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Today I’d like to introduce my friend Maria K. I met Maria a good few years ago, via Facebook and mutual friends, and she’s always managed to impress me with her strength and determination as well as a kind heart and a kick-ass nature. As you’ll read in her bio at the end of the post, Maria lives in the USA but she didn’t start out there. Her experience of living with a mental health issue that often goes undiagnosed and is often misunderstood, is both inspiring and thought-provoking.

Over to you, Maria:

 

 

I wrote this a few years ago and would like to add a couple of things in light of the current political situation.

There were some good things about the existing health care system, but there were also many issues. I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t have multiple stories of unaffordable medications, inability to see specialists in a prompt manner, being blindsided by bills for surgeries and labwork they were convinced were covered by their insurance.

Mental health is, perhaps, one of the biggest gaps. There is still a broad misunderstanding of what mental illness actually is, and mental patients are frequently dismissed as people with the “bad case of nerves” or “unable to handle stress”. Taking a sick day for a sore throat, a broken leg or an appendectomy is acceptable. But taking a mental health day is considered lame and often earns you a bad reputation with managers and co-workers. At the other extremes, there are entire groups of doctors and patients too quick to issue and accept a mental illness diagnosis, where there shouldn’t be one.

Most insurance companies only cover ten therapy sessions per year. Anyone requiring ongoing attention of a mental health professional will tell you how laughable and pathetic that number is. It often takes up to five sessions just to establish rapport with your therapist. And what if you need therapy every two weeks? Once you have used up your ten sessions, it’s either pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket or endure a multi-month interruption in therapy, which can be a dangerous proposition.

With the constant mergers between the health insurance providers and companies shopping for the cheapest plan possible, a mental patient is at a constant risk of losing his or her therapist due to a change in the network coverage. This actually happened to me – I was very fortunate to find my perfect therapist from the first try (again, both mental health professionals and patients will tell you how rare that is), but I had to give her up after only six months because my employer made a decision to switch to another insurer, who did not cover my therapist. That was eight years ago. I was unable to find a good therapist match ever since.

Having seen this many issues with the mental health aspect of our health care alone, I honestly cannot understand people who say that we did not need a reform and that the system was well enough as it was. What follows is a narrative of the good, the bad, and the weird of being a Borderline.

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I always joke that Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a trashcan of mental illnesses. It combines nine symptoms from some of the more prominent mental disorders: a little bit of bi-polar, a little bit of clinical depression, a little bit of social anxiety disorder, a little bit of ADD – but none of the symptoms are pronounced enough for a BPD patient to be diagnosed with any one of those illnesses. So, at some point mental health specialists must have gotten together and decided, “Well, let’s just pile them all into this one group and call this weird mental illness symptom combo thingie Borderline Personality Disorder. Doesn’t that sound cool?!”

Being a BPD patient (also referred to as “a Borderline”) is weird. You get misdiagnosed a lot and sometimes have to go through several therapists and several different medications to figure out what is wrong with you. As with any other mental illness, it’s tough to face the fact that you actually have a problem – primarily because the symptoms are so scattered and not always pronounced. One Borderline cannot always relate to another Borderline, because while you have to have 6 pronounced symptoms out of 9 to be diagnosed with any certainty, they don’t have to be the same 6 symptoms across the board, so a fellow BPD patient might have the same self-destructive tendencies, but not the social anxiety piece.

BPD is a pain in the neck – primarily because of its unpredictability. You never know, which one of your 6 pronounced symptoms (or umpteen combinations thereof) is going to hit you on any given day and how strongly. You might have a mild mood swing or you might have a full-blown “scared out of your mind” panic attack. (I’ve had those in my car in the middle of a highway a few times. It wasn’t fun.) Or you could have two contradictory symptoms acting up on the same day: like your social anxiety and your fear of being alone. Trust me – you do not want to be there!

I think it was the panic attacks and the self-destructive bouts that made me finally give in and try medication. I resisted the thought for a long time, because I thought taking medication would be a sign of weakness. But honestly? I think it was a lot braver to decide not to be miserable on a weekly basis anymore. The last straw came when I had a panic-induced breakdown in the middle of an aikido class in front of my instructor and all my fellow martial arts students. My doctor (the greatest, most wonderful person ever) put me on Lexapro, which is the mildest are pretty much gone. I still have an occasional breakdown, but they happen once every 3-4 months – not once every week.

