“Why I Keep Away From Madness” – A Stigmama Contribution

Me and my writing muse Lucy 

 

Since its inception a year ago, I’ve been a Regular Contributor to the groundbreaking website STIGMAMA.  There’s nothing like this website out there…you can take my word for it!  I’m so glad it exists because STIGMAMA has become one of my virtual tribes.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”, which I love, and its Facebook page has almost 17,500 likes, clearly demonstrating that there’s a need for an outlet and resource such as STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA has given me a platform to share my feelings about living with postpartum bipolar disorder. The fact that I can receive feedback and encouragement from its followers is fulfilling, to say the very least. 

I encourage you to check out STIGMAMA http://stigmama.com/about/ and consider becoming a contributor.  You can submit any type of writing, be it a poem, fiction or nonfiction, that addresses women and mental illness. (PLEASE NOTE: you do NOT have to be a mother to submit a post. Check out my friend Elaina’s contribution “I Am Not A Mom” for an excellent example:

http://stigmama.com/2014/09/24/i-am-not-a-mom-by-elaina-j-martin/

STIGMAMA offers monthly themes that contributors can write about. March was “March Madness” month.  April is “Open Submission” month, and May is “STIGMAMA# Poetry Slam” month. 

Of my latest STIGMAMA March post, Dr. Walker Karraa, founder of STIGMAMA and author of the bestselling book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth” wrote,

“The amazing STIGMAMA Regular Contributor Dyane Harwood rounds up our month of posts regarding the topic of “Madness”.  I want to thank Dyane for her deeply felt embodied response to the topic, to the word itself. There are millions of images, interpretations, insinuations, and myths held within the concept of ‪#‎madness‬. Dyane poignantly reveals the lived experience of how the concept can be an insult to injury. Thank you, Dyane for your work, your writing, and your leadership in the advocacy movement.”

 

WHY I KEEP AWAY FROM MADNESS

In the past I considered “madness” to be a fascinating topic. I never shied away from facing it through books, movies, or art until I was diagnosed with postpartum onset bipolar one disorder (PPBD) at age thirty-seven.

My PPBD manifested as hypomania immediately following the birth of my second daughter.  As the weeks flew by, I became more and more manic.  I even became hypergraphic, a little-known, bizarre condition in which one writes compulsively.  I wrote hundreds of pages in less than a week, often while tandem breastfeeding my newborn and toddler.

Something was clearly wrong.

Six weeks postpartum, I voluntarily hospitalized myself in our local behavioral health unit for treatment. I used to live one block away from the distinctive redwood building.  Every day while I drove to work at a state park non-profit, I glanced at the “B.H.U.”, never imagining in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be locked inside there.

I had been in locked-down mental health units before, but as a visitor. My father, a professional violinist, had manic depression like so many of his brilliant colleagues.

I visited my Dad at UCLA’s renowned Neuropsychiatric Institute.  As soon as I got my driver’s license at sixteen, I drove alone to visit him during one of his numerous hospitalizations. I brought his Stradivarius violin and his favorite Wrigley’s spearmint gum to cheer him up.

How naive I was back then – I didn’t realize that neither item was allowed in such a place, especially the million-dollar violin!  When I left his unit, I felt like I had just gotten out of jail.  I felt so guilty to see him that depressed.  As I watched my father shuffle away in an ugly hospital gown instead of the elegant black suit he wore for his Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts, I never thought I’d be a patient in such a hellhole.

When my turn arrived to be a mentally ill patient, I had to walk away from my six-week-old baby and my toddler and husband into a sterile unit. That was my first hospitalization among the “mad”, and I wish with all my heart it had been my last.

During my six subsequent mental hospitalizations, I was stigmatized by some of my own family, friends, and by a variety of hospital staff.  It was crystal-clear that I was regarded as “mad” and nothing else.

When I was housed among the “mad” I lived with many different kinds and degrees of madness.  I have PTSD from my time spent in those locked-down wards. As a result, I’ve experienced enough madness to last the rest of my life.

