Unplug Sunday – To unplug or not to unplug? That is the question!

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My psychiatrist Dr. D., the best psychiatrist I’ve ever seen, has shared with me about healthy habits he incorporates into his life.  Some examples include: he meditates daily, he’s deeply committed to a faith, and he “unplugs” on Sundays.  He genuinely seems like a happy, mellow guy.  Dr. D. is onto something good, that’s for sure, and God knows I’d like to be more easygoing and grounded like him.

When Dr. D. told me about his unplugging habit, I almost gasped.  That was when I was still in love with Facebook.  I recently returned to using Facebook after a long hiatus, and I was having a blast with it. When I opened a Twitter account it added fuel to my plugged-in fire.  Don’t even get me started about emails – I’ve always been a bit overzealous with them long before Facebook got off the ground in 2004.

To top things off, I discovered that if I could find a good network  signal, my Kindle Fire could connect to the internet when I was out and about.  In using all these devices I wasn’t manic by any means, for I wasn’t up at all hours online or doing anything foolish.  I was simply online too much and I used Facebook and Twitter to procrastinate on exciting tasks I should have been doing, like researching my Medicare drug plan and starting traffic school. 🙂

Then I started my blog “Birth of a New Brain”.  Filling my hours with blogging and reading others’ blogs made the time while my girls were at school made the hours fly by.

But as I got more and more active with Facebook, and Twitter, I developed the “I might miss something really important if I’m not online every few minutes” syndrome.  A couple Facebook friends I admired seemed to have the same affliction as me.  They both mentioned to me that they were going to leave Facebook for while.  I realized that I was felt tempted to take an Facebook vacation of my own.

Early this morning, I realized that my joyful use of Facebook and Twitter and my love for blogging are becoming besmirched. (Besmirched is such a great word:”to soil, to detract from the honor or luster of”.)  In any case, I’ve become too obsessive in using Facebook, Twitter and blogging.  Both of my daughters tease me about being on the computer too much; they are absolutely right, and their observation makes me feel lower than a anaconda’s belly.

This morning I also panicked because the coming day had a complete lack of structured plans, and that unnerved me.  My Facebook/blog routine is firmly set in place each morning.  I wake up earlier than the rest of my family, take my meds, eat pomegranate Greek yogurt, and make my blessed coffee.  I prepare the girls’ lunches and pack snacks.  Then I sit in in front of my Sunbox for half an hour to Facebook/Tweet/email to my heart’s content.  The thought of giving this routine up for even one day a week freaks me out.  But maybe, just maybe, I’ll appreciate my social media all the more if I take a 24-hour-long hiatus each week.  I need to reassure myself that if something really important happens online, I’ll find out about it eventually and the sky won’t come falling down.

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In what could have only been divine timing and a good omen, this afternoon I came across a blog post by the writer Cristi Comes of the acclaimed blog “Motherhood Unadorned”.  Her article is titled “When Blogging and Social Media Overwhelms”, and it was exactly type of subject I wanted to read about.  I’m superstitious and a believer in signs and in my opinion, this was a bold sign from the universe that I needed to read her post immediately.

Cristi’s post was a fascinating, personal read.  Her social media experience was relevant to so many, and her post gave me hope for dealing with my online addictions in a healthier way.  I couldn’t figure out how to “reblog” her post, so I’m pasting the link for you below.  (Cristi’s blog is worth checking out for many other reasons as well; she’s also an editor at Postpartum Progress and an amazing mental health advocate!)

http://www.motherhoodunadorned.com/2012/08/15/bloggingandsocialmedia/

I’ll definitely report back about my quest to unplug on Sundays (or maybe another day of the week!) and I promise I won’t lie if there are slip-ups.  There’s a reason I call my Kindle my third child…it’s going to be tough to cut off my virtual stimulation, but I have a strong feeling unplugging will be worth it so I can focus on something else besides a screen.

