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