Wednesday, February 27, 2008

TO READ: Today's the Day
I'm very excited to announce to my readers that today my book, Writing through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen, went to press!

Copies will be in bookstores in June. If you find this blog interesting or useful, I think you'll find this book valuable. It's a writing guide that provides a menu of approaches -- freewriting, memoir, poetry and storytelling -- to help cope with the pain and confusion and stigma that surround depression. I also describe my own journey through bipolar depressions, and the exciting research that's been done on the writing-depression connection. Many of the wonderful members of my creative writing group for people with mood disorders that meets at Stanford University have contributed encouraging comments and samples of their work. I hope you'll check it out in June.

-- Beth
TO WRITE: Freedom
I'm reading The End of America by Naomi Wolf, and it's scaring the heck out of me. Wolf's studies indicate that there are ten changes that occur in countries just before they move from a democracy to a fascist state, and that the U.S. is going through all ten right now. Sound alarmist? I thought it would too, but her evidence and her arguments seem very strong so far.

Especially after having lived for several months in the Soviet Union when I was a teen, I value my American freedoms tremendously. For example, we're allowed to say and write what we want, basically. But there are lots of other types of freedom I value too. How about the freedom of spending my life outside of the walls of a mental institution, except under extreme circumstances, when I want to be there anyway? (Granted, we have short forced hospitalizations for those deemed to be putting themselves or others at risk -- what's known as a "5150" here in California.) How about the freedom to decide on how I'll treat my depression? How about the freedom to pursue what I want to do with my time and resources?

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes starting with: "The freedoms I have. . ." You might describe your freedom to wear the clothes or hairstyle you want, the freedom to read what you want, or the freedom to explore the entire Internet, if you are in a country that allows those things. Or you might explain your feelings about a freedom you feel you lack.

Then consider how your freedoms affect your psychological life. Does thinking about them make your life feel a little less confined? How do your thoughts of freedom affect the emotions and thoughts you allow yourself to feel and share?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

TO WRITE: Gimme a Hand
When we're depressed and it's hard to function, it's natural to wish for some help from our doctors, family and friends. That's one reason support groups for mood disorders are growing in popularity, and presumably one reason they've been proven to improve the course of members' depression.

But there's another aspect to this concept of people helping people. When we help someone else we tend to feel much better too. Think about it: How did you feel last time you held a door for someone struggling with packages? How do you feel when someone close says, "Thank you," for listening to their problems or assisting them with some task? I know I immediately feel good about myself -- the complete opposite of the way I usually feel when I'm depressed.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes about a time when you helped someone else. Have you ever given information to someone newly diagnosed with depression, for example? Have you ever given a little money to someone who really needed it? Done any volunteer work?

Then describe how it felt. Maybe it diminished your depression for even just a minute? Is it something you'd like to try to do more of?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TO WRITE: It's a Secret!
Whether you want to admit it or not, you know you've got some. . . . Today I'm thinking of the new hiding place I found for the heart-shaped box of chocolates my husband's not supposed to see until tomorrow. (He recently discovered the behind-the-desk spot I'd used for birthday and Christmas gifts for years.)

Of course, you may have larger issues from the past looming unsaid, or you may have tiny guilty pleasures. You may have secret aspirations too. (Who says writers can't be superheroes or ballerinas on the side?)

Play with this. . .
'Fess up. Remember that this, like any writing, can be hidden, discarded or destroyed as soon as it's finished, so go ahead and let it all out. Write continuously for 20 minutes starting with In my secret life, I. . . .

Then read what you've written and see how you feel. Has a burden been lifted, or perhaps a new idea hatched? Or do you realize that you're really craving a pint of ice cream and an afternoon of soap operas? Let me know what you discover.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


We've all got fears, large or small, significant or pretty trivial, relating to things likely or unlikely to occur. For example, while I'm fortunate to have no major phobias, I am not comfortable with snakes. I can touch, or even hold, someone's pet serpent for a moment, but the idea of suddenly coming across a snake when hiking makes me squeamish, even if I know it's unlikely to be a poisonous one. Still, I do hike, so it hasn't got complete control over me.

A much larger, more significant and, sadly, more likely object of fear for me is the possible return of my severe depression. I know how wrenching, debilitating and even life-threatening that can be. I try to guard against making too much of the issue, but the thought of its return, or the feel of just a small symptom, can strike terror in me.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes about something you are afraid of. It might be a tiny issue or a life-altering one. What is it? How does the thought of it feel emotionally and in your body? Have you ever faced this thing head-on? Would you want to?

Then write for five more minutes, considering: If someone were to help you with this fear, what should she or he do? Maybe reassurance is what you need. Maybe someone to hold your hand on that plane trip. Maybe a therapist or psychiatrist could help you gradually acclimate to a scary situation. For me, an occasional reminder before hiking that most snakes really are much more afraid of me than I am of them is probably what is called for. Oh, and maybe sturdy hiking boots too.