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Ghosts of “Normal” Yesterdays

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Yesterday was Friday, and it felt like a Freaky Friday to me in more ways than one.  On that beautiful, sunny day I planned on driving to downtown Santa Cruz with Marilla to meet with an optometrist.  Rilla’s vision had become blurry during the past week, so much so that her teacher called me to advise getting her tested for glasses.  We headed for the outdoor shopping strip known as the Pacific Garden Mall where we’d meet her optometrist.

Santa Cruz, ninety minutes south of San Francisco, is located on the Pacific coast.  It’s a gorgeous place to live and many movies have been filmed here because of the landscape.  I grew up in Los Angeles and at eighteen I moved here to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Like many other transplants, I’ve stayed in the area ever since.

During my first year of college I lived in a small room with three other girls.  It was claustrophobic, and while my roommates were nice coeds, I didn’t bond with any of them well.  I decided to get a weekend job that would require me to be off campus to distract me from my loneliness.  Since I was a chocolate fiend, I located a French bakery that would be the perfect setting for me to work.  I interviewed with plenty of enthusiasm and landed a counter job that paid less than five dollars per hour, with no benefits except access to sweets.

I bought a friend’s neon green and black-polka-dotted Honda Spree scooter.   The eye-catching transport would allow me to reach the bakery by my 5:00 a.m. call time.  The scooter topped out at a whopping twenty-five miles per hour, but I didn’t care.  It got me where I needed to go.  It took twenty minutes to reach my destination, and it was cold riding outside on those early mornings.  Tears ran down my face from the icy breeze that rushed towards me as I put-putted down a steep grade. 

When I reached the bakery, I entered the kitchen where the fresh chocolate truffle batter was mixed daily, and I discreetly helped myself to some of it.  I also had no compunction in sampling some of the amazing French pastries and bread.  All of those yummies contributed to my classic “freshman fifteen” pound weight gain.

As my shift rolled on, I sold many cups of the aromatic French roast coffee.  I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I actually hated coffee back then!  The brew wouldn’t become a staple in my life until a couple years later when I began work as an office manager.  Behind the counter, I often peeked outside at the brick courtyard to watch some colorful locals walk by.  One of the standouts was “Rainbow Ginger”, an elderly woman who dressed in rainbow colors and carried a tambourine.  She would sing, dance and kick her leg up high whenever she felt moved to make a spectacle.  Little did I know that this woman was actually related to my future husband.  (He doesn’t wear rainbow clothes, sing or kick up his legs, although he plays a mean guitar!)

I only lasted at the bakery for four months, which was a good thing, because I would have kept pounding the French pastries and truffles and gain the freshman forty.

A year later, the bakery building and surrounding courtyard would be demolished after the ferocious 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  Several people were killed when a bookstore directly across from the bakery collapsed.   The quake was a 6.9 on the Richter scale, and it was so terrifying that I slept in my car the night it happened, not trusting my apartment building as I feared it could crush me.

When Marilla and I looked for the optometry building, ironically it was directly next to the empty lot where the French bakery, courtyard, and bookstore used to be.  The lot was an eerie site.  Most of the young people I watched sauntering by us probably had no idea of the grim history of that area.  I decided against telling Rilla about this particular piece of history for the time being.  She hasn’t been in an earthquake yet, and I felt there was no need to discuss quakes before her battery of eye tests.

We had some time before our appointment, so I asked Rilla if she wanted to walk by some places where I had worked, and to my surprise she said yes.   I briefly showed her some other spots where I toiled during the years leading up to my bipolar diagnosis. We stopped by the gym where I worked for two years as a certified personal trainer and class instructor.   In my late twenties when I was hired at this gym, I was a paragon of health.  I doubt that any of the members or my clients ever suspected I would become a card-carrying member of the bipolar club.

