The Great Interview Experiment: Barb of Bloggo Chicago

I signed up to do Neil Kramer’s Great Interview Experiment as a way to meet two new bloggers. I love the widowed and grieving bloggers who I spend most of my online time with, but I figured this would be a true experiment and a way to stretch my wings that is a little less strenuous than NaBloPoMo.

It was – but it was still hard. It takes me FOREVER to write, I usually have a dozen half-written posts lying around and scores of fragments, and it’s great that I’m not accountable to anyone for either the timing or the content of what I write.

But if you are dealing with someone else – well, you have to be there.

It’s taken me more than a MONTH to collate my interview with Barb from Bloggo Chicago. For the other half of the Experiment, I was interviewed by Elise of Elise’s Ramblings.

I enjoyed reading Barb’s blog, which mostly deals with her daily life, funny observations, and trenchant thoughts about living with a disability. She has a sense of humor, enjoys writing, and is really honest about her challenges. I can imagine her being one of the fun people I sit next to in church, passing an occasional snarky note. I liked talking with her, back and forth by e-mail (I find simple questionnaires are so static for an interview… but then, see how long this took me?).

Barb's blog is not only worth visiting for her perspective, experiences, and sense of humor (and cats), but she also provides a great list of support resources for folks living with bipolar and mental illness in general. Knowing her is a great way to tap into a new community!

When Barb and I opened our conversation, she was barely recovered from posting every day for a month as part of NaBloPoMo. I could identify with her pain!

Hi Barb! I loved reading your blog. It’s really neat to see how you cope with living with bipolar, and how aware you have to be. It seems like a pain and a lot of extra work to manage, but you seem to have a great attitude and a lot of creativity about what you need. You really know yourself very well, something many of us are still working on. So I admire you and your courage in sharing all the different aspects of your journey.

I'm interested to know how blogging has affected your life and whether it’s helpful with managing bipolarness? How has your blogging changed over the years? Do you have different feelings about sharing based on what's happened because of sharing with the blog?

Hi, Supa! Bloggo Chicago began as a blog about life in Chicago: early on I blogged about our neighborhood and gave Chicago Living Tips, some serious, some silly. At some point, I started a Star Wars blog (can't remember the title); one just for those silly quizzes and memes that used to be so popular (quiz-a-day); a cat blog (cat-o-bloggo); and finally a bipolar blog (bipolar bloggo). I don't know what I was thinking, starting all those blogs and -- surprise, surprise! -- they became too much to handle, and I imported all of the posts into Bloggo Chicago, which, though you can't really tell from my recent posts, isn't solely a bipolar and/or cat blog. Or hockey blog, a couple of years back.

I started blogging about my bipolarness as my own small way of fighting the stigma towards the mentally ill. I want people to see that we aren't the stereotypes portrayed in film and on TV. Although I've been hospitalized for suicide attempts and overdosing on medication, I've never worn a straitjacket nor been locked in a padded room -- though that could happen if something went wrong with my medications (they stop working, I need a higher dose, I stop taking them) or, possibly, if I have a full-blown manic episode. I have never in my life worn a Hannibal Lecter mask and don't think that I will. I have, however, undergone electroconvulsive or, shock therapy (ECT) and it’s nothing like it’s portrayed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, or A Beautiful Mind, though I believe they used insulin shock treatment in that last one.

Most importantly, I want people to see that the mentally ill aren’t different from anyone else and to those readers who also have bipolar disorder or depression, I want them to know they're not alone and that whatever they may be going through, others have also been there and can relate; those who leave comments assure me of this, as well. I'm not without my own shortcomings, however -- I have trouble seeing past my own stereotype of what a person on mental health disability “should be like” and wrote a post to that effect. As a direct result, I learned that there are others out there who have had an even higher “fall from grace” and have accepted it. Even so, I've been on disability for 3 years now, and I'm still struggling to accept that.

Blogging has affected my life in that it's been a source of support, though I do have other sources such as my psychiatrist, therapist, and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) meetings. I’ve forged some very real friendships and this past September, finally met one of my blog friends. As my depression improves, I hope to be able to meet more of them.

I definitely feel that you are a regular person with many interests, not just a patient, and the way you write about your life makes it easy for me to relate to you.

It’s also neat because finding peers and dispelling stereotypes motivated me to start my blog about being a young widow, too.

I love this aspect of blog-as-testimony, blogging-as-representing.

You have mentioned your other writing a couple of times. Tell me about those projects and how they complement or are different from your blog writing.

