Hard times

Dear readers, I’m having a hard time posting lately. Recent writing has dredged up ugly stuff, about my husband's death, about the miracle of my daughter’s birth, about who I used to be. I’m working on about a million things and seeing hope and horizons everywhere, but I’m tired. And everyone’s been sick.

None of it's a surprise, but this stuff is hard to do.

I told my church that my resolution in the New Year was “I will no longer apologize for who I am, and also, I'm gonna stop pretending that I like pie.”

But I am sorry to be slow. These are heavy topics, and even though I’m so much better now, and in love, and I have a happy healthy child ... there is a lot going on under the surface and I only have a grip on a little bit of it.

Please be patient with me. The two dozen half written posts (and the end of my daughter’s birth story) are good stuff, even if I end up publishing them in imperfect form.

(Now there’s a resolution. To accept imperfections in myself and others!)

(Maybe you should be praying for me instead?)


Musical Monday: Show Me by the Pretenders

This song dates from college times, when I never dreamed I'd even want a child. It's such a vision of transcendence amid the awful world, a song that welcomes imperfection with open arms:

"Welcome here from outer space
The Milky Way's still in your eyes..."

It helped me ring in my daughter, so hard to imagine after so many years of work trying to make her real.
And now it strikes me so sad that I describe Gavin's death as him "leaving this world."

And it's that part of my story that I'm up to: comparing the in and out, the birth and the death. Heavy-handed, yes, but for me, at least this song evokes happy tears.


Your Birth Story, Part 3

(Part one is here)

It was hell. I know this part of your birth took about two hours but it seemed like maybe 5 minutes, like a night of blackout drinking, compressed or nonexistent with a few highlights that would make good stories later.

In the middle of the screaming, the pain, I was positive that I’d be ripped apart. My comfort was a confidence, the kind that you summon at the darkest moments, that millions of women survived this every year. Sure, I’d split in two, even through the bone (I tried to remember the top view of a pelvis. How big was it? I could only picture dinosaurs). But this happens all the time so medical science must be able to repair most, if not all, of the damage, right?

In my madness and confusion I may have asked again about the possibility of a C-section, only to be rebuffed, again, possibly even affirmed: “You’re doing great.” It’s a damn good thing I wasn’t in charge, I probably would have ordered the child killed half way through.

I had to push. Nothing from childbirth class had been useful thus far, my insanely irregular contractions left my good breath training crying in the dust. But this part would work the way we'd been taught, mostly.

“I want you to breathe, and when I tell you, push out for a count of four,” said Dr. K, who’d put on scrubs at last. It hurt like hell and I visualized the tear through bone and muscle and skin, and whatever else kinds of tissue exist. My goal was a healthy child, pure and simple, though I also hoped to be around to meet her.

We did the four count a bunch of times, I have no idea if it was two sets or a hundred.

But I know the last one I was getting pretty exhausted. I felt I was at the end, that I couldn't go on; that I was inadequate, that maybe I could try a little harder. Or perhaps, I lost the ability to count. All I know is I exhaled for FIVE and whoosh!!!! My daughter zoomed out like a torpedo. The doctor barely caught her. I saw the baby flopping like a fish in the doctor’s tense hands above the “medical waste”-red-marked trash barrel that had been rolled to the butt end of the birthing bed.

Our girl was fine, despite her inelegant exit (entrance?). Gavin got a peek as she was whisked away for a bath and various grooming exercises. I imagined the baby being shown to me, ten minutes later, after my serious stitches were finished (note the absence of any anesthesia), covered in mascara and rouge with a nicely curled wig. Later of course we'd find, as we grew into her, that those eyes, those cheeks, that nose, those lips, she was Greta Garbo, only smaller.

"Perfect" means past, finished, complete. Cooked.

A little rosy burrito, packaged in the hospital’s neutral, striped blanket, tighter than I’d ever seen anything, pink and raw. She looked around with a bright right eye, left one loosely closed. Mine? Ours? They say no, you don't own your child. Out. She was out, eight years of struggle, delay, our medical odyssey ended with one squirt.

Gavin cried and held her while my nethers were sewn. He said over and over, “She’s so beautiful.” Then he’d glance at the frankenwork in progress on my body and look back at the charming burrito. It was no contest.

Our baby girl was safe. We were sound. Everyone had a job to do and they were busy. Something had happened and the surprises, we expected, were all over.

Thank God.

