Kitt O’Malley’s Review: “Birth of a New Brain” #PostPartumBipolar

 

This review of “Birth of a New Brain” by the blogger/writer Kitt O’Malley is one of the first ones I’ve read. I’m very grateful for her insights and impressions.

As a mother with bipolar disorder, Kitt has a particular appreciation for my experience. She has an outstanding blog so if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to look at the variety of her posts and be sure to read her “About” page – she’s a truly remarkable person, and I’m proud to call her my friend.

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Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder by Dyane Harwood. Foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw.

Dyane Harwood thrilled me when she sent me an advance copy of her memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. (I pre-ordered it and was anxiously awaiting it’s October 2017 release.) Her memoir fills a much-needed niche in sharing the experience of bipolar disorder, peripartum onset (beginning during pregnancy or within four weeks after delivery).

With her friendly approachable writing style, her strong spirit shines throughout her memoir, even when describing the devastation of bipolar disorder. Her story shows how important it is to not give up. She had to undergo ECT and multiple medication trials to find what worked for her.

Dyane explains both the traumatic symptoms she experienced and technical psychiatric information clearly and accurately. She managed to inform and inspire the me. Her book is well-researched and includes useful and informative resources throughout and in her appendices. She even includes me as…

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Losing Ulla

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Ulla’s dog Solo

 

Ulla. Where do I begin?

When I told someone yesterday my friend died by suicide, adding that we never met face-to-face, I sensed that she didn’t understand the power of a virtual friendship.

Of course that’s not her fault – if you haven’t experienced being friends with an online “kindred spirit”, it’s hard to relate to the idea. But I was frustrated all the same because it was a genuine friendship.

How I hate writing that word “was”.

Ulla was a better friend to me than most of the friends I’ve ever had; hell, she was there for me during some of my toughest times far more than some of my relatives.

Oh Ulla.

She supported my writing, and — this was big– she helped me grieve my father’s death. She truly understood what it was like to lose a parent since she had been through it too.

She sent me e-books. She made me laugh through her original, feisty, always-brilliant blog posts. I looked forward to her provocative, witty, informative linkdumps – check out one example here

Even when she was way down, Ulla would check in with me out of the blue to see how I was doing.

We loved going off about crazy Scientology – Jeez, they gave us SO MUCH to make fun of – we couldn’t help it!!!!

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Thetan looks like a lady

 

Best of all, Ulla sent me pictures of Solo, her sweet hound.

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We tossed around the idea of her making a meme of my Lucy, and she gave me this fabulous image:

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I feel guilty that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) didn’t help her out of the evil treatment-resistant bipolar depression. When Ulla began asking me about my ECT experiences, I shared how the treatments helped me.

I was suicidal after my father died, and once again after I relapsed after  tapering off meds. (Word to the wise: just don’t do it!) Anyway, I had ECT each of those times, and it brought me out of those horrendous states.

While I didn’t feel happy after the rounds of ECT, I stopped thinking that I had to kill myself all the time.

She tried ECT. It didn’t work. Should I have encouraged her the way I did? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so gung-ho about it. If I go down that route, I feel worse. Ulla would probably tell me to shut the f*ck up and remind me that she wasn’t a puppet – ever the meticulous researcher, she made an informed choice.

When I found out the news about Ulla, even the lithium coursing through my bloodstream couldn’t prevent tears from falling down my face. (The salt usually does keep my tears at bay; it’s a very odd feeling. But that’s one shitty, unhealthy side effect this drama queen could do without. We need to be able to cry sometimes.)

Upon seeing their mom’s twisted-up face shiny with rare tears, my daughters wrapped their arms around me. A concerned Lucy circled around us and barked as if ten ambulances were speeding past our front door. 

Ulla.

Platitudes come to my mind:

“She’s in a better place.” “She’s at peace.” “She’s with her mom now.”

I’ll be honest with you – I want to believe those cliches are true. I want to believe Ulla’s okay, and that she’s no longer suffering. And here’s the final kicker:

I want to meet her…and thank her…. in person in “Some Fantastic Place” (a beautiful Squeeze song written about their friend who died) because I’ll never get the chance to do that here.

