Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Loss, Depression & Creativity

I read recently that one in five people suffer from depression - some more severe than others. Working in the mental health field, I see the extremes, the dual diagnoses, and the wonderful people who struggle with all of them. I'm also acutely aware that I deal with depression as well.

I had an 88 year-old client named Muriel who died last year. Her son called me and told me she had taken a turn for the worse, and asked if I could come by and see her. This was in October, right after my own mother passed away. It was difficult, but strangely therapeutic.  I knew Muriel was ill. I knew she had grown terribly thin. But, when I came back into town after my mom's funeral, I was taken aback by how much she had worsened in just a couple of weeks.

I sat with Muriel and talked to her as she went in and out of sleep. I held her hand. I helped her with the things she needed help with. She had been a client for a long time and, as with many of my clients, she was very dear to me. A former schoolteacher who had traveled the world on her own, I admired her strength, and her fierce independence - and loved her warm sense of humor.

Muriel turned to me during my last visit with her and quietly said, "I want you to know, you've always been my sunshine." Needless to say, I will never forget that moment. It touched me so deeply, but also made me sad I hadn't been there for my own mother before she passed away (that plane ride to her funeral was pretty tough the next day - I was too late). I also remembered Muriel asking me one time if I ever got depressed. She said I was always full of laughter and like a ray of light when I visited. She said she simply couldn't see me ever getting depressed. I assured her that I did indeed get depressed at times - just not around her.

A year has passed since that time. Although I know I am still grieving my mother's death, and the holidays are here again, I also still miss Muriel and the two other ladies that died last year. There was Rosemary, who died at 99 1/2, and reminded me of my own grandmother who I lost at fourteen. And then there was Pat, a feisty 86 year-old who always wanted me to stay and play cribbage when we were done working.

But the depression continues to linger on. In fact, it has been there off and on for years. In and out of tough times, losses, and unexpected changes. Although I see it clearly and with compassion in others, it always throws me in myself. Why is the positive, upbeat person others see harboring a sad, disappointed one?

I had recently been thinking I should just give up on writing. I've had to give up on other dreams recently, and I thought maybe it was time to throw in the towel on writing too. But, I've been writing since I was three years old, so maybe stopping isn't really possible. Writers, all artists, have something wired in us that makes us just have to work on our art. Although one in five people deal with depression, the numbers are even higher if you are a creative type. It just goes with the territory.

Searching for encouragement, I came across this post from last March in Joe Konrath's blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He published a letter from writer Kiana Davenport. His response to her discouragement helped mine as well:
Over the years, I've lost count of the conversations I've had with writers who had similar experiences to Kiana and me. Tales of rejection. Of bad luck and stupid publisher decisions. Of getting the shit end of the stick, over and over and over.

It got me thinking. For every writer popping open the champagne because they just got a new deal, there are dozens who have gotten screwed. And no doubt some of them thought about swimming out to sea. While my depression never got that severe, I certainly wouldn't want to relive those dark, depressing, frightening months without a publishing contract.

But I never have to feel that way again. None of us do. We don't have to rely on a gatekeeper's "yes" or "no" to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We don't have to put all of our eggs into the legacy publishing basket anymore. Hell, we don't have to put any eggs in there at all.
I've only published nineteen articles, one in an anthology, and have two incomplete books that have been sitting on a shelf for a few years now.  I thought it would be a natural flow to the next published piece. But, it simply doesn't work that way. Joe gives not only encouragement, but ideas for self-publishing. Writing has never been easy.  It isn't supposed to be. I wonder if what I've always been told is talent is just mediocre, but I also ask how can you give up something that's such a deep part of you?

Thank you Joe, and thank you Kiana (check out her book, House of Skin) for helping me to realize this. We all get depressed, we all get discouraged. But, writers need to support and help each other get through it, no matter what the outcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dorli Rainey

I've been fortunate to work with some pretty gutsy elderly women in my day job. They have certainly taught me as much as I could ever teach them. Along with being total sweethearts, their compassion, wisdom, and life experience just made them that much more interesting.

Dorli Rainey, the 84 year-old lady who was      pepper-sprayed while at Occupy Seattle, reminds me of them.  She was interviewed on Countdown. An activist all her life, including for civil rights and women's rights, her courage and spirit shine through that soft spoken voice:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic

I really admire JK Rowling's writing. Her ability to create not only rich, complex characters, but the entire world of Harry Potter, is just amazing. 

But she's done something else truly amazing. In a post from September 3, 2010, I wrote about the research clinic she planned to open in honor of her mother who had Multiple Sclerosis. Set to open in 2012, the work has now started on building the clinic. According to The Press Association:
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has buried a time capsule to mark the start of building work on a research clinic for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
The clinic, at the University of Edinburgh, is to be set up following a £10 million donation from Ms. Rowling and will be named after her mother, Anne, who died of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 45.
The buried capsule contains written accounts from patients living with multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as contributions from clinicians, commenting on current treatments and their hopes for the future.
Ms. Rowling said: "I am both delighted and moved to be marking the start of the official building work for the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic. This time capsule captures how it is for people living with MS and other neurodegenerative diseases right now, and the current state of research. I believe that this clinic will have a huge positive effect on both of those areas in the future."
"All patients with these tough diseases need treatments that will slow, stop and ideally reverse damage. This clinic will pioneer a range of studies that over time will improve patients' lives through innovative clinical research."
With this kind of genuine compassion in the muggle world, one can see how her fictional characters seem so real.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Last of the Harvest

As things have been flying the last few weeks, it has been a bit overwhelming with little time to write. I always feel a bit shorted when I can't write - whether it's blogging, working on an article, or other projects.

So, I'll write about our last dinner with the favorites of our garden harvest.  With angel hair pasta, the last bit of pesto (which, try as I might to freeze and save, we always end up eating all too soon), and the last of the kale, sauteed in olive oil with caramelized onions, garlic, and Pepperoncini.  

I'm especially proud of the kale this year, and all the new and different ways we learned how to cook it.  Bright purple with deep green veins in the leaf, it's beautiful and delicious.

It's almost farewell to autumn. The clocks go back this weekend, but it's already getting darker earlier.  The gorgeous bright red, orange and yellow leaves are dropping faster to the ground, creating a blanket of color wrapped around the trees.

I will miss our garden full of rosemary, basil, chives, sage, habanero and green peppers, and the beautiful kale, but then we'll have the cabinet full of fresh, hot salsa and and other canned reminders of the garden...which will be great once the snow starts to fall.