When they did hand her to me, whenever it was, I passed out.

A bit later, they tried again, to take a picture, but my arm fell and I blacked out again. I had dangerously low blood pressure.

Gavin held her tight in his arms. I rested in a hangover from psychosis and a broken body. No one expected me to do anything. Yeah, sure, I was happy, but it’s not like we didn’t believe we’d end up with a baby. I was relieved the ordeal was over. We could figure out what the hell had happened later. Or not.

Eventually we got a picture, our fresh child in the cradle of my arms, satisfied. My hair somehow looks less crazy than it does today, and Gavin is leaning in to me with his hugest smile. The girl he called “Popeye” is small, a bundle of newness. It’s a lovely archetypal souvenir of that day and everything that has happened since.

And, then, I slept.


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Musical Monday: Not the Only One, Bonnie Raitt

I haven’t talked that much about the courtship between me and Mr. Fresh. But at our first dinner, the one I hadn’t expected to even be a date, one phrase stuck out. As we discussed what we’d learned about ourselves in relationships, our strengths and weaknesses, he told me: “I don’t have a romantic bone in my body.” It was clear this was a disappointment to the current girlfriend, the one he was ready to dump; likely it was even her phrase. I was familiar with men who tell you their shortfalls right away and I knew they can use this phrase as a warning, so that later in the relationship, they “told you so” and “never concealed anything.”

But you know my state of mind at that time – the skin hunger, the urgency, and heavens, now I had a trustworthy man smiling at me across the table, who’d appeared almost in ambush. And to me, with my experiences, "romantic" was not at all on my list. Isn’t witnessing your true love’s last breath just dreadfully romantic? I wasn’t on that page any more, if I’d ever been.

So, while it may have seemed to him like a disclaimer, a self-deprecating statement, and it may have disqualified him from a second date with many women, in my state all I could hear was “bone.”

Here was a live human male saying, over and over to me, “bone, bone, bone, bone, bone.”

Imagine my surprise on hearing, half a year after we were married, that he thought of this as “our song:”

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Proof (Products for an Alternative Valentine's Day)

For several years in the mid-90s I used to sandpaper the mottos off of conversation hearts candies and use food coloring and a teeny, tiny, itty bitty paintbrush to write my own, nasty sayings. It was especially useful because it kept me busy, singing in my garret, after the Christmas craft sales were done.

I sold hundreds, in little boxes of six like the above, and by large handfuls for the occasional party of snarky singles (I don’t think we used to use that word? We’d just say “mean,” right?).

So, now let these pictures serve as proof that I used to actually be funny.
Proof that I have always been somewhat bitter, because I made them fifteen years ago, young and thin, even while I was in love.
Maybe I was fated to be a widow, disappointed, unhappy that others are doing well, pissed to see others in happy true love.

But they’ll also prove that Bittersweets, my version, were made and marketed years ago. You’ll see on the back of each box I’ve painstakingly included the year of copyright with my name (retouched for blogging benefit, but clear on the objects). Because actually, I don’t begrudge anyone their success. I just like to get paid. (Although I will lend the dig that mine are a way lot funnier than most of yours).

You can expect a call from my lawyer.

Also – I used to make these little boxes. It's hard to survive an entire commercial holiday like Valentine's Day with a single product. Imagine the presentation ... it’s funny for about 1 second. Still, at $3 a pop (in 1995 dollars), they moved.

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Your Birth Story, Part 2

(Part one is here)

The mucus plug, that bloody knob of indeterminate viscosity but certain significance, stared up at me from the toilet bowl. It’s been almost exactly six years and I still wish I’d made a movie of me bending down to take a closer look, straightening up with 10 months’ worth of stiffness, hands on my hard-to-see knees, and muttering, Holy shit. It seemed like a cinematic moment at the time.

A few days after delivery I realized those few seconds were the only ones with any clarity in the entire process, the only pause, the sole minute when I had any idea of what would come next.

Because my labor was furious. The plug fell before 2 a.m. and I called the doula. And we all expect it, to be told to stay home as long as possible, because the hospital doesn’t have enough room in it and labor takes for-fucking-ever. She gave me the line about killing time first.

We tried to collect data, timing the contractions. I’d say, START and he’d look at the clock, and then I’d say START again without getting a number. YOU IDIOT! How can you not be able to use a clock at a time like this? Didn’t you hear me say STOP? He hadn’t. It all FAIL and I was ready to kill him.

