Thursday, October 25, 2012

"I dwell in possibility -- " *

In the early 1990s, I started what became a two decade wrestling match with depression that took me into dark places of my mind that I never knew existed. I fought back with prayer, counseling, and medication. When those failed to deliver me, when I developed psychotic hallucinations and delusions, I fought back in psychiatric hospitals. Seven times I was admitted to a psych ward between 1996 and 2005; six times I thought I had conquered the darkness. Today, I know that the depression was due to bipolar disorder. Today, I know that I do not conquer it once and for all, but continue to overcome it every day for the rest of my life.

My long battle with the depressive part of bipolar began in 1992 at the end of a difficult pregnancy which resulted in miscarrying twins. Following closely on the heels of that was a major move and change in lifestyle. From 1992 until 1996, I sought help through counseling within my church and talking with friends and family. There were times when the fog lifted, but for most of those three and a half years, I was bathed in despair. I always felt I was a failure as a mother, wife, and Christian. There was nothing I set out to do that I felt I accomplished with success. That those thoughts were untrue never occurred to me. Part of the delusion that bipolar depression brings about is that of abject failure.

I often thought of ways to die; frequently envisioning violent, gory images involving knives, claws, and other sharp objects. I then spent lots of time alone in my bathroom, sitting in the tub and running water to drown out the sounds of my crying. I was also trying to wash away the things that made me so objectionable to others, though those things were not at all the thoughts or intentions of others. I had many of the classic symptoms of depression: feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, inability to sleep all or sleeping all day by turns, difficulty in accomplishing everyday tasks, irritability, and fatigue.

The first time I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital was in 1996. The mental images of drastically hurting myself were at an all-time high. I constantly saw images of bloody knives and scissors. I worked with scissors at my job, as well as an industrial sewing machine, and I fought an overwhelming onslaught of imagery involving slicing myself or ramming my hand under the needle. Work became impossible.

One day, I left my machine and called a friend for help. My plan had been to run naked down a busy street in the next town in the hopes of being arrested and locked up where I would be safe. Instead, my friend took me to see a psychiatrist on an emergency basis. By nightfall I was in a locked ward with a dozen other women all dealing with some form of mental illness.

Over the next eight years, I continued with bouts of depression and was eventually started on a years-long course of anti-depressants. Because I never presented to a hospital with problems other than depression, no other diagnosis was entertained.

I started back to school in 1997 and excelled, pulling a 4.0 in spite of dealing with serious stress at home. I landed a job from my externship and did well, but I was having more and more difficulty concentrating, couldn’t sit still, and would behave in very unprofessional ways at work. One of my bosses wondered if I didn’t have adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. I wondered, too. I also wondered if I might have bipolar because I would start the day depressed and end the day feeling super high. I never did drugs or drank alcohol, though substance abuse is often co-morbid with bipolar. Other hypomanic behaviors were there: starting projects and not finishing them, a sense of invincibility, no apparent need for sleep, and a constant feeling of being “up”.

The cycling between depression and hypomania should have been something that my doctors and I “caught” early on. But, like most bipolar people, I only sought help when the depressive symptoms were interfering with my life. Including the doctor that arranged for my first hospitalization, I saw eight different doctors and counselors before learning that my true problem was bipolar disorder. Like many bipolars, I was always initially diagnosed with clinical or major depression.

At the beginning of 2000, I became a reporter/ editor for a local newspaper. I was functioning pretty well and not dealing with much depression. The anti-depressants I was on had me in a state of constant hypomania – one of the problems bipolar people have with that particular class of drugs. I worked long hours, stayed up late, covered everything that needed covered in our small town, and rarely had a “stringer” to help me get everything done. I was the sole news reporter.

The long hours and constant lack of sleep, coupled with the deadline stress and problems at home, resulted in a full blown panic disorder. I’d been prone to anxiety and had suffered what I now know were panic attacks, but the job stress brought everything to the fore. Anxiety and panic disorders are also frequently co-morbid with bipolar disorder. I spent many evenings in ER with dangerously high blood pressure and chest pains. I underwent scores of cardiac tests. Everything was always negative for heart disease. Having the diagnosis of a panic disorder allowed me to get counseling and medication to treat that, but the bipolar continued undiagnosed. Again, I was only seeking help for symptoms that were troublesome to me.

At some point in 2000, the anti-depressant I was on quit working and I started having problems with depression again. A new anti-depressant put me into a full-blown mania that lasted for well over a year. During that time, I married an ex-con I’d met online and had moved to Indiana. I was spending more and more time online and losing all contact with my teenage daughter and my other friends. I was working more hours at the paper, but risked my job with some bizarre behavior outside the office. Finally, it all fell apart.

The year 2004 saw the beginning of what would be six hospitalizations within a 15 month period. All the psychotic features of the worst depressions were back. Now I saw my hands as werewolf-like, capable of ripping my throat out. I would close my eyes and see demonic images full of fury and hatred. I became depressed again and suicidal.

What started happening was severe rapid cycling. The more my depression was treated with anti-depressants, the worse the manic and psychotic features became. I would go to the hospital to get help with the suicidal ideation and difficulties sleeping, get counseling, and still end up back in the hospital several weeks or months later.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2005 that my psychiatrist finally pegged me with bipolar disorder and started a course of medical treatment that included anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers to lower the highs while maintaining the anti-depressants to raise the lows. Since that time, I have been on various “drug cocktails” as we work to keep my symptoms at bay. I left the paper, quit several other jobs, left the ex-con, moved back to Texas, changed psychiatrists several times, and have been on more medications than I can count in my effort to put my life back on an even keel.

Bipolar is never something that one “gets over”. It cannot be cured like cancer, but it can be controlled like diabetes. For now, everything is mostly under control. With counseling and finessing the meds, I have been able to return to school where I maintain an A average. I will be graduating next year with my first bachelor degree. From being at a point where I couldn’t function in a normal job or in any normal capacity, I have now held the same job for five years. From feelings of hopelessness and despair of ever having any success in life, I know now that I live a life of endless possibilities.

* Emily Dickinson

Monday, October 8, 2012

“Mmm … bacon." *

I have to admit to being a bacon freak. Ever since I was a little kid, the smell of bacon early in the morning has meant home, family, love and comfort. I think the first places I associate with bacon cooking are my grandparents' homes.

There was Grandma Giger in her big farmhouse kitchen, wearing a dress by 6 a.m. and fully aproned, turning bacon in the skillet for Grandpa and my dad when they came in from chores. She'd start a new pan of bacon for my cousins, my brothers and me as soon as we rolled out of bed, which might be as late as 8 a.m. since we were there visiting on our summer vacation. My aunts and Mom would eat with us. Maybe my uncles and my Dad would join us again. Perhaps they were like Hobbits -- having second breakfast.

At my Nana's house, there was no apron, and there was none of that 6 a.m. business. But as soon as we kids were awake enough to roll out of bed and mention being hungry, it was time for her to throw a dish towel over her shoulder and start the bacon.

Eggs, pancakes, French toast...I suppose we had all of those, too. Well, I know we did. But the smell of bacon in the house meant someone that loved us very much was up and cooking something to fill our bellies and tantalize our tastebuds.

There is still bacon in the house. Though Dad is now the chef and the microwave has replaced the cast iron skillet. When I smell bacon cooking on a Saturday or Sunday morning now, I wake up smiling and wander into the kitchen to grab a piece or to ask for a share of my own.

I'd love to be one of those bacon connoisseurs and get paid to travel around the country trying all the bacon there is to sample. But that job has already been taken. Chef Todd Fisher was the lucky son of a gun chosen for a cross-country bacon tour. The result? A three hour special called the United States of Bacon.

