Last Time at the Munchkin

 

An unexpected side effect due to my meds? 

 

Drinking too much espresso at Squaw’s Coffeebar – talk about a buzz with a view!

The beautiful sunrise on Red Dog Ridge. I watch this sunrise each morning from the cabin. Squaw Valley is directly on the other side of the ridge.

 

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! 

I’m writing this post from the Munchkin cabin in Alpine Meadows, California. We’ve been coming here in the winter and summer for the past ten years. Craig found this place on Craigslist, appropriately enough, and the first time we pulled up to the cabin I couldn’t believe how big and spectacular it was. Normally we couldn’t afford this kind of rental, ever! However, we’ve been super-lucky the owner charged us 1/4th of the typical rate for Alpine Meadows cabin rentals. That’s nothing short of miraculous.

I’ve blogged about my Munchkin visits throughout the last decade. It’s where I’ve spent terrible trips due to my treatment-resistant bipolar depression. I’ve weighed as much as 170 pounds up here and I hardly did anything active except stuff my face with chocolate and shuffle around.

Zonked out on Xanax at 170 lbs, I’m praying the gondola won’t fall

Other times when I’ve been a much healthier 135-140 pounds and depression-free (something I never thought would happen in my lifetime),  I’ve had the energy to hike to my heart’s content. The hikes have never been easy due to the altitude, which is approximately 6480 feet, but once I get going I feel so much better mentally.

I’ve had a few terrifying experiences in the Munchkin. One summer I saw a BIG bear right outside the window. The bear had just been in our cabin, silently eating garbage near the entrance in the basement and he/she was undetected by any of us! How did the bear get in? Well, the front door had been left WIDE open and I’m happy to tell you I wasn’t the one who did that!

During another winter visit when I was deeply depressed, Craig fell down the steep stairs and broke his foot. I had to drive him and the girls to the hospital on icy roads—I think I drove less than one mile per hour!  

There have been happier times too, thank God. After my lithium/MAOI combination finally lifted my bipolar depression after seven years of hell, I was able to do fun things like take the girls ice skating and go on the Squaw Valley Gondola without popping a Xanax. I felt like myself again.

I wrote and edited a sizable chunk of my book in the Munchkin.


The view from the bathroom—in the summer the hill is covered with all kinds of wildflowers!

 

Last month the owner told us she’s selling the cabin so this will be our last visit. Sadly we don’t have close to a million dollars to buy a second home like many others do in this area. Hopefully, we’ll find another affordable place we can rent. 

 

A gorgeously lit home I passed during my walk last night

Today is our last day at the Munchkin and later on in the afternoon I’ll take Lucy on a snowy hike.

My hound LOVES the snow! Her super-thick Scottish collie fur will keep her cozy throughout our ramble. 

I hope that each of you will find your own version of “The Munchkin” —a special, beautiful, affordable place where you’ll only experience good things! You won’t suffer broken feet, bipolar depression, or chunky bears oh-so-quietly coming into your home.

See you next Friday!

Love,

Dyane

p.s. My 1st article for BP/Bipolar Magazine’s Winter issue is online. Please visit the link and take a look. If you can share the article via Twitter, Facebook, etc. (and if you want to knock my socks off, please comment) I’d be very grateful!

https://www.bphope.com/mom-with-a-mission-peripartum-bipolar/

 

Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder With a foreword by the acclaimed perinatal psychiatrist and author Dr. Carol Henshaw. Please visit Amazon to order a Kindle or paperback version—thank you!

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My Old-School Meds Helped A Star’s Treatment-Resistant Depression!

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It’s another rainy Thursday, but I’m in a better state of mind. The past week I haven’t thought much about being rejected by Team Voldemort.

As Kermit and Fozzie sing, it’s time to be:

Movin’ Right Along!

 

Over the past few nights, I read country music superstar Naomi Judd’s new memoir River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope. The instant bestseller was co-written by Marcia Wilkie. Although I’m not a country music fan, I wanted to read about Judd’s experience with severe mental illness. 

I found the book absorbing and well-written. Like many gifted musicians, Judd had a very tough childhood. She was traumatized by sexual abuse, a profound lack of parental love, and much more. She became the young, single mom of Wynonna and Ashley, and put herself through nursing school. She endured more physical and emotional abuse. Her story is a remarkable one.

