PART I OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

ARE YOU PREGNANT?

Yes, but please think twice before spazing out in a high-pitched squeal and tossing confetti. Withhold your well-meaning private Facebook messages gushing with affection, and the E-mails and texts about the glory, the miracle, and the wonder of motherhood. Not every woman welcomes a pregnancy. Just as not every woman believes in God. So if you have either the instinct to grab a Bible or a Target shopping cart (onsies!diapers!rattles!thislittlegadgetthatkeepswipeswarm!)—Don’t tell me about it.

At least not yet…

Probably early last summer, during my DBT sessions, I was working with a therapist about the concept of pregnancy. At the time, I genuinely didn’t feel ready for something like it. I couldn’t even imagine myself as a parent. But it was a necessary topic that needed to be covered in therapy since the very idea that I was pregnant was what led to my second horrible reality juncture*…And pressure from my husband to have our first child was growing into a huge monster that led to daily disagreements.

He, coming from a healthy, caring, conservative, family saw childrearing as a right. As in, ‘if you don’t have a family then you become a priest/nun’. Those seem to me (outside looking in) the only goals in his family. Aside, of course, from being upstanding American citizens with NRA memberships. Trips to his family farm were maybe the worst. How he would hold my hand and stare out over the thousands of acres of rolling grassy pastures, and grin—

H: Can’t you just see our kids playing out there?

ME: If you mean, getting tick infested and shooting harmless animals for sport, no. There’s like abandoned houses down there and trucks that haven’t worked since the 1930s. All the tetanus and glass…

I, coming from…well the Southside of Chicago, had a different type of family. One with free-spirited, bleeding heart liberal aunts and a chain smoking southern grandmother that was prone to taking off her shoe in grocery stores and swiping my bottom with it when I misbehaved. A grandmother who, when she found bugs in the macaroni and cheese, just scooped them out, boiled the noodles as usual, and fed them to us. My dad once had the idea to create a basement out of the crawlspace, so he made the four of us kids (ages 6 through 14) climb down there amongst the spiders and dig up the dirt with garden spades and plastic ice cream buckets in assembly line fashion, dumping the dirt in our yard. I think we actually dug enough for our youngest brother to stand down there, which is kind of funny and impressive now, until I remember my dad’s motto: work will set you free.

So, no. I couldn’t really see myself with kids. Even on days when I wanted to.

Everyone—friends, family, especially my bossy DBT therapist—knew this about me. But Husband? He was sure I could overcome my fears with the strength of his love, commitment, and dedication. Plus, his friends and brother seemed to be popping those things out like gumball machines. The poor guy had a bad case of baby fever.

The DBT therapist, fresh out of school, was just plain honest: DO NOT HAVE KIDS. It was her mission to make me say no and give up on it forever. How easy of a client would I have been then? Just wake up and say, “Oh, you’re so totally right! This thing I’ve been struggling with since I was, twenty-three, you are so right! I’ll just get a divorce today—because it’s that easy when you still love someone.” She’d have been a miracle worker if she could have done that. Feminists would have rejoiced. I could have written a celebrated memoir about it.

Instead, I insisted on exploring these childrearing fears. The therapist, between head shakes and long sighs, suggested I start by setting random alarms in the middle of the night. One of the things that freaked me out the most about babies was that they got up at all hours and messed with your sleep. For someone with bipolar, heck, for anyone, protecting his or her sleep is genuinely important.

The false alarms didn’t just mess with my sleep. They started more and more arguments between Husband and I.

First, I hate kids. Not teenagers. Love them. They annoy the shit out of me. Anyone under the age of twelve requires a type of saintly patience that makes me sometimes feel like a flip out over wire hangers is totally normal. Have you ever seen a two-year-old eat? Three-fourths of their meal lands on the floor, which is fine if you have a dog, but I’m a cat person. And I love my friends, but hanging out with the ones who suddenly had kids was sometimes a chore. We had to be on the baby’s schedule. Instead of going to an art exhibit or concert, our options were limited to The SpongeBob Square Pants movie or McDonald’s play place. God help us all if we missed nap time.

I’d look at the women who rammed their immensely large strollers, or should I say fire hazard carriages ‘cuz who are we kidding here no one is going to be able to make it round that much plastic and metal when the sprinklers go off, into the back of my foot at the department store and think, there’s nothing pleasurable about that, as I trotted off with my lace panties and seventy dollar makeup purchase.

Diapers? Cartoons? Bottles? Give me Vegas, stilettos, fast cars, novels, sleeping in on weekends until noon, long stretches of quiet time, followed by a mid-week concert at First Ave.

But sometimes, I’d think, well maybe if… maybe if I got along better with Husband all the time. Maybe if I was able to get over the strange past I had. Maybe if I hit thirty-five my priorities would change…

Maybe I could adopt at forty.

To Husband adoption was not an option. He could not be swayed with my arguments against overpopulation.

ME: There are 7 billion people on earth. 7 billion! It’s just not ethical. Orphanages are overflowing—

H: It is ethical if you take care of the two you have. And it is the most wonderful experience you will ever have in life.

ME: You’re stupid. Everyone knows the most wonderful experience in life is getting on the New York Times best-seller list.

Needless to say, the bossy DBT therapist and I didn’t click. We parted ways. The second DBT therapist was nice, helpful even, genuinely more compassionate and understanding of my view, but I quit DBT not long after I got the news of the pregnancy. Why did I quit? First, it seemed like marriage therapy was more important, and I didn’t have the energy to go to triple therapists weekly (my private one, the DBT program, and the marriage therapist). Second, I didn’t think the pregnancy was real. I thought it was ‘part of the program’ to make me directly deal with my fears.

