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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Cardiac Depression and Robin Williams

The link between cardiac surgery and depression is a real thing and it may have played a role in Robin Williams' suicide.


I know because I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I have ever since my first cardiac event.

My cardiologist told me that it was very common to suffer from these things following any cardiac surgeries. I've had several. My very first panic attack was when I had a carotid stent put in. I was made to lie on a table in the cath lab while my doctor inserted a balloon-like stent into my carotid artery. I had to remain awake on the table throughout the procedure so that they would know in an instant if I suffered from a stroke during the stenting. Consequently, I had my first major panic attack right there on that cold, metal table in that bright, antiseptically clean operating room. I wasn't allowed to move or cry or scream or pull away. I wasn't able to be medicated to calm down. I could feel the fluttering movement of the scope inside my body as it wormed its way up my neck to my carotid artery.

"Hold still," my typically jovial cardiologist told me through gritted teeth. This was not a time to ask silly questions.

I watched the computer screen above me as he performed this complicated task and then whispered and pleaded with the nurse to give me something to stop the intense fear and inevitable shaking that I knew was coming on strong. I knew that I was powerless against it. It was that feeling of standing alone in the ocean on unsteady legs and watching the rocks get sucked back by the tide, knowing that a giant wave was forming and there was no escape from it crashing down upon you. I knew the crash of a panic attack was imminent even though I'd never experienced one before.

Once you have one, you never forget how horrible it feels.

That was eight years ago. I was 32. I still have panic attacks today and will probably have them forever. It just goes with the territory. Depression is a part of the equation as well, but I've never let it swallow me whole the way others have. I've always stayed a few steps ahead of it, but that's not to say I'm immune.

My open heart surgery has left me with a long scar down my chest. It's faded throughout the years some, but it's still there. I forget about it at times, but then I'll notice someone eyeing it and my hand instinctively flutters up to my neck, creating a visual barrier. I'm not embarrassed by the scar. At first I hid it with boat neck shirts and scarves. Now I wear it like a badge of courage. It tells people what I've been through. A reminder that I'm a survivor. I survived childhood cancer. I survived having a premature child. I survived open heart surgery. And, yet, the sternotomy scar is the only thing that is a visible reminder.

Robin Williams wore his scars openly as well. You could see it in his eyes. The pain in his eyes was there even when he was making hundreds of people laugh. The joy that they felt was elusive for him. He was an outsider probably wondering why it was so easy for others to bask in the joy that he gave to them effortlessly. Why was it so hard for him to feel the same way?

My cardiologist told me that my surgery was typically an older male surgery. While heart disease is a growing problem with women (today it is the leading killer of women, more deadly than all forms of cancer), open heart surgery is typically an older male issue. He said that men would get very depressed after the surgery (Dr. Tara Narula, associate director of the cardiac care unit at Lenox Hill Hospital and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association has said that cardiac depression affects 20-40% of all heart surgery patients) and yet no one really knows why. Consequently, my appointments after my surgeries always focused on how I was feeling: physically and emotionally. 

For the first six months after my surgery, I was in a lot of pain. It's no wonder since the surgery is a very savage one where they literally saw your breastbone open and pry your ribcage apart and then a lengthy and intricate surgery takes place while your body temperature is lowered into hypothermia and you are put on a heart and lung machine--for all intents and purposes you are the closest to being dead while still technically being alive. 

When they are finished and they have brought you back after nine to twelve hours of being practically lifeless, they sew you back up, wrap your ribcage in titanium and poke and prod you to make sure you are coming back to life in one piece. The first few days of intensive care are what typically cause the PTSD.  My doctor compared it to being a prisoner of war. You are in pain. You are not allowed to sleep normally. You don't know if it is day or night. You are being poked and prodded. You are uncomfortable and miserable and aren't aware if you are awake or asleep, up or down, inside or out. It's basically hell on earth.
And then you begin the long road to recovery. No driving. No walking for long periods of time. Always tired, always in pain, always breathless and weak. No lifting anything over five pounds. You are reduced to being a child--always having to rely on others to care for you. For men, it eats away at their egos. For women (especially with children), it's hard to be taken care of when they are typically the caretakers of the families.

