Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sometimes You Have It, Sometimes It Has You

The point of treatment of my bipolar disorder, my therapist told me, is take me from being a whipping and drastic motion of a roller coaster, to that of gently rolling hills. Because the reality is, everyone has ups and downs, but there are some of us who require medication and talk therapy to maintain that balance.

Since my last entry I'd be lying if I said I haven't been struggling. Around Christmas the bottom dropped out, so to speak. Meaning, as I like to say things got to be a tad bit overwhelming. I had been doing so much that everything was too much.

So, like a responsible person I called my therapist and made an emergency appointment. And here is where the reality of an overburdened and understaffed system comes in. I made that call the first week of January. My 'emergency appointment' is for for the 28th.

Since then I have faced issues which only exacerbate my condition. In other words, I've been alternately, hypomanic, depressed, and freaked out levels of paranoid in the short span of a month. In fact, now, as dad watches a special on the rise of the third reich I'm so freaked out I can hardly stand being in my own skin. And one of the worst things possible is to be freaked out like this.

But I will say more often than not as the six weeks have gone by I have been able to put together more good days than bad days. But the ride has been more like a roller coaster. In a day's time I can go from tears to joy to hope to late at night heart stopping fear.

But let's take a look at what I've accomplished in the face of this. Close to 54K on the second book in my Bella Morte series. Arranging a good chunk of the rollout on this special series with the first book. An outrageous amount of marketing and networking done on Hekate Press. And have had avenues open up to a possible television series based on the Bella Morte books.

So how does one cope when your emotions are ripping you apart like that? Well, here is what I do.

If you're going to eat to it try to be responsible. Eat fruit. Eat a mega mondo salad with every vegetable imaginable. Or if you have the cash? Cracker Barrel's chef salad or Zaxby's cobb salad.

Whatever you do, don't exacerbate it with drugs or alcohol, they actually make it worse. Don't ask me how I know this, but suffice it to say I've seen it in action.

Music is cathartic. Exercise is cathartic. My tether to stability is my writing and my appointments with my doctors and others who share this similar journey. That and I have friends are, at times, my pillars of strength.

So when things start to seem dark don't be afraid to lean on those around you who are there to help you. There is no shame in treatment or needing a little more help than just the ignorance of a well meaning loved one saying 'you'll grow out of it'.

Staying balanced on the see-saw of life--


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Albert Camus Saved My Life

Not literally. The French-Algerian Nobel-winning novelist and essayist died seven years  before I was born. But he had a profound influence on me, and was instrumental in my decision not to commit suicide when I was in college.

Let me backtrack. Like many people who suffer from depression (although it’s been years since I was clinically diagnosed), I felt like an outcast. Bullied in school, and emotionally and psychologically abused, my only escapes were writing and reading. It was during my senior year in high school that I discovered Albert Camus. We read the short story, “The Guest,” and I was immediately hooked. I needed to read more by this author.

But my infatuation with Camus had to wait until college, when I took French I, and wrote a paper on The Stranger. During the course of my research, I read The Myth of Sisyphus, a collection of  essays, the first being “Absurdity and Suicide.”

What did this mean for me? As someone who felt disconnected from other people, who struggled to maintain my individuality, no matter how “weird,” I felt fragmented. For Camus, the world was absurd. What mattered was how one approached it, and, for Camus, suicide was not the answer.

Let me digress. This seems like a simplistic answer to a complex question. As a philosopher, he gave it considerable thought, apparently so much so that the first line of “Absurdity and Suicide” is “There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

The mantra, to choose life over death, even in the face of incredible odds, has stayed with me all these years. Camus had influenced me so much in college, I even wrote in one of my journals (an English assignment) that I couldn’t kill myself because I respected him too much. I suppose someone would say it was because I respected myself too much, and that’s probably true, but anyone who’s gone through depression knows you can’t go through that personal hell alone without needing help from somebody.

That isn’t to say the specter of suicide is long gone. To believe so would be to take an arrogant point of view that we somehow hold sway over Death. Even Camus, who chose life, was not immune, dying in a car accident.

Our writing paths are wildly divergent, but, like Camus, I’ve touched upon suicide and its impact on people, including myself. And yes, it has threatened to overwhelm me even years later.

But that’s a story for another time.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Day I Don't Feel Anxious

I think that I have always battled anxiety. As an extremely shy child I felt the most at ease when I played alone or with my sister Shannon. I’ve never been a big talker, in fact my parents use to request (without my knowledge) that teachers place me with the more vocal students. It was years before they copped to that one. I always thought I must have the worst luck in the world to always be sitting with the “bad” kids.
As I grew up and into my adulthood I had a wide group of acquaintances but only a few close friends. That was by choice. For a person with anxiety the fewer people you have to fool the better. Many people with anxiety limit their social interactions to situations they can control with people that they trust. I am no different.

Three years ago a situation occurred that I had no control over.  My dad, who had been battling liver issues, was put on the transplant list. Despite his illness, he looked fine. I knew he was sick but not that sick. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and we got the 6am call that a liver had been accepted for transplant. I didn’t have time to be anxious. There were a million of things to do. I had to get ready and drive to my parents’ house. I still didn’t have time to be anxious. Once there I had to talk to my mom. What did they say? Where do we have to go? And all the other who, what, when, where and how. After that I still didn’t have time to be anxious. My dad needed to show me how to pay the mortgage and where he kept all his passwords.

