My Whole World Just Shifted!

Robin and I, along with my nephew Daniel, are finishing the final edits of a draft manuscript for our book, Despair to Deliverance: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness. In the meantime, I have started my new blog and plan to continue writing about many topics there.

But, to continue telling the behind the scenes story of finishing and publishing our book, I have to write about a recent email exchange between Daniel and I. Daniel lives two hours away from the town where Robin and I live. I moved away to go to graduate school, and Daniel lives in the city where I grew up, along with his father (my older brother) and the rest of his family. To edit our book, Daniel and Robin and I have been sending chapters back and forth by email. He makes comments using the Microsoft Word editing function. A recent comment included:

“Too many spaces. This is something I have noticed, but I haven’t gone through and fixed. Your spaces between sentences tend to vary. Here it was three, usually it is two, but technically I think it is supposed to be one. This is a habit that I have had to break myself, as I grew up doing two. Remember that this won’t be double spaced in a book. From a design point, single spaced paragraphs with two spaces between sentences are called ‘holes.’ Not sure if the publisher will fix this or not, but I thought you should be aware.”

I was grateful he brought it up. It is exactly what he needs to do as our editor. That is, point out to his old aunt that she is still living in the dark ages…back when people actually put two spaces between sentences. My reaction at first, though, was like a grief reaction.

Denial: What do you mean,there is only supposed to be one space? I was taught it was supposed to be two. I’ve ALWAYS put two spaces between sentences. How could this be wrong?

Anger: Okay, honestly, I didn’t really get angry. Confused, yes. Angry? Not really. Maybe it’s a stretch to use the Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief analogy.

Bargaining: I actually emailed Daniel and asked if he knew for sure. I couldn’t believe the whole world had made such a monumental shift, and I knew nothing about it. Was this really true? He said he would “ask around.” I quickly emailed him back and told him not to worry, I would research it. I relied on my usual research method. I googled it.

Depression: It turns out, Daniel was right! I found many articles on-line confirming that this shift had, in fact, taken place without me knowing it. How did this happen? I had honestly never heard one thing about this apparent change in the way everyone in the world is supposed to write. It doesn’t even look right to me to have only one space between sentences. When I am typing, putting two spaces is automatic. How will I ever make this change? My whole world just shifted!

Acceptance: Thank God for the Microsoft Word function called “Find and Replace.” When I realized I could just write the way I write, and then at the end easily switch all the places where I put two spaces to one space, I resigned myself to the new reality.

Okay, I have accepted it. But I still don’t like it. I’ve spent almost half a century doing things one way. Writing is a huge part of my life. I can’t believe this change happened. Who gets to decide these things?

As a complete digression, I have to tell about a similar moment when my world completely shifted recently. It reminded me of the whole “two spaces is now supposed to be one space” shift.

I now work in long-term care facilities (nursing homes) doing diagnostic assessments, staff consultations, neuropsychological testing and some limited psychotherapy. A couple months ago I was talking to a very young, thirty-something year old resident who is there due to severe physical health issues. We were talking about the grief he experiences about living in a nursing home at his age, when he suddenly changed the subject. He was drinking Coke out of a can, and asked a question that caused my other complete world shift.

“I saw this on Facebook,” he said. “Do you know what the hole in the pop top that opens a soda can is supposed to be used for?” He showed me the little metal piece that is lifted up in order to pop open the can. It does have a hole in the part that gets lifted.

“No, I have no idea,” I said, studying the piece of metal just like millions I have seen and used before to pop open the multitude of Diet Coke cans I have consumed in my lifetime.

Without saying a word, he turned the little piece of metal, which was still attached to the can, around so the hole covered the opening in the top of the can. He took a straw from a nurses’ cart that was sitting next to him, and stuck the straw through the hole, right into the can.

It blew my mind. It was perfect! I had never seen this, or heard about it. But, of course, it made complete sense. I laughed, and told him he had shifted my whole world. He laughed and said, “I know, right?”

It’s amazing how one little shift can instantly and completely change the way we have viewed something for our entire lives.

 

 

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I HAVE A NEW BLOG!

