Profile in Brave: Carrie Cantwell, writer, designer for the movies, and bipolar 2

 

Photos courtesy of Carrie Cantwell

The four year anniversary of Carrie Cantwell’s dad’s suicide hit her hard. That day, she fell into a deep depression, went on disability from work and stayed with her mother. Her mom—a psychotherapist—took her to a psychiatrist because of her genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, because her dad had bipolar disorder too. At age 28, Cantwell was diagnosed with bipolar II. Cantwell had always been hypomanic, but she never considered it a problem because she felt great. In college, she was quite hypersexual, sleeping with strange men and women she barely knew, all without thinking about the consequences. She also shoplifted once just for the high of it.

Now, 44, Cantwell, of Atlanta, has a handle on her triggers and symptoms. She writes about bipolar disorder in her blog darknessandlight.org. She finds blogs written by others with bipolar inspiring such as the ones on BPhope.com. She has gone to Depression Bipolar Support Alliance DBSA meetings, and has written for their newsletter.

“When I’m manic, I sleep four hours a night and spend a lot of money, even though most of the time I am frugal.” Cantwell said she could spend 6 hours at a thrift store and walk out of the store with $100 worth of stuff when she is manic. Online shopping has been a problem for her too.

During her depressive episodes, anxiety is paralyzing. “If I see a glass of water on the table, I am afraid of spilling it and if it spills it will be the end of the world.” She also cries more and feels lethargic. “Moving feels like walking in molasses,” she said.
In 2012, a suicide attempt culminating from a mixed episode almost ended her life. A mixed episode is mania combined with the hopelessness of depression. They can be particularly dangerous because the charge and racing thoughts of the mania can give one the energy to try suicidal behavior.

“My diagnosis helped me understand my dad. My mother told me when I was eight that my dad had manic depression. I understood that as he would spend lots of money and blow up at me for no reason. One day he was nice and the next day he was scaring me. It wasn’t until my first depressive episode in 2002 that I was diagnosed, because I was triggered by his death.”

Growing up an only child, she realized that this is a mental illness which affects personality and behavior. Her diagnosis and suicide attempt—in the end—helped her understand both her and her dad.

Cantwell is currently editing her memoir Daddy Issues: A Memoir about growing up with a bipolar father and receiving the diagnosis herself, which she’ll shop to agents in January. “This book is me coming out of the bipolar closet,” she said.

Her mother and her boyfriend are her biggest supporters in life. She’s known her boyfriend for 22 years and told him on the first date about her bipolar diagnosis, but he already knew and was cool.
“Sometimes he says calm down, turbo, in a gentle way, when I’m getting worked up,” said Cantwell.
Her best friend of roughly 30 years, who has anxiety issues, is supportive as well.

Cantwell loves knitting and crocheting mice for the kitties at the Humane Society, she’s vegan and loves vegan cooking, she does yoga, plays trivia at bars, and loves watching movies. Her favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“My dad showed me that movie when I was a kid, and that movie inspired me to get into the film business,” she said.

For work, Cantwell uses her graphic design skills to create fake worlds for movie sets. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design, a BA in English, and a Master’s Certification in Project Management.

Cantwell works remotely, which she says is a healthy balance of not always being on a movie set. She makes worlds look real by designing fake products and signs.
She’s only told a select few colleagues about her bipolar diagnosis, but she doesn’t plan to hide it after her memoir is published. Her blog is also in her real name.

After all she knows that she is reliable. “I am reliable and I never quit a job.”
She is always hustling for work in this business, and she likes it. It keeps her on her toes.

“Working in my career for 13 years, I’m established enough now to pick each job I take,” she said.

Her bipolar gets triggered by the traffic in Atlanta. To avoid road rage she tries to avoid driving at high traffic times like rush hour. Daylight savings time can also be a trigger so she has to make sure sleep is priority. She has an eye mask and a white noise machine, and a portable white noise machine for when she travels.

You can read her blog Darkness and Light and find out more about Carrie Cantwell by going to http://darknessandlight.org.

Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain will help others with peri-partum bipolar

new brainDyaneHeadshot

 

I first came across Dyane Harwood’s blog after she left continuous comments on my blog and we began a conversation through email and in the comments. Dyane writes her blog after being diagnosed with peri-partum bipolar 1 disorder to help others make sense of their condition and find resources. Dyane’s bipolar was triggered by childbirth.

“It was a trifecta of hormones, genetic predisposition, and sudden sleep deprivation,” she said during a fifty minute conversation we had over the phone.

Dyane’s father was also bipolar. And even though she lived though a childhood of moodswings, her own mood shifts were not treated until the births of her daughters. She said that today there are medication studies by perinatal psychiatrists about how to treat women who have been diagnosed before becoming pregnant.

Her new memoir Birth of a New Brain takes one through her journey and how she learned to treat her condition and come out healthy and strong. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison has even blurbed it. It covers her childhood with a bipolar father, signs along the way when she became hypomanic, to her hospitalizations, her marriage, and parenting, to her life today. It takes one through what worked for her and what didn’t. She included a chapter on a trip with her family to Hawaii when she was in a depression and trying various treatments. You’ll want to read about her tsunami obsessions which she has had since childhood but were magnified during the trip.