On Saturday, September 10th (World Suicide Prevention Day) Jill of My Spanglish Familia and Yvette of Yve’s Corner have organized an online vigil at this link at Ulla’s blog Blahpolar, the blog I’ve mentioned numerous times as being my #1 favorite.

Yve and Jill invite us to: Bring…your fondest memories, your favourite posts, some ‘food’, ‘flowers’, ‘candles’, and let’s honour her struggle and mourn her loss together.”

I’ll be there.

 

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw (co-author of The Modern Management of Perinatal Psychiatry) will be published by Post Hill Press in October, 2017. 

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A Dose of Summer Fun After Bullsh*t-Induced Bingeing

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Avi and I chillin’ on the outdoor patio at Pono Hawaiian Grill

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The large patio was the perfect place to relax while Avi & Rilla enjoyed Da Lanikai Poke Stack. It has sashimi-grade ahi tuna, avocado, seaweed salad & more from “da poke bar”

Thanks and Mahalo to those of you who read my last novella post!

Special thanks to everyone who offered helpful insights. I’m extremely grateful for your support, wisdom, and humor.

I binged last Thursday and Friday night because I held my anger in for too many days in a row. I waited a week without expressing my rage until meeting with my counselor. (Um, that was not the greatest coping method!)

Before last Thursday, I had been binge-free during the past four months; it was a personal record, and one that was deeply meaningful.

After literally working my derrière off to lose 35 pounds, I was relieved I stopped bingeing after the second evening. I even told my family I binged – that was a first. (Previously, I was secretive about my compulsive overeating.) They encouraged me to go easy on myself, which I’ve tried my best to do since then.

What has helped my mood immensely is keeping busy and having fun with my two girls. 

I’ve been making up for all the summers I was unable to do a thing because my hospitalizations for bipolar depression. Those agonizing separations from my little ones will always haunt me. So you can understand how I can’t begin to explain how good it feels to get out and spend time with my daughters despite my social anxiety/generalized anxiety. (These natural lozenges help me when I’m really freaking out!)

I took Avi and her friend to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk while Rilla was petting snakes and tarantulas at Science Camp. (!) If you glance at these shots I took on their monitor (sorry for the blur), you’ll see that the girls had a bit more fun than I did on the Boardwalk’s famed, ninety-two-year old wooden rollercoaster, The Giant Dipper.

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What was more my style was driving an hour to gorgeous Pacific Grove to meet one of my best friends. (She plays a memorable role in my upcoming memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.) 

Just before we arrived at the beach, I drove by Monterey Bay Urgent Care. That was where I used to go for my required physicals so I could receive my ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). As the great 80’s band Naked Eyes sang, there’s always something there to remind me!

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We caught up on life while the girls enjoyed all the beach had to offer…

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 Rilla was only a few feet away from a harbor seal!

Yesterday we strolled around Santa Cruz’s outdoor Pacific Garden Mall which is full of tourists, college students, yuppies, street performers, and sadly, many homeless people. We visited the indie Bookshop Santa Cruz to pick up our Harry Potter Festival tickets. (Yes.)

This “Staff Pick” display cracked me up!

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Bookshop Santa Cruz holds many positive memories for me. I’ve been visiting it since I moved here to attend college in 1989. Yesterday I watched their staff set up chairs for Julie Barton, the evening’s featured author. She was there to promote her bestselling memoir about her depression experience: Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself. (Yes, I’m jealous of her!)

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This topic has been covered years ago by BP (Bipolar) Magazine blogger Bruce Goldstein in his book Puppy Chow Is Better Than Prozac: The True Story of a Man and the Dog Who Saved His Life.

Sometimes I wonder if my book’s cover should have a big picture of my photogenic Scotch collie Lucy – who cares if she’s not central to the theme – it would sell a helluva lot more copies than if it had my visage on it! 😉 A SocialMediaToday article, “Put A Dog On It”, proves my point! 

