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.

A Humorous Interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana, a memoir

David-Leite_avatar_1394234659-110x110

banana

 

David Leite describes himself in a Youtube video as “Crazy, Gay and Happily Portuguese.”

“Humor is the missing prescription in mental health,” said Leite.

My interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, was laugh out loud funny as we discussed writing, food, love, and Leite’s bipolar disorder.

AZ: What does your morning ritual look like?

DL: I dont have a morning ritual perse because I go back anf forth between Connecticut and NYC, especially now when there is interviews and book related stuff. My writing ritual is I wake up and I’ll eat some breakfast and tea. Then, I’ll check my email and social media. Once, I get that out of the way, I’ll start to write. I will write until late afternoon early evening.

AZ: Tell me a little how your relationship with food developed.

DL: When I was very young and talking as early as I can remember five until 12, I didn’t love Portuguese food and tried to stay away from it. I didn’t want to be Portuguese. I wanted to be blonde, blue-eyed and the adopted son on Bewitched. Those people weren’t eating salted cod or purple octopus stew. As I got older, I was eating more American food.

My relationship with food as with what I do happened with my partner Alan…I was young thin and beautiful at 34 years old. He said ‘I’m going to bake a cake.’ I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ He asked me if I wanted to lick the bowl. And I said, ‘Sure fine’, because I was studying for school. And I licked the bowl and just the smell and the flavor brought me back to my childhood. I had completely blocked it out that my grandmother had baked. It was that taste of that cake batter and the smell and even the texture of how it dripped down into exclamation points of batter. This started me taking cooking classes and cooking and starting to write about food. That’s really how my adult relationship with food developed. I started Leite’s Culinaria in 1999.

AZ: What is your favorite dinner party dish?

DL: My favorite dish to make for dinner company: no restrictions Porco Alentejana from the Alantejo region of Portugal. My family is from the Azures. It is pork marinated wine, garlic, herbs spices, sauteed, simmered tender clams and added, cubed roasted potatoes served in two woks hinged together.

AZ: What is your favorite rainy day dish?

DL: Spaghetti carbonara

AZ: Tell me about why you sectioned the book the way you did.

DL: I wrote the book almost the way you would write a mystery, clues dropped and I am not picking them up. It divided up life how I saw it. I like the term manic depression better. Early-onset was myself starting to see manesfestations of my illness when I was a child and it ends right after House of Wax chapter. Rapid-cycling mid section longest section ups and downs of life, of coming out, and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew there was something definately wrong with me psychologically. I put a lot of humor in book to help augment those highs. The reader goes from one dark passage to another but to have the humor in there is a way of mimicking what I go through for the reader.

A lot of people aren’t catching on that the book is actually very funny.

AZ: Does your writing style stem for your acting training?

DL: My acting training helped my writing…play analysis…idea of story and arc of story inciting incident thingI learned in drama….In the book, House of Wax is the incident. It launches me on search what’s going on. I got the story elements got from studing acting.

AZ: Where did you learn how to write scenes like you do?

DL: I haven’t studied writing a lot. I’ve taken avocational classes that lasted six weeks. Something I always had. I started writing in thirties when got advertising job. Always kept journals. Love rich full characters and I love storytelling I just think my love of character and storytelling came together. Also my use of language which I think is an absolute outgrowth of my manic depression. When I saw psychologist as a child, use phrases like I’m looking at world through wrong end of a telescope. I feel hot molten lead being poured in my body. I had to describe what was going on with me physically. And I thought if I did that enough in different ways someone would say what was wrong with me. Because I had bipolar I think that’s what fostered this love of language because I tried desperately hard to explain myself.

AZ: How did your illness amp things up for you concerning your sexuality?

DL: I think what anxiety and bipolar illness did was amped up the volume of all of this. Searching desperately for what was wrong with me and I lay the blame on maybe it’s because I’m from a Portuguese family, maybe it’s because I’m gay oh maybe it’s because I’m over-weight. I kept trying to find the answer of what was wrong with me. I think what manic depression amped up tension and stress and energy around my sexuality. The issue of the sexuality became bigger becauase I was dealing with so much anxiety and bipolar disorder.

AZ: How does your partner, Alan, live with a writer?

DL: He has more of an issue when I use the fact that I’m an writer against the relationship. We’ll have an argument and I’ll say that I have an artistic temeperament. That’s when he gets really angry. He’s quite proud that I am a writer, he loves the book and is quite proud of the book. He has more of issue how I might carry on with something.

AZ: Has bipolar been an issue in your relationship?

DL: Absolutely. We almost broke up. It was ripping our relationship apart. He’s a very patient man, and very loving and kind. It was wearing him to the nub. We had a big argument about money becuase as a writer I wasn’t making a lot of money at that time. I smashed the marble counter with a frying pan. I hit it three times and there two huge dents. That was sort of a clairon call for us. That came from stress of being bipolar and not making a lot of money at that point. Constant things since being diagnosed like my temper getting out of hand, or becoming obsessed with something or depressed, getting manic about something leaving him in dust. We are constantly monitoring it. It’s a third entity in our relationship. We have to acknowlege it daily, not getting too angry, lonely and tired.

