Dyane Harwood shares her gripping account with postpartum-onset bipolar in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

By Leslie Lindsay 

Dyane Harwood talks about her stunning memoir on postpartum bipolar disorder, family psychiatric history, & so much more in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

Birth of a New Brain_cover update_v1.jpg
When I was pregnant, my husband heard on NPR that a mother’s brain drastically changes during pregnancy and then again during labor/delivery. It’s why some expecting mothers are a little flaky, a little preoccupied. And then, after the birth, a woman’s brain actually becomes better–she is able to better multitask, sense danger, and even retain more information.

But what happens when a severe mental illness is triggered? That’s what happened with Dyane Harwood. In her touching, unflinching, share-all memoir, she dives right into that abyss of madness. Having a family history of bipolar (her dad was a gifted concert violinist and suffered from regular bouts of bipolar), Dyane never thought she’d bear the brunt of the same diagnosis.

With the birth of her second daughter, Dyane slipped into a full manic episode, with the compulsive need to write (hypergraphia). She wasn’t bonding with her children (she also had a toddler), she wasn’t sleeping, and her thoughts were strung-out. She became suicidal. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Dad and Dyane at restaurant
Through vivid, courageous, and excruciatingly honest vignettes we learn more about Dyane’s battles with medication, alternative treatments, and even her marriage.  BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is working to lift the veil on mental illness, especially mothers with bipolar.

This is an important read for anyone. BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is a look at how bipolar affects not just the individual, but a family. This book should be required reading for spouses/significant others and close relatives.

I applaud Dyane’s motivation and willingness to share such sensitive topics. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Dyane, I tore through the first few pages of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN. I was so excited and worried for you—having a baby is such a tremendous and joyous occasion and yet it’s rift with uncertainty and exhaustion. And in your case, mania. What was your inspiration for sharing such a tender piece of your life?

Dyane Harwood:  I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a child. Books have always served as my teachers. After my postpartum bipolar disorder was activated, I searched online for a book that addressed my form of bipolar disorder. I couldn’t find anything so I did what is often done among writers—I wrote the book I had been seeking. I wanted the memoir to help other mothers as they faced this bewildering mental illness.

Ironically, my hypergraphia served as the catalyst to write BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN—I didn’t put any thought into it. I just started writing.  I had been a freelance writer for over ten years before my postpartum bipolar diagnosis and I had always wanted to write a book. However, I never could have predicted my book would be a memoir, let alone focus on a serious mood disorder.

L.L.: I was struck, almost immediately (on pg. 10) when Dr. Alain Gregoire, founder of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said the postpartum period:

“carried the highest risk of developing bipolar disorder in the human lifetime.”

The reasons are unknown, but it’s theorized that exhaustion, hormones, and family history may be triggers. Can you talk more about this? Have you uncovered any other information on ‘why now?’

Dyane Harwood:  Currently there’s a great amount of discussion in the medical community about chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation affects the brain in profound, sobering was and it has been linked to bipolar disorder and depression among other diseases. I have a strong feeling that chronic inflammation served as a catalyst for my mood disorder. What causes inflammation? I’m not a medical professional, but it’s commonly known that it’s generated by foods such as sugar (which has been my 5th food group throughout my life), gut bacteria, chronic stress, environmental toxins, and the disruption of circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms consist of the cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, and eat. It regulates many physiological processes. I [recently completed] an advanced Google search for the phrase “postpartum bipolar.” The results included a 2010 study titled “Circadian clock gene Per3 variants influence the postpartum onset of bipolar disorder.”

I’ve done this exact Google search numerous times since 2010, and I was surprised I never noticed this study pop up on my screen. In any case, I hope there will be additional research about the circadian clock and perinatal mental health since there’s a proven connection between genetics and the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder.

pexels-photo-271818.jpeg

L.L.: My own mother struggled for many years with bipolar disorder, among other diagnoses. For the first ten years of my life she was fairly stable. And then—crack—a fissure in our family. I’ve always worried it could be me.  In fact, you share later in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN that Marilla (your youngest daughter) asked if she’ll be bipolar. There’s no way of knowing for sure. What do you tell your daughters about your illness?

Dyane Harwood: Both of my girls have asked me if they’ll have bipolar disorder. My answer to each of them has been based on the truth. I’ve said, “While yes, there’s a chance you could develop bipolar, if you do, we’ll know how to help you.” I tell them there are researchers working hard to find a cure. I felt compelled to give them honest answers—well, I didn’t really have a choice. My precocious girls have a sixth sense about when I’m being dishonest. (I’m also not the greatest liar!) While I’ve never wanted to give them false hope, I believed it would be helpful to emphasize that bipolar research is happening worldwide. I was most concerned that Marilla and her older sister Avonlea understood that bipolar disorder is a manageable condition.

