Writing

Creating Art through the Manias and Depressions of Bipolar Disorder

→ November 20, 2013 - 8 Comments

Creating Art through the Manias and Depressions of Bipolar Disorder

The Bipolar Burble blog welcomes guest author somePlaywrights, a collaboration of two writers based in Annapolis and Brooklyn, who face, seemingly weekly, a struggle to succeed as a creative, bipolar collaboration.

On its own, the practice of creating art is bizarre: fusing this abstract feeling with that concrete image, trying to convince others of something only you can see, and all the while endeavoring to balance concept with content. With the addition of bipolar disorder, a condition that is just as, if not more, slippery, firm, and fleeting, the artistic process often teeters between genius and delusion, between coherence and disunion. It is in this realm, where mania meets medium and depression intersects with artistic production, that we, as bipolar artists, must carve and claim our collective space…

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How to Keep a Bipolar Blog Running During the Depressed Times

→ October 30, 2013 - 15 Comments

How to Keep a Bipolar Blog Running During the Depressed Times

I’m a bipolar writer. This is not news to anyone. As a person with bipolar disorder, I naturally have good days and bad days. Specifically, I naturally have average days and horrifically depressed days. And it impresses people that the Bipolar Burble blog manages to stay running through it all. Every week I get one or two posts up no matter what.

So people have asked me, how the heck do you do that? How do you keep a (popular) bipolar blog going through the depressed times?

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Go Kill Yourself for Writing This Bullshit – Writing about Bipolar Disorder

→ October 7, 2013 - 64 Comments

Go Kill Yourself for Writing This Bullshit – Writing about Bipolar Disorder

Don’t get me wrong, most of the feedback I receive for writing the Bipolar Burble blog and elsewhere is positive. People, mostly, appreciate what I do and how I do it.

Nevertheless, some people, not so much. Today I received this regarding my writing:

I hope this individual kills herself for writing this bullshit.

Go fuck yourself you ugly bitch.

This comment never made it online, for obvious reasons, but as I’m the moderator, I see it nonetheless.

Intelligence and Bipolar Disorder

This comment was in regards to this post I wrote on the intelligence of people with bipolar disorder.

In the post, I point out that people with bipolar disorder are not, in fact, more intelligent than the average person and, actually, exhibit cognitive deficits. You can go read the post for details, but basically, people with bipolar disorder suffer from a variety of cognitive deficits which may factor into your definition of intelligence. (You’ll note that, in the article, each cognitive deficit contains a link to the source for the information. You’ll also note that I never said anything about creativity. It may be the case that people with bipolar disorder do show more creativity.)

And boy, do people take offence to that fact. There is this prevalent myth out there that people with bipolar disorder are somehow brilliant and that’s a good part of having bipolar disorder.

Um, no.

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How to Become a Famous Mental Health Writer/Blogger

→ September 9, 2013 - 14 Comments

How to Become a Famous Mental Health Writer/Blogger

One could argue that I am a famous mental health writer. Under “mental health writer” on Google, a post I wrote is on the first page and my bipolar blogs are on the first and second page of the Google search results for “bipolar blog.” Moreover, I have over 35,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

So yes, I’m arguably a “famous” mental health writer.

And lots of other people want to be where I am. I get questions weekly from people starting blogs or writing careers who want advice on how to go about doing it. Well, if you want to be a famous mental health writer, or just plain old build a following, here are a few tips.

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Guest Writing at the Bipolar Burble Blog

→ June 24, 2012 - 6 Comments

Guest Writing at the Bipolar Burble Blog

Hi all.

I’ve been getting a lot of requests to guest write at the Bipolar Burble. Well, it’s nice to know I’m so popular! I’m really happy to hear from you but there are guidelines if you want to be published here. These aren’t meant to scare anyone off, these are just to let you know what I’m expecting.

Here are some  guidelines for posting on the Bipolar Burble.

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The Best Thing about Being a Mental Health Writer

→ June 17, 2012 - 47 Comments

I’m a mental health writer. When I tell people I’m a mental health writer, however, the most common response I get is, “what’s that?”

Well, like a travel writer writes about travel, I write about mental health. Perhaps my type is not as common as a travel writer, but mental health writers are out there, nonetheless.

