Stories of Hope: Your Life is Worth Fighting For

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by psychologist David Susman for his series, Stories of Hope, which features individuals sharing their experiences with mental illness and recovery.

Here are my words of encouragement to anyone out there fighting a battle:

“Don’t give up. No matter how horrible, how hopeless, or how dark life seems right now, never, ever stop fighting. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. Even if you don’t think anyone cares — I do. We may never meet, but I do care. I know your pain and your chaos. I know how awful it feels, how much you wish you could just go to sleep and never wake up. But take it one day at a time, one hour, one minute, one second — whatever it takes to get through. Just promise me you won’t give up, okay? Your battle is worth fighting, and your life is worth fighting for. There are wonderful things ahead of you, but you have to be alive for them. Stay strong.”

You can check out the entire interview here!

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It’s OK to not feel cheery

First of all, I want to say Merry Christmas to everyone. I know the holidays can be a hard time of year for some, especially those living with mental illness.

Christmas last year was difficult for me. I was in the midst of a horrible depressive episode. I’d hide in a bathroom stall at work when everything inside my head became too overwhelming, and I’d sit there, my face buried in my hands, and choke down the sobs that threatened to escape. Christmas music played overhead all month long, but they only added to my loneliness. Everyone, coworkers and customers included, was so cheerful and bubbly. And there I was, just fighting to get through each moment without breaking down.

Trust me, I know how hard the holidays can be. Christmas Day rolls around, and you don’t even want to move, let alone get out of bed. You feel guilty when you open presents from family, because you have to pretend to be excited. But inside, really, you just feel like you’re dying, like you’re about to crack and shatter into a million little pieces on the floor. You wish everyone would just go home already, so you can curl up in a ball. Pretending to be a ray of fucking sunshine is a lot of work. It drains you. By the time you’re finally alone and can curl up in bed, you hope you can go to sleep and never wake up.

But I want to tell you that it’s OK to not be full of Christmas cheer. You don’t have to feel guilty or get down on yourself if you’re not feeling well. You shouldn’t feel like you’re a bad person if you didn’t have the energy to send out Christmas cards. No one is going to think badly of you.

Surviving mental illness is no small feat. The “most wonderful time of the year” can make us feel even more alone when we’re simply fighting to get through each hour, each minute, each second. We see everyone around us, or so it seems, and they all seem to be so happy; and we think, “Why can’t that be me?” And, sometimes, it makes us feel so bad and alone that we wish we were dead.

Finding the courage and will to stay alive is the best gift you can give. It is far more special than anything you can buy in a store. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s OK to say, “Hey, I’m not OK.”

As always, you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1 (800) 273-8255

No matter what, stay safe. Being alive is the best gift you can give.

A Memoir (Stepping out of my comfort zone)

After I published Waiting for You in September, I started working on a sequel to it, Forget Me Not, a Women’s Fiction story that focuses on Kylie’s life as a journalist. I really haven’t gotten much on it — a measly 17,000 words — and have hit a slump with it. I had written a rough outline, but still can’t seem to jumpstart my creativity with it.

For quite some time, I’d been toying with the idea of stepping out of my comfort genres of Romance and Women’s Fiction and dipping my toes into the waters of murder mysteries and Suspense. These are actually some of my favorite genres to read. For some reason, though, I just can’t seem to come up with any solid ideas. I have zero experience writing crime (although I do watch plenty of Criminal Minds and CSI, thanks to my husband).

Instead, I’ve decided (maybe!) on something else — a memoir about my life with bipolar disorder, psychiatric hospitals, and being a shock therapy patient.

I had immediately thought, “Well, I already know off the top of my head about two memoirs that already exist for mental illness. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison and A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. Why should I bother?”

I’ve read Jamison’s memoir of bipolar disorder. Believe me, it’s a superb book. She’s highly regarded as an expert in mental health. I highly recommend An Unquiet Mind. I actually gave it to my husband to read, long before we were married. He has pages marked and dog-eared for passages that helped him understand my illness. I’ve never read Styron’s book, so I can’t really comment on it.

But perhaps I can offer a new perspective as a shock therapy patient. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know the first thing about writing a memoir. I tried to do a bit of research, then just decided to start writing. I’m still undecided if it’s something I’ll ever actually complete, but it’s becoming a nice little break from writing fiction. Mind you, it’s just a first draft, but here is a little of what I’ve written:

“I wanted to teach high school Spanish. Ever since I began studying a state-required foreign language in seventh grade, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

***

The beeping of the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, both diligently displaying my liveliness in unwavering solidarity, have become so commonplace to my ears. Sensory adaptation, I think they call it, is when your body ceases to notice stimuli, minutiae things like the smell of your own perfume or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, because it is no longer deemed a threat to your wellbeing. I’m no longer overwhelmed by the number of nurses and doctors standing around me, all towering over me while I lie perfectly still on the gurney, as they quickly apply electrodes to my head, behind my ears, my chest, my side, even the top of my right foot with surprising ease and familiarity, like they’ve done it thousands of times before. I don’t even flinch when the nurse sticks me with a needle to set up my intravenous line, or when I feel the familiar burn of the anesthesia rushing its way up the veins in my arm and to my heart, where the fist-sized organ pumps the medicine to the rest of my body until, like flicking off a light switch, I’m asleep.

