I Get By with a Little Help from Total Strangers…

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This post is dedicated to one of my favorite bloggers Blahpolar of Blahpolar Diaries

https://bipolardyke.wordpress.com

 

I’m sitting near Woman’s Best Friend at this very moment.  My sweet puppy Lucy is reclining next to me while I hunt and peck slowly, groggy from taking a bit too much Seroquel the previous night.  Lucy sidles up next to my foot so that we’re touching skin-to-fur.  I can feel her soft warmth as she snoozes, and our being together is one of the best parts of my day.  

I want to apologize for whining repeatedly about my difficulties with keeping up healthy friendships – both in the flesh and online.  I’ve blogged ad nauseam about how lonely I’ve felt in this conservative mountain town ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2007.  I’m going to whine a little bit more, but please bear with me.  The whining might will eventually end! 

As Kathy Griffin says, “Here’s the thing.”

(I don’t love everything about her, but I do think she’s funny.)

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After one of my few local, longtime friends “S.” unexpectedly moved 500 miles away in December, I felt even lonelier.   Years ago S. experienced postpartum depression and she took medication for it.  I never felt for a second that she judged me for having a mental illness and taking meds.  S. often told me that I meant a great deal to her, not because I was needy and I required her to do that, but because she wanted to shower me with gratitude!  

I knew that if I mentioned to S. that I was experiencing major fatigue from a medication adjustment, she’d immediately offer to help me.  Indeed, I had medicated-related fatigue hit me hard last fall, and lo and behold, S. was there for me from the start.  I didn’t have to ask her to help me – she figured that out on her own.

Empathy and offers of help didn’t occur to several other friends who I informed about my fatigue.  It’s possible these women had never taken psych meds, and therefore they couldn’t imagine what that level of med-related exhaustion was like.  But perhaps they were taking meds in secret.  I don’t know.  I wondered, but I never felt comfortable enough to ask any of them if they were taking medication for mood disorders.  There are numerous moms who still don’t want to tell their mommy friends if they take meds due to the insidious, ever-present stigma. But I digress.

Now more than ever before, I’ve wanted to form friendships with women who have psych diagnoses, who take meds, and who are willing to share that information with me.  Being the only one in my IRL circle who’s “out” with my stigmatized mental illness has made me weary. It may sound limiting to focus on being friends with other “labeled” women, but that’s what I want.  Hell, I’m not asking anyone else to do it!  

I knew that in order to meet women living with mental illness, I’d have to take the plunge and create another support group for those with mood disorders.  Been there. Done that.  I made a shitload of mistakes in the doing, but at least I learned a thing to two! 

This time around I’ll have the group primarily be about having fun and nurturing friendships; I don’t want it to be a replacement for intense group therapy. We won’t just sit on our butts either – we’ll go on hikes and embark on other fitness/nature activities. After all, I am a former American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and P.A.C.E. Circuit class instructor!  

To that end, last month when I spied a 50% special on Meetup.com to create a group, I made a split-second decision to sign up, just like Meetup wanted me to do!  I found out after I signed up that the 50% deal was for first-time Meetup organizers only, which I was not.  However, I emailed Meetup and told them I thought anyone could get the 50% off, and a friendly customer service representative gave me the special anyway. I took that as a good omen.

The last time I tried forming a Meetup group it didn’t go so well.  I made that group’s requirements far too limited (i.e. a group for moms with bipolar who lived in this county).  As a result, only one person applied who lived two hours away, and she wasn’t a mom.   

Within just two days of my new group’s inception, I got an awesome, strong response. Twelve women are confirmed, and there are two members pending!  I went a little gung-ho on promoting it, so I’ve made a waitlist.  I’ve learned from facilitating a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) support group with 22 women in attendance that having too many people is counterproductive and overwhelming for everyone.  

I felt sad that two members who wanted to join my new group were concerned that people from other Meetups would notice they were in a group for those with mood disorders.   Of course they were scared of the stigma of mental illness, and I completely understood why they wanted confidentiality.  I explained how they could hide their personal Meetup information from others online,and that made all the difference.   I was reminded yet again that despite the strides being made in mental health advocacy, there is a LONG way to go!