Julie Barton’s book cover reminded me of a book I bought last year at the Catamaran Writing Conference titled The Wrong Dog Dream. I heard an acclaimed author/writing instructor speak named Jane Vandenburgh – she was incredible. Check out her book cover:

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Recently our most famous local author Jonathan Franzen spoke at Bookshop Santa Cruz about his latest book Purity. (He does not have nor needs a dog on the cover – he wrote a little book you may have heard of called The Corrections.)

Franzen’s longtime partner Kathryn Chetkovich was my college writing teacher, and get this – she actually liked my writing when I was nineteen and didn’t think I could ever write professionally! Chetkovich wrote Envy, a famous essay for Granta Magazine about how she reacted to her partner’s skyrocketing writerly fame – you should read it.

Now I wish I kept in touch with her. I admit I’m shameless when it comes to finding those who could help promote my book! Oh well.

I’ve seen quite a few amazing authors speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz over the decades. Who knows, maybe one day their picky staff will allow me to speak about my book. (I’ll bribe ’em!)

Apart from browsing bookstores, screaming on rollercoasters, and soaking up the sun at the beach, I have two items for the “Miracle of Miracles” category.

I took the girls roller skating (let me tell you….that’s a workout!)

The little, out-of-control skater kids who raced past me were the epitome of scary! And speaking of scary, I cleaned our decrepit fridge. (And no, I wasn’t manic. I was groggy as hell, LOL! I’m groggy every day!)

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It’s no lie! Hopefully it’ll stay clean for longer than two weeks!

Today I’m taking the girls to see a matinee (Ice Age: Collision Course in 3D – yikes! But they’re begging me to see it – I can’t resist their soft, little hugs – I’m a sucker!)

I also plan to catch up on your blogs and your comments sometime today and over the weekend – hurrah! Now you know why I haven’t had time to do much besides gallivant about town.

Sending you my love, & see you next week!

Dyane

I want to send a special shout-out to Bradley of the terrific blog Insights From a Bipolar Bear. We’ve been encouraging each other in our free online Lose It! group as we work on our weight loss/exercise goals. If you’re interested in joining us, mention it in the comments and I’ll send you an invite.

Thank you Bradley!!!

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

Got Internet Trolls? Meet Miss Lucy, J.D.!

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I’m Miss Lucy and I have a Juris Doctor degree! I’m ready to bring it on!

 

Internet Troll Defined: in internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, and by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Two studies published in 2013 and 2014 have found that people who are identified as trolls tend to have dark personality traits and show signs of sadism, antisocial behavior, psychopathy, and machiavellianism (the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or general conduct).

My recent Huffington Post article about how ECT saved my life brought out all kinds of nasties, which I fully expected. Their mission is to find people like me who write online about positive ECT experiences, and then they spew lots of heinous comments. 

Enter a person with a lot of free time on her hands. She hails from the  remote Australian outback. I’ll call her “Olivia Newton”.

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G’day, mate! Olivia Newton’s my name and trolling’s my game!

I proclaim Olivia Newton as the winner of the “Most HuffPost Comments Written Award” (20+) and “Most Bizarre HuffPost Comments, Many of Which Have ALL-CAPS” Award.

Olivia Newton’s remarks had the flavor of Dr. Evil’s introductory speech in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

During a father-son therapy group brilliantly led by actress Carrie Fisher, Dr. Evil reveals his bizarre childhood in his group introduction. Dr. Evil depicts his father vividly and says, “He’d make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark.”

That line particularly reminded me of Olivia Newton’s comment which asserted that “Bipolar disorder was invented in 1995!” 

If you’ve never seen Dr. Evil in group therapy, it’s worth watching!  

Ever since my article was published, I was handling the negative comments fairly well. After reading the first two lines of a comment, I could tell which way it was going. If the comment seemed respectful, I’d read the whole thing and sometimes reply. If not, well, buh-bye! 

The day I read Olivia Newton’s first three Huffington Post comments, I tried to be compassionate and give her a chance.

