Writer’s block

So, readers, I have been dealing with an extended period of depression and insomnia (are the two linked? I have come across many papers which suggest that they are) and of course, it’s winter- and I always get lethargic and kind of mopey in winter.

All this means that, on my single days which I have to myself to write (those being Sundays), I find myself doing laundry, tidying the house, sitting on the couch typing diary entries or emails or blog posts, and basically doing anything and everything except writing fiction. Today has been no different- all I have accomplished is one load of laundry, a shopping trip to get groceries, and a long email to my collaborator at UCLA.

This is actually not great, since I’d like to get my novel finished by December 31 (a rough draft, at least), and I have a lot of chapters left. I am telling myself I can write a lot over the holiday break, but honestly- unless I am left alone, it’s just not going to be possible, and it’s the time of year where there is never a lot of time to oneself. I may have to revise my schedule for the novel and just chalk it up to my own frailty (curse you, seasonal affective and bipolar disorders!).

I have another couple of hours after I finish typing this post to work on creative writing- I may give it another shot. The self-talk running through my head isn’t helping me meet my goals: it’s a never-ending stream of “you’re too tired to write well, everything you write today will suck, just put it off until next year”, etc. etc.

It’s a vicious cycle, because each time I fail to meet my writing goals, I feel worse about myself. I need to have discipline and I need to try to muster what energy I had when I was writing two chapters a weekend. Here’s me signing off with a note that I’ve got about two hours left to write today, and even if all I do is stare at my computer screen, I am going to give it my best shot.

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Eleven months later

Hello, readers! Just a short note to let you all know how my experiment with the serotonin precursor 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is going.

Last year in early to mid December I started taking this supplement (50 mg each morning), in hopes that it might alleviate some of the worse symptoms of the depression I was periodically crashing into. I was a little worried that it might screw around with my head a bit, but actually, I felt much much better almost immediately. I’ve been taking it most mornings (some days I forget) ever since, and for the most part my moods have elevated and stabilized, and I have a lot more energy and focus. On the days I forget the supplement, by about lunchtime I’m anxious and feeling unsettled, unfocused, though if I have enough work to do I can power through it all. I find that even when I’m struggling with weird thoughts, having something to do which takes my mind off things and forces me to concentrate for hours at a time really helps.

I would say that, since it’s nearly a year later and I’m still doing well with it, that 5-HTP is a success. It may not work for everybody, since it would only plausibly have an effect if you’ve got a serotonin deficiency, but it seems to have worked well on me. Nice thing about it is that I don’t need a prescription- it’s available in most health food stores.

Every fall I usually wind up dealing with crazy thoughts- crazier than usual- because of the change in seasons, but I’m happy to report that this year it’s actually the opposite. I think having my medication plus 5-HTP is helping me stay a bit more myself even though the season is changing. We will see what happens in the middle of December, when it’s darkest, but for now I’m cautiously optimistic. No weird thoughts except for a few dreams I had where Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame wanted me to go on his show for millions of dollars (I wish!).

I’m making progress with all my various projects and have learned to work at a steady pace that lets me get things done, but does not exhaust me too much. I do need to focus next on exercising more, but so far, in this past eleven months I’ve made great progress in terms of my health and productivity.

Hooray!

Thanks, Seth, and I’m sorry if I was rude to you

Hello readers- my journey in this blog has been up and down, mostly down, for certain. I’m happy to report that since taking 5-hydroxytryptophan (a serotonin precursor) for the past nine months, I’ve avoided severe depression. Hooray!

I haven’t avoided delusions, though. My delusions have been interesting and complex, and have stimulated an interest in a few particular celebrities as well as the plot for a story which I hope to turn into a novel (I’ve thought of making it into a screenplay, but I don’t know very much about screenplays and the last thing I want to try to do is sell a screenplay based on my own delusions- that seems very self-absorbed, even for Los Angeles). The novel is described briefly here. The interest in the celebrities comes from very vivid dreams I’ve had, of telephone conversations with people unknown to me at the time who (in “hindsight”) later seemed to be certain famous people, and from other vivid imaginings. For example, I’ve thought I’ve met the cast of Family Guy outside a Starbucks at Magnolia and Lankershim in North Hollywood, and was incredibly rude to Seth MacFarlane, and possibly others. In this scenario, I didn’t know who Seth was and didn’t care- I found him incredibly annoying, though I’ve now forgotten why. I’ve spent many insomnia-riddled nights wondering if it’s at all possible that this could have happened (the Starbucks exists, and this would have happened during the writers’ strike, which Seth was a supporter of, and I lived in the neighbourhood then). I’m sorry, Seth and coworkers, if I was rude to you- being Canadian the idea of my being needlessly impolite is actually grating on me.