However, Naomi Judd differs from many of us in that she had the finances to spare almost no expense in her quest to get well. She attended rehabilitation centers such as Promises Malibu, which costs $75,000-$90,000 a month for a single room with a shared bathroom or private suite!

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She was treated by an acclaimed psychiatrist who made an exception to meet with her due to her fame. However, I brushed these inequities aside. I wanted to discover how, exactly, she got better from severe, treatment-depression.

Little did I know I’d be surprised in Chapter 17. At that point, Judd had taken all kinds of meds for her anxiety and depression. She had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which, as some of you know, saved my life. ECT helped her somewhat, but just like with my case, ECT didn’t eradicate her unremitting, soul-sucking depression.

Her psychiatrist Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, head of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, suggested she try the medication combination I’ve taken since 2013: lithium and the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) Parnate. Parnate’s generic name is tranylcypromine.

She wrote, “He explained (Parnate) is an old-school second-line treatment that works best for people with major depressive disorders combined with extreme anxiety.”

I do wish the authors included how Parnate can also help treatment-resistant bipolar depression. I’m sure many of Judd’s readers have bipolar or know someone who does. 

I have mixed feelings about the book. I was thrilled that the doctor suggested Parnate and lithium   — they are the only meds out of 30+ I tried that lifted my treatment-resistant bipolar depression. But I was disappointed about some misinformation. Judd wrote, “I was given an entire list of foods that the drug could react with and possibly kill me. This includes chocolate.”

That is utter hogwash. You CAN eat chocolate while taking a MAOI, as long as you don’t gobble gallons of it! While researching my book, I discovered that some people who suffer from terrible depression won’t take a MAOI if it means giving up chocolate. This, my friends, is a case of serious WTF-itis! I’m one of the biggest chocolate lovers you’ll ever meet, but I’d give up ANY food to feel better. Even (Jean Lee, you won’t believe this), gasp, coffee!!! 

Judd wrote about how much she loved to research the heck out of any medical topic. Apparently, she didn’t research two small, old, but profoundly convincing studies. These studies indicated that lithium and Parnate worked powerfully together to alleviate treatment-resistant bipolar depression. Although the subjects had bipolar depression, it would’ve been useful to cite that study or more recent Parnate/lithium studies in her book.

Most importantly, Judd downplayed how much lithium and Parnate helped her. She wrote,

“About seven days after beginning both prescriptions, I could feel a slight change, a peek at a new dawn on the horizon. It was more like a spark of stability that was within my sight. For the first time in two and a half years, I could sense the possibility of ascending from, instead of descending deeper into, a dark and lifeless hole.”

 “Though Parnate was the the first medication that proved to have an effect on my depression, it was not without a price,”

referring to hair loss she had, although it was possible it could’ve been a side effect from lithium.

During the previous two and a half years she was incredibly depressed and suicidal. This medication cocktail was the true turning point.

Then, she added, “I was also prescribed many other medications.” 

??????????

I was flabbergasted that she didn’t name what those other meds were, or if they even had anything to do with depression. I hope she’s asked about these meds at her book talk Q&A session. 

Despite my misgivings, I’m glad I read the book, literary warts and all. If you want to read more about my take on MAOI’s and lithium, please see the following two posts: Now and Then: Thank You MAOI’S and Lithium and Misinforming the Public About MAOI’s Isn’t Cool.

Meanwhile, back at the (Judd) Ranch…

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Naomi’s Ranch

It just so happens that Naomi Judd lives in the small town where my publisher’s main office is located: Franklin, near Nashville. Dangnabbit, it’s a small world!

 

I hope you have a good Friday, and I’ll see you next week!

Love,

Dyane

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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.

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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Hell in Paradise – Part Two – Seeking The Real Aloha

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Our family in front of the Kona Inn Restaurant in Kailua-Kona at sunset, November 2013

To read the revised version of Part One please visit here

December, 2013

I know it sounds ridiculous to complain about being in Hawaii, but anyone who has experienced bipolar depression can empathize with this seemingly narcissistic attitude. No matter where you are, it doesn’t matter – being in such despair is a malady of the spirit that turns heaven into hell.

There were moments when I was able to acknowledge and appreciate my family’s joy during their various activities, but I was leaden and ashamed that I couldn’t be like them. 

