Category Archives: Memoir

PART IV OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

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

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

THE PREGNANCY DIET

 

Oddly enough my world tends to revolve around food in pregnancy. I wouldn’t say I went on a diet when I first found out about the fetus, but I did make a conscious effort to eliminate sugar and fast food if I could help it. Getting the correct servings of vegetables and fruit when possible became important to me, and I stopped skipping meals. My mom shipped me a Nutri-Bullet juicer for Christmas. Although I think kitchen gadgets are total crap, I love this one. I use it every day.

One of the first questions people ask me is, do you have any cravings?

Oranges. Couldn’t get enough of them. Orange juice. Tangerines. I swear I could eat a whole box of Cuties in one sitting. One time I really wanted a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie, but I attribute that to me just wanting a brownie because it was nothing like the oranges fiasco. And water. I couldn’t hold it down. Unless it was from a bottle or filtered, I gagged on it. Solution? Add limes and lemons and oranges. Voilà. Two birds one stone. These days I’m guzzling lemonade.

I don’t take well to being told no, and the dietary restrictions that came with pregnancy were no exception. First, you’re not supposed to eat any unpasteurized products, soft cheeses, hot dogs, or lunch meat as they are all known to possibly carry Listeria, a bacteria that can cause premature birth and illness in fetuses. I wanted to know more about the risks of getting Listeria so I did a little Google research. Yes, that’s right, Google research, so take the following few paragraphs, as you will.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 1,700 people contract Listeria annually. Of these, 260 cases are fatal, and pregnant woman are 20 times more likely to contract it than a healthy adult. America’s population is 318.9 million. So, the average Joe has a 17 in 3,189,000 chance of getting Listeria. Twenty times that is what, 340 in 3,189, 000? I’m not good at math. I write for a living.

According to the National Safety Council*, 1 out of 112  people will die of a car accident annually. Why don’t doctors advise pregnant women not to drive in cars?

Before people jump down my throat about my logic, the American Pregnancy Association also says that 17% of pregnant women contract Listeria. I’ve never, ever heard of someone getting it, so to me, that number seems inflated. But what would I know? It’s avoidable, why risk it?

Then I found out Listeria contamination also occurred in caramel apples, cantaloupe, etcetera. Really? Apples and cantaloupe? Should I avoid them, too?

Ooooohhhhhh scandal. I occasionally eat blue cheese on a salad and don’t beat myself up over it. I don’t drink caffeine and avoid artificial sweeteners. I still eat sushi—in moderation. Only recently I should avoid herbal teas. And I was like seriously? Seriously? What can a pregnant woman eat???

More recently I wanted steak. When I get steak, I order it black and blue. Or as a friend once said, “so rare that a good veterinarian could bring it back to life.” Since steak is not a thing I regularly eat, I compromised: medium-rare.

Over Christmas Husband’s family made homemade ice cream, which included one or two raw eggs.

HUSBAND’S FAMILY: (Holding the bowl particularly close to my face…) Oh, this has raw eggs. You probably shouldn’t eat it…

ME: The HELL I shouldn’t. What’s in there?? Like two eggs split up in three gallons? GIVE ME SECONDS.

RANDOM MEMBER OF HUSBAND’S FAMILY DURING ANOTHER EATING ENCOUNTER WHEN I MENTIONED I STILL EAT SUSHI: (Pained disapproving look) I guess this stuff is easier to give up when you’re excited about the pregnancy.

ME: (In my head: This is why I set boundaries.)

But people don’t always respect boundaries, which is what I found out the hard way when I went back to Chicago earlier this month. Before going out for dinner on one of the first nights, I texted a friend and asked her to take down a Facebook post that referred to my pregnancy. I also asked her not to bring the pregnancy up at dinner. The response?

EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: I took it down, but I just don’t understand why someone who sends out baby announcements doesn’t want to talk about pregnancy.

MY EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: Thank you for being a kind and understanding friend.

Well, in short, I didn’t want to talk about itchy nipples over mahimahi. And another, very understanding, pregnant friend happened to come to dinner that night, too. Making the meal a little awkward, because I knew she absolutely would have loved to talk about her pregnancy. While I didn’t want to begrudge her that, I still wasn’t ready to cry over my asparagus. I paid a two-dollar up charge for it.

I was starting to feel like a giant Russian nesting doll, like any minute I’d be unscrewed and this small version of me would come out. It would have been nice to talk about that, but I genuinely wanted to hear about my friends’ vacations and love stories and horoscopes. I wanted to be me. Happy.