At first I replied to her, although it was obvious that something was way off in her noggin. (I shouldn’t talk, but you know what I mean…) She left more comments the next day, and more after that, and more!!! One of Olivia Newton’s comments falsely claimed I was paid by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) to lead my free support group. (I wish!)

Then I got an email notifying me that someone replied in response to a three-year-old Amazon book review I wrote about Dr. Liz Miller’s Mood Mapping.

It was Olivia Newton! She found my review, that wily Aussie, and wrote that I was a liar because my book review mentioned I didn’t take medications. 

After I wrote the Mood Mapping review, like many people with bipolar disorder, I attempted the no-medication route and I relapsed so badly I asked for ECT and meds to save my life.

But Olivia didn’t put two and two together, although one of my chickens could do it in her sleep. Her comment calling me other names that I’ll leave to your imagination crossed a line. Of course it was no surprise that she used ALL-CAPS.

I consulted with my lawyer Miss Lucy, J.D. She barked that she’d work with me pro bono, I mean pro doggie bone!

I briefly replied to Olivia Newton on Amazon. I explained I was off meds when I wrote my review, and that her comments had become defamatory. I told her I hired a lawyer and if she wrote any further comments about me on the internet, she’d be hearing from the lawyer.

I didn’t expect that to do a thing, but it hurt so good to write it! 

I wouldn’t have written it if she lived down the street – just sayin’. If she lived here I’d set her up with The Kraken Lady!

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After that hullabaloo was over, I let it go. Then, yesterday I visited my Huffington Post ECT article to check if there were any new comments.

I noticed that half the comments I saw a few days ago were missing. Why could that be?

Olivia Newton had erased all her comments! 

I visited my Amazon Mood Mapping book review. Her comment? Gone!

Miss Lucy saved the day!

I know that hiring a canine lawyer won’t always work in these situations, but for a fleeting moment I savored a feeling of justice.

Have a great weekend, my friends!

XO,

Dyane

Lucy also moonlights as a therapist – this collie is multitalented!

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

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More Rejection, Acceptance, Controversy & Haters In 24 Hours!

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Dear Friends,

I loved the amazingly helpful feedback I got in the Shot Down By HuffPost!–What Can Help A Mom with Bipolar During Setbacks post I published on Thursday.

Thanks to all of you for taking time to contribute such thoughtful replies!

Yesterday’s events turned out to be ironic in light of Thursday’s Huffington post rejection – it was so bizarre, in fact, that I couldn’t resist waiting until next Thursday to publish this post!

Yesterday, April Fool’s Day, I

Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head

After a cup of coffee, I sat down to check my email. I noticed a reply from an editor at The Mighty and my heart started to thump a bit faster. My cold palms became sweaty.

A couple weeks ago I submitted a post to The Mighty. It was about my postiive experience with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I knew that due to ECT’s major controversy there was a strong chance it would be rejected, but after doing The Mighty site search I found two posts that only briefly touched upon ECT. There was nothing like my detailed account.

It was worth a try.

Taking a deep breath, I opened up The Mighty email and read,

Dear Dyane,

Thanks for sharing your story! I’m going to pass on publishing this, but I hope you’ll submit again! Let me know if you have any questions.

Best,

Stinky Editor

That inevitable sting of rejection hit my solar plexus. At least it didn’t hurt as much as the other rejections, but it still, in a word, sucked. But this time I wanted to do something different besides simply sulk. The editor offered to answer my questions, so I was going to go for it!. I wrote, 

“Dear Editor
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly about my submission. I wish everyone else was like that! I appreciate your offering me the chance to ask questions, so I’ll take you up on it. I’d love to get just a little feedback. By sharing with me about what didn’t work, you’ll be helping me in terms of my future submissions and you’ll be doing a good deed! 🙂
Also, if I edited the piece based on your suggestions, would you be open to a resubmission?
I know you’re busy  and I’d be very grateful for anything you can share.
thanks so much,
The Loser Dyane

Then I did my best to shake off the ‘ol rejection heebie jeebies and get on with my day. I helped my kids get ready, took them to school, and survived driving among the excessively aggressive parent drivers brandishing coffee mugs as they raced around the school’s parking lot.

