About Me

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Hello! I'm a writer from central New York who has bipolar disorder. Among other topics, I write about mental illness and writing. I have short stories published in Lynx Eye, Lost Coast Review, The Outrider Review, Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Mondegreen, The Linnet's Wings, Cobalt Review, Breath & Shadow, The Round Up, Postscripts to Darkness, Masque & Spectacle, and several other journals. I have essays about mental illness in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine, and an essay in Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness & Health, a book that was published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. In December of 2016, The Mondegreen nominated my story "Santa Lucia" for a Pushcart Prize. I've written a novel entitled Purple Loosestrife and a novel entitled Hoping It Might Be So, both of which I am submitting to agents and publishers. I'm working on a novel called Dark and Bright as well as a book called Violets Are Blue: Essays About My Bipolar Life. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in English from SUNY College at Brockport. I hope you enjoy your visit to my blog!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

No Winter Blues

It's not yet fall here in Syracuse, New York--we have a few more days of summer. But fall is nearly here, and winter will quickly follow. I should be feeling a little down; a lot of people with bipolar disorder have some depressive symptoms or full-blown depressive episodes when fall and winter come. But I feel invigorated, energized. I love all four seasons. I'm quite fond of fall and winter.

I love snow. I live in the right part of the country and in the right city. Syracuse is considered the snowiest city in the United States. The picture below was taken from my front door during, I think, January. We get an astonishing amount of snow. It should, according to trends in people with bipolar disorder, depress me, or at least bring me down, but it doesn't.

In fact, I have to watch out for hypomanic and manic symptoms in the fall and winter. I'm not sure what it is--I just get excited by the snow and cold, and comforted by the coziness of being inside during it. I have to make sure that this happiness doesn't veer into the wrong place. Fortunately, I have people who watch over me as well as a good sense of self-awareness. These are very important things for people with bipolar disorder.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Missing My Characters

I'm working on the second to last chapter of my novel Dark and Bright. Once I finish this draft, there will be the long journey of rewriting, adding, subtracting, editing, proofreading, and all that good stuff. So I won't be completely done with the novel for a while yet. Yet when I am done, I'll miss my main characters Curtis Stanford, David Cooper, Jessica Cooper, Melanie Knapp, and perhaps most of all, Everett Knapp, the kid in my story who's obnoxious, intrusive, smart-mouthed, and yet lovable.

I miss my characters once their stories are finished. I miss Spencer MacGowan, Vincent Ravenaugh, and Edith Leonard from Purple Loosestrife. I miss Matthew Holman, Gil Egan, and Sadie Egan from Hoping It Might Be So. And there are characters from my shorter works who leave a mark on me. None of my novels are published yet, so I can go back to them and visit my characters and even tinker around a little bit if I find things I feel inclined to change, but still it's not an everyday thing.

I hope my novels will be published so that these characters can go out into the world and be known by more people than just me and the family and friends who have read their stories. Whatever the case, there's a time when you let your characters go and live out their lives without you (unless they die in your novel, of course). I will always miss them. It seems a little like empty nest syndrome. But there will be new characters who come along because I intend to keep writing novels and short stories. Do I have an idea for a fourth novel yet? Not quite, but those characters will at some point emerge from the mist.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Recent Happenings

My story "A Good Priest" is out in the September issue of Masque & Spectacle. It's a story about a priest who really is a very good priest, despite the fact that he breaks vows and sells marijuana. I'm fond of the story because I like Father Connall O'Riordan and admire his integrity. Because he does have integrity. Read the story and you'll see. The picture to the right is of Father Connall's orange couch on which parts of the story take place.

I have my poem "Dreams of My Lover" and my story "You Kill Me" coming out in, I think, December in The Poeming Pigeon and The Writing Disorder respectively. I'm currently working on a flash piece called "The Infant of Prague", which is entirely different from a story I wrote a few years ago called "The Infant of Prague" (I never tried to get that one published). I'm also working on chapter twenty-two of my novel Dark and Bright. I believe the novel will have a total of twenty-four chapters, so I'm in the home stretch.

