Run For Your Life: Coming Out From Under the Covers

“You initially become funny as a kid because you’re looking for attention and love. Psychologists think that’s all to do with mother abandonment. I think John Cleese has his depressions, and Terry Gilliam’s the same. All of us together make one completely insane person.”

                                                                         –Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame)

Last weekend, I ran the second 5k race in a matter of two months benefitting mental health treatment and suicide prevention.

The first one was in Gardiner, Montana, within view of the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Last week’s race was right here in Bozeman and raised more than $15,000 for our local crisis help center.

Roosevelt Arch -- entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Roosevelt Arch — entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Yes, of course that’s a great thing.

But I can’t help thinking how sad it is that we haven’t found suitable treatment for depression to prevent suicides. The Rocky Mountain West, and Montana in particular, historically has had the highest suicide rate in the nation for many — too many — years.

In 2013, once again, Montana topped the list with nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 people. Not exactly a proud moment for us.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • An estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression worldwide.
  • Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15- to 29-year-olds.
  • Depression affects women more often than men.

Last week’s race was held on Halloween and aptly called “Run For Your Life.” Complete with “real” trailside zombies it was good fun. Costumes were strongly encouraged. So I rehabilitated an old wizard costume from 2008. It was just easy.

Photo: Paul Bussi-www.idealphotography.com

What I didn’t recall until I was off and running in my moon-star-sequined-adorned graduation gown, was that this was the same costume I wore the day a friend decided to end her life. I have a picture of that day on my desk — a good friend and I in costume mugging for the camera, arms around each others’ shoulders. A fun day as our friend’s struggle and final decision wasn’t revealed until the following day.

It is impossible to describe what it feels like to learn someone you know and care about took their own life. Unfortunately, too many of us DO know that feeling.

Equally saddening is the fact that way too many of us know what it feels like to have no hope.

At the Big Bear Stampede race in Gardiner, my friend, physical therapist and world-renowned ultra-marathoner Nikki Kimball brought tears to my eyes as she spoke of her own struggle with depression. She says suicide doesn’t kill people, depression kills people.

She’s right, you know.

And in addition to successfully treating my achilles tendonitis (YAY!), she’s taught me that we all need to be brave, come out from under our down comforters and talk openly about depression!

So I’m here to tell you right now that, yes, I have struggled with depression on and off since puberty, I think.

It’s a complicated thing and just because I sometimes have this gnawing feeling that I’m not good enough … deep down inside, I know that not only am I good enough, but I’m actually better than good.

That’s one thing that keeps me going.

But it is fairly common for people with ADDled brains to have co-occurring depression. We are so often misunderstood and it is frustrating to live in a world that doesn’t support our creative talents or accept and accommodate our oft-distracted ways.

Lucky me, I have the trifecta of ADD, depression and perimenopause (that time in a woman’s life when her hormones are dissipating, if you will — another condition also often associated with depression. I wrote more about perimenopause and what it does to some women’s brains (me included) in an earlier post.

All that being said, there’s hope. Yes, there really is.

I’m happy to say that there are throngs of people who are coming out from under the covers and sharing their experiences with mental illness on blogs, in books and support groups. Here are some good examples on the web:

  • Kat Kinsman — an editor at CNN wrote and was interviewed about her experience with depression. I highly recommend checking out her piece as she also has a list of other resources at the bottom of her article.
  • Author William Styron, author of “Sophie’s Choice” and a brilliant man well ahead of his time, wrote “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness.”
  • Pick the Brain is a website “dedicated to self-improvement with a focus on personal productivity, motivation, and self-education” and includes articles on psychological topics.
  • Daisies and Bruises: The Art of Living with Depression.
  • Bring Change 2 Mind is a nonprofit started by actress Glenn Close with her sister, Jessie Close, and nephew, Calen Pick, (mother and son, both of whom have mental illness). Its aim is to remove the misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental illness. I had the privilege of interviewing and writing about Jessie and her son before their speaking engagement here in Bozeman a few years ago.  BC2M’s website has an excellent blog featuring a variety of writers with equally varied diagnoses.
  • Jessie Close also wrote a book about her experience with bipolar disorder called, “Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness.”
  • Smart Girls with ADHD
  • ADDitude Magazine
  • Dr. Ned Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey (co-authors of many books on ADHD).
  • I found some of these blogs on Healthline that posted a slide show of the best depression health blogs of 2015.