I returned home intending to work on my book; I wanted to forget all about The Mighty.

Later on I checked my email and noticed a message from The Huffington Post.

First words that came to my mind?

Ah, shit. Another rejection….great.

I opened it up. It wasn’t a rejection.

They published my ECT post! I submitted the ECT post to Huffington the same day I sent it to The Mighty, as both outlets allow writers to submit previously published posts and sometimes they share content.

I screamed with triumphant glee. Poor Lucy, wondering what the hell was going on, began barking loud enough to wake the dead.

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I knew that this ECT article would receive very different feedback than my postpartum bipolar article, and I was right. But I went into this with my eyes open. I’ve been on both sides of the psych fence: I’ve been anti-psychiatry before I became pro-psychiatry. 

So I was fully prepared for the anti-psychiatry brigade, the Dr. Peter Breggin groupies, and a bevy of anti-ECT readers to descend and write all kinds of negative comments. 

It didn’t matter to me what their comments said. 

The bottom line was that I needed to share my truth, my experience.

In grade school I memorized the the Bill of Rights, in which our First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I treasure my freedom of speech more than ever and I worked hard to get this chance to use it. 

So far I’ve only responded to certain comments. There are some seriously out-there comments that are a lost cause when it comes to my trying to explain anything.

I would love it if you could visit this article and see what I’m talking about.

One anti-ECT reader mentions that “bipolar was invented in 1995” and she asked me for a list of all my Dad’s doctors’ names.  She also wrote other colorful comments – clearly this was the day’s excitement for her.  

I shouldn’t be too glib – these are all human beings after all. I’m just grateful that I don’t need to be in the same room with those who oppose my point of view.

So that was my April Fool’s day – a rejection and acceptance of a hotly controversial subject close to my heart.

Without further adieu, here’s the link, and as long as you don’t tell me that bipolar was invented in 1995, and you’re respectful, I’m fine with your disagreeing with anything in the post! 

I’ll see you ’round next Friday, if not sooner, because I had some other really weird, challenging things happen to me within the same twenty-four-hour period – these events brought out the Daenerys Targaryen in me!!!

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I can’t wait to share with you what happened!

In the meantime, be well, dear bloggers!

XO,

Dyane

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

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MAOI Med-Bashing Isn’t Cool!

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The adage “You can’t believe everything you read” is more true than ever in the internet age. And the saying takes on a whole new meaning when it hits too close to home. 

While researching articles about people’s experiences with electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy, I found two posts written by an author — I’ll call her Madame Spuriosa — that alluded to the medication that changed my life: my MAOI.

Her posts contained misleading and/or blatantly inaccurate information about this class of medication. If you’re unfamiliar with MAOI’s and read Madame’s posts, you’d be dissuaded to try this potentially life-changing medication for treatment-resistant bipolar depression.

The experience reminded me how important it is to do your own research about medications and not blindly accept a blog, The Huffington Post or a doctor’s opinion about anything. I was stunned by what the author’s physician said about MAOI’s…I’ll get to that soon.

Simply researching a reputable site can make a profoundly helpful difference.

My doctor and I often use Mayo Clinic and Wikipedia can be very helpful, but of course it’s wise to check several sources & not just reply upon one. 

Consider calling your pharmacist if you like him/her (I’ve read some horror stories about pharmacists who could pass for Satan!). Quiz her about your meds during a slow time – don’t call at 5:20 p.m. when there’s a line ten customers deep. Many pharmacists know a great deal, and they like to share their knowledge as long as they don’t have a ton of customers. If you go this route, just ask her if she’s not super-busy when she comes to the phone.

 

Back to the MAOI Saga….

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Months ago I was contacted by a blog reader who, after reading about my experience with MAOI’s, decided to try one because she was resistant to numerous bipolar meds.

Here she shares how much an MAOI helped improve her quality of life:

“I stopped by your blog while trying to find something that worked for my depression, after failing 6 or so meds and wasting 10 years of my life with this unsettling emptiness. I learned about MAOI’s from browsing through your personal struggles. 2 months later on Parnate I think I’m beginning to feel… just fine. I like it. Thank you.”

