Too Careful

imgresLast week I was inspired by blogger Kitt O’Malley’s succinct-but-potent post titled “No Trigger Alerts Here”.  Her writing served as a welcome catalyst to change my blogging perspective .  Hopefully my altered views will be reflected in this blog in the weeks to come.  However, as usual, I digress!

I was intrigued to learn what Kitt thought of trigger alerts, for I had published a blog post containing a suicide trigger alert on that same day.

In “No Trigger Alerts Here” Kitt asserts:

“I write from my heart and from my mind, not heeding any internal or external censor. That is how I think.  That is who I am.  Each individual reader must decide for themselves whether they can handle reading potentially disturbing material.  The best writing is often disturbing, mining the extremes of human experience.  Reading such works challenges us.  We must challenge ourselves. We must challenge the perceptions of others.”

I posted the following comment in response:

“Hmmmm.  I do agree, without a shred of doubt, that some of the best, most influential writing is disturbing.  I gravitate towards reading that kind of writing when I’m stable.

When I’m depressed it’s a different story.  Give me cotton candy reading, or actually when I’m really down, I sleep and even books can’t drag me out from under the covers and release me from despair.

When I write about suicide in detail, I feel obligated to post a trigger alert.  That sense of obligation comes from reading other bloggers who post trigger alerts – I basically thought it was the ‘thing to do’ in the blogging community, of which I still consider myself to be a newbie.  I admire that fact that you write what you wish to write without internal or external censors – the word that comes to my mind is “freeing”.   I will read anything you write without reservation or hesitation, as long as I am stable!!!”

One of the true beauties of blogging is when we learn from one another and not simply pontificate from up on high.  After reading Kitt’s post, I realized I’ve been really afraid to write posts that may offend readers – readers whom for the most part I’ll never meet.  I’ve been caught up with writing in a politically correct way to the point where my cautiousness has shut me down rather than fire me up.  I’ve felt stilted writing this blog for a long time, and I knew I was holding myself back.  But I had become complacent.  I’m a lazy person and that’s what us lazies generally do – change is scary.

Moreover, I’ve been avoiding writing in depth about topics that are on my mind every day such as body image, sex and bipolar, judgement, binging, family relationships, writer’s block and much more.  I’ve held back because some of my opinions won’t be popular, pretty, p.c., and certainly not poetic!   I’ve enjoyed reading about these subjects in others’ blogs, so it’s rather ridiculous that I don’t allow myself the same opportunity to write about what matters most to me.

The thought that what I write here could turn off someone “important” and “influential” career-wise down the line has lurked in my brain from the moment I started blogging. As long as I’m not throwing around racist terms or write offensively on purpose, it seems perfectly reasonable to write more freely about complicated topics.  Perhaps I’ll include topics and details that might make some sensitive readers press the “unfollow” button, but so be it.

Here’s another truth.  Even though I love to curse, whenever I’ve wanted to insert a foul word here or there in a blog post, I usually don’t do it.  In turn, by tamping down my true self, that has taken juice out of my writing. I’m stopping that habit now.  It’s pointless to freak out about any of this – I’m not even a career blogger  or have a zillion followers, so I don’t need to fret about losing a lot of readers, sponsors or blighting my reputation.

Today, June 1st, it seems like a good day to officially worry less about writing this blog.  I’m more excited than frightened about my resolution.  I may be potty-mouthed, “bipolar-wrinkled” (a topic for another day), frizzy-haired, and anxious, but I’m also silly, compassionate, creative and unique.  I have something unique to offer to the almighty blogosphere.

As a born Jew, I grew up being told that I couldn’t be too careful, and I took in that worldview with every fiber of my being.  While I’ll continue to be too careful in the “real world” in many respects, I will no longer be too cautious in this blog.

Too careful no more! 😉

For more of Kitt’s writing please follow her blog Kitt O’Malley – Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God at:

http://www.kittomalley.wordpress.com

 

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Where’s My Cape? I’m a “2014 Mental Health Hero” in Chato B. Stewart’s Cartoon-A-Thon

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Yesterday on the first day of Mental Health Month, I was triggered.  In reading the local news headlines I discovered that someone I knew who I’ll call Elana had been reported missing.  She was found alive through an aerial search, but she had attempted to take her own life.  

I told my husband about this tragic news last night.  Craig was a friend of this woman’s long before I met him, but they lost touch over the years.  Yesterday he found out exactly where she was being hospitalized and he spoke with an administrator working on her case.  I encouraged him to get her a card and he sent it to her this morning.  I know that a card sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.  Especially when the illness is a mental illness connected with a suicide attempt.  I know with all my heart that as she recovers, she will appreciate his gesture very much.

