Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween! My friend Gianna Kali and I both decided to post this picture on our blogs today to celebrate the holiday and our mutual love of all things that are cat. The link to the Cheezeburger site is here.

My cat, Holly is dressing up for the holiday. Here is a picture of her of what she should look like wearing her costume, but she refuses to wear it. She's either going as one of Freya's kitties, or Flavor Flav. This is not Holly, but a cat named Molly who has been around the interwebs for about 15 years, and is now at TRB. (I apologize to those who thought this was actually Holly. I could never get her to pose that still for anything unless she is sleeping).
On a serious note, please keep your pets inside if they get spooked by the doorbell, and never feed a dog chocolate.

Monday, October 24, 2011

On My 4th Blogging Anniversary

Last week was my blogging anniversary. Four years. Amazing. Four years! I made a little cupcake for myself, and blew out the candle. Then, between bites of decadent chocolate and double chocolate frosting, along with a glass of ice cold milk, I thought about things I have learned since I started blogging. The mistakes I made. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly.

If I had to do it again, I would have never used my name. I thought by using my real name, Susan, I was ok, because I didn't mention my surname. I kept that hidden and only told a few people I trusted online with it. So far so good. Then I made a mistake. A huge one. On the advise of a fellow blogger who encouraged me to open a Facebook account, I linked my blog to my profile. Only my profile had my name on it. My real surname. I didn't catch it for several months, but by then, the damage was done. Quick readers who followed me onto Facebook now knew my surname. And even though I have a very common name in the NYC Tri-State area, people found me. People I didn't want to find me, like state workers, local hospitals, and local doctors. Not to mention my family. Now it seemed that everyone knew me. Again, I didn't think this was a bad thing, until I quit my psychiatrist that I had since 1999 back in 2007. When I was shopping around for a p-doc, none of the ones I contacted would touch me. Why? Because a quick Google search with my name brought up this blog, and none of them wanted me as a client. I can't say I blame them. But it was a huge error on my part.

Even worse was my candor. When I started blogging, I had several friends, other bloggers who were encouraging me to write my thoughts while I was dealing with a very bad break up. "Write like therapy" they all said in so many different words. "You can really write. Do it".
So I did. I was open and honest. I looked around at other bloggers and noticed one thing. There was a dearth of 40 something bloggers who had been in the system for twenty years or more. More than half their lives! Most of the bloggers seemed to be newly diagnosed, or parents of a child that was diagnosed. Or they were former/active journalists writing objectively on the industry.

I figured I would write that blog- imagine a "Bell Jar" written by a woman in her mid forties who has been living with everything for over twenty years. That was my goal. To some degree, I think I succeeded, and in other words I failed. Some people told me I was such a good writer they found it hard to read me without Cliff notes! Others told me, I was pulling a James Frey on them-I couldn't have lived what I was writing about. No- everything was true- only the names were changed to protect the innocent, as they say in "Dragnet".

I made a mistake in thinking I needed to blog every day, or every other day. When one piece was brilliant, I made a fluff piece if I felt I had to keep up. The fluff pieces hurt me.

I also made a mistake in writing about NJ health issues. They have a place. What I need to do is fix my blog so one part will just be my biographical stories, one part will be on taking care of yourself and healing , and another news stories. I need to make tabs. The way my blog is now- everything is a mis mash. I really need to learn tools to clean it up. So it's not a mistake- it's just something I don't know about and need to fix so I don't confuse readers, or people who stumble in. Right now, when you visit, you don't know if you are going to get a bio piece, or a news piece. It has to be clearer.

I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was with my writing, period. When I first started blogging, I was writing for myself. I didn't know who was reading me. Along the way, I got into thinking- "I gotta have good stats. I have to have a lot of followers. I want to be the best blog out there". It made me loose my focus. I became overwhelmed with stats, and wondering what I should write to please people. There was a mistake. I wasn't writing for myself anymore. All of a sudden, hits disappeared. Comments were few. I didn't know what I was doing. I had lost *me*.

If you are a new blogger, the biggest advise I can give you is don't compare yourself to others. You are unique. So is your blog. Just like there will always be someone who is prettier than you, smarter than you, richer than you, thinner than you- the same rules apply for blogs. There will always be a blog that is better than yours. Do you like your blog? That's all that matters. If you see a layout on someone elses blog, copy it. I would love to have a blog with three columns instead of two, and tabs in the front. I don't know how to do it, but I am willing to learn. Always be willing to learn. A blog is a living thing, a work in progress.