I hold a Bachelors of Arts degree in English and American Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  I’ve been an avid reader since a young child.  Since my PPBD diagnosis, I’ve read many bipolar memoirs and bipolar-themed blogs that have become ubiquitous, but I’ve become much more cautious with what I read when it comes to bipolar disorder.

Nowadays, I automatically avoid anything with the title “mad” or “madness” in it.  I refuse to read all accounts of mental hospitalizations.  I may seem like I’m burying my head in the sand – and yes, I might be missing out on a gem of a read, but I can no longer immerse myself in the world of the insane.

I first went mad when I wanted to hang myself with my thick, green bathrobe belt hours after I took one amitriptyline (Elavil) pill.  Even in my darkest moments, I had never wanted to hang myself before I took that medication. It was obvious that the amitriptyline was causing the suicidal ideation in
my brain, and – thank God – my husband was home.

“I need to get to the hospital,” I told him, unable to look into his eyes. Once again he took me to the behavioral health unit with our baby and toddler in tow. I entered the ward as a ghost of my former exuberant self.

Losing myself that way – losing my will to live and wanting to take my life using a method that had formerly been anathema to me – traumatized me.  I don’t want to read about others’ experiences in insane asylums.

Because I’ve spent weeks in mental hospitals and I have PTSD as a result, I don’t want another glimpse into those environments.  I understand why others wish to learn about people’s experiences with madness, but I’ll refrain from examining those mental states as much as I can.

As I continue to keep away from creative works that focus upon madness, I feel empowered. I value the freedom I have to make this decision, as for far too long I felt powerless when it came to my own sanity.

I’ve been mad for long enough. Thanks to the help of medication, a good psychiatrist, therapist and self-care, I’m able to stay sane.

Avoiding the world of madness helps keep me that way.

Good Surprises, Bad Surprises (I prefer good ones.)

surprise

Happy Friday Everyone!

I’m glad it’s here because Spring Break begins for my kids.  I’ll enjoy a respite from the frantic morning rush, as well as a breather from the passive-aggressive minivan brigade en route to school.

Today I was interviewed by a psychologist-in-training.  She’s interviewing mothers with bipolar disorder for her dissertation, and she made quite a trek to reach these Deliverance-esque mountains.  We spent an intense ninety minutes while I answered her questions. I was thankful she was very compassionate, because I discussed the toughest, most disturbing years of my life.  I was drained afterwards, but I’m glad that I did it because I know her research will help other clinicians understand moms with bipolar a little better.

Meanwhile it has been a weird week.  Well, it’s always weird around here, but it was a touch weirder than usual.  

Bad surprise #1 happened Wednesday morning.  I woke up around 4:30 a.m. as nature called.  I needed to answer her fast or regress to six-years-old and wet the bed.  On my way back to bed, I paused in the doorway and spotted a puddle on the floor – ooops, Lucy had an accident. It happens once in a while, and it was actually a blessing in disguise. When I crouched down to clean it up, I saw movement to my left.  I gasped inwardly, as I didn’t want to wake everyone up, especially Lucy, who was out of sight on the other side of the bed.

It was Zoe, Rilla’s Syrian hamster.  Somehow Zoe had escaped from her cage and she was having a splendid time exploring the house. Miraculously Lucy missed her spree.  I hadn’t handled the little creature much up to that point, but I immediately scooped her up before Lucy awoke.  I thought she’d wriggle out of my hands, but she was calm.

imgres

I thanked God over and over that I was the first one to find Zoe; if Lucy had seen her, Zoe would’ve become a Scooby snack and Rilla and Avonlea would have been devastated.  (It turned out that there was a faulty part of her cage.  She leapt five feet down from its perch without hurting herself, another small miracle.) While I categorized this as a bad surprise, it did have a happy ending. Hurrah!

hector

Good surprise #1 was “Hector and the Search for Happiness”. This was a wonderful film!  I watched it on my portable DVD player with headphones while the kids were glued to the insipid Nick Jr.’s “Austin and Ally”, a show that makes me want to scream.