And yes, I know all about fat and cholesterol and how bacon isn't good for me. Surprisingly, my grandmother who probably had it every day of her life lived a long life and my Nana's health problems later in life were not due to bacon. Still, I don't have it every day...maybe a couple of times a month, if that. Doesn't mean I don't still wax nostalgic for the time when my daughter and I had either bacon or sausage with eggs almost every day for several months. Back when I was making breakfast every day and back when my cholesterol count was better than my doctor's.

Now I eat microwaved bacon at home, carefully absorbing all the grease between two layers of paper towels. I eschew the bacon bits on my baked potatoes, and I am careful with them in my potato soup. I still enjoy the occasional BLT sandwich if the tomatoes are thick cut and garden fresh. If I eat breakfast out, I will opt for bacon over sausage almost every single time...especially if I eat at Cracker Barrel, where I almost always pick breakfast for my meal of choice. Bacon, eggs, grits, biscuits. It doesn't get better than that.

But apparently I'm not alone in my love of bacon. And now bacon lovers all over the world have put their creative bacon ideas out for the public to enjoy. There are bacon sodas, bacon brownies, chocolate chip and bacon cookies, bacon toothpaste (!) and floss (!), and even bacon vodka and beer. I haven't tried any of these nor have I tried Hiway Cafe's chicken-fried bacon here in Wichita Falls. But that isn't to say I won't. I'm game for a taste of most things. I just haven't had the opportunity to try some of these things yet.

On Pinterest this past week, someone had bacon pancakes pinned up. They look awesome and I will have to give them a try if I can talk Dad away from the microwave and back to the griddle.

Goofing on the internet today, I discovered a wonderful site dedicated to bacon: If you are a lover of bacon and all things bacon-flavored and themed, you must check out It has bacon news, a bacon shop, bacon reviews, and bacon recipes.

I may be in trouble the rest of the week. It's payday soon and I have a hankering to try those bacon brownies!

Maybe Mom will smell me cooking bacon and making brownies and think, "Ah, somebody loves me is cooking something wonderful for me."

In any event, I feel some bacon coming on!

* Homer Simpson

Sunday, September 30, 2012

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” *

Ouabache State Park in Bluffton, Indiana is the one place where I feel most connected to earth and space and God and sense of well-being. This is where I come to feel most freely. I come in the spring to feel hope. I come in the summer to experience joy. I come in the fall to witness change. I come in the winter to know restfulness.

A forested place, the pine trees – ever freshly green no matter the season – stretch up into the sky so high I can barely see their tops for the sun. There are oaks as well, and probably maples. I am no arborist, and not quite a tree hugger, but I am happy wandering the paths under these many boughs.

In the spring, there are leaf buds and flowers of different kinds speckling the branches. Walking the dirt trails among these trees coming alive from a winter’s sleep is an exercise in expectation. Each day brings new growth to every branch. Each week brings new nests and fresh-laid eggs as long-gone birds return to raise new families in familiar woods. Each walk shows promise welling up into fruition as acorns grow, leaves unfurl, and the native fauna begin the rituals that will bring new life into the park come summer.

Walking into summer, I see how the park has grown into its potential. Now the boughs of the deciduous trees are fully leafed. Green does not begin to describe the various hues of color I can see above me now. There are dark and light greens, yellow greens, olive greens, fern greens; so many shades I cannot name them all, but my eye discerns their differences. As I walk the trail around the long, wide lake, I climb the berm and come out of the trees for a while.

At the edge of the lake are cattails and other water plants. Dragonflies practice map-of-the-earth flights and take their brief respites on the gently swaying reeds. Water-spiders glide long-legged across the surface, causing hidden frogs to appear at the offer of such a tasty lunch. Farther out, there are pops of water where fish surface finding their own food. Lazy concentric circles flare out from the pops in seeming unending rhythm, merging into other circles from still other fish bites. Farthest away, I can see the sun’s reflection on the ripples the breeze is causing. The trees across the lake throw long mirror-like reflections onto the water.

Fall comes. The leaves of trees and bushes are tinted with orange, red, umber, and brown. As autumn progresses, the foliage reaches what all the nature lovers crave: “peak color”. The fiery colors blaze forth in such glory that I hold my breath at the wonder of it. Back into the woods and the well-traveled trails, there is a canopy of color that can rival any impressionist’s palette.

Walking the trails deeper into autumn, I am privy to the leaves making their slow, sensuous, spiraling fall to the ground. They flirt with the breeze, swaying this way and that as they come finally to land. Now my walk is strewn with a thick layer of fallen leaves and pine needles. My steps are softened, but the sound is heightened by the crunch of crispness underfoot. I can be heard more easily than any other time of the year, and my footsteps alert the deer that are grazing out of my sight. I can hear them leap away deeper into the woods though I can rarely see them. Only sometimes am I able to glimpse a white tail or a flash of leg. It won’t be until winter when I will see them fully.

At last, winter. Deep snow, bare branches, and a frozen lake are now the stars of the show. Canadian geese fly in and land in long slides on the solid surface of Ouabache Lake. The deer are seen browsing bushes that still have forage. It is face-numbingly cold now, but the sun on the snow is blinding bright. Footfalls are hushed by the deep snow whether on the trails or in the open areas.

I come to Ouabache throughout the year to experience and acknowledge all the beauty nature gives in her every season. I am never disappointed. I am never bored. I am always delighted and surprised by some new thing I am shown and allowed to know.

* John Muir

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Life is the only real counselor..." *

With a soft, southern drawl harking back to his Arkansas roots, Kevin Thompson’s voice invites you to sit back and be comfortable, open up, talk about yourself, and discuss the heavy things of life or laugh at the craziness of it all. That’s a good thing because Kevin is a counselor at the local mental health center. Getting people to open up can be a difficult thing when they are dealing with bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, or any number of other mental illnesses. But Kevin has a voice, and a knack, for letting people feel they can safely do just that. It also helps that Kevin knows quite a lot about what you are going through; he himself has bipolar disorder.

“I know the depths of the pits, the highest peaks of the tallest mountains, and everything in between.”

And indeed he does.

After leaving college in his early twenties (he freely admits to being there for “nothing but fun”), Kevin joined the Air Force as a firefighter. He was active duty for three years and twenty days. Before he left, however, he was hospitalized for what was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Mania. Depression. It was all there and it came to a point where being inpatient was required.

It was not a positive experience.

“They didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” he says of the hospital staff. “They were babysitting me…thinking I was just faking for a medical discharge.”

He wasn’t faking, and he did get medically discharged.

That time spent in the hospital became his inspiration to become a counselor.
Armed with his experiences in the military’s psychiatric hospital and an understanding of what it was to be bipolar, he returned to school to pursue a degree in psychology.

In spite of dealing with his own illness, Kevin graduated with his Bachelor’s degree at 25 years of age and his Master’s at 27. During that time, he worked at the mental health clinic as a peer counselor. Now a licensed counselor, he has two peer counselors working under him. (A peer counselor is a person who has similar issues as the people he or she is helping and is successfully dealing with them.) The program Kevin leads helps about twenty clients in various group and individual sessions.
When his clients find out that Kevin is “one of them”, their first reaction is often surprise.

“Oh, really?” they ask him. “Can you do that?”

He points to all the certificates and licenses on his wall and assures them that yes, he can do this.

Not that everyone thought he could. The vocational rehabilitation counselor at the VA hospital told him that he couldn’t become a counselor.

Kevin’s response to that was, “Are you sure about that?”

“I was going to do it whether or not he thought I could,” Kevin says emphatically.
And he is doing it.

