  Luckily I had my cell phone and I reached Craig for help.  More pleasant times included the afternoons I spent there with a kindred spirit mom while our kids had fun playing tag with one another.  We’ve held birthday parties for both of our girls at these grounds.  During those events I’d feel happy watching my girls’ excitement, but I also suffered with social anxiety.

It is here, at this park, where I’ve been both “B.D.” and “A.D.”:

before diagnosis and after diagnosis.

After we moved to this area with baby Avonlea, I wanted to meet other moms.  Through the internet I located a baby playgroup that met in my neighborhood.  I immediately joined the small group and met some friendly moms who I am still in touch with now.

This was “B.D.”.  I would not become the “Bipolar Mom” in our community for almost two more years.  It’s hard for me to believe that back then I was perceived by others as relatively normal.  I had been battling depression for many years, but I hid it well.  I didn’t talk openly about my depression at the playgroup and neither did any of the other moms, although I sensed I wasn’t the only one struggling in that way.

Then fall of 2007 came along, I gave birth to my second beautiful girl Marilla, and all hell broke loose after her debut.  My lack of sleep, a genetic predisposition to bipolar, and wacked-out hormones combined to trigger postpartum bipolar disorder.  Two months after Rilla was born,  I had full-blown postpartum mania.  I reluctantly admitted myself to our local hospital’s locked-down mental health unit.  Despite the fact that the building opposite my unit had a fully equipped maternity wing, the staff couldn’t find me a breast pump to ease my painful engorgement.  (It was such a nightmare admission that we forgot my Medela pump in the car.)  I actually had to call a friend on the pay phone to loan me her pump.  The hospital’s ineptitude with the breast pump was a prelude to their incompetence in every other aspect of the place.  I could have run a better unit, especially in my energetic manic state. 😉

After my stay at the hospital, I entered a new epoch of my life: “A.D.”

When I returned home after my hospitalization, our extended family, friends and acquaintances knew what had happened to me.  I’ve written about this time in depth in my Birth of a New Brain draft.  Suffice it to say that I was not treated like I had a “casserole disease” by certain people I knew.  It broke my heart how these individuals were unable to offer empathy and practical support.  (If you are reading this, and you visited with me or helped our family in any way, please don’t take offense.  I’m not including you here!)

Where I live, the mental illness stigma is still very strong.  This is a conservative rural community.  There are so many churches up here that thinking about them makes my head spin.

As far as I know, I am the only “out” mom with bipolar around these parts.  I founded our county’s chapter of the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) and I created my first women’s support group.  We started with over twenty members, but the group eventually ran out of steam when I relapsed.  When I created the women’s support group, I was profiled in two local newspaper articles that included pictures of me with my girls.  I don’t regret doing that, but I believe that my going public had personal repercussions.  Our Press Banner’s editor Peter Burke did a nice job in the following piece:

http://www.pressbanner.com/pages/full_story/push?article-A+new+day+dawning%20&id=7251763#comments_7251763

Over the years since I was diagnosed, I didn’t think I came across as “crazy” to others – anxious, yes, but not psychotic.  I know the publicity I did (some of which mentioned I had been hospitalized) backfired on me socially.  I sensed that some school moms who knew of my medical history didn’t want to develop friendships with someone like me.  I’ll never know that for sure, of course, but my intuition tells me I’m right.  I can’t go back to undo my past, and I wouldn’t change my actions if I could, but it’s isolating and lonely having bipolar where I live.

Since 2007 I’ve only been approached by two other mothers with bipolar.  I’m incredibly fortunate that both of them have become close friends.  One of them even had ECT with the same doctor who helped me.  These women’s cases were less severe than mine, as none of them were ever hospitalized for mental illness.  I apologize for being a whiner but I feel like a pariah for being known as the worst case mental illness scenario ’round here.  It’s difficult to express this concept without sounding like an ingrate of some sort; this has been one of the hardest posts for me to write.

More importantly than any of the above is that I don’t want my girls adversely affected socially because their mom has a brain disorder.  The point that keeps popping up in my head is that I can’t be the only local mom who was in a locked-down unit for mental illness, but I feel like I am.  There are thousands of folks in the large valley where I live, and statistically speaking, there is no way there aren’t other moms who have been hospitalized for bipolar.  We don’t have support groups around here where I could potentially meet some of those moms.  I’m not starting yet another group, as I’m burned out.

I may never completely get past feeling ashamed about being the “community horror story” but as you can infer by reading this post, I have a ways to go.   I want to come to better terms with my past, but I can’t do it alone.  My husband, close friends, and therapist can help me navigate this tricky issue.  When I adopt another dog, that will help me too!  (Really!)

We all harbor darkness such as sexual abuse, self-harm or depression.  I want to remember each and every day that I am not the only one suffering, and that it’s possible that other “normal” moms I encounter may be keeping their serious mental health issues under wraps.  If I try my best to be productive and focus on the positives in my life (rather than on the crap) I think my shame will fade in the years to come.