Five days a week I opened the gym at the grisly hour of 5:00 a.m. all by myself.  I am surprised I didn’t carry pepper spray – this was before I had a partner or children, and I was naive and foolish about my safety.  The most important part of my  job was to be bright and cheery in greeting the incoming members, many of whom were prestigious members of the community.  We had the top newspaper editor, the founder of Netflix, the museum director to mention just a few. While working at the gym I suffered with depression, but I hid it very, very well.

After the gym pit stop, we passed by our county’s largest library, where I held two jobs I despised: library clerk and assistant at a library-related non-profit.  I suffered with severe depression during both of those positions, but I attempted to stick with those jobs as long as I could.  Although I knew I had serious depression at that point, and I had started seeing a psychiatrist, he didn’t suspect I had bipolar disorder.

Then we meandered by a wildly popular restaurant where I had a short-lived waitressing career.  Waitressing wasn’t my forte!  I was only twenty-one at the time, and I didn’t even know how to open a wine bottle.  That dilemma caused one disgruntled diner to actually yell at me in front of his embarrassed family.  If my bipolar disorder had kicked in back then, I would have countered that nasty fellow with a rage that would have made his head spin!

I worked at the restaurant when it had first opened over twenty years ago.  Waitressing in a brand-new restaurant with unexperienced management was awful.   The kitchen staff took what seemed like centuries in preparing their dishes, and I had many unhappy customers waiting for their food.  I didn’t even mention the significance of this place to Rilla – it was definitely an unhappy memory.

We circled back to the optometry building.  It had a view of the office where I held a state park office job.  Although I was an unhappy camper at that job as well (I admit I was very hard to please, and yes, pun intended!) that view stirred up a very happy memory: my husband. When we began dating, he lived in an apartment right next door to that office.  I worked at the office when I became pregnant with my first child.  When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I was only making $2 an hour after paying childcare costs.  I was able to leave my work to be a stay-at-home mom to Avonlea, and I was over-the-moon.  It would be eighteen months later when I’d be diagnosed with bipolar disorder weeks after Rilla was born.

Going downtown with my sweet, inquisitive girl was a poignant field trip, as it was very rare for me to visit that area anymore.  I now live up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is only twenty minutes away from the mall, but quite different in terms of its residents and scenery.  All my memories of the Pacific Garden Mall were based on the years before I identified myself as “severely mentally ill”.

Even though I feel like I’m still thirteen, I felt my age of forty-four in a poignant way on that Friday.  So much had changed downtown.  There were so many new stores, new museums, and extensive remodels of the buildings where I had worked.  I found the most unnerving aspect was that I didn’t spot a single familiar face among the throngs of crowds walking up and down the street.

Rilla met with the optometrist, who found a vision problem requiring us to return to the Pacific Garden Mall next week

At the close of this adventure was a pilgrimage I had been wanting to make for some time.  I heard about a new cupcake store called Buttercup Cakes that was said to be extraordinary.  It was only a block away from the optometrist, so we made a beeline for it.  Being in Santa Cruz, land of the alternative health conscious, the bakery offered gluten-free and vegan options and everything was organic.  We were easy to please – we’d eat anything we saw there.  Rilla chose a strawberry-frosted vegan creation while I opted for the hibiscus frosted chocolate cupcake.  The deep rose-colored buttercream frosting was out of this world.  I could have eaten a cupcake-sized ball of it.

At the close of our day, I felt good about our afternoon.  I had been a responsible, caring mom in taking Rilla to get her eyes checked.  I was doing what “normal” parents do every day for their children.  I wasn’t bedridden with crippling depression like so many times in my past.  I was taking charge instead of requiring my husband to do the work of two parents that he had been forced to do year after year, relapse after relapse.

My ability to take my child on a simple doctor’s visit made me feel incredibly thankful.  The ghosts of my “normal” yesterdays have become flimsy specters.  When I focus on the present: sharing my past with my daughter, getting her eyes checked, and lest we forget, eat amazing cupcakes, I am no longer haunted by what I could have been without bipolar disorder.  I’m in recovery now and that’s all that truly matters.

