Bipolar Disorder Days: One Woman’s Experience by Jen Locke

I met Jen Locke when we were freshman in college. We both shared a love of books, pop culture, cats, political discussion and writing. You best know her as a guest writer whose reviews and various opinions have been published at this very blog.

There is another thing Jen and I share, battles with mental illness. Jen has chosen to share her battle with bipolar disorder by writing this essay. Thank you Jen for sharing your store. You are a very brave woman.

It’s a full-time job in itself. That’s why I’m not working. Bipolar disorder is tough. There’s no finding the right medicinal cocktail and just leaving it. Every day is another self-assessment.

Am I feeling happy? Am I thinking faster than I can keep up? I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s a unique, surreal experience. Am I talking fast? Jumping from topic to topic? Is it the normal topic jumping or excessive topic jumping? Am I being inappropriately boisterous? Am I confident that I’m invincible? Am I seeking out risky situations? Am I aggressive? Am I getting angry easily? Do I think I have an unrealistic amount of power? Am I scaring others? Yes? No? To what degree? Is this just a one-off? Should I be worried?

Truth is, if I’m cognizant enough to ask those questions, I’m not fully manic yet. Chances are, though, that it feels too good in this state to want to attempt to rein it in. So even if the answers come up as yes, I won’t bother doing anything about it. I want to feel this way. This is feeling good. This is the me that people like. This is the me I like to present to people.

If I’m truly manic, I won’t be able to even consider the idea that I’m manic. Good luck trying to get me to look at my behavior. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have to coax me from that state into being calmer without me knowing it. You’re going to have to trick me into mellowing out. And then I might consider your suggestion that I might have been manic. Most likely, though, I’ll just keep going until I crash. I’ll survive without much sleep for weeks and become productive in ways you don’t think I can. I’ll feel like, and perhaps claim that, I can do anything.

When my medications are right and I’m doing well, I’m pretty even-tempered. I can laugh, cry, and feel much of what ‘normal’ people can. There’s a limit, though. I can’t find that elation that used to make me do leprechaun leaps on the sidewalk. I can’t feel the deep sorrow appropriate in tragic situations. The intensity of those emotions is dampened. It’s probably for the best. Feeling intensely up or down, even fleetingly, may be enough to trigger a coinciding episode. No matter how good the cocktail of drugs is, it can’t prevent episodes being triggered.

Sometimes I’ll be tired all the time for no reason. Sleeping 9 or more hours a day. Feeling unmotivated when I’m alone. I’ll have to be like this for a while before I notice that it’s happening. I’ll skip work. Or volunteering. Or social events. Yet often, to everyone else I seem fine. Sometimes someone will tell me how I appear, and I might listen. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m okay. I’ll brush it off the first 700 times. Keep asking if my behavior doesn’t change or gets worse. Please keep asking until I realize and open up. If I catch myself here and get a medication change to help, I can recover fairly quickly from the slight depression. By fairly quickly, I mean a month or two. If this goes unchecked, it will only get worse.

I’ll stop showering. I’ll stay home from everything. I’ll stop reading, knitting, playing with the pets, talking to people, listening to music, and doing anything that makes me feel good. I’ll skip cooking and only eat things I can eat straight out of the cabinet or fridge. I’ll stop going to bed and just sleep on the couch night after night, or day after day. Or I’ll stop getting out of bed and just spend all day, every day, in bed. I’ll think about how I’m a drain on everyone I know, that no one would really want to be associated with me if they knew who I really am. I’ll see my existence as a negative splotch on the Earth. I’ll consider different ways of dying. Ways to make it look accidental. Ways to be sure it won’t fail. Absurd ways that might at least make people laugh. Devastating ways to make other people understand the pain I feel every day. If I feel this bad, why shouldn’t everyone? I’ll hate myself, my life, and everything in existence. Ultimately, after contemplating all of this, I’ll be too depressed to kill myself. Suicide would be too much effort. But I’ll stop doing everything, so if left alone I’ll die of starvation or be forced into some sort of action. Luckily, I have people around me forcing me to stay alive when I’m in this state. As much as I may hate them when they’re doing that job.