It's nearly autumn and rather than feeling down like so many people with bipolar disorder do at this time of year, I feel quite good. I like the colder, shorter days. I like autumn and then winter and snow. I seem to have the opposite of the typical nature of seasonal affective disorder. Rather than feeling sad in the colder months, I feel good, and I tend to get down when the days get longer and warmer. I don't know why this is since I like all four seasons. There's just something about spring that seems melancholy to me, whereas I feel invigorated by the cold.

In other news, Alex recently finished the Powerman Zofingen Duathlon in Zofingen, Switzerland, a longtime goal of his. It was a grueling race, but he did it. Here's to achieving goals!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Getting Good News and a Visit Home

The past two weeks have been good to me. I got two stories accepted for publication, and a poem accepted (this will be the first time I've ever had a poem published). The stories, "A Good Priest" and "You Kill Me", are forthcoming respectively in Masque & Spectacle and The Writing Disorder, and the poem, "Dreams of My Lover", will be in The Poeming Pigeon.

Today, I went to my hometown of Fairport, New York. My psychiatrist is there and has Saturday hours, so I make the drive from Syracuse once a month to see her. Then I visit my family. It's an hour and twenty minutes to Fairport from Syracuse, but my psychiatrist is very much worth it, and seeing my family is always wonderful.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Misuse of "OCD" and "Bipolar"

OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a brain disorder that typically requires medication and therapy and sometimes even hospitalization. OCD is not an adjective; it does not describe people who happen to be very neat and orderly and organized. It's a serious mental illness. You can't "be" OCD. You can have OCD, and if you do, then you understand the sort of pain, anguish, and suffering it can cause.

I understand that the acronym "OCD" has taken on a certain slang meaning. I know what people mean when they say, "I'm so OCD." This doesn't mean I have to like it. I think that using the phrase this way misrepresents and trivializes obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Likewise, I've heard people say, "I'm so bipolar," when they do not have diagnosed bipolar disorder. Rather, they mean they're feeling moody or indecisive or erratic. Most people who know me know what bipolar disorder is. Like OCD, it's a serious mental illness, a brain disorder. To misuse "bipolar" misrepresents the illness and, as I said about the slang use of OCD, trivializes it.

Trivializing these illnesses can be just as bad as fearing them. It all feeds into the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Understanding, empathy, compassion, an educated point of view: these are what people with mental illnesses need.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

No Rage for Me

I read an article by Julie A. Fast about rage in bipolar disorder and how to deal with it. Click here to read the article. Ms. Fast is a person with bipolar disorder who has experienced rage. This is something I'm not familiar with in my experiences with bipolar disorder.

I have not felt rage as a bipolar symptom, and I feel fortunate for that. In fact, I rarely get angry, and even when I do, it doesn't last, and I don't hold grudges. I'm very uncomfortable with the feeling of being angry. It ends up making me feel sad and low, and then very sorry for having felt the anger in the first place.

In addition to the hallmarks of bipolar disorder, depression and mania, and all the feelings that come with them, I'm more apt to feel a lack of self-esteem or a lack of confidence as far as negative emotions go. I'm more likely to internalize feelings than lash out. And anxiety--anxiety is a big one for me. But for me, it doesn't lead to anger or rage. I wonder if all of this is true for other people with bipolar disorder... if there are others who don't feel rage, or even much anger.

If I've felt angry about anything, it's been at having bipolar disorder. But even that anger hasn't lasted. I've long since come to terms with my diagnosis, and I've realized that getting angry about it does no good. The best I can do is look at the positive--the link that many believe exists between bipolar disorder and creativity, the strength and wisdom that come from fighting a mental illness, and the empathy towards others--not just fellow fighters, but everyone.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Lobotomy and Rosemary Kennedy

I'm currently reading Kate Clifford Larson's Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter. Rosemary Kennedy, the intellectually disabled sister of President John F. Kennedy, was lobotomized in 1941 due to her disability and erratic moods and intractable behavior. She was twenty-three. She lived to be eighty-six.