What am I talking about? Well, it felt like everyone already knew about the pregnancy, like everyone was in on it. One DBT exercise had a worksheet of kid’s faces and we were supposed to mark what we thought the kid was feeling in the box. I remember my hands sweating profusely during that exercise thinking, they’re recording me. They’re testing me. They want to break me. Because, instead of ‘dealing’ with delusions, I’ve learned to mask them pretty good, to act normal in public, to smile, to continue conversations without missing beats, to laugh when I’m supposed to laugh. That is until the delusion is sparked to a point when I’m so agitated I slip up with a comment like, “Why are you people doing this to me?”

But yeah, for the first three months of the pregnancy I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant. Wait. What?

After over a week of having missed a period, my DBT therapist helped me realized (as opposed to told as the first one may have done) that I had to take a pregnancy test. So I went to Target, and got the most smashed up generic test box I could find. Why? Because I thought ‘the program people’ would have known to come to this Target—they follow me with my phone GPS, duh—and switch out all the tests they thought I would be likely to choose with false positive tests. But they would never think I would try the Target brand box with a hole on the top, as if someone desperately wanted to peel out a stick and try it in the bathroom without paying. I got home. Set the box on the table and took a walk with Husband. After, I felt a bit better and took the test. It was positive. But since I had left the box unattended for about an hour, I thought ‘they’ switched it.

Later that week, again with urging from my therapist and Husband, I made an OBGYN appointment for a blood test confirmation, but I was so far gone by then that not even my new doe-eyed-Polish-I-will-make-a-difference-in-the-world-young-obstration could convince me. Even with her hand over mine, and her honest tone, her genuine understanding of bipolar and continual reassurances that she would not judge me, not ever, I still did not believe her. In fact, I got a little scared. You see, to me, the program picked her, matched her up with me. She was Polish, like my best friend, and looked a lot like a doctor I had in the mental hospital that I liked. Plus, she had experience with bipolar disorder and she was smart—valedictorian in college (I looked her up). ‘They’ were sure I would believe her. Trust her.

‘They’ were underestimating my stubbornness, my rebelliousness. I would not be fooled.

You might be wondering, how could this happen? Who wouldn’t believe they were pregnant? To see me, I seemed fine. I wasn’t foggy or out of control with spending or up at nights trying to paint a recreation of the Sistine Chapel on my ceiling. I was functioning. In all other ways, my reality would have matched up with yours.

But prior to the news, I made a long trip to Michigan and Chicago to see friends. The trip didn’t go well. I was a few days late with my period and suspected that I may be pregnant, but I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. At that point, I did think it was real. And I was scared. Considering abortion. Thinking about divorce. This time for real because I couldn’t face my fears fast enough to stay in the relationship. No matter how much I loved Husband.

Then I got in a fight with a friend and had to leave early. On the long drive back, my mind slipped into that place that none of it was true. The fight was staged to sync with a long ride to recreate conditions that set me off the last time I was ill. The pregnancy wasn’t real. The “friend” was never a friend, but had been put in place in my life from the program coordinators years ago. But to play it safe, I couldn’t let on to how much I really knew about the program. I had to act like ‘they’ weren’t getting to me because if I did they would increase the stress of the program and start to put false ideas into my head. Not literally put the ideas there, but manipulate my friends—the few I thought were real—with ideas that if they said certain things it would be utterly harmless to me and be a good indicator of my mental state; it was the perfect way to help me cope with delusions. I couldn’t quit this revolutionary new type of therapy the way I could conventional therapy or medication. The people of the program were powerful. Convincing. It was all for my own good.

They were going to make me face my fears once and for all…and I’d be a pretty big jerk if I didn’t see how much everyone loved me and was trying to help. If I got low or suicidal, then I was a quitter. I was, essentially saying EFF YOU, to the program, my friends, and my family. Because in the end, they were only trying to help me as best they could…

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

*Reality Juncture is a term I prefer to mental break / manic episode. The linguistics of it makes me feel better because it justifies that the reality I experienced is 100% real for me during that period. Even though my reality doesn’t align with the reality the mass of the population experiences, the term more effectively implies that when my reality split from the masses, like a fork in the road, it still was very much just as true a reality (for me) as the one the rest of the populace continued to experience. It’s a nuance of detail that can get lost in the term “went crazy.”

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

ISBN-13: 978-0544003415

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’re a few things I have to talk about before I launch into a digressive blog about Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The first is to address my online absence. I’ve been away from the blogging sphere over the holidays, but fear not, for I’ve still been reading, writing, thinking, and traveling. In fact, I’m in Chicago now, at the Common Cup in Rogers Park, forcing myself to write this blog when I’d much rather write a new short story.

Can I say that I love Rogers Park? The rent here is dirt cheap, which may explain my cousin’s toilet—it is literally hobbit sized. I have aptly dubbed it Rumplestiltskin’s throne. And yeah, her apartment got broken into once, and uh, it is a four-story walk up, and nocturnal critters live in the walls and freak me out when I’m trying to sleep on the futon, but the place has a faux fireplace and is steps away from the lake! Public art is everywhere. I passed a sculpture of a Monarch butterfly erected from four bike frames on the way to this coffee shop. And okay, so every other storefront along the Red Line is vacant, but amazing smells (pizza anyone?) and interesting people (DANCERS!) fill the windows of the small business that are here. This neighborhood is ripe for artists and students. Just carry mace and be sure to write in your Aldermen’s name on the election ballot…

Second, I’ve utterly failed at my original goal of the blog, which was to read all the books I own without buying or renting anything new, unless it was for research. Just how bad off am I? Well, on Thursday I checked out four library books, and yesterday, I bought another. Technically all five of these books fall under research, but I still harbor a small bit of guilt about them. Key word being small. On the other hand, I recently sold a whole mess of books I’d either read or realized I would never have time to read, at least not in this decade. I can’t explain how hard it was to stand in the bookstore while they checked over my order and not buy something else with my thirty dollar refund.