We arrived at a gorgeous beach in Kua Bay that was perfect for boogie boarding. My girls and husband Craig made a beeline for the gentle aquamarine waves. I used to love to go boogie boarding when I was a teenager in the (much) colder waves in Santa Monica, California. In Hawaii I watched my family play in the waves from afar, unable to join them.  

I baked on the sand and people-watched instead, envious of the beach-goers glued to their books under umbrellas. I was so apathetic that I hadn’t even bothered to bring a good book with me. This was the complete opposite of how I behaved when I wasn’t depressed. Normally I’d never travel more than a couple feet without clutching a riveting book or my Kindle Fire.

Each day in Hawaii I desperately hoped for my unrelenting depression to lift so I would feel the Aloha spirit I heard so much about.  While the word “Aloha” is often used to mean “goodbye”, “hello” and “I love you”, there is a deeper meaning to the word.  The website http://www.huna.org explains:

Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!

I was full of anti-Aloha sentiment. That attitude felt all wrong in such a glorious setting.  In an attempt to feel better, I self-medicated with food and beverages.  On a humid, seventy-five degree day I inhaled a bag of “Donkey Balls”.  Yes, they were called Donkey Balls consisting of macadamia nuts covered with multiple layers of chocolate. The balls were a temporary sugar fix and they left me feeling nauseated and plumped up.

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My psychiatrist discouraged me from drinking caffeine due to the contraindications associated with the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor, a class) medication I recently starting taking with lithium. The  MAOI, called Parnate or tranylcypromine, was known to help treatment-resistant bipolar depression and like lithium, was old-school. MAOI’s were the first type of antidepressant developed, but Dr. D. didn’t think the Parnate would send me into mania as long as I took the mood stabilizer lithium.

My meds didn’t stop me from sucking down the famous Kona coffee of the region.  

High-quality Kona coffee often sells for at least $30.00 a pound.  Once I sipped some of it I understood why java addicts with cash to burn paid such an astronomical price for these beans. When we arrived at Al’s Kona Coffee Farm rental, Al left us a bag of his Kona blend.  I made a pot of it every day on his farm, and all that tasty coffee left me jittery and contributed to my insomnia.

Parnate’s dietary restrictions also prevented me from binging on certain comfort foods which I previously enjoyed such as aged cheeses and cured meats. MAOI’s require that patients relinquish eating anything high in the amino acid tyrine. I made up for that restriction by gobbling a large bowl of granola each night – it was a temporary sugar high.  Not to mention gross. Of course the sugary cereal also worsened my sleeplessness.

I was desperate to feel better, but since I felt so hopeless, I didn’t have much self-restraint.

To complicate matters, I obsessed about mortality.  We had brought my mother-in-law’s ashes and planned to scatter them in a spectacular location.  This type of ceremony was a fitting way to memorialize her because she loved the region. I knew she would have appreciated it.  But I was sickened by the macabre fact that her ashes were hidden a mere room away from where I slept every night.

We found the perfect place to disperse her ashes. It was a reef just off the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Park.  Also known as the Place of Refuge, this park was once the home of royal grounds and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers.  Kapu, or sacred laws, were tantamount to Hawaiian culture.  (If you’re thinking of that Brady Bunch Goes to Hawaii episode you’re not the only one!)

Seriously, the breaking of kapu could mean death. A kapu-breaker’s only chance for survival was to evade his pursuers and make it to a puuhonua, or a sacred place of refuge. Once there, a ceremony of absolution would take place and the law-breaker would be able to return to society.

On the surface, this park was a gorgeous, peaceful spot. As I learned a bit about its intense historical background, that distracted me a little bit from my depression   

Near the visitor center I walked by a huge plumeria bush and I surreptitiously picked a handful of the lovely, fragrant blooms.  Upon my return to the beach once again I was a passive observer rather than a participant.  I gave a few white and yellow plumeria blossoms to my husband and daughters and then I plopped down on my towel.  They walked out onto the reef together and tossed the plumerias into the ocean in remembrance of my mother-in-law.  (Craig decided to scatter her ashes alone.)

Less than ten days after we returned home, once again my bipolar depression lifted.  How did that happen?

A few days after our return my insomnia grew even worse and I experienced two completely sleepless nights.  Even one sleepless night could trigger mania and I could end up in the hospital, so I called Dr. D.  He prescribed Seroquel (generic name: quetiapine), a heavy-duty atypical antipsychotic.  It nipped my insomnia in the bud. As controversial as Seroquel is, I’ll always be deeply grateful to this medication for helping me in a crisis.