I'm at the point in the book where the author is describing lobotomy, what it was like to have one performed, and whom the typical candidate for a lobotomy was. It was chilling to read that people with bipolar disorder were given lobotomies. At this point, I haven't read exactly what Rosemary's lobotomy did to her, and I'd have to research them more to learn what the general outcome was, but I know that it wasn't good. You just can't slice up the frontal lobe and expect a beneficial outcome. But I have to learn more to know the specifics.

At this point in my understanding, it scares me to know of a "could have been" as far as having bipolar disorder. Had I been alive in the early 1940s, this could have been my fate. I am grateful for being born when I was and getting diagnosed in 1995. I have received excellent care during the past twenty-two years, and I only see things improving as more research is done into the treatment of mental illnesses. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) were still somewhat new when I was diagnosed, but they existed. And throughout the past twenty-two years, other medications have come onto the scene. some of which I take.

In all, I take an SSNRI (selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), an NDRI (norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor), an atypical antipsychotic, an anticonvulsant (which works as a mood stabilizer), and a benzodiazepine (in order, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Abilify, Lamictal, and Klonopin). It's a lot, but the combination works for me and has kept me out of the hospital since 2003. Aside from medication, I do talk therapy with my psychiatrist. I've learned DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) and know a bit about CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

My treatment is involved and requires a lot of compliance and effort on my behalf, but to think that at one time, I could have been given a lobotomy makes me so grateful for what I have instead.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

An Acceptance and Books of the Summer

I recently had my story "A Good Priest" accepted by Masque & Spectacle. I'm glad to have found a home for the young, devastatingly handsome, morally ambiguous Father Connall O'Riordan.

I'm still working on chapter twenty of Dark and Bright. Because I garden and have to do yard and pool maintenance, I seem to write a bit slower in the summer, even though I write just about daily. In the winter here in central New York, I'm obviously inside a whole lot more.

As for books, I'm currently reading the last of Shirley Jackson's novels that I haven't yet read, Hangsaman. I'm also reading Kate Clifford Larson's Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, the story of Rosemary Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy's sister, who had developmental disabilities and was lobotomized at the age of twenty-three. It's very interesting.

My to-be-read pile is huge, and I really want to soon take on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. I also want to start over and finally finish James Joyce's Ulysses.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Blog Post About Me

Excellus's Jan Caster wrote a blog post about me on Excellus's website A Healthier Upstate. It's about my battle with bipolar disorder, the ups and downs of it, and my fighting spirit in living with it. I'm honored that Excellus chose me for this article. It's called "Bipolar Diagnosis Frees Emily's Fighting Spirit".

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summer Writing

I continue to work on the first draft of my novel Dark and Bright. I'm about to embark on chapter twenty. I'm thinking that it might have about twenty-seven chapters, but it's hard to say. I know what happens and how it ends of course; I just don't know if I can estimate how that will fit in terms of chapters.

I also just wrote a little memoir piece called "Always Summer". I intend to for it to go somewhere in Violets Are Blue: Essays About My Bipolar Life. By the way, that's a working title. I'm not sure I love it and may come up with something different.

I feel an urge to write a short story but nothing leaps to mind yet. I've got a few pieces out in the world that I'm waiting to hear about, and I need to submit some more. As far as reading goes, I've got Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir going, and Haruki Murakami's story collection Men Without Women. Both books are excellent.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Decompressing... An Important Activity

It's so important with bipolar disorder to maintain a strict routine, or at least it is for me. I have to get eight hours of sleep, and I typically go to sleep at 9 or 9:30 p.m. and get up at 5 or 6 a.m. (I love mornings). I also try to eat and take medications at the same time each day. And exercising most days of the week is important.