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” is about Hector, of course. He’s a burned-out psychiatrist (what a surprise, eh?) who goes on a pilgrimage to research how to help his patients (and himself) be happy.  I don’t want to give away spoilers, but it was unique as well as a great reminder about what creates true happiness.  Some of my favorite actors are in it (Toni Colette, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer, still going strong in his 80’s!) and actors who I was unfamiliar with, namely the outstanding lead Simon Pegg.  I definitely give it a “thumbs up”.  

On to bad surprise #2.  Some of you know I work out almost daily on my beloved Nordic Track Elliptical. Yesterday as soon as I hopped on it, the flywheel made a ghastly screeching sound.  I had to stop, which sucked as I really needed an endorphin boost.  Craig came downstairs to see what caused a noise that could wake the dead. He took the elliptical apart to discover a huge amount of fluffy pink insulation material stuffed inside the flywheel that wasn’t supposed to be there – surprise! It was jumbled up with scraps of paper. You can guess where this is going, right?

My workout machine had become a haven to RATS!!!

rat

Oh. My. God.

Grooooooososssssss!  At least there was no rat poo in it as far as I could tell, and there were no rats or parts of rats in the elliptical.  That was a major plus, yes indeed.  Our home is rat-free; we had sent our rats to the afterlife long ago.  But this was definitely a bad surprise, and there’s no way I can put a good spin on it!

I certainly can’t end on that note.  Good surprise #2 came from my seven-year-old last night.  Rilla and I were talking about odds and ends. She said, “I look up to you, Mommy and I want to be a writer too.  I want to be like you!” 

I was so moved by what Rilla said, because I haven’t exactly been Mother of the Year since her birth in 2007;  the year I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar less than two months after she was born.  To hear that she wanted to be like me (she knows I have bipolar, and yet she didn’t let that get in the way of anything) was beyond awesome.  I was also surprised that my writing has made a positive impression upon her.  

After all the crap I’ve put this child through as a result of my mental illness, I harbor residual guilt.  I worry about the trauma my girls have suffered from bipolar-related events. So you can imagine how cool it was for me to hear her words, to feel her soft arms wrap themselves around me in a hug, and to hold her small hands with their tiny, scraggly fingernails….the hands of a budding writer.

Until next Friday, I send you my love, and some good surprises that will make you smile.

xoxo,

Dyane

ril

 

 

Postpartum Bipolar Disorder Research Study

Hello, my friends! It’s an older-but-wiser Dyane here, and I’m grateful for the lovely birthday comments you’ve left over the past couple days! 🙂 Lucy and I had a mellow, mutual birthday, with one REALLY amazing thing happening to me (I’ll blog about that soon, I promise!) and balanced out by a couple of weird, minor-yet-slightly upsetting things which I’ll most likely blog about at some point. I think I was extra-sensitive because it was my birthday and I’m weird like that. I wasn’t given an inflatable Alpura Dancing Cow outfit as a gift, but I will get over my disappointment. I’m sure that thing cost at least $500! On a separate note. I’m pleased to report a recruitment for the first study that specifically addresses mothers, stigma and bipolar disorder in the postpartum period (0-12 months). It’s being conducted by my friend Dr. Walker Karraa, author of the acclaimed book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth” (the #1 bestseller in the Amazon postpartum book category!!!) and founder of Stigmama. I’m honored that Dr. Karraa agreed to write the foreword to “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” – she’s my top pick in the entire world to do such a thing!

Our mutual friend, the writer/mental health advocate  Kitt O’Malley, blogged about Dr. Karraa’s study requirements, and I jumped at the chance to reblog it. If you could spread the word about this study, we’d all be grateful.

Thanks so much, and have a great weekend! love, Dyane 🙂

Kitt O'Malley

Walker Karraa, PhDWalker Karraa, PhD

My friend & colleague, Dr. Walker Karraa, is studying the stigma surrounding postpartum bipolar disorder. If you fit her research criteria and are interested in participating, please do so. Her book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth is groundbreaking and a powerful, moving read.


Research Study: The Stigma of Mental Illness for Mothers Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 0-12 Months Postpartum

Greetings,

I am currently conducting a research study entitled The Stigma of Mental Illness for Mothers Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 0-12 Months Postpartum. The purpose of this study is to describe and explain the nature of stigma related to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder during the first year following childbirth.