I am publishing this post in honor of the first World Bipolar Day, March 30, 2014 and lovingly dedicate it to my father, Richard Leshin, who had bipolar one disorder.  He always had a blast visiting us here in Santa Cruz!

The Real Heroes, Heroines & The Reality Check

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When it comes down to it, everything is relative.

Yesterday I wrote about my friend Anna who died from breast cancer; she left behind her two children and her husband.

I drive by Anna’s home every day, and my glimpse of her front door serves as a constant, profound reminder of her death.  Anna’s house gives me a much-needed reality check, for in the ten seconds it takes to drive past her door, I more fully appreciate the people and other blessings in my life.   It’s a fleeting perception, however.

Yes, my glass-half-full perspective fades so damn quickly.

This morning I fixated on negative things rather than upon the good stuff.  Throughout the night I had vivid nightmares and woke up to cold, overcast weather that didn’t inspire much of anything.  However, when I sat down to drink some coffee, I appreciated my Sunbox’s bright, cheerful light.  I sat in front of the light for twenty peaceful minutes of quiet before everyone else woke up.

Then the school day preparations began: the girls were woke up, I helped them find their shoes, got them some breakfast, and so on.  While I’m still a notorious enabler, Avonlea and Marilla are starting to do more and more tasks by themselves.

But there are other kids their age who will never get their shoes on, or stand up to find a shirt, or run.  They attend the same public school as my children.  When I reach the elementary school, I park in the lot and I walk the girls toward their classrooms. That’s when I spot the other kids.  Like my view of Anna’s house, I see these students five days a week.

One boy is driven in a minivan to school that parks in the handicapped spot next to the cafeteria.  I see his caregiver first take a wheelchair off the rear door and he cleans it thoroughly with antiseptic wipes.  He places a brightly colored kid’s backpack on the wheelchair handles.  Then he transfers the boy to the wheelchair, as the young student is quadriplegic and he’s paralyzed from the neck down.  There are also two small school buses that transport other students who appear to be quadriplegic as well.

Whatever I write here won’t convey how heartbroken I feel when I see these kids.  In an instant I know that any problem I have, including bipolar disorder, is nothing compared to what these students endure day in and day out for a lifetime.  There are no remissions from quadriplegia.

Last year I walked around the high school track in the mornings.  I observed school staff wheeling children with quadriplegia around the track for a few minutes so they could get some fresh air and sunlight.  The kids could barely lift up their heads and they missed seeing the beautiful redwood trees surrounding the track.  Some of the kids moaned loudly.  When I passed by them, at first I was so depressed, I didn’t have the guts to look at them.  When I began feeling a little better, I tried making eye contact with the kids to say hello, to acknowledge their presence, but their heads turned downwards and they couldn’t see me.

Now, after I drive away from the school each morning, I do something very selfish.  I curse myself.  It’s weird, because I believe in the power of affirmations and frankly I should know way better than to put myself down.  It happens in a flash and in all honesty, it feels involuntary.  My thought process goes something like this: I feel guilty for obsessing about my problems when there are young people handed a situation in life that I can’t begin to imagine.  To me, the way they must live makes having bipolar disorder look like…I just deleted what I wrote because words fail me here.  Bipolar disorder is hell; I don’t mean to minimize it.  But it’s also largely an invisible disability.  These kids live with one of the most apparent disabilities there is. Imagine the stigma they must face.

I am well aware that in creating my pity party, I’m not doing these kids any favors.  Obviously, I need to cut out this self-recrimination crap. But it’s hard as hell to do it.  Some people would advise me that if I feel so sorry for these kids, I should volunteer to help them out in some way.  To that I answer: I’m a coward.  I’m lazy.  I don’t feel up to the task.

There’s no way to tie up this post neatly with a smug adage or axiom.  We are always going to see others in worse dilemmas than our own.  Have you encountered a similar situation?  How do you feel?  What do you do?