As we are continuing to work on wrapping up the editing process in preparation to publish “Despair to Deliverance,” I have decided to start a more general blog. After 23 years as a psychologist, I have a certain way of viewing the world and I have a lot to say about the absurdity of life. I’m not talking about the existential concept of absurdity that Robin describes in our book as one of the cornerstones of her previous negative and hopeless world view. I’m talking about the fact that there is so much that happens in life, that is so absurd, you have to just laugh about it. It really is ridiculous. I hope you enjoy my new project. Updates about the “Behind the Scenes” process of finishing our book will continue on this blog. I have lots to say about that. But, I hope you’ll also check out my new blog titled “We Are All in This Together: One Psychologist’s View on the Absurdity of Life.”  Here’s the link:

http://www.onepsychologistsview.com

 

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Cancer Update

I promised everyone an update.  I have been through a medical nightmare that I will be detailing in a future post.  Our health care system here in the US is difficult to navigate, to say the least.  But, I want to say the outcome is mostly good…at least for now.

The tumor that was removed from my bladder was diagnosed as non-muscle invasive bladder cancer.  The fact that it was non-invasive is very good.  That is the stage of the cancer.  The grade of cancer is how abnormal the cells are, which gives an idea of the risk of the cancer recurring and “progressing” (i.e. becoming more invasive).  My cancer was diagnosed as “intermediate” grade, which caused some confusion and angst and a referral to a new doctor for a second opinion in order to get clarity about the appropriate treatment.  The bottom line is that intermediate grade bladder cancer is treated conservatively.  I had a CT scan which showed that I am cancer-free for now.  I will have frequent checks for recurrences in the future.

Thank you to all our regular readers who have been so supportive of me, sending prayers and love across cyberspace.  I am so grateful for all of you!

I have lots to say about the experiences I have had with our health care system, both personally and professionally, among other things.  I have said before I will be starting a new blog…a more general one about my experiences as a psychologist, and, I have decided to include some of my personal experiences as well.  I think it’s time to start that blog, which I will be doing soon.  There, I will be writing in detail about the medical rollercoaster of the past few weeks.

Robin, Daniel (my amazing nephew and our editor) and I are still plugging away on editing and revising our book, Despair to Deliverance.  On this blog, I will continue to write about the process we are going through as we wrap it up and self-publish it.

Oh, and by the way…I am still being treated for a whiplash injury to my neck from that car accident on my really bad day.  My beloved car is being repaired, but it will not be done for another six weeks or so.  I will have some things to say about dealing with car insurance companies on my new blog as well.  Life, at times, is just absurd.

 

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“I’m Kind of Having a Really Bad Day.” (The Rest of the Story)

My last blog post was getting kind of long.  But my description of my bad day was not close to being done.  If you haven’t read the last post, that helps with perspective.  So here is what happened next…

Having just learned from my doctor that I had “lesions” in my bladder, I was driving to meet a good friend of mine for a drink.  I am so grateful for my network of friends who are very supportive of me.  This particular friend is someone I’ve known for many years and we joke about getting along so well because we “like to process life on 15 levels.”  I was anxious to tell her the news about my ultrasound results.

The traffic that day was busy as I was driving through the main shopping area in town.  At 5:30 pm, the time I was supposed to be at the restaurant, I was stuck at a stop light behind many cars at probably the busiest intersection in town…right by the big mall.  While sitting there, I texted my friend to say “On my way.”

Not more than 30 seconds later, I looked in my rear view mirror and had about one second to register that a car was coming toward me…fast.  Not braking.  Not slowing down.  Barreling right toward the back of my car.  I did not have a chance to even think about what to do.  The moment my brain processed that I was about to be hit, hard, it happened.

I was wearing my seatbelt, of course.  I was thrown forward, and then slammed back into my seat and head rest as expected in a collision from the rear.  The car that hit me was going so fast, it slammed my car into the car in front of me, and that car into the next one.

My neck instantly hurt.  As I said, I deal with chronic lower back pain and have for many years (ever since I was in an accident at the age of 27 that was equally not my fault).  More recently I’ve had pain and stiffness in my neck that was diagnosed as arthritis, but it had been getting much better as I have been vigorously exercising with my personal trainer.  As soon as my head slammed back into the headrest of my car, though, I felt instant pain in my neck. Of course.