L.L.: We see, too that there were some early indicators that maybe something was amiss. You share some candid experiences working a high-stress job in your twenties and experiencing some bad break-ups that triggered symptoms of hypomania; can you tell us more about that time—and did anyone ever suggest that maybe, maybe something ‘more’ was going on?

Dyane Harwood:  Hypomania can often be quite deceptive in terms of symptoms. One can simply appear happy and not exhibit any alarming manic behavior. There can be a thin line between the two states of hypomania and mania. When I experienced hypomania after not sleeping for several nights due to work, no one took me aside and said, “Hmmm. You might want to get checked out.” Granted, the environment I was working in was total pandemonium. No one was watching me under a microscope since there was so much going on. I worked for a Silicon Valley special event company and we were setting up a 4th of July music festival attended by thousands of people.

The demise of several significant relationships made me deeply depressed. Again, no one thought my depression was bipolar-related. Everyone in my life at the time thought I was experiencing the typical despair associated with a broken heart including my parents, my godmother and my first psychiatrist.

pexels-photo-269583.jpeg

L.L.:  I want to step back a bit, and ask about your dad. He was a concert violinist and also had raging moods, would shroud himself in his bedroom with the curtains blocking the sun. What were your thoughts then? Did anyone explain what was going on?

Dyane Harwood: As a child, I never received a clear explanation about my father’s bipolar disorder [or manic depression as it used to be called]. I had no idea why he had so many little bottles on his armoire, bottles that were filled with substances I would one day take myself such as lithium and Valium. I didn’t want to know about his bottle collection—I preferred to get lost in my land of books. What I did know was that there was something, very, very wrong happening to my father. I watched him suffer and it haunted me. And this might sound a bit on the “drama queen” side, but part of me sensed that the depression I witnessed would someday be my fate.

DadandBabyDyaneone
Dyane says, “I consider this to be a literal example of, ‘I grew up with bipolar at arm’s reach.’ “

L.L.: And you have a brother as well. How is his mental health? Are there other family members in your family tree with suspected or diagnosed mental health concerns?

Dyane Harwood: My younger brother, my only sibling, has been fortunate to bypass bipolar disorder. He takes care of himself and has a beautiful family. I’ve been certain there must be members of my family who had bipolar disorder or other mental health issues, but I don’t know any specifics. I wish I wasn’t ignorant about my family’s background because it would help in detecting potential or acute mental illnesses in our future generations.

L.L.: You’ve struggled for at least ten years with medication regimes, alternative therapy (LightBox, essential oils, exercise, and my favorite–bibliotherapy). How are you doing now? What’s been most effective for you?

Dyane Harwood: Yes, bibliotherapy remains essential and it always will be!  My most effective tool has been finding the right medications. Due to my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and working with incompetent psychiatrists, it took me years to find medications that worked. In 2013, I found a compassionate psychiatrist who suggested a medication in the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) family called Parnate. I added the MAOI to the lithium I had been taking. My depression lifted in three days. MAOI’s aren’t commonly prescribed for several reasons, including dietary restrictions, but those restrictions have been absolutely worth it.

pexels-photo-981451.jpeg

L.L.: How about Marilla and Avonlea? They are absolutely darling! Can you give us a little glimpse as to what they enjoy doing and what kind of young girls they are growing into?

Dyane Harwood: I could go on and on with this question, Leslie, and since you’re also the mother of two similar-aged girls, I know you can understand my temptation. I’ll try to keep it to a paragraph. Thank you so much for the kind words about my girls!  I’m incredibly thankful they’re doing well despite the traumatic environment they grew up in, i.e. having their mother hospitalized numerous times. Our daughters grapple with some moderate anxiety and behavioral issues. My husband Craig and I sought professional counseling for them so they’d have a helpful, objective outlet.

It’s always incredible to see how certain interests/talents are passed down in a family. Avonlea is artistic and she loves to cook sophisticated dishes for a young girl. Art and gourmet cooking were two of my father’s favorite pastimes. She even loves the same foods he did, like high-end cheeses, avocados, salmon, pesto—all of those were foods I loathed as a child! Marilla is a born writer and avid reader. She sold books at my author events like a pro! Who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing the same task for her at her author events someday…

L.L.: In terms of writing, what challenges did bipolar disorder present as you worked through BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN?

