Thursday, September 18, 2008

TO WRITE: The Power of Peers
I returned this week from the national conference of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, held in Norfolk, Virginia. The theme of the meeting was "The Power of Peers," and the lectures I attended, the response to the one I presented, and the conversations I had with fellow attendees all underlined for me the importance of this concept. Many at the conference were leaders of local DBSA chapters around the United States; some were peer counselors, peer trainers or peer advocates for mental health parity. Most were also living with depression or bipolar disorder themselves, or had a close family member with one of these illnesses.

I was impressed. I heard from people who focus on reducing the stigma around mental health, from a comedian teaching others with mood disorders to do stand up too, and from good souls who have managed to get Medicare to cover peer counseling for mental illnesses in some places. It felt good to be among so many who have a lot on their plate just dealing with their health challenges, but who then go further and help others who are struggling too. Keynote speaker, renowned author and Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Kay Redfield Jamison proclaimed to great applause: "If you've survived mental illness, you have an obligation to give back."

Play with this. . .
Part 1: Write continuously for 15 minutes on how your peers help you. Do you attend a support group and feel listened to each week? Has a neighbor or friend-of-a-friend ever reported that she has depression too, and that you can call if you need to? What have you read that supported you in understanding your illness and gave you coping ideas (perhaps Jamison's An Unquiet Mind, for example)?

Part 2: Write continuously for 15 minutes again, but now look at how you help your peers with a mood disorder. For example, I'm encouraging people to begin their own writing groups more and more lately, as I've benefited so much from leading mine for these last 10 years. But simply sharing your writing with a peer can provide an enormous support too -- discovering we're not alone in our experiences offers powerful support and healing too. Are there other ways you "give back"?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

TO WRITE: What are you looking at?
I'm discovering that what everyone told me is true -- being a mom is a non-stop job. But, oh, are we having fun! And even when a break presents itself, like naptime for baby (when Mom can write a quick blog posting) or when Dad arrives home from work (and plays with baby) I'm finding it hard to stop watching her. After dinner the other evening, as daughter played happily on the floor by herself, Dad and I thought we would take an opportunity to have an adult conversation; instead we realized we were both silently staring at her with smiles on our faces, intrigued with her games.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes starting with: My eyes were glued to. . . Write a memory of a time you couldn't stop watching something, or write some fiction, creating a short story of someone's visual obsession.

Then, at several times during the day, consider where you focus your attention. Are these the places you'd like to be staring at, or would you like to home in on other, perhaps more "positive," images?