The most moving parts of her memoir was her talking about her marriage and parenting her two girls Avonlea and Marilla. An avid reader, Dyane loves the Anne of Green Gables series. She also loves works by Madeline L’Engle. During her illness, her husband Craig, saw a counselor and came with her to her therapist. But what helped keep them together was Craig had a place to retreat to other than bipolar disorder. He was writing his own book on another topic.

“It was his own special retreat to help him cope,” she said. “The book was the other woman I like to say. It saved our marriage. We each had something to occupy ourselves and we weren’t always on each other’s backs.”

She also talked about her hypergraphia, compulsive writing, something I’ve experienced on multiple occasions during episodes.

“It was as if my thoughts were channeled through writing,” she said. “I didn’t have hypersexuality or shopping sprees but I just had this need to write. My thoughts were grandiose and the writing was messy, which is a sign of hypergraphia.”

Dyane takes an older generation MAOI combined with lithium, which has been a lifesaver for her. She also finds the friendships she makes blogging help her to heal as well as running around the tennis courts in her town while her dog Lucy watches. She tries to follow Dr. Alsuwaidan’s recommended exercise program of pushing yourself to your limits for 30 minutes and breaking a sweat. But after over-doing it and doing one hour of exercise, she takes a more moderate course. Dyane reads ebooks from NetGalley, mostly non-mental health stuff. She said she needed a break from the mental health genre.

Pre-order her new memoir Birth of a New Brain here. The book is released this October 10. Click here to visit Dyane Harwood’s web site.

New Mental Health Picks from the Publishing World

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

frazzled

Ruby Wax is a British comedian who suffers from depression and negative thinking. It was this thinking that forced her to get a Master’s degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford. Her training in comedy and theatre inform her writing style as this is the funniest book on mindfulness out there. She gives you a six-week mindfulness course as well as humorous snippets of her personal story. She also writes about the science of mindfulness. And, this is science writing that will tickle your funny bone. She’ll show you how mindfulness related to her life and how it can relate to your’s. She won Britain’s highest honor, an OBE, for her services to mental health. Her website is http://rubywax.net.
Lost Marbles Insights into My Life with Depression and Bipolar by Natasha Tracy

lost
Natasha Tracy skillfully uses her personal experience with bipolar 2 and her gift for science writing to talk about stigma, types of bipolar, medication, how to talk to someone with bipolar. This is the type of book I wished I had when I first got out of the hospital. This is a fact-based book on the nuances of living with bipolar and depression.

She writes the well-known blog Bipolar Burple found at http://natashatracy.com.
Notes on a Banana A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression by David Leite

banana
David Leite, the James Beard Award-Winning creator of the website Leite’s Culinaria, writes a tell-all memoir about coming to terms with his homosexuality and getting diagnosed with bipolar 2. Throughout the book, he uses humor and  his love of food and cooking as a motif.  Overall, this was an interesting read and very well-written as he studied memoir with writer Marion Roach Smith of the Memoir Project. A longer interview is forthcoming.

He can be found at leitesculinaria.com.

Tips for those trying to write the mental health memoir

Some of my advice stems from author Dani Shapiro, memoirist, who I had the chance to study with at a writing retreat. Dani along with my graduate school writing professors have inspired me that my book can inform, inspire and be written masterfully.

Find your arc and don’t make it totally about mental illness. Your arc is your over-arching themes. You could write a story about your mental illness or someone else’s and you can infuse moments of cooking into it. There you will have something a lot more people can relate too if they can’t relate to your mental illness.

Write about one or several moments of your illness. Don’t give us an autobiography.

Just start writing. Take one moment in your story and write a long essay about it. This is your first chapter.

Break your story down into moments. Write an essay for each one.

Keep a Commonplace Book of your favorite quotes. Some of them may be included in your book in front of chapters. That one’s from Dani.

Where you can, weave science fact into your story. This will make you into not just a storyteller but an expert.

Look for an agent but be prepared to self-publish. There are a surprising lot of people writing memoirs of this type. If you get a lot of rejection and still believe in your project, there are tons of ways to self-publish on the internet. My first novella was self-published. I’ll save self-publishing advice for another post.

If you have other questions, leave them in the comments or drop me a line on the contact page.

Student Unraveled: Bipolar On Campus

I paced frenetically all the while talking raucously into the telephone outside the college newspaper office. What began as a routine phone call to find out some more information for a story winds into a diatribe about how I planned to take over the Massachusetts Democratic Party and enact my politics of the impossible agenda. Thrown into the conversation at random are quick sexual jokes and other random puns leaving the person on the other end of the phone line confused and frightened.

Hanging up the phone, I stride into the Student Center lounge. I interrupt a student studying and begin a conversation. My mind races to my next thought and the next and the next.

Neurotransmitters surge.

Perhaps, you know of someone like me. I was an editor on the college paper, held internships at three major papers, a dean’s list student. I interned at a Massachusetts senator’s re-election campaign, was active in the woman’s center, a member of the campus philosophy society, wrote six to eight stories a week for the campus paper, and worked part-time jobs for extra cash.