Now, without a smooth transition or further delay—Lord of the Rings: one of the worst reading experiences I have ever had in my life. Allow me to explain.

It’s one of Husband’s books, but being how it was in the household and I am writing a fantasy saga I thought it would be an important read. A lot of famous writers, people I trust and respect, rave about the trilogy. It can be career altering. There’s top-notch characterization and imagery. Varied sentences. Epic battle scenes. Normally I make it a point to never say anything bad about books. But.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

To be honest, reading this book was equivalent to striking my head on the wall seventeen hundred times and then being locked in an elevator with Michael Bolton blaring uncomfortably loud on the Muzak and a two-year old that hasn’t napped…all week.  One day I spent seven hours—seven hours—reading forty pages.

This was me reading LOTR

This was me reading LOTR

I can’t find any reason for that much exposition. It took everything in me not to take a pen to the thing and start cutting and chopping all the unnecessary. Why does almost every character have to have a confusing name? I mean, honestly, dude why do your two antagonists have like, practically the same name? Ask me if I care what land this tribe of people are from or what absurd lineage they have or what allies they had seven thousand years ago. Husband told me to just skim or read ahead, but I’m not that type of reader. I had to make myself go over every single sentence in that book. In order. No glossing. No skimming. Except for the songs and poems. I seriously just skipped those. Italics? I think not.

Give me more elves.

And Lord please, why are there only three women in the book? Two are strong, so that’s a plus. But. But. But. One of the strong female leads only goes into battle because she’s in love with a dude, and then she throws down her sword to get married. I mean, WTF. And the other strong female lead just gives the heroes gifts to help in battle. What’s the point of that? It’s like, you set up this bad ass chick only to make her give the male leads like a bottle of star dust, excuse me, starlight and a bag of seeds. Really? Really? Because she could have put the wreck to that Sauron.

And, yeah, if you’re gonna write an evil villain and basically give him no screen time, what’s the point? He’s just a vague puppet master. I read over a thousand pages in itty-bitty font and still had no real clue about the guy. He was just there. And bad. One-dimensional bad.

But whatever. It’s a hero’s journey story. I get it. Back to my Joseph Campbell notes, I guess.

Making matters worse, all the books were bound into one big hardcover copy. Lugging that thing around gave me a backache, and I had to be real careful with it since it was one of Husband’s most prized possessions. That meant no dog earing, no eating while reading, no picking my nose and wiping the buggers on the cover, being careful with the spine, no tea drinking near it. No leaving it open on the coffee table without being scolded to use a bookmark.

You may be underestimating Husband’s love of the tale at this point. Please don’t do that. He has an exact replica of Gandolf’s sword hanging on his bedroom wall at his parent’s house. It was his favorite Christmas gift of all time. He told me he went to see the movies in the theater like twelve times or something; I wasn’t really listening. I made the mistake of watching one of the movies with him. This led to a nonstop quoting marathon on his end and a “it didn’t happen that way in the book” whine fest from me. Also,he paused the movie several times to explain bonus features—

Aragorn’s scream sound realistic? That’s because Viggeo Mortensen broke his foot kicking that helmet! It was real metal. See that banner over there? The one that just flew off? That really happened and Peter Jackson just went with it! It was a windy filming day.

Well, I hate to tell you, but no banner flew off in the book. I remain unimpressed. No offense but can we get some collaboration with Guillermo del Toro on some of these monsters? Orks and Uruk-hai sort of look the same to me. But, you know, the casting was spot on for the whole. So there’s that. I dug Gollum.

He was a book highlight. Wins the most interesting character award. Not gonna say anything about how a supporting / secondary character has more depth than the antagonist. No, I won’t talk about that here.

Nor will I mention, you know, that action chapter that takes place after the climax. That’s not misplaced or anything. I bet JRRT was like, ha, these fools have already suffered through a thousand pages of my writing, why wrap things up efficiently after the climax? Why not roll on for another few thousand words and add in another battle, just ‘cuz. I been to war! I don’t care about the rules of commercialism!

I wanted to full on like this book. I wanted to love it. I wanted to place it proudly on my shelf next to the other really influential books I’ve read, and maybe I still should if only to remind myself not to go on for thousands of pages about stuff that isn’t important to the story. I feel criminal for writing a blog post like this. But, I mean, when I had to pretend that Aragorn was Amazon, king of the booksellers, and fantasize he was ravaging small businesses instead of small towns, there’s something wrong with the book. I won’t tell you all the nicknames I made up for the characters and the more amusing plot lines I devised for them. Clearly there were multiple reasons for me taking seven hours to read forty pages…

And in fairness I liked the setting descriptions. I felt comfortable in the worlds, was never confused, and felt like JRRT knew a lot more than he was letting on. I took notes on Shadowfax.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

I just didn’t get it. A thousand something pages is too much for me to handle in one long read, if only for the fact that my bird like wrists simply cannot hold half a tree for several hours at a time. Which is why the next book I am reading is slim at 96 pages and that includes the preface, forward, notes, and glossary. Plus, I own it, so butt scratching and page turning can occur consecutively without worry.

 

*Being that I am traveling, this is not the ISBN number or book cover that I used. These are generic stand-ins taken from the internet.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Writing

ISBN -10: 0-316-14347-2

IMG_2827

Do me a favor. Time yourself as you read this post. Start the clock. Right…now.

Aside from the title, this post has nothing to do with When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. He just happens to be coming to town this week and I am overly excited to see him.