This is a short list, for sure. There’s many others. If you have a great one that you’d like to recommend, I’d love to see it in the comments.

Here’s to throwing off the blankets, feeling the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair …

An artist’s discovery

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“ — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

                            From “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.

Like many with ADD, what I lack in focus I make up for in creativity. In other words, ideas are abundant, action is not. It’s the bane of many an ADDled brain.

But recently, I had a revelation about writing.

I’m just beginning to surge into the world of fiction writing which is so new to me and I’m learning that unless one is unnaturally gifted, it’s hard.

Really hard.

But it’s also fun.cheshire cat

The fun part is when your mind wanders into places it wouldn’t ordinarily go. The problem for a non-fiction writer like me is getting to that place. Dreams are perfect venues to discover that space. At least it seems that’s working for me lately.

Julia Cameron, in her book, “The Artist’s Way,” tells her students of creativity to write “morning pages” every day.

EVERY DAY.

Write 3 pages longhand every morning in a flow of consciousness with no concern about what is coming out. No crossing out, no editing … The idea is to shut Mr. Internal Editor down — Cameron calls it one’s “Censor.”

“Let your Censor rattle on. (And it will.),” she writes. “Just keep your hand moving across the page. Write down the Censor’s thoughts if you want to … The morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.”

I love that.

So one recent morning, I’d woken up after a really strange and amusing dream. The dream fit the genre of a fiction project I am working on so I felt compelled to write it down.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do that before I had to run off to an appointment.

I usually write my blog posts on my computer. As a journalist, I like to support at least some of what I write here with research, so it’s helpful to have the Internet handy for that purpose. Also, I’m just used to writing non-fiction in this manner.

The problem with writing on the computer, especially if one can type without looking at the computer, is that unrelenting internal editor. I could disregard my typos, but tactile feedback signals me that my dyslexic mind determined to type a “d” instead of the “k” using the wrong middle finger. I know the minute it happens even if I am not looking.

Enter the internal editor who says, “Fix that!” So I do and this backspacing and correcting disturbs my creative flow.

It’s not a big deal when I’m writing non-fiction. But fiction happens on its own terms and stopping the flow often results in a disjointed and unsatisfactory writing experience.

So I learned something about my writing process. I’ve always suspected that writing by hand on paper resulted in better writing, but I never knew quite why.

As I waited in the doctor’s waiting area, I pulled out my, red “decomposition” book (which is an actual thing, by the way).

Decomposition Book

I was either too lazy or in too much of a rush to get the dream down on paper before getting interrupted or both. So I didn’t bother to pull out my glasses and just wrote. By the way, I intentionally chose an unlined notebook with the idea that it might enhance my flow – I think it does.

Three pages later and in just a few minutes – the craziness of my unconscious dream brain was recorded.

Here’s an excerpt.

The scene: I was looking at greeting cards in a college campus bookstore.

“There was this long-haired orange tabby [on the cover of a card] that when you pet it, its eyes changed color. I was petting it and thinking it seemed so real …”

Suffice to say the cat was real and, well, it wasn’t like the Cheshire Cat in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (if only I were as good as Lewis Carroll).

In any case, I found a freedom and flow that I’d never felt before by writing without the aid of my glasses. It’s not that I couldn’t see, it was just so blurry that Mr. Internal Editor couldn’t tell if I was misspelling something or using the wrong word, so the story just flowed out.

More on flow in a future post. Until then, know that we artists are windows to understanding the world in which we live. Keep yours open.

Spring ain’t all it’s hyped up to be

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”

                                                –Robin Williams

So today is May 1. May Day — celebrated by some to honor workers and by others to welcome the coming of summer.

Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival predating Christianity, was traditionally observed with a variety of symbolic fire rituals possibly to honor Belenus, the Celtic sun god, according to the Huffington Post.

And why not? After a long, dark, isolated winter, community members gather and delight in days of increased sunlight and moderated temperatures.

