How to get published in magazines will be live this Saturday at 9:00 AM PST. It is free to attend. This is a beginning class.
Registration is here:
How to get published in magazines will be live this Saturday at 9:00 AM PST. It is free to attend. This is a beginning class.
Registration is here:
I am offering a free writing seminar this Saturday, February 27th at 9:00 AM PST. The class will teach you how to get published in magazines. If you are a mental health writer, or caregiver, please sign up! I hope to see you there.
Link to register:
All-day, it continues. Little blessings like a cool breeze coming through the open window. The light as it shines and brightens the whole room. I enjoy the fresh banana and nonfat yogurt with a cup of tea. The guided journals are encouraging gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I receive a kiss from my husband, a soft word, some days a love note placed in the red mailbox we bought in the dollar section at Target.
All-day, it continues. A phone call to my parents still alive and doing well even with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s and leukemia. A snack of hummus and pita bread or Ritz crackers out of the box.
All-day, it continues an e-mail from a student saying, “Thank you.” A paycheck from a class I taught arrives in the mail. A text from one of my brothers or a friend. Plans to share a brunch date over Zoom to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
All-day, it continues. The smell of a tree with white flowers blooming just outside my window. A swarm of bees pollinating the plants. A dog barking as its owner plays fetch with it on the grass patch across the street.
All-day, it continues. My favorite pair of sweatpants and a worn-out t-shirt with soft cotton plush socks. A poem that I think is profound or beautiful or both. A photograph on Instagram of trees turning orange, red, yellow. The air pollution calculator is on green indicating the quality is good today.
All-day, it continues. Something sweet like oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies or a piece of dark chocolate with mint. My husband’s and my guilty pleasure of Red Vines while watching our favorite comedy series.
All-day, it continues. These little blessings. One pound less on the scale, making my BMI in the normal category. The sight of my toenails painted pink. My husband puts my hair up in rag curls. I finish a workout on the stationary bike. I stretch my body for thirty minutes easing some of the aches and pains.
All-day, it continues. I smell bread baking or the scent of a vanilla candle. I feel fabrics so soft on my skin or the touch of my husband. I see the bay out of the dining room window. I hear music from Pandora or YouTube. I taste fresh food like watermelon, apples, or beets.
All-day, it continues these little blessings that spring up everywhere along with each breath making me want to reach up and grab ahold of the sky.
I attended a virtual event yesterday about mental health. I was supposed to give my input, but I didn’t know exactly when I would be speaking. After an hour and fifteen minutes, I needed to log off because adrenaline had been pumping through my body the whole time, and I was sick from it. It took me an extra dose of medication and two to three hours to get back to a place of feeling okay.
One of the worst parts of this illness is the desire to do things that I cannot do. I want to feel 100% all the time. I want to be able to speak at events, travel, visit friends and family, attend conferences and workshops, but so often, it isn’t possible for me.
It is hard to accept that I was unaware of any limitations that held me back for much of my life. I did what I wanted to do. I went where I wanted to go. I took jobs that I wanted to do. I flew overseas at the drop of a hat. I was strong and capable and didn’t even consider that the things I was doing were difficult or impossible for some people.
Now, I live with many limitations, but the reality hasn’t caught up to my desires. I still see what I want to do and try it, and often it turns out terribly. I don’t want to be someone who never tries new things or says no, out of fear of a negative result, but when things go wrong, and people are counting on me, or I have my hopes up, I feel like a failure.
I think many people are like I used to be. They are unaware that the everyday things they do are impossible for some people. I think this makes people less forgiving when those of us with an invisible illness say, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m having trouble and need to leave.”
It is easy to judge people and consider them unreliable or flakey or incompetent or even someone who lies about why they can’t do something. I hope that I have learned from personal experience that not everyone can produce at the same level, have a busy schedule, go to every event you or me, or others can.
I need to extend more grace to those people who have a more difficult time than I do. I need to believe that they are doing the best they can. I hope others will extend that grace to me and realize that I wish I could do all the things, but that simply is a life I have to let go of and accept that I struggle mightily with so much.
Let’s try to believe what people say, show compassion, and think the best of one another. I need this reminder, and I think some others do as well.