We don’t have our first meeting until the end of February.  I’ve scouted out a peaceful outdoor location near a State Park.  This area has gorgeous redwood-lined trails where I’ve spent hundreds of hours hiking alone. For safety reasons, that wasn’t the greatest idea, although I carried my cell phone and pepper spray.  I’ll take a friend along from now on, since unfortunately Lucy isn’t allowed in the State Park. 😦  

Anyway, a couple days ago I was informed of a mountain lion sighting in the general area where I plan to hold the group.  The big cat wasn’t in the exact same spot as our meeting place, but I had to laugh.  Was this some sort of sign?  

The mountain lion’s appearance has created quite a stir in my two neighborhood Facebook groups. Several members have shared a ton of mountain lion lore with the others.  I figure that chances are good that if we have a large group of women meeting together, we won’t be attacked by mountain lions.  There are humane actions we can take to scare it/them away – if you’re interested, check out this local link:

http://santacruzpumas.org/mountain-lion-faq/

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While I’m scared to organize yet another support group, I have a much better feeling about this one than I did with the other four support groups I ran.  Despite all my problems (including social anxiety and the Seroquel sleepies) I’m in a better place to do this sort of thing than I ever have been before.  

My daily “Dr. Mohmmad Alsuwaidan” workouts are helping me tremendously.  Plus, once I get to know the other group members in person, you can bet I’ll ask them for help, and recruit a co-organizer or two.  Going it alone is foolish!  

I’ll return next week to write about…drum roll please…WRITING!  I might be posting earlier than my regular day on February 6th, so stay tuned.  

Thanks for your wonderful comments.  I swear that when I read each one I get a little spike of serotonin in my brain.  I’ve read articles that suggest that a serotonin spike actually does happen! So don’t hold back if you want to comment, and if it’s only a two words, I bet the serotonin is still activated. 🙂

I’ll see ya round!

love,

Dyane 

 

I had to include this classic – I’ve always loved this song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y39MjhVrf_Y

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“Out in the Milkweed” & Stigmama

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Happy Friday My Blogging Friends!

I wrote this piece “Out in the Milkweed” for the cutting-edge, award-winning website/blog STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”  I loved it as soon as I read that.  I started writing for Stigmama just after its inception in March, 2014.  STIGMAMA was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a trailblazer whose new book “”Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth”, is an Amazon bestseller receiving rave reviews.  Last year I asked Dr. Karraa if she’d write the foreword to my upcoming (i.e. by the time I’m 90) book “Birth of a New Brain” – I was deeply honored when she said yes.

STIGMAMA has showcased the work of 70 talented contributors, giving writers a chance to shine (some for the first time) in a public arena writing about deeply personal experiences.  The STIGMAMA page has over 15,000 likes!  Not bad for a blog that’s less than a year old!

Perhaps you’d like to be a STIGMAMA contributor too – visit http://www.stigmama.com and check out the 2015 writing schedule for details.

This free verse (very free! 😉 piece “Out in the Milkweed” expresses how I’ve felt stigmatized by those who see me as mentally ill despite the fact that I’ve been stable for quite some time.  While it’s obvious that I’m very angry about this situation, I believe there’s hope for some healing.  It will take time.  For those of us who are adversely affected by stigma, we can practice vigilant self-care, stay current on research, and do all that we can to become and remain stable.

In turn, we can once again have conversations with our loved ones about stigma. Perhaps our family member or friend could attend a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) family member support group.  We can give them a handout or a book that includes how to be aware and sensitive about mental illness stigma.