No problem! I like to think that I'm like most other people, though in many ways I’m not, at least when I'm not well -- at the moment I have trouble leaving my apartment and driving, for example. Lately, simply getting into the shower has been a struggle.

People have told me that I sometimes write the way I talk, which is what I try to do in the blog because it’s supposed to be fun and casual and reflect my personality. However, in the post entitled Disability Acceptance, I used a more formal tone than usual, maybe because it's a societal issue, and maybe because I wanted to sharpen my other writing skills, which is a nice segue to your question about my writing:

I only began blogging about writing this past year, because it’s only last spring that I took it up again -- writing, that is. I always feel cheesy saying this, but I’m a poet. I went to grad school for creative writing and my concentration was poetry. I was in the process of applying for teaching jobs when my once-well-managed bipolarness came crashing down on my head and I had to stop teaching. I also stopped writing. That's when I began blogging. There was less pressure to “hone my craft.” It was my blog, I could write however I wanted about whatever I wanted, and if the grammar wasn’t perfect, so the fuck what.

Then I had ECT, which affected my long- and short-term memory, and this included my vocabulary. You know how sometimes you have a certain word right on the tip of your tongue? Well, it was like that almost every day and was incredibly frustrating. I was constantly consulting the dictionary and thesaurus for words that I already knew but couldn't remember, and that made me angry. So I continued to not write.

With some encouragement from my writer friends, I decided to try again. This past April, which was National Poetry Month, a blog called Poetic Asides held a challenge to write a poem a day for the entire month -- like NaBloPoMo. I surprised myself by actually doing it. The poems earlier in the month are a little clumsy but they improve later on. There was another challenge in November that I didn’t complete, but the poems I did write were even better.

This past fall these same friends convinced me to start submitting my work to literary journals again; I sent poems to one journal in October and more poems to a different journal in November. Though I got a rejection from the first place I submitted, one of my poems was accepted by the second one. Right now I'm 1 for 2, which isn't bad. Rejections are normal and expected.

There’s a huge difference between my blogging and my poetry writing. As I said, I can write posts in any way I want and post them that very same day. No matter what, they're going to be published by me on my blog. With my poetry, the process is longer. I may write a poem in one day -- I may even write 3 -- but there's no way I’d send them off to a journal. I like to sit on my poems because what may seem “perfect” today, I may find flawed in 2 months. The poem that was recently accepted was from my thesis, which I finished in 2002. I didn’t do any major revisions before submitting it, but I did tweak it a bit. Unlike blogging, the publishing isn’t instant, and that’s if the poems are even published at all.

What is your favorite post from all time? From this past year?

Because my blog is several years old, there are so many posts, but the ones that first come to mind have to do with Walgreens. I don’t know why -- maybe because there's one located about every 4 city blocks (1/2 mile), maybe because we're there so often, maybe because they originated in Chicago and are somewhat iconic. It was started by the Walgreen family and the store itself doesn’t have an apostrophe before the “s.”

Having said that, I think my favorite post of all time is called Your Local Walgreens. It shows a slice of everyday life with my husband and a snapshot of our relationship.

My favorite post from 2009 is All Walgreens Are Not Created Equal. That post refers to I Hate the Nearby Walgreens, although at the time I wrote the latter, I couldn't remember why I refused to stop going to that particular Walgreens. This post explains why.

I know you've written a few posts since then, but the last post I read had to do with finishing that Godforsaken NaBloPoMo. LOL I could totally relate, but I’ve proudly displayed my “I did it, so there!” badge because it features Borat. :-D And, sucker that I am, I’ll probably do it again next year.

Barb, thanks for your thoughtful answers. I've really enjoyed getting to know you, both here and by reading your blog! I'll think of you every time I hit my local CVS deodorant aisle for sure (They do NOT lock them up. But they do lock up razors around here)!

* * * Comments * * *


Alicia said...

What a great concept! Wish I'd known about it.

I love the interview with you, on what you've learned, especially. **snork**

Robin said...

She's an amazing lady.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Alicia, I hear you! But what could I do, send the questions back? Hint: send one question, then another, like a conversation so you don't get stuck like I did with all heavy, profound, be-a-guru. Not the best conversation but more a series of unwelcome essay questions. I did the best I could... didn't get much sense of what she was like, sadly!

When I interviewed Barb, we went back and forth, and I hope it was more like a two-way thing.

Alicia, looks like Neil is still taking sign ups for this year if you want to do it... http://www.citizenofthemonth.com/2009/11/08/the-great-interview-experiment-returns/

Robin, she sure is. I am glad I got to meet her!




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