And, I have to say, it’s not easy being a mental health writer. It means talking about unpleasant subjects on a daily basis and facing parts of yourself that you’d probably prefer to gloss over. And it means forming an opinion, standing up and standing by that opinion even when it’s very unpopular. (At least, that’s what being a mental health writer means to me.)

And making a living is hard and there are no vacations, no weekends and no sick days.

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Interview: Writing my Way to Bipolar Disorder Recovery

→ May 17, 2012 - 45 Comments

The Bipolar Burble welcomes guest Karen Tyrell. Karen is an Australian mental health advocate and author of the new mental health memoir Me & Her: A Memoir of Madness.

Writing for Bipolar Recovery

Today Karen shares a little about her life and the place writing has had in her bipolar disorder recovery.

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More Mental Health Articles

→ April 1, 2012 - 2 Comments

Bipolar ArticlesEvery six weeks or so I like to do a quick round-up of  writings I’ve done elsewhere, just in case you’ve missed them. This session’s round-up include subjects like assisted outpatient treatment, self-harm and mental health stigma. Here are some of the notable articles:

And for those interested in that sort of thing, I’ve created an Awards and Media page for the Bipolar Burble which includes my recent win as one of the Best Bipolar Blogs from Healthline.com

The Dance of Anger – A Memoir Excerpt

→ March 20, 2012 - 16 Comments

The Bipolar Burble welcomes author of Hopping Roller Coasters, Rachel Pappas for today’s guest post.

I wrote my memoir as an apology to my daughter, who I tore apart emotionally and verbally for years. But I also wrote the book to quiet some old ghosts. And I wanted to remind people fighting similar demons they are not alone.

My Ugly Dance

Probably like many of you, my “ugly dance” began ages ago – before I was old enough to know my own steps. I was following my very unhappy, sometimes untamably furious mother’s lead. I kept dancing once my daughter was born.

The red hot flashes would come on, the wires in my head would tighten, then pop, and I’d go at Marina. Later I’d kiss her tear-streaked cheek, tuck her in. Flip the light switch with the white kitty and sparkles, and hope my little girl would sleep soundly. Feel sick about what I’d just done, then do it again.

My sweet girl with the pixie cut and bangs accepted my apologies. Over and over.

Then Came Angry Adolescence

This was the start of the ground-rumbling, mother daughter meltdowns. Marina screaming with her fists clenched. The head banging and threats, because by now she was angrier than me.  We had a long, rough ride … five schools in five years, a blur of ambulance rides and overnights in the ER. And two years locked in a residential treatment center for sick, angry kids.

After a decade of pushing to find better meds, better psychiatrists, better therapists for both of us, Marina and I have started to heal.

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Ready to Take On My Mother

I think I’m ready to tune it out, just take a hit of my Tension Tamer tea. A few back and forths to my therapist for a quick fix, and I’m so close.

Anger and Mental IllnessThen a call from my brother once Mom’s been on a marathon spiral, and I flash back … see him six years old, backed in a corner while she goes at him with his orange, plastic Hot Wheel tracks. I’m in my ugly dancing shoes again. I have a long, seething rant. Then I hate myself for hating her. Because this is who this woman is . . .

A mother who would tell her child she was going to read her obituary in the paper. Then come in her room the next night and pick her up because her child was sick. She held me, my long gangly legs dangling down her side while she cried herself, like she did every time one of her kids hurt.

I lob back and forth, between the orange Hot Wheel tracks, and my head on her shoulder while she rubbed my back. I volley between the mom screaming she’s going to drown the cat. And the one who hugged and kissed my dad, and danced with him in her bare feet–him in his slippers–in his last days.

She hasn’t changed in the 50 years I’ve known her; and probably never will. So guess who has to be the one to shift gears if she’s going to hang up her “ugly dance” shoes?

One of the hardest things in life is letting go. You fight to hold on, and you fight to let go.

The tricky part is figuring out what, or who, you can hold onto–or how to hold them at a distance that works. So at the same time, you can let go of what you need to leave behind.

Memoir Excerpt: Hopping Roller Coasters

“You used to tell me you probably had cancer,” Marina said. “Why did you say that to me, Mom. Why?!?”

A few tears spilled as she let herself go back in time, to when she was just five. Hearing her mother say she may be dying … leaving her alone and unprotected. Feeling her sad, angry eyes on me now, I want to kick myself in the ass. I’m speechless and ashamed–and touched. Touched that of all the things she had to get out in this family therapy session, it was the fear of losing me that came first.