 

 

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Driving By Anna’s House

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I drive by her house at least once every day.

I never fail to turn my head while passing her driveway on the busy road.  I glance at her front door and porch.

I say her name under my breath.

She died four years ago, on my youngest daughter’s birthday.

She was my age.  She had two children the same ages as my own, and we met at our kids’ preschool.

Her husband loved her…his love for her was beautiful, loyal and strong.  He didn’t leave when she started her decline.  When traditional methods failed, he took her to an alternative clinic.  They couldn’t afford that, but he asked others for financial help.  He wanted her to live so badly; she was his life.

She was beautiful, even when she shaved her head during chemotherapy.  After the breast cancer had ravaged her body, she kept volunteering at the preschool despite growing weaker from the disease and the treatment.

She fought cancer tooth and nail – she really did.  If anyone could have “beat it”, it would have been her.

When I had a scare with breast cancer, I had biopsy surgery.  Then I waited for the results.  I felt so terrified.  Anna invited me over to her house to hang out.  I wasn’t good company; my bipolar depression was in full force, but she didn’t care about that.

I didn’t want to complain to her; she needed my complaints like she needed a hole in her head!  Nevertheless, she knew what I was worried about, and she gave me support in the midst of her own fight.  Not many people could do that.  She was extraordinary.

These days, I see her lovely little girl each week at my daughter’s dance class.  While I know appearances can be deceiving, her child smiles, dances joyfully and she looks happy.  She has a devoted father, and she has a circle of friends around her.

Still, the loss of a mother is an incalculable loss.  No child should lose her mom.  Our girls repeatedly ask us if we’ll die – it’s one of their greatest fears.  Now that I’m a mother, I view the death of a parent so differently than I did before I had children.

As long as I live I’ll never forget Anna.  If you met her you’d never forget her resilience, her fighting spirit, or her compassion. There’s the trite phrase “only the good die young”, but it really is true in Anna’s case.  She affected a lot of people in positive ways, not just me.  Our world lost someone special when she left it

I’ll be passing by her house this afternoon around 4:15 p.m. At that time, I’ll be thinking of Anna and wishing her well, wherever her spirit has soared to, and I’ll be thinking of her family too.  I know they can’t ever get over her death, but I hope they will find as much peace as is possible living without her.  I know she would want that for them.

 

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Paul Hester, January 8, 1959-March 26, 2005

*Content Warning*

Please note that this post contains potentially triggering details about the tragic subject of suicide.  This is the first post I’ve written in over 100 posts of this nature. While I felt hesitant to share these details, the topic is a part of who I am.  Thank you for reading if you choose to do so, and, as always, take care.

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“Don’t stand around, like friends at a funeral…eyes to the ground.  It could have been you.”

Crowded House, “Never Be The Same

March 26th has never been the same for me since 2005, when Paul Hester, one of my favorite musicians in the band Crowded House, committed suicide.  I don’t have it in me to write very much or very well for that matter.  Paul’s suicide is forever etched in my memory, and whenever I remember how he died my heart sinks, for his death hits way too close to home.

The band Crowded House (one of my all-time favorite rock groups) was fortunate to have Paul Hester as the original drummer.  It is very possible that Paul suffered with bipolar disorder although he never confirmed it to the press.  Members of his inner circle knew that he suffered with depression for years, and he was known for his extreme mood swings.  On stage he was a bright light full of humor, and his fans adored him for his ebullient personality.

I met Paul when I traveled by myself to Australia in 1994; we spoke after a Crowded House concert.  I saw firsthand that the international fame he experienced with Crowded House had not changed him into an egotistical monster.  He seemed like a regular guy, a quality that endeared him to his fans because they could sense he was authentic and vulnerable.

In 2005, Paul took his dogs for a walk and hung himself on a tree in a Australian park.  He left behind his two little girls.  He was forty-six-years old.

