Depression Coping Skills


The year starts heavy like an anvil in our collective consciousness. We read the news from Indonesia, France, and Nigeria. News of tragedy, terrorism, intolerance; news of death. The cold air feels like needles on my face, as I feel sympathy for the casualties of a lost airplane, or the victims of a terror attack in Paris and villages in Nigeria.

“It’s easy for me to feel depressed in winter. My brain can’t absorb enough Vitamin D from the weak daylight.” I give myself this and several more logical explanations for my lack of joy and my somber thoughts, all rational, cerebral. But I don’t internalize any of those reasons, and continue to drag myself through the days despite having little energy and experiencing self-harming thoughts.

The insurance company neglects to pay for my last therapy sessions. I call my doctor to reduce the frequency of our appointments because I don’t have money to pay for once a week visits. I’ll have to see my doctor once a month, do my best to cope. Still this is better than what the majority of the mentally ill people in this country can enjoy. “I am privileged,” I tell myself, “no reason to complain.”

When I feel I am reaching an unhealthy level of sadness, I switch into depression coping skills mode, what I have learned in years of therapy to balance myself without increasing medication. Tuesday is particularly difficult. I don’t feel the need to get up from bed.

But I must. I haven’t gone this far in recovery to relapse without a fight. “Depression is not a one-way ticket. I don’t have to stay down. I must come back, and feel joy again.” I insist.

I get up, shower, and make coffee to start the day with a semblance of routine, of normalcy. I write a to do list, my first attempt at pulling up strength to carry through the day.

  • Stay away from the news
  • Do something healthy (Walk, do yoga, sit in the sunlight, weed the garden.)
  • Meet writing goal for the day (a thousand words)
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Call a friend
  • Read a poem
  • Cook dinner
  • Submit work

At the bottom of the page I write, “Get through this day and you’ll be fine.”

The day drags. My unkempt wooly hair gets stuck between my fingers as I try to brush it off my face while I write the thousand words I have pledged to write daily. When I finish, I connect back the Internet to submit my work to the writing forum I am part of, and do my share critiquing my fellow writers’ work. When done, I check another item on my to do list, and battle the thoughts of going back to bed. I cry sitting on my desk, with negative thoughts berating my effort, “Look at you, you are a shadow of what you used to be.” The words in my head describe a miserable life I don’t have.

I repeat my mantra: “Get through this day and you’ll be fine.”

I don’t have energy to walk a mile, but stand up, nonetheless, go downstairs and stroll quietly to the mailbox in the bright morning sun. I cry at the sight of a cat crossing the road.

I come back from walking and drink another cup of tea. I call a friend. She is sweet and understanding, and lets me talk even when my words get stuck in my throat. She then tells me about her own tribulations. I gain perspective, understanding once more that the reason for my sadness is merely chemical. I have a great life. Were it not for my condition, I should be a happy person, sharing laughter and joy with the rest of humanity.

At my desk I reach for a book, “The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.” I open the book on a page marked with a craft my college freshman son did in preschool. The card is a turtle, smeared in paint, with his name written on it in the sweet handwriting of a child who is not experienced with a pencil. “So many years ago,” I think, and cry some more, at how time will never reverse.

I read the poem “Phenomenal Woman” aloud to myself. I let the words roll in my mouth, let the rhythm of its verses penetrate me with their energy, let the music of its rhyme sing in my ears and carry me through the hour with optimism and joy.

It’s four o’clock now and there are only a couple of items left to cross from my to do list. I go downstairs, turn up the heater, play some music from my itunes library (no radio) and set to cook dinner. It must be simple and fast, which is all my depressed brain allows at this moment.

After cooking dinner, I go to the garden to pick up dead leaves, and water the hanging baskets, the ones the hummingbirds love, with tears running down my face.

In the evening, when my husband arrives, I hug him and cry on his shoulder. “It wasn’t a good day. Was it?” He asks. “It was difficult,” I answer, “but I pulled through. I even cooked dinner.”

The next day, the sun wakes me up early. Without effort I get up from bed and set goals for the day, and the rest of the week ahead. I have weathered this storm in the best possible way, using the coping skills I have learned, with a to do list and determination as tool.