I must keep tabs on my emotional state every day. Morning and night. Checking in with myself. Others asking about how I’m doing. If I notice something, keeping mental track of whether it continues (and for how long) or whether it changes. Trying to pinpoint a cause or trigger for a change. Trying to notice if there’s a pattern. If something is getting better. Or worse. Trying to figure out how to fix it. This takes up so much time. And sometimes the mental effort is overwhelming. And I want to do anything other than think about my mental state.

These states have cost me jobs. I’ve been fired and walked off jobs more than I can count. I’ve quit classes. I’ve lost friends because I say no too much. I’ve lost friends because they can’t take the rollercoaster. I don’t blame them.

The cycle happens. Treatment is reactive. It will keep happening. Coming out of a depression I won’t realize I’m getting better and keep taking the same meds. Then I’ll start heading into mania. And at first it feels good, so I won’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’ll break on its own. Sometimes it’ll escalate and send me into a full-blown episode. Then my meds change, and I’ll come down to normal. Maybe adjust my meds again. Then a trigger. Or the meds are heavy on downers and not heavy enough on antidepressants. And down I’ll go, into the deep tunnel of depression. And round and round we go. I’ll quit another job. And get fired from another. I’ll burn bridges like no tomorrow. Yet I will try oh so hard to keep those bridges intact. And balancing all of this becomes a full-time job. And it follows me around. It’s not something I can leave in the office. And then there are all the psychiatrist visits and the therapy sessions. And sorting through causes, learning to deal with them, learning new coping methods, creating new coping methods.

I think the biggest falsehood I have believed about it is that it can be controlled. That if I just learn enough techniques to cope and keep my medicine right, I’ll never have an episode again. But that’s not how it works. Again, treatment is reactive. And living with this is a full-time job. Everything else is a hobby. Maybe someday dealing with bipolar disorder will be a part-time job.

Maybe.

Someday.

Guest Review with Jen Locke: Two Sisters by Kerry Wilkinson

514jq24kq3l

Jen Locke has kindly offered this short but sweet guest review originally published at Good Reads. Thanks Jen!

It’s been a long time since I read a book in a day, and I consumed this one almost all in one swoop. That’s what happens, I guess, when you can’t sleep.

This was intriguing and, dare I say, gripping. I’ve never actually used that word before, thinking it too cliche. But Two Sisters grouted me, so I guess it’s the right word. I’ve gotta take some time to pull my thoughts together and recover from this sleepless night. I’ll update with more thoughts later.

Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

Guest Review: Goodbye, Good Girl By Renee Blossom-Review by Jen Locke

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Jen Locke. She’s written guest reviews for the books The Drowning Guard earlier this year and wrote a review of A Winsome Murder back in 2013. Now she’s back with another review of Renee Blossom’s book Goodbye, Good Girl, which comes out this October.

I really wanted to like this. So many teenagers and children have absent parents. So when a young woman sets off on a quest to rescue her father from perceived life-threatening danger, it’s an incredibly promising story.

Kandace sets off after an event one afternoon when her mother, Ginger, was taken to the ER for an opiate overdose and a strange, well-armed man had entered the family home looking for her father. Kandace thinks her father is a chef who travels the world, cooking for important people. She can’t reach her father – he won’t answer the phone or text her back. After a visit with her mother, who explains there’s an address for him in her bedroom, Kandace decides it’s her responsibility to find him in California and save his life.

When she arrives in St Louis with her boyfriend, he chickens out and goes home because his mom is telling him that’s what he has to do. Kandace isn’t going home. She’s got too much at risk. So she takes off, leaving everything in his car.

She meets April at a bus stop and April recruits her to try exotic dancing – just for one night – to make enough money to get to LA.

As happens too often to young people, Kandace gets addicted to the attention and the highs, even the highs caused by ecstasy. She truly is her mother’s daughter, huh?

Here’s where things get weird. Okay, extra weird. The club in St Louis is like a magical fantasy version of the most dreamy strip club to work at. Maybe clubs like this exist somewhere. Maybe. Probably not. And if they did, they wouldn’t take a new dancer on the same day they met her. But most clubs don’t have magical church women that come with food, gift baskets, and sage advice. They don’t have a beauty, hair, makeup, whatever area. And they definitely don’t have wardrobe. They have a dressing room. With stations that girls stakeout at the beginning of their shifts. They put their belongings, unsecured usually (though there’s usually always someone around to keep everyone honest), by these stations. They bring their own clothes, do their own makeup and hair, and take care of their own personal grooming on their off time. I know, I’ve worked in one such club. And once you’ve seen one, they’re pretty much all the same – give or take a few details here and there.

