Tag Archive | bipolar disorder

Has my prediction come true? Is Trump truly flipping out?

Is Trump on the verge of a bipolar meltdown?

Tonight I’m feeling smug and self-satisfied because my recent prediction may be coming to pass even sooner and more spectacularly than I thought it would: Trump may be spiraling straight into mania right before our eyes. The Albany Times Union printed the following Op Ed on Monday, though I actually wrote it ten days ago. I’m using my original Word document since it will be easier to format for my blog. Just now, for the first time, I compared my version word-by-word to theirs, confirming what I already thought: they didn’t edit or change a single word. (They did change one punctuation mark; see below.)

So much has happened since I wrote this Viewpoint article that I can’t begin to recap it here. But I do want to credit the TU for the caption they ran under Trump’s photo: “Does a suitable diagnosis for Trump exist?” Offhand, I can come up with several. Stay tuned by subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss anything.

trump-rump-lukevich

I’ll never forget the full-blown episode of mania that earned me the official diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I’d been sleepless for days, and it culminated in a call to the New York Times at three in the morning. Reading about Donald Trump’s recent flurry of ill-considered tweets about the former Miss Universe brought back vivid memories, and I can’t help wondering if he’ll soon earn the same label.

My own diagnosis came when I was in my fifties. The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is around age 25, so I was a late bloomer. But research reveals that the first episode can strike at any age, and it’s more common in middle and even old age than is generally realized. According to Dr. Robert C. Young, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and attending physician in psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, psychiatrists even have a name for it: “Geri-BD.”

I’ve been watching Trump’s performance with growing disbelief. Like many media pundits, I labelled him with narcissistic personality disorder. My well-worn copy of the DSM-IV, the ultimate authority on mental disorders, shows that he’s literally a textbook example. But he could be bipolar as well—the two aren’t mutually exclusive.*

During manic episodes, people typically experience high energy levels. They talk more, interrupt people, make decisions in a flash and feel less need for sleep. Along with confidence and the feeling that they can do anything, there is often irritable, angry and impatient behavior. They may say and do outrageous things and take ever increasing risks.

A first manic episode can be precipitated by an unusually high level of stress. That was certainly true for me. As founder and president of a licensed home care agency in Ulster County, I was on call 24/7, constantly worried about whether we’d meet the payroll, frequently filling in for no-show aides. A shrink prescribed an antidepressant, and soon I was feeling better—miraculously better, in fact.

I grew more and more manic. The climax came when I locked myself in my office, threatening to call the police if anyone tried to get in. At about three, I called the New York Times and managed to reach a reporter working the night shift. I told him I had an urgent story about my father, who had been Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal during the McCarthy era and who had died 20 years before. I demanded that the Times run a front page story about him immediately. The reporter diplomatically suggested that the story didn’t sound quite right for the Times, but that I might want to call the Journal because of the local interest angle.

Eventually my husband coaxed me out of the office and got me to my shrink, who prescribed some heavy-duty sedatives to bring me down. I spent the next few days on the living room couch, watching video movies in a semi-stupor, and since then I’ve been more or less stable with carefully calibrated medication.

No one but my husband and my shrink knew how thoroughly off the wall I was, how close to a devastating crash. As my mania built, I churned out endless pages of prose on my computer, but this was before the advent of the Internet and social media. Had I been able to email and Tweet my crazy thoughts and theories to the world, I know I would have done so with uninhibited glee.

So as much as I detest Trump, I can empathize with his increasingly unhinged behavior. Time—and I’m talking days, weeks at most—will tell if I’m right. Remember, you read it here first.

trump-cartoon-danziger

*The last sentence in the fifth paragraph contains the only edit the TU made to my article—they changed the em dash to a semicolon. They kept my other dashes, though. As a writer of fiction and poetry, I rarely use semicolons; however, I suppose I could make an occasional exception.

COMING SOON: my memories of sexual assault back in my single days.

Trump: Headed for bipolar meltdown?

trump-new-yorker-cover-10_10_16-400I’m thrilled that the Times Union in Albany ran my opinion piece on Donald Trump in today’s paper. When I wrote last week that I thought he might be heading for a bipolar diagnosis, I knew I was going out on a limb, but the events of the past few days have made me more certain than ever that I may very well be right.