To participate in this study, participants must have: (a) received a diagnosis for bipolar disorder in the first year following the birth of a child; (b) be able to give informed consent; (c) speak English…

View original post 98 more words

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today, March 18th, my beautiful puppy Lucy turns one while I turn forty-five. I love the fact that we share a birthday!  

Being forty-five seems rather bizarre, because in a lot of ways I still feel like I’m fourteen.  

As my favorite American author Madeleine L’Engle said,

““The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

In case you missed it, here I am with Madeleine L’Engle at a writer’s conference at a Santa Barbara monastery.  This photo was taken when I was the tender age of 27, a decade before my postpartum bipolar one diagnosis.

Dy and L'Engle 2

 

So here I am having another birthday.  Just as I felt at age fourteen and all the other ages, I’m hoping that something unexpected and magical happens today.  But I just realized that something magical and unexpected did happen exactly one year ago that would affect my forty-fifth birthday and hopefully many more.

This special event occurred last year when Lucy was born on my forty-fourth birthday!  

Pisces girls unite!

looooovFurry SiblingsLucy’s brothersMom Layla & Dad

Lucy’s Mom and Dad 

 

My birthday will never feel complete since my Dad isn’t alive to wish me a happy day in his resonant voice, and play me the birthday song on his violin.  Since that can’t happen, I’ll sing a song by a couple of guys named Paul McCartney and John Lennon to Lucy today:

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can’t get more worse)
I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better since you’ve been mine”  

“Getting Better”, The Beatles

For those of you who’ve been kind enough to read this blog, you know that my past year has had its share of shit.  I suffered two “mini-relapses” due to sleep deprivation.  Some other challenging situations cropped up that I didn’t exactly handle with aplomb.  But I’m determined to make this next year better, and the year after that one even better.  

I’m making up for many chunks of lost time.  Time that stolen by my evil bipolar depression.  

I’m working hard to (I hate this phrase, but I’ll use it anyway) practice self-care. What’s my version of self-care? Part of my laundry list includes exercising the Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan way*, getting enough sleep, family time, taking meds religiously, and laughing at Alpura Dancing Cows. and anything else funny. (I loved watching Russell Brand’s Messiah Complex over the weekend!)  My new support group for women with mood disorders rocks.  And how could I forget mentioning Lucy?

Lucy.  She’s the hound of a lifetime. I’m so used to referring to her as a puppy, but she’s a dog now.  My children and I adore her, and the feeling seems mutual, but she worships alpha male Craig, so he can’t resist her charms either.  I thank God for this beast every day.  It’s not easy to take good, responsible care of a dog – my last two dogs Tara and Shera were with me for fifteen years to the end, when they both died in my arms… but she’s worth it.  I held Lucy when she was eight-weeks-old in a way similar to how I held my newborns. I gently cuddled her with reverence and a deep, pure love.  

While it might be nice to win the California SuperLotto Plus, land a book contract with a great publisher, or win a session with the kooky Long Island Medium, I have my family: Craig, my girls and my angel with paws, Miss Lucy.  

I wish you all an unexpected birthday gift that you’ll treasure the rest of your life; something awesome such as my furry girl.  

Have a great day, friends!

Dyane

 

 

 

 

* http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/

The Magic of the Alpura Cow Dancer

In my last post I declared I’d keep the next post around 500 words or less.  

I think I can do it today, so I’m going for it!  

A few days ago a blogger friend (The awesome http://pluckyyou.org/about-4/) shared a link to the Alpura Cow Dancer with me via Facebook. Now, I’ve run hot and cold when it comes to Facebook, but since it connected me with the Aplura Cow Dancer, Facebook and I are currently on good terms.

When I watched the Alpura Cow Dancer, I fell in love with the dancer’s joyous spirit!  I got such a kick out of how most of the passerby were oblivious to the freaky cow dancer bustin’ his moves right, left, sideways, up and down.  The spunky music made me smile for real.  (Is there a cowbell in there?)  

