Stable, Manic & Depressed Letters to the Editor – My Greatest Hits!

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Suellene Petersen, Editor-in-Chief of the Press Banner

Suellene joined the Press Banner staff last year and I’ve become a fan. One obvious reason is because Suellene liked my recent Letter to the Editor I sent her last week. (My letter appears at the end of this post.) I also love seeing a woman in this job because female newspaper editors are rare.

I’m excited that Suellene will help me promote our mountain community’s only free support group for women with mood disorders. She’ll feature an article about the “Women with Mood Disorders” support group sometime during May, Mental Health Month. 

And now, on to the nitty gritty:

Over the years when I’ve become particularly defrosted about an issue, I’ve taken the opportunity to write a Letter to the Editor to a local paper. I don’t usually write these missives when I’m placid. (The exception is when I’m writing a thank-you letter; those are always fun and easy to write.)

My modus operandi is to write when I’m seething. My blood pressure soars as I pound away at my innocent keyboard, but writing serves as a beautiful catharsis. I always feel better after I’m done.

So is writing a Letter to the Editor free therapy?

Yes!

I’m sharing some of my favorite letters with you.  

One time when I was very peeved I wrote to the acclaimed editor-in-chief/author Greg Archer. Ironically, my hissy fit led to a fantastic friendship and writing mentorship that thrives to this day!

I encourage you to write your own Letter to the Editor. Who knows what might happen? If your letter gets published, I’ll share it in a future blog post!

I’ll start with a shiny, happy letter that was written when I was depressed:

Good Times, February 2011, “Nice ‘Peer’”

Thank you, Gretchen Wegrich, for your excellent articlePeer to Peerabout Mental Health Client Action Network’s incredible array of community services for those suffering with mood disorders (GT 2/11). At age 37, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Last year I founded the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Alliance) which offers free, confidential peer support groups for those living with bipolar disorder and/or depression. The way I see it, the more high-quality, safe peer support groups, the better! For more information about DBSA Santa Cruz please visit DBSA’s website, http://www.dbsalliance.org.
Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Santa Cruz

There’s the “I’m Trying to Gain Points with My Husband By Promoting His Book” category:

Good Times, June 2013, “Good Flight”

Thank you so much for writing this fine piece on Craig Harwood’s book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  It’s cool to know that we had an aviation pioneer in our very own neck of the woods.

Dyane Leshin-Harwood | Santa Cruz

Backstory is needed for the next letter, which was written in 2013:

In 2013, I was in the process of tapering off my bipolar meds. I landed a book deal about living without medication, with a foreword by Dr. Liz Miller. This brilliant woman was featured in Stephen Fry’s documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive and she was the first female neurosurgeon in the U.K. Dr. Miller had bipolar disorder, and she lived an entire decade without medications, remaining stable. She was working as a general physician when I connected with her, and doing well. My book deal was with a different publisher than my current one. When I relapsed, I had to back out of my contract with the publisher, and I was hospitalized three times within two months.  

There were only two positives to that experience. 1) I fully accepted medication into my life and stopped demonizing it, and 2) This letter led to my finding a kindred spirit friend.

The following letter was written during a fit of manic pique.

Good Times, February 2013,  There Are ‘Silver Linings’

For years I have enjoyed Greg Archer’s articles; moreover, I loved his book Shut Up, Skinny Bitches! but I respectfully disagree with his movie review of  Silver Linings Playbook. I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2007 just six weeks postpartum. I almost lost my life to this mental illness numerous times, but I am now in remission. (I’ll be explaining how I became well holistically in my book to be published in 2014.) My L.A. Philharmonic violinist father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I witnessed firsthand how bipolar could destroy a family.

Mr. Archer states that actor Bradley Cooper “lacks believability” and is “grating on the nerves.” I felt that Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of a man with bipolar disorder was accurate and heartfelt. I loved this movie; and it made me become a Robert DeNiro fan as well. I hope it wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards! To cope with this stigmatizing mood disorder, I founded the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) of Santa Cruz County, which offers free, peer-run support groups for those suffering from bipolar and/or depression and DBSA also serves as a resource to family members and friends. For information email dyane@baymoon.com
Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Ben Lomond

Then there’s the Bermuda Triangle region of my brain that doesn’t remember reading the Malibu Times, nor writing a letter to them that follows the Malibu Times article excerpt below! 

“Fit to serve, Peak says,” by  Knowles Adkisson , Associate Editor of the Malibu Times, July 26, 2012

Last week, Malibu City Councilmember Skylar Peak confirmed that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a doctor at UCLA in early May. Peak attributed the diagnosis to stress caused by personal issues involving his family. Peak said he is currently taking lithium, a common medication used to treat bipolar disorder. Peak said he has no plans to step down or take a leave of absence from the City Council. 