Still, I couldn’t admit that I screwed up, though I could see it clearly now, and I started thinking again about other hideous things I’ve said to her. I squirmed in my seat, thinking about all the baggage she’s hauled over the years. And I remembered what her therapist, Ericka told me privately earlier: “She’s holding a lot inside. When it surfaces, she’s going to vomit it all out. It’s going to come gushing.”

I wasn’t sure if Marina could ever understand, even if I could admit my mistakes. I didn’t completely get it myself. But I remember growing up incensed about the make-believe games in our house. I hated the pretending.

“Rachel was angry, even as a child. It started way before there was tension in our home,” my Mom would tell relatives.

She didn’t remember her bad days, when she couldn’t bring the reins in.

“You’re going to wake up in a box!” she’d scream between clenched teeth, shaking her head agitatedly. You could practically visualize the internal wheels spinning as she paced with her dust cloth, thinking out loud under her breath …

“That’s a lie! I never said that!” she told me years later when I summoned up her demons and threw them in her face … I was furious. Why couldn’t’ she see I needed her to acknowledge it? I needed an apology, damn it.

Now it was my turn to dislodge my tail, the one I’d stuck between my legs just now, when my daughter exposed me in front of her father and therapist.

Instead I said, “I never said that to you, Marina.” I’d taken only a split second to process what I’d just heard.

“You DID!” she shrieked, her face burning red. “You used to tell me you had cancer.” The tears were flowing full force now.

I fell silent, but the memory was surfacing. I couldn’t fix it now. Still, my baby had to hear how very sorry I was.

For more excerpts or to order Hopping Roller Coasters at a discount: http://www.1uponcancer.com/rachels-memoir/

Why Natasha Tracy? Why a Nom de Plume?

→ March 17, 2012 - 72 Comments

Last week on HealthyPlace’s Breaking Bipolar I mentioned that I use a nom de plume. Yes, that’s right, Natasha Tracy is not my legal name. I don’t think this should come as a gigantic shock to anyone given as writers have been writing under pen names since the beginning of the written word.

But apparently it did come as a shock. And apparently people felt betrayed by this piece of information. And apparently some people felt like being rather nasty about it. And apparently some people felt like becoming ex-readers over it.

Well, OK, fine, that’s your prerogative. But I have my reasons for not using my real name. Here are a few.

I don’t want people knowing where I live. I don’t want stalkers.

Allow me to relay a short tale to you.

Writing and Death Threats

I have a good friend who is a writer. He writes on sensitive, emotionally-charged subjects similar to mental illness. And is the case with us online personalities, he got death threats. Horrible, but not something that isn’t expected in the world of the internet.

My friend was the kind of person who did share real details about his life and family and he did use his real name. So when it came time that a stalker really hated him, the stalker found out where his kids went to school and made threats against them.

Yes, that’s right, threats against his kids. Deplorable. Unthinkable. And illegal.

And if you think I’m going to facilitate that type of behavior where I’m involved you’re downright batty.

No, I’m not in the Book

The reason that I don’t use my real name and I don’t tell people exactly where I live is because I don’t want a real-life stalker. It’s because I don’t want someone to make death threats and easily have the capacity to follow them through. It’s because my privacy is important to me. It doesn’t mean I’m not open, or honest, or even make public appearances and videos, but it does mean that you don’t get to be able to easily find me. That is not your right.

I want to be hirable in fields other than mental health.

Again, a short story.

A Nom de Plume for Mental Illness WritingHealth Problems and Stigma

I was working for a very fancy software company. One that makes the software you’ve probably got on your computer right now. I worked among some of the smartest people you can imagine. Their big brains were barely contained in our building.

And while I was working there I had a vagul nerve stimulator implanted. The details aren’t important but suffice it to say that when it activates it cuts off my throat and makes it difficult to speak. So if I was in the middle of a conversation with a co-worker I would wave a magnet in front of the computer implanted in my chest to turn it off so I could continue speaking. I never told people what it was or why I did that, trying to make it as inconspicuous as possible.

However, my co-workers decided on their own that the device must have to do with my heart and that every time I waved something over that area of my body it must be because I was so stressed in the conversation that something was going wrong with my heart. My co-workers assumed that I couldn’t take the stress of the job due to something that had nothing to do with stress.