Dyane Harwood:  It took me a decade to write, secure a publisher, and go through the editing process. During those ten years, there were literally years when I didn’t write at all. My commitment to seeing the book through to completion began in late 2013, when I found the lithium/MAOI combo. It was at that point I finally had the motivation, energy, and ability to write the proposal and go from there.

There were many times I wanted to give up my project. Many times! But it felt the book had value because even if it wasn’t anywhere near Kay Redfield Jamison-caliber (Dr. Jamison is author of one of the most acclaimed bipolar memoirs, An Unquiet Mind) no one had written this type of book. I knew the book could help moms who wanted to read about the perinatal mood and anxiety disorder they lived with.

Kona
Dyane says, “This photo is the infamous ‘Depressed in Hawaii ‘shot as described in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

L.L.: What’s the best thing a mother can do if she has bipolar?

Dyane Harwood:  Be open to pursuing and receiving treatment, whether that’s with traditional professionals, alternative practitioners or both types, especially if she finds herself slipping in terms of her mood.

L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day, Dyane. But I won’t. Is there anything you’d like to share that I forgot to ask about?

Dyane Harwood: Oh Leslie, you asked such fantastic questions; very astute ones! Your background with your mother’s bipolar disorder, and your work as a psychiatric nurse have given you a depth of perception, knowledge, and empathy that’s rare in terms of interviewers. I couldn’t ask for better, more interesting and relevant questions. I know bipolar disorder isn’t easy to think about or read about, so I appreciate your doing both of those things in regard to BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN.

L.L.: Dyane, it’s been lovely. Thank you!

Dyane Harwood:  Thank you, Leslie! I’m truly honored to be a part of this amazing series! I look forward to reading your memoir Model Home as well!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Dyane and Lucy pink topABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dyane Harwood holds a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A freelance writer for over two decades, she has interviewed bestselling authors including Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Anthony Bourdain, and SARK. Dyane founded a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and facilitated free
support groups for women with mood disorders. She is the author of the Amazon bestselling memoir “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum
Bipolar Disorder” (Post Hill Press) with a foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw.

Dyane has written for numerous publications including SELF Magazine,
BP/Bipolar Magazine, Psych Central, Buddy Lit Zine, The Huffington Post,
The Mighty, The International Bipolar Foundation, MOODS Magazine, Anchor
Magazine, Stigma Fighters: Anthology, and Postpartum Support
International. Dyane lives in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of
California with her husband, two daughters, and Lucy, their Scotch Collie.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:


LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth 

[Cover, author image, and family photos courtesy of D. Harwood and used with permission.]

Wednesdays with Writers: Dr. Melissa Deuter Tackles ‘Emerging Adulthood,’ Mental Health Crisis & More

By Leslie Lindsay 

What Happens When your Emerging Adult Needs to Come Home? Dr. Melissa Deuter Talks about this and so much more in her book, STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE

41Gbg-hHWSL

In her psychiatric urgent care practice, Dr. Melissa Deuter has been an expert in assisting families with ‘failure to launch’ young adults who seem to be stuck—whether that’s in a sick role (broadly defined as struggling with mild-to moderate depression or anxiety but may include more severe psychiatric diagnoses), but also those who are unready emotionally and socially to move into the next stage.

Through a series of vignettes, Dr. Deuter takes us on a journey in which we ‘meet’ these young,  emerging adults. Her style is down-to-earth and conversational; in such a way it feels as if one is eavesdropping on friends at a coffee shop. You may recognize familiar stories as if they were your neighbors, your best friend’s son, or your brother’s daughter. Don’t worry, everyone mentioned in STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE has a pseudonym.  The point is, the phenomenon of ‘failure to launch,’ is so widespread, so common, that we’re beginning to see a trend.

pexels-photo-459971.jpeg

STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE is not exactly science, though science absolutely supports that the brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. Here, Dr. Deuter gives parents—and perhaps some ambitious emerging adults—the tools they need to go from emerging to actualized.

‘Failure to launch’ is such an important—and often neglected—topic in parenting. Parents of children of just about any age ought to tune in because kids, they grow.

I’m honored to welcome Dr. Deuter back to the blog couch. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I finished this book last night and turned to my husband and said: “I see a lot of so-and-so in this and also…” He nodded slowly. Neither of us had been ‘stuck’ as young adults, we did what we had to do. Yet, expectations have changed. Why this book, why now?