Finally we got out the door. Funny…I didn’t have time to be anxious then either. We talked the entire ride about the surgery. We got the hospital and went through the registration process. We talked about anything dad wanted. I didn’t have time to be anxious. After a while I started making phone call to other family members. Then they started arriving and asking questions, some I knew the answers to and other I didn’t.
After waiting all day my dad was finally wheeled down for surgery. I didn’t have time to anxious. By then I was consumed with fear.

For the next 32 days I lived in a perpetual state of fear, hope, anguish and exhaustion. Every day was spent thinking of dad. I’m not going to go into details here but his transplant story did not end the way you hear on the news. Most of those are success stories that make light of all the trials and tribulations that go with transplantation. The media also showcases the failure known as rejection. My dad suffered or was unconscious for most of that month he lived after the transplant. Not once did he reject the liver or livers as there were 2 transplants done.

It was not until about a month after my dad died that I had my first major panic attack. I think that my grief 
had keep it at bay and as the initial shock subsided the anxiety returned with a vengeance. I was at home watching television when I felt the nervousness. I had a hard time getting a deep breath (even though I could if I concentrated).  I felt as if I was having a heart attack but I wasn’t. The attack went on for a minute or two and then I was fine.

This continued every day for the next few weeks. My dad’s death just intensified my anxiety (also my depression). The fact that I knew it was a panic attack didn’t make it any easier. In fact I think it made it worse. I lived in fear of having an attack. What if it happened at work? Or at the movies? Or with my friends? What would they think of me?

I wish I could tell you that I have conquered the beast but that would be a lie. I battle it constantly. Some days I win and others I lose. It took me two years to finally share my problem with the doctor. Given what my dad experienced I have a huge mistrust of the medical profession. Thankfully I found one that seems to listen to her patients.

I am a work in progress and I look forward to the day that ... I don’t feel anxious.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Lie

"I'm fine." 

Those two words comprise the world's most common lie. Especially for someone with depression.

Someone like me. 

Over the last decade or so, I've mastered the happy face. It comes in handy when you're a mom of three, expected to volunteer for class parties and fundraising events. Handier still when you must join your husband at company functions. No one wants to mingle with a woman who's slumped over and crying in the corner. 

Mom with my new baby girl
December 2001

What I didn't realize after having my first child is that I probably had post-partum depression. I wish I had seen the signs and sought help back then, but I thought all the stress and tears were just a result of sleep deprivation and worrying about my firstborn. If I'd have sought help early on, I might have been better able to handle my mom's diagnosis of terminal lung cancer that same year and her death a mere 10 months later.

I was a wreck when she died. A young first-time mother suddenly without her mother there for support and guidance. Yet over the course of the next decade, I toughed it out, had two more kids and started a writing career. 

By that time, I had gotten incredibly good at answering "Hi, how are you?" with "I'm fine" when in fact, I was anything but fine inside. The worst thing was, I became a total Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. It told myself it's just temporary. You can pull yourself out of it. I managed to keep my family going, write two books, blog and attend book signings while hiding behind that fake smile and that lie: "I'm fine."

The inner dialogue grew more ugly over time. You're just being lazy, lying there in bed trying to avoid your responsibilities. You could get up and be normal if you wanted to. But you don't want to, do you? You know how pathetic and worthless you are, so why bother? Nobody wants you around anyway.

Depression put on a great act, but like all charades, the act was eventually identified about a year and a half ago. At the urging of my husband and my own realization that lying in bed half the day crying for no good reason is NOT normal, I sought help. Despite my fears that my doctor would just laugh at me and say it was normal for a mom of my age to feel like this, she totally understood and wrote me a low-dose depression medication. She also recommended a counselor. 

Scared as I was to commit to any sort of chemical intervention or to spill my troubles on a therapist's couch, I took her advice. Within a month of taking the medication, I felt surprisingly better. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time. I was able to start setting goals again and work toward completing them without the infernal self-hatred telling me I couldn't succeed at anything. 

And to spite it all, I finished a book that had been buried under depression for too long. That third book in my Tallenmere series, Hearts in Exile, was published this June. I've written two children's books that are with an agent who's working hard to find a publisher for them. I won NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words on another novel I'd barely started a couple years ago. That one, a historical romance, will be finished this coming year, and if I play my cards right, I'll finish the fourth Tallenmere series book too. Besides the writing, I'll be starting a job as an editor atFirst Page Last Page and will probably be a class mentor again in the free six- week online writing course, F2K (at Writers Village University)

The road isn't smooth just yet. I've had to work with my doctor to find the right medication and dosage for me. I still have to be careful to not bite off more than I can chew. Learning my depression triggers, like taking on too many responsibilities at once, is very important in preventing the setbacks.

I'm thankful to Amy for inviting me to share my experience here. It feels good to open up about it among people who understand. I hope our stories will inspire others who are dealing with mental illnesses to seek help and know that they are not alone. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we just need a little help in getting there.