This post is about suicide. I know, it’s not a thing most people feel comfortable talking about. That’s because there’s a stigma surrounding the issue of mental health, and it’s also because it’s heartbreaking.

What we talk about when we talk about suicide: depression. Most people can at least partially understand a sadness so raw one would do anything to make it stop. Sadness akin to being set on fire in the middle of the desert where there’s no water, and baby, you just got to watch your flesh burn.

Most people are all—Yikes! Get a therapist and some antidepressants. Problem solved, right?

Back to the desert, burning alive, now you’re given a shovel and told there’s a water table below. How fast can you dig? There’s no way to know if the water will be ten inches down or one hundred feet. You can barely grip the shovel’s handle after hours of digging and there’s still no water in sight. The hole you’ve created looks more and more like your grave, a comfortable resting place. This is when a stranger pulls up in a motorized swimming pool. They lean over the edge, slide their shades down their nose, and inform you what a big fat quitter you are as they drink a tall glass of ice water. Half your thighbone is exposed. The flames ate away the muscle. You used to be a runner.

Now a well-meaning third party hands you a garden hose. Feeling hopeful? It’s gonna take three months for the water to flow properly. You’ll get a trickle at best in a week.

If you stop digging BECAUSE YOU ARE ON FIRE AND IT IS TOTALLY NATURAL FOR YOU TO WANT TO STOP, the a-hole in the pool will tell you they’re ashamed of you, and you’re horrible for not thinking about the other people in your life, and how you shouldn’t be having any more problems because you now have hope of water.

Here we pause for a moment.

When we talk about suicide, we talk about depression. I’ve never heard anyone talk about anger—rage so concentrated you want to bash the a-hole in the head with the shovel and jump in his pool. Then kill yourself because of it.

When I was younger we used to sing this song, “Momma had a baby and its head popped off,” while holding a dandelion and flicking its yellow top off with our thumb. Earlier this summer, I had such blinding rage that I wanted to rip everyone’s head off just like those flowers. Standing in line at the grocery store took too long, as did the sleepy gas pump that clicked over twice as slow as usual. The TV played shows about armadillos. The radio played songs that reminded me of ex lovers nonstop. And Facebook…how I imagined punching a hole through my computer screen and not stopping until my fist blew right through Mark Zukerberg’s scrawny chest—then I’d send round house Chuck Norris style kicks to Moskovitz, Saverin, McCollum, and Hughes.

I’m not a violent person. To clarify, I’d never ever hurt anyone on purpose. I love Facebook and its creators. So all that anger went inwards and got bigger. My psychiatrist said this was increased irritability. Therapist agreed. Husband said it wasn’t so noticeable. Psychiatrist asked me if I didn’t want to consider taking boxing up again. Therapist questioned how I was taught to manage anger as a small child.

Therapist: What did your parents do when they were angry?
Me: Grab anything within arm’s reach and beat us with it.
Therapist: And you know it’s wrong to beat people, don’t you? It must be very hard and confusing not knowing how to manage that anger.
Me: You’re head is looking an awful lot like a dandelion right now.
Therapist: Do you think you can use a skill when you get angry like that? Let’s try taking a deep breath.
Me: Ever been hit with a block of government cheese?
Therapist: (who’s good at redirecting) Now, breathe away that anger and imagine eating the cheese.
Me: Should I imagine constipation while we’re at it?

Breathing sort of took the edge off of the small things, but it didn’t touch the fire that was burning inside. I wanted to get in my car and drive as fast as I could until my car exploded. Every day my mind replayed the glorious explosion—where I burst apart, one of my arms flying a hundred feet and landing slow motion in a grassy field. Rarrrrrrrhhhh. A leg here. An eye there.

I told my Sassy-Polish-Chain-Smoking-Best-Friend about it. About genuinely wanting to die, and more seriously, about knowing I could take my own life.

Me: I could do it. I really could. Because I’m not afraid like I used to be.
SPCSBF: So what do you want? A medal? Anyone can die. I could choke on gummy Lifesavers tomorrow. Air hole closed. Dead. Now pass me that second funnel cake. We’re eating our feelings today.

And people wonder why I feel so alone.

I have a list of well over fifty skills to employ in case I catch on fire and there’s no motorized swimming pool in sight. I stop and identify the thought. Drop it. And roll, and rolling looks a lot like distraction—take a bath, take a walk, watch a movie, paint my nails, pet my cat. In the meantime, I do what anyone who sees a fire does—I call for help. I have a list of ten people, friends, family, and a therapist that I can call at anytime. When one person doesn’t answer, I move right down the list, sometimes texting four or five people at a time.

Rarely, have I ever told someone that I felt suicidal when I called them, and that I was calling them to be distracted from those thoughts. I just pick up the phone and chat about the weather or gas prices or how I’d like to be a rock in my next life so I can work on my listening skills. To be honest, I’m ashamed of the thoughts. They make me seem so ungrateful.

A few times now, I’ve gone all the way through my list and no one answered until the next day. I didn’t urgently call two or three times in a row, or leave messages that said this was an emergency please call back. I called or texted casually and got no response. You don’t want to know what depression tells you when this happens… no one really cares about you… it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t exist…

Am I still a quitter if I’m on medication, seeing a therapist, recognize the thought, try to distract myself, utilize an emergency action plan, and I still am blazing? Even with all of this help there are still times when I just. Want. To. Die. I want to quit the therapy. Stop the medication. Say enough with the skills. And die. Because I’m hanging on really hard, and some days I don’t even know why.

What about people who don’t have access to all of those resources, let alone a network of ten caring people they can call day or night? What if all they can manage is a lonely social media status at two am?