The best way to describe the scene at this accident after it happened, is chaos.  We were at the busiest intersection in town, right by the big mall where everyone goes to shop, during the holiday shopping season, at rush hour.  There were cars everywhere.

My car was brand new.  My husband and I tend to drive cars for ten years or so, and then sell them to my family members who are happy to have reliable used cars that have been well maintained.  Last spring, I was starting to think about replacing my ten-year-old hatchback at the same time one of my family members learned he had a repair that was going to be more expensive than the value of his car.  I was happy to use this as an excuse to buy a new car, so I could sell mine to him.

People who know me know that I am a minimalist, and I don’t tend to spend money on “stuff.”  I also don’t tend to spend much on myself.  But, uncharacteristically, I splurged and spent more than I would have in the past on a new car that I completely loved.  I called it “my version of a mid-life crisis sports car” even though it is also a hatchback (I am practical to the core).  With my chronic back problems, the seat is the most important feature in a car for me.  I found that spending more for a higher end car got me a seat that is fully adjustable, heated, and comfortable enough that I can drive for many hours without the horrible discomfort that happens in other cars within a couple of hours.  My new car has been a complete pleasure for me to drive, and I have loved it.

So, I have to say there are very few times in my life when I have publicly lost my temper.  I mean really lost my temper.  One hour earlier I had learned I have some unknown growth in my bladder.  Now, my beloved new car was in ruins because someone was carelessly driving, without braking, into a mass of traffic, and ran right into me.

I was mad!  I don’t usually cuss, except when I am with people with whom I am comfortable and who know me.  I am a psychologist, who is usually good at presenting myself as a professional.  But, at that moment, I lost my mind.

I did not talk to the driver of the car which hit me.  There was a man and a woman, and I didn’t learn until later it was the woman who was driving.  The man asked me if I was okay and I simply said, “my neck hurts.”  We did not speak beyond that.  But, the drivers of the two cars in front of me, who were equally not at fault, became the recipients of my loud rantings about the damage to my brand new car, interspersed with many colorful swear words, and that the driver that hit us was not even braking!

The police arrived and I started to yell, “I saw them coming in my rear view mirror.  I was stopped.  They weren’t even slowing down.  I could tell.”  I managed to keep myself from swearing at the cop.

The police officer let me rant for a minute and then calmly said, “Ma’am, it is completely clear what has happened here.  Can I have your license, proof of insurance, and registration please?”

The ambulance arrived and the paramedics also received my angry rantings.  “I don’t need you to take me to the hospital,” I said irately.  “But whoever is documenting all of this needs to know I have back and neck problems anyway, and my neck hurts.  When I need fifty more sessions of physical therapy, I don’t want to have to be the one paying for it.  This is not my fault!”  The paramedics were calm and understanding, and assured me I could go the hospital later if I felt like I needed to.

After things were all sorted out, the first car was able to drive away.  The car I hit had its bumper intertwined with my grill, so I had to put my brakes on so he could rip his bumper off my car and then drive away.  The car that hit me had its whole front end smashed.  Their air bags deployed, and the car was not remotely drivable.

I was astonished by how sturdy my new car actually was.  I was plowed into by someone who was going at least 40-45 miles an hour, and as I learned when I got the police report, was not only not braking but was accelerating when she hit my car (she said she was trying to change into the right turn lane, was accelerating to do so, and simply didn’t see my bright white car in front of her.  Hmmm.)  Her car was completely smashed.  But, my car was still drivable.  Badly damaged on both ends, but drivable.

I had called my husband, who met me at the scene, and when we were looking over the damage to my car my adrenaline must have been calming down.  It was at that point when my head started to hurt in addition to my neck.

To make a long story short, my day began with a great workout at the gym, and a fun lunch with my friend Dawn.  It ended with a whole evening in the Emergency Room at the same hospital where I had the ultrasound done at 2:15 pm.