Although – that kind of rage is supposed to signal labor, isn’t it? We decided to go around 5 a.m.

There was some ice on the ground still. I was heavy and tippy, and dawn was breaking. We brought our holy bag, carefully researched, full of lotions, CDs, books, a trashy magazine or two.

I don’t know how we made it through parking and admissions. I was doubled over half the time. They wheeled me into a birthing room and requested a urine sample. I walked into the giant, white-tiled bathroom and immediately barfed.

It seemed I had to survive this, and hard. It wasn’t going to be easy. Things started to make more sense once I was hooked up to the monitor: my contractions were completely irregular. I’d puked because I was in transition already, and even with his poor number skills, Gavin wasn’t responsible for the problems we had timing the contractions. The line went up, and up again, and on up higher, with no breaks, only plateaus.

I don’t remember much after that. It seemed forever, and I yelled at the doula and at Gavin to get the FUCK OFF ME with their supportive touches and kind words. I was as close to insane as I hope I ever get. And the nurses kept saying I was only at 3 centimeters. I couldn’t get an epidural yet, although I was sure the pain would kill me. All I hoped was that the baby would survive.

At one point in the morass my water broke. It was tinged with dark green, meconium, the baby’s first poop, a sign of fetal distress as we’d learned at our childbirth class. I asked for a C-section because the baby’s health was all I could think about.

And it was changing, even without my knowing what was happening. Something serious was going on. It could be something really bad, or it could be nature’s turn. Hell, I was a newbie, how could I know?

One of the doctors from my OB/GYN practice, my favorite one, who’d been stuck in the snow upcounty, arrived at my right hand, smiling brightly in the morning. “You’re dressed pretty nicely for someone who’s about to deliver a baby,” I said. She mentioned something about having a lot of time. The doula went out for a cup of coffee on the same theory, walking slowly.

The nurse who’d been dutifully going back and forth from my bedside to the monitor and her computer stuck her hand back up me. “I don’t feel the cervix?” said the nurse. She asked for another opinion. And another. Hands were inside me and if I hadn’t been in hell I might have felt like it was pretty impersonal.

It had been maybe a half hour since the last check. Confirmed: I was like a fine sports car disguised as an 88 Toyota with bad paint: zero to sixty in ten seconds. Only, unpredictable, a total amateur who goes straight to the finish line. Three to ten centimeters in 30 minutes.

“You don’t need a C-section,” she said. “It’s time to push.”

I asked about drugs again, but I knew what they’d say: it was too late.


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My Response to the Today Show, Part 2: An Open Letter to Kathie Lee Gifford

(Read part 1 and see a video of the encounter I'm responding to.)

Dear Kathie Lee,

I watched your show on Friday, February 4, and you were laughing an awful lot when that young widow, my friend Brenda, called in. I recognized it, that discomfort, that laugh. See, I’ve been there, and I got stung. Death is way scary, but if it’s happening to someone you love, you – yourself, alone – will yet end up okay.

Now if I were married to Frank Gifford – but of course! I forgot, I can’t be, because you are. But if I were married to a man much older than I – oh wait! I was! But I’m not anymore because – oh yeah, you know what? HE DIED. So if I were a talk show host with a terrific national platform, and an avowed woman of Christ, I might use my pulpit a little differently.

And if I were – still – married to a much older man (Gavin and I had 20 years between us; looks like you and Frank have 23? Correct my math: 1930-1953 = 23, right?) I would probably laugh in a pretty uncomfortable way when the topic is raised, too.

But I wouldn’t be stupid enough to be married to him and reproduce without a solid life insurance portfolio behind me.

Which – I did. Once.

So see, I know what it’s like, and I know how to act at parties. I “get” polite society. I understand that sometimes you might just, oh, pretend, that you don’t know what V!agra is. You don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or anything.

But when someone who’s 25 and who’s lost their helpmeet, their love, their partner, their Christian-married husband, someone without a trace of botox or need for a lotion of any kind, calls in asking for help?

I’d try not to laugh too hard. Because I know it hurts. I know it’s a threat to open your heart. You might actually hear something, and words, they can make magic, they make things happen. If you don’t hear it, he could live forever. (I know he’ll always love you.)

I’m not saying anything will happen. But you said your vows, and you said the old ones, didn’t you: one of you will go while the other one stays. It could easily be you first. But statistically, it’s far more likely that Frank will be the one who goes first.

