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.

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Guest Review with Jen Locke: Two Sisters by Kerry Wilkinson

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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.

Book Club: A Few Thoughts on Hygge

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Here is my friend Jen Locke’s idea of hygge. Enjoy!

“Ooh! I think swimming, hiking/nature, reading, being alone…being around animals (including but not limited to my pets), Jerry (of course… Most of the time, haha) and sleeping. I really can’t tell you how much I love sleeping. 😁😴
It’s my house were cleaner, decorating would bring me joy… 😆

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.

Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

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.

Book Marks

quitter stripCharles Koch’s (yes, one of the Koch Brothers) daughter Elizabeth launches new publishing venture Catapult. And like with anything Koch-related, this is not necessarily a good thing.

The late Maya Angelou, a true Renaissance woman, was a lover of art. And her art collection just sold for a huge sum of money! Nope, you don’t have to win the lottery to write a novel. Brian Klems tells you how in nine easily achievable steps.

My friend (and guest reviewer) Jen recently mentioned a job ad she saw for a marketing/public relations company that called for a person who is an expert on using various social mediums. Ugh. Anyone with some knowledge of writing properly, knows the plural of medium is media. Sadly, as someone who has worked in various communications fields (journalism, copywriting, PR, tech writing to name a few) I’ve seen this idiocy quite a bit. And here is a list of some of the worst spelling, grammar and other writing mistakes found in media.

Did I mention public relations? Philly-based writer and editor, Matthew Brodsky, calls some of them out on their stupidity and as someone who has done work in PR and lived to tell the tale, he is so spot-on!

We use food to feed our bodies. Here are five books to feed our brains.

The calendar may say 2015, but the 2016 presidential campaign season is in full swing (just in case you are wondering, I am feeling the Bern). Here’s a great list of political-related books all women should read.

Here is National Book Foundation Long-List for its 2015 National Book Awards.

In an age of big box bookstores and Amazon here are four reasons why independent bookstores are doing so well! Yay!!!!

This post is a bit old, but Get Off My Internets (GOMI) has a very interesting open dialogue on when blogs start to suck.