There are usually good reasons why the YouTube videos go viral like the Alpura Cow Dancer did. I felt inspired to share the Alpura love with those I cared about, hoping to bring a little fun to their day.  

First I decided to play some jokes.  I simply couldn’t help it. My ten-year-old daughter Avonlea has been asking me for years when I’d get a “real job” – apparently writing and blogging are not work in her eyes. (I’ve actually made honest-to-goodness, real money from selling my articles.  I even showed her copies of my paychecks, but it was all to no avail.)  Anyway, I told her that I was going to be an Alpura Cow Dancer and dance at our local Safeway! She cried. (I’m dead serious.)  I immediately placated her; she got over it quickly.

I played the same joke on my seven-year-old, and Avonlea willingly played along with me. As we watched the Alpura clip together, I stood up and mimicked the cow’s moves, pretending that I needed to practice for my “audition”.  (I think I was pretty good!) Luckily Rilla didn’t cry, but she harshly critiqued my moves.  That hurt.  After I spilled the beans to her, she thought it was funny.

My next joke victim was my husband, but he saw right through me and he didn’t believe it three seconds into my act.  Seventeen years together will do that.  I needed one more little buzz, so I wrote the following email to my Mom, a devoted reader of this blog.  The email said:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Dyane Harwood
Date: Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 4:26 PM
Subject: My potential new job
To: Mom
Dear Mom,
I’ve applied for a part-time position.  It’s $25/hour at local upscale markets where I interact with customers – it’ll be good to get me out of the house and use my fitness background.   Watch the video and let me know what you think! :))
Love,
Dyane

 

My Mom was actually quite excited for my job opportunity, but when I told her the truth, she felt sad. Now, there is a part of me that dreams of being an Alpura Cow dancing my heart out.  But I know the reality is that it would be hard as hell, I’d be sweating buckets in the inflatable suit, and (as difficult as it is for me to admit) I ain’t no Solid Gold-caliber dancer.  (I’m dating myself with that old television show – I turn a whopping 45 this Wednesday, March 18th & Lucy will turn ONE on the very same day as my b-day!  We are connected, I tell you.)  You can send me chocolate if you want.

At least I can watch the Alpura Cow dance every now and then, and I can even dance along with it if I really want to and frighten everyone around me.   I hope you enjoy the clip as much as I do.  🙂

Vaya con Las Vacas de Alpura!

Dyane

p.s. can you believe there’s nothing bipolar-related about this post?  If you’re reading this, Mom, that’s my gift to you!

p.p.s. Oh no – I blew it! I exceeded 500 words!  It’s that delightful Alpura Cow Dancer’s fault – I got carried away. 😦 Ay caramba!

Earthquakes & Tsunamis of the Soul & How to Move On

loma

 This sign is located less than seven miles from where I reside.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had a great fear of tsunamis.  I grew up less than half a mile from the Pacific Ocean.  I frequently discussed my tsunami terrors with my father who shared my fascination with the killer waves.  He always assured me that if a tsunami struck nearby, it would fill up the large Las Pulgas Canyon (The Fleas Canyon!) that our home overlooked long before the water could possibly reach us.  Dad’s confident explanation soothed me, although I continued to have nightmares about giant waves over the next few decades.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have the same obsession with another force of nature that occurred where I lived: earthquakes.  The Los Angeles earthquakes I felt as a child didn’t frighten me. Those jolts were nothing compared to what I experienced while living in Santa Cruz during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The quake, which lasted only fifteen seconds, was 6.1 on the Richter scale, and it caused massive destruction and death around the Bay Area.  I started fearing earthquakes after that day.  

Last night while browsing on the IMDB website to see what was new, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I spotted a preview of an upcoming summer blockbuster containing both tsunamis and earthquakes made to the tune of 100 million dollars!  (That’s a disgusting amount, I know.)