That isn’t to say it’s easy all the time. “I feel less effective when my meds wear off in the morning,” he admits. “I still do (all my work); it’s just harder.”

Still, one of the best things about his job, he says, is when the clients look at him and say, “You know what you’re talking about.”

Asked about his motto for his counseling career or his life with bipolar, Kevin is quick to answer: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He quotes not Freud or Jung, but Saint Paul.

He has Christ, and he has his family. Kevin’s biggest fan club is comprised of three matriarchs in his family: “Momma, Memaw, and Auntie.” Asked how they encourage him, he says with a childlike grin, “They tell me how wonderful I am.” His father, too, is a big supporter. When Kevin took home pamphlets on bipolar disorder, his father not only read them, but took them to work to share with others. His bipolar is not a secret or a shame in his family. Kevin is just Kevin.

In spite of all the difficulties having bipolar can bring, Kevin still counts it a blessing in his life, especially as it pertains to his counseling.

“It’s helped me understand the extremes of human emotion,” he says, “and to be able to talk people away from the edge.”

* Edith Wharton

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." *

About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don't remember exactly when, but sometime before Thanksgiving of 2005. I remember because I was in the hospital, again, on Thanksgiving of that year eating beef and noodles for dinner. I have spent an Easter in the hospital for depression, and Thanksgiving as an inpatient for bipolar. They are odd holidays to be hospitalized for feeling so down you want to die: a holiday of hope and new beginnings, and a holiday of reflection and gratitude.

Just over six years ago, I moved home to Texas from Indiana. I couldn't hold a full-time job there, my husband was leaving me to come to Texas for marital counseling, and being up there alone to figure things out didn't seem to make sense. My parents said, "Come home." And I did.

Five years ago, I started a part-time job at Cracker Barrel. It's part-time not just because they don't really offer full time positions much, but also because some weeks working too much can trigger bipolar symptoms and some months I need time off to deal with med changes or other issues from the bipolar. Still, I've worked there for five full years and have received my first pin -- given at 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. Much as I like my coworkers and like my job, though, I don't want to get my 10-year pin.

Three and a half years ago, a friend challenged me with the question: "What are your passions? Do you have still have any anymore? What is it you really want to do with your life?"

My most fulfilling and rewarding job, of all that I have had over the past 17 years, has been writing. I loved being a newspaper editor, reporter and columnist. It was a small town paper, published three days a week, but I loved almost all of it. I got burned out because I was manic and didn't know it (pre-diagnosis), was having severe marital and family problems, and quit to do something I thought would make more money but couldn't do well as it turned out. I've always been a writer of some kind, though. I loved English and essays and research papers in school. I loved some of the freelance articles I did on the side at the paper. I am prolific in emails, online support boards, in blogs, and in Facebook. I spend so much of my time communicating with others via the written word.

To be questioned about my passion reminded me of all of that. Writing is my passion. It is the thing I find most challenging, most interesting, most rewarding even now.

So three years ago, I went back to school. I enrolled in the online program at Southern New Hampshire University. I started out as an English Language and Literature major, then switched to a Creative Writing with a Non-Fiction Specialty major. I have enough hours that I will have my minor still in English.

What will I do with a degree? I will write. I will write for myself. I will write to be published. I will continue with what I've been doing on the side. I may go back to working for a newspaper. Some say that newspapers are dying, which is true. But news is not. And someone has to write what you read about online or hear about on television. Maybe I will write for a magazine. Those are as much online as in print now, too, but people are still reading them. And I will write to continue to educate people about bipolar and other mental health issues.

Seven years ago, I thought I was worthless and beyond redemption as far as any meaningful contribution to society was concerned. Six yeas ago, I was in a safe place and working on recovering from all that my mind and emotions had put me through in the ten years previous. Five years ago, I was finally able to re-enter the workforce and start contributing to my family. Three years ago, I started planning a future.

Now, with only four and a half classes left to take for my Bachelor's, I'm setting my sights on a Master's degree...also in Creative Writing. Never before have I even considered such a thing and now it sounds not only possible, but plausible. I have talked with my advisor, met the new Master's advisor via phone, and have all the information I need to start planning for 2014 and beyond.

Will I get a job at a paper? Will I work for one of my favorite magazines? Will I be a freelancer and get my work published all over the place in different venues? Will I end up teaching other writers as they start their own education and careers?

That part remains to be seen. But I'm pretty much determined that I will be off disability, out of Cracker Barrel (though it has been very good to me and for me), and working in my degree field before 2016.

* Nelson Mandela

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Life is a train of moods..." *

I only remember that he said he had a diagnosis finally. This was odd because I thought we knew the diagnosis. After all, this was my fourth time in the hospital in about one year’s time – always with severe depression that didn’t seem to respond to treatment, always with violent images in my head of hurting myself, always with freakish visions of devilish faces leering at me.

Everything that I’d read about bipolar disorder indicated to me that mania was a huge part of the illness, and that people with mania were out having a hell of a lot more fun than I ever did. They blew scads of money, made crazy decisions, did outrageous things. Sure, I’d given a thousand dollars to a man I’d met once so he could move to Indiana to marry me. Sure, he was an ex-con with some serious issues. (I was convinced he had or would overcome them.) Sure, I had weeks where I averaged only 3-4 hours of sleep a day. Sure I left a good career and went in to a completely foreign job for no good reason. But I wasn’t promiscuous, doing drugs, drinking, or anything glamorous. Where did the shrink get the idea I was bipolar?

When Dr. Ishak told me the diagnosis, I went cold. Angry cold. Terrified cold. I shut down. I asked to be excused. I went to my hospital room sobbing. I wanted to scream. I was angry but didn’t know who with. I asked the nurses for a Sharpie. Surprisingly, they gave me one. Maybe they figured the damage I could do with a Sharpie would be minimal.

I took the Sharpie back to my room and did two things. I made a sign that said, “No Visitors. No phone calls. NOBODY.” I taped it to my door and shut it firmly. I didn’t want anyone in my circle of family and friends to learn the horrible truth. I needed time to process alone. Then I drew a railroad track on my depression-grey men’s t-shirt I’d brought to sleep in. I drew a giant train barreling down the track – straight out of my chest and going away from myself. I wrote “Bipolar Express” on it. If I could have drawn a reasonable Tom Hanks conductor, I would have.

I put the shirt on, then sat down to cry – uninterrupted except for one tech checking on me occasionally. I cried as if my life were ending. Because it was. What if being bipolar meant that I was crazy? What about all the hilarious times I had when I was with my friends? What if all those creative stories and poems and columns I’d written when I couldn’t sleep were just some manic mumblings and weren’t all that great anyway? What if we treated the bipolar and I couldn’t write anymore? Couldn’t have fun anymore? What if no one liked the sane me that I would likely be medicated in to?

Killing the depression was one thing. I longed for that. But bipolar meant that something else was wrong…that even the good times might just be chemicals misfiring and get medicated away.

Truth be told, that happened.

I’ve been on medication that took away all my motivation. Left me lifeless and emotionless. Zapped my creativity. Not depressed, but not happy, either. I have been written up at work because “you don’t seem to care about anything.” I had to request a med change then because it was true. I didn't laugh as much. It was years before I could write again.

It took patience and support from my family, multiple discussions with a long line of psychiatrists and counselors, and lots of study and research on my part about the disorder to get where I am today. I left the ex-con. I moved home. Mostly stable now, I am in school and employed part-time. I’m not bringing home the big bucks and not able to risk my stability with the kind of high pressure jobs I had in the past; but I laugh, I have friends, and I have the kind of fun sane people have.
I’m writing again, too.