Dr Deuter: This book came to life because I found myself having the same conversations with parents of late teens and twenty-somethings again and again. Most of the patients had been in mental health care treatment, and they just weren’t getting anywhere. The patients looked remarkably un-sick on clinical examination and they always showed up with parents who were baffled by their complete inability to function.

I would point out that their child was lost and flailing, and that it appeared to be a stage of life problem more than “mental illness.” Many of the parents would say, “Wow! I never thought about it like that before. Why didn’t our previous doctor our therapist tell us that?” I realized I was saying something useful and unusual. I thought maybe more people needed to read what I was saying in the office, so I started writing.

L.L. Can you talk a little about what it means to be an ‘emerging adult’ versus a ‘full-fledged’ adult? What skills and responsibilities should we possess at each stage? Is it that clear-cut?

Dr. Deuter: Emerging adulthood is basically just a term to describe young adults who aren’t in the roles of adults yet. The term was coined by a college professor and researcher (Arnett) who noticed that college students were more like teenagers as long as they were dependent on their parents and not yet self-reliant.

A full-fledged adult solves her own problems and pays her own way. An emerging adult looks to parents for guidance, emotional support, and often financial support.pexels-photo-1047958.jpeg

I think understanding that adulthood is a series of roles rather than an age can help a lot of people understand why kids these days seem so different than past generations. Society is different than it once was, so kids are affected in ways no one anticipated.

L.L.: When I was in college, a couple of peers had a ‘breakdown,’ that is, they became very anxious and perhaps depressed. School work was too much. They fretted over grades. They missed the comforts of home. They had difficulty living with roommates and structuring their time. For one, a female, this sent her packing and heading home where she lived with her parents but attended a (well-respected) local college. The other, a male, had me take him to the student health clinic for a script of anti-anxiety drugs We spent long hours talking about his issues. Do you see any gender differences in how these things are handled?

Dr. Deuter: Actually, I don’t see gender differences as much as family culture differences. I have seen young men and young women alike follow both courses. If a family has a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy, staying at school might be expected. If a different family is worried that little Tommy or Suzie can’t tolerate being so far from home, that student is probably moving back home with parents.

pexels-photo-1028741.jpeg

L.L.:  Just as there are as many different responses as individuals, how might parents best handle these situations?

Dr. Deuter: In cases where young adults get “stuck” before becoming full-fledged adults, their parents are an important part of the recovery equation. I urge parents to observe how life skills play a role in getting stuck, and how they (the parents) may be enabling unhealthy coping if they step in and allow their child to return to teenager roles after a crisis.

L.L.: What can parents do—before there’s a ‘problem’—that might prevent college students coming back home to the comforts of their childhood home?

Dr. Deuter: There are two major things I wish all parents could do in advance of a mental health crisis in their child: 1. Parent with the end goal of adult independence in the front of your mind. Don’t just teach your children to be obedient students, make sure they have the confidence and experience to persevere and solve problems. 2. Resist the urge to rescue your child, and know that at times, it will be really hard to step back and let him figure it out. That doesn’t mean you won’t help, but as a parent, you have to address your own hang-ups and fears before a crisis hits so you’ll behave in a healthy way after.

pexels-photo-735646.jpeg

L.L.: Much of what we’ve been talking about has to do with college-bound individuals. It might be implied that they are relatively intelligent, middle-class, and perhaps, Caucasian, with at least one involved parent. Are you seeing this trend in other populations and across SES?

Dr. Deuter: Yes. Across socioeconomic groups, parents are sheltering kids more and helping their kids longer- well into their twenties. That said, emerging adult students are more vulnerable to the lack of skills problems than other groups. Students can be going along, meeting their goals and still not be taking on adulthood. Those who are employed acquire more adult skills than those who only attend school.

L.L.: And what happens when the person of concern has a legitimate mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, MDD) or major mental health crisis, such as rape, alcoholism/addiction, and they must come home to cope, recover? What then?

Dr. Deuter: This is a really important question. Young people can become very stuck after a crisis. Supportive families need to understand that loving involvement is a really essential part of recovery, but support should stop short of rescuing or enabling. No matter what crisis our kids have endured, we want to teach them that they can recover. They are strong and they can find the answers to healing. We don’t want to send the message that only we, the parents, can be strong and competent.

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE?