Months after Paul’s death, my bipolar depression brought me to an all-time low.  My psychiatrist prescribed a medication called Elavil (amitriptyline), a tricyclic antidepressant.  I took one pill.  Just a few hours later I felt indescribably awful.  Words can’t express how bad that time was, for I wanted to take my own life.  Never before had I wanted to hang myself.  However, I eyed my thick, green, bathrobe belt and I felt compelled to wrap it around my neck and jump off our second story deck railing.

Thank God Craig was home.  Thank God.  I went up to him and asked him to drive me to the hospital.  Weeks later, I couldn’t help but wonder why I fixated on asphyxiation when in all the years before the day I took that Elavil pill I knew I would NEVER do that.  Never in that particular way.

The only explanation I could come up with was that Elavil caused a reaction in my brain that drew me to that form of suicide because my musical hero took that route.  In any case, there is a reason for the “black box” featured on all antidepressant brochures warning of possible increased chance of suicide.  While the warning states that it applies to young people, I believe it can apply to a person of any age.

On this day I think of the two daughters Paul left behind.  I have two daughters I almost left behind as well.  I cannot imagine the agony that the Hester daughters have suffered.  I have thought of them over the years since Paul’s death, wishing them as much healing as is possible when one loses a parent to suicide.

March 26 reminds me of how grateful I feel that I didn’t go the same way as Paul.  I can only hope that he’s in a place where he has forgotten his torture.  Paul Hester lives on in this world through his musical legacy.  His family and fans will always remember his warmth, humor and compassion. The cliche is fitting here: gone but not forgotten.

We love you Paul.

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Nick Seymour, Paul Hester, and Neil Finn of Crowded House

Economy and Restraint

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When I first started blogging, I was concerned I would have nothing much to write about, and that my posts would be too short.  Ha ha!  Little did I know that I’d have the opposite problem.  It turns out with every post I want to go on and on.

I usually write over 1000 words a post, which seems more like writing an essay rather than a blog post.  A quick Internet search of “ideal blog post length” yields a website suggesting 500 words.  Another website claims that it doesn’t matter how long your blog post is as long as it’s well written.  Go figure!

I’ve been having a field day following blogs on WordPress.  There’s a multitude of talented writers out there, and I keep following more blogs.  According to About.com “Most people who read blogs don’t have a lot of time or patience to read thousands of words of content.  They’re looking for quick access to information or entertainment.”  I must confess that lately I’ve found it easier to concentrate on shorter blog post lengths rather than longer ones, and that makes me feel like a hypocrite.  So I’m going to try to shoot for writing more concise pieces, although it will be a challenge…

We are all writers in this blogosphere, and we can certainly learn from bestselling authors – especially those whose works have been bestsellers spanning across many decades.  The writer I have in mind is one of my favorites: L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books as well.  Montgomery created an internationally known protagonist in Anne Shirley.  However, I find Montgomery’s lesser known character Emily Byrd Starr more intriguing to me than the lovable Anne because I share more in common with her.

Emily is depicted as a passionate writer from a very early age in Emily of New Moon.   Emily’s writing mentor is her school teacher Mr. Carpenter.  Mr. Carpenter is a gruff, charismatic man who “could have been a contender” in any profession he chose, yet his alcoholism played a key part in his being an unfulfilled, frustrated country schoolteacher.  Mr. Carpenter bonds with the sensitive Emily and is ruthless in his criticism of her writing assignments.  Emily has nothing but respect for Mr. Carpenter’s opinions of her work, and she aims to earn his praise because she knows, in her rather otherworldly way, that he will tell her the truth.

I’ve read Emily of New Moon and the other two Emily books: Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest numerous times. Emily of New Moon is one of my most beloved books and it’s particularly meaningful to me since, like Emily, I see myself as a writer to the core.  I never had my own “Mr. Carpenter” to motivate and challenge me to write better, and I wish I did.  Carpenter’s colorful turns of phrase regarding Emily’s writing never fail to entertain me, and I’ve recognized a profound truth to all of his remarks.