It’s good having the Bipolar Express on the right track.

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 10, 2012

"A Heartbeat is a Lovebeat..." *

There is in her mind a safe and quiet spot, though she doesn't always remember where she put it. When she is in need of a place where she can hide...where she can bury her face in something warm and soft and hear again the steady rhythm of life beating in a heart not her own, she remembers that safe and quiet spot...and she goes there.

She is two. Or she is four or five or six. She can't be more than nine because nine is when her grandmother developed leukemia and nine is when her grandmother died.

However old she is...she is still small enough to be picked up. Or to be invited up. And held in the ample lap and bosom of her father's mother. The grandmother that is old and wrinkly and smells of soft powder.

The other grandmother, younger, holds her, too. But in a smaller lap. The other grandmother is the grandmother that she does things with -- the library and walks and cooking and laughing and discussing things that small minds concoct.

But this is the farm grandmother. The Grandma and not the Nana. It is the Grandma holding her that she remembers most.

So, she is young and small. And she is held.

Grandma picks her up. This year. And this year. And the next year.

This next year, Grandma says, as she always does, "You have grown!"

And this is the year that Grandma doesn't scoop her up and whisk her away to a rocker, though her little brothers are still scoopable and whiskable and rockable.

She worries, seeing her baby brother in her grandmother's arms, that she has been somewhat replaced. But she says nothing. Just sits in the big farm kitchen watching Grandma rock baby Jay.

She loves Jay. And is proud of him. And glad for him that Grandma is rocking him.

She isn't jealous...and doesn't wish him away. But she worries that her own lap time is over for good and she is afraid.

If a little girl gets too big to be held and rocked...what then does she do?

When will she breathe deeply and smell the scent of soft, aged skin and a woman's favorite powder? When will she know again the feel of an apron against her cheek that carries with it the aroma of this morning's bacon frying and tonight's cinnamony apple pie?

When will she snuggle up against a woman softer than a pillow and stronger than iron? When will she hear the voice of a woman deep in the heart?

"Kim" -- her name -- she hears often. But in the timbre in her Grandma's chest, "Kim" sounds magical...and deep...and mystical...and safe...and...enduring.

If she is so big that Grandma cannot pick her up. If she is too big to be invited to climb into her Grandma's lap. What then?

She doesn't remember Jay falling asleep. Or that Jamie is outside with Grandpa and the piglets.

She knows that Mom is sitting at the table as Jay is rocked and they are talking -- Mom and Grandma. So she the heat of a summer kitchen with a breeze blowing through the open windows...listening to the talk and watching her brother snuggle in their Grandma's arms.

"I've grown," she thinks as the conversation and rhythm of the rocking chair drift around her and through her.

Her arms are longer. Her legs are longer. Her knees are knobby and her legs are white because it is early summer and her shorts are new. She is not so grown that her feet touch the floor when she sits in the big dining room chair, though. And she thinks about that as she sits sideways in the chair watching her grandmother and watching her mom.

She puts one arm around the back of the chair and one arm on the big dining table and scootches a little closer to the edge of the side of the seat...and her dangling bare feet touch the cool wooden floor. But only with the toes.

Since she has grown and now her feet touch the floor...she stays put a while. Listening. Watching. Feeling -- the breeze and the floor and the bit of sweat.

She doesn't notice when Jay falls asleep and Mom takes him upstairs to put him in the crib.

The crib is in "her" room. The room she stays in whenever they all visit Grandma and Grandpa. It was Daddy's crib. And everyone -- all the cousins -- even she -- has slept in it at one time or another. It is Jay's turn now.

The crib is by her bed and at night she listens as Jay sleeps his baby sleep beside her. It too is a safe and comforting thing...listening to baby sleep. But not the same as being held and rocked in Grandma's lap.

So Mom and Jay have gone upstairs.

It is just Grandma and herself in the big farm kitchen for now.

She looks at her Grandma and smiles a small smile.

Grandma smiles back.

"Grandma?" she says. "Can I ask you a question?"

"It's 'may I'," says Grandma who was a school teacher in old-timey days in a one-room schoolhouse. "And yes, you may."

"Am I too big?"

Grandma doesn't even have to ask "Too big for what?" -- she only holds out her arms and says, "Come here, child."

And she goes over to stand in front of her Grandma. Afraid that she will be told she is indeed "too big" -- and that powder and softness and the sound of her name in her Grandma's heart are a thing of the past.

"No," says Grandma. "I mean...come *here*, Kim."

And she pats her lap before spreading her arms wider. "My lap," Grandma says. "Come here and I will rock you."

Still worried that she is too big...she climbs cautiously into Grandma's lap.

Grandma touches her head and pulls it close to her shoulder, then rests for a moment with one arm encircling her back to front, and one hand brushing her still baby-fine hair.

"Kim," she whispers, "You'll never be too big to be held by Grandma Giger."

And they rock.


And she is content deep inside herself and it seems the two -- the Grandma and the Child -- become one for a while. They breathe in and they breathe out at the same time. She listens to her Grandmother's heart and realizes that her own is beating in rhythm with it.

When Mom comes downstairs, she smiles at her daughter -- her eldest -- wrapped up in the arms of her Grandmother's love. And she sits at the table. The two grown-ups begin talking again...of things that she knows little of...because for all her being so grown up now, she is still a little girl.

She stays silent. Listening. Watching. Feeling...the woman that is her grandmother, her father's mother, the beginning of the world for all she knows so far.

She doesn't move because it seems as if a magical wonderful spell of love has been woven...and it is soft and fine as a fairy spider web...and she doesn't want a sudden motion to break it away.

She is 20 now. Or 30 or 37 or 41. She can't be more than 41 because her birthday hasn't come yet this year.

She doesn't ever remember leaving her Grandma's lap that day...though she knows, of course, she did.

There was dinner that night.

There was a party for Grandma and Grandpa's 60th anniversary.

There was a funeral and tears.

No, she doesn't remember leaving Grandma's lap that day. Though she's walked many places since then and knows of course that she did.

But she still can hear the sound of her name...against the backdrop of her Grandmother's heartbeat...and it quiets her and stills ways she can't explain.

And she wonders now...that magic she felt? How much of it was childhood fantasy...and how much of it was God...knitting together two hearts forever...?

It was the last time that Grandma ever had the chance to hold her that way again.

And now, she thinks the magic was God.

* "Heartbeat , It's A Lovebeat" Lyrics by the DiFranco Family

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Now is the age of anxiety.” *

Three years before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was diagnosed with a panic and anxiety disorder. I was working at the newspaper in Berne, had started having these weird attacks where I would get super hot starting in my stomach, have an electric taste in my mouth, then get cold and shaky. My blood pressure would rocket up; I'd get very dizzy and disoriented; and I was convinced I was dying. I'd never felt anything like that before. It took several trips to the ER and a trip to the doctor mid-attack ("Come in when you have one of these so we can see what's going on") before I was finally diagnosed with the panic attacks. The anxiety disorder was diagnosed at the same time.

That I'd had an issue with anxiety should have been no surprise to me. I'd had horrible fears about people dying, getting sick, being hurt, disappearing, etc. since I was a very small child. All with no reason. A weird pain in my head would trigger a sense of impending doom and I'd think something was horribly wrong with me.

When I was 8-years-old, everyone was taking a nap one day while Dad was at work. I was supposed to be napping, too, but I couldn't sleep (not an unusual thing for me). Instead, I was in the living room watching "Island of the Blue Dolphins" on TV. When that was over, I was bored and trying to think of something to do. A few months before, I'd made a craft in Girl Scouts - a blue block with my picture on it, coated in varnish to seal it. It was a Mother's Day gift, I believe. I picked it up and kissed it for some reason, being only 8-years-old and somewhat goofy. And then I had what I think was my first panic attack.