Dr. Deuter: More than anything, I want people to understand that medications don’t sufficiently get people back to normal healthy lives after a crisis. Our kids are not just bags of neurotransmitters that we can “fix” with pills; they are growing up in a psychosocial and spiritual context that cannot be ignored. To address the health and functioning of our young people, we have to look at the whole picture.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Dr. Deuter: I guess I might want you to ask: “Is your advice to parents and patients working, and how do you know?”

I will answer with a story:

One parent who has been coming to me for years to figure out how to handle tough situations with her kids (ranging in age from elementary school to mid twenties) came in with a copy of the book. She had dozens of page markers flagging different points throughout the text and she said, “Oh my gosh! I finally get it! Everything we have been talking about regarding how to make sure my kids are healthy—it’s all right here! Thank you for this and for helping us find our way all these years.”

pexels-photo-914931.jpeg

L.L.: Melissa, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Dr. Deuter: Thank you.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE, please visit: 

Order Links:

DeuterpicABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Melissa Deuter is and expert and trendsetter in the world of mental health care. She founded Sigma Mental Health Urgent Care and in doing so is on the forefront, redefining how psychiatric services are delivered. Dr. Deuter is a board certified psychiatrist in San Antonio, Texas. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas and attended medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She completed psychiatry residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and served as Chief Resident. Dr. Deuter currently holds an appointment as Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UTHSCSA and is the course director for the resident training seminars on Eating Disorders and Sexuality and Sexual Development. She is a former President of the Bexar County Psychiatric Society, a current member of the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians Ethics Council, and a current member of the South Texas Psychiatric Physicians Research Network’s Executive Committee. She has been recognized as a San Antonio’s “Top Doctor” and a “Best of” Doctor, a Texas Super Doctor’s “Rising Star,” and has received the American Registry “Patient’s Choice Award.” Dr. Deuter has a special interest in early stage psychiatric care, differentiating serious illness from normal brain development, and the unique mental health needs of emerging adults.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

41Gbg-hHWSLLOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #MH #MentalHealth #Parenting #College 

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Davis on several of my favorite topics–psychiatry, journalism, architecture & design; oh and The Dakota, NYC, and her stunning new historical novel, THE ADDRESS and how she was once a very horse-crazy girl

By Leslie Lindsay 

Fiona Davis’s brilliant new book, THE ADDRESS, takes readers on a journey to historical NYC and into the famed Dakota Apartment building. 

9781524741990-fullsize-rgb
With 2016’s debut of THE DOLLHOUSE, Fiona Davis made one of the most stunning entrances as an author who knows her way around historical fiction. I was mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE ADDRESS. Rest assured, this is no sophomore slump; I adored it.

The Dakota. You may know it as the apartment building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, or perhaps where John Lennon died, or maybe you just think of it as a Bavarian monstrosity on the Upper West End where may playwrights, actors, writers, musicians live.

THE ADDRESS is constructed in dual-time periods, 1884 and 1985 respectively, which draws a natural suspense. The writing is evocative, historically rich, and mysterious.Beginning in London, we meet Sara Smythe, a housekeeper at the Langham and follow her on a journey across the Atlantic where she lands in the outskirts of a developing NYC. 250px-Dakota_Building

Sara is to be the new managerette of the soon-to-be opened The Dakota. She’s aghast at the primitive location–farmland and empty lots, unpaved streets. Still, she’s alone and unwilling to run home. I found Sara to be extremely likable, sympathetic, relatable, and quite strong. She’s not your typical kowtowing woman of the Victorian Era.

One hundred years later, in 1985 NYC, Bailey Camden is an interior designer charged with renovating The Dakota. But she’s not impressed with the design ideas which would trump the original design aesthetics of the historic building.

Oh but there’s more–and to say too much would be giving it all away–let’s just say there’s love and loss, success and ruin, mystery, poor decisions, passion and madness that drive the plotI absolutely loved the clear sense of place in THE ADDRESS, the vivid details and found it to be a very engaging piece of historical fiction.

Slide over on that silk settee and join me in conversation with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to the blog couch. I was so taken with THE ADDRESS mainly because it combines several of my passions: architecture, interior design, and madness. I know THE ADDRESS was inspired, in part by your work on THE DOLLHOUSE, but what more can you tell us about the origins of this tale?

Fiona Davis: I am so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for twenty-five years, and had walked by the Dakota hundreds of times, staring up at those enormous windows, wondering what it was like to live there. I realized that setting a book there would give me the perfect excuse to get inside (and was eventually able to do that, through roundabout connections to a couple of very generous tenants). As I dug deeper into its history, I knew it was the perfect choice for a dual-narrative historical fiction novel. The building had undergone many changes since it opened in 1884 on the edge of Central Park, back when the neighborhood was described by one newspaper as full of “rocks, swamps, goats, and shanties.” By the 1980s, a couple of tenants had torn down the period details from their apartments and replaced them with shag carpets and wall-to-ceiling mirrors. It was the perfect way to compare and contrast two “gilded ages,” as well as the way women’s roles and voices have changed over a century.