The film’s title said it all in big, bold scary-looking font:

SAN ANDREAS

As a film buff, I squealed in both fear and excitement!  I called out to my husband Craig, a certified engineering geologist, and asked him to define what the San Andreas was, exactly.  He explained that the “San Andreas Fault is a major break in the earth’s surface running hundreds of miles along the California coast. It’s a boundary between two tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.” Craig laughed when he saw the following preview, as he said the most shocking scenes are virtually impossible.

After 26 years, I’ve forgotten how truly terrifying the Loma Prieta quake really felt; I know I was frightened enough to sleep in my Jetta that night. I worried that my old apartment building would fall upon me. Ninety minutes north of where I lived, the quake caused an entire upper section of the Nimitz Freeway to collapse upon drivers on its lower section, crushing them to death.  Newspaper images of the scene haunted me for months.

However, I was fortunate to have no losses – none of my loved ones perished, and I didn’t have a loss of property.  

I was able to get over my immobilizing fear relatively quickly, unlike an earthquake of the soul.

My inner earthquake, if you will, was my 2007 postpartum bipolar diagnosis and my unremitting, severe depression over the past eight years.

When you haven’t been able to trust your brain for a long time, there’s a residual trauma – at least there has been for me.  Now, I’m not saying I’m a hopeless case, and if you’re suffering right now with bipolar disorder, you’re not a hopeless case either.  

Our lives won’t turn into sweetness and light, but there can be real improvement.  I’m starting to see that I can keep bipolar disorder from destroying me like a giant wave or a megaquake. There are steps I’m now able to take so I can keep my bipolar depression at arm’s length.  

I was able to feel glimmers of hope only once I found medications that worked for me. I tried well over 25 medications and I had two different rounds of ECT, both unilateral and bilateral, before I was fortunate enough to find effective medications. 

“That’s all well and good, but how can I improve my life?” you might ask.

Here’s my list of suggestions – they might seem familiar to some of you as I’ve written about some of them before.

1) Medication – keep working with your psychiatrist to find something that helps you. Believe me when I say I know how hard it is to be on the med train.  It’s hell.  But please persevere.  (To those who are anti-meds, go away!  Just kidding. I’d like you to know I’ve been in your shoes. The truth of the matter is that a very small percentage of the bipolar population can live well without meds.  I’ve read it’s 10-15%.  I thought I could beat those odds, but I almost died.  I’ll take meds until there’s a cure for bipolar.)  

So yes….meds.

2) Consistent check-in appointments with preferably a psychiatrist, or your medication prescriber.  (I know how tough it is to find a doctor who’s skilled *and* kind, but don’t shortchange yourself.  Try to find someone who treats you with respect.)

3) 6-7  days a week of vigorous exercise for thirty minutes; whatever you choose, you must break a sweat and not be able to carry on a conversation!  I now regard exercise as important as taking medication – in fact, I look at exercise at my 4th “medication”.  (I take lithium, Parnate & Seroquel.) The brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan has studied the efficacy of this routine.  He attests that his patients are profoundly helped by working out this way, and he has told me it’s the “missing link” for those with bipolar depression.  I’ll be interviewing him later this spring about this topic for the latest, but this is plenty to go on for now.  In the meantime, please read his brief post for more details about why you need to work it:

http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/  

imgres-1Dr. Alsuwaidan – he practices what he preaches, and works out 6-7 days/week too, even after he’s exhausted from seeing bipolar patients all day long!

4) Therapy if at all possible

5) Social support – either in person through a support group, a friend, or online.  I consider our blogging community to be a key part of my social support. I love you guys!  

6) Relatively healthy diet and no or minimum alcohol.  I can’t drink alcohol due to my MAOI Parnate and my liver and brain are the better off for it. 

7) A pet.  I don’t care if it’s “just” a hermit crab or hamster.  A pet to give you unconditional love and for you to care about, who will keep you company.  

8) Bibliotherapy – reading takes me to my happy place and I bet it does for you too; it’s also supposed to be healing and superhealthy for our brains!  

9) Being out in nature, even for just a few minutes on your doorstep looking at plants, each day.  