Let’s not forget that, along with a year that many call a dumpster fire, there is still the ocean. Sharks and whales and orcas. I heard that a white orca was off the coast of Alaska. Remember, the orca that carried her dead calf around for two weeks or more? That orca has a new calf. I try to imagine her grief not entirely lifted, but the joy of swimming in the pod with her new baby very much in need of her, and very much alive.
Let’s not forget that chocolate is still delicious or vanilla if you prefer that. Last night we froze pumpkin pie to take out slice by slice whenever we need the comfort of the taste of Fall.
Let’s not forget that we have people who care about our well-being and if we are okay. I’m not doing okay each moment, but I still see each morning I open my eyes as a miracle, a wonder, a gift. How did I make it to fifty-five? That young girl who once smoked a pack of cigarettes a day skipped school, got called into the principal’s office. Teachers were so frustrated they lost their composure and yelled at me in class because they knew I was ditching, and I forgot a pencil or pen to a shorthand class. “Who does that?” My mother-in-law would say. I do. I did. I was.
Let’s not forget that people still say I love you and mean it. People even buy each other coffee or pay for a stranger’s meal.
Let’s not forget that most Americans are kind hearted people who would stop and help someone struggling. Maybe they would assist the elderly with their groceries or help a lost child find their parent.
Let’s not forget we are a people who smile when walking past people on the street, a practice my in-laws from France think is foreign.
Let’s not forget all of this because it adds up, and it’s not nothing.
It has been over two hundred days since I had my hair trimmed, went to a grocery store, or ate in a restaurant. I’ve hardly been outside of my neighborhood in the past six months. Many people have gone back to work (or are essential workers and have always been working). My house has not returned to anything close to what it was like in January of this year.
In some ways, this pandemic is trying and challenging. In other ways, it has brought hard work and some much-needed tools and healing to my life. I thought that I was an expert in self-care and managing my schizophrenia symptoms the best way possible, but it turns out I had so much work to do and so much to learn.
Before the pandemic, I took my medications regularly, monitored my sleep, made sure to exercise at least five times a week, and ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Along with these things, I wrote in guided journals, had regular appointments with my psychiatrist, and watched my stress levels closely. I still had symptoms, but I thought I was doing the best I could to manage them.
In March, I started seeing a therapist, she didn’t work out for me, and I began to see a therapist who works in my psychiatrist’s office in May or June. She was only allowed to work with me for twelve weeks, and during that time, we worked on tools to manage my anxiety disorder, healing shame, and healing trauma.
I never realized how much work I could do to lessen the impact of my anxiety disorder. It never occurred to me that so many thoughts that I had made me spiral into negative territory and have bad days. I also never realized the level of shame I carried. Although the shame comes from more than my schizophrenia diagnosis, that label alone and its weight can harm mental health.
Of course, not everything is rosy. I cry at least a couple of times every day. I don’t sob. I simply cry a little at the state of the world, the deaths, the stress of constant hand washing, and mask-wearing, and not being able to see family or friends (it has been over a year since I saw my parents or any of my siblings). 2020 has been a tough year in so many ways, and I find I worry about things that were never part of my reality before.
On the other side of that, my resting pulse rate has gone down between ten and twenty points (depending on when I take it), and my blood pressure is lower than I can remember it being in the past. These are the genuine health benefits from working on anxiety. I still have panic attacks, but they are less severe and are over in far less time.
The tool that has had the biggest impact on me is sticking to a regular writing practice. I have written regularly for the past six years, but I wasn’t writing every day. Something about sitting down every day and doing automatic or expressive writing has acted like a pressure valve releasing the steam before the pot boils over.
I have been using a writing technique I learned from a woman whose name is Laurie. If you want to join me in a group where I use what I have learned from her, please get in touch. I plan to run several groups starting soon, and I would love to have as many of you as possible write alongside me.
There are times when a message so simple, delivered at the right time, can have a profound impact on our lives. I happened upon one of those messages yesterday. During the pandemic, I have tried to spend time working toward healing and bettering my responses to events and circumstances. I have watched every YouTube video by Brene Brown (if you haven’t done this, I highly recommend it). I also bought several workbooks on healing trauma and emotional regulation. Added to that list are two books by Brene Brown (because there can never be too much good advice and great stories).
