Events

Past Tense – Book Release

Past Tense Mystery Forest.jpeg

Guess what?

My debut novel, Past Tense, is out in the world for all to read!

I’m super excited to share it and I hope you like it! 🙂

 

Uncategorized

I’m Okay Right Now: Living with Bipolar

I’m okay right now.

A few months ago I was in the throes of a mixed state, and before that I was in a deep depression for about a year and a half. Now I am a fully functional human. I can get up in the morning (most of the time) and juggle school, writing and running a company with my husband. I can cook and clean and be creative. I can ace exams and puzzle out an essay. I am finally a person again. A person who doesn’t sleep all day and stare blankly at Facebook for hours on end. A person who doesn’t run away with crazy ideas that have me falling down a manic rabbit hole for months, sometimes even a year. I don’t see the universe when I close my eyes anymore (which is something that I miss), but I don’t see nothing either (which is progress). My head is on straight and I can look forward with a calm hope that things will work out. That I can follow my actual dreams instead of the wild flights of fancy I am prone to when I get high.

I’m okay right now, but it’s been a long journey to get here and it’s not over yet. When I was depressed I spent a lot of time looking inward, I posted a lot online about how I was feeling and what the experience of struggling with my diagnosis was. But when I got better I just stopped sharing. I guess it’s because I moved from looking inward to looking outward. I was so excited by my recovery to a semi-normal state I didn’t dwell on it, I just wanted to cram all the living in that I could. Now it’s been a couple months and I’m ready to reflect. I also think it’s important to share the story of my recovery and its ups and downs because all too often when people are well they forget to say it.
I am well.

I am okay right now.

And this is how I got here.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis was the first and most important step. After a year long manic/hypomanic episode that saw me going back to school in an attempt to be an astrophysicist (which was more than a little nutty as I barely had a grade eight grasp on math and science, but I was convinced if I could just learn enough I could open up the universe and peek inside), I fell into a deep depression. After a couple months of sleeping and feeling that life was an empty, pointless form of torture I went to the doctor. My first diagnosis was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so I bought a SAD lamp and would sit in front of it every morning bathing in the light. Nothing changed, so I went back to my doctor. My second diagnosis was Major Depression, so my doctor put me on some medication that had terrible side effects and I waited for things to change. Nothing did. During that time, when I happened to be awake, I started researching for a book I wanted to write about a girl with bipolar who thought she could become one with the universe. Oddly, it took me a long time to finally clue into the fact that the book I was researching for was about, well, me. After a lot of reading about bipolar I finally clued in. All these case studies I was reading, all these biographies of people who have suffered with bipolar—the raging highs and the aching lows—they were describing my life. They were describing me. It was a huge relief to have that realization and, armed with my new knowledge, I went back to the doctor and requested I be sent to someone who could diagnose me. My doctor sent me to a psychiatrist, but there was a problem. As I sat with the psych and let loose my story, he didn’t know what to do with me. He told me he was too old and too stodgy to really get a handle on me. He basically told me I was a weirdo and he needed a second opinion, so he sent me off to another psychiatrist. The next psych didn’t seem to think I was all that strange, and diagnosed me Bipolar, returning me to the care of the original, old stodgy psych who prescribed me medication that cost $300 a month and made me puke five minutes after taking it, then promptly dumped me from his care. Freshly diagnosed and still unmedicated (and depressed), I was left alone to fend for myself.

Other Avenues

I went back to my doctor to get referred to another psych and he sent me to CAMH. At the same time, at the advice of the stodgy old psych, I called a nearby hospital and asked to be paired with a social worker or psychiatrist. At CAMH, the psych had a single meeting with me and declared me Bipolar I and gave me a prescription for a new medication which would end up making me so anxious that I thought at any moment me and the people I loved the most would die some horrible death. I could barely even ride in a car without a panic attack. In the meantime I was paired with a lovely social worker at my local hospital and signed up to a program at CAMH that teaches bipolar life skills. I also sought out some talk therapy on my own. At one point my social worker asked if I was a little manic, having signed up for every possible therapy, and I couldn’t be sure. All I knew was that I had spent so long suffering that I wanted every opportunity I could get to make it better. The next medication I tried was prescribed by my doctor. One of the most common treatments for bipolar these days. It felt like it might be doing something, but I couldn’t be sure. We fiddled with the dose and the release time (there was a slow release and quick release option) and finally found the right combo. I finally woke up.