When we'd made the picture blocks, the Girl Scout leader had told us, "Don't get any of this in your mouth, it's poisonous." I was very careful and of course, did not get any in my mouth. But she didn't tell us that it was going to be safe once it dried. And when I kissed myself in the picture, I freaked out because I knew I'd poisoned myself and I was going to die. I didn't know what to do, and I didn't know how long it would take, but I was under the impression that death was imminent.

Instead of waking up my mom and telling her what I'd done, I went to the room where she and my middle brother were napping. I quietly said goodbye to them and asked God to take care of them. Then I went to my infant brother's room, said goodbye to him, and prayed for him to grow up big and strong. Finally, I went into my bedroom, laid down on the bed, and waited to die.

I heard a voice that told me I wasn't going to die, that I was going to be okay, but I should take a nap. I did...and was more than surprised to wake up. I'm not sure when I told my mother about what happened, but it was years later.

During junior high and high school, I had severe issues with anxiety and depression (and the bipolar mania), but I didn't know things weren't "normal". It's just how it was. My paternal grandmother was a "worrier" and I supposed a lot of us were. (And a lot of us ARE...but not all of us get to a point where our mind goes to worst case scenario at the drop of a hat.) I can't tell you how many times I planned my parents' funerals in case they died suddenly, leaving us children as orphans. Or the times I tried to figure out how the three of us kids were going to go to school and grow up alone.

As an adult, I have called Emergency Rooms when people have been 30 minutes late home from work. I have called Sheriff's departments asking about accidents involving my loved ones' vehicles. Never has anyone I've been looking for been in the hospital or involved in a wreck. Probably 99% of the things I worried about and fretted over never happened. Which, oddly enough, was kind of a relief and at the same time, fuel for my anxiety-treadmill. I had it in my head that if I worried about it, it wouldn't happen. And yet, if I worried about it, it was also possible. Which made me worry more.

It is no wonder, with the series of life changes I was going through (a divorce, raising a teenager alone, working at a high-stress job many hours a week, and being on a bipolar mania that I was unaware of) that I got to the point that I was having panic attacks several times a week, sometimes several times a day. Not all were bad enough to send me to the hospital, but some were. Blood pressure levels over 240/160 were not uncommon and I had a whole cadre of doctors trying to get that down and keep it down. Once I was diagnosed and started getting counseling and pharmaceutical treatment, things starting calming down for me.

In the 10 years since my diagnosis with the anxiety/panic disorder, I have learned a lot about it. I've learned how to recognize when it is ramping up, when to breathe deeply and center myself, when to take a pill to short-circuit a full blown attack (which isn't nearly as often as it used to be), and when (and how) to reach out to fellow sufferers on different support websites I've been a member of. I am by no means a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional. I am, as some would say, a "mental health consumer" - meaning I participate actively in the mental health world as a patient and client. However, I have learned a few things over the past decade that might be beneficial to others. If the following is helpful to you, I am glad. But always, always, always check with your doctor before pursuing a course of treatment if you are having panic and anxiety attacks. Don't be afraid to get the help you need - often and early.

I think that if I had remained untreated, I would likely be a hermit now - afraid to go out and interact anymore. For a while, I didn't leave home unless I had to, wouldn't go anywhere without my safe person, etc. There is nothing wrong with that - a person does what they have to do to protect themselves. But when I got treatment and support, I was able to get out of that coccoon and learn to function in spite of my attacks or underlying anxiety issues. It is now to the point that sometimes, a panic attack will happen - for no reason - and no one around me will know it. Which is a vast improvement over my former freak outs.

Anyway, below, I've provided some of the information about medications that I've learned about in the past decade that help treat anxiety and panic disorders. I hope you will find it helpful.

For anxiety, doctors will sometimes prescribe an anti-depressant. I found this list that outlines which ones those would be and what they are prescribed for other than depression:

Citalopram (Celexa) –off label for panic disorder, social phobia and trichotillomania

Duloxetine (Cymbalta) – approved for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Escitalopram (Lexapro) – approved for GAD

Fluoxetine (Prozac) – approved for OCD and panic disorder

Fluvoxamine (Luvox) - approved for OCD in children (8-17 y) and adults

Paroxetine (Paxil) – approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social phobia, GAD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Sertraline (Zoloft) – approved for panic disorder, PTSD, social phobia and OCD

Trazodone (Desyrel) – off label for panic disorders

Venlafaxine (Effexor XR) - approved for GAD, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder in adults

There are also some hypertension medications that work against anxiety. If you have high blood pressure, you can talk to your doctor about which ones might be more helpful to you. This link has some information about those:

Finally, doctors can also prescribe anxiolytics (fancy word for “anxiety breaking”) like clonazepam (Klonopin) or alprazolam (Xanax). They can be very addictive, though, and they aren’t always a first line of defense for many doctors. It depends on your symptoms, how frequent and how intense your anxiety or panic attacks are, and how inclined your doctor may be to prescribe them overall. At one point, I was taking three Klonopin a day (every 8 hours), but that was before I was diagnosed with bipolar and got on meds more suited for a bipolar rather than just for someone with depression. (Antidepressants alone can trigger mania in bipolar.) Now, I’m on 0.5 mg, either half a tablet or a whole one, that I only take when I feel an anxiety/panic attack coming on.

For the underlying pervasive anxiety, I do have the hypertension med that works, the Klono back-up, and then the things I learned in the hospital and in therapy (as well as what I learned through an online support group called tAPir – The ANXIETY/PANIC Internet Resource; it’s at ). I have a book (I think it’s called Anxiety Disorder for Dummies) that was helpful, too. But there are also other print resources (online, at the bookstore, or at the library) that are available, as well.

There are many other resources available online, and very often, there are face-to-face support groups available through your local community health programs or churches. Take part in as many as you feel comfortable participating in, because I don't know that there is ever such a thing as too much support. If you don't know where to look, you can contact your doctor and ask him or her about resources in your area.

* W.H. Auden

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"I Love Lucy" *

This Lucy, Susan Rear's dachshund that recently had back surgery for a ruptured disc. She's walking already, wagging her tail like a champ, and doing well in her "constitutionals". She'd LIKE to be chasing critters in the back yard, but that's still not allowed.

Just thought you all would like to see how she's doing. Don't forget you can contribute to her emergency surgery bills through the ChipIn link located below.

* Says anyone who meets Lucy the Dachshund!

Monday, August 20, 2012

"... I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell..." *

I like Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty, and have for some time. When the song "Unwell" first came out, it was before I was diagnosed with bipolar, yet it resonated with me somehow. Probably because my whole life, especially in school, people would always talk about how "crazy" I was. Generally, they meant it in a funny, teasing, laughing-with-me-not-at-me kind of way, because let's face it, folks: I have an AMAZING sense of humor, if not sometimes just a little wicked and warped.

Still, I also knew what my friends and peers did not know: that sometimes, there were things going on inside of me that I had absolutely no control over. While part of me considered that these odd thoughts, random visions, and creepy sensations possibly normal, I also had some sense that maybe they weren't. Maybe it wouldn't be a good idea to tell anyone some of the stuff that happened inside my head.

For instance, before I was three years old, I remember waking up and feeling like monkeys - really evil monkeys - were sitting on my back, daring me to turn around and look them in the face. I could never breathe when that happened. I would lay really still and wait them out. Because I was afraid of what they would do to me if I ever told anyone about them, I never did. Not until I was an adult and they had been gone for decades.

