The Lithium Chronicles is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month 2015 by featuring Mental Health Warriors, and I am so pleased to kick the month of with an amazing woman. Dyane Leshin- Harwood is a Mental Health Warrior in every sense of the word. Never one to shy away from sharing her own personal struggles and triumphs, she gives hope to countless people through her social media platforms. If that weren’t enough, Dyane has opened her home to women with mood disorders and runs a free support group. She is a loving mother, a Stigma Fighter, a Psych Central Mental Health hero from 2014, and someone that I am blessed to call a friend. Thank you for everything that you do, Dy. This world needs more people like you. We are lucky to have you.
The Found Girl
By Dyane Leshin-Harwood
Yesterday marked an epoch in my life. I spent a day with my daughter at The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a popular spot where the classic vampire movie ‘The Lost Boys’ was filmed. After I told a very close friend who understands the pain of BipolarDisorder firsthand that I went to the Boardwalk, she emailed me the following:
“You need a cape for this day. I am not joking. It could read ‘BoardwalkBadass Mama’ – what do you think? The Boardwalk? That is a feat of sheer awesomeness. I am so proud of you right now! You rock it, Boardwalk Mama!”
Before I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder, I wasn’t daunted by adventure, I’d hop in my Jetta at a moment’s notice and drive four hundred miles to visit my family in Los Angeles. I’d think nothing of driving solo to spectacular Big Sur for a day trip. The Bohemian Village was just ninety minutes away, but one had to drive the treacherous Highway One, in which speeding drivers occasionally plunged to their deaths to get there. Whenever I visited San Francisco, I was completely fine when it came to driving up and down the ridiculously steep hills in my stick shift car.
I took ground school lessons to earn my pilot’s license at age twenty-one, and I flew by myself to New Zealand at twenty-four. I let a pilot take me there, I didn’t fly the jet myself!
Since my bipolar diagnosis in 2007 I’ve hardly done anything fun and adventurous with my girls. My severe depression shut me down year after year. Even when I was more functional, I still had an intense fear of crowds and I especially dreaded running into people I knew, so I remained a recluse for the most part.
Going to the Boardwalk felt symbolic and meaningful for several reasons.
I grew up in Los Angeles and when I was seventeen one of my favorite things to do was to see movies in Westwood. Westwood had the best movie theaters a film buff could possibly hope for, and they were frequently used for world premieres. In 1987 the hit film ‘The Lost Boys’ starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Jami Gertz was released, and I went to see it as soon as I could. I was blown away by the movie, not just because of the intense story, the haunting soundtrack, and the scary, cutting-edge special effects. I was deeply impressed with the stunning scenery of Santa Cruz, California where some of the film was shot. The panoramic screen of the theater was the perfect backdrop for displaying the gorgeous Pacific coastline, the verdant Santa Cruz Mountains, and the eccentric local extras used in the film.
‘The Lost Boys’ opens with two riveting scenes that were filmed at the Boardwalk: 1911 Looff Carousel (a National Historic Landmark) and the Boardwalk parking lot. Little did I know while watching The Lost Boys that I would be moving up to “Santa Carla” (a.k.a. Santa Cruz) to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz. I would eventually visit that very carousel, parking lot, and the other beautiful locations featured in the film. As I exited the theater that day, I felt energized by seeing the action, romance and the vampires’ allure. I also had a slightly eerie feeling that “Santa Carla” might be a part of my life someday…
Yesterday when my daughter and I arrived at the Boardwalk, we parked in The Lost Boys parking lot. As I recalled the shocking parking lot vampire scene from the movie, I chuckled when I exited the car. Ofcourse Rilla said, “Mommy, why are you laughing when there’s nothing there?” As we walked to the entrance, I spotted the bridge where the Lost Boys tormented handsome “Michael” (Jason Patric). I noticed that my anxiety level wasn’t that bad, and I felt hopeful that we’d have a good experience.
Rilla and I had fun. It wasn’t all wine & roses, but we made the most of our day passes. Rilla’s favorite ride (and mine) was the bumper cars and she was an excellent defensive driver. At her request, we went on two different bumper car rides for a total of seven times, and I loved taking my aggression out on strangers. (I wish I had my own private bumper car arena!)
As the day wore on, the Boardwalk grew extremely crowded, but I didn’t panic. We made sure to visit the carousel and I could almost see Kiefer Sutherland’s menacing character “David” leading his motley crue of Lost Boys on the ride.
The only major hitch was that Rilla grew so excited and sugared-out from ice cream during our miniature golf game that she stopped listening to me. As a result she kept hitting her golf ball into other players’ zones, and that’s when I lost my cool. At least I didn’t yell, so I gave myself credit for that.
We stayed at the Boardwalk over four hours and I was beat. Rilla, with her almost bottomless reservoir of energy, could have kept going much longer than her tired mom. I know it won’t be the last time that we enjoy such an adventure together. When Rilla is old enough to ride the Boardwalk’s Giant Dipper roller coaster, another National Historic Landmark, I want to be by her side. It’s the perfect roller coaster – it’s not too frightening, but it’s thrilling and has an amazing view of the ocean. The Giant Dipper opened in 1924, and it’s unusual because it’s wooden. The coaster could qualify for its own Screen Actors Guild card because apart from ‘The Lost Boys’ it has been featured in ‘Sudden Impact’, ‘Sting II’, and ‘Dangerous Minds’.
Yesterday I tapped into my old self again. I can’t reject the new bipolar version – it’s a part of me that I am still working on fully accepting, despite having lived with the diagnosis for eight years. But if I can continue participating in activities that stretch my comfort zone, my “bravery muscle” will strengthen each time. (I used to be a certified personal trainer, so I love weight lifting analogies.) If I return to some of my old adventurous ways I’ll be a happier and better person, mom, wife and friend. I’ve come a long way over the past two years in terms of finally finding the right medication combination (after trying 30 meds to no avail) and making self-care a priority. I lead a free support group for women with mood disorders where we encourage one another and feel safe and accepted for who we are. I write today in part to remember the other sides of me that have nothing to do with mental illness. In doing so, I can be more compassionate with myself about having the stigmatized illness of bipolar disorder.
I was lost for so long through a foggy maze of bipolar depression, medication side effects, seven hospitalizations and chronic hopelessness.
I am no longer lost, I am found. And it feels good.
Dyane Leshin-Harwood is a writer and mother of two young girls. She’s the founder of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County, CA and leads free support groups for women with mood disorders. She’s thrilled that her essay “Stigma from the Source” will be in the first Stigma Fighters anthology. Dyane is a Stigmama.com regular contributor. Her book “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall 2016, and you can follow it’s page on Facebook You can find her on Twitter and please Follow her amazing blog Birth of a New Brain