Of mental illness, and dreams

. Blinq |

I love how surreal life and vivid dreams dance together in a new blog by Liz Spikol, managing editor at Philadelphia Weekly, which draws its potency from the fact that it is devoted to mental illness. Hers mainly.

She goes to a colleague’s book party in an Old City gallery. She has a cocktail, but passes on the cherries. A tall man in funky glasses accosts her – she remembers that he tells her they’re the best cherries in the world, but she can’t quite remember why. “It was something like they were cultivated on the Arctic by Eskimo midgets utterly committed to maraschino superiority,” she writes.

Or she has this dream – she’s trying to sell some hideous modern art that was in her mother’s collection so she could travel with a friend to Turkey and see this cool band called Islamic Congress. Or the one about seeing Brooke Shields walking down the street in too-big jeans, and thanking her for her frankness about her postpartum depression. Only Shields talks to her about cantaloupes.

The Trouble With Spikol had a soft launch this fall, meaning that she tried a daily blog version of a column she writes for the alternative paper, but showed it to few others than family until she was satisfied she had the energy to pull it off.

“I didn’t stay long,” she writes of the book party. “Even though my illness is manageable, which is to say I have a job and can make it into work most days, socializing is still a challenge.”

But writing and blogging don’t appear to be.

“I sat by myself for a while, spoke to a few people, ate a cupcake and then fled. It was a lovely affair, but parties always require lots of effort mentally. People who are acutely ill think when you get ‘better’ that feeling of effort disappears. It doesn’t.”

Spikol, 37, was studying literary criticism at grad school in Texas when she realized that something was deeply wrong, she said by phone this week. She had assumed it was some sort of post-traumatic remnant from having been raped during a trip to the Dominican Republic – something she’s written about at length for her paper.

But there was more troubling her. Obsessive-compulsive and bipolar disorders were the primary diagnoses.

“Finally I just dropped out of school,” she said. “I went on disability, had shock treatments, every possible medication a person could be subjected to. My life was completely ruined – I was just shuffling to Social Security for the disability hearings.”

In 1998, she found a combination of medications that made her feel better. Back in Philadelphia, she took a part-time proofreading job at the Weekly. Her break came when she wrote a 200-word blurb for a special food section on Easy Bake Ovens. Editor Tim Whitaker offered her a column.

The question was, what sort of column? When she met with executive editor Sara Kelly and proposed a series of ideas she now calls lame, Spikol explained that she’d been out of circulation for the last seven years. When Kelly pressed, Spikol explained that she was struggling through this mental illness. “That,” Kelly said, “is the column.”

The column has followed her progress as she has found a good psychiatrist and a refined medicinal regimen. A blog, she said, will allow her to dig deeper into mental health issues, and problems like the complicated changes to Medicare’s prescription plan. And she loved the idea of reaching younger people, since they are more likely, she says, to see mental illness as a stigma.

“There is no reason to be deadly boring,” she says. Which is why one of her recent mental health tips might be a post on Dairy Queen’s Choco Cherry Blizzard, which, she reminds, is an essential form of self-medication.
For more of blinq, including proof that meetings are just plain awful for your health and a time trip to 1969 for a Hugh Hefner/Grateful Dead groovefest, go to http://blogs.philly.com/blinq. To contact Daniel Rubin and Blinq, e-mail blinq@phillynews.com.

By Daniel Rubin
Inquirer Staff Writer

SOURCE:- 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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