When I read that comment, I knew my blogging wasn’t some useless hobby, as I’ve been told. It’s one thing to blog about silly things, which I often enjoy doing – it makes me happy, but it’s entirely another matter to be told your post has helped someone you’ve never met. 

Here’s another example of MAOI bashing by Dr. Julie Holland, author of Weekends At Bellevue and Moody Bitches.

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Dr. Julie Holland’s Moody Bitches is described as A groundbreaking guide for women of all ages that shows women’s inherent moodiness is a strength, not a weakness”

Here’s an excerpt of my Moody Bitches review:

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She Lost Me When She Dismissed the Medicine That Eradicated My Bipolar Depression (In 1 ignorant sentence!)

I enjoyed Dr. Holland’s first book Weekends At Bellevue and I wanted to like this one! I’m pro-medication and pro-psychiatry. I want to promote female psychiatrists whenever I can. Unfortunately I can’t do that with Dr. Holland.

In Moody Bitches Dr. Holland wrote that she was against prescribing MAOI’s (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) without providing ANY convincing reasons behind her statement; once I read that, she lost me as a fan.

An MAOI (Parnate/tranylcypromine) has been a life-changing medication for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression, especially after I combined it with lithium. 

Thanks to my psychiatrist (who thought out of the box and went with this “old-school” med combo of the MAOI and lithium) I have a good life. Before my MAOI was added to my lithium, I had no purpose for seven long, horrific years, ever since my bipolar disorder, peripartum onset was triggered in 2007.

(I wrote about how my life changed for the better…)

None of these amazing blessings would’ve taken place if not for my MAOI. So all I can emphasize in this review is that I no longer recommend this doctor’s books to anyone, and I lost every bit of respect for her professional acumen since she dissed MAOI’s.

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The following excerpts are from Madame Spuriosa’s posts. I bolded the lines in red that troubled me.

I went for a psychopharmacological consultation and was given three options: MAOI (another class of medication), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I was terrified of ECT and I did not want to deal with the dietary restrictions with the MAOI.

When I read that blurb, this is what came to mind:

I don’t want to deal with a lot of things, like unsightly leg hair, gassiness, not being rich, and road ragers on meth, but if I have to give up some foods and booze in order to no longer be severely depressed, then I’ll gladly deal with those dietary restrictions, no problemo!

Madame’s other post states:

My doctor was calm and cool while he presented my options. The first was to try a different class of medication, pretty much the only medication I had not yet tried…there were dietary issues, such as certain cheeses and chocolate that cannot be consumed. I looked at my doctor with a straight face and told him there was no way I could cut out chocolate. Luckily, he smiled and offered me a second option. (Dyane’s note: Madame opted for ECT rather than try an MAOI.)

When I read that section, I was flabbergasted!!!

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Astonished!

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Gobsmacked!

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Flummoxed!

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You get the idea.

No medication fits everyone – believe me, I know that, and I certainly don’t mean to give anyone false hope about MAOI’s. 

But the truth is that lithium and MAOI’s work, and not only do they work, but they work for treatment-resistant bipolar depression remarkably well. Studies done in the ancient 1970’s (the decade I was born) found that MAOI’s seem to work best when combined with lithium.

What I want to emphasize is that MAOI’s dietary restrictions are totally, completely do-able, and they’ll actually make you a healthier person. There are many different lists in circulation of MAOI dietary do’s and don’ts.

While some of those lists mention cutting out or reducing chocolate, I’m here to say that you CAN have chocolate, a.k.a. the most important food in the world. I’m living proof that it’s perfectly safe to eat chocolate and take an MAOI because I’m fairly sure I’m composed of about 90% chocolate.

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This is me.

My friends, if you’ve read this far please give yourself an “A+” for being a great blog follower and a kind reader. I appreciate you so much!

You probably can guess that along with postpartum bipolar disorder, I’m going to keep mentioning the existence MAOI’s until the cows come home to…chew their cud, I guess.