Creativity

Throughout this whole period of depression one of the things I feared and lamented the most was the loss of my creativity. I couldn’t hold onto thoughts for extended periods of time, not even long enough to write a short story, never mind a novel, and I was freaking out because I have a book coming out soon and I just kept berating myself for not writing a new one. My mind was blank, empty, and I just kept saying: what if I never write anything again? To try and combat the perceived death of my creativity I tried a bunch of things: I made writing dates with people to write based on prompts, I signed up for a creative writing course, I forced myself to write a poem a day for a month (I ended up writing a series on being bipolar which was actually amazingly cathartic) and I tried reading as much as I possibly could. I was despondent though because in my depressed state I couldn’t write fiction. I was so inward facing I could only write biographical pieces and I had to learn to be okay with that. To know that was where I was with my writing and to be happy that I had something creative in me, even if it wasn’t the thing I thought I ‘should’ have. During that time I learned something about myself: I say ‘should’ a lot. Maybe it comes from my manic periods where I feel I should save the world, I should understand the universe, I should be the best in every way. Or maybe it’s just built into my personality. Either way I came out the other end of my creative deprivation feeling a little more relaxed in the should department. I no longer believe I should do anything. I know now that whatever I have in me, even if it is as short as a haiku or as long as a novel, is meaningful and creative. That creativity can take many forms and they don’t all have to be something I can sell. Sometimes just being creative for creativity’s sake is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Climbing Out

It was a long climb out of the deep crevice I was in. And I am still climbing up this rocky mountain. I’m doing all the things I am supposed to do: taking my medication, exercising regularly, keeping a strict sleep schedule, managing my time, going to therapy, relaxing, following my passions, and I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to do all of that. I am writing fiction again, and non-fiction too, I am going to university (not for astrophysics, but for something I have been interested in deeply my whole life—psych) and I am keeping an eye out so I can catch myself when I start to fall or fly a little too high. My life is more balanced now, less fireworks, more of a slow burn. Sometimes I worry that being healthy is boring. That I’m medicating the universe out from behind my eyelids, that all those ups and downs that made me interesting are being evened out and I will lose something in the process. But then I remember the downs. The real horrible downs, when I was in so deep and covered with so much muck there was no chance I could climb out. Or those manic highs where I was so convinced that magic existed that I joined a cult, put myself in dangerous situations, pursued spur-of-the-moment passions that were ultimately leading nowhere I really wanted to be. There is this mystique around being mentally ill. All those artists who struggled, their tortured lives informing their art and giving it depth. It’s easy to be swept away with the romance of it all. Oh my wild bipolar life! So high! So low! So passionate! But as a tortured artist I can attest to the fact that being tortured is not the way to go. When I’m healthy I work, I’m steady, focussed, capable of balancing art, business, life and school. When I’m sick I’m empty, or so full I can’t even see straight and I produce very little that matters. So I will continue to climb, up, up, up, knowing there is not real top to this mountain and that’s a good thing. Knowing there are rocky cliffs ahead (as I can’t stay on my current medication and have to change come spring), but if I can just hold on to everything I’ve learned maybe, just maybe, when the winds rise and the climb is full of crags, I will remember I have all the rope I need, to make through without plummeting all the way back down.

 

 

Photo by: Heather at funlovephotography.com

Random

It’s been awhile…

SONY DSC

It’s been awhile since I have said hello here. Things have been a bit quiet this summer. Pushing through some personal issues, relaxing on the beach and seeking inspiration for all those words I love to write. The good mingling with the bad.