10) Light.  I use an old Sunbox (sunbox.com) for 1/2 an hour in the morning and it really does help.  Sometimes you can get your insurance to reimburse for one if you have a doctor’s note.  You can also use sunscreen and sit out in the sun like a lizard! My puppy Lucy loves to sit out in the sun despite her thick, honey-colored coat – she’s so cute.

lioness

 

I’m sorry this became another novella.  I keep telling myself to write posts under 500 words.  I know that I usually prefer to read posts around that length, and I know most of you probably do as well.   Oh well.  Give me another chance.  Next Friday I’ll shoot for 500 words or less! Miracles can happen!

In the meantime, have a good weekend, everyone.  I hope you can all do something that brings you a real smile.  Want to make me smile, for real?  Go do an “Alsuwaidan-style workout” and tell me about it in the comments.  Sweat is the best makeup!

XOXO

Dyane 

  

Let’s Play the Schadenfreude Game! (A Writer’s 1st Rejection)

Maybe

Schadenfreude.…what a word.  

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue unless you’re German, perhaps. I’ll have to discuss how to pronounce it when I meet with my German-born therapist. Dictionary.com’s definition of schadenfreude is “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.” The word’s origin comes from “schaden,” meaning harm, and “freude,” which means joy. Ever since I began blogging, I’ve noticed that my posts with alarming titles which contain the most angst (another word of German origin) have received the most views and comments. I’ve observed the same phenomenon with many others’ blogs as well. Welcome to Schadenfreudeland!

What does schadenfreude have to do with this post? You’ll see. Well, you may be wondering what the writing rejection is all about. Let me back up to last November…take a breath, this is quite a spiel.  

In the chilly fall of 2014, I was hard at work writing my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. While I knew it wasn’t the next Whitbread Book of the Year, I believed my concept was unique in that no other published book (to my knowledge)has focused on childbirth-triggered bipolar disorder.  

My original plan wasn’t to even think about searching for another publisher until I had a complete first draft. “Another publisher” isn’t a typo.  In 2013, during the beginning of a hypomanic episode, I submitted a book proposal and secured a book contract with a health publisher. I canceled the deal because I relapsed while tapering off bipolar medication. (Never again.)

“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could have been somebody!”

Marlon Brando as “Terry” in “On The Waterfront”

After that mess, I wanted a fresh start with a more established publisher.  I was familiar with New Harbinger Publications, a publisher founded when I was three-years-old. New Harbinger has published books about bipolar disorder and bipolar memoirs, right in line with my material. I owned a few New Harbinger titles such as The Tao of Bipolar, Back from the Brink, and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder.   Months before I had remotely considered pitching New Harbinger, they published Dr. Ruth C. White’s excellent book Preventing Bipolar Relapse. At that time I was writing book reviews, and I connected with Dr. White because I wanted to review her book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.  

I was so impressed with Dr. White’s philosophy that I offered to help promote her book any way I could through social media and blogging.  She put me in touch with her New Harbinger publicist to help get the word out more effectively. When I decided to check if New Harbinger accepted unsolicited book proposals, I examined their website for submission information. It turned out that authors could submit a proposal without an agent, so I carefully reviewed their particular guidelines a zillion times.

I already had a completed book proposal but I had to tailor it to New Harbinger’s specifications.  Believe me when I tell you that I worked my ASS off on the proposal.  My husband Craig, a published author of the successful, critically acclaimed book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, reviewed my work and gave me great feedback.

Aside from Craig and my writing muse/puppy Lucy, I didn’t breathe a word to anyone about my plan in case my proposal was rejected. The New Harbinger website’s book proposal guidelines state, “Due to the high volume of proposals we receive, the evaluation process typically takes two to three months. In all cases, we will get back to you as quickly as possible with our publishing decision.” I assumed their staff would notify me whether or not they accepted my proposal as a courtesy and also as a confirmation that they received the proposal in the first place.  

I waited the requisite three months. I didn’t hear a peep. I knew that definitely wasn’t a good sign, but I told myself,  “Surely they’d email me a form letter letting me down!”  I also felt uneasy as I wasn’t 100% positive they got my proposal and reviewed it.  I wanted confirmation and closure so I could move on. I waited another month. Then, I emailed them inquiring about the status of my proposal.  