Mr. Carpenter nicknames Emily “Jade” and he tells her,

“You waste words, Jade–you spill them about too lavishly.  Economy and restraint–that’s what you need.”  

I need economy and restraint in my writing as well.  Many bloggers do.  When I write a post and wait a day to proofread and edit it, I find so many things that I need to correct or delete.  I can’t believe I didn’t figure out my mistakes after immediately re-reading my first draft, but that’s the nature of writing for many authors.

We learn of Emily’s authentic devotion to writing when Mr. Carpenter asks her,

“Tell me this–if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life–if you knew you’d never have a line published–would you still go on writing–would you?’

‘Of course I would,’ said Emily disdainfully. ‘Why, I have to write–I can’t help it at times–I’ve just got to.” 

(I love that exchange.)

The piece de resistance of Mr. Carpenter’s advice that takes place when Emily is only thirteen years old.  She has given him some of her writing to see if he thinks she has a future as a writer.  Emily awaits his decision with bated breath.  He tells her,

“Ten good lines out of four hundred, Emily—comparatively good, that is—and all the rest balderdash—balderdash, Emily.”
“I—suppose so,” said Emily faintly.
Her eyes brimmed with tears—her lips quivered. She could not help it. Pride was hopelessly submerged in the bitterness of her disappointment. She felt exactly like a candle that somebody had blown out.
“What are you crying for? demanded Mr. Carpenter.
Emily blinked away tears and tried to laugh.
“I—I’m sorry—you think it’s no good—” she said.
Mr. Carpenter gave the desk a mighty thump.
“No good!  Didn’t I tell you there were ten good lines? Jade, for ten righteous men Sodom had been spared.”
“Do you mean—that—after all—”  The candle was being relighted again.
“Of course, I mean.  If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you’ll write ten times ten—if the gods are kind…and don’t imagine you’re a genius, either, if you have written ten decent lines.  I think there’s something trying to speak through you—but you’ll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it.  You’ve got to work hard and sacrifice—by gad, girl, you’ve chosen a jealous goddess.  And she never lets her votaries go—not even when she shuts her ears forever to their plea.”

After experiencing tragedy and heartbreak, Emily stops writing after falling into a deep depression.  (Boy, I can relate to that!)  However, Emily ultimately accomplishes her dream of writing her book.  It is published and achieves a modest success.  She also marries Teddy Kent, the love of her life.  While I’ve found my partner, and I’ve endured deep depression, the book I wish to have published is not yet complete.  I won’t give up, though.  Even if I knew my book would never be published, I would still keep writing it for my own sake.  Like Emily, I have to write.  I know that all of you bloggers feel the same way as Emily and I do.  I think that writing affects a certain part of our brains in a unique way, and it’s healthy for us to keep at it.

I wish you many productive and fulfilling hours of writing and I look forward to reading your blogs – as long as your posts aren’t as long as The Illiad!

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The Found Girl

ImageImage Yesterday was a triumph in my world.  A friend who knows me well and who understands the pain of bipolar disorder firsthand emailed me after I told her of my plan to take my daughter to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  She wrote,

“You need a cape for this day.  I am not joking.  It could read ‘Boardwalk Bad-Ass Mama’ – what do you think?  The Boardwalk?  That is a feat of sheer awesomeness.  I am soooooo proud of you right now!  You rock it, Boardwalk Mama!”

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I wasn’t daunted by most excursions.  At a moment’s notice I’d hop in my car and drive three hundred and fifty miles to visit my family in Los Angeles.  I’d think nothing of driving solo to Big Sur for the day, which was only a ninety minute drive, but the curvy Highway One that led me there was known for being one of the most treacherous drives in the world.  Whenever I visited San Francisco, I was fine with driving up and down the ridiculously steep hills in my stick shift.  I had once been a person who took ground school lessons to earn my pilot’s license at age twenty-one, and I flew by myself to New Zealand at age twenty-four. (I flew on a jet; I didn’t fly it myself!)

