Bipolar Me: From Blog to Book A Guest Blog from Author Janet Coburn

 

Written by Janet Coburn

I just had a book, Bipolar Me, published. I never meant to write a book. Wait, let’s back that up a bit. All my life I wanted to write a book, but when I started my Bipolar Me blog, I had no idea it would turn into a book.

I figured that if I started a blog, I would have to write about something. And given that the universal advice given to writers is, “Write what you know,” my topic was clearly going to be bipolar disorder. Eventually, that blog formed the basis for my book. A friend suggested that I think about it. Then I attended a session at a writer’s workshop, “From Blog to Book,” led by the marvelous Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.

How did I get from blog to book? I looked through my archive of blog posts and tried to group them in logical categories that would make sense to readers. I blog about whatever topics I think of every week (on Sundays) in no particular order. I may write about something that happened to me that week, or something that I remember happening in the past, or something based on headlines and stories I see in the news or appearing in my Facebook timeline.

But for the book, I felt it was necessary to impose some structure. The chapters I came up with were: Brain Games; Symptoms Galore; The Med-Go-Round; Family Matters; Heavy Weather; Swings Go Both Ways; On the Upside; The Social Whirl; Issues: My Take; and Society, Sickness, and Sanity. Within those categories, I discussed matters such as depression and hypomania, drugs and other treatments, self-care and caregiving, and even humor.

One thing I’ve learned as the process went on is not to discuss my own medications or other treatments or to recommend them to anyone else. I had seen too many requests in online support groups that said, “I just started taking drug X. What experiences have you had with it?” or “I have these symptoms. What would be the best medications for me?”

I maintain that this is not useful information to share, so I try not to be specific in the book. We may all have bipolar disorder, but the experience is personal to each of us. I have had very low depressive episodes and my hypomania comes out sideways most of the time as anxiety. You may have different symptoms. The cocktail of medications that my psychiatrist landed on after a long, long process of trying nearly everything in the book works for me but may have different effects on you. The side effects I can tolerate may not be the same ones you get or may seem more tolerable to me than they do to you. Our symptoms, our life courses, even our brains are different from one another. We share a disorder, but medication is individual.

Another pet peeve of mine, which shows up in the book, is scientific reporting. Too often I see headlines in the news that claim a new discovery or treatment may explain bipolar disorder or alleviate symptoms or point the way to a cure. I see a couple of problems with such writing. Too many times the headline writers get carried away with the “May Offer Hope” stance when the article says something closer to “may or may not.” Studies on mice are a long way from saying anything useful to the bipolar-on-the street too. In my opinion, too many of these stories offer false hope.

Of course, hope is a good thing. But I don’t write merely to be hopeful or inspiring. If a reader finds those things in my book, that’s good. But I set out with the intent of sharing stories of my personal struggles and occasional victories. I explore my own experience of bipolar 2. As I noted, your experience is likely to be different from mine in many respects. But if there is something in my writing and my experience that resonates with a reader, helps them in some way, or even just makes them nod, then I have done my job.

My job, it seems to me, also includes introducing bipolar disorder to people who don’t know much about it. Many of the essays in the book can help friends and family understand bipolar disorder better and may help them understand what a loved one with bipolar is going through. I’ve worked in educational publishing through a large part of my life, so I guess that seeps into the book. When I shared the book with my mother-in-law, for example, she said it was “thought-provoking.” That’s as good a review as I can hope to get.

Some people may be surprised that I included a chapter of more humorous pieces in Bipolar Me – “Cookie Theory,” “The Depression Diet,” and essays about bipolar disorder and science fiction, DisneyWorld, cats, and armadillos, for example. When I’m suffering with bipolar, my sense of humor is one of the things I miss the most, so when I’m able to lighten up a bit, I do. Besides, look at my influences – Jenny Lawson is one of my personal heroes and her books are hysterically funny, even when they deal with deadly serious mental health topics.

Finding a publisher for this admittedly niche work was not easy. I had sent it around to a lot of mainstream agents and publishers before I stumbled across Eliezer Tristan Publishing, a company that specializes in books about mental health, recovery, and emotional struggles. We were a perfect fit. My second book, Bipolar Us, is currently in production with them. A companion piece to Bipolar Me, it addresses more societal aspects of mental illness such as stigma, education, gun violence, sex, and support systems – and yes, humor again. It will be published later this year. I hope readers find something in both my books that will inform or touch them, or provoke some other reaction. That’s my job as a bipolar writer.

You can purchase Janet’s book Bipolar Me on Amazon and read her blog at http://bipolarme.blog.

Stigma Fighters Founder and CEO Sarah Fader Starts Publishing Company

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Sarah Fader grew up in the 90s when mental illness was heavily stigmatized. At 15, she began having panic attacks. She remembers that the Books of Magic comic book series gave her a fear of death. She wrote it off by saying it was existential dread. At her performing arts high school in New York, she felt different from everybody else, and hid her secret well. Her mom finally sent her to a therapist.

“I told the therapist I wish there was a magic pill to make everything go away,” Fader said. The therapist told her that it doesn’t work like that.

In her senior year of high school, she found herself throwing up each morning due to anxiety.

“My mom introduced me to mindfulness meditation with John Cabot-Zinn. I was able to be calm and eat afterward,” she said.

At 18, her mom let her see a psychiatrist and she started Prozac with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.

“I remember walking down the street and my mind would be clear,” she said.

When Fader transfered to NYU, she received a refund check for her student loan for $4,000 which she spent in three days. When she told her psychiatrist of her dissociative spending, he put her on Zyprexa with the Prozac. She eventually saw a new psychiatrist who gave her Seroquel.

At 24, she had focussing problems and test anxiety. She was diagnosed with ADHD. Fourteen years later, she tried medication for this but this was after jobs would fire her for her lack of a concept of time.

After she met her then husband, she went off meds for ten years and had her son.

“It was hard but I used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get by,” she said.

While she was nursing her son, her depression came back and she went back on them. She had a daughter by this time and she had a post-partum psychosis. She didn’t sleep and hallucinated that she saw a floating face. After a few rounds with condescending doctors, she was given medication for her symptoms.

She had been blogging for ten years by this time. She had come out about her panic disorder on the Huffington Post.

“I saw all the other mental health blogs and it was safe for me,” she said. “I don’t want to live with the shame and I want my children to live unashamed.”

“The first time I wrote on a blog I have panic disorder, it was freeing,” she said.

She looked around the internet and their was no place for people to share stories of mental illness back then so she decided to start one. Stigma Fighters was born. She found a friend and business partner Ali Burke, who has schizophrenia, to make the site a non-profit. Since then, they published three anthologies for it.

“I don’t care if people remember me as long as they remember Stigma Fighters,” Fader said.

She realized that her mental illness isn’t her identity, her doctor changed her diagnosis to bipolar 2, ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.

“Your diagnosis doesn’t matter. What matters is the treatment plan,” she said.

Fader also  podcasts the show This is What Anxiety  Feels  Like on her site www.sarahfader.com. She coined the hashtag #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike which has been mentioned in the New York Times.

After losing a child, she founded the Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company. She wanted people to share their stories of resilence. In addition to looking for completed manuscripts and book proposals, she does book coaching. Topics they look for are Near Death Experiences, mental health, anthologies, and poetry.

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Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. Her personal web site is www.sarahfader.com.