Hey, don’t look at me. It’s not me who created these rules. I’m not even the messenger. The ancients said death will part us and you both repeated it, willingly, smiling even, I bet. (Gavin and I did.) I’m not wise enough to scribe that in stone for everyone to use every day and mean it.

So if I were you, and I didn’t listen so well the first time, I might try to make amends. I might think about what my giggles were hiding. I might open my ears and my heart. I might talk to others. I’d apologize to Brenda, give the panel of men a good talking to about how women like men who listen and are sensitive, and how widows are the best deal in the dating market, and maybe start listening to some human stories from situations that scare you.

I can’t tell you to lay off the vino. I’m not the one who placed the glass there at 9 a.m. That’s not your fault, and hell, I’m a thirsty girl.

And Kathie Lee, I ain’t saying you need to own the word “widow” yet. Fact is, I saw myself in your nervous tittering, in your dashing to the explanation: “Maybe she’s not really ready to date yet!!!”

And yeah, when I had an older husband, I’d spend the energy ingratiating myself to the younger men sitting next to me, too. I might laugh at their dumb jokes. But I wouldn’t be proud of it.

I’d like you to be prepared better than I was. You won’t be poor, and you won’t have a kid in diapers, or responsibility for his senile mother, so you’ll already be way ahead of me.

But you can do better than you did on Friday. You can listen. You can let that big heart of yours, big enough for loving your man and your family, open to hear the stories of loss AND of loving again that are out there in the world beyond the studio, the people who make you look good and the ones who say "yes" to everything.

What do you think Frank wants? He wants you to be happy. He'd want you to be out there dating again someday, with full respect for the love you two shared. (Wouldn't you want the same for him?) It'll be an act of courage to love again, but we don't compare. We're women of action, we who grieve.

Lady, you've got a platform, and I know you like to work on making the world a better place. Let’s work together to increase understanding for young people living with loss, struggling to raise children alone, and help prepare folks for the death that, if we are human, and if we love God, we know will come for all of us. Tell me what you’d like to do, there’s more than enough work for us all.

C’mon, woman. I know you can do it.


Supa Dupa Fresh
The Freshwidow

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My Response to the Today Show, Part 1: The Baggage of Surviving a Happy Marriage

A young widowed friend of mine, Brenda Boitson, recently called in a question about dating as a widow to the Panel of Men who give women advice about men on the Today Show. The video is online if you wish to view about four minutes of embarrassingly shallow behavior, starting with “Why? We don’t want to become your next victim.” You’ll see that the response of this small group of 6 people illustrates the problem the stigma of loss brings to any social situation, without shedding much light on Brenda’s question of what to do about it.

First of all, I have to point out that the “next victim” comment, which annoyed so many viewers, is actually a prime cliché (it’s not meaty enough to be called a joke) and can be a little funny in the right situation. I use it. If I’d been the one calling in instead of Brenda, I might have said, “Dudes, why y’all afraid of widows? It’s not like I killed him.” I’m sure, in fact, that I did use that line sometimes. Possibly even in bed.

We widows are pretty used to feeling like we have cooties, and expressing this jokelet on our own time can cast folks’ hidden, negative thoughts in such a ridiculous light that it neutralizes the social situation.

Yes, it was a horrendous comment in the context of Today, and it may have hurt Brenda’s feelings (doesn’t sound like it), but mostly it just exposed panelist Chuck Nice as a man of weak humor and low maturity. (Later in the show he’d helpfully point out that he’s also shallow and not a very thoughtful husband). I’m not used to the low standards of morning television, but I’d have expected the producers of a national show to prepare the men (I can’t say “gentlemen”) better for her call.

Second, the responses of all the folks on stage can teach us something about why people have such a hard time dating, or rather, why it’s so easy for them to date and so hard to find a partner and live happily ever after.

Third, I have some words for Kathie Lee Gifford, whose incessant giggling is the prime irritant in that segment. I’d like to be constructive and compassionate even though she was neither. But I’ll make that a separate post.

So what can the response of these “boys” (not men) to Brenda’s question tell us? Their laughter and avoiding the question says they are scared of death and feel threatened that it would hit someone in their age cohort. (If you’ve faced a loss, you already knew that). Their words tell us that people who date are perfectly comfortable dealing with divorce. Above all, it demonstrates why marriages don’t work out and then the same people date and date and date: they have no fricking idea that they are looking for the wrong things.