My following Seth’s Twitter account- for all that it usually contains silliness- has actually been extremely helpful. One of his tweets led me to write this short story, and another (a link to a blog post by Jonathan Agin, who wrote about how more people were upset by Brian Griffin dying than actual real children dying of cancer) spurred me to work on this cancer-related project. I’m happy to report that the cancer project showed some good preliminary results, and I’m taking the lead on grantwriting to try to get funding to pay for follow-up work, to be conducted probably in 2016. I have collaborators at the University of Guelph, Duke and UCLA who all are interested in this work, enough so to volunteer time and resources to try to make the reseach happen- we just need funds, and I learned last year that crowdfunding research is difficult for a person as unknown as I am (I only raised 10% of my goal, so self-funded the rest of my work).

Thanks, Seth- I realize I probably won’t ever reach you to mention how you’ve indirectly helped me do these things, or how much I enjoy your singing. That’s OK. I am content with my seat in the bleachers.

The dreams I have can be unsettling, even weird (aliens! Time travel! Mind-reading!), but for all the anxiety they cause when they are realistic and creepy (for example, dreams of people conspiring to hack into my email account and phone texts), often they are entertaining, even comforting, and have helped inspire me to do things I would not have thought possible even four years ago.

All you need to do

Since this blog is about mental health, primarily, I really find there isn’t a lot for me to say that hasn’t already been said. I may reframe this conversation or limit it to posts about stigma attached to mental illness when I run across such. I already have faced a tiny bit of that, with people thinking that when I take time off work for “stress” I’m being a delicate flower, when in fact I’m in hell and sometimes can barely function because of how upsetting the bizarre notions in my head are. No one would look down on a person grieving the loss of a loved one for taking time off work- it’s extremely emotionally upsetting. Everyone can relate to that. Well, so is some of what I have to deal with sometimes; the fact that my thoughts are not based in real events makes it in many ways worse, because I don’t get the sympathy or concern I would if it were not the case, but I experience them and relive them over and over and over, and am traumatized just as if they actually had happened.

I’ve been told to “just forget about it” or “just snap out of it”, and this does not help- I am not choosing to dwell on these ideas, they sneak up behind me, put a hood over my head, and attack. I try to distract myself with writing or exercise or movies or housework, when I’m feeling relatively well I go to work and often that helps a lot, but when I have a moment to myself or am trying to sleep at night, there they are- those damaging ideas, and the only thing that makes them leave is medication, rest, and time.

I am not complaining- most people, when they understand my situation, are sympathetic, or at least don’t tell me to my face that they think I’m being overly sensitive. Most people ask if I’m suicidal and when they find I’m not, want to talk to me, as if prying out my delusions will somehow help- this is kind of them, but this is not helpful. I need distraction from my problems, not an in depth analysis of them, particularly if I don’t know you well or I feel unsafe for some reason (as I do ALL THE TIME when I am paranoid), and I certainly am wise enough to know that, however well-meaning, analysis of my thoughts by a friend is just no substitute for psychiatric care. And my psychiatrists have told me over and over that I need to train myself to ignore my bizarre, upsetting thoughts instead of dwell on them, so, friends, talking to me about my thoughts while I am ill is only going to make things worse.

No, the best thing you can do is just be a friend- have coffee and just quietly put up with me stopping and staring off into space for a few seconds while an idea tries to ambush me, and continue on with the conversation as if nothing had happened instead of pouncing on it and trying to drag out all my worst nightmares from me. Just laugh with me at silly jokes or make comments about bad movies we watch, or enjoy a walk in a beautiful park with me. Anything to distract me from my thoughts. My long-distance friends find I send them anxious letters asking if bizarre things happened, or maybe making vague inquiries: the best thing to do is just to reply with “nothing like that happened” and sign off with a hug.

If I trust you and feel well enough, you’ll find out what my thoughts are eventually, and for that to happen all you need to do is apply kindness, and time.