You see, I am a shock therapy patient. Electroconvulsive therapy is the proper term for getting your brain electrocuted, but I won’t get into the semantics of it. As I sit here writing this, I am already gearing myself up for my twenty-fifth treatment, which will be in a week-and-a-half’s time. I guzzle more water and cut back on my superfluous coffee consumption, all in hopes of only having to be stuck once for my IV. My veins are small (and I think they have an affinity for hiding from the impending sting), and for at least one third of my previous twenty-four treatments, the nurses have had a difficult time sticking me. Both my hands and the inside of my right wrist are dotted with faint scars from the IV needles. I am naturally pale and I scar easily, so it’s to be expected.

When the treatment is over and done, five to ten minutes at most, I wake up in the recovery room. Waking up from anesthesia is a bizarre feeling; it’s like stumbling through groggy darkness, and you think, “No! Can I please sleep just a little bit longer? I’m still so tired.” Your entire body feels heavier than an immovable, giant rock, and you wish you could just lie there forever without being disturbed. But then the recovery room nurse bustles over to start waking you up, and you do so grudgingly while she takes your blood pressure and removes the IV. Then she puts you in a wheelchair while your family member pulls the car up to the front of the building, and you are wheeled out and sent on your way. That, at least, is how my outpatient treatments go.

I suppose I should go back in time, back about twelve years ago to my sophomore year of high school, long before I ever knew that one day I would be an electroconvulsive therapy patient.”

What are your thoughts on stepping out of your genre comfort zone? Have you ever tried writing something totally different?

What is Success? ~Success and Mental Illness

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be successful. For some people, being successful means making a lot of money, reaching the top of the ladder in their careers, or maybe even being famous. I was asked recently, in the simplest of terms, why I’m not more successful in life, why didn’t I have a big, fancy career: “You’re so intelligent. Why do you work in retail?”

In no way did I take any offense. It wasn’t said with any malice or with any condescending tones. It was a genuine question. Yes, I speak enough Spanish that I can help customers who speak very little English. Yes, I write books. But it really did get me thinking…

What is success?

I hate calling bipolar disorder a disability, but in some ways it is. My work actually has the option for employees to identify themselves as disabled, and bipolar disorder is on that list. I refuse to check that little box to identify myself as disabled. But having a mental illness, I believe, has held me back from more options. I don’t want it to be seen as an excuse to not do more, but it has limited my options.

I will probably never have a big, fancy career. I may never finish college and get my degree. Stress is a huge trigger for episodes for me, and I can’t risk slipping into mania or depression. Both states are extremely dangerous for me, and both can be extremely debilitating.

But this doesn’t mean I’m not successful in life. Success can be found in the little, daily nuances in life. This is true for everyone, not just those living with mental illnesses.

Yesterday, I didn’t feel depressed or manic.
Yesterday, I didn’t let my anxiety get the best of me, and I was able to overcome it.
Yesterday, I sat down and worked on my novel.
Yesterday, I was able to make someone laugh.
Yesterday, I was thanked for offering someone the opportunity to talk if they needed someone to listen.
Yesterday, I had someone open up to me about a loved one’s suicide attempt, and I shared my own experiences.
Yesterday, l came home to a loving husband.
Yesterday, I continued to break down the stigma of mental illness.

Success doesn’t have to be the big things in life.

Sobriety Anniversary

Today I’m celebrating 7 years sober from alcohol. I had the entire ECT team cheering on Tuesday while they were hooking me up to all the equipment.

On days like today, it feels like it was just yesterday when I was receiving my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, spending my first week in a psychiatric hospital, and beginning my outpatient rehab.

Since that day, August 20, 2008, I haven’t looked back. I work hard to stay sober. I don’t go to bars. I don’t put myself in situations that would jeopardize my sobriety. I’m lucky because my husband doesn’t drink, either.

Sure, I have bad times here and there. But my worst days now are better than my best days back then. I wouldn’t go back to that for anything.

Bipolar Out Loud

Hey, everybody! My second post is now up on Bipolar Out Loud:

Electroconvulsive Therapy and Memory Loss

And here’s my first post: Creative Minds

Check us out! We have some wonderful contributors and articles over there.