Will you offer them a lifesaver?

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Krisin Brooks Hope Center 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)

http://www.hopeline.com/

Maybe mental illness isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about. But perpetuated stigma’s and silence costs lives. Suicide takes the life of one person every forty seconds—that’s one million people globally each year**.

You can stop the clock now.

*For the record I love SCSPBF. She’s saved my life many times. That conversation should have been with a trained therapist. It was unfair of me to put her in that position.
**Health Research Funding. Org http://healthresearchfunding.org/many-people-commit-suicide-year/

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ISBN: 978-0-545-58295-7

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I woke up early this morning with a short story coming at me fast. The characters were there, joking about things that weren’t funny, fleshed out and ready to come to life. I begged the story to go away for a few weeks. The timing was bad. I still have ten chapters on the novel to edit, and three AM is never a good time for anything other than dreams.

By six, I surrendered to note taking in bed. Surely I’d be able to fall back asleep as long as I didn’t open up the computer. When I finished, I set my notes aside and mushed my face into the pillow. In a few hours I’d wake up, the story would still be there, and I could go over my notes with Shadow, telling her the roughest draft, rewarding us both by the end with cheese.

Then I remembered, I couldn’t tell Shadow this story because she passed away last weekend.

Sleep never did come. Thoughts of the short story gave way to memories of Shadow. There would have been a time when I’d numbly make it to the shower before the tears. If sitting on the shower floor and crying until the water ran cold were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. Today, however, I ate breakfast then went for a morning run. Part of my DBT goals is getting in three days of exercise per week. Smiling is also part of DBT, but this just wasn’t a smiling type of morning.

IMG_2306It rained hard last night, and the gravel road was still muddy, so ‘knees to chest’ was out of the picture. It’s that time of year when the corn is taller than me and the alfalfa fields are purple, county fair, sunflowers open time of year. I didn’t mind going slow. Watching the clouds roll over the fields is one of my all time favorite pastimes.

As soon as I got on the road, there were dog tracks in the mud. For a moment I thought Shadow was just over the hill, out scavenging early, looking for decaying cow carcasses to roll in, ditch birds to chase up, padding along in the mud sniffing at bugs. Then, for the second time today, I remembered, she’s not here.

It’s coyotes I told myself. Just coyotes.

I knew better than to look back at my tracks next to the paw prints. Coyotes. Just coyotes. Shadow and I once ran the gravel until it turned black top. She was fourteen at the time and barrel chested from congestive heart failure. I couldn’t help but to think of the grade school story that traumatized nearly every kid, the one where a boy enters his dog in the Iditarod race and the dog dies from exhaustion. That has to be the first story you read that doesn’t have a happy ending. All the way up until the dog’s heart explodes you’re at the edge of your seat thinking holy crap he’s gonna win this thing. I tried to tell Shadow to stop, but there was no chance she would. If I was running, she was too. She made it the two miles in over ninety-degree heat. How? I’ll never know.

The morning Shadow died I couldn’t believe Husband didn’t cry. It made me angry. My friend, K, told me I had no right to judge the way someone grieves. Some people laugh during tragedy. I wish I were one of those people.

My therapist said it was better to grieve privately. That’s why today Bob Seger is on repeat and I’m chugging caffeine free Coke, alone behind the desk, ugly crying. Doing what I least want to do: letting her go.

Shadow

Shadow

She and I spent most of our days going for meditative walks by the river. She let me tell her all about philosophy, listened patiently to the books I’d been reading, wagged her tail at times I got excited with breakthroughs with my work. I let her smell anything she wanted for as long as she wanted. In the evening, she sat patiently at my side during dinner giving me sad Sarah McLachlan eyes until I caved in and gave her scraps.

One time she ran away. She used to run away at Husband’s parents’ house all the time. They called it a walkabout. But this time she was old and deaf and nearly blind and wasn’t familiar with our neighborhood. Husband made flyers. Hung them in the post office and the gas station. A car could hit her. She could fall into the river. Husband worried she set off to die quietly on her own terms. He knew about these things, he had country instincts. I’m city. My city instincts said she still had a good nose. We found her the next morning sitting by our door, wet, stinky, and stiff. Pathetic as could be. That was the last time she went on a walkabout.

Another time we woke up to find her caught in the critter trap. She’d eaten a tasty can of sardines and took a nap until we found her. The raccoons lived another day because of her.

I moved my desk to the living room when the stairs to my office grew too hard for her to manage. Everyday from that point was an inch further in the Iditarod race; both of us knew how the story ends. And still I kept thinking, holy crap, maybe she’ll make it to sixteen.

I spent the night with her the day before she died. Cuddled up next to her in my sleeping bag and told myself she’d be able to hold down food in the morning. I don’t think either of us slept much. Her breathing had become far too labored, so much so that she’d have to wake herself up to get a lungful of air. She actually got up and went outside that morning. I fed the cats while she did her business, but found her splayed out on the lawn. I was sure she died then, but she was still hanging on, maybe more for me at that point. I got her up, and she walked back to the house. She took several breaks for those ten paces. When she came in, she took some water, which gave me hope that she might be able to hold down the boiled hamburger and rice that was now her diet. She made it to her bed next to my desk. Unable to lift her head, I knew it was time. We both knew this was the end of the race.

Husband drove her to South Dakota, so she could be buried at the farm. K and I went to the Spam museum. I did not want to believe this was happening, but I couldn’t stay in bed all day crying because one day could easily lead to two days, and two to three. At the factory, I read that the Hormel Company lost over a million dollars to a rotten employee who embezzled the cash to build a mansion with a giant dance hall. When suspicions arose, he claimed the money came from a dead rich aunt. That should have been short story gold, but instead of laughing, I’m pretty sure there’s a couple’s panoramic vacation photo with me sobbing in front of a giant can of Spam.