I noticed that my depression subsided a few days after I started taking the quetiapine.  It seemed to me that there could be a connection between my depression vanishing and starting the quetiapine, so I remained on it  despite the side effects  I had of daytime grogginess and some weight gain/nighttime hunger.

I was able to laugh again – not fake laughs, but the real deal. I had fun with my girls and Craig, and I felt hope trickle back into my brain. To my utter relief, I could write again. I stopped waking up every day wishing I could escape back into an agitated sleep. I knew that life would continue to be difficult, but I hoped with every cell in my being that I wouldn’t return to the hell of bipolar depression ever again.

10/9/15 Meds Update: I’ve been taking 900 mg of lithium/night, 30 mg of tranylcypromine/Parante a day ever since Hawaii. I slowly tapered off Seroquel, but I resumed taking it last August when I became hypomanic at the Catamaran Writers Conference. Today marks the second week I’ve been off Seroquel. So far, so good, but if I find myself becoming hypomanic I’ll take it again in a heartbeat! 

Dyane is completing her 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).

Hell in Paradise-Part 1/Sorry to Confuse!

Hope this brief video of me and Lucy makes sense! I’m sorry that yesterday’s 300th post was confusing. I created my WordPress blog in 2008. I only wrote three posts and then I became too depressed to write. I didn’t blog again until 2011. Once again, I wrote a couple posts and took yet another depression-related hiatus. 

I returned to blogging in December, 2013. Three time’s truly the charm…I was able to stick with it! Yesterday’s 300th post was a revised version of my very 1st blog post that I published in December, 2013. Today’s post is a revision of post #2. I’ll be publishing a couple more revised posts to complete the story. If you understand this, you get an A+! 😉 Thanks so much for reading and for your comments – I hope that you have a great day! Dyane

Hell in Paradise – Part One: Tsunamis of the Heart and Land

Our November, 2013 family trip to Kona, Hawaii was significant for several reasons.  The first reason was that we had to postpone the trip three times due to my summer hospitalizations for a bipolar depression relapse. The relapse occurred while I was tapering off lithium. I became manic and then went in the opposite direction, down to the very bottom of hopelessness.  

The second reason was that my mother-in-law had passed away a few months prior to our trip. We wanted to bring her ashes to Kona. She worked in the Kona area for over a decade, and it held a special place in her heart.

A week before we took off for Hawaii, my Parnate “miracle” had stopped working, and my bipolar depression returned. I couldn’t help but note the irony of the situation: here I was, about to visit one of the most magnificent places on Earth, and I was depressed yet again.

Once we settled in our rental in Holualoa, Kona I did some internet research. I found that some people took larger doses of Parnate than I was taking – up to twice as much.  I was able to get ahold of Dr. D. while we were there. 

(A sidenote: Holualoa means “long sled run” and is a fitting description of where we stayed.  We were located in the Kona coffee region and our rental was a stunning coffee farm high above the coast.)

Anyway, I asked Dr. D. if I could raise the Parnate up 10 mg for a total of 40 mg a day.  He gave me his go-ahead.  It turned out the dosage made me feel much worse.  I had terrible form of agitated insomnia.  

The eighteen wild turkeys who roamed the coffee plantation were noisy each night. While their gobbling sounds were cute during the day, they kept me awake and were anything but charming at night.  There were also plenty of tropical birds who loved to chirp the night away.

Meanwhile, my depression wasn’t going anywhere.  I returned to 30 mg of Parnate/day.

I knew I should’ve felt grateful for being in Hawaii. The fact that I felt so bad did nothing to assuage my guilt.   My brain synapses, which had been working so well at the beginning of the month, were stuck in a morass once again.  

I couldn’t think of anything to say to anyone during the long car trips we took around the island.  I couldn’t escape with a good book, which to me was pure torture.  

When I started taking Parnate I stopped drinking alcohol cold-turkey, as alcohol is a deadly mix with this MAOI medication, so I couldn’t turn to margaritas to relax.  (And that was a very good thing that I couldn’t drink my blues away!) 

Although I went for a thirty-minute walk amongst the coffee trees each morning, I ate tons of unhealthy treats such as chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and Kona coffee ice cream. During some fleeting moments, I was able to appreciate the grandeur of the island. I noticed my girls’ joyful laughter when they went boogie boarding, but still…I wanted a do-over!