Anyway, yesterday, while doing a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) exercise, I ran into an explanation about fixed thinking and labels. Fixed thinking ( like saying, I have a terrible memory, or I am awful at math) doesn’t allow for growth. It leaves the person saying those things stuck. If, on the other hand, a person has an attitude of development, they will try math and try to get better at it, or practice techniques to improve their memory, etc. This type of thinking provides for a change instead of the more rigid fixed thinking.
One part of what I read yesterday was about labels and how labeling ourselves is falling into the trap of fixed thinking. Here is the most important statement that rocked my understanding of my illness and myself. The writer said being diagnosed gives you a label.
These past six years of writing publicly about schizophrenia, I have often tried to get other people to see beyond my diagnosis. I have written how I am a partner, a sister, a friend, an aunt, a daughter, etc. The whole time I was writing those words, I was labeling myself as someone with schizophrenia.
Labeling myself as someone with schizophrenia is fixed thinking. It can cause me to believe that it is something about myself that won’t get better and will never change. How I am today is unlikely to be how I will be tomorrow. I can learn to manage my schizophrenia better. I can learn more coping techniques, and equally important, I can add more interests and hobbies to my life. By adding hobbies or passions to my life, I may find things that I identify with more strongly than having schizophrenia. Having a big and complex life gives schizophrenia that much less meaning. It takes it out of the driver’s seat and puts it in the trunk among all the other odds and ends that get tossed in there.
As an example, I am spending much more time writing during the pandemic, and I am spending much more time teaching three different writing courses. Teaching and writing define much more of who I am than the fixed label of schizophrenia.
To continue along those lines, I want to create a community of writers who meet on Zoom once or twice a week. I would have to charge a small fee to cover costs, but I would make it low enough to be accessible to almost everyone who wants to participate. I have found writing in community has helped me generate many words on the page these last six months. If you are interested in being a part of a writing community please contact me with the days and times that work best. I will post again about this soon. Please get in touch if you want to take part in a powerful writing practice that helps you make writing a central practice in your life. The writing you do can be healing, centering, therapeutic, and spark more and more creativity. Reach out because I would love to have you.
Like everything else, I have a crack in me. I think Leonard Cohen said that the cracks let the light in. I don’t know if anything about schizophrenia is light or a silver lining. I doubt it. I doubt the hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, lack of motivation, voices, psychosis in general, can be seen as positive. I would challenge the person who tried to make light of these things, but that isn’t to say that the crack in me can’t be handled with creativity, with uniqueness, with a type of resilience that makes me, not the crack, shine. Schizophrenia will never be the light, but the things I have faced, the difficulties, the obstacles, can make light of me. I am light. I shine.
Like everything else, I have a crack in me, and although my crack isn’t something I would want for others, I am stronger because of it. I am kinder because of it. I see the suffering of others and don’t turn away. I can meet suffering head-on. I can sit with those who suffer and give them space, hold their hand. I’m no savior. I can’t save anyone. The self must do all the saving. The desire to pass through, to heal, to move on.
Like everything else, I have a crack in me, but I am not the crack. I contain the crack, but it isn’t the sum or total of me. I am compassionate. I am creative. I am spiritual. There is a world inside that contains the crack but isn’t defined or made by it.
Like everything else, I have a crack in me, but I can still sing my favorite song. I can still hold hands with my husband as we walk down the street. I can always write poetry and prose. I can call a friend. I can play a video game and get excited about being one point or fifteen points ahead. I can try harder when I am behind.
Like everything else, there is a crack in me, and it’s not that it is small or insignificant. It’s not that it is hidden or that people can’t see it. It’s not that I don’t need to manage or take care of it. All of those things need to be, but it is that it is a crack, only a crack, not a break, not a missing piece, not a lost part, not smashed or completely broken, ruined of flawed.
Like everything else, there is a crack in me, but there is so much more to this container than the piece that the light can get through. I am an adventurer, a traveler, a human being complete, and full.
Like everything else, I have a crack, but it isn’t the most interesting thing about me at all. Not even close. A crack is a crack, and we all have some. Mine is just this way, and yours is another. Let’s not spend too much time there.