Today I kept thinking about Elana’s situation, although I moved on with my obligations.  I dealt with various mundane duties: making beds, bill paying, laundry, putting away dishes, working out, driving the girls back and forth from ballet and playdates etc. that I was supposed to accomplish. Was a little Facebooking & Twittering thrown into the mix?  You know it was!  (And yeah, it was more than a little.  I’m working on it!)

My day brightened up considerably when I got an email from the mental health advocate/cartoonist Chato B. Stewart.   Who is Chato B. Stewart?

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Chato is a man of many talents.  I’ve known Chato as the Psych Central Network and BP (Bipolar) Magazine Cartoonist/Blogger .  He’s the artist behind the “Mental Health Cartoons” drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder.  Chato creates positive, provocative and sometimes even funny cartoons!  (He is sensitive to the subject matter, that’s for sure.)

Chato believes there is power behind humor, and his motto is “humor gives help, hope and healing”. His mission is use humor as a positive tool to cope with the serious effects of mental illness. He has won the Wego Health Hilarious Activist Award and  a prestigious Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) award, and he’s a father of four and a devoted husband to his wife Joan.  (Plus, he has a full-time day job, no biggie!) 

Chato emailed me to let me know that he selected me to be one of his 2014 Mental Health Heros!  Chato’s recognition of my mental health advocacy efforts, which I’ve done on and off over the past five years, completely lifted up my spirits.  He’ll be publishing my story on his Mental Health hero website this month, and get this – he’ll be drawing a cartoon of me (yep!) for what he calls his Cartoon-A-Thon.  

When Chato started the Cartoon-A-Thon in 2008, he wanted to “actively contribute in a small way to Mental Health Month, which was established by Mental Health Americana in 1946.” Since then Chato has drawn many heroes who can be nominated by anyone, or personally selected by Chato. 

Why a Cartoon-A-Thon?  

Chato explains his philosophy on the Mental Health Hero website:

“The purpose of the Cartoon-A-Thon is to use humor and laughter as positive tools in dealing with emotional disturbances which affect many people and families due to mental illness.”  

Chato brainstormed an idea of drawing cartoons about mental health disorders each day in May for Mental Health Month.  In 2008, he drew 18 cartoons. The following year he drew 31 cartoons .  In 2010, he introduced his Mental Health Heroes and he featured 31 heroes in the mental health community.  

In 2011 and 2012 he kept up with the hero theme to give his peers a platform to tell their story.  Many readers were excited in 2012 when Chato’s three daughters started drawing their versions of the heroes.  Once again, they’ll pull out their crayons and draw alongside him in 2014.  The fact that Chato’s little girls will be drawing pictures of me will be funny, and my two girls will get a HUGE kick out of their efforts as well.

Here’s an example of 2013 Mental Health Hero Margarita Tartakovsky’s cartoon!   460-Margarita-Tartakovsky-Mental-Health-Hero-for-Mental-Health-Month-2013-cartoon-by-Chato-Stewart-150x150

So my day contained happiness and sadness, just like every day does, but on this symbolic beginning of Mental Health Month, I felt those two emotions to a more amplified degree.  All the more reason for me to make time to exercise, even though it was a heatwave and I felt like blowing it off.  And all the more reason to calmly reassure my husband that when I said to him that I felt “triggered” by Elana’s situation, it didn’t mean I was going to fall apart.  

I emphasized to Craig that triggers are not always rational; they are not always easily tamped down and controlled.  He told me how much he appreciated my explanation, and that it helped him to hear my perspective.  Then he wrapped his arms around me and he said how glad he was that I was doing well.  That was pretty cool to hear, and his words meant more to me than any award I could ever receive.  

To view the 2013 winners, see their cartoons and read their stories, visit: http://mentalhealthhero.com/

To learn more about the illustrious Chato B. Stewart, visit his website: http://www.chatobstewart.com/

 

                                                    Please donate to my walk benefitting Postpartum Progress! 

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For more information about the June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

 

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Shaken on Day #1 of Mental Health Awareness Month

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I’m writing this post on May 1, the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.  The irony does not escape me that yesterday I wrote that I decided I’d take more breaks from bipolar & other mental health-related matters.  I spaced out about May being Mental Health Month!  The bombardment of Mental Health Month announcements that are appearing on my Facebook and Twitter feed won’t let me forget about mood disorders.  Oh well.  This could still be as good a time as any to stick to my plans to detach.