Even if we can’t change the way others see us, we can focus on ourselves and work on our self-stigmatizing issues, either by ourselves or with a trusted friend or therapist. If you have any suggestions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for reading!

love,

Dyane


"Out in the Milkweed"

In some disturbing way that you would never openly admit
You want me to remain
Mentally ill, labeled by the seven-letter word bipolar
You prefer me to fit neatly in a suffocating cocoon
From which I can never fully emerge
As the soaring, vibrant Monarch butterfly that I once was

If I speak with “normal” cadence and joy
You scornfully say that I sound manic
Your words cut me deeper than you could ever imagine
And I shut down, hesitant to share myself with you again

I’m not manic, but you continue to see me in stifling ways
And no matter how high I soar within the realm of stability
You view me through shame-colored glasses

Why do you choose to see me as permanently damaged?
Could it be schadenfreude?
To make your own ravaged self esteem and depression not seem so bad?

I believe that you regard my brain as forever broken
due to ever-present stigma, insidiously affecting us all
I may even permeate your misconceptions by living fully
and throwing my own shame to the wind

Now that I’ve returned
To a life where I don’t stay in bed wanting to die
I can be a writer, a mother, a wife, a daughter
I can laugh, weep, and be present

I will research about what prevents relapse, and be proactive with 
self-care

After years of looking to others for biochemical salvation
It feels good taking care of myself

I don’t know what the future holds
But I’ll do everything I can to remain a butterfly
Hovering amongst milkweed drinking nectar
No longer in need of hermetic, protective coverings
It's time to fly, unencumbered, once again

Lack of A Writing Routine Messes Me Up!

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Yep, it’s true.

After two weeks out of town (during which I was sick with a hideous cold for most of it), I came home exhausted, overwhelmed, and negative.  I realized that my decision to suddenly free myself from the internet was too extreme.  A few days would have sufficed in order to give me the healthy ‘net break that I needed.  Moreover, it didn’t help that soon after our return it was the anniversary of my Dad’s death.  While fortunately that didn’t trigger a depression as it has in the past, I still felt bereft and like crap.  

I wanted to sink back into a solid writing routine to ground me and give me a sense of purpose apart from being a mother and wife.  As simple as that goal may seem, it hasn’t been the case.

I’ve been tempted to sit on my derriere and watch recorded reruns of “What Not to Wear“, “The Long Island Medium” and even, gasp, “Lotto Changed My Life“.  (I haven’t actually watched any of them yet, but the craving has surfaced.)

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I love you, Clinton & Stacy! 

This is not good.  

I am utterly constipated, literarily-speaking.  I keep telling myself “I’ll start writing again tomorrow” and then SHAZAM!  Something happens to prevent my writerly aspirations from becoming more than just lip service.  Last week it was one of my kids staying home sick.  This week? Well, nothing happened except for total laziness and writing blockage.  Yuck.

It occurred to me that I needed a dose of Greg Archer wisdom.  Greg Archer is one of the most prolific, gifted, real writers I know.  I met him while writing freelance articles for our local weekly, the Good Times.  Greg was Good Times’ uber-popular editor-in-chief for fourteen whopping years.  Not only did he write hundreds of excellent articles, but he was in charge of overseeing a staff of impressive writers – talk about pressure!  :0

Greg’s second book Grace Revealed: A Memoir was just published, and it’s getting fantastic reviews.  As you may have noticed, the cover alone is spellbinding.

Check out his book trailer video – it’s awesome:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbxpaZiDod4

On Monday I emailed Greg for advice about about my writer’s block rearing its ugly, pus-filled head.  I confessed that I’ve felt like throwing in the towel on the whole damn project, despite almost 80,000 words being written to date.  More importantly, despite feeling in my gut that I NEED to write this book.  It’s not an option!

He sent me back some words of wisdom that were from his heart and potent:

“I want to encourage you to

LET GO MORE

You can only do what you can do…truly…
Show up…give the book some time each day…and that’s THAT.

 OH___ ADVICE>>>> WRITE THREE PAGES OF WHATEVER…. every morning… and then go to the real WORK… get something out of your head.

And then… comes the sending it OFF…. and then comes to LETTING GO… and then comes the LETTING GO MORE… because we want a kind of validation … that what the hell we went through meant something/will touch people//but what I am seeing now… is that… yeah, that’s normal to focus on…but if we can direct our energy to something more creative… other work; other expressions… it’s probably much healthier…We’re so complex

And beautiful

KEEP GOING..."