When asked if he is currently mentally fit to serve on the City Council, Peak responded, “My answer is absolutely, 100 percent, there’s no question.”Currently, Peak said he is taking 1200 milligrams of lithium per day. Peak said he had never taken prescription medications before he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in early May. Since his diagnosis, he said he has had two separate voluntary one-week stays as part of his treatment at a treatment center in Sedona, Arizona, called the Alternative to Meds Center. In late May, Peak left for a two-week surfing trip to Indonesia, which caused him to miss the May 29 meeting of the City Council.

———

Malibu Times Editor’s note: The following is a comment from malibutimes.com in response to the article “Fit to serve, Peak says,” July 26, 2012

Malibu Times, August 2012, “Stop the Stigma”

Bravo to Skylar Peak! I commend you so much for being “out” about having bipolar disorder and for asserting that you are mentally fit to serve on the council.

I grew up in Pacific Palisades, the daughter of a manic depressive first violinist who was lauded by Leonard Bernstein for his musical genius. Many people in my father’s orchestra have mood disorders as well as in all branches of the entertainment industry. This is a well-documented fact –  – see Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s book Touched With Fire.

I, too, have bipolar disorder. I am a University of California college graduate, and I’ve been married for over a decade with two remarkable little girls. I founded the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) Chapter of Santa Cruz County, which offers free, peer-run support groups to those with mood disorders.

I’m sure a good part of the Los Angeles population has bipolar disorder and they don’t have the ability to be open about their disorder for many compelling reasons, sadly, mainly due to the social stigma. Many people with bipolar are known to be unusually talented but they are shunned.

Like Skylar, I take lithium. I take 900 mg a day, and I fall within the therapeutic range as far as blood levels go (I used to take 1200). I just wanted to take a little less as long as my blood levels were safe.

If you have bipolar disorder or know someone who does, and you need support, please contact NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and/or DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance).

Be proud of who you are. People with bipolar disorder are no different than those with cancer or diabetes. Stop the stigma!

Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Santa Cruz

And continuing with the anti-stigma campaign in my hometown:

This Letter to the Editor addressed the use of the word “crazy” in response to another resident’s Letter to the Editor. I was very gung-ho when I wrote my two cents; I’ve softened my stance since then, but I stand by what I wrote:

Press Banner, May 10, 2012Avoid stigmatizing mental illness”

EDITOR,

I agreed with every word of Claudio Sebastian Nobile’s letter to the editor (“Reading stunt sets bad example,” Letters, May 4) until the last sentence, in which Nobile stated “…be more like an adult, not like a crazy person.” I take issue with the word “crazy,” as it perpetuates the stigma of mental illness. A better way to express himself might have been “not like a person with poor judgment.” As the mother of two young girls, I’m teaching them that it is not OK to use the word “crazy,” as it is derogatory. I hope Mr. Nobile, a fellow parent, will act as a good role model to his girls when it comes to using appropriate language and helping our world break the stigma of mood disorders.

Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Ben Lomond

I was happy that the Press Banner chose to publish my letter.  I received two comments on their website in response to my letter. One comment was positive, and the other one, submitted by “Crazy Guy” was ignorant and rude.  He wrote:

“So now were not supposed to use the word “crazy” too? Add that to the list of forbidden words along with midget, colored, negro, fat,..and all the rest.  I’m telling you, the politically correct need to publish a book on the correct words to use every year and which ones we’re not supposed to use.”

“Crazy Guy” indicated a lack of empathy (ya think???) and I felt he demonstrated that he was passive/aggressive by selecting his name to be “Crazy Guy” in the first place.  I wrote one final response:

“I know we can’t micromanage all our words – that would be ridiculous. But once mental illness affects you or your family, your life is different. Your viewpoints change. If you have kids – that makes a difference too.  I understand where you are coming from, but your anger ruins the effectiveness of your message.”

“Crazy Guy” never responded to me.  Quelle surprise!

I realize that the word “crazy” is deeply embedded in our vernacular, and each of us has only so much energy to devote to changing our language habits as well as others’ speech.  But if we all chip away a little bit here, and a little there, a sea change can occur.