Interestingly enough, it was Lexapro effectiveness that made me change jobs about a year and a half after I started medicating. I had this very meticulous, detail-oriented boring job, where I got slammed by my boss for having one digit in my documents out of order. The job was so monotonous, that I couldn’t keep my mind focused. I talked to my doctor about it and she suggested that we try shifting to Wellbutrin, which is an ADD drug, to help me stay focused. The problem was – Wellbutrin and Lexapro are mutually exclusive and should not be taken together, so I had to get off Lexapro. That was one of the worst months in my life! Wellbutrin did its job – I managed to stay focused despite the monotonous work I had to do. However, I have lost every positive effect I managed to build up with Lexapro over the previous year and a half. I started having panic attacks again and, worst of all, my self-destructive tendencies also decided to rear their ugly heads. I was so miserable, I cried every morning because I had to go to work and I cried every evening because my work made me even more miserable. Talk about a clear indication that it was time to change jobs! I did change jobs and went back to my trusty Lexapro and to feeling as close to normal as I could ever get.

With some of the uglier portions of BPD under control I am not sure if I would want to get rid of BPD altogether. Not everything about being a Borderline is bad. My mind activity is almost always at top pitch. I can think in 10 different directions at the same time and never lose track of any one of them. In all fairness, having an overactive mind can be troublesome sometimes – it makes one bored quickly when working on only one or two tasks and it’s difficult to settle down when it’s time to go to sleep. Having several things going at once helps in the former case (I usually have a database of some sort going on, an electronic copy of a book I am reading, a couple of e-mails, a trouble-shoot, and either a blog or one of my own books that I’m working on). I haven’t found any cure for the latter – difficulty of shutting down – other than taking half a Melatonin at dinner. I am not fond of pills, but any of the other “getting sleepy” methods just didn’t work for me consistently. [I had since stopped using any sleep medications, opting for natural remedies like Lavender and Valerian root.]

On a positive side, my memory is huge – I remember myself since I was 3 years old and I can recount stories from then till now with details and in color. I am lousy with dates and phone numbers and I do need to have a conversation with a person to remember his or her name for good. At the same time storylines, character names, major scenes and descriptions from hundreds of books I’ve read are not a problem – they are as fresh in my mind today as they were when I first read them.

I do have terrible nightmares, but I also have the most beautiful dreams – 3D, in color, with amazing plot twists. Who needs cable to watch a thrilling spectacle? All I need to do is go to sleep.

My ability to analyze just about anything is really sharp. I work as an analyst (it’s actually my job title), but I always joke that I am not an analyst by trade – I am an analyst by birth. My brain is wired for it. I think in tables and databases, when I need to, and arrive at conclusions so fast that I sometimes get frustrated by other people who don’t get it (I am working on being more tolerant about it).

When I was in grad school at RIT I had to take a couple of mandatory liberal arts courses to fulfill the credit requirements. I took Social Psychology among other things, where we had to do some analysis of various sets of data from public polls. After I have submitted my first summary, our instructor asked my permission to use my homework as an example of proper analysis in other classes. I found it rather amusing, because it must have ticked off a lot of Psychology majors to be shown how to do public data analysis by a Mechanical Engineer.

Yes, BPD is still an illness – there is nothing I can do about that. But when I think about it, I honestly wouldn’t want to give up the always-active brain, the memories, the analytical ability and especially the dreams only to get rid of an occasional day when I feel really, really bad. The black, depressive, self-destructive moments do pass and I am getting better at handling them. So, given I choice, I think I would rather keep on being a Borderline. Wouldn’t you?

Maria K. (the pen name of Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova) is a Russian-Ukrainian immigrant, writer, translator, and blogger, covering a wide range of topics from travel and fashion to politics and social issues. 

Mind of a statistician combined with the creativity of a writer and an artist, and backed up by the in-the-trenches, get-your-hands-dirty engineering training in a real-life manufacturing environment. …All of it is packaged within a woman of unique style, comprehensive education, superior organizational ability, iron-clad discipline and milti-faceted interests. 

A non-fiction and science fiction writer in her own right, Maria is also a prolific translator of less-known works of Russian and Ukrainian literature into English with over thirty original and translated publications. Her most prominent translations include her grandfather Vasily Kuznetsov’s Siege of Leningrad journals titled The Ring of Nine, and Thais of Athens – a historic novel by Ivan Yefremov. Both works quickly made their way into the top 100 Kindle publications in their respective categories and continue attracting consistent interest and acclaim from readers.