So I'm going to do just what Greg suggests that I do, especially the
  
"Keep going!" part.

Do any of you have advice to share about your own writing blocks?  
I'd love to know the gory details!  As always, please comment to your 
heart's content.

And have a GOOD weekend!!!

love,
Dyane

p.s. for more information about my extraordinary friend, please visit 
www.gregarcher.com

 

 

So Many Amazing Blogs….

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After two looooong weeks without reading your blogs, I suffered the malady known as SBWS, a.k.a. sudden blog withdrawal syndrome.  I returned to catching up with your lives this past week, and what a relief it was!  I cared about how each of you fared through the holidays, and for most of you it was rough – I wished I could have offered you some lovely “likes” and/or comments of support sooner than this week.  Better late than never, right?   In hindsight, to go from a daily routine of reading blogs to nothing overnight (due to no internet access at our remote spot) was way too extreme.  I certainly won’t let that happen again!      Upon my return home, I savored the unique sense of connection I felt after reading each post.  I was reminded of how lucky I’ve been to tap into a world where I’m understood, and where I don’t have to prove myself or attempt to act “normal”.  I also was once again blown away by all your writing talent featured in every single post.  Recently I read that a large percentage of professional writers have bipolar disorder, and I’m not surprised.  I didn’t make any hard and fast New Year’s resolutions, although I have a “soft” intention on my mind.  In my day-to-day life I seldom interact with anyone who’s a member of The Bipolar Club and I would like that to change this year.  

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I know it’s up to me to do something about it.  Yesterday I daydreamed that I won the California SuperLotto Plus jackpot, and I flew everyone in my WordPress Reader here for a beach party extravaganza.  (Don’t snicker too much – someone won $50,000 at the spot where I buy my lotto tickets! 😉  I wish!  Then again, you never know.  I watched an inspiring episode of “Lottery Changed My Life” ( yes, I watch the vacuous TLC channel :0 ) and the winner was surprisingly philanthropic with his loot – sure, he bought a fancy $100,000 sports car, but he helped others as well.   Interestingly, I received  a flurry of phone calls about bipolar support groups in my area just before the New Year arrived.  I haven’t gotten any similar calls for many, many months.  My contact information from my defunct support groups still floats around on the ‘net, and these people found it.  Craving in-person support with others living with bipolar is in the air.  There are no support groups in the valley where I live, but I’m not quite ready to form a group again. Maybe in the spring…in the meantime, I called everyone and I referred them to the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter in my county, which offers a consumer support group.   You might wonder why I don’t attend that group.  Well, it has a Christian-focus (I’m a Jewish-born agnostic, and I’d prefer there to be no religion connected with a bipolar support group).  The meeting takes place at night, when my energy level is low.  Lastly, it’s a forty-minute drive each way and I want a group that meets closer.  Yes, I’m a bit picky, but hey – I want what I want! And now, back to YOU….what I REALLY want is to thank you all for continually baring your souls through your words, and for what each of you add to our virtual community.  You help me, along with countless others, more than you know.     Love, Dyane p.s. I encourage you to check out Broken Light: A Photography Collective and apply to them if it appeals to you. Their blog has almost 15,000 followers!  I contacted them last year, and I was excited to be selected.  Here’s the link to my profile and you can find their contact info. there too: http://brokenlightcollective.com/2015/01/04/pursuing-my-dream/    

Go Ahead Writer

Wendy K. Williamson is my writing mentor and she’s the author of the bestselling book “I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar”. She co-authored the acclaimed “Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival” with Honora Rose. Wendy has been a keynote speaker at national conferences, she has made media appearances galore, and she’s co-founder of the Red Bank Writers Group. She has an incredible writing voice that speaks to me in a profound way. And thank God the lass has a fabulous sense of humor. Read her brief post for some awesome inspiration if you’re a frustrated writer….I, of course, know nothing about that! 😉

wendykwilliamson

                                                          Dear Writer,

“Happiness for me, or I suspect any writer, is plenty of paper and plenty of pens. Isn’t that such a simple concept?