As I was walking into the ER, I got a text from Dawn asking me how my ultrasound had gone.  I realized how much had happened since lunch when we were laughing about me having to drink lots of water and then go to the hospital.  The triage nurse found out why I was there, put me in cervical collar and a wheelchair and sent me back to the waiting room where I sat for two hours before being taken back to an exam room.  I was able to call Dawn and update her, and then let my husband make the rest of the phone calls to family and friends to let them know what happened.

After being brought back to an exam room and waiting some more, I finally got to talk to a doctor.  He examined me, asked questions, and was putting information into the electronic medical record while we talked.  All of a sudden he got a puzzled look on his face, looked at the computer for a minute and said, “This is kind of a weird question, but were you here earlier today?”

I laughed and just said, “Yeah.  I had a kidney ultrasound.  I’m kind of having a really bad day.”  I told him about getting the call from my doctor just before the car accident.  He was kind, and sympathetic, and order a CT scan of my head and neck to make sure there was no head injury or broken bones.  Thankfully, the CT results were normal and I was released at about 11:00 pm to go home and process the events of the day.

It is exactly four weeks later.  It feels like a year.  So much has happened.  I saw a urologist on Monday, December 7, exactly five years to the day after my hysterectomy.  He scheduled a cystoscopy for December 17 where he looked into my bladder and saw there was definitely a growth of some kind.  Just one.  He said it was either a benign tumor or superficial bladder cancer, and scheduled me for surgery which took place yesterday.

I’ve spent hours on the internet, and I think I now know as much about bladder cancer as anyone other than a urologist.  The big issue was whether the tumor was invading the muscle of the bladder.  If that were the case, it is just bad.  Options at that point include chemo and radiation, or removal of the bladder.  The doctor had been very reassuring that he did not believe it was that.  But he couldn’t say for sure until removing it.

The news following yesterday’s surgery, is so far very good.  The tumor was not invading the muscle.  Thank God.  Because I am young, was symptom free and have no risk factors (I have never smoked), the doctor still thinks there is a chance the tumor was benign even though these are usually very rare.  The worst case scenario is that I have superficial bladder cancer and will have to have repeat cystoscopies over the next few years to catch any recurrences.  I will have biopsy results in a week or so.

I am still feeling the ramifications of the car accident in the form of a whiplash injury.  I am convinced it was the fact that my car was very well-built and absorbed a good share of the impact, that protected me from much worse injury.  It also probably didn’t hurt that I am in good shape as a result of all that working out.  But, my neck is still sore and my lower back is more sore than usual.  I am going to a chiropractor several times a week to get it back to my baseline level of chronic pain.

The insurance company of the other driver has already tried to settle the case for a ridiculously low amount of money…not even enough to pay for the ER bill.  Not a chance.  I’ve been through this before.  I’m sure I will be getting an attorney before all is said and done.

As for my beloved car, it sits at the body shop awaiting a second visit from the insurance adjuster to determine whether it is worth repairing all the damage or whether it will be totaled.  Obviously, at this point my car is the least of my worries.  It will either be repaired, or I will get a new one.  It is just metal.

I am starting 2016 with optimism that it will be a good year.  I will have a car back, one way or another.  If I have superficial bladder cancer, I can deal with that.  My neck is recovering and I will continue to work out with my trainer to get into better and better shape.  My health is top priority.  I’m going to run that 5k race in June, if I have anything to say about it!   I am grateful.

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“I’m Kind of Having a Really Bad Day.”

Those of you who have been paying attention to our blog know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  You may think I’ve been busy because of the holidays.  No, that is not the issue.  Here is a behind the scenes look at how life gets in the way sometimes and writing, which is generally a priority for me, temporarily gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

On December 3, 2015 I had really, really bad day.  It actually started out as a really good day.  I have been working out with a trainer at a local gym for the last eight months to get my broken down 52 year old body back in shape.  I have chronic lower back pain from a car accident in 1992, and have been told my neck is full of degenerative arthritis changes, leading to neck pain and stiffness.  Also, there is the ongoing tendonitis I have previously mentioned, which causes my arm near my elbow to hurt when I write or type (which is a lot of what I do).  In my lifetime of chronic pain, I have found that exercise is the best way to remain as pain free as possible, and working out with a trainer has been well worth the cost to me.  I’ve been getting stronger, and the pain in all areas of my body has become much more manageable.