She’s buried by the house next to a food plot. She can watch the Egyptian wheat roll in the evening breeze, or smell the deer grazing on beans come fall. Maybe it’s the sunflowers she’ll like most. I want to ask her if she remembers watching the beekeepers pack the bees this past fall. We sat by the side of the road in the last of summer’s sunshine. I didn’t let her get a closer look, and believe me she wanted to be near the action. I was too afraid she’d get stung.

Her death has me thinking about where we go after this. I talked a bit about it with K on the beach. K is the type of person who can let those questions go. What does it matter? You’ll never know. But I can’t let it go, not for a second. What if she’s gone, really gone, and exists nowhere but our memories? K soon grew tired of the philosophical. She didn’t want to hear about my dream wherein a book’s appendix had changed. Shadow would have.

The last thing Shadow ate was a hot dog. It’s funny to me, but I can’t say why. Death has a way of stirring up the mind, bringing forth memories and storing new ones as if suddenly everything is important.

I didn’t want to grieve alone because I’m letting go of the only one who understood loneliness the way I did. Shadow never left my side. Never. Not once. When I say she followed me everywhere, true to her name, I mean she followed me everywhere. She didn’t want to be alone either.

Our cat, Poe, sleeps in her bed. He’s taken to mewling around the house. A new habit I attribute to Shadow being gone. I don’t know what letting go really means. But I do know there will still be ghostly paw prints in the dirt road, her collar hung on the mount of the last pheasant she caught, and a space next to my writing desk for her, for always.IMG_0137

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Filed under Animals, Bipolar Disorder, Books, Dogs, Life, Love, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-0-545-58293-3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I like to try new things, which means I’m often susceptible to well-meaning suggestions or new health fads. Last month someone told me if I drank a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water each morning, my acne would clear up. I held my nose and dutifully chugged the concoction every day for a week without seeing any results. It tasted worse than Kombucha, even after adding a teaspoon of honey to the mixture.

I see the dermatologist this Wednesday…

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Then there were the magical chia seeds that supposedly helped one lose weight by making them feel fuller, thus requiring one to eat less. Just a handful of seeds spread over one’s meal, put in yogurt, or added to water, should work instantly. The seeds could be found in higher end grocery/health food stores in the bulk section, but beware – they’re expensive at $18.99 a pound (I didn’t realize this and dumped a full scoop into a bag). It turns out they don’t taste like anything. I love the texture they add to water; they remind me of little tapioca balls. Unfortunately, I never felt any fuller after trying them.

I now have a new gym membership and a workout partner. We meet on Mondays and Wednesdays…

Oh yes, and then there were the skin care remedies. If someone told you that coconut oil, bought in the cooking section of the grocery store would moisturizer your skin and make you smell like an Almond Joy, would you try it? What if the person was your best friend? If the same best friend suggested you try exfoliation with a green and yellow pot scrubber, would you give that a go, too?

IMG_2162Maybe I got the wrong type of oil, but I didn’t smell like any dang Almond Joy. And I felt slippery. Ick. I’m sticking with coco butter, but the pot scrubber works, if you soak in the tub first and lightly rub your skin…

In the spirit of trying new things, I signed up for a yearlong DBT therapy program to learn life skills that would help me avoid future manic and depressive episodes. The program consists of group therapy, which lasts for three hours each week, one hour of individual therapy also weekly, and daily journaling, tracking exercises, and homework.

According to the handouts from my treatment program facility, Healing Connections, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of behavioral therapy. Developed in the early 1990’s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, the goal of therapy is to reduce all types of dysregulation, from emotional to behavioral to relationship. Dr. Linehan first created the program for patients dealing with borderline symptoms and traits, but many therapists found the skills helpful for everyone.

The difference between the Prairie Care program I participated in earlier this year and DBT, is that DBT therapy is that it is behavioral orientated, as opposed to cognitive. This means therapists teach patients a variety of skills to employ in life without the focus on connecting distressing/unhealthy behaviors with their thoughts and feelings. So, it’s behavior based as opposed to thought.

On my first day, my new therapist gave me a huge five-section binder with Life Skills Daily Tracker sheets that had over 61 different life skills to mark. My therapist and I created an individualized plan to track additional behaviors like hours spent writing, working out, and sleeping that were not listed on the worksheets.

DBT daily tracker

DBT daily tracker

The first hour and a half of group session requires everyone to check-in, that is, summarize his or her week. During this time, other members of the group share which skills they heard being used by the patient. The following hour and a half consists of therapist-guided education. A time in which therapists discuss and teach the skills listed in the tracker.

Over the past five weeks, my group focused on the Distress Tolerance section. These skills help one, “tolerate and survive crises and accept life as it is.” So far I’ve tried chair yoga, blew bubbles, went for a walk, stared at a star light on the ceiling, practiced deep inhales and exhales, and stood outside for ten minutes to engage my four senses (touch, sight, smell, & hear – they didn’t want us eating in the parking lot). These exercises were part of the education portion of the program.

I can’t really imagine blowing bubbles in time of a crisis, but I could imagine taking deep breaths the next time I’m at the checkout and something rings up for an inordinate amount of money.

I couldn’t help thinking of how much Harry Potter could use the Distress Tolerance section. I mean, just think of how many crises he needs to survive and tolerate…

In spirit of the check-in, these are the skills from the Distress Tolerance section Harry used in his third year at Hogwarts (some book spoilers):

IMG_2165

Self-Soothe: sooth each of the five senses: Harry uses his sense of taste by eating chocolate after dementor attacks. Anything that soothes you can work. Taking a bath, for example, may appeal to the sense of touch in the water. Listening to an audio recording of the rain is another example.