If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the link to the article:

http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Trump-on-the-verge-of-bipolar-9958577.php

Trump’s obsessive tweeting in the wee hours of the morning about the former Miss Universe and her weight issues was what first got me pondering a possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder, because the behavior reminded me so much of my own escalation into a first full-blown episode of mania a couple of decades ago. I won’t rehash the article here, though I’ll post it in full a couple of days from now.

I missed last graham-nash-2015night’s Trump vs. Clinton debate, because I was busy ushering for a marvelous concert by Graham Nash—of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame—at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. It was a far more inspiring and uplifting way to spend a couple of hours, to be sure, but once I came home and heard my husband’s descriptions of the debate, then went to the Internet and watched some clips, I learned all about the thuggish stalking behavior Trump exhibited while Hillary was speaking, behavior many have described as frighteningly offensive.

Before becoming founder and President of ElderSource, Inc., the Licensed Home Care Services Agency I described in my article, I worked for 13 years as a creative arts therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie, a state mental hospital of the old-school variety that have long since been closed by supposedly well-meaning bureaucrats. There I worked on locked admissions wards as well as wards for the most seriously disturbed and often violent patients—the kinds of patients who are now more likely to be housed in prisons.

Among them were many who were diagnosed bipolar. They weren’t locked up because of their often fascinating delusions and grandiosity, but because psychiatrists had determined that they were a danger to themselves or others. In other words, they were either suicidal or violent. I’ll force myself to watch the debate in its entirety later tonight, but Trump’s body language, and especially his pacing around the confined space like a caged predator in a zoo, looming threateningly close to Clinton, suggests a psychological and physical state dangerously close to the edge. I can only hope he has his total meltdown before election day, and before his verbal  threats escalate to physical violence.

trump-cartoonThere’s much more I could say on this topic, but for now I’ll take a break to address my readers, both new and old. The Times Union published the link for this blog, so I’m hoping that will lure people who may not have visited before. If you’re a newbie, please click on the link in the column to the right and subscribe to my blog so that you’ll be notified of new posts. I promise you won’t be deluged with emails, because I post a maximum of two or three times a week.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071]In that same column, you’ll find a list of categories. Click on Bipolar Mood Swings, and you’ll find lots of posts that touch on bipolar disorder, in both its manic and depressive aspects. And check out my novel Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, which is inspired by my own experiences with bipolar disorder, as a professional, an advocate and a consumer.

Lastly, please leave comments and spread the news about this blog to your friends. Thanks!

Summer was a bummer, but I’m back

It’s the first full day of autumn, an auspicious day for new beginnings, and for better or worse, I’m back on my blog, after a leave of absence that lasted virtually all summer. I’ve been mired in a deep depression that stole over me last May, robbing me of my motivation and self-confidence, convincing me that I no longer had anything worth writing about, much less anything people would care about enough to read. But with the coming of fall, I’ve resolved to write myself out of my doldrums.

Writing is an integral part of my identity, and the notion that my writing years might be behind me severely deepened my depression. I spent far too many beautiful summer days ensconced in my old Lazy Boy recliner, endlessly reading other authors’ novels. For the first time in ages, I bypassed the races at Saratoga.

The sorry state of my parched and weed-infested garden all too accurately mirrors my state of mind. Upstate New York’s been unusually dry this summer, with only half its normal rainfall over the past two months, and my imagination has been suffering a similar drought. In May and June, my posts grew less frequent, more downbeat. Afraid of becoming a Debbie Downer like the Saturday Night Live character, I made a deliberate decision to stop blogging, possibly forever.

I made a mistake. I missed the creative excitement that came with crafting a new post, the cameraderie of the online community, and I came to feel increasingly like a nebbishy nonentity. So I’m jumping back in, hoping it’s not too late.

Charles Burchfield

What brought on this dark night of the soul? Probably a combination of biochemical and psychosocial factors. I’ve written before about my bipolar diagnosis, but it’s been well controlled with medication, and over the past few years, my mood has been amazingly upbeat and sunny. Back in May, in the post titled “Depression – cloudy, cool and drizzly,” I said, “I’m a firm believer in the biochemical nature of manic depression, as some still prefer to call bipolar disorder, and I know medications work.” I had faith in my shrink’s ability to tweak my medications enough to banish my increasingly bleak moods, but I’ve undergone lots of tweaking in the months since then, and nothing seems to work.

