Friday, September 28, 2007

So what can you do with your writing?
"KL" left a comment yesterday saying that s/he has written a book/journal on her/his bipolar experience, and asking what to do with it. Here are some thoughts....

1) Have you shared any of it with others close to you? This is a very personal decision, of course, but you may want to think about how it would feel to allow others to read or listen to some of your words. In some cases, this can help a loved one, friend, doctor or therapist to better understand your experiences and concerns, and can even help you connect with those people. If you're feeling uncertain about this, think about starting by just sharing a page or two of your writing. Also, it may feel safest to begin by sharing with your mental health care professional, then discussing how it would be to share with others.

2) If you're thinking about sharing your work with a wider audience by publishing it in some form, you'll probably have the most luck by starting with small portions of your book, and by looking at specialized mental health publications or websites. The Awakenings Project (link at the right side of this page) accepts submissions of writing by mental health care consumers such as us for publication in their literary journal Awakenings. I've published some poetry there, and they put out a lovely magazine/journal. See the site or contact them about when the next issue will be published.

Keep your eye on the NAMI and DBSA websites and publications too (links at right). They sometimes offer contests for writing about mental illness. (Darn! NAMI's ended today.) (I think DBSA is still accepting art and film on depression and bipolar in a related contest.) Also, these two organizations often accept consumer's writing about their illness experience for their state or local newsletters, so get on the list for those or call and ask if they'll take submissions. I published an article in the California NAMI newsletter several months ago.

If you check around mental health websites, I think you'll find some places to share your words too, whether by publishing articles or by more informal journal postings. This can be a nice way to communicate with others coping with mood disorders. NOTE: If you find any good sites like this, please let me know! I'll be researching this soon for my upcoming book, Writing through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen, due out in spring next year. (OK, I had to get in a plug!)

Finally, you can start looking at publishing articles drawn from your journal in general-audience publications. Again, your best bet is to start with smaller ones, and work your way up.

KL and others, let me know what you do with your writing. It can be so valuable in helping both you and others you might decide to share it with.

Best regards,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

TO WRITE: Is That Really Reasonable?
I believe I'm a reasonable person most of the time. OK, reasonably reasonable. But what is "reason"? A student offered this writing topic the other day, and I was intrigued, especially about reason's role in our mental health.

Is reason just what you used to solve geometry problems in high school? I don't think so. I believe reason -- thinking things through -- comes into play at every moment of our lives. And I believe it affects our depression too. The thoughts we use to interpret the world we live in, and the decisions we make on how to act all require reason as well as emotion.

Using reason to battle depression: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is known to relieve depression by helping a person to identify her immediate thoughts about something, to evaluate them, and to change them if they are unrealistic. When I learned about it, for example, I saw that I tend to do "either-or thinking" -- that is, I see things in black and white sometimes. Once I knew this, I could begin to change it, to use reason to replace distorted thinking patterns with more realistic, healthier ones. In my case, I could tell myself, "This event isn't all good or all bad; it has elements of both, so I don't need to be so extremely upset about it." Working this out could leave me feeling less disturbed or depressed.

Play with this. . .
Do you rely on reason or emotion more when you interpret a difficult event you're involved with? How about when you think about your own role in that event? Write continuously for 20 minutes, describing how you logically reasoned your way through, or reacted with a gut feeling, when something occurred that seemed depressing.

Then reflect: Were you satisfied with the balance of reason and emotion you used to react? Is that balance typical for you? Do you want to adjust it at all? Note: If you want to further explore this issue, there are some great workbooks on CBT available at bookstores, or you could ask your health care professional about a referral to a CBT-trained therapist.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TO WRITE: A Gift You've Given
I've never handed my mom $5 million, or given my husband the keys to a Ferrari, much as all three of us might like that. Still, I have given lots of Christmas and birthday presents over the years. And I hope I have given more than that too. What comes to mind when you ponder gifts you've given to someone?

Was there something chosen with great thought? Something handmade? Something old and sentimental? A personal letter or card with kind words?

When I look at gifts from a larger perspective, I hope I've helped a few people to learn things in my various teaching positions. If you're a teacher of any kind, you've certainly got this covered. I think I've helped a few younger people, such as nephews, to see more of the world and discover their own ideas and thoughts. If you're a parent, you've surely given enormously of this gift.

Play with this. . . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes on a gift you've given someone. Tell the story of what happened and how it felt during and after the giving. Also consider what it meant to the recipient, how it was received, and what it meant to you.

After you write, identify how you feel. Pleased? Proud? Unsure? Disappointed? Angry? How does this make you feel about giving in the future? Perhaps there are unsaid complements you'll want to write and send. Perhaps you'll find you have been hurt and you want to stop giving to this person. You may want to write for another 10 minutes or so on these feelings and plans.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

TO WRITE: An "Aha!" Moment

We've all had them, though for me they don't come quite as often as I'd like: moments of sudden clarity, insight, or understanding.

For me, these flashes often occur either during a dream, or just as I'm awakening from some important-feeling dream. I suppose that mysterious sub-conscious mind is working overtime to get the message up to the surface where I can identify it. But I've also had "aha" moments when studying complicated calculus formulas or biochemical cycles. Somehow, sometimes, that period of long, arduous concentration pays off when it all clicks.

For those of us battling mood disorders, it's always important to be open to new insights about what troubles us and what we can do about it. For example, it took me a long time to figure out why I frequently belittled myself about a particular past event -- then it dawned on me one day that perhaps another person bore some responsibility there too. This was a moment of great relief for me, as well as a time of bewilderment: Why didn't I think of that before?

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes on a time you felt a moment of clarity or insight. What was it about? Did something special trigger it? How did it feel?

Then consider: What does this incident tell you about yourself or the particular ways your unique mind thinks and feels? Was the flash you described useful for you? Are there any ways you could replicate the situation in order to invite more such insights? (Personally, I think I will return to my old habit of recording my dreams in the mornings!)