One Thing: As opposed to worrying over all of his problems at once, Harry focuses on one thing, his lessons with Lupin, to learn how to keep the dementors at bay.

Distract: move away from misery: I would say his trip to Hogsmead was a bit of distraction from fretting over the dangerous criminal posing a threat to his life. This distraction keeps Harry from wallowing in his misery.

Accept Reality: you don’t have to like it: Harry accepts reality each time the dementors  force him to hear his mother’s last dying scream.

Pros And Cons: problem solve: Harry solves the problem of getting to Hogsmead without a permission slip. Although, he doesn’t break his problems down on paper the way I’m taught in therapy and he doesn’t spend too much time weighing the cons of his plan.

Vacation: brief time-out: I’d say Quidditch falls under this category. In therapy, a brief time out is exactly what it sounds like – taking a set amount of time to do something you want to do as a respite from misery or life. Other examples are watching a movie or reading a book for an hour.

Just look at all the skills Harry uses! No wonder he’s a hero.

Other skills from the distress tolerance section most people use every day without even realizing it are Breathe, Walk, Smile, Prayer, and Relaxation. I found that I used Imagery each night before bed. By visualizing a blossomed cherry tree slowing swaying in a breeze, I’m able to fall asleep faster and let each of my problems float away like the petals that drift off in the wind.

Although I’ve been known to laugh awkwardly when something goes horribly wrong, I still can’t imagine Smiling when, say, my dog dies. I can, however, take Imagery to an even higher level. Instead of only using the skill at night, I use it during the day to visualize locking up problems in a box or a filing cabinet and setting them aside for a time when I can deal with each of them without being overwhelmed.

So what’s the verdict for DBT therapy? It’s a better idea than trying celery-flavored soda, that’s for sure.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray celery flavored soda.

Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray celery flavored soda. Tastes like sugar flavored celery

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-1-61219-194-2

I Await The Devil's Coming by Mary MacLane

I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane

This post is part of a blog hop, which must be part of an E-version of a chain letter. Sarah Turner, author of Sarah In Small Doses, asked me to take part in a writing process blog tour. I agreed, but decided not to ask anyone else to do it. A part of me fears that by breaking the blog hop I may inadvertently bring nine years bad luck upon myself, suffer a broken leg, a case of hives, a love lost—or gasp—spill barbecue sauce on my favorite summer dress. Not to tempt fate or anything, but I like to live dangerously. Plus, I’m too lazy to E-mail someone else.

I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane has a rather dangerous-looking cover doesn’t it? That’s why I bought it. I originally passed it up, reminding myself that I already had hundreds of books at home that I hadn’t yet read. Several weeks later, the striking portrait of that Lizzy Borden looking woman was still stuck in my head, so I returned and purchased the paperback.

Back to the blog hop. According to the chain letter, I’m supposed to answer four questions. So here goes.

1)    What am I working on?

Thanks for asking. I’m currently working on a young adult novel series that has one of the most badass female protagonists ever, only she doesn’t know that, at least not right away. There’s nothing like an epic story line to help build confidence and chase a way a severe case of modesty.

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I love this question because I think it’s really, really, important that artists continually ask ourselves this as we work. I have to separate my answer into two parts. The part first is about my growth as a writer.

When I started working on the last draft of my novel, I had  the great stories in my head—The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etcetera. I kept asking myself, what made those stories so good? Why did they work? Why did I care, and why did they stand the test of time? The answer was that they were unique. They were totally newly imagined concepts.

This idea hit me literally the week I came across, “The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar.” Number twelve on the list struck me the most:Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. When these two ideas clicked for me, it was like I finally gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted on the page, and no, ordinary solutions and ordinary predicaments that protagonists find themselves in weren’t going to work for my story. The things that had already been done before were holding me back. So I cut them and went into “me” mode.

And for the second part of the answer, as far as I can tell, love stories and dystopian fiction are hot now and there’s a war train rumbling right through the middle schools as we speak. Our generation is pushing anti-war fiction pretty hard, and I’m in agreement with that.

My book is a bit of a spin on the anti-war / love themes, but I draw most of the material from my experiences with mental illness. It’s set in modern times, with some, well, minor otherworldly adjustments. But you won’t find ghosts, or vampires, aliens, or magic in this book. What I’m creating is something entirely new.

I don’t want to give too much away—I’m saving the juicy bits for my query letters next fall. Those otherworldly adjustments, the unique meat of my story, layer in with reality to create this world that possibly could exist…

3)    Why do I write what I do?

First, I can’t not. Second, most of the reasons for my themes of love and war are too personal to get into in a blog post now. But the main answer is that I volunteer with youth who struggle with major issues like abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. As we all know from this blog, I also struggled with several of those issues when I was younger, too. I wanted to create something that could inspire kids who maybe don’t have the best situation at home. I wanted to create something that say someone struggling with depression or mania or anxiety could read and truly feel like they aren’t alone in that war.

4) How does your writing process work?

It varies depending on what I’m working on. For short stories, I keep a running log of jokes or things that make me laugh and when I get enough jokes I’ll sit down for a weekend and write a draft of a story using as many of those as possible. Then I let it sit in my computer forever before I decide to read it again and tweak it. The time I wrote a screenplay I went online and wrote a treatment of it first. Working from the treatment, I wrote the first draft in a little more than a month and a half.

What I try to do is create a schedule with weekly deadlines that I have to meet. I don’t get down to how much time I’ll work each day, but I make sure I meet my goals and reward myself when I hit big ones.