 

http://www.landofmariak.com/

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.” TS Eliot, Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets)

 

Language is a slippery thing; it will not stay still. Words that meant something a decade ago now seem to mean something else. Remember when ‘cool’ meant chilled but not ice cold? Remember when ‘wicked’ meant evil? Recently, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, managed to tarnish his reputation by accidentally using the wrong words. The world exploded with outrage. I’m not even going to try and explain what he said because while I am a bit older than him, we belong to those now over a certain age, and it becomes harder to keep abreast of all the changes in what is and is not acceptable in areas such as race, gender and other sensitive issues. I was gently corrected for using the wrong terminology when referring to people who are deaf or heard of hearing. It’s become a minefield and I’ve become acutely aware that using the wrong term through ignorance could bring down the skies upon my head. There comes a point when it becomes almost impossible to keep up and remember all the correct terms when you’ve seen them change several times and seen what was once acceptable and even polite become something that will get you vilified.

Not only does language change, but we debase it. Let me take a word I use here quite often: DEPRESSION. Frequently now I hear the word used to refer to a state that is a fair old way from actual clinical depression. Too often, someone will say, “I’m depressed,” to meet the response, “What about?” Someone who has been affected by this hideous condition is unlikely not to know that there is no “about” when it comes to depression. But people are using it when they mean they’re fed up, down in the dumps and out of sorts. By using it for these normal, passing human states, the word has become degraded and, sadly, it affects how the illness is viewed. It diminishes it. I’ve heard terms like OCD and bi-polar used in the same way (I’ve even heard someone use bi-polar to describe changeable weather). It saddens me.

Another term I have heard that seems to hold totally different meanings to different people is WRITER’S BLOCK. For some, writer’s block is a mild thing, a pause or a hesitation that merely needs a bit of a push to get past it. Indeed, Philip Pullman (author of The Northern Lights trilogy, among others) dismisses it as a disease of amateurs, saying how there’s no such thing as Plumber’s Block, and it’s a case of if you write for a living, you get your words down. Yet, for others (myself included) writer’s block is a dreadful existential crisis that can’t be cured by a few days off, or a hot bath, or using writing prompts. The term is used for both; the closest comparison is perhaps to the way people use the term “’flu.” Real ‘flu kills. The Spanish ‘flu after the first world war killed far more than the war did. Yet people call a bad cold, the ‘flu, perhaps because it elicits more sympathy and time off work.

Real ‘flu wipes out thousands of healthy people. Real clinical depression kills. Real writer’s block destroys writers. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the way language has changed and perhaps coin new and better phrases that describe devastating things in ways that cannot be co-opted to lesser uses.

 

Six years of blogging – come celebrate with me!

On the 9th of February 2009, I started this blog. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but it felt like the right thing. Six years and over 850 posts later, and I’m still not very sure what I’m doing, but it does still feel like the right thing!

I’ve seen a LOT of changes. Blogging friends who have burned bright, and then burned out, deleted their blog, started new ones, vanished utterly from the blog-o-sphere. The vital impact of blogging has waned, possibly under the sheer weight of social media outlets, yet still I continue because I have things I need to say.

My blog predated my publishing journey, and while that’s been a big part of my blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking has been more than just another writer’s blog. It’s not here to showcase my work but to share the essence of who I am. I’ve decided 2015 is a Jung year, and reading Man and His Symbols, I came across this quote from Wassily Kandinsky: “Everything that is dead, quivers. Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street….Everything has a secret soul, which is silent more often than it speaks.” I blog so that the secret souls can be heard, the voices of the stones, the trees, the beasts and the birds, and my dialogue with them is what feeds my writing.

To celebrate this anniversary, I’m offering my first published novel, Strangers and Pilgrims at a ridiculously low price (the same as for the short story collections) , worldwide, for about 48 hours, as a thank you to my readers. I’m very wary of the way many authors under-price their work so this is why it’s a very short period of discount, and the price will go back up within a few days. I hope you enjoy it; it’s my way of saying, Thank you for being with me for a time on this journey.

Vivienne Tuffnell

Viv:

A rather splendid experience: I am interviewed!

Originally posted on The Bingergread Cottage:

I’m joined in the Bingergread Cottage today by a dear friend with whom I share a lot. Welcome, Vivienne and make yourself at home. Don’t give Lily the cake, it’s chocolate and she doesn’t like it anyway. Help yourself to tea or coffee and let’s have a chat.

Mmmmmm coffeeeee and cake….

We’ve both had a rather “meandering” spiritual path, haven’t we? Tell us about yours.Viv 1

I’ve been drawn to the mystical my entire life. I remember creating a shrine in my bedside cupboard when I was about eight or so. I chose to become a Christian when I was twelve but while I still would define myself as a follower of the Christ, I suspect that I’m not Christian enough for many Christians and not pagan enough for many pagans. I’ve been labelled a witch a few times (with the addition of white or green or even Christian) because…

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Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

It is the scent that reaches me in my bear-like slumbers, drifting day after day in a form of hibernation that sees me rarely raise my head from the nest of covers. It does not force its way into my subdued consciousness, but instead it seems to creep quietly, humbly, into my cave and stands by my bed, waiting for me to notice it.