AZ: How do you balance your moods with the creative process?

DL: I’m lucky able to make my own schedules now. In advertising, my creative process was on the clock. Because I work for myself, I’m able to work around my moods. When something bubbling creatively I go for it, then if mood gets in way I back off. Later, I’ll pick it up again. It’s very fluid. My mood can sometimes dictate the creative process; the creative process can sometimes dictate the mood.

AZ: You’ve been an actor, waitor, a copywriter, studied psychology. How has your life come full-circle into what you do now?

DL: I think everything I’ve done…waitor, actor, copywriter, photographer all those things I use in my daily work…actor when i do reading, give performance almost. As a matter of fact, I’m looking into taking some of the book and writing a one-hour one-man show. Psychology …thirst and drive understand what I was about. Because of study of psychology and being very introspective, is how I can create such vivid characters. I understand motivation with characters. All the things I did when I thought I was wasting my life, they have all come together and held hands. I pull on each one of those in different ways.

AZ: In what ways have you learned to take care of yourself?

DL: I have five that are instrumental to self-care.

Sleep: going to bed at a certain time. Sleep is the great reset button for me and many others who suffer from manic depression. If not enough sleep, the mania ramp up.

Diet: I have a terrible time with this one being a food writer. Cutting out sugar, carbs, not having that carbonara, having healthy proteins and vegetables, greens, fruits. Sugar and simple carbs really destaiblize moods.

Exercise: I walk every day 2 and 5 miles a day

Talk therapy: aim of therapy started changing into how we going to improve your life

Humor: a great sense of humor being around people see the light side of things is how I coped for 25 years as I was looking for an answer for what was wrong with me.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author and psychologist, blurbed the book and thought it was funny, it will appear on the second printing. “Humor is a great way to keep civilians interested in our stories. If we caral them in with humor, more people who will listen,“ said Leite.

***

Leite gave two readings of his book. The first one the audience was afraid to laugh. So the next night he said, “Feel free to laugh. You will be doing what I hope you would do.”
People began laughing with his stories. At the end of the reading people shared stories of mental illness and bought lots of books. “A conversation had started all because I gave them permission to laugh.”

You can find David at http://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.

The Obsessions of My Compulsions

There’s something lucky about air tracing certain numbers over and over on the exact day they appear on the calendar. There’s something not cool about being seen on video at a town meeting you’re reporting on for a newspaper fingering your eyebrows as if their static gives you a cosmic high, an infinite orgasm. You’ve never been one to judge people unless they do something rude to you but in tenth grade at an arts camp you rub your hands up against a wall every time you have an encounter with the camp cook. He’s actually a nice man who let you play his guitar it’s just there’s something weird/gross about him you just can’t name. Actually, it’s not about him at all. It’s about me.

Around the same time in my youth that my bipolar symptoms were surfacing, I was privy to strange, obsessive thoughts that might have been obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve never spoken to anyone about these thoughts until now on this blog. The OCD symptoms comes and goes with me and it’s never been completely disabling. But when I experience a periodic onset, I have trouble getting the thoughts to stop.

I don’t see the need to bring this up with my psychiatrist. I have learned cognitive behavioral techniques from many therapists that I also use to combat my obsessive brain. I also find meditation and yoga work well for me in calming my mind down in one of these states. It’s not about controlling my thoughts; it’s about letting them go. If I am in the middle of a repeticious cycle of pen twirling or air writing, I put the pen down and lean into meditation. I chant let it go while my eyes are closed over and over until the original compulsion passes. Once I open my eyes again, I am free of those thoughts. Sometimes I do this activity a few times over the course of a day.

In high school, I thought I had AIDS. I didn’t actually have the disease but my mind became obsessed that I would blurt out to someone “I have AIDS.” This became an endless obsession to protect my reputation at school that I would say the wrong thing to people. Public speaking became a nightmare. I dealt by turning inward and to my close circle of friends. It inhibited me from truly particpating in school activities because I was afraid of what my mind would blurt out. It’s almost an internal Tourrette’s.

Writing helps me sort out the truth between the thoughts in my head and what’s really happening, what I am experiencing. Keeping a journal of freewriting that no one will read in a composition book helps me self-diagnose when these onsets are occuring. Just like when I keep a mood chart and journal for my bipolar symptoms, this allows me to see when these thoughts are occuring and their duration. It also forces me to see what is real and what isn’t. Stress triggers them as much as idleness when I have been periodically unemployed. However, they’ve been most pervasive when I was working full-time.

This is not to say that my job is the trigger. I like what I do and do it well. I have found ways to minimize these thoughts when they come up and make their occurance very infrequent. These thoughts have forced me to slow my manic brain down and focus on one thing at a time. I pay detailed attention to copy editing and it has forced me to see how the details make up the larger picture.