Blossom takes this opportunity to try her hand at writing light erotica and it sometimes feels forced.

Kandace (aka Autumn) travels from St Louis to Las Vegas to LA, dancing with April the whole way. They became very close friends very quickly and it might be my general outlook on life, but I was waiting for a big betrayal that never happened.

When Kandace and April arrive in LA and locate Kandace’s father, it turns out that he was never in danger. The heavily-armed man who entered her home is someone he knows and is not a threat. Her father is some clandestine operative that cooks sometimes to gain access to events for his work. And by now, this part of the story feels irrelevant.

The entire way, Kandace is incredibly, unbelievably naïve. Even by the end of the book, her actions and assumptions don’t show much evidence of a maturing young woman. She seems to take time to think through her future, but she’s made her decisions long before she admits to them.

I admit it, I was hoping for some awesome story of a young lady saving her father showing ultimate girl power and bringing the family back together again. That was mostly crushed because Kandace was too impulsive. For someone taking on such an important journey, she really didn’t waste time thinking or planning. And to me, that’s a shame. But the other part that drove me insane? Her father’s reaction to the fact that Kandace is now stripping for money. He can’t allow her the space she needs to be herself, to figure herself out, or to make mistakes. He can’t respect her as a human being. He infantilizes her. It’s horrible misogyny and he angered me to no end.

The redeeming thing about the book? So many stories try to tie things up into tidy little bows and make sure that people are happy. That’s not this book. If anything, there’s a much bigger wedge between Kandace and her father. She’s uncomfortable in her hometown. And she’s moving to a city half a continent away, abandoning her mother and sisters who depend on her (truly her father’s daughter, also), to live with a girl she’s known for all of a week. That’s not a happy ending. Not a tragic ending, either. But it’s how things happen in real life. If there’s one thing the author got right, it’s the ending. It’s how things get messy and mistakes get made and sometimes we can’t take them back. And that’s a valuable thing to learn. I admire authors who can take their story to that place without polishing it up all nice and shiny. Thanks for letting us see that our lives aren’t the only crazy lives out there.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Revolve Publishing for the ARC.

Guest Review: The Drowning Guard by Linda Lafferty, review by Jen Locke

Many of you might remember Jen Locke. She wrote a guest review of the book A Winsome Murder by author James DeVita a while back. I met Jen at our alma mater Alverno College and we remain friends to this day. She keeps a blog known as The Rectory of Doubt where she writes intelligent and interesting posts about feminism, technology, history, politics, current events, arts and culture and one of her favorite hobbies, knitting. 
I have a limited knowledge of world history, with bits and pieces of European and Egyptian history comprising the majority of what’s in my head. I had no idea this was based on real history – people that actually lived and events that actually occurred. I picked this up partly because someone told me it was like a version of 1001 Arabian Nights with the gender roles reversed.

I feel that categorization is a poor representation of the essence of this novel. It’s more about a woman’s independence and how she was able to provide independence, in a way, to other women in a patriarchal system with very strict rules.

It’s also about imperialism and how people can assimilate into their abductors’ culture, but how some never lose their affiliation with their home country and religion.

And a love story. Unlikely men and women finding love with each other. And the love that ties siblings together for life.

I like reading contemporary fiction written by Muslims, some translated from the Arabic. This can be difficult to find, but more of that is working its way into our culture. This is a good complement to that since it gives a little historical perspective wrapped in a good story.

I’d recommend this to anyone interested in learning about the culture of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. Also to people who like a good love story. And those who like political intrigue.

Originally published at the blog Rectory of Doubt.

Guest Review: Ball Don’t Live by Matt de la Pena review by CoBalt Stargazer

Ball Don't LieBall Don’t Lie was Matt de la Pena’s first book, published in 2005, and it was developed into a movie of the same title starring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. de la Pena is a California native, with an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. He currently resides in Brooklyn, teaches creative writing and visits high schools across the country.

de la Pena has written ten books, and whatever your opinion of Young Adult books is, Ball Don’t Lie is one of the better examples of the genre. The author won the Newberry Medal earlier this year for Last Stop On Market Street, and I am gradually working my way through the rest of his novels. I recommend trying to locate his work at your local library, or perhaps online at Amazon.