Maybe I’ll write a song about it.

End of sermon.

Well, for now. 😉

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Unless it’s from the Weekly World News of course!

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Have a good Thursday!

love,

Dyane

Read my debut Huffington Post article Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: The Invisible Postpartum Mood Disorder here! 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2017.

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How Shocking That I Got Shocked! & The Amazing Dr. Nuland

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I’m still shocked that I had the guts to request ECT, also known as electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock. It was nothing other than pure desperation that drove me to try something so frightening and controversial.

It was January of 2009.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years earlier, and I was teetering on the edge of sanity.  Then my father died.  If you’ve read my post Stigma – Part Two you know that my relationship with my father (who also had bipolar disorder) was a close one, and I loved him unreservedly.  His health had been failing for several years before he passed away, but each time it seemed that when he reached his end, he’d make a miraculous recovery.  No matter how many remarkable recoveries Dad made, I knew that it was inevitable that I’d lose him forever.  I had been dreading his death every day since he became frail in his seventies.

Dad never liked to talk about death, unlike me. I was fascinated with discussing death with anyone up for it, and I was especially interested the afterlife.  I considered Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a pioneer in near-death studies (On Death and Dying) and Dr. Raymond Moody (Life After Life which has sold over 12 million copies to date) to be among my favorite authors.  Dad, an avid reader, wouldn’t allow me to discuss either of those books in his presence.

When I got the phone call that my Dad died exactly the way he feared: alone in a mediocre assisted living center, I became catatonic.  My depression plummeted to depths it never reached before.

A decade before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I witnessed the death of another very close relative, my Granny. I fell into a deep depression after she died of lung cancer, but I was able to function more or less.  Not so with my father’s death.  After I received the news that he passed away, I asked to go to C.H.O.M.P., the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. C.H.O.M.P. had a locked-down mental health unit euphemistically called the “Garden Pavilion”.  When I was hospitalized there, my depression was so severe that I experienced suicidal ideations – I had no specific plan, but I felt utterly devoid of hope.

Prior to this hospitalization, I demonstrated that I was medication-resistant, meaning I tried a plethora of mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants and none of those medications helped lift my depression.

At C.H.O.M.P. I was given the option which psychiatrists offer to their medication-resistant patients: electroconvulsive treatments in which seizures are electrically induced in patients who are given anesthesia and a muscle relaxant.

My first association with E.C.T., along with many in our society, was a photo of Jack Nicholson’s character receiving it in the Academy Award-winning film “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  I never read Ken Kesey’s book or saw Milos Forman’s movie, but I had a very negative impression from viewing that disturbing image of Nicholson’s grimace while undergoing E.C.T.

After my grandmother died, I found a beautifully written book titled Undercurrents in which the author, psychologist Dr. Martha Manning, fell into a depression so deep that she opted for E.C.T.  The treatments helped her enormously. While she struggled after the procedures with fatigue and short-term memory loss, she made it clear that it was the right, lifesaving choice for her.

I was affected profoundly by Undercurrents and when I began my freelance writing career, I contacted Dr. Manning for an interview.  I included her quote in a Fit magazine article “Shades of Gray” which examined the connection between depression, women and exercise.  It was an honor to interview Dr. Manning. I kept our topics to exercise and depression only, for at that point I never imagined I would need, let alone demand, E.C.T.

When E.C.T. was presented to me as a viable way to recover, I vaguely remembered Dr. Manning’s book. Without any hesitation I told the psychiatrist on duty, “Do it.”  

I didn’t care about its risks; I didn’t care about anything. To say I felt desperate was a massive understatement.  I was told by my psychiatrist Dr. C. that I would have unilateral rather than bilateral E.C.T., which meant that the electrodes used to stimulate my brain would be placed on one side of my head instead of both sides (bilateral).  This was the conservative approach (which is usually good when dealing with a brain!) and meant fewer side effects, most notably less memory loss.