Read other people's blogs. I love reading blogs that are from people I agree with, but the ones I get more from are the ones from people I disagree with. I learn from those.

I'm still learning. I'm still trying to write. It's harder now than when I first started, because in the last year my physical health really took a tumble. I do write, but I carefully edit. I have pages and pages of blog entries, all half written, all not good enough to post. I'm working on quality not quantity right now. I'm trying to get some work as a writer. It doesn't have to pay, I just want to get my chops back and gather a portfolio. Mine is years out of date.

My goal for the next year- keep writing. Keep learning from others. Don't stop. Don't let the little things bother you, and don't compare myself to others. There is only one me. I want to think I am like a fine wine- I am getting better with age.

I look forward to another year with all of you. Thank you to those who regular read me, and those who pop in once, read a few pieces and leave. I am grateful for each and every one of you. I may not be a great correspondent, but you can always reach me, (and the cat) at Hollythecat at Gmail.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rerun:How I am staying alive while my brain is trying to kill me-part two

(This is part two to a piece I wrote back in January 2010. I'm not in this place now, but I have a real bad cold and some problems with my kidney meds, so I thought I would re-run another oldie but a goodie. I repeat-I'm not suicidal. I'm ok.) 

So I am still in the same place as I was when I wrote the earlier piece, but I decided, let me sit down and write a "Bucket List", something to keep me going, things I still want see or do, when my brain clears. I didn't think I could think of anything, but surprisingly, there are a few things I still want to do, and I would like to share them with you...

In no particular order.

1. I would like to believe life can be beautiful again.

2. I would like to know that love exists- and real great sex can exist too. And that I can find a guy who really, really knows how to kiss......

3. I would like to spend New Year's Eve in Times Square.

4. I would like to spend Bloomsday in Dublin.

5. I would like to see London again. I would also like to see York again.

6. I would like to really get my writing groove back so I can get my novel polished and published. By a real publisher, not by a vanity press.

7. I would like to have a house so I can have a dog.

8. I would like to have friends again, and to be a good friend.... that is the important thing.

9. I would like to find Serenity again, and just peace with knowing my brain is different, whether I was born different, or made different with a lifetime of medication- my brain is shattered and damaged, and I just have to be gentle with it an accept it. My problem is I don't accept it, I want to be the girl I was eight years ago before the damage started and I miss that girl and I long to be that girl, the girl who had a job, the girl who had friends....I have to stop mourning, cause if I don't I will be like Queen Victoria who wore black and mourned and spent her whole life in mourning after Albert died. And that isn't living, and I am not in a position where I can have PM's no matter how capable, live my life for me.

10. I am sure there are other things, other places to see, I just cannot think of them right now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rerun:How I Stayed Alive While My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me

(I am working on two writing projects, and going through a blue patch. So I thought it would be time to repost an oldie but a goodie. This is an older piece, I am at present, sleeping seven hours a night, and not in the black place. This was originally written in January 2010)

I am currently on two anti-depressants with black box warnings. And for the last three days, all I can think about is suicide. Namely, just crawling into bed, and stop breathing. Just not existing anymore. Yes, I know some how there might actually be people who will give a damn if I go-like my parents, but I just don't care, my brain is teasing me like the Sirens sang to Homer until he chained himself to the mast so he couldn't hear them.

The last time I actually got any sleep was Wednesday night/ Thursday morning, since then, I have been averaging about two hours a night. Not good. Mild hallucinations, both visual and audible. I begged the pdoc for something to make me sleep. Nothing doing, he doubled one of the anti-depressants. I told him the anti-depressants are making me manic. I don't know what to do. If this continues, I am scared to death I will go to the hospital.

It's a pretty hospital from the outside. It's just not nice from the inside, I cannot have my panda bear, my clothes I want...
a picture of my girl, a radio, my ipod, my cell phone. nothing......the only time I will be allowed outside after a one or two day hold- will be to smoke..... they will confiscate any shampoo, conditioners, sanitary napkins, or tampons, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toothpastes, makeup, soap, the whole thing is ridiculous. It's like going to jail, not a hospital.  No watches. No jewelry allowed cept a wedding band. I couldn't even have a scrunchie the last time I was in there, and my hair fell all over my face and into my food.