The story opens at a place called Lincoln Rec, which is a local hangout for professional amateur basketball players. Dreadlock Man, with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball.  Most of the characters go by nicknames, which they were given when they first started playing at the rec center. The exception is Sticky, the book’s protagonist. Sticky is seventeen years old, and he’s been in and out of foster care since he was a kid, due to either behavioral problems or adults who don’t really want the responsibility of taking care of him because he isn’t what they had in mind. At the time the book opens, he’s on his third or fourth set of foster parents.

Sticky has a fairly severe case of a likely un-diagnosed OCD, which affects him even when he’s on the court. He often becomes fixated on sounds, the tone of things, repeating actions over and over again until he’s satisfied with the “PING!” or the “PONG!” Despite the fact that he’s white, this is no story of privilege. While basketball is our hero’s passion, he feels as if that’s the only thing he has going for him. That is until he meets Anh-thu, a pretty Vietnamese girl who works in a clothing store. That he meets her while trying to shoplift from the store where she works is mostly beside the point, although his penchant for theft comes into play later.

The overall point of the book is, Sticky can ball, and the book is full of urban slang on that note. Ball, baller, daps, hoops, etc, but it never comes off as patronizing or condescending. Sticky and his friends, who are mostly older, live the game in between their days at school and at work; but the kid isn’t sure there’s life beyond the court. Skin color aside, society has an impression of him and kids like him; and while he wants to be the “Eminem of hoops” he needs to rise above the self-defeating belief that he can never be anything other than a semi-thug on a basketball court. When Anh-thu enters his life, he becomes almost immediately smitten, even if he isn’t always capable of expressing it.

As the book progresses, his episodes of OCD continue, and as his girlfriend’s birthday approaches he decides to buy a fairly inexpensive stuffed bear, but steal a more costly bracelet as gifts. But although he changes his mind about the bracelet, he ends up using the knife he found to hold up an older man. He finds himself in possession of a little over four hundred dollars, more money than he’s ever seen in one place at one time. He counts it out once, slowly and deliberately….and then his condition kicks in. He’s locked in place, fixated on the bills in his hands, the compulsion to count them out a second and a third time holding him there until someone else comes along and steals it from him, shooting him through the hand in the process because he tries to resist.

Sticky wakes up in the hospital with Anh-thu asleep in the chair beside his bed. The reader gets a potent flashback into his childhood and how he decided his name was always going to be Sticky. His mother, who is only referred to as ‘Baby’, was an off and on drug user with a history of bringing boyfriends home. The reason he ended up in foster care is that she committed suicide while he was the only one in the house. Only he was locked in an episode then as well, concentrating on splitting out of a window while trying to hit the fender of a truck parked outside.  The sound of his mother shouting his name, “STICKY! STICKY! STICKY!” got stuck in his head on a loop. After that his given name, Travis, fell by the wayside because that’s the last memory he has of her.

But the upside is, the memory triggers a breakthrough, and as cliché as it sounds, Sticky and Travis merge for a brief time, and he begins to cry, likely for the first time in years. He loses his cool, the hard shell between himself and the world around him, finding catharsis.

The book ends with Sticky returning to the rec center after spending three weeks at a summer basketball camp, playing up and down the West Coast in front of college coaches and scouts. The scar on his hand resembles a purple spider, but he can still ball. More than that, he’s discovered that he isn’t nothing without the sport; he has friends and family and love. A future, which he didn’t know was possible until he let go of the preconceptions of not only society, but his own preconceptions.

In the end, Ball Don’t Lie isn’t a perfect book, but it’s such a triumphant story that the flaws it contains make it even more worthy of a read. Sticky is every boy with aspirations, finally bringing those aspirations within reach. Give it a look. You won’t regret it.

Guest Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins-Guest Reviewer Rosie Blythe

Girl on the trainYes, it’s another guest review. This one done by that lovely British lady Rosie Blythe who you might remember as the talented author of the book The Princess Guide to Life, which I gave a rave review a while back. Rosie and I have struck up a on-line friendship and I’m thrilled to publish her first guest review. Learn more about Rosie Blythe below.

When a book debuts at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List and remains there for over three months, it’s a fair bet that it will be an enticing read (and one with the inevitable film adaptation already in the works).