When I was in grade school, I would get these odd ideas that if I did something in a certain way, or thought wrong thoughts, then something awful would happen. I can remember having obsessive thoughts (not knowing what they were at the time) that kept repeating themselves in my head, scaring me, and making me sure I was going to hell for having them. I also had a special litany of catastrophes I had to pray against every night, being very specific, so that God would protect us all. If I didn't remember to do it, I knew if anything happened, it would be my fault. That went on for several years, probably until I was 9 or 10, when I finally took the chance that maybe God could handle things and knew what He was doing better than I did. I quit praying that particular prayer...and nothing happened. Our house didn't burn down. We weren't robbed. No one died. I'd had no power or magic that was keeping it from happening; it just didn't happen.

In junior high was the first time I had actual "outside my head" hallucinations. It was always an image of the hooded figure of Death, complete with his sickle for reaping souls. It was bad enough when I saw it at home at night in my room, but when I started seeing it while playing softball, I remember being really freaked out. At the same time, I started having what I know now were episodes of "depersonalization" - when my own voice sounded like it was coming from someone else, when other people sounded like they were talking to me from across a great chasm, and when time (the fact that it kept passing and passing and passing) became a threatening and awful thing to contemplate. I detested looking at clocks and watches, the ringing of bells to change classes, watching the sun follow its course through the day. It overwhelmed me. Again, I don't remember saying anything about this, though once my mom and I were talking and she did ask if I felt I needed to see a psychologist. I said no...because I didn't want to think I was insane, and back in 1975 that's all I knew about psychiatrists - they saw people that were really, truly insane.

In high school and college, I was having wild mood swings. Mom (and I'm sure everyone else) knew when my period was due because I'd get snappy and crabby. But I didn't let anyone know, when I would become so horribly depressed that I was mapping out a will in my head, that anything more than just typical teenage angst was going on. Because honestly, I didn't know that it wasn't just that, anyway. I would also have these tremendous bursts of energy, days and days when I could just go and go and go! I've always been a talker (ask the people that freaked when the 9-month-old in the shopping cart at the store would greet them in complete sentences), but I felt compelled to talk and would...faster and faster. I know now that is called "pressured speech". I would have these amazing ideas, start all kinds of projects and never finish them, blow any money I had on buying gifts for my friends just because I felt expansive and in love with the world. In college, in 1981, I remember feeling it was a kind of "frenetic peace" - and I wrote once that it felt like God was tagging me on the shoulder and saying, "Come on...let's go play!" Creative? Intelligent? Very likely manic.

I never did the hypersexual activity, I was too much of a prude. Drugs? Nope...I was terrified of them. I couldn't even take an aspirin correctly, or prescriptions without worrying they would kill me (can anyone say, "comorbid anxiety disorder"?); besides, no one ever offered me any. That's probably a good thing. I also never drank. Oddly though, when I would go into what I was calling a funk (now what I realize were depressive episodes), the first thing I would think about to deal with things was "Maybe I should get drunk..." Yeah. Didn't make sense at all...but frequently nothing did.

I did well at work. I did well at school. I had always done well in school, especially in the "abstract classes" like English, composition, literature, art, etc. But wow, my head could give me fits at times.

One other thing, depressed or hyper, or even just on "even keel" - a condition that was never comfortable to me for some reason - I have almost always had voices in my head. I've explained it as like having a TV on or a radio talk show going all the time. The voices don't comment on me or talk to me, except for rare instances when my bipolar is not under control and twice on medication that caused auditory hallucinations as a side effect. Instead, it's like I'm eavesdropping on other people's conversations. Sometimes, I get a visual in my head of who the people are that are talking. It just lasts a second or two, then the "station" will change and it might be someone else talking, another show to listen to, or maybe nothing at all.

I have been through episodes of major depression - once after miscarrying twins, once when my husband at the time had a psychotic break and we found out he was schizophrenic. I was hospitalized for depression the first time after his diagnosis and after having been under extreme stress and major life changes for three years straight. Later, I was being treated for depression and had been doing well enough, but as the medication stopped working, I became depressed and started having visual hallucinations, thoughts of harming self, wanting to stop existing, etc. I wasn't sad, though, that was the thing. I just felt hopeless and worthless. I wanted to shake out of it, but I couldn't. I remember telling my family doctor, who I had worked for at one time, that "I should be stronger than this!" He just looked at me and asked me, "Why?" That's when we discussed depression as a condition and not just a reaction to something sad that has occurred.

We continued to treat the depression with different medications. I then took a job at a small newspaper, as the news reporter and photographer. I loved it! But there were long hours, lots of deadlines (of course!), and so many things to do at all times of the day or night that needed to be covered. For some reason, all those years of anxiety - reaching back into childhood - came to a head and I started having panic attacks.

I didn't realize at first that they were panic attacks. I was in the ER many times for outrageously high blood pressure, severe waves of heat spreading through my body, then massive cold waves, electrical tastes in my mouth, and a feeling that I was going to die at any second. It took a while to be diagnosed (finally!) with the panic and anxiety disorders, but after getting some counseling and medical intervention, as well as learning coping techniques over the course of several years, the panic attacks decreased and I rarely have them anymore.

After that diagnosis, and while still working at the paper and on anti-depressants, some really weird things began happening. I started acting less and less like myself. Dropped out of church. Stepped away from many of my acquaintances. Became involved in online friendships with men that were really pretty inappropriate (several guys were married, one was probably a stalker, and I married the one that had just gotten out of prison and had anger issues). I did wild things in the course of that long manic phase: slept in my husband's truck in the church parking lot because I was angry and didn't want to go home; covered my upstairs apartment patio so no one could see me, and slept naked under a full moon just to see what it felt like; mooned someone while I was merely a block away from the police station. Not at all the behavior of a professional woman. Not at all the behavior of anyone I'd ever been before. We won't even talk about the stupid, stupid things I did before I married my Internet boyfriend. How I did not see that I was behaving bizarrely, I don't know. My mom saw it. My daughter saw it. Friends saw it. But even when they pointed it out, I didn't get it.

Eventually, I ended up in the hospital as I crashed from the long manic episode. I was depressed. I was seeing horrible images in my head - very destructive ones. I was afraid I was going to hurt myself and I didn't want to. And we always treated the depression every time I went to the hospital - which, in the first year, was four times. It wasn't until the fourth time that my doctor realized I was bipolar, and looking back on all the symptoms from when I was a little kid, I probably always have been. Once we started treating the bipolar (adding mood stabilizers or anti-psychotics to the anti-depressants), things gradually got better. Gradually, though, because I ended up separating from and divorcing my new husband - which was probably one of the best things I could have done for my mental health at the time.

In the past six years, while I have had some depressive episodes that have interfered with being able to work and function sometimes, I at least have not had to be hospitalized again. I have learned to recognize my symptoms for episodes and try to work with my doctor to handle things. I know to pull back from things that I can when stress starts triggering the overt symptoms like bad mental imagery or more voices. I've managed to go back to school online, hold an A average, and take classes every term but one (because of financial aid problems that term) for the past three years.

In spite of how my head can be sometimes, I'm still amazingly funny (albeit wicked and warped); I still have friends and family to communicate with and can usually function at work, though I only work very, very part-time. I'm writing again, which I couldn't do for several years after I left the paper - either because I was too hyper to really do so or because I was too depressed.