But long after the immediate effects of the surgery are gone--the scars have healed, the pain is gone-- there is an unsettling feeling that can strike at any moment. I don't know if it's the realization that you have knocked on death's door and hung out at the threshold for a little while only to be turned away. Maybe it's the knowledge that life can be taken from you in an instant. Perhaps it's survivor's guilt. For me, my aunt passed away from a very painful cancer a year after my surgery. While she was going through her treatment, she'd often look to me with that helpless, expectant and terrified gaze and tell me that I was the only one who could understand what she was going through. She'd plead with me through her eyes and I could only offer her my strength and my sympathies. But in the end, that wasn't enough.

I don't know if Robin Williams felt those sudden moments of terror following his surgeries. I know that I used to wake up in the middle of the night terrified of something cracking my chest wide open, feeling helpless and unable to move, overwhelmed by pain and by fear. There's a loneliness that only those who've stayed in hospitals long term can ever fully understand. I've spend most of my life in hospitals and though I joke that it is like my second home, there is a tension that lives within those sterile walls. Perhaps it's the ghosts of the many lives lost there. Maybe it's the collective fear and sadness that remains like residue on the walls. But once those hollow emotions get inside of you--those ice-cold pinpricks of isolation and hopelessness-- it's so hard to ever completely rid yourself of them.

So, yes, I believe that Robin Williams had a lot of issues he was dealing with which ultimately led to his taking his own life and perhaps his cardiac issues did contribute to his demise. Substance abuse is something that I thankfully have never experienced. He had been very open about his abuse throughout his life and those who suffer from PTSD and depression are more susceptible to falling back into the clutches of the abuse. His life was cut short by so many demons that plagued him. Maybe a few of them crept in while his heart was wide open and defenseless. Perhaps they sat on his shoulders and whispered to him in the dark hours of the night. Or maybe they hung from his back like so many terrible addictions.

We tend to equate the saying "Carpe Diem" or "Seize The Day" with Robin Williams' character in the movie Dead Poets Society. But we should also be reminded of a similar Latin saying, "Memento Mori," which means, "Remember, you are mortal." Robin Williams was just a man with the same problems as every other man. None of us are immune to feelings of depression or inadequacy or grief. Yet, it seems so unfair that in his ability to bring immense joy and happiness to others, he ultimately failed to find it for himself. 

For someone who spent his life giving to others through laughter, ultimately it is through tears that we have learned the most important lesson he could have ever given. No one is immune to the damaging effects of depression. It is a silent killer. It creeps through every age, race and earnings bracket. It affects men and women, old and young, rich and poor. It can feel like it's contagious.  It can remain dormant for years and rear its ugly head and strike someone down when you least expect it. But it can be treated and monitored if caught in time. Awareness is the key.

Whatever the case, it is important to reach out to those in your life who are suffering from depression. It doesn't have to be someone who has gone through addiction or a major surgery, but those are the ones who should be watched a little more carefully. If you are ever feeling alone or depressed or just ready to give up, there are so many programs available to you and people who can help you through your darkest hours. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

You are not alone.





Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Letter to a Bullied Girl

Okay, so I'm kind of freaking out a little bit. I received an email from a follower of this blog. I tried to email her back, but her account wasn't accepting emails. The girl said that she was being bullied and that she has tried to commit suicide several times and that she knows she will again. She also asked for help on writing about her experiences with being bullied and wanted some advice.

The fact that I can't reach her is scaring me, so I'm posting the email (of course, I'm not using her name) I sent back to her. Hopefully she reads this and doesn't go through with any more suicide attempts. And hopefully this gives hope to others who might be struggling with the same thing.

In any case, I hope this letter finds the right person at the right time. (And please don't mind the long-windedness and emotional repetition -- I was very anxious to get this out to someone who was hurting, so I didn't take the time to self-edit.)