L.L.: So I have to know: which characters were ‘real’ and which were from your imagination? I am guessing Sara Smythe was a composite character…but what about Theodore Camden? Henry Hardenbergh? Oh, and Nellie Brown had to have been Nellie Bly?

Fiona Davis: Sara Smythe and Theodore Camden are fictional characters. I knew I wanted to have an architect in the 1880s time line, so that he and Sara Smythe could team up to get the building ready for opening day. Henry Hardenbergh was the actual architect for the Dakota (and the Plaza Hotel and a number of other fabulous buildings), so I didn’t mind having him make a cameo, but I didn’t want to try to fit his life into my story. That’s where Theo came in – he’s in charge of the interiors for the building and I could make him do my bidding without any constraints.

Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World during the 1880s, actually went by the name Nellie Brown when she went undercover to expose the injustices at Blackwell’s Island Asylum. She’s the real deal in the book.

L.L.: In my former career, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. To say I am fascinated in psychiatry—especially historical psychiatry—is a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t get over the harsh conditions you depicted on Blackwell Island in the book. In fact, I’ve been searching for Nellie Bly’s TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE for years! (I want it in hardback; it’s a challenging find).  Can you tell us a little about how that piece of the story came to be? What research did you do?

Fiona Davis: I had heard about Nellie Bly when I was studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, and I naturally gravitated to her first-hand account of life in an 1880’s women’s insane asylum during my initial research. After reading TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE, I took the tram over to what’s now called Roosevelt Island to visit the remaining structure, the Octagon, which today serves as the lobby to a condo. In my book, I hope the harrowing backdrop of the asylum makes an interesting counterpoint to luxuriousness of the Dakota.

L.L.: As with THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE, where there any iconic sites you ‘visited’ in your research (or in the book) that will appear in a forthcoming book?

Fiona Davis: In addition to checking out the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, I modeled the library for the ball scene after the one at the Morgan Library & Museum, and used the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street as inspiration for Daisy’s family’s
apartment. Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota, is an important location in the book as well. The next book will be set at Grand Central Terminal – one of New York City’s most famous iconic buildings – and I’m having a blast working on it.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
“A delicious tale of love, lies and madness.”
— People

L.L.: What do you find most rewarding about writing historical fiction? What are 2960-Central_Park-Strawberry_Fieldssome of the challenges?

Fiona Davis: I love the research phase, when anything is possible and the ideas are bubbling away. The challenge comes when you have to narrow down the plot and characters and come up with a story that accurately represents the time periods but also keeps the reader guessing. Another reward is hearing from readers. I’ve been doing a lot of author talks in bookstores and libraries and the response has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic.

L.L.: Childhood plays a prominent role in THE ADDRESS. What item(s) from your own childhood do you still, even occasionally, pine for? (an article of clothing, toy, book, something else?)

Fiona Davis: Back when I was around eight years old, I took a book out of my local library about a girl who’s horse crazy, and finally gets to ride a horse for an entire summer before realizing that taking care of it is a lot of hard work. It was my favorite book – I was horse crazy but deeply moved by the character’s insights and transformation – and I must’ve checked out the book dozens of times to re-read. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If anyone has read that book and remembers the title, please reach out to me! It was something like “Ride ‘Em, Sally.” But not that. I know, ridiculous, right?

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been a pleasure.  What might have I forgotten to ask about?

Fiona Davis: Not a thing – I loved these questions – thank you so much!

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ADDRESS, please see:

FionaDavis_Credit KristenJensen.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers and began working as an editor and writer. Her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is based in New York City. You can find her at www.FionaDavis.net.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line hangouts:

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

WP_20171003_11_24_58_Rich_LI (6)

[Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Image of The Dakota retrieved from Wikipedia, historical images of Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and Henry Hardenberg from Wikipedia, as is octagon images of Roosevelt/Blackwell’s Island and Strawberry Fields memorial. Fall book wreath from L. Lindsay’s archives.] 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Natasha Tracy talks about the delicate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, the difference between book-ready and blog-ready, how writing is like slogging through swamps, and not sugar-coating mental illness.