The battle goes on, but I’ll succeed. I am a phenomenal woman.

Completion / Culminación


It’s widely believed that people who suffer from bipolar disorder lack the focus to complete their projects. Without adequate care or guidance, a bipolar person can get lost in a myriad of projects and interests in the height of mania, and then lack the energy to carry them out when depressed.

For a while it seemed that way with me. With equal passion and dedication, I took care of my family, cooked elaborate meals, crocheted tablecloths and blankets, planted trees, made cards, taught classes, and wrote a book. Continue reading

Stigma, Fear, Courage


First they stigmatized the lepers.

The power holding institution of the Middle Ages, the church, believed that leprosy was the result of god’s anger and that only segregation and suffering would lead to the salvation of the leper. Isolation also secured the safety of the rest of the population, those who were accepted as normal and didn’t pose any threat to others.

When leprosy disappeared from Europe by the end of the Middle Ages, the buildings of exclusion remained marginalized at the outskirts of the cities, stigmatized as a place for the poor, the criminal, the vagrant, and “deranged minds.”1 All that was needed was an informant pointing a finger to send the “deviant” to the former lazar house, excluded for life, away from the normal population. The church encouraged the actions of informants by propagating fear among the ignorant. Continue reading

Waiting, Writing, Hoping / Esperando, Escribiendo con Esperanza


Chainsaw on tree limb, a mulching truck on the driveway, the rumpus of men shouting instructions and warnings, branches falling from the canopy of an old eucalyptus to the right of my house. My attention runs from the house away from the noise, while I remain inside trapped, unemployed, waiting for calls that never arrive. Continue reading

Sing If It Hurts / Canta Si Duele


During last week, I helped my youngest son pack for college: clothes, bike, passport, and computer. I saw him fold his new sheets, and pack the microwave safe bowls, and his guitar, thrilled with the enthusiasm of a 17 years old who is going away for good.

Last Saturday I posted a message on Facebook, “song suggestions for a happy playlist, for the hard times.” Later saved 3 hours worth of upbeat music to cheer me up. I don’t expect it to hurt, but I rather sing my way back home in case it does.

We have prepared well for a long time for the day to see our children go and become independent men. During last year, I edited college application essays, and I was there with him when he got acceptance letters from several universities. I assured him he made the right decision when he finally chose his future alma mater.

Two nights ago, when we were finishing dinner, I asked him my only request. “I don’t need a hero, or an award winner,” I said. “Just make mamma proud.”

My heart wrinkled when he slung his guitar across his back and he placed the last of his boxes in the trunk of the car. Will he call home regularly like his bother does? Will he avoid hard drugs? Will he respect women, their wishes and choices? Will he focus on the career ahead of him and enjoy college in a healthy way?

After all, a mother with bipolar disorder is just like any other mom. I worry.

Today as we drive back on Hwy 101, my husband and I sang along Marc Anthony’s, Vivir Mi Vida. “La, la, la, la.” We sang and remembered when the kids were little and we used the theme song of Sesame Street to entertain them in the car. Perhaps now that they are all grown up, we can sit back and answer life’s most pressing questions:

“How to get to Sesame Street?”

“What is the hokey pokey about?

Spanish version follows

Spanish version follows

Durante la semana pasada, ayudé a mi hijo menor a empacar para irse a la universidad: ropa, bicicleta, pasaporte y computadora. Le vi doblar sus sábanas nuevas, y empacar los recipientes para micro-ondas, y su guitarra, entusiasmado como cualquier muchacho de 17 años que se va de su casa para bien.

El pasado sábado, escribí un mensaje en mi muro de Facebook, “sugerencias de canciones alegres, para los momentos difíciles.” Después grabé unas tres horas de música de ritmo festivo para alegrarme. No es que espere que me duela, pero prefiero cantar de vuelta a casa en caso de que suceda.

Nos hemos preparado bien por un buen tiempo para el día en que vemos a nuestros hijos irse y convertirse en hombres independientes. Durante el último año, edité ensayos de solicitud de cupo universitario, y estuve con él cuando recibió cartas de aceptación de varias universidades. Le aseguré que había tomado la mejor decisión cuando finalmente escogió su futura alma mater.