What I'm trying to say here is what Matchbox Twenty says, "I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell." Some days are not great. But I'm still a functioning human being, capable of feeling deeply, dreaming big, and having fun with most other human beings, too. I have multiple interests and follow them as far as I can. I haven't "been off the deep end" in a very long time. And actually, even with all the weird stuff in my head all through childhood and my teenage years and adulthood, I still managed to graduate in the top 10% of my high school class, made friends along the way that I still cherish, and ended up with an amazing daughter who has a bright future in spite of what she went through with her parents.

If you are bipolar, have an anxiety disorder, know the depths of depression, regret some of your actions when you've been living larger than life - I can relate. But always know this: You're not crazy. You just may be a little unwell.

(The lyrics in this video are what resonate with me; the actual video just makes me bemused as I watch it. I know some people actually see things like this...I just never have...not in that way.)

"Unwell", lyrics by Rob Thomas

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns." *

When I had my dachshund, Frappy, she was the light of my life. A beautiful Isabella dachshund (think Weimeraner on short legs), she was quite the little independent diva. One day, she lost use of her back legs. It turned out that she'd ruptured a disc in her back. To save her, we needed to do surgery...and it was going to cost $3,000 that I just didn't have.

Frappy Hart

The woman who had sold Frappy to me still loved "our" little girl, too, and started a ChipIn for me to help offset the cost of the surgery. People I never knew, will never know, donated various amounts of money and raised $500 for me. I used that money to pay back my uncle who had fronted me the money for Frappy's surgery. The surgery was successful and Frappy lived another six months. At that time, she ruptured a second disc. However, that time, they weren't able to repair the damage and I had to put her down.

However, when she had her surgery, I showed up at the veterinary hospital to pick her up, only to find a gift bag and card for her. The nurses told me that someone whose dog had the same surgery several months ago had read about Frappy through the ChipIn, and wanted to reassure me that she'd be fine. There was a little shirt for her to wear to cover the surgical scar until her fur grew back, as well as a note from "Lucy" to Frappy, to tell her how well she'd recovered from her own surgery. Lucy is a beautiful doxie owned by an amazing woman named Susan Rear, and her note and generosity meant the world to me. Everyone's generosity was such an amazing thing, but Susan went above and beyond with that shirt and note. I cried and grinned.

Now it is my turn to start a ChipIn for Susan and Lucy. Lucy ruptured a huge disc earlier this week and had to have surgery to repair it. She's standing now and will recover well according to the surgeon. However, Susan has had a really rough year. She has lost her sister to cancer. Her husband, who had cancer treatment last year, has had his cancer return -- he is being treated for it, but there is no cure, and he has a prognosis of approximately one year. Lucy has been with Susan for eight years -- through all kinds of ups and downs, and she needed to keep Lucy with her for what is going on in her life now and what is coming up. As I said, Lucy has had the surgery, but it would be awesome if all of us could chip in a little bit to help Susan pay off that bill.

If you can donate any amount, I will make sure that Susan and her vet get everything that has been donated for her bills. It's my turn to chip in and help facilitate passing a blessing on to someone else. I hope you will join me in "paying it forward" and being part of the "boomerang."


Thank you very, very much!!!

* Anonymous

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Write What You Know" *

How many of us have heard those four little words whenever we've sought advice about our writing? "Write What You Know." What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we will have no adventure stories, no great romances, no epic science fiction tales, and no psychological thrillers in our repertoire? Did Robert E. Howard live in a land of barbarians? Did Barbara Cartland live a life of chaste romance between the social classes of old England? Was George Lucas involved with extra-terrestrials and futuristic time travel that allowed him to create "Star Wars"? And how about Stephen King? What on earth has that man been through that he knows about possessed cars and demonic dogs?

Those four words, "Write What You Know", can be discouraging to those of us who live what are probably, for lack of better words, "just normal lives." However, this video, by Nathan Englander, gives a different perspective on that once trite advice which just might encourage us all.

Aha! So that's where all those writers have been coming up with those fantastic stories. It hasn't come strictly from experience, though that certainly plays a part. Instead, it comes from the heart, the soul, the spirit. Those emotions we have, those questions we ask, the things we fear and the things we love - all of that works together with our imaginations to create the stories that make new journeys; not only for ourselves, but for our readers, too.

* Ancient Writing Wisdom, and a YouTube Video from BigThink with Nathan Englander

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Example is the best precept." *

Setting up a professional writer's page in today's social network can be daunting; but in comparing the Facebook pages of some well-known authors, I have been able to find both bad and good examples to follow in order to create a successful online presence. Tasked with searching through the professional pages of three authors, I chose those of Patricia Cornwell, John Hart, and Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Cornwell, one of my favorite authors, writes serialized crime novels, while Hart produces mysteries and Ohi writes and illustrates for children and middle grade students. Of the three, the one whose Facebook page has given me the best example of utilizing a social network as an author is Ohi's.

When it comes to having a natural voice, one of the best practice points in our class lecture this week, Ohi appears to have no pretensions at all. When she is excited about something, you know it; but she never comes across as a braggart at all. For example, her profile picture shows Ohi broadly grinning and holding up a new copy of the latest children's book she has illustrated. While there are posts on her page about the book throughout its development, that one picture shares with her readers the exhilaration she feels about her accomplishment. 

 (Debbie Ridpath Ohi, by David Weingart)

In one post, Ohi speaks about an illustrator whose doodle is described thusly: "Cuuuute pig on Katie Wools' illustration blog. I could so see this fellow in a picture book!" This is definitely a more casual way of sharing another person's work about which she is excited. In that same post, she goes on to give a link to the doodle and blogpost. In yet another post, indicating some technical issues she is having with some linking from one site to another, Ohi asks for advice and input from her readers. When she receives it, she is quick to express her gratitude. All is done naturally and easily, as if she is speaking directly to the reader face to face, and not from "on high".

In reading John Hart's facebook page, I noticed gaps in posting that went on for a month or more at times (he has been on facebook since 2010). That kind of inconsistency would lose me as a reader or subscriber if it were carried to extremes. Cornwell and Ohi were much more consistent with both women posting several times a week, if not daily. Cornwell may actually be the more consistent in posting, but from a writer's standpoint (and because of some other issues that threw me personally on Cornwell's page), it is Ohi that I look to as an example. If there is a gap, it is seldom longer than a week, and there are hardly ever more than one or two postings on a given day. With Cornwell, sometimes there are far too many posts (many unrelated), that can be confusing to a reader.

All three of the authors' pages I studied showed diversity in their topics, but again, I was drawn to Ohi's most. Hart shared some news on his writing, some comments about his community, and information about other writers. Cornwell shared many, many updates on her latest book to be released and a book being turned into a TV movie, but she also shared comments on current events (including the Colorado theater shooting), pictures of her piloting her helicopter or working in various forensics areas, etc. Some of what she shared was almost distracting because it covered so much territory and little related to actual writing. Ohi, though,shared information on her work, information about numerous other authors and illustrators, interviews, links to other websites, photos of interest to readers, and much more. Being able to learn more about other authors in addition to the one I'm following on Facebook helps me as a writer to broaden my horizons and I greatly appreciate that. Also, I greatly enjoy the humorous aspect of her illustrations that she posts; it keeps the page interesting and lively.

                                                     (by Debbie Ridpath Ohi)

The one area in which I find Ohi's Facebook page lacking is that there seems to be very few comments made to her posts, and virtually no posts made by others to her page (this is not to be confused with the actual responsive comments). This leads me to believe that the posts are moderated or somehow disallowed. It may be that people don't feel compelled to comment on Ohi's posts as often. It may be that she isn't comfortable leaving a lot of "kudos"-type comments left on her page in case that seem self-serving. It is not a topic that is addressed on her page that I have found.