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This photo of our girls was taken on Hilo’s beach on the Big Island.  We visited Hilo twice during our trip. Due to its history of deadly tsunamis, Hilo was particularly significant to me.

Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Los Angeles, I was very aware of the existence of tsunamis.  I asked my father if a tsunami could ever reach our home that was perched on the edge of the deep Las Pulgas Canyon near the ocean. He told me repeatedly that we would be safe, but deep down I didn’t believe him.

I had recurring tsunami dreams despite my Dad’s reassurance.  When I was older, I pored over books about tsunami history and I watched documentaries about these terrifying “harbor waves” (Tsunami means harbor wave in Japanese). I was so fascinated and obsessed by this topic that sometimes I wondered whether I died in a tsunami in a past life!

When I moved to Santa Cruz and experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I was so terrified that I forgot about all my tsunami lore and  did the worst thing possible in a tsunami zone – I sprinted to West Cliff Drive which overlooked the ocean. This scenic road (which is shown during the opening credits of the film The Lost Boys) was two blocks away from my apartment. I ran out of the building as soon as the first tremor ended.  I felt drawn to the sea instead of safer, higher ground.

If there *had* been a tsunami, I would have been toast! 

While in Hilo the first time, we visited one of its main beaches.  Most of the Hilo beaches are nowhere as gorgeous as the beaches on the other side of the Big Island, but their warm water temperatures are awesome.

I felt so down that I didn’t even put on my brand-new, shimmery blue Speedo suit. I plopped down on the sand while my girls and husband frolicked in the water. It struck me that I was sitting in the very spot where the devastating 1946 and 1960 tsunamis had blasted in. I became morbid, thinking that maybe it would be okay to die in tsunami after all, since I had lost hope that my depression would lift.

I continued ruminating how people must have died in the very place where I was sitting.  I’ve known for years that Hilo was the home of the Pacific Tsunami Museum, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit it.  The first time we went to Hilo I was so apathetic and depressed that I told my husband we didn’t have to check out the museum.  He was surprised, to say the least, as he was well-acquainted with my tsunami obsession. He had plenty of times to hear about it during our fifteen-year-long relationship.

When we returned to Hilo a second time, it seemed ridiculous not to visit the Tsunami Museum, so off we went.  I didn’t think our girls would be interested in the subject. Moreover, I was concerned the Pacific Tsunami Museum might be too scary for them, but fortunately they were up for the visit.

A spirited retired docent who had been an elementary school principal spent time with the girls.  She showed them kid-friendly exhibits about the science of earthquakes and waves. I shuffled around the rest of the museum, scared to make eye contact with anyone, wishing a wave would swallow me up then and there.  

Update 9/23/15: Now that I’m doing well, I hope and pray that there won’t be any tsunamis in our area anytime soon! There was a tsunami in our harbor in 2011, but luckily I was high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, safe and sound.

How did I get better? I promise to reveal more in the next installment.

To be continued…

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

Celebrating 300 Posts of Birth of a New Brain!

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The Very 1st Post:

After a Two-Year-Long Hiatus, I’m Back!

Getting Better, Getting Worse & To Be Continued

 

I can’t believe it has been two years since I last posted to my blog, formerly called “Proudly Bipolar” thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s book No Reservations.  

 

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I love you Anthony! (in a platonic way)

 

I’m a big believer in the power of titles, and I felt it was apt to change my blog’s title to “Birth of a New Brain” to reflect the person I’ve become since November, 2011.  

“Birth of a New Brain” is dear to my heart.  (And brain! 😉   I love the phrase for various reasons. One little thing is that I appreciate its alliterative qualities with the “b”, but I can’t say it well if I have dry mouth syndrome! 

I came up with the title last spring. After doing extensive research, I was slowly tapering off all psychiatric medications . (9/22/15 update – I’m pro-med now! Read on and see why…)  Back then I felt my brain was changing and rebirthing, so to speak, on a cellular level. And the cells were changing. Hypomania was setting in and there would be disastrous consequences from my no-med quest. However, when I was still relatively stable I couldn’t help but love feeling so positive and creative once again, and I thought the title was imbued with my optimisim.

Birth of a New Brain was associated with a forty-page book proposal based on living with bipolar well without medication. The proposal was accepted by my former publisher and I was absolutely thrilled. (I cancelled the agreement when I relapsed with bipolar depression. Obviously my no-med concept wasn’t seaworthy.)