The story begins slowly, innocuously. Rachel travels into London every day, and like many commuters, she passes her time on the train by looking out of the window. As the 8:04 to Euston trundles slowly past the houses which back onto the railway tracks, she gets a fleeting glimpse of their occupants. The train always stops at the same signal, and Rachel gets a perfect view of her favourite house. She can see the couple inside as they go about their everyday business, and in her boredom, she makes up stories about them and their sublimely happy relationship. She names them Jason and Jess, and they come to represent everything Rachel wants – everything she used to have. “They’re Tom and me, five years ago.”

We discover that Rachel has become something akin to Bridget Jones – if Helen Fielding’s creation had taken a really dark turn. She drinks too much. She’s put on weight and finds that men regard her with a mixture of contempt and pity. She makes nuisance calls to her ex-husband – she’s not being malicious, she just misses her old life. It all started going wrong when she couldn’t get pregnant, and her husband had an affair – now the other woman is his new wife and they have an adorable baby daughter. It’s not surprising that Rachel drinks herself into oblivion as often as possible in her rented single room – and now her alcoholism is also destroying her professional life. Meanwhile, we have a change in narrator, with alternate flashback chapters from one year earlier, voiced by “Jess”, the woman living beside the railway tracks. In reality, her name is Megan and her life is far from the perfect idyll Rachel has imagined. Can her past confessions shed any light on the events of today?

The story begins to deepen when Rachel spots “Jess” kissing another man; this evidence of trouble in paradise rocks her to the core, bringing back memories of her own ex-husband’s infidelity. Rachel knows how devastating affairs can be; should she somehow contact “Jason” (who is actually named Scott) and tip him off about his wife’s indiscretions? It’s all rather too close to home – quite literally, as Rachel’s old house is on the same street as Scott and Megan’s. Her ex-husband Tom has remained there, joined by his new wife Anna – who also contributes the odd chapter just so we can hear her side of the story.

Rachel decides to return to her old stomping ground to suss out what’s going on with Scott and Megan – “I just want to see him. I want to see them… what harm can it do?” –  but it all goes horribly wrong. She wakes up with the hangover from hell and no memory of what happened on that fateful night – but Megan is now missing. Can Rachel piece everything together, or will she walk blindly into danger?

While many writers create effortlessly cool and sexy protagonists (no doubt with one eye on Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt for the movie version) Paula Hawkins dares to make Rachel, well, not particularly likeable. She’s a busybody, and her desperate desire to be involved with the action results in her spinning a web of lies which tightens around her as she gets pulled deeper into the murkiness surrounding Megan’s disappearance.

Often, thrillers lose credibility because the main characters have to be smart enough to solve crimes, yet just stupid enough to make the irrational decisions which will prolong the book (entering the dark alleyway with the stranger, hiding in a cupboard instead of calling the police etc.) Paula Hawkins cleverly sidesteps this; Rachel’s alcoholism provides a realistic reason for her to make unwise choices (such as drunkenly contacting people she shouldn’t), and leads to her becoming more and more isolated as people shut her out of their lives.

Rachel may be a frustrating narrator, with her erratic behaviour and dramatic lapses in memory, but we sympathise with her. (While wishing she could get her act together and stop being so self-destructive.) The rest of the characters also have an admirable collection of flaws – Megan has a dark past, and her husband may not be such a strong and selfless protector, after all. Due to Rachel’s stalkerish tendencies and harassment, we might have felt sorry for our third narrator, Anna, but then she admits that she liked being the other woman and doesn’t care how it affected Rachel. In fact, all Anna cares about is protecting the secure little family unit she has created.

The book has been described as “Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation,” and I agree; as well as a slow-burning creepiness, it has that classic Hitchcockian theme of knowing that the police aren’t going to listen and take you seriously, no matter how urgent your information, because they already have you down as crazy and delusional.

I found the story perfectly paced, with new twists and turns coming from the most unexpected directions. If you’re a binge-reader who can finish a gripping novel in one breathless sitting, be warned: you’re likely to end up reading under the covers at 3 am, and jumping out of your skin every time a floorboard creaks.

Rosie Blythe lives in London (hence all those crazy British spellings) and when she’s not writing, works as a stylist in television and film. She enjoys reading everything from self-help and biographies to cosy mysteries and lurid thrillers. She’s written two books: The Princess Guide to Life, and the much sillier The Princess Guide to Being a Cat.