If I deviate from this routine too much or for too long a period of time, I risk bringing on an episode of either depression or mania. This past Fourth of July holiday, I got a little bit off of my routine, and I'm working today to reestablish it. On July 2nd, I was up late due to fireworks; on July 3rd, I went to an evening party; and on July 4th, I went to my extended family's picnic, which required a long round trip drive. I was up late for three nights in a row, busy by day, and up early each day despite going to sleep late.

Therefore, I need to decompress today. This isn't anything all that specific. It just means taking the day at a slower pace than usual. It also means doing activities that I love and that typically calm me. I would advise anyone with bipolar disorder, or depression, anxiety, any mental disorder that you have to work with to stay well, to be sure to decompress after your days have been outside of the usual pattern.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sad Spring

I continued to have some trouble this past spring. I had a depressive episode that was somewhat mild, but serious enough for me to not be doing much, not even writing, and for my psychiatrist to increase my Effexor, one of the antidepressants I take. For about a week, I found myself lying on the couch in the afternoon, unable to get up and go. And I was obsessing about the big questions in life: What's after death? Why are we here in the first place? What is my purpose here? Where do people go when they die? Where are my dead loved ones?

This spring brought a lot of rainy weather to my state of New York. I like rain, but not as much as we had. I couldn't work in the yard or my pool as much as I wanted to, and I couldn't walk outside as much.

In addition to this, my knee has been diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, colloquially known as runner's knee. I have exercises to do and need to ice the knee three times a day. And I'm just walking at a leisurely pace that doesn't hurt the knee--no running along with the walking. This is frustrating since I want to run again.

But nevertheless, it was spring, and now it's summer, and that makes me happy. My pool is up and running and my yard is looking nice. And the Effexor is working. I'm feeling better than I have in months and excited for what summer brings.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spring Blues

Some people have seasonal affective disorder, and I would guess that most of those people have trouble when winter comes and they live in a climate where winter is long and cold and dark. Well, I have the flip side of this. I live in central New York where winters are long and cold and dark, and summer is like a precious gem that you only get to keep for a short time. And yet, I tend to have trouble when the days get warmer and longer and closer to that precious gem of summer. I'm more prone to feeling down or depressed in the spring.

I love living in New York state because I love all four seasons and the fact that they change discernibly from one to another. But oddly, spring is difficult for me. It's as if my brain has to adjust to more light, more time outside in warmer temperatures. And when winter comes, I'm more apt to feel hypomanic or manic. Winter doesn't make me sad, but spring is somehow wistful.

I'm sure some of this is just because of the vagaries of my bipolar brain. It may be biochemical. More light and warmth, and my neurotransmitters get weird. But some of it seems to be the season itself. Spring is so beautiful that it makes me a little sad. Maybe it's because the beauty doesn't last. Sometimes I think it reminds me of childhood and those early days of getting to play outside and how I miss them.

So what do I do about this? Aside from using the dialectical behavioral therapy skills I've learned, or calling my psychiatrist if things get really tough, I exercise outside as much as possible and I garden. And when I garden, I don't use gardening gloves that often because I like to feel the soil and the plants. I love finding earthworms and lady bugs and garden spiders--all good luck creatures, I believe, and I need them in the spring.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Gratitude for Medication

For my bipolar disorder, I currently take Effexor (an antidepressant), Wellbutrin (an antidepressant), Lamictal (a mood stabilizer), Abilify (an anti-psychotic), and Clonazepam (an anti-anxiety). This combination of meds is working well for me, but they still need to be tweaked at times. Like bipolar disorder itself, meds are a constant balancing act. It took a long time to get to this combination that seems to work best. But this combination might not work well forever. It's just something I'll have to see. I'm grateful for having a doctor who is so knowledgeable about medication and who knows what should be most effective.

These meds do not come without their side effects. Many of them can cause drowsiness or dizziness. Abilify causes me to have slight tremors in both my hands and tongue. But overall, I'm pretty used to these meds and don't notice their side effects much. I'm clumsy, which I attribute in part to the meds, but I'm also just not the most graceful person and never have been.