On the morning of December 3, my trainer surprised me and brought me out of the small training room where we work with free weights, and stretchy bands, and blow up balls, etc., and into the main gym where all the intimidating machines are.  For the first time since starting to work out last May, I was really working my muscles to the limit.  And it felt really good.  I was patting myself on the back (in my head of course) as I left the gym, looking forward to keeping the momentum going.  My goal is to run a 5k race next summer, an annual family event where my brother and several of my nephews always run.

After the gym that morning I spent some time at home doing paperwork for my job, which is what I usually do on Thursday mornings.  I then went to meet a good friend for lunch, which is also a Thursday ritual.  Dawn is in solo private practice, which I have previously done, and it is very isolating.  My job, where I go to nursing homes and then home to do paperwork, can be isolating too, although less so.  But, Dawn and I have made it part of our routine to have lunch on Thursdays and we both look forward to this time.  That particular Thursday, December 3, I was scheduled to have un ultrasound of my kidneys at 2:15 pm.  This meant I was supposed to drink 20 oz. of water starting an hour before the test, and then not urinate.  Dawn was teasing me, and I was laughing at myself as I choked down all this water before leaving lunch to drive straight to the hospital, knowing I was going to need to pee very badly by the time I had the test.

I was having a kidney ultrasound because I am healthy (other than my chronic pain issues) and routine blood work has shown for the last year or so that my kidney function numbers are lower than they should be.  I have no symptoms, but these numbers just didn’t make sense to me.  I have no risk factors for kidney disease!  So, although my doctor said “you can live the rest of your life with no problems as long as your numbers stay where they are,” and she was hesitant to send me for an ultrasound because she would have to use a diagnosis of “renal insufficiency” to get it paid for and didn’t want that on my record (I hate our health care system), I insisted we go ahead and schedule the ultrasound.  My gut told me I needed to have it done.

I did not know, even after I was asked to drink all that water, that a kidney ultrasound also includes an ultrasound of the bladder.  The ultrasound tech looked at my kidneys, and then spent some time pushing on my, by now very full, bladder.  She asked “So are you having this test done because of pain?”

I told her about my kidney functioning numbers, that I always have lower back pain, and then without thinking, said “and I had cancer at age 48 so my doctor is being cautious.”  The tech finished up, then said she needed to show the images to the radiologist to make sure he had what he needed before letting me go.  She left me lying in the ultrasound room (she had already allowed me to empty my bladder, Thank God).

I was lying there, recognizing that my cancer history had not been part of the discussion with my doctor when we set up the ultrasound.  In 2010, also with no risk factors and no prior history of gynecological problems, I began to have heavy bleeding which was subsequently diagnosed as “hyperplasia with atypia.”  My gynecologist did a D&C to clear out the hyperplasia tissue (it is basically an overgrowth of the lining of the uterus).  The “atypia” part meant there were cells in the lining that were precancerous.  The biopsy following the D&C showed “hyperplasia without atypia.”  At the time, my doctor explained that the hyperplasia would eventually grow back, and I had three options.  I could wait for it to come back and deal with it then, I could take hormones which would slow the growth, or I could have a simple hysterectomy to remove the uterus.  I listened while he explained the options, and then said “you don’t know me very well, but I am a very practical person and I am very decisive.  If I had a hysterectomy, how long would I be in the hospital, and how long would I be off work?”  He said I’d be in the hospital one night, and off work for two weeks.

I felt completely clear (in my gut) that I wanted a hysterectomy.  I didn’t want to deal with worrying about waiting to have more issues to deal with.  And, I didn’t like the term “precancerous.”  This was October 2010, and because I was in a new job I wanted to wait until December to have surgery and take two weeks off.  It would be slower at work at that time, and less disruptive for me to be away (I was Director of Clinical Services at a psychatric hospital and residential facility at the time).

I had a hysterectomy without complications on 12/7/10, and about a week and half later had a follow-up appointment with my gynecologist.

“Sharon, I hate to have to tell you this, but the pathology report showed you had cancer in your uterus,” he said.  What?  I waited to hear more.  “If we had known this, we would have done a different surgery.  We would have taken out your ovaries, tubes, and some lymph nodes and done cancer staging.  I am so sorry, but I am going to have to refer you to an oncologist to figure out what to do next.”