Dear ______,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. First of all, I'm so sorry that you've gone through such terrible times with bullies. If you have taken the time to check out my latest anthology, DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, you will see that you are in some excellent company. So many of my author friends (many who share their experiences with bullies in the book) have gone through terrible bullying situations. I was bullied when I was in college and I thought that my situation was bad, but when I heard other stories, I realized that so many have gone through much, much worse. And they've all come out the other side. The fact that some of the most successful authors today were victims of bullying should give you some hope. They used their pain, their stories, their experiences to become the brilliant writers that they are today.

You need to join them and become one of those important voices. 

The fact that you've had so many suicide attempts saddens and frustrates me. You are a voice that we need to hear. The world needs to hear you. Don't take that away from us. This part of your life will feel so small and so far away if you can just get through the next few years. And then you will laugh at those who treated you badly, because you will be better than they ever were. You will be stronger, smarter, more resilient than your bullies EVER will be. 

Times like these when it feels like there is no end in sight to the bullying is when you need to turn inward and focus on yourself. Read. Write. Find others who share your passion. So many writers who were bullied as kids turned to books for shelter and escape.  Some of them said that at times they felt like books were their only friends; authors were the only ones who truly understood them.  And then they grew up and started writing for teens who were just like them -- giving them the lifeboat that they received when they needed it most.

My suggestion to you is to write, write, write, read, read, read. That's the best thing you can do right now. It will give you a sense of purpose and an escape from what you are going through right now. Once you have left those bullies behind, you will go on to do great things. But why wait? Do it now. Start writing your stories. Think about what you are going through right now and imagine that you are giving advice to a young girl, younger than you. A beautiful, talented, smart girl who was bullied so badly that she wanted to end her own life. Write to that girl and give her the strength to pull through and come out the other side. Stories like that are invaluable. Many of the authors in DEAR BULLY found themselves writing to their younger selves, giving them the advice they wish they had when they were your age. Most of them felt the process was therapeutic and wished they had done it earlier in their lives, so that it would help to heal old wounds. 

The wounds from bullying never really go away, just as the wounds from any traumatic experience linger. But they make you who you are. They make you stronger. And soon (very very soon) you will be at a point where you can look back at this time in your life as something that happened to you, but did not conquer you. You will not lose this battle. Don't let the bullies win. The wounds are there, but they have no power over you. Only if you let them. And you are stronger than that, I can tell.

So from one creative writing spirit to another, I'm wishing you all the best on this journey. You will survive this. You will overcome. And I look forward to meeting you on the bookshelves one day in the not-too-distant future.

Sending you one great big hug and the strength to wake up each morning and take on the day (and those hateful, mean-spirited bullies) no matter what. 

Love,
Megan

P.S. Please don't ever try a suicide attempt again. We need you, your voice, your heart, your spirit in this world. Think of all the people you can help with your words, the lives that you can impact and ultimately save.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Amanda Bynes Identity Crisis?

I know that I typically only post about writing related topics, but for my next novel I've been doing a lot of research on mental disorders and juvenile delinquents. Now I now that Ms. Bynes is not a teen and has not been officially diagnosed with a mental disorder (though many speculate that drugs are behind her sudden apparent craziness). And yet, I have noticed another interesting aspect about this young star. She seems to be physically morphing into other young stars.

See if you can tell the difference.

1. Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan?


2. Christina Aguilera or Amanda Bynes?




3. Olsen Twin or Amanda Bynes?



4. Ke$ha or Amanda?



5. Miley Cyrus or Amanda?


6. Amanda or Blac Chyna?


Whatever the case, we all want to see the former fresh-faced Nickelodeon star as she was seen here at the MTV Movie Awards. She was a beautiful, healthy girl once and she can be that girl again. 


Until she figures out who she is and comes through this identity crisis (and whatever else might be affecting her mental state), Amanda Bynes may just end up being another unfortunate casualty of the the Hollywood Child Star syndrome. I really hope she pulls through this.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language."

These were the words used by one of the editors of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper when rejecting one of Rudyard Kipling’s short stories.