The E.C.T. treatments started promptly at the grisly hour of 6:00 a.m. in the Short Stay Unit allocated for all outpatient procedures.  I was rolled up to the floor above the Garden Pavilion in a padded gurney by B., a compassionate longtime hospital aide.  If I had to be taken up to E.C.T. by anyone, B. had the perfect kind of personality for the job.

After B. dropped me off in a small, curtained room, I was prepped by a friendly nurse who immediately saw how down I was and she did her best to set me at ease.  She started the I.V. line that would be used to inject me with general anesthesia.  I’ve never had a problem with needles or injections, so that didn’t faze me one bit.  

I was looking forward to oblivion very much, thank you.

At 6:10 a.m. in walked Dr. C. holding a big coffee mug, accompanied by an extremely handsome anesthesiologist.  (Even though I was in a depression-induced stupor, I was able to notice physical beauty.)  Dr. C. gently placed several electrodes on my scalp and temple….it was no big deal.  A small, clear gas mask was placed over my nose and I remember finally being able to relax.

I wasn’t scared at that point; I felt like I was being taken care of and because I genuinely liked the staff surrounding me that went a long way in diminishing my anxiety.  

The anesthesiologist said “Okay, Dyane. I want you to count backwards from 10”, which I started to do and when I reached “5”, boom!  I was fast-asleep.  I didn’t feel a thing. There was no pain.  Not during, and not afterwards.

When I woke up within the hour, I was a little groggy, but then I was completely coherent within about ten minutes. That surprised me. I was fed a hot breakfast I had selected beforehand, and I had the appetite to eat most of it. My short-term memory loss was minimal. While I was still heartbroken over the loss of my father, I definitely felt better than I had before I went under, and with each treatment I felt a little better.  After my week at the hospital I had additional treatments as an outpatient.

I firmly believe that E.C.T. saved my life. I was lucky – I’ve heard the horror stories of those who had bad reactions, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I would also recommend it to others who feel suicidal, who have been medication-resistant, and who need to function as quickly as possible, i.e. a mother with young children or the breadwinner of the family.  My health insurance covered most of the procedures’ cost, and I was able to arrange an extended payment plan for the remaining balance.

Since I had the treatments in 2009, I learned about another procedure used to treat major depression called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. Wikipedia defines TMS as a “noninvasive method to cause depolarization in the neurons of the brain. TMS uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents” and no anesthesia is required.  I read an entire book about a woman named Martha Rhodes’ experience with TMS healing her depression. Rhodes made a suicide attempt and was hospitalized at the cushy Silver Hill, where Catherine Zeta Jones was hospitalized. Rhodes tried many medications to no avail and decided to pursue TMS. Her book is called 3000 Pulses Later and while I liked it very much, I disagreed with its one-sided depiction of E.C.T.

One important distinction between TMS and E.C.T. (which have comparable success rates) is that with TMS one must commit to almost daily procedures for up to six weeks.  The good news  is that the patient can drive back and forth to treatment unlike with E.C.T., in which a ride must be arranged due to the anesthesia  However, TMS doesn’t usually start working until midway through the four-to-six-week series.  E.C.T. can cause the depression to remit much sooner than that timeframe,  like it did with me.

Depending on one’s situation, it would be most worthwhile to closely examine both E.C.T. and TMS pros and cons before undertaking either treatment.  E.C.T. is an enormous commitment and it requires a major leap of faith.  It’s expensive, even with health insurance.  (TMS can be very costly as well.) Moreover, there are risks when undergoing any kind of anesthesia, or when subjecting oneself to potential memory loss.  

I can unequivocally state that doing E.C.T. was the best decision I ever made. 

October 21, 2015 Update: When I was undergoing E.C.T. treatments, I wish I saw the remarkable, inspiring TED talk given by the bestselling author/surgeon Dr. Sherwin Nuland about his E.C.T. experience. The following clip is brief and it’s considered by the TED content masterminds to be one of the best TED talks. It’s definitely worth the time to watch Dr. Nuland if you’re even remotely considering electroconvulsive treatment. He’ll make you laugh, he’ll make you think, and he’ll give you hope if you’re considering it.

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.