Crickets.

I decided to use my “connections.”I searched for the email correspondence I had with New Harbinger’s publicist and found it, complete with her direct phone line. I figured I had nothing to lose at that point except some dignity, so I emailed her asking if there was a chance she could check on my proposal status.

When I helped her promote one of her authors, she got back to me right away, but when it came to me, I didn’t receive a reply. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised, but I had to give it the old college try. As I inwardly cringed, I left her one brief, professional-sounding (i.e. not too desperate) voicemail message.

Chirp, chirp.

Then, for the hell of it, I emailed New Harbinger the proposal again.  Infantile, I know, but three days later I finally got a reply:

“Dear Dyane, Thank you for sending us your proposal. After careful consideration, we must, unfortunately, decline the privilege of publishing your book because it does not fit our editorial needs. Most of our books are step-by-step self-help guides. We publish very few memoirs. That said, we recognize that your book has the potential to help many people who have faced a similar situation, and we wish you the best of luck in locating just the right publisher. Sincerely, The Acquisitions Department New Harbinger Publications Proposals@newharbinger.com

YUCK! Their email noted, “We publish very few memoirs.”  Uh, duh! Before I ever contacted them, I gleaned their memoir listings.  While they were obviously trying to lessen the blow of rejection, I thought they came off as patronizing. I didn’t really care how many memoirs they published; it was a moot point, as I still believed they should have published mine!  My memoir wasn’t even a pure memoir, as I explained in my proposal, but a memoir with a separate section designed to help the reader with resources and other lovely bits.

While some of the New Harbinger memoirs looked good, other titles did not impress me at all.  “My writing and my concept is as good as some of their books!” I muttered in a futile attempt to bolster up my ravaged writer’s esteem. That’s the thing with rejections. Even if your writing is good or even excellent, a rejection will make you feel deeply insecure about your writing quality. I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but having my writing rejected made me feel like shit. Then anger and defensiveness washed over me…

F*ck THEM! I thought. It’s THEIR loss!  I discussed this situation with a sympathetic, tolerant Craig.  I explained to him, “I looked at their job listings, and they’re advertising for an Acquisitions Editor and a Senior Publicist, so something funky is going on there!  They obviously don’t have their act together!  I didn’t even have a person sign my rejection email, but a ‘department’.”  He listened to me patiently, agreed with me, and then ran away.

When I received the New Harbinger email, the timing was pretty rotten. I got it the night before my first support group met. That evening I was exhausted from a day filled with cleaning the house and firming up last-minute details. I had already known in my heart that my proposal was a no-go with New Harbinger, but to look at their email took the wind out of my sails.  

Then, I took a deep breath.  I remembered how my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle received so many rejections that she almost gave up writing when she hit forty! I knew that my sulking time with New Harbinger was now officially over. I had a brand-new support group to focus upon, and while I was nervous as hell about it, I was also very excited. Being rejected happens to every writer. No one was taking away my ability to write. Hell, I was even opening up to the idea of self-publishing someday!  It was helpful to get the closure I needed from New Harbinger, and it turned out the following day that the support group’s energy was the best way to soothe my wounded ego.  

As my extraordinary friend Greg Archer, a gifted author of the memoir Grace Revealed says, “ONWARD.”

Here I am with my first publishing contract – while it’s null and void,

I keep it to remind me that I have the potential for success, and that my writing doesn’t suck!

Photo on 2015-03-06 at 08.32 #2 “I coulda been a contender, people!”

p.s. This meme made me laugh, although I think it’s kind of stretching it a little when it comes to the schadenfreude concept. And are you wondering how schadenfreude relates to my tale of woe?  I almost forgot to explain how that fits in here, but you’ve probably figured it out!  I’ve always been fascinated about other writers’ experiences of professional rejection of their work.  I admit I undergo schadenfreude during those times – I feel like I’m not the only rejected writer on the planet. That comforts me.  While I’m not a total sadist —  I’m not happy about another one’s misery — I feel less alone in our shared experience of rejection.  

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“Gott sei Dank, es ist Freitag!”