By Leslie Lindsay 

Understanding what it’s really like to live with bipolar disorder (BD) is impossible to share with someone who doesn’t have experience with serious mental illness. Natasha Tracy, a writer living with bipolar takes you under her wing and walks you through the labyrinth of questions and quandaries as if she were your cool, more experienced older sister. She gets it; she’s lived it for the last 18 years.

And we all need to care.

At some point in our lives, we will know someone with a major mental illness. It might be invisible to the naked eye; you may never see the affects, but it might still be there, lurking under the surface and it may very well be your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your coworker. And in my case: my mother.

I was just ten years old when she had her first major manic episode. It was about the time when The Bangles song, “Just Another Manic Monday” was playing on the radio. We had a cute house in the suburbs, a so-called ‘normal’ life until one day…it wasn’t. My mom was in the throes of her first manic break and as a child, it was scary. She struggled with bipolar disorder for many years until she finally took her life about eighteen months ago.

All along, I was fascinated with psychiatry and became a child/adolescent psych R.N. My interest hasn’t ended just because I decided to pursue another dream, but instead has continued to be a strong part of my life; it’s pretty hard to sever a connection that strong.

Natasha’s writing style is accessible, easy to follow; she’s honest and maybe not always politically correct, but that’s okay; she talks about that, too. But mostly, the book is expertly researched, laid out, and was…dare I say, a joy to read. While that sounds a little over-enthusiastic, I think you get what I’m saying; there’s no gobblety-gook.

Join me as we welcome Natasha Tracy to the blog couch. She calls herself, “a professional crazy person.” She doesn’t mean to be insensitive or glib, but authentic, engaging, honest. She tells you how it is to live with bipolar and depression, she answers your most pressing questions about these serious mental illnesses, things like: How do I know if I’m hypomanic or just feeling better? What is hypersexuality all about? What should someone say (0r not) to someone with a serious disorder? What’s it *really* like in a psych ward? It’s all there and so, so much more.final_fullcover_Tweaked4a.jpg

Leslie Lindsay: Natasha, thank you so very much for being here. I am just in awe with LOST MARBLES. You spell things out so clearly, so effortlessly. Though I am sure it wasn’t exactly easy. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for writing this book and a bit about the process?

Natasha Tracy:Hi Leslie, thank you for inviting me onto your couch.Thirteen years ago I started writing about my own mental illness and after a year, a writer friend of mine told me that my work was saving lives. Quite frankly, I didn’t believe him. But then I got a comment from someone saying just that – my work had saved her life. It was beyond incredible to me that someone would look at work that way. Eventually, I realized people really were helped by my work and I knew a book was in me.

When it came to actually writing it, it was a matter of picking the best of what I had already written, the most powerful things for readers, and filling in the gaps where they existed. And then it was about rewriting almost everything to get it “book-ready.” Book-ready is a much higher standard than “blog-ready.” images-4

L.L.:  But you’re not a doctor. Or therapist. You’re a writer living with bipolar disorder. Can you talk a bit about the research you did for LOST MARBLES? About how much time did it take you to write it?

Natasha Tracy: You could say that LOST MARBLES took me six years or it took me six months, it sort of depends on how you look at it. Certainly, the content came about over a six-year time span but putting it together took an extremely concerted six months.

As for the research, for the technical parts of the book it was intense. I needed to get it absolutely right. I needed to help people with mental illness decide on treatment in the right way. Luckily, one of my early readers was Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist who pointed me in the right direction and suggested some research tidbits that I didn’t know about.

Although the technical research felt like slogging through a swamp at the time, now that it’s done I’m happy to have answered the question, “What medication should I take?” for many people.

L.L.: You talk about mental illness with such candor; I find it very refreshing. I feel like you are helping break that stigma of mental illness. Can you talk to that, please?

Natasha Tracy: One of my strengths, I feel, is to write about mental illness in a way that is real, honest, gritty and not sugar-coated. I say the things that people with mental illness think but don’t have the words to express. This is why people identify with my work so strongly.

I don’t believe in the concept of “stigma” per se. What I believe in fighting is prejudice and the inevitable discrimination that follows it. I believe that by making people with mental illness three-dimensional people with real emotions and real struggles, we actually start to sound just like everyone else – just amplified. And prejudice is always fueled by fear, usually fear of the unknown, so my job is to make it known.

L.L.: What advice would you give a person who has just been diagnosed with BD? How can they make sense of the diagnosis, what coping skills might help?download (31).jpg

Natasha Tracy: When you’re diagnosed with a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no tomorrow. It feels like everything you were is gone. This is normal and natural. There are ways to work through this, though.