Tongues were clicking behind my back. Some friends were genuinely concerned: What will we talk to her about?

This is what I’m talking about. Once you’re pregnant, you ARE pregnant. Everything else in your life is null. What can we talk about? Maybe that long saga I’ve been working on for five years and just started editing? The agents I’m researching? The books I’m reading? The concerts I’ve been to? The movies I’ve seen? The upcoming publication of a chapbook I’m working on? Hell I’ve got three cats…time travel?

It’s like people haven’t known me for the last twenty years.

Did my Sassy-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend understand it any better?

SCSPBF: What do you expect from people? This is a joyous occasion in the lives of normal people. They want to talk about it. Just like you have feelings that you want people to respect you need to respect theirs. And you can’t be mad at them for feeling the way they feel. By not giving people any explanation of what is going on, you’re expecting way too much of them.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know boundary setting was hard. Telling someone, “No,” is extremely difficult. I realized this from the great Nutty Bar encounter of Christmas 2014, when I saw a four-year old have a wicked melt down over being told they couldn’t have the chocolate covered peanut butter deliciousness. Punches were thrown. Nap time ensued only to be fought against by a little one running out the bedroom and screaming. I mean talk about birth control. Was this what I was in for?

My New Age aunts sure as hell weren’t going to respect boundaries. No, they were going to talk about their pregnancies over lunch and tell me how there was a life growing inside of me that needed nurturing and love. Because I had never thought of that. Oh my God! You are so right! This is the very first time I even considered that I ought to love this fetus!!

Again. The voice of depression. When you set boundaries, you’ll find that you have to firmly and continually keep setting them. You have to interrupt people and get real blunt, “I said I don’t want to talk about this.” You have to have the courage to get up, to walk out, and be willing for that relationship to end, if you are that bound to the new boundary you are setting. For me? I didn’t remind the aunts of my boundaries. I just ignored it, ate cookies, and tried nervously not to look at the security camera of the restaurant. They’re recording me.

In the past, I’ve been railroaded by a lack of boundaries. I did what maybe seventy percent of the population does: I lied. If I got pushed into talking about something I didn’t want to answer, I made something up. On bad days, I’d give in and tell the truth and then end up feeling bad, like I had shared too much or left myself too vulnerable to people who didn’t respect that vulnerability.

SCSBF had a point. I was burning my friends out. I knew my frequent texts and phone calls about depression and suicide over the last two months had been hard on them. My hormones were out of control, and I wasn’t doing anything productive about it, like getting in to see my psychologist. My friends deserved to know where I was coming from. But I didn’t even know where I was coming from. They were distancing themselves. Not sharing as much about their lives as they used to. They shielded me from their problems.

The conversation with SCSBF did not end there. She had a lot more to say about the subject, particularly when I brought up the idea of having a baby shower. Just as when you’re insane and have to do things others tell you to do because that’s what it means to live in their reality, like taking multivitamins or going for ultrasounds, I desperately felt like I had to do everything I could to be normal.

What she had to say got really hard to listen to. It was stuff that I particularly wanted to avoid when I was working on happiness, the stuff that I had already destroyed myself thinking about. But it was I who brought up the topic of boundaries and baby showers.

SCSBF: Did you or did you not let him impregnate you?

ME: Yeah, I went off of birth control, but it wasn’t planned. There was supposed to be more time. I didn’t think…

SCSBF: You’re acting like a victim. This was your choice. Your child does not have a choice in the matter.

ME: (crying) You seem to treat our other friend and her pregnancy so much differently. You seem to understand and not judge her or her choices.

SCSBF: Because she sucked it up. She didn’t complain about it or feel sorry for herself. Do you think she wanted to be pregnant at that moment in her life? She was just dumped, living at home, and jobless. But she committed to her choice and didn’t turn back. She loves her child. People don’t have sympathy for those who don’t.

ME: (crying) I don’t want sympathy. I just don’t know what I want to do.

SCSBF: It’s exhausting. You won’t do anything. You’ll just stay where you are with the life you have and not leave your Husband and keep the child. In the meantime, you’ll choose to stay miserable instead of appreciate the good things you have in life.

ME: (crying, as if none of this hasn’t occurred to me, as if I hadn’t already labeled myself a feminist’s nightmare.)

SCSBF: One minute you’re sending out baby announcements and talking about a baby shower and the next wondering if you’ll keep it. I can’t just stand by and watch you pretend to want this or go through the motions. A baby shower is a celebration. You shouldn’t have one. I just think someone needs to tell you this. I love you, but I can’t talk about this anymore.