I thought I would share my newest author pic with you, actually my only author pic. I like it. My fabulous husband took it, and I think he has a good eye. It feels weird to have an author pic. I suppose that makes me an author. It’s pretty exciting.

Also I thought I would share my latest publication: ‘Green on the inside‘. I was thrilled to be published by Flash Fiction Online and not only that, but someone reviewed my story! Thrilling.

I hope your summer is full of sunshine and soft waves lapping smooth shores. ❤

Things I love

Things I Love: The Overview Effect

187_1003705_americas_dxm

The world can be a cranky place sometimes and it’s so easy to get lost in disapproval. So I wanted to do my part to make things a little sunnier by shining a light on some things I love. I hope to make this a regular occurrence, because it makes me happy and hopefully it will make you happy too.


The Overview Effect

I first learned about the Overview Effect when I watched this short film and it blew my mind.

The Overview Effect is an illuminating experience brought on by viewing the world from space. It’s the change of mind many astronauts find themselves going through that has them seeing the world as a single, united organism. A thing to be cherished as a whole. Borders seem insignificant and the world is seen as a delicate, fragile place in need of our protection and care.

What a marvelous thing.

It is my sincere wish that anyone (corporate leaders and politicians alike) making any decisions for our planet could go to space and have the benefit of this effect. In fact, I think everyone could do to benefit from it. How would it change us as a species if we could only step back and see how close we are to each other, how much we depend on each other and the ecosystems of the world for our survival? Would it make us better people to see the tiny, ‘pale blue dot’ of our earth from a distance? Would we come to cherish our home and our neighbours more? Would we think before tossing litter on the ground, yelling at someone for cutting us off in traffic, or eating another creature for dinner?

Call me idealistic but I think it could make a difference.

Something has to before it’s too late—don’t you think?

Luckily for us there is something called The Overview Institute which seeks to share the experiences of the lucky few astronauts who have been able to benefit from this perspective. I love the idea of an institute dedicated to the Overview Effect and I hope they have success in getting their message across. It’s vitally important that we see the world as a whole, look up and wonder, and reach out and help.

Image from: Nasa’s Deep Space Climate Observatory

Events

506 Writing Contest

506library

The Ashdale Writers Group, a group I have been a part of for years, is hosting a writing contest in conjunction with Beach Metro, Toronto Public Library, Gerrard India Bazaar and The 506 Streetcar Project.

Myself and my fellow writers in the group will be serving as judges and the theme is related to the 506 streetcar here in Toronto.

The deadline is tight, entries must be submitted by March 21st, but we have a great prize of publication in the Beach Metro News and $100 cash sponsored by the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA.

For more info or to enter check out our group’s website!

Also, the winner will be invited to read at our Ashdale Reading Night on the 31st of March. Members of our group will be reading along with the winner of the contest.

Random

RLXP – Role Playing for Life

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 5.01.51 PM

My husband and I like playing role playing games. 

For those not in the know, role playing games (RPGs) are storytelling games where you create a character and someone narrates an adventure. I’m sure you’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons, it’s the most popular RPG but by no means the only one.

So Ben and I play these games together, sometimes with other people, but most often on our own and luckily for me, Ben is an amazing storyteller.

Recently, we have been playing a game inspired by the awesome book ‘All My Friends are Superheroes’ by Andrew Kaufman. In this game I am a superhero—an empath named The Empath (or Em) and I do what I love to do in real life: try to solve people’s emotional problems. Ben takes on the enormous task of playing all the other characters in the game and he does an amazing job at coming up with tricky emotional situations to inspire me and make me sweat.

The game is small and personal. Smaller and more personal than many role playing games you tend to see played. Often role playing games are massive, magical adventures in faraway lands, but our game is focussed on interpersonal relationships so there’s no demons to slay (except perhaps internal demons) or gold to be looted. And I love that about it.