Spring festivals also mark seasonal change and with it, people’s sunnier dispositions.

But how true is the common thinking that spring is a time of joyful hopefulness?

Researchers have found that people (particularly those living in the grips of winter’s cold, gray climes) initially revel in spring’s reborn sunshine and warmer days.

But it isn’t quite that straightforward.

For example, contrary to popular “wisdom,” suicides peak during spring and summer, according several studies summarized by Dr. John M. Grohol in a 2014 article on PsychCentral.

Other researchers too have found that springtime weather doesn’t necessarily mean people feel everything’s coming up roses.

“The idea that pleasant weather increases people’s positive mood in general is not supported by the findings,” wrote researchers of a 2008 study published by the American Psychological Association.

Vitamin D3 produced in skin exposed to sunlight increases serotonin levels in the brain. And increased serotonin in the brain is known to elevate mood and decrease tiredness, the same authors wrote.

Additionally, they found participants had different sensitivities to weather independent from their other personality traits.

The first irises I've ever grown make me giddy with joy.

The first irises I’ve ever grown make me giddy with joy.

But interestingly, a 2004 study published in Psychological Science found happier moods, better memory and increased open-mindedness correlated to “pleasant weather” (ie.: clear, sunny, warm days), but only in relation to how much time participants spent outside.

Participants who spent more time outdoors on pleasant spring days showed positive changes. However, those who spent most of their time indoors (less than 45 minutes outside) on those same days experienced less-than-happy moods and lowered cognitive levels.

“One possible explanation for this result is that people consciously resent being cooped up indoors when the weather is pleasant in the spring,” researchers wrote. “Another possibility is that brief exposure to pleasant weather places people in mood and mind states that make normal day-to-day indoor activities feel boring or irritating.”

I can relate …

But my favorite sentence from that study is this: “If future work continues to support the hypotheses of this article, the behavioral prescription is straightforward: If you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good springtime weather, go outside.”

And as those of you who have been following me from the beginning of this blog know, I heed their words.

I try to exercise outside at least several times weekly — I LOVE my bicycle.

As much as possible, I work on my deck with a view of the Bridger Mountains (see previous post, Despite the Quietude). I don’t mean to make you inside desk jockeys jealous, but it’s the path I’ve chosen and I couldn’t be happier.

It may not be the prescription to avoiding distraction, but it sure as heck makes me appreciate my life and if I’m happy, I’m more focused and more productive. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the ticket.

Happy Beltane to all!

New Year, new me?

Birthday resolution: Submit at least one blog post monthly

It’s my new year, as in, I recently celebrated a birthday. Truth be told, I’ve been working on this post for weeks now.

But honestly, birthdays aren’t nearly as exciting as they used to be when I was a kid.

In fact, I’d much rather forget time is passing. “Time,” as such, has never been one of my strong points.

I won’t blame ADHD. However, it is a convenient excuse for, say, losing track of time when intensely focused on a task.

That’s not to say I’m always late. In fact, I’m probably late less than half the time – much less. But I do have a tendency to neglect the clock particularly when I’m writing, painting or doing anything using my right brain (ie.: being creative).

Daily newspaper editors hate that about me.

So anyway, I started my birthday writing about what I’d like to accomplish this year.

I share it here in the hopes that you, kind reader, will hold me to it. I suppose just by making it public makes it harder to ignore. Perhaps this is a good exercise for anyone who has trouble finishing projects (another lovely trait of those with this so-called disorder)?

You see, many of us with ADDled brains are also quite creative — constantly coming up with new projects, but rarely completing them. ADDers talk about ideas — a lot. Other people are often charmed by these creative people, but soon grow weary from the incessant jabber leading nowhere.

You see, sometimes we take action. But more often another idea pops into our overburdened brains and attention for the former one wanes.

So, we end up with bolts of fabric intended for quilts; piles of stories, poems, memoirs and unfinished novels; half-decorated or refurbished rooms; lush gardens choked with weeds – you get the idea.

Ahem, I dare say, this blog is case in point.