They just made a judgement without facts.

(I didn’t know this for a long time. Eventually one of my co-workers told me.)

And once I found this out I realized that’s why people had started treating me differently – not because there was anything wrong with me but simply because they perceived that something was.

Employees Judge You

And you can bet the judgements would have been worse if, heaven forbid, they thought I had a mental illness. People suggest that others don’t judge you for your differences when this blatantly isn’t true. I had a slight difference that produced no change in my behavior and yet it changed the way other people treated me. People can be biased and bigoted and small-minded. If nothing else, it’s a subconscious thing.

Employers Judge You

And even worse, in the same environment one of the employees was assumed to be bipolar. And he had to leave the country (and finally the company) to get a fresh start because of how it affected how people treated him.

These are not things I made up. These are things that I have witnessed, things that I have lived. If your experience has been different that is great, but I wouldn’t risk having that kind of experience again. I just wouldn’t.

(Keep in mind that I’ve work in very-corporate America where backstabbing and politics run extremely amok.)

Employers Google You

And let’s not forget that before any techie geek is hired the employer Googles the heck out of them and if they were to find my writings, judgements would run rampant.

Why I Use a Nom de Plume

So, quite frankly, death threats, stalkers, prejudice, hirability and other reasons are why I use a nom de plume.

And I will not apologize for that. You can judge me and feel it discredits me if you like, but I believe my work speaks for itself and your judgement speaks considerably more about you than it does about me.

FAQ – No one Reads my Blog! – 10 Tips to Have a Popular Blog

→ January 4, 2012 - 34 Comments

I started the Bipolar Burble eight years ago anonymously. And for the vast majority of that time, no one read my blog. Oh, sure, I had a few avid readers and a person would stumble on it now and then, but even after I started producing decent content, no one read it.

Which initially was OK by me. I didn’t write for others, I wrote for myself, so if I had one, lonely reader, then that was fine, I still felt the urge to push pixels around.

Until, of course, it wasn’t fine. Then I had to figure out why­ no one read me and figure out how to actually get people out there to know about me. And so people ask me all the time: How do I get people to read my blog? How do I find an audience?

Figure Out What Your Blog is About

Ah, you say, but I know what it’s about, it’s about me!

Well, good for you. How many people are putting your name into a search engine? Unless you’re Ashton Kutcher, I’d wager, not many. You might want to alter your focus.

Tips on Making a Blog PopularPick a topic that interests you and that you can stick to, day after day after month after year – like,  say, mental illness. And then be prepared to write on your topic and only your topic for a long time. Changing topics (like I’m doing right now) might confuse and fracture your audience.

Make the blog topic broad enough so that you can write many things but narrow enough so that you can identify a group of people who would be interested. For example, My Pet Parakeet, Pete is specific, but may not find much of an audience. Whereas Cheery Chairs is a pretty broad topic but it might be difficult to identify the segments of people deeply devoted to it. Chairs for Parakeets might be something in the middle.

Write Great Blog Content

No matter what you choose to write about, your content had better be stellar. It has to be something that connects with people so that people will want to go back to it again and again.

And make sure that content stream is constant – 2 blog posts per week at a minimum – more is better when building an audience.

Figure Out Who Cares about your Blog’s Subject

Once you’ve decided to go with a topic, figure out who cares about that topic and target them. Perhaps the National Society of Parakeets? Maybe the International Council for Chair Care? Perhaps Pets for Rest?

And then access those groups. Become a member. Participate in their events. Discuss things with other members. Get the word out that your Chairs for Parakeets blog is the very best.

Get an Audience – Get Loud, Proud and Social

Popular Blogs need Social Media

Tell everyone under the sun you have a blog. Tell your family and friends and neighbours and school chums. If they don’t know about it, then they can’t support it or you. You can never tell too many people about your work.

And seriously, start social networking. Don’t roll your eyes at me – Twitter and Facebook have been the major drivers of my audience and they can be for you as well. I can’t go into all the ins and outs of social networking here, but set it up, do it, and use it for promotion every day. (But don’t be obnoxious.) (See how to write a Twitter bio here.) Also promote sharing and subscribing to your blog.

