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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The Perfect Choice for Our Editor

I have been a journal writer, as I have said, for most of my life.  What I found when Robin and I began to write our book was that I was not at all used to writing for an audience.  One of the modules on the on-line course we were taking was on “storytelling,” and gave some tips and suggestions about how to do this better.  In my experience as a writer at that time, I had almost never even written dialogue!  I never found a need to write about people talking to each other when I was recording my own thoughts in my journal.  And, I had no real practice in terms of writing descriptively.  I’d certainly read enough books to know I needed to do these things, but I had never really practiced the art of actually trying them.

My first attempts at storytelling, I have to say, were less than successful and brought less than enthusiastic feedback from my classmates in the course.  I was given helpful tips and suggestions, and made another attempt.  As we began the blog, my friends and family were all supportive and the feedback was generally positive.  But, one voice stood out.

I do not have children, by choice.  I spent my twenties in school, and my thirties immersed in my new career as a psychologist.  It actually never occurred to me that having children would be a good idea for me.  I was too busy devoting myself to my marriage and career.  Thankfully my husband agreed, as this would have been one issue that would not have allowed for compromise.  And, I am equally grateful that my older brother and his wife decided having children would be an integral part of their life.  I love being an aunt!

I was blogging away, enthusiastically telling the story in Chapter One on the blog, when I suddenly got an email from my oldest nephew, Daniel.  He, at that time, was in his senior year of college and was getting a minor in creative writing.  Ironically, he had no idea I had been learning about storytelling in an on-line course on how to write a book.  His feedback to me was so honest and so direct, and completely true:

You are very good at giving us the information we need from the story, but amid this I think we lose a bit of your voice. The way you are writing now is very straightforward. You relay the information almost like a clinical report. I don’t know if this is how you want to come across or not. But having heard you tell many stories before, I think the way you are writing this story is not how you would tell it. I think you can find a good balance between relaying the information and inserting a bit of yourself into the story. I know your writing is mostly about Robin, and that she will be writing too. But I think as a reader, I don’t just want to hear a psychologist’s perspective of what happened, I want to hear a specific psychologist’s perspective and reaction to this, aka you!  I want to hear a bit more about your emotions and reactions. If you were telling me this story in person I would have heard you say, “And I’m thinking to myself at this point, ‘OH MY GOD.’” at least a few times by now! (It’s one of your standard phrases, haha) Well, those are my thoughts so far. It’s just a few thoughts from a 21 year old student, so don’t give it too much weight!  Excited to keep reading your posts and find out more about the story!

It is hard to describe the myriad of emotions I felt when I received this feedback from Daniel.  This is the kid who was born two months before I graduated with my Ph.D.  I changed his diapers.  I was always the fun aunt who would have him come to my house as a child and let him do whatever he wanted, as long as it was safe.  We went to Disney World together when he was about twelve.  How did he get to be such a smart adult?  And, how completely cool it was that he felt comfortable giving me his honest thoughts about the writing I was putting out to the world!  I was so grateful, and so touched.  And, I immediately began to work harder at storytelling.

Daniel is now out of college and we have hired him to edit our book.  He was the perfect choice for our editor, as far as I was concerned, as he had already proven to be so able to be honest and direct and his writing skills were highly recognized by his college professors.  Daniel is working hard, and we are almost done with the editing process.  He is also an artist and is working to design the cover.  Two days ago he sent his first preliminary idea about how the cover might look.  Wow!  It is coming together.  Robin and I are so excited!

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A Blog? I Never Would Have Imagined!

In February 2014, Robin and I were suddenly immersed in an on-line course on how to write a book.  We got through the first few assignments which were all about getting the concept for the book focused.  We had a title, back cover copy, and had clarified the audience for the book and a promise to the readers.  The next step of the on-line course was to create a detailed outline for the book.  We were able to do that relatively easily.  I am a huge fan of Bill O’Hanlon’s course, as I am quite sure Robin and I would have floundered for many months trying to get as focused and clear as we were able to be in about two weeks as a result of doing the course assignments.  After that, a surprise turn of events took place.