Hace dos noches, cuando terminábamos de comer, le hice una sola petición. “No necesito un héroe, ni un galardonado,” le dije. “Lléname de orgullo.”

Se me arrugó el corazón cuando se colgó su guitarra en la espalda y colocó la última caja en la maleta del carro. ¿Llamará con frecuencia como lo hace su hermano? ¿Evitará las drogas duras? ¿Respetará a las mujeres, sus deseos y decisiones? ¿Se concentrará en la carrera que tiene por delante y disfrutará de la universidad de una manera saludable?

Después de todo una madre con desorden bipolar es como cualquier otra madre. Me preocupo.

Hoy cuando manejamos de vuelta por la Autopista 101, mi esposo y yo cantábamos la canción de Marc Anthony, Vivir Mi Vida. “La, la, la, la.” Cantábamos y recordábamos cuando los niños estaban pequeños y usábamos el tema de “Sesame Street” para entretenerlos en el carro. Quizá ahora que ellos están crecidos, podemos relajarnos y contestar las preguntas más apremiantes de la vida:

“¿Cómo se llega a ‘Sesame Street’?”

¿De qué se trata el ‘hokey pokey’?

Back to School – Vuelta a la Escuela


For 25 years, the end of August found me in the stores with a list in my hands looking for school supplies and back to school clothes for my children. Since my first-born went to kindergarten, I have been thrilled with the anticipation of what comes ahead, waiting for the roller coaster of emotions that was summer to subside. This year, back to school means an opportunity to give myself the best of me.

Summer meant trouble, because it broke a sense of structure so important for me to keep sanity. With sun light lasting longer, my natural clock broke down and I seemed to have too much energy. My husband could tell I had tilted on the hippomania side when he came back from work and I had a computer open on the counter top where I was writing a letter, had my gardening boots on, cleaning utensils scattered around, chairs upside down on top of the table, and was in the middle of cooking a three course dinner. I was usually in a bad mood, complaining about the kids or the mosquitoes in the garden.

Then the back to school advertisement on tv gave me a sense of relief. I took first day of school pictures and visited the teachers in the classrooms, rejoicing in anticipation of free time to finish my chores before the children came back from school. I didn’t see it then, that these few hours were my chance to reach my goals.

In the last few years I have taken small steps towards my goal of becoming a writer. Little by little I have developed a working routine. I have also gained other interests, like hiking, which gets me closer to nature. Additionally, I have learned to look inward, find motivation in what I can do for myself, not for my children. I can’t say that I have learned to control the excess of energy that I experience during summers, but I have managed to limit myself to one project a day.

Mentally ill or not, one should strive to find that which makes us grow as individuals, independently of our children. It sounds easy, but it took me a while to learn that. One must make the back to school a back to Self, a plan to extract the best of the hours the children are in school. I couldn’t see it then, but I won’t miss this new opportunity.

In a few weeks, my youngest son goes to college. The possibilities abound now. During the last couple of years, I have worked in the manuscript of a book, and this new opportunity is ideal to complete that project. This is my chance to grow, probably the last that will come around. I could have done it earlier, but I didn’t. The good news is, I still have time to do it. I will write, right now, as if my life depends on it.

Spanish version follows

Spanish version follows

Por 25 años, al final de agosto me encontraba en las tiendas con una lista en mis manos buscando los útiles escolares y la ropa de escuela para mis hijos. Desde el momento en que mi hijo mayor fue al kínder, me he emocionado con la anticipación de lo que viene, esperando que termine la montaña rusa de emociones que es el verano. Este año, la vuelta a clases significa una oportunidad para darme lo mejor de mi.