I’ve taught my daughters that it’s not acceptable for them to use the word “crazy”.  I know I’m many things in this life, but crazy is not one of them.  It’s just the name of a catchy Seal song (and the classic Patsy Cline song) nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, here’s the slow-the-bleep-down-when-you drive section:

San Lorenzo Valley/Scotts Valley Press Banner, October, 2011 

Dyane Harwood, Ben Lomond
 
And last but not least, to be published this Friday:
 
Press Banner, January 29, 2016 “Highway 9 Is Not A Freeway”
I’ll admit it. I’ve sinned. I’ve driven faster than the 35 MPH speed limit on Highway 9’s curves. Once my two daughters were old enough to read the speed limit signs, they’ve acted as my personal California Highway Patrol officers, often saying, “Mommy, slow down!” When my kids aren’t in the car, I’m tempted to drive faster than what’s posted on the speed limit signs. In particular I feel pressure from aggressive tailgaters to speed up. We all know there are few places to pull aside safely on Highway 9.
This “rush-at-all-expenses, even your life mentality” is something I’m familiar with. I learned how to drive on Los Angeles freeways, the land of the ultimate unsafe driving. But San Lorenzo Valley is not Los Angeles, and trust me, we don’t want Highway 9 to become more like Los Angeles’ Harbor Freeway.  During Tuesday’s downpour I couldn’t believe how many drivers raced too quickly on Highway 9 given the puddles, small landslides, and challenge of trying to see through torrents on windshields. I realize that if you’re reading this letter, you’re most likely a safe driver. But if you were crossing the line of safety that day (or any other) please think twice the next time you want to speed in any kind of weather. As your fellow community member, I vow to also slow down when that temptation strikes. Please share this message with your loved ones and friends.
 
Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Ben Lomond
If you made it this far, you’ll get a brand-new blogging award:
“The Marathoner Award”. I’ll ask blahpolar to create a meme for it. Please notify me in the comments if I shall to bestow you with this illustrious award! 😉
Thanks for reading. Think about writing a Letter to the Editor…and see you next week!
love, Dyane

I’m now on Instagram! You can follow me here: birthofanewbrain

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth)will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2017.

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30 thoughts on “Stable, Manic & Depressed Letters to the Editor – My Greatest Hits!

  1. This is so great! I always WANT to write letters and stuff like that but I lack the ability ti execute things all the way. I did write a super fiery letter to the dining hall in college. I was very worked up about something that I can’t even remember. Actually I’m not sure I actually sent it. hmmm. head scratch.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing these. Sorry I’ve been so mia lately.

    1. You would write AMAZING letters, and I know you could totally do it!
      I’d love to see that dining hall letter – I wonder what you wrote about? Mystery meat?
      No need to ever apologize for being MIA – I frequently do it too!
      I’m just happy to have you here whenever you get the chance.
      XoXo DY

  2. You go girl! I’ve never written an editor in a haze of fiery frenzy and actually sent it! As for the crazy guy, well, I guess some people embrace their craziness (along with their bigotry and ignorance).

  3. Made it through!

    This reminded me of when I was a teenager working at our local newspaper, The Huntsville Times. One of my tasks was to sort the daily mail and open all the letters to the editor. Most of them were like yours, quite reasonable, really, but every once in a while there was a bizarre one (talking about conspiracies, etc.).

    Around the same time, we had a free phone line where people could call and say anything to our newspaper. A few comments would be printed in a daily column called “Talk to the Times.” Again, some were reasonable. But most were absurd and hilarious: “If them damned Yankees don’t like how we do stuff down here in Alabama, they can get their (bleep) back up north where they damned well belong!” (I was terribly disappointed when the Huntsville Times did away with this feature. It was funny.)

    1. You’ve earned your Award! I’ll let you know when the meme is complete! Congratulations!!!! That’s so cool you used to work at the local newspaper….I wish we had a “Talk to the Times” equivalent here. “Talk to the Press Banner”, or “Talk to the Hand”? (kidding!) The Huntsville Times should have kept that feature – what *were* they thinking?????

      1. The column got to be a joke that no one took seriously, so they decided to use that space for public information. Eventually, the newspaper went from being a daily to being a three-times-a-week thing that focused on state news, not local news. It’s been a huge bummer.

      2. Especially when it’s from some small town in rural Alabama. Why would I care about some election for dog catcher in Hollywood, Alabama (just an example I made up, but you get the point).

    1. I’m so sorry you had to wait and wait for the screen to load just to “like” the post, thanks for doing it!!!! I wouldn’t have your patience and perseverance…although you inspire me to get more of each. LOVE YOU FAIRY G!!!!!!

  4. I await my medal or award is it? Gosh putting or writing all this leaves me with the Sweet or slightly sweet impression your memoir is almost 🙂 whatever, you and the worl you do is/are impressive. Ok whatever, am yawning as I write, and still on antibiotivs and some weire neurobiological side effects …

    1. You will get your award (a meme you can display on your blog if you choose – a very exclusive honor, ha ha ha!) Hope you’re feeling better! I know antibiotics must knock you out….take it easy, my friend!!! And thanks for the kind words about the memoir – I’m making slow-but-steady progress! Gotta keep on keeping on with it!