Once we had our book structured and outlined, the next assignments revolved around how to stay motivated while actually writing the book.  Much discussion took place about how people tend to get bogged down in the writing process and lose motivation.  There were lots of class participants posting comments on the course website about their own barriers, strategies, and suggestions.  For Robin and I, motivation was not an issue.  We had both felt clear for a long time that the book needed to be written.  We were very anxious to get started.  But, we completed the course assignments as dutiful students.

I was a little baffled by one of the suggestions, which was to use a blog to write the book.  Wait a minute!  What?  Why would someone put their book out to the world and then try to get it published?  It didn’t make sense to me.  I think I even brought up that question on one of the weekly conference calls with Bill O’Hanlon that happened as part of the course.  Other students were also concerned about putting their work out there, and having others steal their ideas.  Bill gave clear arguments about why he thought blogging one’s book was a good strategy.  He convinced us to give it a try.

I never in a million years imagined I would join the blog world.  It had never even been on my radar!  I had never read a blog post before, other than the ones that show up on the internet when I am surfing.  The whole concept was foreign to me.  It was a complete leap of faith that caused Robin I to decide to take Bill’s suggestion and create a blog in order to start the process of writing our book.

The biggest issue, not surprisingly, was that we had to decide we were ready to go public with the fact that we were writing about Robin’s treatment and our work together.  Those who have read Robin’s story on the blog so far, know that in 2003 she was not even comfortable letting her parents know she was in the hospital.  For her to put the intimate details of her mental illness out to the world in a blog was a huge step which required an enormous amount of courage.  I was astonished and touched by Robin’s clarity.  There was very little hesitation on her part.  She felt strongly that she was ready to tell her story.

I think I agonized a bit more than Robin.  As I explained in “A Note About Boundaries,” my biggest fear was that I would be judged negatively by my peers for writing a book with a former client.  But, I was actually motivated and reassured by Robin’s steadfast determination to move forward.  If she was ready to blast her story to the world, I felt clear that I needed to support her in doing so.  It actually never occurred to us to write the blog anonymously.  After all, the end goal was always a book.  If we were writing a book, we needed to say who we were.

So “Despair to Deliverance,” the blog version, was created and the telling of the story began in February 2014.  Once we made the decision to go forward, we became excited and told our family and friends what we were doing.  Robin surprised me further by making the decision to put a post on her Facebook page, letting all her people know about the blog.  It was overwhelming to her the response she got.  People came out of the woodwork to support her.  Family, friends, and people she did not expect to hear from applauded her courage in putting herself out there.  I have to say, any doubts I had about the whole idea of going public and using a blog to tell the story disappeared.  At that point, anything that could ever come from the writing of the book didn’t matter.  Robin had completely “outed” herself about her mental illness.  This was the same person who, in 2003, had never been open with anyone about her symptoms, including the therapist who had seen her for ten years (me)!  Not only had she been willing to make herself completely vulnerable, but she had gotten nothing but positive, supportive responses from her people.  I knew, at that moment, that we were doing exactly the right thing.

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The Book Writing Process Begins

When Robin and I decided we were finally ready to start working on our book in January 2014, I had put together a rough outline.  The next step was for me to go back to my journals so I could remind myself about the details of 2003.  I was beginning to work on that process, when something miraculous happened.  In hindsight, anyway, it now feels miraculous.

I was sitting in my living room, with my laptop computer on my lap where it sits much of the time when I am home.  I have become a pro at multi-tasking…often watching television with my husband while working on paperwork from my job, journaling, (now, blogging) emailing my friends, etc.  One afternoon, I was working on paperwork and checked my email.  There was an email with the title “Have You Ever Thought About Writing a Book?”

It was not in my spam folder, because it came from a company I know and trust.  It was a company that provides educational workshops for mental health professionals.  I had gone to many of their workshops and always had good experiences.  This is not always the case…as anyone who has to get continuing education units for their profession knows, there are many crappy workshops out there.  But that is another story.  On that afternoon, I felt compelled to open this email since I ­­was thinking about writing a book.  I was curious to see what it said.  That one email changed the entire course of the book writing process.