I think sometimes about the days before these meds existed and it scares me. I can only imagine how I might be without medication--I'm glad I don't have to find out. Of course, meds aren't the only thing keeping me well. A person also needs good therapy and good support from family and friends. I'm grateful to have these, too. But I'm especially grateful for these chemicals that make my brain's chemicals operate in a sound and balanced way.

Not all meds work for everyone, or work in the same way for everyone. I have, over the years, taken Depakote and Seroquel. Both made me incredibly fatigued and zombie-like. Yet I have heard that these work well for other people. I have also taken the antidepressants Serzone, Celexa, and Zoloft. Zoloft didn't work at all for me, and the other two stopped working (antidepressant burnout). I started out taking lithium when I was first diagnosed, but the side effects of it, which are numerous, became too much for me. However, for ten years, lithium worked, and I'm sure it can work well for some people for many years.

Sometimes people will ask me what I take in the hope of finding something effective for themselves or a loved one. I do tell people, but it's always with the disclaimer that these meds work for me, and may not be as effective, or effective at all, for everyone. If you are on meds for a brain disorder, my advice is to stay on them. And if they're not working well, or cause too many negative side effects, speak up. Be your own best advocate to get what you need.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

April Work

An update on what's going on at this time: I'm working on chapter ten of Dark and Bright, my third novel. This is the first draft I'm writing. When it's done, I'll go through it all again. I have to submit my first two novels to agents and publishers some more. I think I may concentrate on submitting my second novel, Hoping It Might Be So. I have a hankering to go over my first novel yet again to see if there's anything I want to tweak.

No new short stories at this time, or any essays for Violet Are Blue: Essays About My Bipolar Life. I really want to write an essay--I just don't know what I want it to be about. I'm stuck with this project. There's so much to tell, but I'm not sure how to tell it.

As far as reading goes, I just finished Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. I had never read it before. Also finished: Ted Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others. That was excellent. I'm still reading Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire, and I plan to start reading Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I'll also start one of the short story collections I have in my to-be-read queue. Maybe A.M. Homes's The Safety of Objects.

I've included with this post a picture of my feet in our pool. Of course, we're nowhere near opening the pool yet, but I like to think about summer not being that far off. It will come. It always does.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Speaking About Bipolar Disorder

Yesterday was World Bipolar Day and I spoke about my bipolar disorder on a little panel with my psychiatrist at a healthcare company (which will remain unnamed for the sake of privacy). There were approximately fifteen people who came to listen to us. We talked about my experiences with and thoughts about bipolar disorder. This was the first time I've ever done any public speaking about this topic, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed advocating for the illness and doing my part to educate people about it.

Perhaps most interesting about the event was that my psychiatrist took a wrong turn on the way to the company and therefore was running late, so I had to start the presentation on my own. Nerves! I held it together, however, and drew on my experience as a teacher. I introduced myself and offered some general impressions about my illness.

Once my doctor arrived, she led the discussion and essentially interviewed me. Several people had questions, which I answered to the best of my ability. I got quite personal about the topic but felt very comfortable. The audience was kind and receptive.

This experience has made me want to advocate more and perhaps speak more about bipolar disorder. I've had some very rough times and now I'm doing well so I feel I have a lot to say about the vagaries and management of this illness. I'd like to do my part in helping people reach an understanding about this disorder from the point of view of someone who has experienced it first hand.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dark and Bright

I've started the new novel I wrote about in my last post. It's called Dark and Bright (from Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty"). It's the story of Curtis Stanford, a twenty-eight-year-old former model now living in his small hometown of (fictional) Lawrence located on the shore of Lake Ontario. Curtis is anxious, depressed, and lonely, and looking to amend this situation. Other characters are Curtis's neighbors, Melanie Knapp and her twelve-year-old son Everett, a pixie-faced, trouble-making wise-ass. And there are David and Jessica Knapp, Curtis's friends from Manhattan who move to nearby Rochester. This is a novel about people--their relationships, joys, fears.