What triggered my depression, I’ve come to believe, is an old-fashioned identity crisis. For years I’ve identified myself as a mystery writer, but the success I’ve dreamed of has eluded me. I’m proud of my two self-published novels, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders and Eldercide, but the sales have been less than stellar. I’d hoped that building an online identity through my blog would boost my readership, but I came to realize that impressive blog stats don’t necessarily mean lots of people will buy my books, and my track record isn’t likely to inspire an agent or editor to beat down my door any time soon.   

Even so, I enjoy online schmoozing far more than marketing my books in person. My depression descended soon after a signing at a local independent book store. It was my first straight solo signing ever, with no talk, panel discussion or party to drum up interest. True, I sold a few books, but each sale took painstaking effort in teasing out the themes that would appeal to each reader. For some it was the regional locale, for others an interest in bipolar disorder or end-of-life issues, for still others an interest in mysteries pure and simple. I’m basically an introvert, and the expenditure of energy left me drained and exhausted, with the realization that I’m just not cut out to be a demon marketer. Never was, never will be.

But am I still a mystery writer? At the very least, I’m a woman who has written four mystery novels and published two of them, and that’s something to be proud of, or so I try to convince myself. Will I write another? The verdict’s still out on that one. But one thing’s for sure – I’m still a writer, and I need to write. My life literally depends on it.

Can I write my way out of this depression? Stay tuned to find out. Never fear, I’ll cover other subjects as well, but I plan to post at least twice a week. And if you’ve read this far, please leave a comment – I know my readership has dwindled during this hiatus, but I need to know you’re out there.

Depression – forecast cloudy, cool and drizzly?

Weather report from the dreary Northeast: cloudy, cool and gray with intermittent drizzles – a lot like the weather inside my head the past few days. Outside, they’re predicting a positive change, and tomorrow’s forecast promises a perfect spring day, sunny with temps in the seventies. I wish my mental state would brighten too, but I’m not at all sure.

I’ve written here before about my bipolar diagnosis, but from the perspective of someone who has it well under control with medication. Over the past several years, my disposition has been amazingly, predictably sunny.  Now that depression is rolling in like low cloud cover and fogging my brain, my impulse is to hide, to retreat into silence. Who wants to read a blog that’s basically a downer? Maybe you’ll read it and never return. If I can’t say something nice and cheery, better not to say anything at all, right?

Wrong. I’ve always been big on self-disclosure in this blog, and it would feel hypocritical to change now, so I’ve decided to go public with these feelings of depression. My novel  Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is all about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and sharing feelings is one way to go about it. The book’s protagonist Erika Norgren reveals her bipolar diagnosis on the 11 o’clock news, and when the book was published, I came out of the closet as well, to my enormous relief. I’m hoping that sharing my feelings here will have an equally therapeutic effect.

I’m a firm believer in the biochemical nature of manic depression, as some still prefer to call bipolar disorder, and I know medications work. A couple of months ago, my shrink tweaked my meds, changing one of them to something less apt to promote weight gain, but in retrospect, maybe that was a mistake. Yesterday, after taking to my bed for the afternoon, I was  alarmed enough to call him, and I’ll be seeing him soon, but he wants me to monitor my moods a little while longer rather than changing the meds too abruptly.

I could launch into a whole laundry list of things to be depressed about, but realistically, I have far more things to be grateful for. This kind of depression isn’t about rationality, though – that’s what’s so frightening about it. Images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico come to mind – the toxic black muck keeps pouring up unstoppably from the depths.

Never fear, I have no intention of dragging you into my slough of despond on a regular basis. There’ll be cheerier postings in the days and weeks ahead, but I may occasionally offer progress reports on my mental status. Meanwhile, I feel like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan – my inspiration is flickering, and I don’t want it to die out. If you believe, it would be good to hear some applause right about now.

Time to jettison my paperwork past

“You’ll probably inherit this house someday,” I told my daughter a couple of years ago. Her first response: “I hope you clean out all the paper first.”

Since then, she’s bought a house of her own, and she doesn’t need mine. Nor does she need all my papers, and neither do I. Or so I’m trying to convince myself, but the process of divesting myself of years of accumulation is wrenching. Yesterday I threw out four years of my life in the form of Franklin-Covey day planners. They were four years I’d just as soon forget – 1998 to 2001.