The email was announcing a six week on-line course offered by Bill O’Hanlon.  For those who are not in the mental health field, Bill O’Hanlon is quite famous.  I had known about him since my graduate school days in the late 1980s, when I attended a workshop he was doing on “Solution Focused Therapy.”  This type of therapy was new back then, and Bill O’Hanlon was one of the gurus.  I enjoyed learning from him.  His workshop was definitely not one of the crappy ones.  Twenty-five years later, when I opened that email I immediately remembered him.  In the meantime, he had had a very successful career and had written and published many books with various topics related to mental health.

The gist of the course was that Bill would be putting new material on-line each week, with assignments for students to complete.  He would provide feedback on the work you did as a student, and an on-line forum for other students to give feedback to each other.  And, during the class there would be six conference calls with Bill in which students could talk to him directly and ask questions.  The idea of taking a course with Bill O’Hanlon was exciting to me.

I was sitting in my living room, reading about the description of the course.  I had to make a very quick decision, as the deadline for signing up was that day!  The course was getting ready to start that weekend.  I remember feeling clear at the time, without question, that I needed to do it.  The cost was not cheap, but also not unreasonable.  I called Robin and we discussed it.  I told her I was planning to take the course, and we could do the assignments together.  I knew it would be a great way for us to get focused on our book project.  Robin, of course, was happy to be involved.

So, Robin and I sat down together in January 2014 and began the on-line course.  Bill O’Hanlon’s course, for anyone who has ever thought about writing a book, is helpful.  The beginning assignments forced us to get very clear about the focus of the book, the audience, the concept, the title and an outline.  The other students in the class were instrumental in terms of giving us feedback.

Coming up with the title was quite a process.  When we started thinking about the title, the word “Despair” was obvious.  But, from despair, to what?  What were we trying to communicate in terms of what happened for Robin?  Despair to Stability….no, true but doesn’t sound good.  Despair to Acceptance….also true, but not strong enough a word to relay the magnitude of the shift Robin experienced.  Despair to….what?  This is where the other students came in.  They joined us in the hunt for the perfect word.  I will always be grateful to a man named Matt from Arizona for throwing out the word “Deliverance.”  It was perfect.  All the other students thought so too.  It was the clear winner.

Then I googled it.  I wanted to make sure this title had not been used before.  I was happy to find that there was no sign of any books with this title.  Despair to Deliverance it was.  But, it also needed a subtitle.

It is important to know that Bill O’Hanlon is an expert self-help book writer and has helped many people write and publish self-help books.  The problem was, our book idea was really more of a memoir.  The assignments from the course wanted us to outline what the reader would gain by reading our book, and how specifically our book would cause them to get to that point.  In other words, we were asked to complete assignments for our book as a self-help book.

I went to school for most of my twenties…four years of college and six years of graduate school.  I am nothing if not a compliant student.  When I am given an assignment in a course, I try to complete it to the best of my ability.  So, it was with the need for a promise to the reader that they would get a prescription for how to improve their lives, that the subtitle for our book was created.  Suddenly, the book Robin and I were writing together became “Despair to Deliverance:  A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness and How You Can Triumph Too.”

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“Robin, I’m No Longer Going to be Working Here.”

In 2008, when Robin first brought up the idea of writing a book about her life I had to decide whether to tell her I had the same thought.  During the five years following her meltdown year, I had given her some information about the positive changes that had occurred for me as a result of being so closely involved with her throughout the crisis.   I wanted her to know that what still felt to her like a terrible experience, ultimately had a positive impact.  I wanted her to know she had actually helped me by letting me in.

I decided I also wanted her to know I had thought about writing a book about it.  At that time, I wasn’t yet ready to tell her I could envision a time when I would not be a therapist any more.  I wanted to support her in writing her own book.   But, I think I jokingly said something without thinking first, about the idea of us writing a book together “someday.”  Robin jumped right on it, and we talked about what a unique idea it was to have the story told by both the therapist and the client.  Neither of us could remember reading a similar kind of book…probably for the same reason we could not have written the book at that time.  I was still Robin’s therapist.  Boundary issues and all, it wasn’t appropriate.