I just lose sight of these gratitudes when I’m being swallowed by demons.

This isn’t one of those posts about what I’m grateful for, though listing such things each day can be quite useful. 

I’ve been under a fair bit of stress for months now, for a variety of reasons. Normally I can find ways to handle it, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling unusually blue. Tonight I’m actually feeling happy, though, and I’d like to share my short list of things probably contributing to this happiness:

 
1. Being left alone to write (wrote/edited about 8 chapters for my novel Anagama tonight)
2. A short bout of exercise on the elliptical
3. A Jones green apple soda with half a shot of vodka in it 😀
 
I hadn’t realized how much I need to spend time doing things like creative writing in a quiet environment where I won’t be interrupted. Tonight, as happens on every Monday night, my husband went to a makerspace meeting, and I think from now on I should make every Monday night my writing night. The inner peace I feel from being able to create something without interruption is amazing, and I think part of why I love being able to write so much is that I tell people I am a writer and am working on a book- but if I don’t actually accomplish steps toward that goal, my words become more and more hollow and I feel more and more upset with myself for not working toward my goal. Accomplishing something- even if only a few chapters- means I can be proud of myself, until the demons come whispering back.
 
I also think that exercise is something I should try to get more of. There are so many health benefits, and stress reduction is a huge benefit. My BMI is normal, but I myself feel I’m out of shape, because I spend so much of my days sitting in one place while I work. I enjoy being able to do what I term “computer work” (writing and data analysis), but I need to get some physical exercise as well if I am to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. 
 
So I am grateful, I am, for what health I have, for the abilities I have to accomplish things, and the opportunities I have to accomplish them. I just lose sight of these gratitudes when I’m being swallowed by demons. 

A month off to catch up on things sounds heavenly right now.

I’m pleased- not only have I been sleeping well, for the most part, but I’ve recently been sent some information that makes me pretty happy. Apparently someone has cured cancer tumours with bacteria! This relates directly to one of my work projects (more information here). 

I’d like to do a lot of things in the next few days, and I wonder if I will have energy to do them all. I want to work on my novel, I want to put together information for a paper on something relating to my cancer bacteria work, I want to finish work to do with my paid job. I’d also like to spend time learning about physics theories involving quantum mechanics and time travel for a second book idea.

It’s unlikely that I’ll do all these things. That’s fine, I’m managing fairly well, despite fighting off some kind of flu-like illness over the past couple of days (I spend a lot of time asleep, and work when I’m not sleeping).

I do feel better, thankfully- just in time for the weekend! I still want to get caught up with things at work, though, so I will be fighting to maintain a balance between relaxation and taking care of my health, and productivity. I will wait and see what happens. 

One thing that’s a bit odd- I found myself wondering if the cell phone number I had for someone was actually his number, or someone else’s. Now I’m afraid to call that number, not being absolutely sure who might answer!

I’d love to take all my papers and a computer and go someplace warm and sunny, where I could sit on a patio and relax and get lots of deferred work accomplished. I kind of envy the month my ex-psychiatrist took for just this purpose. A month off to catch up on things sounds heavenly right now. 

Here’s another kitten photo

Another update in this journal: things have been really good lately! I am making good progress with my projects at work, despite dealing with bouts of fatigue and headache that make it hard for me to focus on writing tasks, and yesterday I was given a set of data that is rewarding to deal with. I am quite content with work, though I often find myself wishing I had a nicely appointed office with ergonomic furniture! I often get neck aches from bending over my computer, and I would like a larger desk. 

I have been mostly in a good mood, though I am a bit worried about my inability to sleep lately. Sometimes my mind wanders off into strange little fantasies, which I try to make a note of in my actual diary so I can use them later in fiction writing. 

I’ve been told that I’m a “strange one”, and this is true. I was told this in the context of my spending about five minutes trying to change the desktop background on my husband’s tablet to a photograph of kittens suspended in underwear. I was unsuccessful- I was trying to do this quietly, without being noticed, as a little joke to play on him, and it turned out that he had to make the change himself. I’m still not used to Windows 8.

