Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TO WRITE: Is There a Book In You?
This weekend I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference for three long intensive days. I came away with new information, contacts, publishing leads and ideas. But one comment I recall, made by a presenter, really made me smile: Everyone has a book in them.

I think it's true. How often have you heard someone discuss an experience or a passion and say, "I could write a book." Maybe you've thought it too -- "My life could be a book!" Those of us who've struggled with depression or other mental illnesses may be especially prone to this, wishing we could accurately communicate to others what bizarre and painful journeys we've been through. Whether it's a manual on collecting toy trains, a steamy romance novel, a family history, or a memoir of your illness, most people I've asked about this do feel they have a book "in them."

Play with this ...
Imagine you were to sit down at the kitchen table and start writing or typing your first book. What would it be about? What would you really like to say to the world and leave behind in perpetuity? It doesn't need to be brilliant or perfect, it just needs to be from your unique perspective, as it will be. Now write continuously for 20 minutes on what you'd like to say to people about something you know well or can imagine well. You may feel lighter after pinpointing what you'd like to get out. And, who knows, maybe this will trigger you to pick up your pen again and begin Chapter 1!

Monday, February 19, 2007

TO READ: Human Brain Cells That Continuously Regenerate Discovered
A site in the human brain in which new nerve cells are constantly being regenerated has just been identified for the first time. Researchers are excited that the results open wide the possibility of repairing the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, and even treating brains damaged from injury or other diseases.

These newly discovered stem cells travel from just below fluid-filled chambers or "ventricles" of the brain, through a microscopic tube, to the area of the brain that deals with smell, morphing into new nerve cells along the way. The results, reported by scientists in New Zealand and Sweden, was published in the journal Science, according to BBC News. This cellular system had previously been identified in mice, rats and other species, but not in humans, and its detection encourages researchers that these animal models are applicable to humans.

For decades, scientists believed that the brain did not develop any new nerve cells after birth, but that theory has been disproven in recent years. Thus, as in this situation involving the brain's "olfactory bulb," the brain can grow new nerve cells to respond to different stimuli encountered throughout a person's life. Brain cells and the connections between them deteriorate or die in certain diseases. In mental illnesses such as depression, subtle changes in the brain's cellular structure have been identified in recent years too, but little is known yet about those alterations.

For more information: BBC News 2/16/2007.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

TO WRITE: Life's "Grand Essentials" Amid Depression
A writing student recently sent me the following quote, and then I saw it elsewhere a couple of days later. I felt it was calling to me.

"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
-- Joseph Addison (1672- 1719)

When depression is lurking or even feels smothering, consider this recipe for happiness. It won't replace your other healing techniques, but for me, it provides perspective, a sense that life isn't as complicated as it sometimes feels, and gratitude. Every time I use it to take stock of my situation I come up with different responses. They don't need to be big things either - coffee with a friend, a soft cat, and looking forward to a positive new volunteer job have been fulfilling for me.

Play with this...
Take 20 minutes to respond to the Addison quote. List several things in each of the three categories if you like, then reflect (in writing) on what they mean to you in terms of your emotions and mood. Does imagining these things in your life leave you a little more satisfied, or does it feel discouraging? If it's the latter, are there tiny things you could work on in these areas of your life that might bring more contentment?
TO READ: Peer Support Study Results Extremely Positive
I just read the results of several research studies that asked: What benefits do peer support programs offer to mental health consumers? The answers, on the website of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.dbsalliance.org), were astounding.

In these programs, consumers act as trained service providers to others with mental health issues to: help them develop self-management skills, aid in restoring social roles such as work, and encourage them to find - and commit to - more effective care for their illness. Organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) offer such peer-to-peer training programs.

In Canada, research on a program known as the Consumer/Survivor Initiatives found very positive results in terms of mental health symptoms, recovery support, and reduced use of hospital and emergency services. The CSI report found:

-- The average number of hospital days for participants dropped from 48 to 4.
-- More than $12 million was saved in reduced hospital stays for three hospitals over one year.
-- Self-described "lonely" consumers who were partnered with a peer mentor used on average $20,300 less per person in hospital and emergency services in the one year post discharge.

I've known many people who've benefited from peer services, as well as informal friendships and support groups, but I still found the degree of these improvements amazing. It seems obvious that training peers to provide such support - which I believe benefits them as well - should be a priority in all mental health care systems.

Monday, February 05, 2007

TO WRITE: Finding Your Own Deep Wisdom
I taught a creative writing workshop at a spiritual retreat among the redwoods in Aptos, California this weekend. In one exercise, we used the following Native American quote, followed by a short guided meditation, to access our inner wisdom as presented by an animal. As you try this freewrite, remember not to think too much -- you're simply there to take dictation.

Play With This...
This quote is from J. Reuben Silverbird (Navajo/Apache):

We must listen
to the wisdom of
the Animals of the
Four Nations:
Forest, Land, Water & Sky.
With this in mind, close your eyes and visualize yourself walking alone. You might be in the forest, the desert, on a beach or a mountaintop. Ahead you see movement. As you approach, you see it's an animal. As you near it, the animal begins to speak to you. When you're ready, open your eyes and take at least five minutes to write down what the animal says to you.
Later, reread what you wrote and reflect on what meaning those words might have for you. You, like some others, may find that this sort of exercise, like a dream, provides insights into your life and current issues, particularly if you consider the possible symbolism in what is revealed. If it is useful for you, you may want to try it again in another setting or with another animal.