So we went on, and at times would joke with each other every once in a while about “that book we will write someday.”  Robin, I think, actually did spend some time writing her version of it but ended up abandoning the idea eventually.  She was not a natural writer.

Meanwhile, my job was starting to get very stressful.  I was in a top leadership position within the large mental health agency where I had worked throughout my entire career.  In 2008, after a large sum of money had been borrowed in the form of a bond issue to build several new buildings on campus…and shortly afterward the state government had made cuts to funding for mental health services, it all caught up and the agency lost a lot of money in a year.

The bondholders were not happy with the turn the agency had taken financially and, in 2009 sent in a group of consultants to turn the business around.  I was in the wrong position at the time they arrived.  While I was one of the last of the executive management team to go, I knew my days were numbered.  I still had the same fifteen clients I was continuing to treat, Robin included, when I was asked to pack my office and resign.

I’ll never forget having to call Robin and the others to let them know I would no longer be working there.  I was devastated, and had to pace myself in terms of making the phone calls so as to not start crying on the phone.  I was traumatized to have lost my job, especially after working so hard to try to turn the agency around, and dedicating so many years of my life to the place.

In order to be able to transition things appropriately and not feel like I was just abandoning my long-term clients, I rented a “virtual office” in a downtown office building and was able to see people within a couple of weeks.  I did not ultimately stay in private practice, though, as that had never been my goal.  I was able to help people get connected with new therapists and psychiatrists (Dr. Greene also ended up leaving the agency along with several other psychiatrists), and then I ended up taking a new administrative job.  My days as a therapist were over.  And, after almost twenty years I was ready for them to be.

Robin was able to get connected with a good psychiatrist and therapist, although it was a difficult transition for her.  I stayed connected with her by phone for a period of time, and after I began my new job in middle management at another agency, we began to transition our relationship, gradually, to becoming friends.  I did not end up staying connected to many of my clients…just a handful who I especially liked, and who I felt were healthy enough to not need me as their therapist any longer.

It was 2011 and Robin was doing much, much better than ever before.  By then she had not needed to be hospitalized for several years, had a stable job, and was content with her life.  We began to spend time together here and there, and continued to joke about “writing that book” someday.

My new job lasted two years.  I was commuting an hour each way, while also caring for my then 89 year old mother-in-law who had moved in with my husband and I in 2003, right in the middle of Robin’s meltdown year.  Peaches, as my mother-in-law was called, was beginning to show signs of dementia and decreased mobility and balance.  My husband traveled for business and we were feeling uncomfortable leaving her alone for long periods of time.  I quit my stressful administrative job in 2012 and opened another office, this time to do disability evaluations in order to make some income flexibly while spending more of my time caring for Peaches.  Eventually I added working in nursing homes, primarily doing testing and evaluations.  It was all flexible, low stress work for me, allowing me to use my skills and experience without the stress of being in charge of anything.

Once I was settled into my low-stress job situation and Peaches was in a stable place, the winter of 2014 was the time when it made sense to finally write that book I had been feeling so compelled to write.  Robin was ready too, as she had even more time of stability under her belt.  We made a plan to get started.  We had no idea what a journey it would become.

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Robin Decides to Write a Book

It was 2008, and I had long ago given up on the idea of writing a book about the extraordinary year Robin and I experienced together in 2003, since I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story without violating her confidentiality.  A lot had happened for Robin during the five years after her meltdown, as she attempted to come to terms with the dramatic and devastating turn her life had taken.  A lot had happened for me as well.

In 2003, I was settled into my career as a psychologist.  It had been eleven years since I had started my first job following the completion of my Ph.D. and I was still working at that job.  I loved my work as a therapist.  It was very rewarding to help my clients.  I used to tell people my job was never boring, and that after spending my days immersed in the worst of people’s pain I would usually go home to my relatively calm life feeling grateful.  I had no regrets about my choice of careers.  The problem was, being a full-time therapist was exhausting.  I started to get to the point where something had to change, or I was going to completely burn out before I even reached the age of 40!