Both Hart and Cornwell have many comments on their pages, both individually generated and in response to their updates. There is even a debate on Cornwell's page in which a reader has become huffy because she just found out that Cornwell supports psychiatric and psychological research for the mentally ill. (This makes sense to me as Cornwell has bipolar disorder). The reader has berated Cornwell for this support; and while she acknowledges the author's great work in her books and has loved the stories, she will no longer read them and is giving away what she already has. The last time I checked, Cornwell has not yet replied on this thread, but she is active in other threads on her page. In any event, the comment and other readers' responses are allowed to stay for all to see. There doesn't seem to be any overt moderation of comments on her page.

In this aspect of interaction, I don't see that Ohi is as involved. Readers' interactions seem to be involved in only the ability to "like" a status, rather than to comment. If she were to reply more frequently to her followers, I think her facebook page would be almost perfect as an example to follow. Still, I do enjoy her natural voice and the exuberance that comes across in her page, the consistency with which she posts which is not overwhelming in quantity, and the diversity of her postings. She inspires me to do much the same thing on my own writer's page (Kimberley B. Hart).

Cornwell, Patricia. Patricia Cornwell. Web. 5 August, 2012.

Hart, John. John Hart. Web. 5 August, 2012

Ohi, Debbie Ridpath. Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author & Illustrator. Web. 5

          August, 2012.

Weingart, David. Debbie Ridpath Ohi. 2012. Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author & Illustrator.

         Web. 5 August, 2012.

Ohi, Debbie Ridpath. Punctuation for Sale. 2012. Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author &

          Illustrator. Web. 5 August, 2012.

* Aesop

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"...A flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown." *

In "The Sound of Music", the nuns have a difficult time describing the young novitiate Maria. She wants to be a nun, she wants to be good, she wants to do well, but...well...she's young, inexperienced, unconventional, and she (can you believe it?) sings in the abbey!

In trying to find one word to describe this confusing, yet charming, being, the nuns come up with "flibbertigibbet", "will-o'-the-wisp", and "clown".

So what were the nuns actually saying about Maria? According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (, they thought she was a "silly, flighty person." Ouch. Silly and flighty. Easily distracted. Jumping from thought to thought, and none of those very profound.

What about "will-o'-the-wisp"? Back to the dictionary, which says this: "a delusive or elusive goal". Let's just skip the fact that Maria is a person, and not a goal, why is she delusive and/or elusive? Is it because the nuns aren't able to think the way she thinks, see the way she sees, sense the way she senses, feel the way she feels? That's only delusive (delusional?) from their point of view. I'm sure she makes perfect sense inside herself. At least most of the time.

And finally there is that word "clown". Here things really go downhill for Maria. Merriam-Webster has all of this to say about that:

          1: farmer, countryman
          2: a rude ill-bred person : boor
          3 a: a fool, jester, or comedian in an entertainment (as a play); specifically:  a     
             grotesquely dressed comedy performer in a circus b: a person who habitually
             jokes and plays the buffoon
Since the majority of the nuns seemed little amused by Maria's apparent antics, it appears to me they thought of her as rude and ill-bred in manners and decorum. Maybe some just thought she was altogether foolish. She didn't mean to be out of place, yet she was.

Some of the nuns disdained Maria for her differences. Some loved her in spite of them. It wasn't until late in the story, however, that she was loved and accepted simply because she was Maria.

I know many of the words people have used to describe me in my life. "Crazy" (generally in a good way, sometimes in a bemused way). "Different" (always in with a suspicious look in my direction). "Funny" (my favorite). "Molly Motormouth" (from Mom, when I wouldn't stop talking) or "blabbermouth" (from people who weren't quite as well-meaning in wanting me to calm down and be quiet).

There were people who thought I was "hyper". There were people who just didn't want to be around me because I was "unusual", I "stood out", I didn't "fit in", and I "didn't make sense."

As far as I know, though, no one ever made up a song about me, and I am quite sure there is no musical in the making about my "crazy, different, funny" life.

This much is true, however: after having symptoms that even I did not know were symptoms for pretty much my entire life, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005. I had been in a pretty manic cycle for several years then hit a depression that I couldn't shake. I ended up dealing with visual hallucinations both inside and outside my head, and finally wound up hospitalized six times in 15 months while meds were tried and adjusted.

From 2000 to 2004, I was a reporter/editor/photographer/columnist for my hometown newspaper. When I was manic, I had little need for sleep (or just flat out couldn't sleep). My columns were funny. My friends and I laughed deep and long. People I worked with outside my job found me amusing (at least a few did, anyway; I know there were plenty that just wished I'd go away). When I was depressed, my columns were filled with deep thoughts and observations. My columns were written weekly, and I almost never had difficulty writing them. The ideas just flowed for me. The words appeared sometimes as if by magic. I would edit to make things make better sense, to make my column fit in the allotted space, and to tighten my writing. But it wasn't hard.

When the doctor told me my diagnosis during my fourth hospitalization, I was furious! I was scared it meant I wasn't really funny...really engaging...really liked. That maybe my creativity was just some freak combination of chemicals, lack of sleep, and yes, craziness. If we treated the bipolar, would I become boring? Would I lose my friends? Would I not be able to write anymore?

The joy of modern medicine (and the fact that it is still called "practicing medicine") means that sometimes being treated has made the answer to all those questions:"Yes." 

Quick quips and banter, long my hallmark, fell by the wayside as I negotiated the wilderness of learning what medicines worked and which ones didn't.

Some friends and acquaintances backed away because I'm not-so-quiet about my diagnosis (love me, or leave me, I say).

Worst of all, writing became difficult and burdensome, then non-existant. Finally even reading became too much.

Some meds sedated me so much that I lost all personality, all sense of caring about anything, all motivation. Others did nothing for me, and the mania and the depression broke through again, wreaking havoc. For now, I'm on a regimen of meds that means very little break-through symptoms which makes my life much more comfortable.

Most of all though, this regimen doesn't steal my creativity. The ideas may not flood my mind like they used to (and that's actually a small blessing), but the seeds are there and they grow. The words don't just appear...sometimes I have to dig through my mind, my thesaurus, whatever...just to find what I want. And that can just be regular words like "foot" or "pencil". Forget describing someone as a "flibbertigibbet" or a "will-o'-the-wisp".

One thing I have discovered, however, since the diagnosis was made, is that a diagnosis is just a diagnosis. A person is still a person. I am still me. Maria was just Maria. Ephemeral? Leaping from thought to thought? Overly happy or exuberant? Sometimes. Maybe not the best behaved? Well, there's that, too.

But like Maria, I know that some will disdain me or be suspicious of me for my bipolar. Some will accept me in spite of my bipolar. And others, those lovely others who make life worth living, will (and do) accept me just because I'm me.

May we all have a von Trapp cheering section with word and in we go through our lives with our various differences.
* "Maria", from "The Sound of Music" (Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

Friday, July 20, 2012

"A Smile is a Universal Welcome" *

And with that, I give you my brightest smile and welcome you to my blog.

As a former newspaper reporter/editor in a small town in Indiana, I was paid to observe and write about local goings-on. City council meetings, county commissioner meetings, barn fires, snow falls, gas prices -- you name it, I covered it. (It was serious stuff.)

I loved that job, but my pride and joy was my "Girl Reporter" column. (It was not so serious stuff!)

I did in that column what I will do here: write about the things I think and the things I see, the things I wonder and the things I learn. (And you will probably learn of the twisted way my mind works.) Here, though, I will also write about what I'm writing now and what I'll be writing next.

Before, I had a column. Now I have a blog. Someday soon I will have more published works. If you keep reading, you will be among the first to know!

So again, a smile and welcome.

*Max Easton