First off, it’s important to know that world is not ending, there will be a tomorrow and there is an innate you that will not disappear. That said, the world, the tomorrows and even you, will change in response to the illness. Again, this is normal and natural. Most people never get back to a pre-bipolar state.

But this natural. No one’s life moves backwards. Things change but this is not a negative, this is just a challenge. Every person on the planet changes every day, it just happens that bipolar disorder is a wallop of a change all at once.

There are many things a newly-diagnosed person can do. Firstly, it’s important to get the best bipolar specialist psychiatrist and therapist one can find and create a treatment plan that makes sense for the individual. Then the treatment plan must be followed. It’s also important to lean on loved ones during this time as they will connect a person to who he or she really is.

L.L.: ….And medication. Oh, I feel as I’m opening a can of worms, but how can one reconcile the high cost of medication(s); are there options/resources for lowering the cost?

Natasha Tracy: It’s an unfortunate truth that for many in the United States the cost of medication is very high. That said, the drugs, while laden with issues like side effects, save lives every day. Many people would have taken their lives without these medications. Yes, there is no doubt that they are expensive and have other associated issues, but when it comes down to life or death, a functional life or a life spent in psychosis, there is no doubt that they are still worth it.download (32).jpg

(I will say, however, that this is not such an issue in Canada where prices for drugs are regulated. This is what people in the United States should push for as well.)

L.L.: What’s the best thing a loved one/friend can do to help someone newly diagnosed?

Natasha Tracy: Learn, learn, learn. [LOST MARBLES] will tell people a lot of what it is like to live with a mental illness but it certainly should not be the entirety of the education one seeks. Books and websites, especially those written by healthcare professionals or subject matter experts who have bipolar disorder can also be invaluable. In addition to my site, 513rbp298vl-_sx334_bo1204203200_which holds many more of my writings, I also recommend psycheducation.org, which is written by Jim Phelps MD and Medscape.com for medical facts, also written by doctors for doctors. In terms of books, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie Fast (who has bipolar disorder) and John D. Preston PsyD is great.

I always tell people you can’t fight an enemy that you don’t understand and this is as true for loved ones as it is for people with the illness.

L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? It doesn’t have to be bipolar or literary, but if so, by all means…

Natasha Tracy: I love to cook and bake. Now that my book is published I have time for it again. I love meals you can make on a weeknight – short and to the point – like those by Judith Jones but I also love long and impossible recipes such as those by the great French chef Thomas Keller. I also love the challenge of doing things like making my own croissants (which can take days, seriously).download-30

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Natasha Tracy: Perhaps, what it’s like to manage bipolar while writing, editing and publishing a book?

In my case this was a huge challenge and I will honestly admit that it got the better of my bipolar. The whole process, perhaps because it was so short and intense, sent me into the worst mixed mood episode of my life. In short, the cost of this book was very, very high for me but I still consider it something worth doing (and something I’m planning on doing again). That said, net time I will take better care of my health and this is what I encourage everyone to do. We all face stressors, of our own making or otherwise, but without our health, we can’t face anything.

I am pleased to say, though, that with the help of my psychiatrist and medication changes, I was able to pull out of that episode and now look at it from the other side.

L.L.: Natasha, it’s been such a honor to connect. And insightful, too. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

Natasha Tracy: I truly appreciate your interest in the book. Thank you so much for having me.

headshot_bigAuthor Bio:Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. She is considered a subject matter expert in the area of bipolar disorder and has written hundreds of articles on it as well as hundreds of articles on other mental health issues. Natasha has spoken to groups from 30 to 300, from ages 12 and up across North America. She believes that education and honest, unvarnished storytelling are keys in fighting the prejudice that people with mental illness face.

Natasha’s first book, Lost Marbles, Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar, was released in October 2016 and has been ranked as a #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in the category of bipolar disorder.

Natasha currently writes the award-winning blogs Bipolar Burble on her own site and Breaking Bipolar on HealthyPlace. Her writing has also been featured on The Huffington Post, Daily Mail, PsychCentral, Sharecare and others. She has spoken at events and conferences including at the National Council’s annual conference as well as Mental Health America’s annual conference.

You can find Natasha:

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

[Cover and author images courtesy of N.Tracy. LOVING SOMEONE WITH BIPOLAR D/O retrieved from Amazon. Croissant image retrieved from, sad/diagnosis image from, medication image from psychcentral.com, all retrieved 11.27.16]