writing about mental illness

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo all through November; for those of you who might not have run across this thing, that’s National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to try to write 50,000 words in a month, or roughly 1,667 words per day.

I had a very specific goal in mind, which ran a little bit counter to the goals of the NaNoWriMo creators, who were thinking about having people writing new work for a month. I had a draft for a novel that I’d written more than ten years ago, and I wanted to revise it, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at it, so I wanted to use November to power my way through a revision.  I was able to revise more than 50,000 words of it, and though there’s probably another 35,000 words left to go, I feel confident that I can finish up this month.

What really struck me about it as I was working on it, though, was how intense the portrayal of eating disorders is. I don’t really know how many people will want to read it, because it talks about the condition in pretty gross detail. I have to think about that, and what I need to do next is do some reading and see what other novels there are about people with depression and eating disorders. But what made me happy about reading it is that I wrote it when I did. Reading through it reminded me that I need to write about things as they happen, because I may later fictionalize them to a greater or lesser extent, but if I don’t write about them in the moment, I’ll lose a tremendous amount of detail that I’ll never be able to recover in the future and that may be important to me in writing the story.

So this story started out with my experiences as a young Buddhist, traveling to Japan to teach English. I naively thought that my new religion would somehow cure me of my depression, my anxieties, and my eating disorders. That’s why I’d started practicing. But I also had some doubts about the group I belonged to, and I wanted to go and spend some time in Japan and study more intensively.

As it turns out, going to live in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and can’t speak the language all that well is not a prescription for good mental health.  Or at least it wasn’t for me. And I was young enough not to have worked out how I was going to manage to get the few meds I did have over there (this was still before we had any anti-depressants that worked for me). So I wound up being a total mess in a country that still doesn’t really recognize mental illness.

I’m thinking about posting the novel in this blog. I’d love to have some feedback (I had abandoned it, because I was told by a couple of agents that it was good, but no one wants to read anymore stories about coming of age in Japan…but now I wonder if I don’t have a particular audience in that I’m talking about experiencing mental illness in Japan. Plus, this book serve as a lead up to the second one I’ve written about being a person with mental illness and parenting people with mental illness). If anyone has thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

stones in my pockets

I’m in a relatively new relationship, and it’s had me feeling happy for many months in a row. I’ve been in a few relationships before, and I know by now that this feeling is both wonderful and transient. The euphoria of the first few months isn’t going to last for years on end.

So the last few mornings I’ve been waking with migraines and finding it hard to drag myself out of bed. The pain isn’t awful, because I take a daily medication that quite good at blocking it, but I definitely don’t feel good. At first I thought that that was why it was hard to get up, but then I began to recognize that slow, sleepy feeling that doesn’t quite want to leave no matter how much coffee you drink.

I don’t think I have particular reasons for being depressed, though once I am, my mind starts looking around to see what’s happening that I might pin it on. I do think that the shift when Daylight Saving started might have played a role. I’ve always been curious about whether the changes in light affect me, since I know they affect some people. I’m always the happiest when the days are long, but it’s not summer: spring and early fall. I love the light of the early morning and late afternoon. But since last Sunday, by the time I leave work, it’s dark.

I keep thinking I’ll buy a light box and see whether it works. While I’m at it, I should buy one for each of the boys, since they share my genes, and at least Martin seems to get more depressed during the winter.  It’s hard to tell with his younger brother, Pete, since he does that thing of staying up most of the night talking to people from all over on the computer and then going to bed right around sunrise. He certainly doesn’t get a lot of sunlight that way, though we drag him out periodically for day trips.  He makes vampire jokes.

I should probably think about seeing a therapist again, since I haven’t seen one for myself in quite a while. I get into this frame of mind where I think I’m fixed, that I can just coast along with my meds and my spiritual life, but my habits aren’t so good that I can’t get pushed out of alignment by a long period without having someone outside my skull to check in with about the things that tend to make me a little nuts. You know, climate change and people’s denial thereof, the horrible injustices meted out to some of the people in this world, the fact that my sons still don’t do their own laundry, and their father tells them I’m a neurotic mess. The things that incense people everywhere.

If I don’t take care of this, I can get stuck, sitting in my chair and going over the steps I should be taking but am not: exercising regularly, eating right more than I am, giving up my Coke habit quicker than I am. It’s just so frustrating to find myself back in a place that I remember being in fifteen, thirty,  even forty years ago (I think my first major depression hit when I was sixteen…I was supposed to be excited about finishing high school and going off to college, and I spent the entire summer crying every day).

Antidepressants have generally made this all much more bearable than it was. I doubt that I will walk into the river with stones in my pocket. But still it sometimes sucks to have to get up. And I’m glad that I have a boyfriend who is not depressive, who always gets up early, and who will come back and get me if I go back to sleep.

Image Credit: Krista Mangulsone