A woman about town, I was seen at every political conference or social event. I was the first one at the gym every morning exercising for one hour on the treadmill and awake far into the dawn hours scribbling poetry.

One moment, my friends would be walking with me and I would leap onto the MIT bridge and walk the railing. The next moment, I was ready to jump off into the icy waters of the Charles River.

College life can be a bundle of stress to most students. However, for students like me, who have the biochemical disorder manic depression or bipolar disorder, the pressures of college may become impossible when you are dealing with mood swings, psychotic thoughts, and suicidal ideations. Imagine trying to study for a test in Espanol while three or four distinct lines of thought (all unrelated) race through your mind. Now, imagine more thoughts keep coming and coming until nothing makes sense anymore. Or try reading Shakespeare or sociology texts, when your mind has gone black.

It wasn’t easy for me to recognize that I need help as my mood rose. It was even harder for me to ask for help. No one at the school could offer the proper intervention because no one completely understood my situation. Having gone to one session at the college counseling office intent on discussing these issues, I groped with words for a half-hour and left.

Then, one-day my mind went black in the middle of photography class. The expensive camera I was so thrilled to buy and use suddenly became too complex to operate. I lost all clarity, couldn’t think, write, or concentrate on anything.

I, then, went to the computer lab and posted a suicidal message to an online group. I went back to my single dorm room, locked my door, turned the music up louder, cut my wrists continuously until I fell asleep on the tile floor.

The college RA escorted me to the emergency room after a raucous protest from me. Dressed all in black, like some Goth poster child, alone in a cubicle-sized room, I tried to convince the ER psychiatrists that I was not crazy, not even depressed, that the email I sent the group was a joke. Unfortunately, for me, I was talking millions of miles a minute, and I was not making much sense bringing up a lot of political names and celebrities, all of whom I had worked for or met during the previous semester. Nevertheless, they sent me to Mclean, the esteemed psychiatric hospital in Belmont Massachusetts.

The psychiatrists at Mclean called it an acute manic depressive episode, otherwise called bipolar disorder type 1. The episiodes had been reoccurring in various forms all fall semester—although, they went largely unnoticed by me as my moods fluctuated like the Atlantic off Nantucket. I spent eight days running in dark tunnels with my fellow inmates, watching another college girl break into multiple personalities, listening to tales of electroshock and a woman say she was schizo and manic, which baffled me then, but I later learned was schizoaffective disorder. Although, the hospital recommended I spend the rest of the semester resting at home, I chose to go back to campus under the care of an off-campus therapist and psychopharmacologist. Back on campus, I spent much time recovering from the stigma of hospitalization and mental illness. Rumors abounded.

College students with mental illness must believe in themselves, that they are unique, valuable and worth the effort, they must know their legal rights as stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as their school’s policies. They must remain clear, calm, and persistent when advocating for themselves. I wrote my symptoms, goals, dreams down on paper in my journal. In the journal, I taped a mood chart pulled off the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s web site. This journal later gave my therapist and I evidence when issues and incidents came up and the deans became involved.

There is a wonderful resource in the organization Active Minds www.activeminds.org which helps students start chapters on their campuses to educate other students about stigma and what mental illness feels like.

Nineteenth Year Crack Up

This is a poem I wrote during graduate school for Writing. It is a fictionalized account based on what I went through in college.

Twelve years have passed since my days in Boston

Days when I sat under archways thinking,

scribbling poetry, howling sins;
the moon listened

by fracturing the sky.

I read Shakespeare, Kafka, Plath, Poe, and Woolf.

Experiencing their peaks and valleys,

in unfinished homework, lost loves,

the pressures
 building insanity in my own mind,

caused by my genetics unraveling.

There were the weeks spent without a winks sleep,

the lost time (I still cannot remember).

I would pick fights randomly. Then, it begun.

My words raced spoke miles for every minute,

(I had conspiracy theories that the 
other girls

were plotting to give my name 
to the F.B.I.

There was the Camera who only I 
heard talking.

There was anonymous sex 
in a phone booth,

the 2 o’clock phone calls, 
the midnight rollarblade races

around 
campus by myself, shopping sprees

where I 
bought things—such as One Hundred dollars in 
journals from Borders

—all things I later 
gave away, and oh the angry emails.

There came the waking dreams, 
the crying for days on end in my dorm.

The words: I hate myself and want to die

written in a cheap scrawl in my journal.

And, at my worst, the caving walls began.

My friends feared. The tears came and came and came.

They would not stop the day I decided
to die,

to slowly Out, Out of my life.

There was the note, then the pills, then the booze.

Then, there was the trip to the big, big place 
on the hill

where writers have been before,
 a place of labels and electroshocks.

The doctors fed me Prozac and Zoloft

though I asked for a Long Island Iced Tea.

The pills made my wings take flight and objects

appear out of nowhere, in which the nurses

threatening me with leather restraints.

The doctors switched me to Lithium

calming me in days.
 And, I curled in a ball and slept,

dreaming
 about what I would tell the others at school.