I’d shut down my home health care agency, ElderSource, Inc., on Halloween of 2007, and I hadn’t begun writing my mystery novels. Those years were ones of flux and uncertainty, pulling up stakes in New Paltz and trying to adjust to the Capital Region where I knew no one. My mood swings veered toward the depressive end of my bipolar spectrum. Yet I kept those day planners compulsively – two facing pages per day, one for my (nonexistent) appointments, the other for my goals and accomplishments. They’d made sense when I was running an agency, less sense during my long stints of idleness punctuated by the potholes of various low-level temp jobs

I didn’t want to reread those planners, and I recycled them properly, separating the papers from the fake brown leather binders. “Are you sure you should have thrown those out?” my husband asked later when I was crowing about my accomplishment. No, I’m not sure, but downsizing is essential, since our house is half the size of our old one. For too many years it’s been choked with plastic bins and cardboard cartons of papers and memorabilia, and we need to open it up to the possibilities of the next phase of our lives. Renting a storage locker for over $1,000 seems like a cop-out, bleeding money while it lets us postpone the inevitable confrontation with clutter.

Besides, my husband wants the pink room for his office. That’s where much of my stuff is stored – an upstairs bedroom painted Pepto Bismol pink, where the papers jostle with old art and jewelry-making supplies. My own office already occupies the adjoining bedroom, and he deserves a room of his own instead of the sunroom that’s destined to become a dining and garden room if we can ever get our act together.

What’s so unnerving about jettisoning big chunks of my past? It has to do with posterity, the notion that someday someone will want to read all my meanderings – the journals and morning pages full of kvetching, the first drafts of my novels. Consigning them to the recycling bin means surrendering to the knowledge that no one really cares.

Things came to a head yesterday when Richele Corbo, our Nia teacher, asked us to bring photographs of ourselves as young children, so we could dance to our inner child during a beautiful routine with music by Christine Aguilera. To my chagrin, I couldn’t find a single one, though I know I’ve got a few stashed away somewhere in those cartons. (Interestingly, none of the other women brought photos either – they couldn’t find them or “forgot,” or as one woman, a therapist said, “My inner child’s too shy to show herself.” We’ve got photos of our children and grandchildren, though.)

When my mother died in 1970, I was too shattered to return home to Milwaukee and sort through family memorabilia, so I left the task to my father and brother. Equally devastated, they weeded out and destroyed practically everything – the home movies, the high school yearbooks and family photos. To this day I blame myself for lacking the courage to go back and salvage more of those tangible memories.

Now, while I’m still sound in mind and body, I have the chance to do things differently, so that my daughter and granddaughters aren’t faced with those overwhelming choices. Can I distill the essence of those countless cartons into three or four carefully culled archival boxes? Maybe so, if I make believe I’m moving to – heaven forbid – an apartment in a community residence.

What about you? Do you have trouble divesting yourself of your paperwork past? Any stories or helpful hints to share?

When you’re feeling creative, how crazy is too crazy?

Bud Powell at Birdland

Since early adolescence, I’ve been fascinated by the fine line between creativity and madness, and the life stories of artists and writers who suffered from mental illness. At 13, when I took up painting and jazz piano, I was intrigued to learn the great bebop pianist Bud Powell was schizophrenic. I barely knew what the word meant, but it sounded romantic, and I thought his illness contributed to the brilliance of his intense, driven style in compositions like “Un Poco Loco.”

When it comes to artistic creativity, is being “a little crazy” an asset or a liability? The question has been the subject of endless speculation. Would Van Gogh have been as great if he’d been totally sane? What about Robert Schumann or Virginia Woolf? I’m not sure, but in my own case, being a bit over the top has probably helped. At any rate, my experiences with bipolar disorder inspired my first novel, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

I came by the diagnosis atypically late, in my early 50’s. I was running ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency, and the work was unbelievably stressful. A shrink prescribed Zoloft, and the effect was amazing. Within a couple of weeks, I felt better than I had in years, ready to take on the world. A few more weeks, and I totally flipped.

Virginia Woolf

It began harmlessly enough. I spent more and more time in my office behind closed doors, writing on my computer. My mind was flooded with inspirations I simply had to get down on paper before they escaped. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, if you’re a writer – but I was supposed to be running an agency. My memos got longer and longer, then turned into voluminous essays, including one about my father’s brilliance as Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal during the McCarthy era. Staff in the office were worried, but I blew them off – I’d never felt better, and I knew what I was writing was of supreme importance.

