Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TO WRITE: What a Disappointment
I'm back after a several-day hiatus brought on by a severe disappointment. As I described recently, my husband and I have been waiting for our assignment to a specific child we will be able to adopt very soon. The great news: We got darling photos and a report on an 18-month old little girl. The awful news a few days later: Her medical reports indicated she was at risk for very serious neurological and developmental disabilities. Our lives crashed.

Long story short: After days of research, second and third medical opinions, consultations, counseling and soul-searching, we declined to adopt the child. Our adoption agency strongly recommended that course of action, saying that she would very soon be adopted by a family trained and authorized for a special needs child, which we are not. Meanwhile, we'll be assigned another little one soon.

I've felt as depressed lately as I have in over a year, and my husband and I have been terrified that I'll really slide seriously. However, we got away from the Bay Area and spent several days hiking in the Sierras last week. Near a river rushing with melting snowpack, with wildflowers coming up everywhere, we created a small ritual, telling this child we'll never meet that we love her and won't forget her, and letting her go. And we began to heal.

Play with this. . .
Think of a significant disappointment you've faced in the past. Write continuously for 20 minutes, describing the situation and your thoughts and feelings about it. (Remember, describing both your thoughts and feelings has been shown to be more healing than just writing about one.) Then describe how you have coped with that disappointment. Did you talk with someone, take some concrete action, let time slowly soften the feeling?

Keep in mind too that you have survived and, by the very fact that you're here, it's clear that you've coped or you're coping with the situation. That thought has helped me lately. It hurts sometimes, but I'm still moving on. -- Beth

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

TO WRITE: Who are You on Meds?
This morning's New York Times features an essay asking: If you've grown up on antidepressants, or even been on them a long time as an adult, do you still have a sense of who you are?

I know my mood is dramatically better, my thoughts less self-critical and morbid and out-of-touch, on my medication. But after more than 20 years on the stuff, who am I? There are things I notice: It 's very hard for me to feel really excited happiness (perhaps due to my mood stabilizer?) and I physically am unable to cry except in the most extreme situations (Have all those antidepressants pumped me up that much?). But I wonder if there's more.

According to the article, by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., we know very little about the long-term effects of these medicines. The studies generally focus on people's reactions for only 4-12 weeks. The longest maintenance study so far has been on Effexor, and lasted two years. (It was better than a placebo at preventing relapses.)

Play with this. . .
Writing continuously for 20 minutes, compare what you notice about yourself on and off medicines. Consider your moods, your thoughts, your feelings, your bodily symptoms, and how long you've taken these drugs. Do your meds affect you ability to work or study, or your relationships? And do they affect your "sense of who you are"?

Hopefully, you'll conclude that you're heading in the direction that is healthiest for you. If not, talk with your mental health care provider.

Monday, April 07, 2008

TO READ: Genetic Testing for Bipolar
How would you feel if your psychiatrist could simply run a blood test to diagnose bipolar disorder? Recent research describes early studies that do just that. According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) press release, University of Southern California scientists have identified 10 specific genes involved in mood state. Using blood tests to determine whether each gene is active, and correlating this information with 29 bipolar patients' mood states, they found that eventually they could actually predict moods.

So what do you think? Is this what we've been seeking all along -- a definitive diagnosis that might mean more accurate and faster-working treatments? Or do you worry about that information falling into the wrong hands? And would this genetic information lead to more stigmatization (ie -- you're definitely "mentally ill") or less (ie -- it's clearly a biological issue, not a character weakness)?

According to NAMI, MSNBC.com did a poll of 10,000 readers and found that 83% thought a blood test would be a good idea since it could help patients get appropriate treatment. I suspect a poll of 10,000 people with mood disorders would yield much more mixed results.

Friday, April 04, 2008

TO WRITE: A Turn for the Better
I'll keep things short and simple and sweet today. . . I'm nervously listening for the phone to ring with a call from the adoption agency saying they've got our first photos of our daughter-to-be! At that point my husband and I will dash to San Francisco to get them. Today (hopefully, hopefully) will be one of the best days of our lives!

Which brings me to today's topic -- an optimistic one that my Stanford group wrote on this week. They wrote very briefly, but their responses were so powerful that I assigned them to write more on this as homework.

Play with this. . .
Here's the prompt: Life took a turn for the better when. . .

Quick! Write down the first thing that comes into your head. Write on it for just three minutes.

Then, write continuously and powerfully for 20 more minutes on this life-changing thing or person or event. And enjoy! (I think my life might just "take a turn for the better" today -- and you can bet I'll write on it!)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

TO READ: Blogging to Beat Depression?
Millions of us blog these days. Among other things, blogging offers an opportunity to create a diary that includes emotions, as well as events, to share with others. But is blogging, like some other forms of writing, able to help ease depression?

Australian researcher James Baker of the Swinburne University of Technology says yes -- but for a surprising reason.

Baker has found that, in fact, people who begin blogs tend to be "more distressed emotionally" than others. As he told an ABC Online interviewer last month, new bloggers show "high levels of stress, anxiety, depression. They are also more likely to vent emotionally and self blame a bit as far as coping."

However, when Baker surveyed about 130 people, 60 of whom then started a blog, he discovered that two months later the bloggers had changed. They were "a bit happier overall . . . a little bit less distressed," he reported, "but the big difference was that people who actually started a blog felt more socially integrated." This feeling of connection comes from the fact that bloggers are making personal material public, receiving comments, and developing a sense of an online community.

He suggests that, ironically, perhaps people's private postings can help them become more connected to the outside world and, along with that, less depressed.

Sounds a lot like the findings I report in Writing through the Darkness: sharing what you've written is often an important part of the healing process. So, whether you're currently journaling, writing poetry, or, hopefully, doing the exercises suggested in this blog, consider sharing them, either online or person-to-person.