Yet, for a writer, anyone who measures their calling as a heartbeat, a desire, a burning or ringing, whose only way to turn it down, drown it out, is to pick up that pen, open up and power on their laptop and squelch the burn with the begin to the begin.

The paradox is wrapped up with passion is its ugly companion fear. This fear keeps us locked in between these two worlds, trapped in the invisible walls of one who can see, hear and feel this call, whose words echo and pulse shoots in our veins, and the mysterious fear that lives alongside our ideas, our need to tell the stories we’ve fabricated or poems we’ve written or stories we have lived or studied…

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I Miss You Dad


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Dad

I dedicate these beautiful lyrics to my best friend on the other side, Richard David Leshin, who died January 6th, 2009.

p.s. Dad, I know you’re reading this. I’m gonna kick your ass when I see you again for leaving us way too soon. I’m sorry I missed your funeral, but I wanted to join you wherever you wound up going, you see?

I had to admit myself yet again, but you know that too, don’t you. That place had shit food by the way – no homemade pesto or grilled swordfish, or, God forbid, red wine.

The pain of losing you will never go away in my lifetime, but I can finally live with it now.  Your death almost destroyed me.  Bipolar depression almost destroyed me, but I made it.

I made it.

I love you.

your “little Dyane”

La Historia de un Sueño

 Sorry I came without calling first
This is not the time or place
But I had to tell you
That in heaven, it’s not too bad
Tomorrow you won’t remember
“It was only a dream,” you’ll tell yourself
And my reply will be in the form of a shooting star

Now you’d better get some rest
Let me tuck you in like I did years ago
Do you remember when I used to sing you to sleep?
They only let me come,
Enter your dreams to see you
It’s just, that on that sad night
I couldn’t tell you goodbye

And when it was time for me to go
To that land of peace
I just wanted to tell you goodbye,
Give you a kiss and see you one more time.
I promise you, you’ll be happy
So put on that beautiful smile

And like that, only like that
Do I want to remember you
Like that, like before,
Like that, looking forward
Like that,
You made my life better
Like that

And now I anoint you
Only you will continue our journey
Well, it’s getting late
I have to leave now
In a few seconds you’ll wake up.

This is a loose translation of the song “La Historia de un Sueño” by La Oreja de Van Gogh. I want to thank Michelle Mendoza Ward for sharing this song in her blog SuperMom Mentality; the post is:  http://theearthquakers.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/the-story-of-a-dream/

Dyane & Dad 002I was eight months pregnant with my first daughter Avonlea 

Pursuing My Dream

Pursuing My Dream

I loved taking this picture of me & Lucy in my new writing “office” (i.e. the end of a cramped, teeny hallway). In that moment, I felt so hopeful about finishing my book. While my hope has slithered away as of late, there’s still some of it left. I won’t give up. I’ve been tempted to say “screw it” more than a few times, but honestly I can’t give up on my dream.

I’ll keep you posted on how it all pans out…

In the meantime, I encourage you to please visit “Broken Light: A Photography Collective” and consider submitting your own photo and story.

I’m so glad to be back in this supportive, inspiring, sometimes sobering, always amazing blogosphere of ours. I send my love to you all. xxoo Dyane

Broken Light: A Photography Collective

Please welcome first-time contributor Dyane Leshin-Harwood, a freelance writer who was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder six weeks after her baby was born. She also suffers from generalized anxiety, and depersonalization-derealization disorder. Dyane founded the Santa Cruz, CA Chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) & facilitated free support groups in her community. She has been selected as the latest “Life Unlimited” profile by the DBSA, so her journey with bipolar disorder is currently being featured on their website. Dyane blogs for the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) and was featured as the first 2014 IBPF “Story of Hope and Recovery.” Through her personal blog and her IBPF blog Dyane provides encouragement and resources to those living with bipolar disorder. She is dedicated to creating social awareness of postpartum bipolar disorder as it is a lesser-known postpartum mood disorder.

About this photo: “This photo is significant as it shows me in recovery mode, pursuing the life I want to live.  Over seven years I tried…

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