Except “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” as the Scottish poet Robert Burns surmised, don’t they?

The triggering began last night.  I almost missed the top headline that popped up on my local internet provider newspage. The title caught my eye: “Helicopter Crew Spots Missing Woman”  I felt compelled to open the link because I thought there was a chance I might know her.

I was right.

It was someone I knew over a decade ago .  I’ll call her Elana.  Elana was a close friend of my husband’s, and they shared some other mutual friends.  My husband was friends with her husband who I’ll call John.  Elana and John attended our wedding, and they invited us to theirs as well.  Elana was beautiful, accomplished, and driven.  I envied her ambition, her career plans, and her family.

The internet article stated that Elana’s friends said she made comments implying that she intended to hurt herself.  She was located by an aerial search on a beach in “dire need of medical attention”.  Somehow she had driven to that area in an unstable condition for over thirty minutes.  She was attended by medical personnel and taken to a unnamed hospital near that area.

This situation triggers me on certain levels, and not all of these levels are “rational”.  Writing helps me to deal with my unnerved feelings, and if you are reading this, thank you, because it helps me to know that someone out there is reading this too.

The period of time when I knew Elana took place long before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  My job back then as an office assistant was unfulfilling and stressful.  I wasn’t paid very much, plus I had no benefits.  I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life.  Moreover, despite the fact I was finally in a healthy, loving relationship, I was still depressed.

I felt insecure and to top things off, I was way too controlling of my husband’s friendships.  I loathe to admit it, but if I can’t be honest in a blog, what’s the point?  I was jealous regarding my husband’s friendship with Elana.  There was absolutely nothing to fear whatsoever.  He made it crystal-clear to me they were just friends, and that he was in love with me.

Before I met Craig, I was in a longterm relationship in which my boyfriend had been “just friends” with a woman and you know the rest of the story…it had a bad ending.  That contributed to my insecurity and my jealousy of my husband’s friendships with any woman.  So, yes, I discouraged Craig’s friendship with this couple.  I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.

Then, I became ill with bipolar disorder and Craig spent all his time taking care of me and our children.  He let his close friendships go for good.  Between Craig’s taking care of me during my seven hospitalizations, caring for our two little girls, and working, he was burned out.  He couldn’t foster his friendships.  As I had fallen apart, I couldn’t reach out to anyone on his behalf, and I had let all my friendships fall to the wayside too.

Suffice it to say I’m feeling very unnerved this morning.  As I write this, Elana is in a hospital somewhere, and I hope the unit is a lot better than where I was hospitalized.  T

I told my husband about the article.  He was upset, of course.  I encouraged him to get in touch with Elana’s family and send her a card or anything – preferably while she’s at the hospital.  This is going to sound a little weird, but I think it’s SUPER-important to send someone a card or small gift when they are in a mental hospital or soon after they are released.  I’ve written about that issue at the beginning of this blog.

Even if the patient couldn’t care less at the time, I guarantee you that down the line it will really matter to him or her that you cared about what they were going through.  When one is hospitalized for mental illness, there is still shunning by some family members and friends (yes, there is!) and the patient becomes a pariah.  This happened to me.

Very, very few people reached out to me during my hospitalizations.  Whenever I discover  that someone I’ve known is in the hospital for mental illness, it tears at me.  It just does.  It doesn’t matter that she’s not my friend.  I can relate to her experience all the same.

When I told my husband to please get in touch with Elana or her family, and to do it as soon as he could, he saw I was about to break down and cry. He knew what I was thinking.  It didn’t matter that he hadn’t spoken to her in years.

He said, “Of course I will.”

 

 

Making Sense of It

If you shed a tear when the nightmare breaks
Just remember dreams go in opposites
You’re holding on
Yes, you’re holding on to make sense of it
You realize you’re not the only one
Who’s trying to make some sense of it”

Split Enz, “Make Sense of It”, Time and Tide

Yesterday I wrote about stigma towards mental illness in regard to my relationship with my Mom.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much fun writing about that painful topic as I did when I blogged about adorable Boo the Pomeranian and Gywneth Paltrow’s $300 pillows.  But the topic of parental stigma has festered in my brain for some time, and after I finished writing the stigma piece, I found that writing about it helped me feel better.