Los veranos significaban problemas, porque rompían la estructura necesaria para yo mantener la sanidad. Como la luz del sol dura más, mi reloj natural se dañaba y aparentemente yo tenía demasiada energía. Mi esposo sabía cuando me estaba inclinando hacia la hipomanía cuando llegaba a casa del trabajo y yo tenía la computadora abierta sobre la cocina, donde estaba escribiendo una carta, con las botas de jardinería todavía puestas, los utensilios de limpieza regados, las sillas patas arriba sobre la mesa, mientras estaba cocinando una cena de tres platos. Generalmente estaba de mal humor, quejándome de los niños y de los mosquitos en el jardín

Entonces los comerciales de vuelta a clase en la televisión me daba una sensación de alivio. Tomaba las fotos del primer día de clases, y visitaba a las maestras en sus aulas, regocijándome con la anticipación del tiempo libre para completar mis tareas hogareñas durante las horas antes de que los niños regresaran de la escuela. No lo vi entonces, que esas horas libres al día eran mi oportunidad para alcanzar mis metas.

En los últimos años he dado pequeños pasos hacia mi meta de convertirme en escritora. Poco a poco he desarrollado una rutina de trabajo. También he ganado otros intereses, como excursionismo, que me ponen en contacto con la naturaleza. Además he aprendido a mirar hacia adentro, a encontrar motivación en lo que puedo lograr para mi misma, no para mis hijos. No puedo decir que he aprendido a controlar el exceso de energía que experimento durante el verano, pero he aprendido a limitarme a un proyecto al día.

Enferma mental o no, uno siempre debe luchar por aquello que nos hace crecer como individuos, independientemente de nuestros hijos. Parece fácil, pero a mi me costó aprenderlo. Hay que hacer de la vuelta a la escuela una vuelta a sí mismo, un plan para extraer lo mejor de las horas en que los niños están fuera de casa. No lo vi antes, pero ahora no voy a desaprovechar la oportunidad.

En unas pocas semanas, mi hijo menor va a la universidad. Las posibilidades son infinitas ahora. Desde hace dos años trabajo en el manuscrito de un libro, y esta nueva oportunidad es ideal para completar ese proyecto. Esta es mi oportunidad para crecer, quizá la última que se presentará. Pude haber logrado mucho antes, pero no lo hice. Lo bueno es que todavía estoy a tiempo. Escribiré, ahora, como si mi vida dependiera de mi escritura.

Robin Williams and Suicide Contemplation

Robin Williams

Like most everybody in America, and especially those afflicted by a mental disorder, I too have been touched by Robin William’s sudden death. The beloved comic artist succumbed to despair and terminated his life. Speculation about the reasons for his tragic decision populated mass and social media alike.

Whatever strategy he had developed in the past to stay healthy didn’t work this time. I imagine him struggling with the pain he was certain he would inflict in his family, and weighting that pain against the gargantuan effort it takes to come out of the sinkhole of depression. In the end, he must have been so tired of the struggle that he let go of whatever was keeping him in this world. Suicide contemplation is as powerful as the energy burst of the mania.


I have visited this place far too many times. I get there for no apparent reason. It is a feeling of hopelessness, pain beyond suffering, when the thought of death feels more like the possibility of liberation from the air that surrounds me than an impulse to terminate my sorrows. Depression at that point is a dark cavern with rare contaminated air, when light bothers me, where the air I breathe lacerates my nostrils. Life becomes a chore.

The number one reason I call my doctor for help is when I feel in the deepest me that life ceased to have importance. Suicide contemplation, then, becomes a macabre thought. First I think about it, then I fantasize about it, imagining scenarios where the people I love react to my death, and finally I plan it. I have carefully planned my suicide twice, never attempted. I have looked for help instead. How? I held to the image of my sons, for their sake.

The World is a Mirror

The last time I contemplated and planned my suicide was the summer of 2007 in Ponca City, OK. It was supposed to happen on a Sunday: garden chair, flowers, birds, and a knife ready. The phone rang; my son needed help moving. I took the call and headed south on the highway. A tragic event unfolded in front of me in the blink of an eye. Two people were instantly dead, their skulls broken, undocumented porcelain dolls. I, the only bilingual person on scene, had to help the firefighters communicate with the widow and a five-year-old, now orphan, girl. Talk about irony. The world reflected my intentions back at me, a bizarre mirror I couldn’t avoid looking.

“I can’t do this my sons,” I thought. Next day I called the doctor. Eventually, I got out of the void, with medication, with therapy, and watching Mork & Mindy on Netflix. At home, sometimes I ask to see goofy movies. They know what I need: Robin Williams. The manic genius improvisations could lift the mood of a skeleton.