Think of how many authors today would be discouraged and would just completely give up writing if they read those words in a review or a rejection letter. I came across a list of famous authors who were rejected (often repeatedly) by agents, editors and publishers. 

Read this list the next time you receive a rejection letter or particularly painful review and it should give you the strength to carry on.

http://www.examiner.com/article/30-famous-authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dear Bully is featured on front page of NY Times Arts section!

Here is the link! I will be scanning and posting here shortly! Though I don't love the headline "Publishers Revel in Youthful Cruelty" (what?!?! Really?!  Um...no), it's an honor to be included and I feel that the bulk of the story shows how the publishing world is rallying together to tackle this growing issue.

In any case, CLICK HERE to read the article and ENJOY!


Monday, March 11, 2013

I've made promises I couldn't keep, but...

this time I mean it when I say I'm going to update my blog more often. No more excuses.

So I'm starting off with a question. Does anyone know how to link or add a Tumblr widget to Blogger? There are Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus and many other widgets available to add to Blogger blogs, but I have yet to find one for Tumblr. Are they in competition? Is Tumblr the one last thing on Earth not owned by Google or Amazon? Hmmmm....

In any case, even though this doesn't look like a blog, it's just a really jazzed up version of a regular Blogger blog.  I taught myself some HTML and made this thing look like a real website. On my homepage, some of the pictures are all smushed together and I need to figure out how to fix that. There are some random adds and widgets that have run amuck all over the place. But, overall, I'm pretty happy with how this has turned out.

Can you tell I'm procrastinating on my next novel?

And what is going on with my latest novel, you may ask? (Or maybe not, but I'll tell you anyway.)

I'm about 200 pages in on my first draft and I'm at that crucial 3/4 mark that I always hate. Why do I hate it so much? Because I'm one of those writers who doesn't really know how it's going to end until the reader does (just about). I like to think that if I can surprise myself by the ending, then the reader is really going to be for a surprise.

But, more than that, as I started researching the topic for this latest book, I got really intrigued by larger, complicated and infuriating issues surrounding it.  I'm keeping this topic hush-hush for now, but as soon as I've finished, you can bet that I'm going to be VERY loud and forthright with my opinions on this particular subject. I know that is hard to imagine, given how quiet I've been on the whole bullying situation.

And, yet, this issue has me even more riled up, even angrier and ready to shout even louder about the injustices.

But, I digress...

So, as I'm nearing completion of this book, I will be seated here at my computer more often and before I go posting on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter or whatever other social media outlet designed for procrastination, I'll make every effort to stop here first and jot down a note or two about what it's like being right in the middle of the writing process.

Thanks for sticking with me. And feel free to follow me via any of the widgets lister above. I'm also on Tumblr. Which Blogger won't let me post or link to. Not sure why.  If someone can explain it to me, please do. Especially since one of my writer friends informed me that teens now think that Facebook and Twitter are for old people. Tumblr is the new hot place to be. And if you don't believe that, just ask MySpace how it feels when teens leave you in the dust. Not too much fun.  So check me out here at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/megankelleyhall.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Piper meets Adam Sandler


Monday, April 2, 2012

You are not alone video

Just wanted to share an anti-bullying video that I pulled together over the weekend. I'll show you two versions. The first one goes a little fast and many people have told me that in bullying presentations, the quotes are too hard to read.  But I still like it, so I'll show it here.


The second one is trimmed a bit (in terms of pictures of celebrities) and slowed down so that kids can read the quotes during assemblies (which is why I created this in the first place).



Let me know what you think. If you like it, pass it on.

Thanks!
xxoo

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So I know I promised....

...to update on a more regular basis. And I've already fallen short. Sorry about that. But until I come up with some brilliant and witty post that will be life changing for everyone, here are a few things that I came across on Facebook (where I apparently live -- come and visit me there once in awhile, won't you?) that I though I would share:




Enjoy! And Happy Valentine's Day to you all.  Just remember, any rejection you may receive isn't in vain, it's fodder for funny posts to share with others who feel your pain. ❤