  5. Here by way of Kitt O’Malley… I made it through ’em all.

    I send our local newspaper letters to the editor every so often, when I think it’s really worth it. That’s not terribly often, because the paper serves a small town area, and small town attitudes with small minds tend to be way too loud and overbearing sometimes. I’ve got unusual responses sometimes- “they don’t mean you”, for example, and I’m inclined to think, “Oh, right, I’m a white male. They must mean someone female that’s more naturally tanned than I am.” Ugh. I don’t do that stupid coded language very well. Also, I tend to look at where the letters come from… hint… they at times come from the same city Baronelle Stutzman and Hope Solo come from. Yay. I worked for that city’s city hall, but sometimes the citizens are just foot-in-mouth morons.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, jaklumen; Kitt has become a dear friend thanks to the magic of the blogosphere.
      Good for you for sending letters to the editor! You and I both live in small towns, so you understand the ways and means of life in such a place.I admire you for having worked in *that* city’s city hall. Not for the weak! “Must suffer fools gladly” needs to be part of that job description, I suppose?

      take care and all my best to you!
      Dyane

      p.s. big CONGRATS for making it through the post!! I’ll alert you when the Marathoner Award meme thingymagig is complete! Go rest your ocular muscles this weekend, 😉

  6. I’m a marathoner! Great letters. I’m impressed that you are so involved with your local community news media. And…thankful that you connected to the hilarious and brilliant Greg Archer, for through you, I “met” him and read his book Grace Revealed, which I loved.

    1. Congrats!!!
      Blahpolar will work on the meme and I’ll let you know about it when it’s ready!
      Great job for making it through those 26.2 miles of words, Kitt!
      Thanks for the kind words about my involvement with the local news. Although I need to write less letters and allocate that time/energy to a certain, ahem, book I’m working on! (Can you say “procrastination”?)

      I’m SO happy you “met” Greg Archer too – I’m re-reading “Grace Revealed” each night, and I marvel at his pilgrimage to Poland, and I admire his writing talents so much.

      XoXoXo

  7. The fact that Crazy Guy used the words “colored” and “negro” means he will never come anywhere near me or I’ll saw the living “crazy” out of him!!! What an ignorant prick! Those words STILL hurt. I was once called “the negro girl who works in the lab downstairs”. Mind you this person was white and had been working in my group for months. Couldn’t seem to remember my name. Hmmmm…..😒😒😒

    1. My sweet friend, thank you so much for writing!

      After I read his sick comment, I wanted to track down “Crazy Guy”, lock him in a bathroom with me after I ate a ton of refried beans, and be together for 8 hours without any ventilation! He would’ve have wound up in critical care.

      I am SO SO SO sorry about what you were called, and how those words hurt. I thought twice about putting them in the post but I wanted to expose the truth of how some of these “Crazy Guys” are – I believe that what goes around sometimes comes around. I hope that he learns the error of his narrow-minded, atrocious ways.

    1. Ha ha ha, The Turtle! You made me laugh! My friend Blahpolar, who is one of my favorite bloggers ever (www.theblahpolar.wordpress.com) makes amazing memes and she’s going to get to work soon on one. Keep reading over the next few weeks so you can be kept posted about your honor! 😉 Congratulations!

  8. I haven’t forgotten you want another meme btw, I just haven’t made many at all over the last couple of months, and my attention span is so fucked up these days. If you send me a quote I’ll make it for you though.

    1. I forgot what meme I wanted before – spooky, eh? No worries – I get it. I need to come up with a quote now. That will take time because my brain is acting like sludge. Hope your attention span bounces back soon, my lovely blah. The world needs more of your memes!!!!! Xo Fryane

  9. I read the whole thing! I think I’ve saved all my letters to the Sentinel which are mostly about local and national politics. My favorite was when I pointed out to Scotts Valley coffee shops their lack of recycling bins. I gave a phone number for them to call to request one. The next week there were bins up all over Scotts Valley and the owner of the Coffee Cat wrote in to thank me! So rewarding!

    1. Wow, Martha, I’m duly impressed! 😉 My friend http://www.theblahpolar.wordpresss.com is going to create the meme, and then I’ll bestow the illustrious honor upon you.

      I love the fact that you’re a fellow letter to the editor writer!!!! That’s super-cool you created change through a letter with getting the recycling bins at coffee shops- every time you see a bin,I bet you feel good! I’ll think of you when I pass them….that’s truly wonderful.

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