The administrators of the agency identified me as a leader and had tried several times through the years to promote me to various management positions.  But, as I said I was an anxious person by nature.  Although doing administrative work would allow me to do less therapy, it would add different stress.  Part of me was intrigued by what it would be like to take on more responsibility, but my fear of change and my desire to keep my life as stress free as possible won out.

As I said, 2003 changed me.  I became less stressed by lots of things.  My perspective about what to worry about shifted.  The other change that happened was that I became more confident in my ability to trust my own gut feelings.  Working with Robin through that terrible year, I had to extend the boundaries of our relationship in ways I had never done with a client before.  My gut kept telling me I needed to do so.

In July 2003, I was summoned to a meeting with the President and CEO of the agency where I worked.  In the eleven years I had worked there, I had never had a conversation with him before.  I wasn’t even sure he knew who I was, since the agency had over a thousand employees.  I had no idea why he would want to talk to me!

To make a long story short, this conversation was the beginning of what would become my new career path.  I don’t know if I would have said yes if I had not already experienced some of the changes that happened as a result of helping Robin through her nightmare, but my gut told me that if the CEO of the agency suddenly asked to talk, it was important to listen.

I was asked to lead the professional staff organization, and was then promoted several times over the next few years to increasing levels of responsibility.  I fairly quickly became a member of the senior management team, and was involved in the decision making of running the agency.  In 2008, I was in the role of Senior Vice President of Clinical Services.  In this position I was the administrator over all clinical programming for the agency including three psychiatric hospitals, residential programs for all ages, and many outpatient and day treatment programs.  The agency was serving 18,000 clients per year.  Needless to say, this was a stressful role.  But, in the years following Robin’s meltdown my increased stress tolerance and ability to keep perspective continued.  I enjoyed being able to use my skills as a leader.

As I took on more management responsibility, I decreased my caseload of clients.  I went from an active caseload of over 100 when I was a full-time therapist, to a caseload of fifteen clients who I felt I either wanted to or needed to continue to see.  Robin was obviously one of those people.  She was aware I was seeing fewer clients and had become a big administrator.  I had reassured her I had no plan to stop our work together.  We had spread out our sessions and were not meeting as frequently.  I think we were probably meeting a couple times a month, but I honestly don’t remember.

Robin, in 2008, was still trying to come to terms with her new identity as a person with a severe mental illness, and was reading various memoirs of people with bipolar disorder or severe depression.  Given everything that had happened in terms of my career, writing a book was the last thing on my mind.

So, imagine my surprise when one day, Robin came into my office and said, “I was reading a book by someone who has bipolar disorder.  I think my story is as interesting as hers.  I’ve been thinking about writing a book about my life.”

Wait.  What?  I was shocked to hear these words come out of Robin’s mouth.  It is important to understand that in the fifteen years I had known Robin, I had probably suggested about a million times that she journal as a way to process her emotions.  She had, not once, made an attempt.  It had become a kind of inside joke between us.  I would say “Gee, journaling might help,” and she would say, “yeah, I’ll get right on that.”  And we would laugh.

So, I was well aware that Robin was not a writer.  But, she was serious about writing a book.  It didn’t make sense.  I asked her to explain her thinking….while inside I was already debating with myself about whether I should tell her I had also thought about writing a book.

“I have lots of time.  I need more to do.  I just thought it would be a good way for me to do something productive,” said Robin.  She said she had gotten a new computer, and thought writing a book would be a good way to use it.  I couldn’t believe she was serious.  Was this a test?  She had no idea how compelled I had felt to tell her story and how she impacted me, or that I had actually started trying to write about it.

There was something else Robin did not know.  As I was continuing to expand my management role at the agency, I was starting to imagine a time when I would stop being her therapist.  Not just her therapist, everyone’s therapist.  I was beginning to realize that many of the clients I was seeing, who were people I had worked with for a long time, were stable enough that they no longer needed me as their therapist.  There would be benefits for many of them to work with other therapists, and some probably did not need to be in therapy at all.  I was starting to imagine a point in time when I would end that role.  But Robin was not aware of any of this.

So, I was faced with the dilemma of whether to tell Robin that I had also thought about writing “the book.”  I trusted my gut.  I told her.

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