Needless to say, this was a shock.  To make a long story short, a visit to one oncologist and a second opinion from another led to both saying how lucky I was to have the cancer caught so early.  I had two different spots of cancer, but neither had invaded the wall of the uterus in any way.  I had dodged a bullet!  My gynecologist, in consultation with the oncologist, followed me closely and did frequent pap tests for several years to be safe that the cancer was not recurring.  At one point he said “Sharon, I don’t know if you believe in divine intervention, but I remember when you made the decision about having the surgery, and how quickly you made it and how clear you were.  I think someone was looking out for you.”  I didn’t say much to him about my spiritual beliefs, which remain strong and clear.  I knew I had been guided by my gut.  I just told him I believe that too.

So, on 12/3/15 while I was lying on the ultrasound bed waiting for the tech to return, I was processing the fact that I had just told her I had cancer at age 48.  Cancer had not really been my concern when I asked to have my kidneys looked at.  But, I realized that unconsciously it is always a concern.  Once you have been told you have cancer, whether it is easily resolved or not, it changes you.  I no longer have the sense that I am healthy so will automatically live a long life.  I work in nursing homes, often with young people who have been wrecked by various physical illnesses.  I am much more realistic now that anything can happen when you least expect it.  It is why I am exercising so vigorously.

I was lying there thinking, “Wait a minute, was I 48?  It’s 2015.  The surgery was in 2010.  I was 47 when I had cancer.”  More importantly, I realized as was lying there that we were four days away from the five year anniversary of the hysterectomy that removed the cancer from my body.  I was four days from that magic “five year mark” that makes people feel like they have “beaten it.”

I started thinking, “Wouldn’t that be ironic, if I have cancer again?  Four days before the five year mark?  Hmm.”  I was actually contemplating it for a minute, even though there was absolutely no reason to suspect that my kidney ultrasound was anything but normal.  I remember thinking that if I have cancer again, unlike last time when I was so worried about work, I would take as much time off work as I needed to in order to take care of myself.  I was marveling at what a different place I am in, a much better place, emotionally and in terms of my priorities, compared to five years ago.

The ultrasound tech came back into the room, and asked me if I have ever been a smoker.  I told her “No, never.”  I wasn’t sure why she was asking.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I was on my way.

I went back home to continue working on my paperwork, and texted with a friend to make plans to have a drink at 5:30 pm that day.  At around 4:30 pm, only an hour and a half after I left the hospital following my ultrasound, I received a phone call from my doctor.  Not from the office staff.  From my doctor herself.  Having been through this before, I know it is never a good sign when your doctor calls personally…

“Sharon, I need to tell you they found lesions in your bladder.”  What the hell?  We were supposed to be focusing on my kidneys.  I was stunned, and asked her what that meant.  “It could be any number of things, but I need to get you in to see a urologist as soon as possible.  We want to make sure they aren’t tumors or anything.”

“Of course,” I said to her, still trying to digest what I was hearing.  “I’m really glad we decided to have the ultrasound done.”

We hung up and I immediately did what I do.  I went to look for further information.  I googled “bladder lesions.”  I was immediately taken to sites talking about bladder cancer.  Apparently there are not very many other options for what could be causing “lesions” in the bladder.  No wonder it seemed like my doctor was stretching to come up with other possibilities.  And, I suddenly understood why the ultrasound tech had asked me about smoking.  Every site I went to said the number one risk factor for bladder cancer, is smoking.  Holy shit!  I thought.  I have something in my bladder, big enough to be seen on an ultrasound, and they are asking me about cancer risk factors.  I was suddenly really glad my friend and I had scheduled to get together for a drink.  I needed her support, and at that time a big glass of red wine was sounding quite appealing.

But, I had no idea how bad my day was yet to get.  The whole ultrasound news, was only the beginning….

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The Blog World Is Its Own Culture

I feel compelled to write about the blog world.  I cannot keep writing posts about the “behind the scenes” process of Robin and I writing our book, without commenting on our foray into the foreign territory of blogging.  My experiences as a psychologist have caused me to develop a unique way of looking at the world, and I have to say it has been fascinating to realize that the blog world represents a whole culture that non-bloggers know nothing about.