Speaking of food, since Monday til Friday I lost 6 pounds cause I cannot eat. I am living on Gatorade, I just cannot eat. I am not complaining about the weight loss, but that's a lot of weight to loose in five days,

The idea of being separated from Holly is too much to bear. She sleeps with me. When I write she lies next to me, on my right side or my left side, purring softly. When I look up, I see her. She knows I am depressed, when I take a bath to sooth me, she goes in the tub with me, balancing as like an Olympic gymnast as she puts her tail in the bath water. Right now I am on the couch watching "Cops" and she is by my side, half awake, no doubt thinking 'how stupid humans are".

We have been on the couch all afternoon, watching a marathon of one of my favorite sitcoms, "Arrested Development". Normally the show would have me laughing out loud, but I cannot. I had the San Diego Panda Cam open so I could watch baby Son of Cloud and his mom frolic, and it wasn't cheering me. The thoughts of death- my death, keep going through my head, and the only thing stopping me is, NO ONE, not even the people I would leave Holly to, would love her and care for her as much as I do. I have to buck it up, and get better for the striped one. For my readers. For my family, my friends. And for the most helpless, she who needs me to open the tuna.
So I keep breathing, deep breathing. I think of "Everybody Hurts", the good version, the one by R.E.M. Just think there are people worse off then you, and it's the voices in your head making you think this way. Breathe, keep breathing, relax, chillax, and as long as you keep breathing, you aren't dead. And as long as you keep breathing, you cannot go into the hospital. And you can get better.

It's an uphill climb. But you've done it so many times before. By now it should be second nature.

Monday, October 10, 2011

For World Mental Health Day, On Finding Acceptance and Serenity

When I first started blogging, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I knew I had a story to tell, but then, doesn't everyone? I was frustrated and mad at the system, confused about diagnosis, and labels. I was trying to build my life back, one step at a time, one word at a time.

I knew the following: I was diagnosed as "Manic Depressive" (later Bipolar) when I was 23. I never believed it. I refused to believe it, despite the fact I saw psychiatrists and took psychiatric medication. I had a total of nine psychology courses in my life, three as an undergraduate, six as a graduate student. I knew about these things, what to look for, symptoms, how to apply therapy. I had various therapists and tried such therapies as CBT, Jungian, Freudian, Eriksonian, Gesalt, Group therapy, Women's only Group therapy, Art, Music, Dance and Writing therapy. I've done Primal Screams. I've been hypnotised. I've spent hours on the couch, analyzing everything from my first memory, my dreams, even my orgasms. I've taken close to 50 different psych meds, and endured ECT all to try to "get well". And in the end, after almost 27 years of this, I've realized one thing. I cannot change until I want to.

It's like the old joke, "How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?"
The answer is telling- "None. The lightbulb has to want to change."

I stopped drinking when I was tired of being sick and tired all the time. Tired of my head hurting, my mouth feeling like it was enveloped in cotton. Tired of sneaking drinks, drinking to oblivion on weekends. I realized I had to stop when I was taking eye openers, and shaking so hard I could not hold my morning cup of coffee. Once I made up my mind to stop, the rest was relatively easy; at least on paper. I stopped drinking and worked the steps. That WAS hard. The first year was incredibly hard. I craved it. But I was afraid where my last drink took me, and on this September 26 I collected my 15 year coin. What got me through? Substituting Diet Peach Snapple, for every time I wanted to drink, and hanging out at the local 24 Club.

My 24 Club has long been shut a few years ago due to the economy, and I've never been able to find a home group since. But I stayed sober. I wanted it. Freedom from depression and bipolar has been more tenuous, more allusive.

One of the things I've noticed, is there doesn't seem to be the stigma with Alcoholism as there is with Mental Health issues. Maybe some of it is due to shows like A & E's wonderful "Intervention." People who abuse alcohol and illegal drugs are tangible to people. When you get clean and sober, your life changes. To this day, I can recall how wonderful my first glass of orange juice tasted without vodka in it. It was the greatest thing I ever drank.

But knowing there is something wrong with your brain-that's a hard thing to deal with and accept. You can change a bad behavior, but when your behavior is caused by something you cannot control- your brain- that is enough to make anyone scared worse than a Halloween story. Having a brain not working scares people. To know that things we cannot understand, Serotonin levels, DNA, can cause such things, can destroy you. A parent may not accept that their child isn't perfect. A spouse can't understand a mood swing, and know it's something they can't control, that they weren't responsible for. The person experiencing these mood swings is also scared and frustrated by their feelings. Knowing it's something wrong with your brain, can make you feel helpless. If you have a problem with your eyes, you see a doctor and get a pair of glasses. If you have problems with your teeth, you see a dentist. If you have problems with your brain, who do you see? Is this failing your fault, or is it something that is not in your control?