But attention is a complicated concept, particularly these days when the pace of the so-called “Information Age” is trending us all toward ADD. We are constantly connected to social media, TV, email, texts, video games, news feeds … Does anyone even know how to make a cell phone call anymore?

According to Lucy Jo Palladino, a psychologist who studies the brain and focus in this digital age, we have two types of attention: voluntary and involuntary.

Staying focused on activities such as reading, listening intently to someone speaking or writing requires focus and effort, or voluntary attention.

Conversely, involuntary attention is relatively effortless. It’s what happens when one plays video games or watches TV, for example. It just isn’t difficult and often redirects voluntary attention. Think email notifications or texts popping up while you’re working.

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by the constant roar of media traffic. It dulls my wit and turns me inward and that’s when my attention gets diverted.

So what do I do? I’m ashamed to say I spend entirely too much time playing brain games on my computer. Or I watch a movie or TV. In other words, I resort to using involuntary attention – it seems to soothe my agitated brain.

Eventually, I find my way back to focusing, but I always feel guilty for wasting time and my brain’s powerful neuropathways.

People’s thoughts and behaviors are not hard-wired, Palladino says. Brains (and, therefore, behaviors) are elastic and can change.

On her blog, Palladino explains: “For voluntary attention to get stronger, you need to exercise it. Much like weight resistance strengthens muscles, distraction resistance strengthens voluntary attention.”

Using voluntary attention builds important circuits that originate in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, Palladino asserts. The prefrontal cortex controls conscious decision-making, mood and time management. Interestingly, it is also an area of the brain affected by ADHD.

“Brain scientists have a saying: ‘As the neuron fires, the brain rewires,” Palladino continues. “Your brain rewires itself, following the blueprint of your choices every day.”

In the case of attention, the more one resists distractions (involuntary attention) and stays focused on more difficult tasks (voluntary attention), the more effectively the brain works.

It follows then that the more one accomplishes, the better one becomes at accomplishing more (um, like finishing blog posts).

So I haven’t yet gotten to my list. But stay tuned. I promise I’ll get back to you. Sometime. Soon. I hope.

Toilet Tawk

“Today you can go to a gas station and find the cash register open and the toilets locked. They must think toilet paper is worth more than money.”       — Joey Bishop

Is it just me and my dyslexic brain?

I just abhor washing my hands in icy cold water. So every time I come across one of these faucets, I get dismayed. You know, the sort of single-lever faucet that you pull up to make the water run. But with no markings to indicate which way is hot or cold, they’ve always confused me.

Befuddling faucet

Befuddling faucet

This is so befuddling to me, I don’t even know how to begin to explain my confusion. Suffice to say I just don’t know which way to turn the lever. So I go with the trial-and-error method (what choice do I have?) and inevitably, I end up with cold water. It’s just irritating.

So to those so-called sophisticated, minimalist industrial designers out there, fashion should NEVER trump function in my mind. And, really, does it need to?

I know, I know, first world problems. But while I’m at it, I might as well gripe about other bathroom-related issues: toilet paper and their holders.

So why is that some people just don’t change the toilet paper roll when the old one runs out? SO notwithstanding (after all, I probably never give him a chance since I use more TP than he does), I guess it’s just easier to prop the fresh roll on top of the empty roll and leave it at that. That is until it gets knocked off into the wastebasket.

I mean, really, is it that difficult?

I think Helen Hunt’s little schtick in an opener of “Mad About You” really says it all.

And speaking of toilet paper holders – again, I ask you, is it just me?

Why do people insist on putting toilet paper rolls on holders that, well, just don’t hold them? You know, the kind that are open on one end?

annoying roll

Admittedly, this makes changing the toilet paper roll IMMENSELY simpler. And, lord knows, we can’t afford to miss two seconds of that TV show or video game or whatever people are wasting their time on these days (including maybe reading this diatribe).

But is this so-called convenience really all it’s hyped up to be? Have you ever torn a section of TP off one of these things and sent the entire roll flying across the bathroom? And so there you are, pantaloons down around your ankles and you’re clumsily chasing a roll of TP around a tiny room before it completely unwinds all over the place?

I mean, really. Can’t we all just slow down for a second and change the toilet paper roll?