In early December, I devised a plan to revitalize the economy of the Hudson Valley through a multimedia art show which I would carry out with the assistance of the President of Bard College, Robert Rauschenberg (my favorite artist), and various other luminaries. Soon I was on the phone to Bard, trying to schedule an appointment. I locked myself into my office long past midnight, called the New York Times, and tried to convince some lone reporter on the night shift that they should run a front-page story about my plans, my father and his achievements. A sympathetic listener, he diplomatically suggested that my story might be better suited to the Milwaukee Journal. When I called the police rather than let my husband into the office, things were way over the top.

I narrowly escaped hospitalization. Somehow my husband got me to the shrink, who prescribed heavy medications to tamp down what I came to understand was an acute manic episode. I spent a week at home, prone on the sofa catching up on sleep and watching endless videos, waiting for the lithium to kick in. (I remember especially loving a documentary on Sting,  U-2’s “Rattle and Hum” concert, and Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin.) Within two weeks, I was back running ElderSource, but on a new medication regimen and with a newly heightened awareness of just how fragile mental health can be.

Was I manic depressive all along? I don’t know, but I’ve now got an official diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I, and I’ll probably be on medications for the rest of my life, although the dosage is minimal now. Fortunately, being bipolar seems to be trendy. When I talk about my mystery novel Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders at panels and signings, people from the audience invariably approach me to confide that they or close friends or family members are bipolar. But too often they tell me they’ve kept the information secret for fear of repercussions from the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.  

So is being “un poco loco” good for creativity? Maybe, when it’s under control. These days, that control is possible through advances in psychopharmacology. Hypomania – the state of mind that falls just short of full-blown mania – can be a wonderfully productive state for writers. But if you find yourself locking out your husband and calling the police, it might be time to call a shrink instead, and see about getting onto some new meds.

 *This post originally appeared on Helen Ginger’s wonderful blog, Straight from Hel, on Friday the 13th, November 2009, as part of my first Blog Book Tour.

**This beautiful photo of Bud Powell rehearsing at Birdland in 1958 was taken by Francis Wolff. I heard and met Bud on just one occasion, when we were introduced by Max Roach, around this same period. Sadly, his mind and his playing had deteriorated by this point. His only coherent statement was a plea to my mother – “Buy me a Ballantine’s.”

What’s it all about, blogging?

Order from Amazon or www.virtualbookworm.com

Order from Amazon or http://www.virtualbookworm.com

I began blogging with the goal of selling my mystery novels, but reviewing my posts over the past 40 days, it seems I’ve been writing about everything but my books. And I may well continue the same way, posting about whatever strikes my fancy. Nonetheless, in an effort to focus more attention on my books, today I’m featuring the cover for my first mystery, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. I not only wrote the book; I did the cover illustration. More about that below, in what’s becoming my customary purple addendum.

For me, blogging is becoming an all-consuming creative challenge. I love the multidimensional possibilities of reaching an audience through varied media, both verbal and visual. And I love the immediate feedback – getting and responding to comments, studying the jazzy graph that charts my hits per day, watching my numbers climb. 

But this isn’t just about me. What do you look for when you click on someone’s site? What makes you keep coming back? Is it the quality of the writing, the usefulness of the links, the relevance to your own genre? Probably all of these and more. In terms of the Blog Book Tour folks, what draws me most is the sense of an individual personality coming through, especially if it’s someone I’d like to know better. Yes, I like the links to agents or pertinent articles, but often, if I don’t have time to check them out immediately, I tend to forget about them. Sometimes I make notes on posts I’d like to revisit, but then the notes get buried on my desk and I never get around to it.

What draws me back to certain blogs is the sense of a compelling personal voice. Please let me know: what draws you back? I’ll summarize the results (including your links, of course) in a future blog.

My illustration for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders dates from 2006, the same year I published the book. It’s a pastel, measuring about 18″ x 27,” and it depicts Erika Norgren clinging to her beloved shepherd-mix dog Rishi as she discovers the body of a gifted young artist on the front steps of WellSpring, the East Village social club for adults with mental illness. Erika is the club’s director, and like many of the consumers who frequent the club, she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I was a painter long before I began to write mysteries. I received my MFA from Columbia University and exhibited at the Woodstock Festival of Music and Art in 1969. But that’s a story for another day.