In my case, I felt it was my fault, something I felt I could just keep trying to work on and eventually I would win. I didn't tell anyone I had this, never put it down on any job applications, never discussed it with my friends. When I was diagnosed, my doctor told my parents I would never lead a successful life, and he urged them to place me in a state institution, because "there was no cure." I wouldn't be able to hold down anything but the most menial job. I would never marry, never have children. With one broad stroke of the pen, he destroyed my dreams of finishing a PhD, and doomed me for many years of self imposed celibacy, or me dating men who would abuse me because I didn't think I deserved a guy who would actually love me. I felt less than human.

Then I met someone who instead of being ashamed of the Bipolar word, was thrilled he had it. He would introduce himself to everyone with his name, and say "I'm bipolar" after that. It shocked me. How can you be proud of something that will eat you up and spit you out as a shell of what you once were? How can you be happy you were given a living death sentence?

He didn't see it like that. He saw it as something to be proud of. To him, being diagnosed was like his Eureka! moment, he came out openly, and was proud. He told me, I was in the closet, I needed to first, admit I was bipolar, and then-tell people I was. If I had no problem going into an AA meeting and saying "Hi, my name is Susan, and I'm an alcoholic", shouldn't I do the same with "Hi, I'm Susan, and I'm Bipolar?"

I couldn't do it. To me, it was a badge of shame, a Scarlet B I wore on my chest. After this person and I were no longer friends, I did realize something, as I started to write to heal from that relationship. My brain was not my fault. After all it's a bunch of gray matter and if the wiring was different, it wasn't anything I did. I had to work around it. I started to be proactive in this recovery, just like I had done all those years ago when I stopped drinking. I started questioning every script, researching every med on the internet. Did I need this med? Did I need such a huge dose? Another thing I noticed as I began to read other people's blogs, is how different people were than me. I read so many blogs by people in their twenties and thirties who weren't struggling. They accepted the diagnosis, what they were struggling with were meds and therapy. They were at a place in their life, where I wasn't at yet. It made me happy, gave me hope. People getting married, raising children, all who had the same label as me. People who were living bits and pieces of the life I wanted to have. I gathered strength from them, and decided I would write about my life, so people would understand what it's like to be in my head, but also to spare anyone the heart ache, the anguish, and physical problems I've had in my journey to wellness.

Wellness. We all take different roads to get there, but hopefully we all get there in the end. I think I've gotten there. Maybe I would have gotten there quicker, had we had social media back in the 80s and 90s. In the long run, it doesn't really matter.  I've gotten to Serenity, something I never thought I would get to in my lifetime. I still haven't gotten to Acceptance. Some days I can accept this diagnosis, other days, I question it, still struggling. I take every day one day at a time. I may have bad days, and stumble, but all in all, I'm getting better. To me, that is the most important thing.   One day at a time, I am getting better.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Loneliness and Loss

Last week, a friend of mine left. He had stayed with Holly and I for a fortnight, staying with me while I detoxed off Tramadol. I was feeling very very depressed, and did not trust myself to be alone. So, in the manner of Lincoln's friends when he was in the same state, my friend stayed with me.

I moved into a new apartment back in March, a much nicer apartment than my old one. Handicapped. I could no longer use the stairs in my apartment, so I had to move to a new one on the ground floor. It's been a very positive thing, I am actually able to get out and about so much easier. My mobility has been improving in leaps and bounds. I'm walking better. I'm actually optimistic.

Until this last week. I really enjoyed having my friend over, I wasn't alone. We shared dinner every night, and I found myself taking great pleasure in cooking simple meals for him, talking at dinner. Doing the dishes together. Listening to music together.Helping with the daily cleaning.  Knowing that if I took a nap, he would play with the kitty with her favorite toy, "Da Bird." It was nice. We were totally in sync with each other. And for the first time in my whole adult life, I felt like we were family; something I'm sad to say I never even felt in my marriage.

He had to leave, eventually to take care of his own things, and he left last Saturday. I cried buckets on the 200 mile drive back home, listening to old "Dragnet" radio shows on my iPod. The pouring rain made me feel better, I was crying buckets, the heavens were throwing down rain so hard I almost saw animals walking down I-95 in pairs.

What I've noticed since Monday, on my mood chart, is that my mood is getting worse. I'm crying more than normal. I thought perhaps it was because of my period, but no, that ended and I'm still crying. My thoughts are going blacker and blacker. I'm sleeping more, and eating too many carbohydrates. Then, one night, listening to the radio, I had my Eureka! moment.