Here is the kitten photo:

Obtained by Google searching "cute kittens images" - unsure of photographer

Obtained by Google searching “cute kittens images” – unsure of photographer

May you have a pleasant day. I am looking forward to another day myself, hopefully productive. I have a lot of things outside work that I want to spend time on- my novel, a new refinement for another novel idea, reading a fascinating book I found about additional dimensions in spacetime. One thing at a time, one day at a time, and I am hopeful that I’ll find the energy to work on all these things in the time I have. 

Here’s another kitten photo:

Again, not sure of photographer

Again, not sure of photographer

Eventually, I’ll get there.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, largely because I have been busy. Today was a busy day as well, and a BBC show (Paradise) is on the television. It’s an interesting show, and I’m paying attention, but I felt I should say something here. It is a diary, after all. 

I wrote a few friends about an odd dream I had that was fairly amusing- it had to do with a strange phone call, “The Daily Show”, a famous celebrity, and someone unexpectedly kissing Jon Stewart at my direction (I was quoting Peter Griffin from “Family Guy” at the time). I woke up giggling from it. One of my friends, whom I confide in fairly often, wrote back to me that I’m a “strange one” and he is quite right- I’ve had all sorts of strange ideas, some of which inspire my fiction, some of which I keep mostly to myself. 

I’ve been dealing with a fair number of things- my cancer research project, other projects I’m juggling, my regular work, and I’m still trying to find time to take care of my health and spend time writing. There’s a reason I’m not terribly productive at home which is highly personal and which I will not share; this makes getting restful sleep difficult some nights. I’m spending a fair amount of time in coffee shops and libraries as a consequence. One way or another, I will meet my obligations. 

I may be on the verge of a major life change that would help me achieve a fair number of my goals, and help my husband achieve his as well. It may take me a bit longer than most, but eventually, I’ll get there. 

 

 

A modest proposal for mental health education

Well, I am back from my two-week trip to UCLA, and the research was successful (I can’t say what results there were, but they look very promising!), and I also saw some old friends that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since 2008-2009.

In the course of my interactions with people, I had a few negative interactions. Because I haven’t slept much lately my brain has seized upon these relatively trivial interactions and has blown them up entirely out of proportion to their real importance, and I am waiting patiently for a chance to go home and nap and put my brain to rest.

It occurs to me that my tendency to seize upon these sorts of ideas is not unique to me, though I may have it to a more extreme extent than most (and so I review what I say and do to a greater extent). When I’m very tired, like today, I tend to slip up a lot, so I’m pleased that I haven’t had too many interactions and will soon get a chance to go home and rest. However, people who haven’t been diagnosed with my condition, or who simply aren’t able to control themselves to the extent that I usually can, probably get lost in their angst-ridden thinking and behave badly because they have no idea how to control it or how to make themselves feel better/ more rational.

I wonder if it would be useful to train people in psychology starting much earlier than we do, in childhood classrooms? So many people suffer from varying degrees of mental instability or neurosis, and most have not been diagnosed- most likely from a lack of resources placed in mental health care. Only the very severe mental health cases get the attention they need, and unless a person has a lot of financial resources it is often difficult to get treatment for less severe conditions. Widespread awareness of one’s own thought processes, and an ability to analyze one’s thinking and identify irrational, damaging thought processes and deal with them in a healthy way would benefit society so much. It would be wonderful if these skills, which are essential to good mental health and stability, could be taught in schools. One can claim this is up to parents to teach, but many parents do not have these skills, or enough background knowledge to be able to convey them effectively.

Awareness of mental health issues in others would also help remove some of the stigma and the often well-meaning, but damaging, attempts to problem-solve conditions like depression. “Just buck up” and “be an adult” are not really what depressed people need to hear. I don’t often suffer from depression, but when I do I am extremely difficult to be around, and depression affects 1 in 10 adults in America. Coping skills for dealing with other people’s mental illnesses that are widely taught would also be of huge, huge benefit to society.

It seems to me that North American society spends a lot of time focusing on maintaining physical health in the human body- why not spend the same amount of time focusing on mental health?

People complain that there’s no cure for cancer

Good news: things in the lab are working well. Bad news: I will probably have to pay for a bunch of sequencing and electron microscopy work myself, since I spoke to the project manager & Dr. S’s budget is stretched very, very thin as it is. This is what happens when there are years upon years of budget cuts to scientific research funding. People complain that there’s no cure for cancer, or for the common cold- well, if Congress put as much money towards research as they do towards fighting wars in the Middle East, you’d see progress.