ME: Okay.

Even though I had so much more to say and ask, the ended conversation there. I respected her boundary. I understood where she was coming from. What I felt, but couldn’t say, was that even if I decided not to keep the child, I still felt it had the right to a stroller or a pack of onesies. It deserved that page in its baby book. And just because it was clear to her what my life choices were going to be, didn’t mean it was easy or clear to me.

When you watch a horror movie unfold and the protagonist goes into the room where the killer is lurking, instead of say, calling the cops or fleeing, you instinctively shout at the screen, “NO BITCH DON’T DO IT.” But always, always, you have more information and insight and distance with the scenario than the protagonist. You know the killer is there. You think, in that situation you’d make a different choice. You think you’d be better. And maybe you would be. But a killer is not chasing you. You’re safe on your couch.

I had to talk to my therapist about the disagreement. The fight shook me. It was why I incited my boundaries to begin with. Personally, I’m no saint. I’ve said my fair share of brutally honest things at inappropriate times, but with this situation, I needed direction.

ME: I just don’t understand the where the anger comes from. I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable. My friends could talk about the pregnancy all they wanted among themselves. They were entitled to their feelings. I had a lot of the same feelings. I still struggle with all those thoughts myself. I was just asking them to not share them with me at the moment. I know boundaries are hard. I don’t like them myself. They have burned me, but always—I always respect them. If someone asks me to leave their house or never talk to them again, I do it. I don’t ask the person why. I don’t contact them again. I respect that they set that in place and it is their responsibility to come to me when they are ready.

THERAPIST: Your friends aren’t used to you having boundaries. They may not have boundaries of their own. Why do you think your friend said you were acting like a victim?

ME: I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. Because I was crying? So I looked weak? I didn’t want sympathy. I wasn’t complaining; I set boundaries not to talk about it. Victims don’t have choices. I realize that. I’m past the choice I ultimately made to get pregnant. What I’m concerned with are the upcoming repercussions of that choice. What I’m upset over are my choices moving forward.

THERAPIST: What do you want?

ME: Understanding. Maybe I can’t talk about this with anyone but you? Maybe I should keep all this inside?

THERAPIST: It doesn’t feel good when you’re vulnerable and trust someone and they hurt you does it? I think it’s good to talk about this with friends you know will able to talk about it. I don’t think this means you cut out people out of your life who love you just because they don’t understand the situation. In life, friends help us when they can, and sometimes different friends step up and others fall back. That doesn’t mean they can’t come back into your life later and the relationship can’t be good again.

ME: I know. I know and I’ve done a lot of understanding and forgiving over the past year. Not just with others, but with myself, too. And it’s been a long tough process.

THERAPIST: You are getting better.

Am I?

Victim [vik-tim] noun

  1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
  2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
  3. a person or animal sacrificed or regarded as sacrificed: war victims.
  4. a living creature sacrificed in religious rites.

 

The thing I love most about SCSBF is she is honest. That’s why she’s my best friend, she tells it exactly like it is. And she was right—I did need to let people know what was going on with me. That conversation is what solidified me creating this string of blog posts.

But victim? No.

Fear [feer] noun

  1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
  1. a specific instance of or propensity for such a feeling: an abnormal fear of heights.
  1. concern or anxiety; solicitude: a fear for someone’s safety.
  2. reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God.
  1. something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension; something a person is afraid of: Cancer is a common fear.
  2. anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur: Having grown up during the Great Depression, he had a constant fear of running out of money.

 

Afraid? Scared? Yes.

Parent [pair-uh nt, par-] noun

  1. a father or a mother.
  2. an ancestor, precursor, or progenitor.
  3. a source, origin, or cause.
  4. a protector or guardian.
  5. Biology. any organism that produces or generates another.
  6. Physics. the first nuclide in a radioactive series. adjective
  7. being the original source: a parent organization.
  8. Biology. pertaining to an organism, cell, or complex molecular structure that generates or produces another: parent cell; parent DNA.

 

Can I do this? Again. Can I do this right? Again. Can I do this and keep my shit together? Again. Can I handle loss if loss comes? Nothing is guaranteed. Again. Can I change? Again. I still eat blue cheese. Again. I still eat homemade ice cream with raw eggs. Again. I still eat sushi. Again. I eat my steak medium rare. Again. I drink herbal tea. Again. Will this child hate me? Again. What will it think when it reads these blogs? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

 

(I will post the last installment of this five-part conversation tomorrow.)

 

 

*Maybe best death chart I’ve read all year. Aside from this one: http://www.besthealthdegrees.com/health-risks/

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Literature, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Parenting, Writing

PART III OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

 

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

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

 

THROUGHOUT YOUR PREGNANCY

 

You want to talk about fear? You want to talk about facing your inadequacies head on? Nothing makes you examine the true nature of the self quite like being faced with the knowledge that you will soon be a parent. As the news of the pregnancy sunk in, I began to analyze and unravel all of my flaws. What kept coming up over and over was the idea of selfishness. If the child decided to scream at seven AM would I be able to get out of bed and change diapers and do feedings without feeling resentful or angry? If it threw a tantrum at the grocery store, would I be able to calmly reassure the child that I loved it? Or would I yank it by the arm to the restroom to give it a good yelling followed by a sharp slap as my parents did to me so often in my childhood? Would I always have control of my emotions, and be able to set them aside for another?

I didn’t think I could.

I deeply understand some of the mistakes my parents made with my siblings and me in the past. I could easily put myself in my parents’ shoes time and again without judgment and see how and why they would behave the way they did. I have forgiven and continue to forgive their neglect and abuse. Of course, no one ever wants to do those things to children; looking back I can tell my parents carry immense amounts of guilt. I asked my mother once, how come she insisted on keeping us in her care when she was obviously incapable of raising children. Call it selfishness. Call it having mixed up priorities. Call it whatever. Her answer?

She just didn’t know that about herself. And in her own way loved us.

I never asked my father the same question, but I think he thought at times he was doing the best he could. I think he thought he was raising us right. And the times he realized he was doing it all wrong were so filled with anxiety and guilt he coped by substance abuse. So it was a cycle.

Add in a stepmother who makes Lady Tremaine seem sweet. The type of woman, who if she read this, would instantly bring libel charges against me. Complicated, huh?

My parents divorced while my mother was still pregnant with me. In the years following, my siblings and I were the unfortunate pawns in a Game of Thrones like feud between our families. My mother’s side blaming my father’s. My father’s side blaming my mother’s. By the age of five, I was familiar with the court system and social workers and DCFS. And the mess, it was terrible. Kids should never be exposed to that. The family built cases against one another and pumped us children for information. We had to listen to them talk about each other in front of us, and that was confusing. Being asked at age seven to pick sides. Being told that the people you love were awful.

People get viscous when children are involved. Get righteous. Get pious.

As an adult, I know it all comes from love and justice. But the child part of me, the one that needs all this therapy, emotionally she’s still not healed. I go through regression, and disassociate, and turn to flight mode when I’m triggered. Sometimes the terminology is post-traumatic stress. Most times? I look like a spoiled brat when I don’t get my way or an adult who can’t just let things go.

And for a long time I wanted to change that about me. I was going to start standing up straighter, stop dragging my feet when I walked, go to the gym more, be a positive role model, handle arguments reasonably in the moment by setting aside my emotions and probing deeper into the emotions of the other I argued with. I was going to do things I did not like doing—like watching a dumb movie or going to the zoo—with friends if they asked, and I wouldn’t complain about it or pout when it sucked because that is what a good friend would do.

I was going to be a better person. Now.

But that now part is really unrealistic. I had to figure out the hard way that first I had to accept who I am. And not just accept it, embrace it, and love it. For someone with low self-esteem, that feels like hiking the Grand Canyon without water. I recognized my inadequacies. I embraced them. I made a vow that this year I would be a villain. This year I would say nasty things and not feel guilty. I would cut people off in traffic because I think turn signals are optional. I would allow myself to gossip about friends that hurt my feelings. I would scowl as much as I pleased. I would huff in long grocery store lines. And you’re damn right I’m going to pout if you drag my ass to the circus and force me to watch clowns make balloon animals or go to a movie with more explosions than love scenes.

I’m not the type of person who can go to the circus and focus on the cotton candy, if you get what I’m saying. Life is too damn short, and my time in reality too precious to waste getting freaked out by metaphorical clowns. Haven’t you people ever read It?

I wouldn’t abuse anyone, not if I could help it. But I wouldn’t stop being a bitch. And best of all, I wouldn’t feel bad about my sense of sarcasm. Maybe I’d try to curb it in front of people who I knew it could offend…maybe. Like, maybe, you know, showing my religious mother-in-law my “SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH” needle sitch was going a tad too far. (I just have the kit. My hands can’t be bothered with actually using a needle.)

Embracing the villain in me, knowing my inadequacies, being unsure of the pregnancy, and having first hand knowledge of the court system had me asking myself: what is best for this child?

Even the happiest of marriages fail. If my marriage failed, what would it look like? I surely would want to return to Chicago, and Husband to South Dakota. What would split custody look like? If I became attached to this child, and had to give it up—even for weekends—would I get vicious? Selfish? Would I drag it through the court system fighting to keep it under my care? Would my sense of abandonment resurface to cloud my vision to do what was genuinely right for the child? Would I ask it at six, or seven, or eight to choose a side?

Would I be able to change in nine months?

Would I, would Husband and I, be able to get our marriage and child rearing views on the same page, making compromises for both of us that seemed fair? And not little compromises like bedtime or whether to feed the baby carrots or peas with dinner. Big stuff like religion, schools, where ultimately to settle down. Would we become strong parents but awful partners, awful lovers? If that happened, could I live in that life?

Could I live in it happily?

I didn’t know if I could.

Raising a healthy child would be hard enough, but could I raise a child that had serious mental or physical retardation? I grew weak and overwhelmed with the thought. Minivans and wheelchairs. More psychiatrists. I had a hard enough time going to doctors’ office visits of my own. I have a friend who has a son with Downs Syndrome. This woman is a total tank. She is busy with speech therapists, special doctors’ visits, physical therapists, constantly worried at feeding times he my choke because of the low muscle tone in his throat. She researched the best preschool. He is undoubtedly the love of her life. For her, there was no other option but to become a tank because she is a single mother raising him alone. I couldn’t imagine the world without him in it, and yet…

I knew I was no tank.

So when the scare came in after a random blood test that the baby may have Spina biffida—chances going from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 15. I got scared. Real scared. After the call, I stayed in bed to let the news sink in. I couldn’t even cry. The sadness that came over me was so deep and full I thought I would break apart. If the test came back positive, I would terminate the pregnancy. There was no question about it. Even though Husband is pro-life to the max, ultimately it was my body.

And then, for the first time, I felt the smallest of flutter in my stomach. The baby moved.

And I thought awe shit you stupid fetus. You really want to live that bad?

And then I spent a good part of the afternoon crying before I could get out of bed and write.

About this time the depression came back, and it got real. Remember the long string of silent months from this blog? Then one popping up about suicide? That was the thick of it. It got dangerous. Looking back, I should have been hospitalized and had my medications changed. But asking for help is hard; especially when I was afraid to change my medications mid-pregnancy, even though I knew the benefits would outweigh the risks.

A text message from a friend who suffers from depression:

TM: You can’t keep doing this to yourself.

That message came on a night when I set out all my medications and seriously contemplated taking them. I cried in my tub, going through the list of friends I had, one by one, texting. I knew I had to fight, and start fighting harder, but the only thing that kept me from taking those pills was that I literally didn’t have the strength to move. I could not get out of the tub even when I wanted to. There were a lot of other messages that came after which kept me sane enough to get through the night. Just as I need constant reassurances that delusions are not true at times (No, Charlie, the Dalai Lama is not talking to you mentally), there are times when I need similar reassurances that challenge depressive thoughts (No, Charlie there is a point to life, and although you may not see it now, you will in time).

For those who don’t understand depression, it’s like getting the worst phone call of your life: your mother died, your spouse was in an accident, you have cancer. That moment when your stomach drops, your heart stops, the shock, the fear—that is depression. That moment on repeat for every second, every minute, of every day for weeks or months. It’s like having the flu, those aches, the sullenness, and the tiredness. All day. Every day.

In a past DBT session, I broke down, and explained it as thus:

ME: I feel like those blank pages in Twilight where Edward left Bella, except I don’t even get to pine away for someone.

Joking aside, even the fighters sometimes lose. Not to be dramatic, but it’s fatal. It’s dangerous to make it seem like that is inevitable. But it’s also dangerous for someone to think that your mind is in a right frame when the thoughts come. People are very accepting and understanding of mania. If you tell someone you think you are the Queen of England, they may scoff, but ultimately they’d recognize something is not right, and if you were in a better condition you may not think that. It’s not so easy to recognize suicidal thoughts as delusions and have the same understanding or to take a place of no judgment. Those thoughts seem like a choice from the outside. Just like it may have seemed that I had a choice to believe I was pregnant sooner.

It takes an awful lot of work to recognize what is real and what is not. Because if you could, trust me, you’d never choose to be manic. You’d never choose to be depressed. Insanity is not knowing the difference between my reality and yours.

Well, at least the baby and I had one thing in common. We both were familiar with the fetal position.

And here we go again. No matter how hard I fought against the depression it was here. And in the midst of recognizing negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions I was dealing with post traumatic stress once again, this time reliving my childhood experiences with my mother and her struggle with bipolar.

Why is mommy in bed? Why won’t she get up?

For years I was pissed at her. Why couldn’t she just suck it up, become that tank? She looked so much like a quitter. It was like she wasn’t fighting and she chose to stay in bed. But now, I understood why she stayed in bed, and found myself sleeping in later, and later.

Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

Husband and I had to have those hard, hard talks. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean you shouldn’t have children. You can be the best mother in the world who just happens to have a mental illness, because they are treatable and manageable.

There had to be plans in place. What if? What if I got suicidal again? What if I got horribly manic? Those things weren’t explained to me right when I was little. Mommy was just ‘sad’ or ‘sick’.

H: How do you wish it were explained to you when you were little?

ME: For mania? I wish, I wish, someone would have said, “mommy was just dreaming, while she was awake. Just the way you dream when you go to sleep. And do you know where dreams come from? Some scientists think it’s a way for us to figure out the events of our day. Mommy’s funny brain is just trying to figure out her days in a different way than ours, right now…And depression? Same. Mommy is still dreaming, only this time it’s a bit more like a nightmare, and her body? It’s so tired it thinks it has the flu! Can you imagine? Isn’t the body interesting? Let’s go to the library and look up stuff about our bodies…did you know your skin is your largest organ?”

H: So why can’t we just say that?

Yeah, why can’t we just say that?

The next trip to the doctors’ office revealed that the baby did not have Spina biffida.

MATERNAL FETAL SPECIALIST (MFS): It’s not Spina biffida…the egg sack broke off and never dissipated properly. It attached itself to the placenta and turned into a mass. This accounts for the high level of AFP.

ME: And that means?

MSF: It’s like a tumor.

ME: Well, I’ve had a tumor growing inside me for four months so I’m fine with that.

MSF: Nothing to worry about now. It’s not cancerous.

ME: Okay…

MSF: The potential risks are that the placenta may not be able to accommodate the size of the fetus. It can affect its growth, resulting in an early delivery. Nothing to worry about now. We’ll do ultrasounds every three weeks for the rest of the pregnancy to keep track of it. After delivery, the placenta will have to be sent off for testing.

ME: Can it still be used for stem cell research?

MSF: I’m not sure. We can check into that.

I took the news of the tumor in stride because it wasn’t Spina biffida, and I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore until it became necessary to worry. But because nothing was guaranteed, I still fought my attachment to the fetus.

I still questioned myself. What were all my options? Husband and I had another hard talk. If I genuinely could not take care of this child, would he take full custody?

H: You’re going to abandon your child? How does that make you any better than your parents? Why can’t you just accept your responsibility and change? It’s not like any of this wasn’t our choice. We didn’t exactly do anything to prevent the pregnancy in the first place. How could you even consider this? How is this even an option?

ME: (Silence) (How was death even an option for me? Not a few days ago…) (Processing his shock. Processing his anger.) (Recognizing those thoughts, the same thoughts I had that led me to the depression. He is the voice of my depression now. What do I tell my depression? How do I make my depression understand…what can I say? He doesn’t understand where I am coming from…)

H: You can have a good life if you choose it. Why can’t you just put your past behind you?

ME: (This is anxiety. This is fear.)

H: Well?

ME: I don’t know.

H: I will take care of it. If you make an honest attempt, your very best attempt at this, and you just can’t do it. I’ll understand.

ME: Thank you.

My stomach started to protrude further by this time, and while I still wasn’t ready to announce the pregnancy, I was right around the five-month mark. I was going to physically have the child, even if I couldn’t or wouldn’t keep it. People blindsided me three or four times by touching my stomach without asking and making those friendly inquiries. Those celebratory remarks. And when I couldn’t match their enthusiasm, their faces would crumple in pity. Sometimes confusion. Judgment.

I needed to visit home. I needed to remember I had a place where, if everything fell apart, I’d be welcomed, loved and understood, but I couldn’t take another blind side moment. Friends and family would have to know. And since I thought the news of a pregnancy could possibly be hard for anyone, I sent out baby announcements. The thought of writing personalized E-mails or making all those phone calls and explaining it all over and over seemed too exhausting.

In therapy, I was working on boundaries, what they were and how to set them. What ones were healthy and reasonable. In DBT they had this worksheet where you marked what was most important when setting boundaries: your health or your relationship with the person you were setting the boundary with. When it came to the topic of the child, it was important to me to set clear, healthy boundaries without compromising relationships that mattered.

I was still vulnerable and fragile. My head was a total mess. The topic started me instantly crying, and I knew I could get set way, way back by talking about it before I was ready. I wanted a break for a week or two. The depression was clearing enough for me to start to analyze this, and I felt like, if I could just get happy again, really happy like in October, I’d find the strength to do this. However I chose to do it.

So after I sent out the announcements, I asked my friends not to talk about it or bring it up.

JUST ABOUT EVERY FRIEND WHO KNEW: Why can’t you talk about it?

ME: I’m not ready.

And that was the end of the conversation because that was the boundary I had set. It sounds silly, but just as I didn’t have the strength to get out of the tub that day, I didn’t have the strength to add to that, ‘I haven’t processed this yet. I need some more time, but since you would see me and it could no longer be hidden, I felt everyone had to be informed of the situation.’

I ignored the flood of texts, and E-mails, and Facebook well wishes. I would deal with them when I was ready. When I felt like I knew more. When I was genuinely ready, not just because I had a fat stomach and people were gossiping, asking…

 

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

PART II OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

 

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

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

 

 

NOW THAT YOU ARE PREGNANT

Husband took me to San Francisco in October for my birthday. We took the coast to the National Red Wood Forest and spent a night in a historic hotel northern town of Eureka. We saw a Celtic band. I made jokes about ghosts and thought up new short stories. We went hiking through Fern valley, and the weather stayed warm enough for us to take walks along the beach without jackets. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. I was also something like one and a half months pregnant, but still didn’t think it was true.

Even after having a horrid vaginal ultrasound and seeing pictures, it didn’t seem real. To me, the ultrasound pictures were fakes.

I was good, however, about doing what I was told because if you live with a delusional mind, like it or not, you have to trust what others tell you is real. I took prenatal vitamins, and stopped taking over the counter things like Ibuprofen. I didn’t smoke or drink, so my life style didn’t change all that much. I thought pregnancy meant morning sickness or swollen tender breasts or strange cravings. I was still 100% me. Symptomless.

By the end of the vacation, I felt strong enough; maybe it was the genuine happiness, but I felt like I could finally face my fears. The last weekend of my trip I began to accept that the pregnancy was real, and maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought. Maybe I could deal with it. Maybe I wouldn’t leave my child in its car seat on top of the car and drive off. Maybe I’d get used to not having sleep for a little while. Maybe I’d be okay with it once I got that little thing in my arms.

Then, the Monday I returned home I started spotting, which is never a good thing in any pregnancy, but something that is totally normal. So I went about my week like nothing was wrong, and I allowed myself to consider the positive aspects of having a child. By Saturday I had bleeding, or what seemed to me, full-blown menses. I called the clinic. They told me was likely experiencing a miscarriage. Since I had an appointment on Tuesday the following week, they advised me to wait it out and go to the ER if the bleeding or cramping got very bad.

Numbly I hung up the phone, pulled out a notebook, and full on sobbed, all the while handwriting an outline of a short story as therapy. For something like three hours I absolutely accepted the situation. I dug deep and examined all the reasons I ever wanted to have a child. I dug deeper and faced the loss, the confusion, and my next moves.

Miscarriages are hard enough on normal people, but simply put, I have abandonment issues. That sense of loss, of something I had dared to let myself actually want (even if only for a week) was so utterly profound. At first, I was sure it was my fault. I hadn’t been careful enough because I didn’t think it was true. I let myself get too stressed. I hadn’t learned coping mechanisms fast enough. I often thought of therapy as a waste of time and if I had only taken it more seriously this thing wouldn’t be happening to me now.

Husband and I couldn’t really talk about it as for so long we had opposing views of pregnancy. I grieved alone, or what felt like alone, until Monday morning. Then it occurred to me once more: this pregnancy wasn’t real. The program was giving me hormones. This was a normal period. They were trying to make me deal with the realities of kids. I was a fool to have grieved, a fool to have wished and wanted. I had fallen for their trap.

By Tuesday, I knew the ultra sound would turn up nothing, and the doctors would tell me all about miscarriage. So I was fine, completely sane and in control of my mind.

And totally unprepared for the ultrasound technician to happily announce that there was still a” little pea” inside of me, very much alive.

Wait. What? I’m still pregnant? No, I wasn’t. Because you see I had already let it go, and went back to the comfortable place of hating kids and not wanting them. This was just the program throwing me a curve ball. Whatever. I wasn’t pregnant. I couldn’t be.

I was still the girl who held up Froot Loops underwear in Target and announced loudly, “Give me some milk, daddy!” How could I possibly be a parent? Have you seen my ass? It sure as hell wasn’t made for mommy jeans.

Mommy culture is just not for me. I’m talking about the women whose lives revolve around their children. They read hundreds of motherhood books, they make mommy friends, and they scoff at the childless that ‘just don’t get it’. They think their children’s teachers are often wrong or unfair when their kids’ grades slip. They clog the interwebs with blogs and crafts and designed around children. I value my education and want to continue to use it. Just as child rearing is those mommies calling, my life’s purpose is to write. I know this. I’ve always known it. The thought of it taking a backseat to a small creature in a tie-dyed, baby wrap makes me wince. If anything, I’m aiming to clog the inter webs with pictures of my cats and odd short stories.  Eating a  placenta and putting the bloody mess of a baby on my body immediately after birth for “skin to skin” contact?

Bitch. I pass out at the sight of blood.

I think its funny to ask my best friend to push me down a flight of stairs or get a coat hanger. You can’t joke about that stuff with mommy friends. They’ll scowl and hand you Revolutionary Road.*  Yikes!

When you find out you have a mental illness, doctors and therapists are super quick to remind and reassure you that you are not the label. You are not bipolar. You have bipolar. You are still you. It makes dealing and coping a thousand times easier. You keep your identity, and the bipolarness just becomes another layer of your identity.

But pregnancy? Oh no. You ARE pregnant. The pregnancy IS you.

Be prepared for it.

People will see your fat stomach and know. Just as one of my aunts recently pointed out, you can’t be a little pregnant, either you are or you aren’t. It’s not like a mental illness where on good days when you have enough composure to not burst into tears in public strangers will assume you’re ‘normal’. In pregnancy, you are no longer just a woman at the grocery store minding her own business picking out carrots. You are now someone a stranger feels they have the right to talk to. And the topic? Your body. And get ready for it—

Because people are going to touch you.

Yes. People will be compelled to touch your stomach. Even if, you have very good reasons for not wanting to be touched without permission by people whom you love—LET ALONE strangers. They’re still gonna touch you. That woman you talked to a few times at the gym? She’s gonna touch you. You’re husband’s co-workers. Touch. Touch. Touch.

By the time my stomach started sticking out a bit, right around four to five months, I was getting touched both outside and in.

There could be no ignoring it. No more delusion. I was pregnant. Of course, the program still existed, but they had been right about the pregnancy. It was real. The miscarriage scare was real.

By the time I genuinely accepted this, it was a few weeks shy of the illegal date to terminate the pregnancy. The procedure would be hard and traumatic even for someone who genuinely, truly wanted it with all of their heart, or someone who needed it for medical reasons. I won’t get into the shame and stigma associated with abortions here. All I can say about that, is you never see billboards that say something like, “Abortion is a hard choice to make. Don’t feel guilty. It is your body and your life. No one has the right to judge your medical choices.”

I was still confused. Like it or not, I would have to carry the fetus to term.

I had to accept it all and face new fears… And motherhood? I’d no longer be Charlie. To someone growing each day inside me, I’d forever and always be mom.

 

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

*That book had me upset for days. God, RY, why you gotta break my heart for?

**Obviously the posts are not in chronological order. They sort of swim back and forth in time with month/week markers best as I can remember them. Hope you’re not confused.

 

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Marriage, Memoir, Non Fiction, pregnancy, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-0-545-58295-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s coyotes I told myself. Just coyotes.

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

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

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

Shadow

Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN: 978-0-545-58293-3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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

I see the dermatologist this Wednesday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DBT daily tracker

DBT daily tracker

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2165

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN: 978-1-61219-194-2

I Await The Devil's Coming by Mary MacLane

I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane

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

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

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

1)    What am I working on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3)    Why do I write what I do?

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

4) How does your writing process work?

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

ISBN 978-0-545-5892-6

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

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

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

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

Today’s topic is journaling.

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

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

That is until “people” started screwing with me.

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

FK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*I found Freddy Here

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