Because here’s the thing: Everyone says widows have baggage. But by the time we’re ready to date, most widows and widowers have learned to stow it neatly under the back of the seat in front of them.

By age 40, everyone has some kind of “baggage.” (Often, it’s a code word for “kids.”)

Maybe a widow has the baggage of having fulfilled her vows, “till death do us part.” If she feels cheated, she’s likely to blame God for it. And we have some contempt for the polite world’s denial of death because we know everyone will go through loss sooner or later. We just had it happen earlier, when we were young and had many responsibilities.

As a widow, I often felt that if believing in your own mortality was “baggage,” I didn’t want to exist without it. After all, no one gets out of this life alive.

Divorced people enter the dating world working hard to get over their strong sense that they gave everything and in return, were rejected. The men’s ads often say “seeking an independent woman” and the women’s ads say “Looking for a man who MEANS WHAT HE SAYS.” Read between the lines and you’ll find that he felt milked by the divorce and she couldn’t get over a cheating episode. Sometimes the roles are reversed, but divorced folks feel BURNED.

If you haven’t lost a love you’ll think we’re crass and brutal, but every widow I know has said this statement: MY husband didn’t WANT to leave.

Don’t get me wrong. I love divorced people. I married one. But if you think I have more baggage from losing my husband than he has from losing his wife’s affections AND his children – you’re wrong.

Widows argue that we had good marriages, but they ended as we pledged they would. We’ve been through tough stuff too and we figured out how to stay together. While we may not be ready to get hitched again, as daters, we’re arguably the only ones on the field with great track records. I remember thinking: I had one good marriage, I can have another if I like. I know how to make it work.

So here’s what’s wrong with their response to Brenda: the expert daters were framing all the questions wrong. (Not their fault; everyone does).

If you are looking for a good partner, you should date someone who was a good partner. If you want to marry, date women who think marriage is a good thing and who are able to be fulfilled within the institution. If you want to be treated well, date women and men who expect to be treated with respect and who view you as a potential commitment.

Yeah, death sucks, but if it’s baggage, you still have to accept it. After all, why else do you date, if not because you don’t want to die alone?

(Go to part 2, an open letter to Kathie Lee Gifford.)

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Your Birth Story, Part 1

Your father and I were making a point of ignoring the Super Bowl, watching five back-to-back episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and then a few Larry Sanders shows, the first ones I’d seen, long overdue.

You were three days “late.” You’d been due on Friday, but I wanted to be macho so I drove downtown to a Happy Hour with grad school friends at the Lion’s Nest. I didn’t expect to be back to work on Monday; the doctor would insist on inducing that day if you didn’t show up.

I don’t remember what we ate that Sunday, but we’d been for a long walk at our favorite formal gardens. I knew I’d never be any more ready. I was terrified of labor, of delivery, worried in some small way that I wouldn’t be able to deliver as a mother despite years of yearning and planning and work, and several phases of medical interventions.

Now that I’ve spent dozens of additional days in the hospital, attending Gavin himself, I’m completely burnt out on medical care, insurance coverage, and pharmaceutical advances. I’ve been through advocating for a patient with a rare cancer, navigating treatment mazes, and the rough road up after each hurdle knocks you down. I’ve had care, in the system, as the sole survivor after my patient lost that battle. But on that Sunday night, as far as we knew, we were done with special attention, done with heroic measures, we’d have our reward for our debt and struggle.

Once labor started, of course, pure primal fear was in charge but I knew I couldn’t go back, not to anything.

Your Daddy and I stayed up as late as possible watching stupid TV. It had to happen and I was too excited to sleep, knowing there was a deadline with some muscle behind it. In some ways it was a pretty ordinary evening before a known snow day. I was trying to eat a lot for reservoir, since I knew they wouldn’t give me a bite once things started. I can’t even do homework on an empty stomach, and this big job would, I knew, take me to at least one physical limit before giving us our whole new world, the mystery we wanted so much.

I sat down on the toilet, tired. Was it worth it to go through all the elaborate stages of dental hygiene on this final night? Sleep had to come first. Would I wake up in labor in the wee hours, or would it be up to Dr. K?

I turned around to flush. Holy crap. They said this doesn’t usually happen.

I don’t do anything picture perfect. But my mucus plug, the uterus’ cork, which serves in textbook labor as a pop-up timer indicating when the baby’s “done,” had dropped into the toilet.



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)!

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