So there it is. Blog hop. It occurs to me this is the paragraph where I somehow tie all of this in with MacLane. I have nothing on this. Literally there is no way I can think to tie these things together. I would just like to say this, MM really judged her readers, and she lived under the pressure of their imagined constant judgment. On every page I was like, “girl I ‘ain’t judging you. Not judging at all.” And I want to point it out how that is a really paralyzing way to live a life, nineteen years old or not. At least she knew she was genius in this not so modest memoir. It’s interesting to think that if MM were alive today she technically would be part of my target audience…

 

 

 

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Filed under Fiction, Life, Literature, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN 978-0-545-5892-6

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and I have two things in common; we both have lightening bolt scars and exceptional educations. Luckily for me, my scar runs jagged down my knee, and my education only took seven weeks to complete.

At the beginning of the year, I attended Prairie Care, an adult intensive outpatient program that provided me with ninety minutes of group therapy and ninety minutes of psychoeducation five days a week. I chose to attend Prairie Care because my treatment plan for bipolar disorder has never been focused on drug therapy alone. I found that I needed both community and additional talk therapy to help me tackle some of the larger issues that fueled past episodes.

Aside from providing endless material for short stories, school for the bipoles, or rehab as I fondly call it, taught me additional life strategies that can be helpful even for those who don’t live with a mental disorder. This is why I’m combining each of the Harry Potter books with one of the skills I learned at Prairie Care for the next seven posts.

Today’s topic is journaling.

One would think as a writer I would be totally stoked to scribble to my hearts content in a small notebook. One would be wrong.

Last summer, I kept an electronic journal. In it, I typed as fast as my fingers could go in stream of consciousness style. It outlined story ideas, dreams, and an internal monologue of doom. This was the most cathartic journaling experience I ever had…

That is until “people” started screwing with me.

If that sounds vague and ominous, it is. My highly creative mind imagined that “others” were reading my journal for the specific purpose of messing with me. Others? You may be asking yourself. Who? The same others  that pestered Nicole Kidman? I can’t tell you who the people were BECAUSE I DIDN’T LET MY MIND GO THAT FAR. I’m not supposed to let my mind get carried away, not when I can control my thinking and can reasonably question things that seem impossible. So I can’t tell you who was screwing with me or why they’d want to mess with me, but I can tell you one of the things that happened.

FK

I had recently written about a therapy experience in my e-journal where my therapist had said “nightmare” and I was derailed for the entirety of the session. Upon hearing the word, I instantly saw a picture of Freddy Krueger in my head, and then I couldn’t focus on another single word without seeing his claws. A day or two after writing that entry, I went to BigLots!  with my cousin and saw a Freddy Krueger box set near the checkout. Small coincidences have a tendency to rev up my brain and freak me out. This is why I swore to God someone was reading my journal and they put Freddy right next to the checkout to mess with me. In my mind, someone was part of the “others.” The others weren’t malicious; they just had an odd sense of humor.

And ever since, I have sworn not to keep a diary.

Therapists at Prairie Care urged me to journal, and they had good reason. The practice has multiple benefits—it can be a place of gratitude to honor wishes and dreams, a place to reinforce positive experiences, a safe place to be open and honest, or a place to blow off steam and begin the healing process.

Prairie care therapists gave me several handouts that included these tips for journaling:
1. Write whatever comes to mind.
2. Write quickly without paying attention to grammar or spelling.
3. Don’t erase.
4. Give yourself permission to be absolutely honest.
5. Focus on the process and not the product.
6. Remember there are no stupid feelings or ideas.
7. Stuck? Brainstorm with lists.

They also gave me guided journaling handouts with these exercises:
1. Write or draw one comfortable feeling and one uncomfortable feeling you’ve had today.
2. Write about behaviors you need to hold onto and behaviors that get in the way of your mental health.
3. Draw or write one concept or new idea that has been useful to your mental health.
4. Write a positive affirmation.
5. Write or draw about a part of yourself.
6. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. Imagine someone you truly respect is writing the letter to you. This can be someone you know or even a fictional character.
7. Write about a peaceful place that makes you feel calm.
8. Write about a time when you relieved your emotional tension in a safe and useful way.
9. Write a letter to yourself when you were younger and a letter to yourself in twenty years.
10. Pick something you are proud of and write about the feelings people or situations connected to this source of pride.

Even with all of these tips and positive reasons for journaling, I still found myself hesitant to start a journal again, and became borderline argumentative with Prairie Care Therapists.

PCT: You should keep a journal.
ME: DID ANYONE READ THIS HARRY POTTER BOOK?? REMEMBER TOM’S JOURNAL? REMEMBER HIS JOURNAL?!!!??
PCT: You can rip it up or burn it when you’re done.
ME: Tell me more…

With a bit of group therapy and work with my individual therapist, I came to the conclusion that my funny imagining—that everyone could read my journal—stemmed from a childhood experience where my parents actually did read my private journal. Somehow that childhood humiliation and mortification had morphed into an irrational fear that prevented me from partaking in an activity I once enjoyed.

After identifying the true root of my fear, I found that I could journal again. When something reminded me of my imagining, I had to do my best to relax and tell myself it wasn’t real. That wasn’t easy, so what I did was devise a mental list of ten things that were worth my mental effort. My list encompassed the banal ‘what will I eat for dinner’ to grand sweeping plot twists of my next novel. When my mind became tasked with those matters, I’d forget all about what spooked me.

In short, journaling is an easy, low-cost, healthy outlet anyone can benefit from. I recommend pasting a picture of something you think would look fantastic when it burns on your journal’s cover. Tossing into a fire is going to be a heck of a lot easier than finding a Basilisk fang. Just sayin’.

 

*I found Freddy Here

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing