Category Archives: Random

ISBN: 987-1-59474-597-3

 

 

 

The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance By Lousi Borgenicht, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht D.A.D.

The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance
By Lousi Borgenicht, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht D.A.D.

 

Newborns for the most part poop, eat, and sleep. In between, they snuggle and cry. The snuggling part is Mother Nature’s evil trick of making you think procreation isn’t such a bad idea, and obviously the crying part is because Mother Nature is a bitch. Don’t believe me? Watch one of those nature shows where a gazelle gets ripped to shreds by a lion. Total bitchface.

My life these days:

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWAA

IS IT POOP? (checks diaper)

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWAAAAAAWWWWWAAAAAWWWWA

HUNGRY? (shoves boob/bottle in mouth)

<<BAH>> (sound of Baby spitting food out)

WWWWWWWWWAAAAAAWWWWWWAAAAAAAAWWWWWWAAAAAAA

Rock? Rock Baby. Bounce? Bounce Baby.

WWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH

Distract? Blow in Baby’s face.

<<Baby takes a breath>> (Yes. Yes. Yes. It worked…) WWWWAAAAHHHHHHHH

WWWWWWAAAAAHHHHHHAAHAHAHAHWWWHWHWHAHAHAHAHAH
WHWHAHAHAHWHHHAHAHWHWHAHHAHAHWHWHWHHHAHAHAHAH

Read Baby a book?

(Baby pushes book away with freakish Baby strength) WWWALAAAHAHHWWHWH

For those who don’t know, new humans need food every two to three hours. A feeding can last upwards of a half hour. Then the Baby needs clean diapers. Sometimes twice because if you keep the diaper off too long Baby will pee/poop all over and you have to start again. Diaper changing can take around fifteen minutes. And then…

 

WWWWHAHAHAHWHHWWHHAHAHAHAHAHAWHHWHWHWHAHAHAH

 

Resume bouncing and sweet-talking and rocking, until finally Baby drifts off for an hour. Yes, that’s right, new parents probably will have to get up every hour (or half hour if Baby is fussy or never if Baby decides to scream through that hour) to attend to Baby’s needs. Somewhere in there, parents will want to eat or sleep. My therapist once told me people torture prisoners of war with sleep deprivation. I now know why.

 

WWWWAAAHAHAHHAHAHHWHWHWHWHWHHAHAHAHHAAHHWHWHW

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED?! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD BABY HUMAN TELL ME WHAT YOU NEED!!!

Before Baby was born, I had a long conversation about the cost of baby items. Gliders, hundred dollars. Swings, two hundred dollars. Strollers, three hundred dollars. Bouncers, seventy up to one-fifty. Colic reducing bottles, about ten each, less if bought in a bundle. Case of diapers, thirty-five. (Baby goes through about 3,000 diapers in a year, which is why I’m going to attempt cloth diapers. I’ll let you know how that goes.) Sound soothers, fifty…

Essentially, baby stuff is over priced unless you have more than one kiddo. Even then yikes! And still…

You would pay anything to make your baby stop crying.

Seven hundred dollars for a little plush tiger baby likes to chew? What’s another month late on the rent? Twenty-nine thousand dollars to download a song that puts baby to sleep? Defaulting on my student loans over here.

An infant crying is the most disturbing sound known to wo(man). For this reason alone baby humans need to come with a manual. Not that I could imagine pushing one out after Baby and the placenta.

Thankfully, The Baby Owner’s Manual Operating Instructions, Trouble-shooting tips, and Advice on First-year Maintenance exists. Louis Borgenich, M.D. and Joe Borgenicht, D.A.D. wrote it.

Apparently, Baby does more than poop, eat, sleep, snuggle, and cry. Baby gets constipated. Baby gets hair in their eyes. Baby needs burping. Baby farts and sharts. Baby gets insect bites. Baby gets cradle cap – WTH is cradle cap?! Baby can get a flat head and then Baby needs a Baby helmet. Baby can choke. Baby spits up.

Baby wants the cradle hold.

Baby changes little Baby mind. Baby now wants football hold.

One-second later, Baby wants shoulder hold.

Three seconds later, Baby wants Boba hold. (Parent quickly attempts to wrap eighty-foot swatch of cloth around their body without choking out and trying not to laugh at stage of wrap where parent looks like a Jedi in training whilst balancing Baby on lap.)

Baby wants swaddling.

WWWWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHWHHWHWHWHHWHWHHAHAHAHAH

Baby doesn’t want swaddling.

Baby wants pacifier. Is Baby too hot? (remove clothes) Is Baby too cold? (add clothes) Does Baby want a toy? If breastfeeding: did I eat something bad? Does Baby have Baby heartburn or Baby gas? If formula feeding: does Baby not like this stuff? (switches brands nine times) Baby likes the first formula best.

Baby gets ear infections. Baby gets eye infections.

Baby gets a stuffy nose. (What do I do? Humidifier? Pull buggers out with squeeze bulb? With tissue? With my giant finger? With the odd Nosefrida contraption?)

Baby can claw their face off with their little sharp Baby talons if not properly trimmed.

Baby needs washing.

Baby vomits. Baby gets hiccups. Baby gets bumps and bruises and acne and rashes.

Getting Baby into Baby’s car seat is the seventh circle of hell, and Baby’s wails would make Beelzebub cringe.

Engraving at bottom of mirror: WE LOVE YOU

Engraving at bottom of mirror: WE LOVE YOU

I used to wear makeup. Now I wear spit-up, compression socks to avoid varicose veins, and what I like to call ‘the exo-skeleton’  a three-part brace of sorts meant to tuck your body back to it’s normal place. Whoever said ‘they’re not stretch marks. I’m a tiger who earned her stripes’ was more mental than me. It looks like Freddy Kruger tried to claw his way out of my abdomen. And thighs. And breasts. And calves. Yes, calves. So yeah, my body is completely ruined, but Baby’s birth was a breeze. I slept through half of it. Yeah-ya. Epidural all the way. Plus last week I huffed and I puffed and I pulled myself into my pre-pregnancy jeans. So that’s a win.

I wrote this one-handed, eating oatmeal like a cave woman with my free hand while Baby slept on my chest . But hey, Baby wasn’t crying. At least not for now.

Yes, I said these photos would be all strong women, but then I realized Baby may not identify with women. Maybe Baby wants to be genderless when Baby gets older or maybe Baby wants to be male.

Yes, I said these photos would be all strong women, but then I realized Baby may not identify with women. Maybe Baby wants to be genderless when Baby gets older or maybe Baby wants to be male.

Baby slept through the night for the first time yesterday. At six weeks. Total win. My trick? The owner’s manual.

 

 

PS – In photos: Flannery O’ Connor , Dr. Michio Kaku , the Obamas, Amelia Earhart, John Forbes Nash, Jr., Einstein, J.K. Rowling, Maria Bueno, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa.

PSS – Each year for Baby’s birthday we will switch the photos until Baby gets old enough to pick her own inspirational friends.

PSSS -If you want to do the project in your Baby’s room, I got the frames at Goodwill for about $1 or $2 each and painted them with little sample cans for about $3 dollars. The engraving was about $10 and I had the mirror. The most expensive part of the project was the 8 x 10 photos. Luckily, Walgreens had a photo sale for nearly a third the normal price.  You could also use 5 x 7’s or 4 x 6’s, get a paint package with multiple colors,  and paint your own message instead of engraving one.

PSSSS – Blogging will resume to a trickle. Between Baby and novel-writing and short story writing I had to prioritize homey.

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Filed under Books, Children, Children's Books, Funny, humor, Life, Love, Parenting, Random

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

ISBN-10: 0-486-41586-4

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

“…the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Writing in flannel.

Writing in flannel.

 

I went home this past week for an early Christmas. I don’t know how I managed it, but I was able to see just about everyone I love. I even squeezed in a trip to Hubbard, my high school, and bought sweat pants and a sweatshirt. If someone told me fifteen years ago I’d voluntarily wear the uniform, I would have laughed in his or her face. Fifteen years can really change a person.

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t fret. I’ve been writing and reading, just not blogs. Today I was called to the desk to write for my dad.

Last Monday was the first time I saw him since I was sixteen.

Fifteen years ago, we parted on less than good terms. It doesn’t matter why we parted that way, only that we had. Six years ago, I heard that he was beaten and left for dead in Marquette Park. The phone call caught me off guard. I was in a place where my life had finally started to make sense. I had just started my MFA, was newly engaged, and happy. I answered the phone thinking my brother, J, was calling to congratulate me.

J told me that my father had been homeless and lived in the park. He was drunk and antagonized a group of youth, gang members, with racial slurs. My father was not expected to make it. I should come home and see him. The phone call left me angry. I told J my father was dead to me, and had been for years. J called me a bitch and we hung up.

I wished those kids had talked to my father and explained why some words were so hurtful or how many people had died over them in the past. I wished they asked him not to use such words, and he instantly rid his vocabulary of them. I know how hard it is to do the right thing in a highly charged emotional moment. I don’t always do the right thing. I’m still learning, too.

A few weeks ago, I told Husband I wanted to see my father again. Husband wondered why after fifteen years I wanted to resume a relationship. Understandably, he was protective of me. The last time I went home I had a small relapse when I was caught off guard by another piece of my past.

ME: I just don’t want that to be the end of the story. When I have children, I want them to know their grandpa. I don’t want to tell them this terrible story of how we parted. I want it to be different.

I was prepared for the worst. My father had suffered severe brain trauma. He was a known alcoholic and drug user. There was something with a long technical term that chronic alcoholics can suffer from in which they have no short-term memory. It’s like a blackout, explained my therapist, T; he may have no recollection of meeting you. There’s a possibility he may not know you.

I called my sister-cousin, D, and asked her if she knew anyone from the old neighborhood who could find my father. She called M. M called a family friend, “born-again” L. He contacted some of the beat police in the area where he thought my father lived. After three days, L learned that my father lived in a shady house, essentially a crack house. L said the house was rough; he once lived in it at his lowest point before he turned himself around. It was in a less than great part of town. L said he could bring my father to a safer meeting place.

Monday came, and L couldn’t make it. I still wanted to see my dad, so I asked D if she would take the train with me. After an hour and a half of travel on the CTA, it turned out my father wasn’t staying in the worst part of town. He lived in my old neighborhood. We knocked on a door to a house that didn’t look shady from the outside other than a foreclosure sticker on the front door. No one answered. We called the landlord for the building. She hadn’t heard of the person we were asking for. We called L one more time. The landlord called back and said my dad was at a bus stop across from Walgreens.

Everyone told me to be prepared, to know what it was I wanted to say to my dad, to know what I wanted to get from this meeting. When I saw him, I said the only thing I could think to say.

ME: Hey old man.

I hugged him. Glad he was still alive.

We both cried until we laughed.

We went to a small restaurant. I had tacos. He had a burrito. I don’t remember what D had. I did my best to catch him up on my life. He did the same. He said when he got the call from L he stayed sober for our meeting. He didn’t do hard drugs anymore. He didn’t drink hard liquor, only beer, at night to help him fall asleep. He was waiting on his social security so he could put a down payment on a house or maybe an apartment. He spent the days helping others when he could, shoveling snow and whatnot. The folks in the elderly home had given him a chair to sit on at the bus stop. He fed the sparrows. He tried to keep busy. He could only listen to music and watch TV so much before he got bored.

He told me he wasn’t jumped in the park. He said he went to help a man push his car out of the snow behind Walgreens, and when he went to help him, he was smashed in the head with a bottle and beaten. His assailants got thirty dollars.

I wish they had just asked for his thirty dollars. Sometimes when I see people pan handling on the street I give them money. I can’t help it. They’re asking. If they spend the money on bus fare or drugs, that’s a problem as society we have to fix together. They’re still asking, not mugging, not robbing.

My father showed me a thin line that extended ear to ear on the back of his neck. It was his scar from brain surgery.

The things I wanted to say were slow coming. I was nervous and anxious to get back to a normal relationship with him. We went to a thrift store in search of an ugly Christmas sweater. We wandered through the isles.

ME: Should I get this withered Nome that looks remarkably similar to Wizzo and contains the soul of a wealthy Egyptian Pharos waiting for a body? It probably was accidently lost to the family sworn to protect it…

Dad: Sure. Everyone needs a souvenir.

I put Wizzo back on the shelf. I had already gotten a T-shirt with thirteen hidden horses as a souvenir earlier in the trip. I asked him if he wanted any clothes. He said he had a whole box full. People gave them to him. He still collected flannels.

I didn’t want our meeting to end. I dragged him to a dollar store and demanded he purchase some beef jerky and books, another small Christmas present to go along with what I had originally brought him: a copy of his father’s manuscript and a story I wrote for him.

He threw in a chocolate bar that donated money to literacy. What the hell. It was Christmas after all. I pulled him into the post office where we got some Ray Charles stamps, so he could write me.

ME: That’ll give you something to do when you’re bored.

I stumbled through his world until I got back on the bus with a hurried Merry Christmas thrown over my shoulder. There were so many other words I wanted to say, but did not know how. It wasn’t until the plane ride home that I started to untangle what had happened. What I truly wanted to say.

Dad,

Your story does not begin with the reason you were jumped. It starts when a stranger found you on the ground, near dead.

I ask myself, who that stranger was. Did she happen to own a small restaurant, make tacos and burritos and keep a ton of plants? Did I throw a thank you over my shoulder as we walked out because whatever I felt inside I did not know how to say? It could have been anyone who called for you. Could have been a bus driver. Could have been an employee at Walgreens. Could have been someone old. Could have been someone young.

Who was the emergency dispatcher that took that call?

Who drove the ambulance that took you to the hospital?

Who were the first cops on the scene?

Who was the brain surgeon that performed your operations?

Did they know they’d probably never get paid monetarily for their work?

Did they know if the person on their operating table had insurance?

I bet they didn’t even question it.

Who was the first person you saw when you opened your eyes?

Who really sat by your bed for four months?

Who helped you learn to walk and talk again?

Who told you to keep going when I’m sure you may not have wanted to?

Who gave you the clothes that kept you warm?

Who ran the food pantries that now fed you?

Do these people know I wanted to thank you for all you did for me when I was growing up? You let me paint my room green and built floor to ceiling bookshelves in there for your paperbacks. I remember your paperbacks, covers with Conan the Barbarian and scantily clad women cowering behind sword wielding men with way too much dragon in the background. I look back and think in your own way you were trying to surround me with the things you loved. You should see my bookshelves now. I bought forty-seven books only yesterday from the thrift store. Seven cents each. Three rooms in my house are painted green.

Did you know I still remember the Christmas Eve you walked a mile in the snow to the only place open, Walgreens, to get me an alarm clock?

Who worked that Christmas Eve shift when they could have been home with their own families?

Do all these people know that they kept you alive so I could thank you?

Do all these people know we are connected?

Do all these people know how grateful I am?

Do they know that I don’t only think about it when I’m on buses or airplanes?

Dad, did you know I saw you in a stranger’s eyes a few months ago? I told myself that stranger wasn’t you—I only wanted to see you.

Because of all those people I was able to.

Dad, do you know life is not about the past or the future but the moment in which we live?

I think you do.

I may throw “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas” over my shoulder, but I’m not too busy to know what they really mean. Dad, I know how hard it was for you to see me. If we had fought during our meeting, it could have led to a relapse on your part, too.

Do the people that brought us back together know that I have a good story to tell your grandchildren someday?

I hope they do.

I love you. Thank you.

It reads "thanks"

We as a society are doing our best to address the problem of homelessness in America. I was once told if one person in the world loves you don’t give up, you have a reason not to be homeless. Below is a list of resources supported by thousands of people that love and care for those in rough situations. There is no choice so bad that one can’t recover from it.

 

 

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

 

Homeless Shelters Directory

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Street Wise

http://streetwise.org/

SAMSHA

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

US Department of Health and Human Services

http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=28

Narcotics Anonymous

http://www.na.org/

NAMI

National Alliance on Mental Illness

www.nami.org

United States Department of Labor

http://www.dol.gov/dol/audience/aud-homeless.htm

If you or someone you know would like to donate items, money, or time, thousands of shelters across America are in need.

I found this list on Sojourner’s* website  as an example of items that may be needed in local shelters near you.

Monetary donations:

 

$35.00

Helps offset costs of children’s activity groups

$55.00

Helps to feed shelter residents for one day

$250.00

Supports time required to obtain an Order for Protection

 

Goods:

-Diapers and Pull-Ups

-Clothing: Contact for specific needs

-African-American Hair Products. Recommended brands include: Ultra Sheen, Pink Lotion, Motions, Cream of Nature, Do Grow, Super Grow, Olive Oil. We’ve found that Walgreens carries the following at very good prices: Organica Hair Food, Shea Butter, Africa’s Best and Coconut Hair Oil.

-Baby wipes (Sensitive Skin)

-Cleaning Supplies (especially bleach, dish soap, floor cleaner and multi-purpose cleaning liquid)

-Paper Products: Paper towels, plates, bowls, etc.

-Twin Sized Plastic Mattress Covers

-Tampons

-Women’s Socks and underwear

-Bulk sized non-perishable healthy snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, juice boxes, etc)

-Office Supply Gift Cards

-Target Gift Cards

*Sojourner is a local woman and children’s shelter in MN. For specific donations to Sojourner, please call the Program Support Coordinator at 952-351-4062.

**Whenever I go on trips I stock up on all the free lotions, shampoos, etc. By the end of the year I bring them in to the shelter. I heard you can drop off these items at REI and they will pass the donations on for you.

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Filed under Books, Growing up, Holidays, Homelessness, Life, Literature, Love, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Snow, Writing