Over the past eight years since my bipolar diagnosis I hardly did anything fun and adventurous with my girls.  My severe depression shut me down.  When I was more functional, I still had an intense fear of crowds and of running into people I knew, so I remained a recluse for the most part.

Going to the Boardwalk felt symbolic to me for several reasons.

When I was seventeen and lived in Los Angeles, I loved to see movies in Westwood.  Westwood had the best movie theaters and were frequently used for world premieres.  In July, 1987, “The Lost Boys” starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Jami Gertz was released, and I went to see it on opening day.

I was blown away by this movie, not just by the intense and scary story, the haunting soundtrack, and the cutting-edge special effects, but by the stunning scenery of Santa Cruz, California where some of the film was shot.  The panoramic screen of the theater was the perfect backdrop for such a film.

“The Lost Boys” begins with two riveting scenes filmed at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; specifically the   the magnificent 1911 Looff Carousel (a National Historic Landmark) and a Boardwalk parking lot.  Little did I know while watching “The Lost Boys” that I would be moving up to “Santa Carla” (Santa Cruz) to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz, and that I would visit that very carousel, parking lot, and other beautiful locations shown in the film.  As I exited the theater that day, I felt energized by seeing the action, romance and the vampires’ allure.  I also had a slightly eerie feeling that “Santa Carla” might be a part of my life someday…I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.

Yesterday when Rilla and I arrived early at the Boardwalk, we parked in “The Lost Boys” parking lot.  I chuckled when I exited the car as I recalled the shocking parking lot vampire scene from the movie.  As we walked to the entrance, I spotted the bridge that the Lost Boys enjoyed hanging from, and I flashed back to the vampire gang tormenting the gorgeous “Michael” (Jason Patric) on it.  I noticed that my anxiety level wasn’t that bad, and I felt hopeful that we would have a good experience.

We did have fun.  It wasn’t all wine & roses, but we made the most of our day passes.  Rilla’s favorite ride (and mine) was the bumper cars and she was an excellent driver.  At her request, we went on two different bumper car rides for a total of seven times, and I loved taking my aggression out on strangers.  (I wish I had my own private bumper car arena!)  As the day wore on, the Boardwalk grew extremely crowded, but I didn’t panic.  We made sure to visit the carousel and I could almost see Kiefer Sutherland’s menacing character “David” leading his motley crue of Lost Boys on it.  Here’s the opening scene that takes place on the carousel:

The only major hitch was that Rilla was so excited (and a bit sugared-out from ice cream) during our miniature golf game that she stopped listening to me.  As a result she kept hitting her golf ball into other players’ zones and I lost my cool, but at least I didn’t yell. We stayed there over four hours and I was beat.  Rilla, with her almost bottomless reservoir of energy, could have kept going.

I know it won’t be the last time that we enjoy such an adventure together.  When Rilla is old enough to ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster, another National Historic Landmark, I want to be by her side.  It’s the perfect roller coaster.  It’s not too frightening, but it’s thrilling and has an amazing view of the ocean.  The Giant Dipper opened in 1924, and it’s unusual because it’s wooden.  The coaster could qualify for a Screen Actors Guild card because apart from “The Lost Boys” it has been featured in “Sudden Impact”, “Sting II”, and “Dangerous Minds”.

Yesterday I tapped into my old self again.  I can’t reject the new “bipolar” version – it’s a part of me that I am still working on fully accepting.  But if I can continue participating in activities that stretch my comfort zone, my “bravery muscle” will strengthen each time. (I used to be a certified personal trainer /weight lifter, so I love weight lifting analogies.)  If I return to some of my old ways I’ll be a better person, mom, wife and friend.  I write this blog in part to remember the other sides of me that have nothing to do with mental illness, and in doing so, I can approach bipolar topics with more clarity.

I am no longer lost, I am found.  And it feels good.