Setting up the blog site with WordPress was surprisingly easy.  I was impressed by how simple they made it, and how professional it looked especially for such a low cost.  I picked a “theme,” and the picture that popped up just happened to be completely appropriate for the topic of our book, at least in my opinion.  I did not feel a need to customize anything.  I did pay the small amount it cost to reserve the domain name without the “wordpress” preceding the “.com.”

Once the blog was set up, the initial few posts were exciting.  It was very cool to have others start reading and commenting on our work.  Of course we quickly learned that to bring “followers” to our blog, we needed to “follow” other blogs covering similar topics.  My introduction to this concept actually happened before I even wrote anything on the blog.  After I had gotten everything set up, I got an email that someone was a new follower!  I was excited, but also quite confused by this, since I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to follow our blog when they didn’t even know what it was about.  Obviously, those of you who are experienced bloggers will know that person wanted me to go check out and follow her blog.  It didn’t matter to her what was on mine.

Sure enough, I have repeatedly found that to follow the blogs of other people causes at least some of them to come and check out ours.  The traffic always increases after I have spent time investigating and deciding to follow a new batch of blogs.  When I actually read them and comment on the blogs I am following, this always brings traffic to our site.

Unfortunately, I have found I don’t have the time to read as many of other people’s blogs as I would like.  I love writing and reading other people’s writing.  I am passionate about decreasing the stigma of mental illness and could happily spend a lot more time in the blog world reading, commenting and supporting other bloggers who are writing about any form of mental illness.  But, I work full-time and am trying to finish up our book.  I apologize to our loyal readers who I have neglected while the work on the book has taken precedence.  There are many bloggers I have gotten to know, at least superficially, and whose work I appreciate.  I wish I had more time to read your work.  I know how much I appreciate it when you read ours!

After we learned about the whole “following” phenomenon it became clear that the whole concept of “liking” someone else’s blog posts is also part of the culture.  Some people just “like” a post.  Some people comment.  Some people do both.  I find myself doing the same thing.  I feel compelled to comment more often on the blog posts of the people who I have gotten to know a bit.  If I am short on time I will just “like” a post to let someone know I read it and I appreciated what they wrote.  I know I love it when someone “likes” what we have written.  I want to make sure to be a good blog world member and let others know we “like” their writing.

So what’s up with all the “spam?”  I have been astonished to see the volume of spam that appears in the spam folder, and grateful to the WordPress people for figuring out a way of keeping all these ridiculous comments off our blogs.  Do these spammers think we are stupid?  Apparently.  Enough said.

Okay, I have to say something about the awards.  It is actually kind of funny to remember when Robin and I first found out we were nominated by someone for an award.  No offense to those who choose to participate in the giving and receiving of the blog awards.  If our blog were more of a traditional site where the posts were not telling a serious story, I would happily participate.  We became an “award free” blog for the reasons described in that section of our blog site.  But I won’t forget how excited Robin and I were when we found out someone nominated us the first time.  It was an honor to be recognized!  Once we learned we then had to answer questions and nominate other people and that all of it would show up in the middle of the story we were telling, we decided it would not work very well on our site.  It was fun, though, to learn about the other bloggers we were following by reading their responses to the questions asked by award nominators.

It has been quite an adventure to get to know about this culture of blogging.  While there have been a few adversarial comments on our blog from people who have had bad experiences in the mental health field, overall I have been impressed and touched by how supportive bloggers are to each other.  There is much vulnerability shared on these sites, whether people are writing anonymously or not.  It is scary to put yourself out there and it is important to have a thick skin.  But, for the most part the comments from all over the globe, are supportive.  It is a great community!

Once we finish our book, I hope to start a new blog…probably a more general one about my observations and experiences as a psychologist throughout my 23 year career.  It has been quite a ride for me, and there is much for me to say.  I will look forward to having more time to read, comment and get to know more of you in this unique forum, and reconnecting with those of you who have been so supportive to us!