One thing I should mention is that Jesus Christ is a character in this novel. He visits Curtis fairly regularly, and whether Curtis is delusional and Jesus is a hallucination, or whether this is really happening, we don't know. Curtis is an atheist who thinks he's losing his mind, and yet Jesus helps him come to terms with struggles and anxieties.

This is not in any way a religious novel, however. No. Jesus is pretty much just another character whom only Curtis sees. Maybe he is a delusion... we shall see.

I'm already working on chapter six and, at this point, I've introduced all the main characters and some of their issues. It's been fun to write and I look forward to letting it unfold.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Uh, Oh... Another Novel?

So I wrote a short story called "The Best of Dark and Bright" and had my dad and my writers group read and critique it. One friend in my group said that it seemed that it could be developed into a novel, while my dad said that it was quite complex for a short story and that the characters were very intriguing. So now I'm looking at this story and thinking that perhaps it could be a novel. I've even written a few scenes and taken down notes about how I think this might be done. I rather love the characters I've created and would like to tell more of their stories. Am I ready to embark on a third novel? I'm working on getting the first two submitted in the hope of finding them homes. But I could certainly write a third novel while I'm doing this. I will think more about it and let it percolate in my brain.

There would be a number of characters I'd follow in this novel. Curtis Stanford is my main character. Curtis's neighbor, the pixie-faced twelve-year-old wise-ass Everett Knapp, would be an important character. Then there's David Cooper, his wife Jessica, and their baby Liam. And I think I'd bring Curtis's mother Linda and sister Crystal into it. I'd delve a bit into Curtis's childhood, but most of the story would take place in the present when Curtis is in his late twenties. I'm getting more and more interested in taking on this project.

On a different note, I'm currently reading and loving Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I'm also reading Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. I'm enjoying this one, too, and relate to it quite easily. Reading pieces of work that other artistic people with bipolar disorder have written makes me feel less alone and more understood. It's also a little scary... the way the feelings among those of us with bipolar disorder are so similar, and often so horrible.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Finally... A New Story in a New Year

I've finally come up with an idea and started writing a new story. It's called "The Best of Dark and Bright". I'm also continuing to revise "Dark Moon", a story I started before Christmas. Oh, and I wrote "The Spoon Man", a very tiny tale.

My writing is going really well now. I was distracted by the holidays, but now I'm back in my groove. I've gotten one rejection for Hoping It Might Be So, but I'm okay with it. It's all part of writing.

I read Shirley Jackson's novel The Road Through the Wall and loved it, as I love all her work. I'm now reading Ted Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others. I'm really enjoying it and learning from Chiang's great writing. I've got a few nonfiction books going as always, which I'll report on as I finish them. I did finally finish Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. It was great, and it's rather timely.

Monday, January 2, 2017

No Resolutions

Happy New Year! I'm not making any new year's resolutions because I want to continue what I've been doing already. I want to continue getting into good shape, writing and submitting my work for possible publication, and staying as well as possible regarding my bipolar disorder.

I've submitted my second novel, Hoping It Might Be So, to a few publishers. I'm not giving up on Purple Loosestrife, my first novel--I just found some publishers that seemed as though they could be a good fit for my second novel and submitted to see what might happen. In 2017, I'll continue submitting Purple Loosestrife as well.

One of my Christmas presents from my husband is membership at my local YMCA. It's a new facility and just beautiful. I think it will make working out fun. And the pools are great. I'm looking forward to swimming laps again. I used to swim laps back when I belonged to the Y in the greater Rochester area and I love it as a form of working out. I find it quite meditative... something about the water and the repetitive motions of swimming. It's a tough workout, but also very calming.

I haven't written enough during the holiday season. I need to write a short story but so far nothing coherent has formed in my mind. The holidays were certainly a distraction; now I've got to get back to work.