When I wrote the proposal I had high hopes. I secured an extraordinary British physician/author named Dr. Liz Miller, Britain’s first female neurosurgeon, to write the foreword. I discovered Dr. Miller in Stephen Fry’s groundbreaking documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. (You can watch it on YouTube here) Dr. Miller was Fry’s only subject who had bipolar disorder, was medication-free and doing well, so I tracked her down in London and we began corresponding.

Then I crashed and burned big-time.  I relapsed when my lithium dosage was down to 450 mg. I had to go to the psychiatric ward not once, not twice, but three times in less than two months. Once again I asked for electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments as I knew ECT was my last resort. (The first time I had ECT was in 2009 when my Dad died and I was acutely suicidal. I had a unilateral, or one-sided procedure as opposed to having bilateral ECT , i.e. electrodes placed on both sides of my brain.)  

When I relapsed, my hospital’s ECT psychiatrist Dr. L. and I agreed that I’d have bilateral ECT. Bilateral has the most intense potential side effect of memory loss. Why do it then? It can work more effectively for what I had suffered: a heavy-duty, rapid manic-to-suicidal depression state. (When my father died, I wasn’t manic to begin with; I was already deeply depressed.) It was absolutely the right decision.

I upped my lithium dosage to 900 mg. Over time I tried out a bunch of medicines for bipolar, anxiety and insomnia that gave me terrible side effects, bar none.

I worked with my new psychiatrist Dr. D. to find medication that would help me climb out of the terrifying, gripping depression that made me feel so utterly hopeless.  

Finally, in October, 2013 (my favorite month due to the beautiful autumn weather and my favorite holiday Halloween) Dr. D. suggested an old-school antidepressant drug called tranylcypromine, or Parnate.  On an interesting side-note, I recently discovered that Parnate was prescribed to this person six weeks before she died (or was allegedly murdered).

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I digress.

Parnate is classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).  I’ve tried well over thirty-five medications for bipolar/anxiety/insomnia, but I *never* thought I’d take an MAOI.  This class of meds get a very bad rap because there are strict food/alcohol restrictions, and if one eats or drinks a “no-no”, one can die because of hypertension and other reasons.  

It’s also known as a “last-resort” drug for bipolar depression! Um, why hadn’t any of my previous psychiatrists brought up taking an MAOI???? Well, I suspect I know the reasons. I think they think that their patients are too dumb to follow the dietary guidelines (Stigma much? Yes, some psychiatrists look down at their patients) and they’re pressured by Big Pharma to prescribe the latest meds, certainly not an old-school MAOI that has been used for decades and actually works well. (In a small study done back in the 1970’s Parnate was found to work extremely well when combined with lithium!)

Anyway, I didn’t know until quite recently that MAOIs have helped countless people with bipolar who are considered to be medication-resistant.  

I told Dr. D. to bring it on!

I researched internet anecdotes written by those who’ve used this medication. Some people noted that Parnate worked within just a few days.  One woman recounted how Parnate lifted her ten-year-long depression in two days!

I read those accounts and thought, “They’re the lucky ones – that will never be me.”

I took my first, Pepto Bismol pink-colored pill Sunday morning.  The next morning I woke up feeling rather different.  Better.  

No way.  This has to be a dream!  I thought groggily.  

Later that morning I was feeling even better than before.  Not too much, i.e. hypomanic or manic, but I thought that maybe something was shifting in my  crappy-med-battered, shocked brain of mine.  

The next day I genuinely felt much better.  I was able to smile again, and laugh. I felt hopeful.  I felt like myself – the self I was before I ever heard or read the word “bipolar”.  I spent time with my two precious little girls and took them out places that made my skin crawl, like Toys ‘R Us and to the Night of the Living Dead mall so my older girl could get her ears pierced.

I was looking forward to interacting with people again – even the seemingly “normal” parents at the girls’ school!  I met with my longtime therapist Ina and she was amazed at what she witnessed.  She was cautiously optimistic.

Were there drawbacks to Parnate? Yes, just one, but it was intense. A daily afternoon fatigue set in (it’s a notorious Parnate side effect) but I felt that it was completely worth it compared to the benefits of the depression lifting. The majority of the anecdotes said the fatigue would go away after a few weeks. I hoped and prayed that this medication would keep working.  