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Editing is a Crucial Part of the Process

My very smart, funny and handsome editor (aka Daniel, my oldest nephew) spent most of the day at my house yesterday.  He lives two hours away, has a full-time job and is working on applying to graduate schools.  But he took the day to come see us and talk through the “story arc” of our book….creative writing minor language.  I am not sure I yet know what a story arc is.  None of us has ever written a book before.  But Daniel’s college creative writing coursework and our collective experience seems to be working in terms of improving our book and getting clear about issues that need to be resolved for all of us to feel good about it.

Daniel has been through the entire draft of the book once and gave suggestions via email for both Robin and I to make some initial changes.  When I have seen Daniel in the past few months at a family wedding, watching him run his first marathon and other occasions, we have been able to have brief conversations about his thoughts.  But I hadn’t yet had a chance to have his full attention for any length of time to talk about the big picture of the book.  I was looking forward to this conversation more than I even realized.

What I have discovered is that writing a book is a lonely process.  Even though Robin and I have been writing it together and at times have met to talk through things, writing a book is mostly a solo process.  My husband is always helpful and willing to give feedback, but he is too close to the story to be very objective and has no writing experience.  Robin and I both have many people in our lives who are supportive of the book and excited to see it when we are done.  But no one other than Daniel has the time, ability and interest in the tedious process of editing.  To be able to have Daniel’s objective, intelligent and undivided attention focused solely on talking about how to make our book better, for a whole afternoon, was a long awaited treat.

The process of writing this book has taken almost two years so far.  As I said previously, it started with the on-line course with Bill O’Hanlon which led to us outlining a self-help version of the book and then beginning to write it on the blog.  We planned to tell the story of 2003 in Part One of the book, and then Part Two was going to include six steps that people with mental illness should follow to get to a better place.  Part Two was going to include the story of how Robin got from where she was in 2003 to where she is now, but it was going to be told in the context of those six steps.

The problem was, as we were beginning to finish up Part One on the blog both Robin and I began to realize we really didn’t have enough to say that would apply to a more general audience.  In other words, Robin’s story is too unique to be applicable to everyone with mental illness.  I was going to say some things about the mental health system in general and give words of wisdom I have learned through the years as a therapist.  But, as Part One got longer and we began to start thinking more seriously about Part Two, it became clear that our original idea needed to be aborted.  It was not a tough decision to change the whole structure and purpose of the book from a part memoir and part self-help book, to a memoir.

We went through a stage where we were thinking there would still be two parts, with the second part being a more detailed version of how Robin got from “Despair to Deliverance.”  But, as we kept writing it became apparent there wasn’t enough gripping detail to warrant a whole Part Two.  The rest of the story is uplifting and interesting.  But, it is easily told in a chapter.  So, as the process continued Robin and I both realized our book needed to include five chapters telling the story of the incredible year she went through in 2003, and then one chapter telling the process she went through to heal and get to a place of stability and acceptance of her illness.

One of the issues I have struggled with throughout the entire process of writing this book is how much of me to include.  It has always felt like this should be mostly Robin’s story.  But Daniel has continued to say I am also a main character in the book, and convinced me yesterday to put more of myself into it.  There is the issue of how dramatically the experience of helping Robin through 2003 changed me fundamentally and permanently in a positive way.  I have to talk about that.  It’s part of what compelled me to write the book in the first place.

So Daniel and I got clear about how much I should say about myself throughout the story, in order to set up for the Epilogue, where I will tell my part.  He helped in terms of knowing when transitions between chapters needed to be strengthened.  We talked about what needs to be included in Robin’s parts of the book, with some things needing to be condensed and some things needed to be expanded.   We discussed places where I can condense some parts of the story told on the blog that don’t need to be told in so much detail, in order to make it more readable.

Basically yesterday, in addition to enjoying spending time with my nephew and benefitting from his talents, I confirmed my gut feeling about how crucial the editing process is when writing a book.  It is so important for us to get outside of our own heads.  I talked about that on the blog in terms of feeling alone in the context of helping Robin through her year long suicidal crisis in 2003, and the importance of consulting with trusted colleagues and supervisors.  It also applies to writing.  I will be forever grateful to Daniel for agreeing to help us.  I am excited to begin making the changes we discussed!

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