Learn About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Yes, this one is last because if you’ve done all those other things, then blog SEO will (sort of) happen naturally. SEO keys in on keywords (subject focus), connections (networking) and quality content – things you should always be doing anyway. To get finer-grained, you’ll need to start learning about how Google works and that could take some time. For now just know that those other rules really matter.

Overall Tips on How to Have a Popular Blog

  1. Talk about what’s in the news – people are looking for commentary on it and they likely have thoughts on it too
  2. Be controversial (or not) – this always gets readers but you might not like the fall-out
  3. Answer your comments – this builds community and conversation and keeps people coming back
  4. Use headings, bullet points, paragraph breaks and images liberally – no one wants to read a large chunk of text
  5. Create solid, frequent content – oh, did I mention that one already?
  6. Keep articles to 400-600 words – people don’t have the attention span for more than that
  7. Link everything together – social networks, to blog, to homepage, etc.
  8. Guest post elsewhere
  9. Comment on other blogs or in forums where your audience hangs out
  10. Care for and about your audience

And keep in mind, becoming popular takes time. I have more than 6 times the traffic than I did a year ago, but that took a year. So be patient. If you want people to read you – they will – but it isn’t as simple as build it and they will come.

Top 10 Bipolar Burble Posts of 2011

→ January 2, 2012 - 6 Comments

Best Bipolar Burble ArticlesLast year was a great one here at the Bipolar Burble and saw a dramatic rise in audience numbers, so welcome readers, new and old. This means that debates were fast and sometimes fierce here on the Burble, and mostly, that’s OK with me. Although it did require the invocation of commenting rules, it also meant that more people had their say on mental illness topics.

So, without further ago, here is the top 10 list of articles people read in 2011:

  1. Worst Things to Say to a Person with a Mental Illness – number one with a bullet two years running is this piece which is a continuation of a piece I wrote on Breaking Bipolar. Everyone, it seems, wants to know what not to say to a person with a mental illness.
  2. Bipolar Disorder Type I: Mania and Delusions of Grandeur – this piece was written at the behest of a reader and includes readers’ experiences of delusions of grandeur during bipolar manic episodes.  This is a topic not widely deal with elsewhere.
  3. Doctors Should Treat the Mentally Ill Without Consent – this highly commented-on and contentious article outlines why I think it’s reasonable to treat the mentally ill without consent in some situations. In spite of all the controversy, I still consider this position reasonable.
  4. Self-Diagnosing Hypomania – I had no idea this article would be so popular, but people are looking for this information. This piece is about how to see hypomania coming or to know once it’s already here.
  5. Suicide Self-Assessment Scale – How Suicidal Are You? – again, I didn’t realize how many people were looking for this information. However, this article is designed to point out warning signs and track one’s own suicidal feelings. It can be hard to tell how severe suicidal feelings are and this scale is designed to help.
  6. How to Get Off Antidepressants Effexor/Pristiq (Venlafaxine/Desvenlafaxine) – this is an update to an article I had written a couple of years earlier and is a huge source of Google hits. I hate to make blanket statements about antidepressants, but it really seems like venlafaxine and desvenlafaxine (Effexor and Prisiq) are bitches to get all for almost everyone.
  7. Depression, Bipolar – Feeling Along with a Mental Illness – this is a feeling that I, and I think everyone with a mental illness, has had. This piece addresses the idea that those with a mental illness are “alone” or are “freaks.”
  8. Psychiatric Myths Dispelled by Doctor – Fighting Antipsychiatry – this is one of the most controversial posts here on the Burble due to the seeming war between those who consider themselves antipsychiatry and those who don’t. This piece earned the most comments, with almost 100 pieces of feedback on this article.
  9. Depression and Lack of Want, Desire – unfortunately, may people with depression experience anhedonia – the innability to feel pleasure. This tends to lead to a lack of want for anything. It’s a devastating condition that I have battled for years.
  10. Bipolar Terminology – The Difference Between Bipolar 1 and 2 – finally, at the number 10 spot we have a piece I wrote not long ago about the difference between bipolar I and bipolar II. This answers one of the basic questions people ask about bipolar disorder every day.

As I’ve said, I consider 2011 to have been a break-out year for the Bipolar Burble and I thank you all for being a part of it.

And don’t forget, if you have questions or if there are subjects you would like addressed here at the Burble, you are welcome to contact me anytime or leave a comment. I am at your service.

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