Three weeks later, it was still working.  

Three weeks and a day later, I felt the depression creeping back.  

I tried denying that the Parnate had stopped working so magically, but each day my depression grew stronger.  We were on the verge of taking our biggest family vacation ever – it was one we cancelled three times before due to my bipolar depression. It was a trip for which we had scrimped and saved: the Holualoa region of Hawaii.

To be continued…

 

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

Just When Life’s Getting Better, Here Comes Death!

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Recently the incredible Marie Abanga, a friend of mine, joked that my WordPress tags section could make a blog post of its own. And she’s right! A lot is going on, which is reflected in the tags. Too much is going on. 

I hesitated to write about these recent events for fear that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, but all the parties involved don’t read my blog. 

Just before I attended the Catamaran Writers Conference on August 12, my husband received alarming news. His close family member had been admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice/dehydration. I immediately knew the cause for this ER admission: full-blown alcoholism.

Selfish me. My first thought was, “Don’t let him die now. I want to go to this fucking conference! I worked so hard to get this scholarship.”

Add to that, I have issues with alcoholism. Mine are deep-seated, festering pustules full of rage and resentment. My father was an alcoholic. The red wine he guzzled each night turned him into someone I no longer recognized; someone who I feared for good reason. I believe my Dad was desperately trying to crush out the demons caused by his bipolar disorder and the abuse he suffered as a child.

As a result of seeing how alcohol affected my father and our family, I despised alcohol for most of my life. At 37 I received a postpartum bipolar disorder diagnosis. My mental illness was treatment-resistant and at my wit’s end I became an alcoholic, finally understanding to some extent why my father drank.

Red wine and tequila became my daily meals. “Unhappy Meals” without clowns, if you will. I knew I had a serious problem when I switched from evening to daytime drinking, as early as  10:00 a.m. On Monday through Friday I filled a large coffee tumbler with red wine and downed every drop, hating the taste but wanting the buzz of oblivion. I was passively suicidal during those years.

My former psychiatrist, the one who talked behind my back to Craig about how I was such a frustrating patient because no medication was working, the one who complained to me about his hatred of his ex-wife and his myriad problems with his four children, the one who was put on probation for overprescribing meds, wasn’t much help.

Ever since I started drinking heavily, I’ve considered myself an alcoholic. On November 18th, 2013 I gave up alcohol cold-turkey. That was the day I took my first pink-colored Parnate pill, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in addition to lithium.

Parnate is known as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression; it’s old-school and has been used since the 1950’s. Parnate has been shown to be most effective when used with lithium. There are rules when taking the older MAOI’s which consist of dietary restrictions and no alcohol if you want to avoid having a stroke.

I didn’t want to stroke out, so I stopped the booze.

Parnate and lithium gave me my life back. The dietary sacrifices, the giving up the booze were 1000% worth it.

It occurs to me that in writing about alcoholism, I’ll come across as a hypocrite. Even so, I’m willing to share with you about how flawed I am – I learn from reading about other flawed souls, so I hope this might help one or two of you in some way.

My current psychiatrist Dr. D. has been such a useful sounding board. His specialty is addiction medicine. I didn’t know he had a specialty when I decided to work with him, but of all the specialties he could have, this one would prove to be extremely helpful.

Ironically I learned about Dr. D. at my neighborhood liquor store during a chat with the owner. I was there posting a flyer promoting my “Women with Mood Disorders” support group, and the owner started telling me about his wife who had OCD. He said, “I’ve found her a great shrink!”  As we spoke surrounded by vodka, the owner added emphatically, “Dr. D. helped my wife so much!” and he handed me the psychiatrist’s business card. Even though I still met with my misogynistic psychiatrist, something told me to take that card.

When I met with Dr. D yesterday for my routine appointment, I told him what was happening with my hospitalized family member. He had plenty of insights. Something that stuck in my mind was this: he explained that if both parents are alcoholic, then each child has a 70% chance of becoming alcoholic. I was clueless about that statistic, but it made complete sense. I’m relieved I no longer drink nor does my husband. Our kids have suffered enough hellish shit with my bipolar disorder; they certainly don’t need two alcoholics “raising” them.