I've either fallen in love ( something I haven't done in almost ten years), or I like having someone around in my fortress of solitude. I can be alone, but I don't feel lonely. When he left, I felt lonely. What's wrong with this equation?

Human beings are meant to be social. As much as I say I would love to live in a cabin in the woods somewhere in New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine, away from the Madding crowd and civilization with just me and two cats and a dog-I realize I as a human being, need human stimulation. I can listen to talk radio while I am awake, or books on tape, and talk back to them, but it's not the same as having someone to talk to in person. I enjoy cooking meals for myself, but to cook a meal for a friend; go through the ritual of eating, pouring juice in wine glasses, and talking about totally banal things, was heaven. I haven't had this simple pleasure in years. While I had company, my mood was on an even keel, I was happy. I was feeling physically sick, but knowing there was another human soul with me was nice. Someone that even would kiss the cat and my stuffed pandas goodnight, and then kiss me.

So knowing my moods were tied to my friend, I'm making more of an effort to get out each day and talk to my neighbors. There are a lot of elderly widows in my apartment complex, they aren't lonely, but they are alone. Like me. Not lonely,  but alone. So I went out of my comfort zone, cooked a pumpkin pie, with fresh cream, made a big pot of coffee, and invited two of my neighbors over for coffee and conversation. It was nice. The upshot is, on Thursday, when I charted my mood- it was the highest since Sunday. A simple act of baking, and sharing, and I felt better. I don't mind being alone. I relish it. But as for loneliness, I think I will be having more of these coffee clatches more often.

Holly with her stuffed panda

Thursday, October 6, 2011

For Mad Hatter's Day

I want to thank Frank Blankenship over at Lunatic Fringe for this. I didn't know about Mad Hatter's Day and wanted to share this with my readers. Thank you Frank! 
Today is Mad Hatter Day. I stumbled across the following explanatory bit of information at Ari Rapkin’s website. His birthday is the day following Mad Hatter Day.
MadHatterDay is a holiday in October. It fills the need for a second crazy day in the year, almost exactly half a year from April Fools’ Day. The real spirit of MadHatterDay is turnabout: The nonsense we usually have to pretend is sane can be called madness for one day in the year; the superficially crazy things that really make sense can be called sane on MadHatterDay.
I guess…
I looked into this matter because a performer is entertaining at an establishment this evening in my locality, and crediting the reason with being it’s Mad Hatter Day.
MadHatterDay is 10/6. The date was chosen from the illustrations by John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, wherein the Mad Hatter is always seen wearing a hat bearing a slip of paper with the notation “In this style 10/6″. We take this as inspiration to behave in the style of the Mad Hatter on 10/6 (which is October 6 here, although in Britain MadHatterDay occurs on June 10…but I digress…) Some astute observers have noted that the paper in the Mad Hatter’s Hat was really an order to make a hat in the style shown, to cost ten shillings sixpence. However, it is well known that Time Is Money, and therefore Money Is Time, and therefore 10/6 may as well be the sixth of October.
Alices Adventures go on and on, don’t they? Nonsense prevails.
MadHatterDay began in Boulder, CO, in 1986, among some computer folk who had nothing better to do. It was immediately recognized as valuable because they caused less damage than if they’d been doing their jobs. It was announced that first year on computer networks. In 1987 it gained minor local recognition. In 1988, it was first recognized as an official holiday by an area business, and also received its first national press coverage by news services (who are always desperate for an unlikely story). It is almost certain that the national election also gave MadHatterDay a good boost in 1988.
Good things generally come in threes, don’t they?
Frank's entire article can be seen here.  I think this is a good thing, but my cat wanted to put in her two cents as I was getting ready to send this. So I will leave with her idea. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Macs, Apple and Cats

Steve Jobs is dead. The man who was the genius behind Apple, and gave me the best computers I ever had, a Preforma 575 bought in 1995, an iBook laptop bought ten years later, and a MacBook Pro bought in 2010. I own an iPhone and two ipods. I have an Apple sticker on my car's rear view window. I even managed to get my mother, father, sister, friends and even the Ex to join the cult of Mac.

Something about Macs that are just- well, cuter and nicer than Windows platform. More friendly. Even cats like them more than Windows. Holly loves her Mac.

Thank you Mr. Jobs and Apple for making the best computers on the market, and giving both me and my cat countless happy hours on them. Since your computers aren't waterproof, I will log off now, so my tears don't get in the keyboard.
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