Two nights ago I had a phone conversation with my Mom.  We discussed the postpartum bipolar book that I’m writing.  At first she said I was “obsessed” about my topic.  Her choice of words really hurt me, but in retrospect I think she was oblivious that her saying “obsessed” would upset me so much.  Mom has such a deep-seated stigma towards mental illness that it can’t help but affect her perspective, and I’m at the very beginning of coming to terms with that.  It’s highly unlikely that she’ll magically change her views – she’s almost eighty-years-old, and while I hate sounding like a pessimist, I just don’t see it happening.  So the change needs to be on my end.

Stigma aside, sometimes I feel like scrapping my book project.  There are days when I feel like I’m too immersed in the bipolar world, but I can’t help feeling obsessed so interested in it!   Despite having a father with bipolar and then being diagnosed with it myself, I still haven’t completely made sense of bipolar disorder in my life.  Writing about it helps me to crystalize my feelings, and in doing so I feel empowered instead of apathetic.

I want to reach other mothers who have lived through my kind of experience.  At first I wasn’t sure if there were any other moms who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after childbirth. But I’ve been coming across these brave women here and there.  Some of them have graciously agreed to be profiled in my book.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I’m writing the book I would have wanted to read after I was diagnosed, and I’ve been told by some mothers that there is a need for it.  That’s all the validation I need!

A chunk of my book focuses upon my decision to try living without bipolar medication.  The section chronicles my carefully researched and planned year-long tapering process off bipolar medications, and what happened to me as a result of that decision. (A hint: it was a disaster.)  If my cautionary tale helps even one mother avoid suicide, then I have no problem being “obsessed” with bipolar!  (I don’t wish to sound histrionic, but I almost lost my life to suicide as a result of being med-free and using natural supplements/modalities.)

These days, as a research tool, I check Amazon.com regularly for new releases specifically about bipolar.  There are at least one or two new books published every week.  Some of these books will be great to use as references for my book,  i.e. Perinatal Psychiatry by Carmine Pariente et al, Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose, and  Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White. While other books won’t necessarily help me, they have brought a smile to my face, such as the racy cover of Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me.  I never know what new listings I’ll discover in the bipolar literary genre.

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Sometimes our re-commitment to a project emerges from unforeseen sources.

I’ve been in need of a little fire underneath my kettle about completing my book.  Lo and behold, I got fired up yesterday when a new bipolar-themed book appeared on my Kindle titled Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally using the Med Free Method by Aspen Morrow.  Out of curiosity, I bought Med Free Bipolar, which is free and published by the independent publisher Pottenger Press.  So far I’ve read the book’s description, the first chapter, and the Recommended Products section, in which I tried one of the suggested products, Q96, that didn’t work for me.

The Amazon description page reads,

The primary goal of Med Free Bipolar is to show that treating bipolar effectively through natural means is not only possible, but highly likely.”

I don’t know how someone in good conscience could promise such a thing, especially in writing.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the the book, Morrow writes, “If you are not sure if the Med Free Method bipolar edition is right for you, take the quiz…” and a link to Morrow’s blog is provided.  The quiz is detailed in an attempt to screen out people who should not try the Med Free method, yet Ms. Morrow still implies that most people with bipolar can live “med free”, which I find to be contradictory and unethical.

This is obviously a sore subject for me.  I’m not stating that all people with bipolar disorder must depend upon bipolar medication in order to live stable, healthy, fulfilling lives.  According to my research over the past two years, a small percentage of people with bipolar can live well without medication.  I’m just not one of them!

Unless I consulted a medical school graduate/bipolar disorder expert who had supervised many patients who proved they could live well without meds long-term, I would never trust following anyone’s “method”, no matter what they write is possible.

No way, no how.

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The blessing in disguise is by my reading a bit of Med Free Bipolar , my resolve has been strengthened to finish writing Birth of a New Brain.  Nothing will stop me from sharing my postpartum bipolar experience, as well as including other mothers’ experiences, with the world where our stories belong.

I don’t work for Big Pharma – I’ll state that for the record.  I didn’t want to have to take meds and of course I’d rather not now.  But my meds have saved me .  Anyone who reads my book who’s on the fence about living without bipolar meds will have second and third thoughts, which is one of my goals in writing the book.  I’ll also be able to sleep well at night knowing that I’m not giving people false hope and/or putting them in danger.

I know that Ms. Morrow has the best of intentions in helping others, and I’m sure she has played a part in some powerful success stories that will be discussed in her book.  But I stand by what I wrote here.  My goal is to be as authentic, ethical and inspiring in my writing as I possibly can.  If my book can help moms make more sense of how to live well with postpartum bipolar disorder, and how to do that safely, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.

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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