I’ve played many different role playing games before and this by far is the most challenging and the best. It’s emotional, realistic (with a hint of magic), in short it’s the kind of stories I like to write and therefore it’s the kind I like to play. For the first time in a game I have to face having romantic relationships and even though it’s Ben I’m having them with, because he is playing a character I don’t know that well it feels new and awkward and hard. I have a brother in the game too, which presents me with hard familial choices (he’s on the rocks with his wife who is also my best friend) and as I play a social worker who deals with Superheroes I am constantly encountering people who need my help in a way that often feels out of my league.

I know, I know, it’s just a game. But because it is so small and personal it feels very real and because it’s just me playing the protagonist I want to do my best and help everyone in the best way I can. It’s intense.

Ben’s been running games like this since he was twelve and you can tell. He’s awesome. And because he’s so excited about the art of role playing he’s started a site called RLXP. He has this theory that you can get some real life benefits from role playing and he wants to test that out. So every week we broadcast our games and talk about the real life feelings they inspired. It’s fun and awkward and I think it’s pretty interesting too.

If you want to check out Ben in action and our games you can find all you need to watch us live stream at Ben’s website: http://rlxprpg.wordpress.com/. Also, you can follow him on Twitter @MrBadgerGM to find out when we’re online!

Stop by and check it out!

Writing Advice

Writing Cycles

Photo 30

I tend to be inspired by topics swirling around mental health: I’m interested in mental illness and its effects on people and relationships; I’m fascinated by psychology and states of mind that make people see and believe things that don’t align with reality. And because the maladies of the mind are so often my muse, I thought it was about time I wrote about my relationship with the my own mind as it relates to writing.

Recently I was loosely diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I say loosely because it wasn’t official, just a trend I noticed and spoke to my doctor about, who agreed that SAD could be the cause. The trend? Getting exhausted and depressed in the winter months. For example in the past two months my motivation has been drained and I’ve had real trouble getting out of bed (or wanting to do anything but sleep forever). It’s an awful feeling and in the depths of it quite terrifying because there’s a fear in there that things will never get better.

But inevitably they do.

I’ve started light therapy and that paired with the recent bloom of good February weather seems to have pulled me out of my funk. I’m full of energy now and back to writing (before I was only thinking about writing).

Luckily in the depths of my listlessness I’ve still managed to keep up on some reading I’ve been doing as research for my next book. I’m reading a book called ‘Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament’ by: Kay Redfield Jamison. This book is completely fascinating and I mention it because it doesn’t only touch on manic-depressive illness, but also on SAD and the ‘artistic temperament’-the general trend of writers and other artists to follow seasonal patterns of productivity.

According to the book many artists have seasonal periods of creation that align with the seasons in nature. Artists are cyclical creatures prone to productivity in certain months and less in others. It’s different for everyone when these peaks are, but they are present and have been studied. This idea relaxes me. Curious about the effects of the seasons on my own work I recently looked up each one of my novels to find the date in which I created the document to start writing them. The verdict: Spring and Summer (mostly summer). All of them. Not one of my novels was started in a winter month. Fascinating!

For me, my cycles seem to be even more extreme, as during the times when I am truly active I write like there’s no tomorrow. I have been known to write most of my books in no more than three weeks, sometimes even two and any short stories come out fully finished in an hour or two tops. Pages and chapters fly by when I am in a ‘flow’ period and honestly I love it. I like to get things done quickly and to leave the rest of my time for thinking and planning my next piece.

So what’s the point of me writing all of this?

I want to say I’m relieved. These cycles and seasonal ups and downs can seem strange and confusing when you think you’re alone. But reading about other artists and writers who share this cyclical spirit makes me understand myself a bit better and want to give myself more leeway when I’m not writing or inspired every hour of every day.

As issues of mental health are my muse, they can also be my comfort as I ride the waves of my creative productivity and try to make sure I’m being kind to myself.

I also want this to be a reminder to be kind to yourself too. Give yourself space if you need it and don’t push too hard.

Have you noticed any cycles to your writing life? I would love to hear about them!