Alcoholism, like bipolar disorder, runs in families. My mother-in-law died from it, and I witnessed her death firsthand. I was manic at the time, and I was strangely numb to the grief surrounding me. The hospice team told me how “great” I was dealing with my husband’s grief. It was all a ruse. My mania took away 99% of death’s sting; I only felt bad when I saw my usually stoic husband break down in sobs.

When I was alone in her hospital room, I told my mother-in-law that it was okay to die. Giving someone permission to die was not something I’d have been able to do when I was my usual, deeply depressed self. She passed away shortly after I spoke with her.

Today I’m not manic. I’m raw – I’m susceptible to others’ grief, especially when I sleep with the person who’s grieving. And I’m scared.

I don’t do death “well”. Does anyone?

I’m always worried that I’ll relapse if presented with an extremely tough situation. I haven’t “overcome” bipolar. I’m not a fucking warrior. Far the fuck from it. 

At least I’m a realist. I examine my personal history, I see what happened, and because of what occurred it makes sense why I fear death so much now.

Here are three more examples of my “getting an F in Death”:

When my father died, I was so devastated that I became suicidal. I asked to be hospitalized and Craig threw the girls into the car and drove me to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). While there I begged for my first round of ECT. They gave it to me. ECT helped immensely to mitigate my acute suicidal impulses.  While I no longer wished to kill myself, I was still severely depressed. 

I missed my father’s memorial service, which is probably the biggest regret of my life apart from all the traumatic, crazy shit I pulled on my little girls and husband during my bipolar episodes.

When my grandmother died a gruesome death from lung cancer, I went into a clinical depression for which I should have been diagnosed/medicated, but no one recognized it at the time.

This happened was when I was 27, ten years before my bipolar diagnosis. When Granny died I felt frozen, hopeless, inhuman. I took time off from my job working as a certified personal trainer and flew with my family to New York. We buried her in upstate New York.

While in New York I remained frozen. I didn’t want to go explore New York City with my family. They didn’t seem nearly as fucked up as I was. I wanted to disappear

When I had my fifteen-year-old American Eskimo Shera euthanized in my arms, I plummeted into an evil darkness within a day. 

Granted, these people who died were hugely significant in my life. My beloved dog Shera was a family member too – she went to my wedding and accompanied us on our honeymoon. She loved me through so many of my depressed-filled years.

What I’m about to write is harsh. Please don’t go off on me in the comments. This particular death by alcoholism enrages me. Our family member has been drinking heavily for years. I don’t know the specifics of the nuclear family dynamics – what I mean by that is I’m ignorant whether or not anyone tried to do an intervention. I have never been close to them. None of them visited/called/contacted me during my 7 hospitalizations.

The last thing I want to do is visit this jaundiced, bloated, tubed-up, dying person in the hospital. I have hospital PTSD from my seven psych unit hospitalizations. Hospital PTSD is an honest-to-God condition, and unless you’ve suffered in this way, it’s hard, if not impossible to understand it. My therapist believes I have it, yet she implored to me during our last session that I need to work through it in this particular case. She suggested that I visit the family member to support my husband, to say goodbye and to be ethical. I’m forcing myself to do it.

If I was still drinking, I’d drink to get through such a thing. If I still took benzodiazepines, I’d have a few. Or smoke pot if that would help me – it doesn’t do a thing except make me tired and relieve nausea.  All I can do to get through this hospital visit is to try anxiety-reduction techniques, use some Rescue Remedy, and inhale essential oils such as lavender & orange, two of my favorites.

And keep the visit short.

 At the Catamaran Conference the renowned poet Ellen Bass read a poem called “Relax” that resonated with me deeply in light of what has just happened in our family.  Bass, the co-author along with Laura Davis of the bestselling The Courage to Heal, wrote something so real. I loved how she recited “Relax” to us in the campus chapel – her rather deadpan tone did her poem justice. You can hear Ellen Bass recite it at the link listed below.

I  joked with a Jewish classmate sitting next to me that the poem should be called “Jewish” instead. (We Jews worry about everything….)

At almost 2000 words, and having been all over the place, I wonder if any of you are still reading this post. It’s more like a novella, but sometimes I can’t stick to the much-more-readable length of 200-400 words. Please forgive me. Brevity is the soul of wit, but I’m not feeling so witty today.

Love to each of you,

Dyane

Visit this link to hear Ellen Bass read “Relax”:

http://www.ellenbass.com/books/like-a-beggar/relax/

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.