Our dining room window is floor to ceiling (a slider) and has a view of the bay if you are seated at the table, sitting in the recliner or standing near the window. It is a beautiful view. We often see the water dotted with sailboats, and the sunsets are spectacular when they are pink, or orange.
We have lived here since 2009, and the only window in our home with a good view has a treatment on it that is getting old and makes the glass foggy. It has been foggy since we moved in. So, our amazing view is hazy and unclear unless the window is open.
Today, a window company is replacing the glass in that window. Right now, I have a clear view of the bay. The fog or haze is gone, and I can see the deep blue of the water and the boats that are out sailing in the bay.
It took us over ten years to take the necessary steps to enjoy our water view completely, and it seems like a perfect metaphor for what we so often do in life. We allow the negative (fog, haze) to obstruct our view of the positive. If only we would replace the tapes in our heads that play the scenarios that tell us things are bad, are always going to be bad, or that the next shoe is going to drop, etc.
I am an expert at playing disaster tapes in my mind. I run every bad scenario through my head when I am waiting to hear the news about something, when someone doesn’t call, or when I try something new, or I am waiting for results, etc.
Today, we added value to our property and increased our enjoyment of our condo. The increased value can be something we enjoy several times every day. Today, I am also committing to adding the same value to my life by trying to get rid of the haze and fog of negative thoughts and see clearly to the good, the positive, the healing, the miraculous that happen all around me every day.
I am not going to spend another ten years with a cloudy view of my world. There is so much more positive than negative each day. The windows now reveal a million dollar view; one my mind can achieve too if I replace the negative talk.
I’m going to sit in my recliner and enjoy an unobstructed clear view of the waterfront, and while I’m there, I am going to run a list through my mind of every wonderful thing that I have in my life right now. The view of a happier future without the haze of negative thoughts is already starting to reveal itself.
I sit and look out over the San Diego Bay. What led me to this Southern tip of the United States involves a road trip to thirty-four states, selling all of my possessions, buying a seventeen –foot van, a decision to move to Abu Dhabi and a family drama that was so vicious and hateful I still have nightmares about it all these years later. Those details are just the small stuff, though. There is a before San Diego. There is a before my husband.
There is a bridge, three bottles of pills and two strangers. I didn’t do it for attention. I wasn’t saying, “Help me, look at me, notice me,” or anything like that. I wasn’t reaching out or thinking about a rescue. I was thinking about putting an end to a fractured mind.
On the bridge, a man gave me his hand and pulled me over the ledge to safety. On the interstate between Tacoma and Seattle, a man stopped after I passed out behind the wheel of my car. The details are blurry because by then the medication was pumping through my body with every heartbeat. The man waited for an ambulance. His last words before they closed the door, were, “Is she going to make it?”
I don’t know the exact day they rushed me to the hospital and spent all night monitoring my heart. I wish I did know the day so I could celebrate my anniversary, my second chance, the beginning of the new. I do know it it has been somewhere close to twenty years ago.
Twenty birthdays I came within minutes of not having. Twenty Christmas stockings that I would never have opened. A marriage to the love of my life where I would have never said, “I do.” There are approximately 7,300 mornings of kissing my husband. There are over 7,000 times I have heard the words, “I love you,” in the morning and before I go to sleep. It is the sunsets and sunrises. It is a morning cup of coffee.
It is hearing the voices of my parents and my brothers. It is doing things for the first time like baking biscuits or doing something the thousandth time like taking a long walk. It is trying new foods like kale or cauliflower pizza dough. It is a being a part of new trends. It is watching social media develop and the ability to send video and emojis on a smartphone.
It is watching my nieces and nephews grow from toddlers to adults. It is the incredible highs like a published article or poem in a prestigious magazine or journal. It is incredible lows and sadness as you watch your country fracture and fight. It is crying at car commercials and stories about lost pets. It is donating to a GoFundMe campaign. It is finishing a novel you are sure you would never forget (and then forgetting it). It is seeing artists express themselves in words, photographs, paint, clay, fabric, neon, and every other imaginable material and way.
It is putting on soft pajamas before bed or spending a day in those same pajamas. It is waking up every morning for over twenty years with the words, “Thank you,” on your lips as a cry, a sigh, and a prayer.