I rise from the dreamless state that has held me for months, eyes flickering open, and I take a sharp, deep breath like a drowned woman returning to life. The air holds a scent I’d forgotten existed. It’s the smell of thawing earth and dripping ice.

The wall of ice at the mouth of my cave still blocks out much of the light, so the cave is deep in shadows, but through the blue-white mass I see a brighter colour, tinged with gold and I realise it might be the sun. Pushing back my covers, I sit up and take another harsh,deep breath, drawing in the clear cold air I can feel infiltrating the sour, stale air of my den.

I get to my feet, joints stiff and sore and movement difficult, and I stumble to the ice wall. Before I reach it, I can feel the change. Air is moving, through the cut-out in the ice that had become blocked around the winter solstice, and though it is still the frozen air of winter, it is no longer the same. There is moisture in it that holds the scents of the thaw. When I move into the tunnel through the ice wall, I see that droplets of water are rolling slowly down, as if the tunnel is weeping with relief. The tunnel is still partially blocked, but a window has opened, that drips steadily as it melts, and through this rough portal, the air flows. I stand as close as I can to the opening in the ice and beyond it, I can hear the sounds of flowing, bubbling water and the first bird song.

Sacred Pool meditation

You are on a woodland path beneath a canopy of trees in full but fresh leaf. The path is soft and sandy but every two feet or so, there is a large flat stone that lies set into the soil like a stepping stone in a river. Like a river, the path winds in a leisurely fashion and takes you forward without rushing. There is birdsong all around and the breeze is pleasantly warm yet refreshing. Above the canopy, the sky is a deep, restful blue, with a few pure white clouds that move like slow ships across the ocean of sky.

The trees ahead form a tighter tunnel that then opens into a green archway and beyond it there is a clearing. At the centre of the clearing is a wide pool of water, the margins of which are marked by more of the large flat stones. Unlike the ones within the wood, these are speckled with lichen and mosses and ferns grow between them. At the far side of the pool the water spills over into a fast-moving stream, suggesting that the pool is fed by a spring.

Walk closer to the water and find somewhere to sit. The ground near the pool is soft and comfortable, plump with moss and deep, thick grass. Once you are seated, try and look into the water. Let your eyes sink into the cool green depths, and see that amid the water-weeds, little fishes dart hither and thither. Some are bright silver and others are golden. Their movements are like flickering flames at the bed of the pool. What else can you see down here?

Bubbles rise from time to time, strings of minute silvery beads that burst as they reach the surface. Now and again, a larger fish rises, breaches the surface with a soft ‘pop’ and dives back down. Dragonflies hover, jewel-like, above the water. A few water lilies bloom, and on the margins other wild plants flower. There is a scent of mint from the water-mint that seems to grow everywhere.

The air is filled with the small sounds of nature, from bees to birds and behind it all, the song of the stream as it rushes over its pebbled bed. Though there are no man-made symbols, you know without a doubt that this is a sacred, beautiful place and you are blessed by being here. Sit awhile to let the blessing sink in, gazing on the reflection of the sky and the trees in the mirror-like water.

When you are filled with the peace of this place, dip your hands into the water and bathe your face with it. Cool, but not cold, it wipes away any weariness of soul and refreshes you for your return to the world beyond the sacred pool.

Originally posted on INVOLUTION: Science and God: Reality Redefined:

Following the Author’s Guild Debate between Joe Konrath and Matthew Yglesias  against Scott Turow and Franklin Foer on how much of a friend Amazon was to writers this post would seem timely:

A Writer Redefines the Gulf. (Biographically)

Interview with somewhat dispirited author, Vivienne Tuffnell ( Author of The Bet, Square Peg, Accidental Emeralds, Strangers and Pilgrims, Away with the Fairies and The Wild Hunt and other short stories;)

This interview was stimulated by Vivienne Tuffnell’s recent posts. The Loss of the Joy  expressed her recent (and perhaps current) despair and traced its origins to the act of publishing. Following the publishing betrayal by someone she believed would help, and through the necessity of shouldering all the marketing speak, as well as its underlying (and mostly unquestioned) precepts she seems to have reached a psychological ‘Road Closed Pending Repairs’ sign.

Gems Disappearing. The Black and White of Liberty…

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