In the struggle against addiction, suicide contemplation loomed in the dark, waiting to make its kill. I cannot even come close to imagine his children’s sorrow. They are the recipients of a legacy few can expect. Williams was an extraordinary human being capable of bringing joy to the masses, care to the less fortunate, sincere love and friendship to his closest circle. Unfortunately, the pull of pathos was stronger than the nature of his genius.

My condolences to his family, specially his children, may they find comfort in the joy he brought to so many.

Spanish version follows

Spanish version follows

Robín Williams y la Contemplación del Suicidio

Como casi todo el mundo en los Estados Unidos, y especialmente aquellos afligidos por un desorden mental, a mi también me ha conmovido la repentina muerte de Robín Williams. El querido artista cómico sucumbió a la desesperación y acabó con su vida. Los medios de comunicación y las redes sociales se poblaron de especulación sobre las razones de su trágica decisión.

Cualquier estrategia que el había desarrollado para mantenerse sano no funcionó esta vez. Lo imagino luchando con el dolor que con certidumbre causaría a su familia, y sopesando ese dolor contra el esfuerzo extraordinario que lleva salir de lo más profundo de la depresión. Al final, debe haber estado tan cansado de la lucha que soltó aquello que lo sostenía a este mundo. La contemplación del suicidio es tan poderosa como la explosión de energía de la manía.


He visitado ese lugar demasiadas veces. Llego allí sin razón aparente. Es un sentimiento de desesperanza, un dolor que sobrepasa al sufrimiento, cuando la idea de la muerte se siente más como la posibilidad de liberación del aire que me rodea que un impulso para terminar mi dolor. La depresión a ese punto es una caverna oscura con aire contaminado, donde la luz molesta, donde el aire que respiro me lacera la cavidad nasal. La vida se convierte en una labor.

La razón principal por la que llamo al médico y pido ayuda es cuando en lo más profundo de mi ser la vida perdió importancia. La contemplación del suicidio entonces se convierte en un pensamiento macabro. Primero pienso en eso, después lo fantaseo, imaginándome escenarios donde la gente a la que quiero reacciona a mi muerte, y luego lo planeo. He planeado cuidadosamente mi suicidio dos veces, no lo he intentado. Por el contrario, he buscado ayuda. ¿Cómo? Me agarro de la imagen de mis hijos, por su bien.

El Mundo es un Espejo

La última vez que contemplé y planeé suicidarme fue en el verano de 2007 en Ponca City, OK. Debió suceder un domingo: silla de jardín, flores, pájaros, y un cuchillo listo. El teléfono sonó; mi hijo necesitaba ayuda para mudarse. Tomé la llamada y me dirigí al sur en la autopista. Un evento trágico se reveló frente a mi en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Dos personas murieron instantáneamente, sus cráneos quebrados, muñecos de porcelana indocumentados. Como era la única persona bilingüe en el lugar, tuve que ayudar a los bomberos a comunicarse con la viuda y una niña de cinco años, ahora huérfana. Ironías de la vida. El mundo reflejó mis intenciones, un espejo extraño que no podía rehusarme a ver.

“No le puedo hacer esto a mis hijos,” pensé. Al siguiente día llamé al médico. Eventualmente salí del hueco, con remedios, con terapia, y mirando Mork y Mindy en Netflix. En casa, a veces pido ver películas cómicas. Ellos saben lo que necesito: Robín Williams. Las improvisaciones geniales y maníacas pueden levantarle el ánimo hasta a un esqueleto.

En la lucha contra la adicción, la contemplación del suicidio acecha en la oscuridad, esperando a matar. No puedo ni siquiera aproximarme al dolor de sus hijos. Ellos ahora reciben un legado que sólo muy pocos pueden esperar. Williams fue un ser humano extraordinario capaz de llevar alegría a las masas, compasión a los más necesitados, y amor y amistad sinceros a sus círculo íntimo. Desafortunadamente, al fuerza de su patología fue más fuerte que la naturaleza de su genio.

Mi sentido pésame a su familia, especialmente para sus hijos. Que ellos puedan encontrar consuelo en la alegría que él llevó a tantos.