RSS Feed

Tag Archives: creativity

Client Spotlight: Meet Dee


I am currently working with a client who is smart, funny, irreverent, and inspires me so much that I asked her if I could write a blog post about her. Dee is 73 years old and entered therapy for the first time 2 years ago during the pandemic. Although Dee knew that she needed help since she was a teenager, she was not given the opportunity to go as child because her mom didn’t believe in therapy. As an adult she didn’t have insurance until she started receiving Medicare. Nevertheless, she didn’t resign herself to a life of suffering and sought therapy when it became an option.

Therapists often say that they learn as much from their clients as clients learn from them. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from Dee:

  1. If you live long enough, you will probably experience trauma. Dee lost her dad when she was 15 and her mom was not able to help her navigate her grief. As a result she turned to her first boyfriend for support, only to lose him to a motorcycle accident, thereby doubling her grief. After that she had several more relationships with men who were bad for her in different ways–several of whom were outright abusive. Trauma inevitable if you live long enough. It would do us all some good to give ourselves permission to get help when we need it.
  2. Change is possible if you work hard at it. Even though change is possible, it isn’t probable unless you really want it, and most people don’t like change. Dee is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, trauma, and binge eating, and these conditions were exacerbated with the isolation of the pandemic, as it was for many people. The turnaround she was able to experience in improving her condition in a 2 year time frame is remarkable.
  3. A long life is a sign of resilience. Without access to therapy, Dee unknowingly created her own treatment to cope with her suffering: she began a business working one-on-one with individuals and families to train their own service dogs. These dogs were trained to the same high standards as national service dog organizations – a process that took 1-3 years. Partnering with her clients, she trained autism, medical alert, psychiatric, and mobility service dogs. And she was really good at her job. She found a way to combine her passion for dogs, the need for social connection and self-soothing, and with her need to make a living.
  4. Growth is always possible. In addition to focusing on ways to address her depression, anxiety, trauma, and eating issues, our work focuses on developing spiritual growth, gender identity, and intellectual and creative interests. Dee often talks about how lucky kids are today who have labels like transgender and nonbinary so that they don’t have to force themselves into a category that doesn’t fit. In the last few weeks Dee has begun exploring her identity as a lesbian–literally trying on new clothes, joining Facebook groups, and giving herself the opportunity for the social connection that she has gone without for her entire life.
  5. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Less than a year ago Dee decided to take up painting, even though she had never done it before. In that short amount of time, she has her work shown in several local galleries and has sold several of her paintings–one of them to me! Dee recently decided to use her art to bring awareness to social justice issues by linking some of her pieces with information related to causes that are important to her. I encourage you to check out her art work at The painting above is a self-portrait that explores the commingling of masculinity and femininity that she entitled They. I bought the piece below, entitled Heartfelt. Which I find poetic because Dee told me in a session that she always knew that she would fall in love later in life, and she did–with painting.

Walking the Line


They say there’s a fine line between creativity and insanity. I would actually draw the line between sanity and insanity, with creativity and insanity on the same side. Sane people would be on the other side of the line. The further you get from the line, the more extreme you become.

For example, people who are creative might be the depressed artists who use writing, painting, music, or whatever to express their pain. But the further you get from the line, the more likely you are to lose touch with reality. The more likely you are to think that things like suicide might be a good idea.

People who are on the sane side might not have experienced depression, but they can imagine what it might be like and have empathy for people who are depressed. The further you get from the line, the more likely you are to believe that depression isn’t real. It’s just an excuse that lazy people use to avoid taking responsibility for their lives.

I would say that most of the time I’m pretty good at walking the line, but sometimes I get pulled over to the insanity side. Usually because I’m feeling someone else’s pain. Because my emotions are pretty intense already. So once they are combined with someone else’s feelings, it becomes too much. Then my demons seize upon my vulnerable state and try to convince me that my pain will never end. Why go on living? Follow me into the woods. You’ll be free from your pain over here.

Writing requires being able to walk the line. I have lots of entries in my journal from the times when I first started to feel depressed but none during the times when I was in the depths of despair. Because at that point, all my energy was focused on survival. If I wrote at all when I was happy, I usually didn’t have much to say because I was too busy enjoying life to have time for introspection.

I’ve been trying to keep my balance over the past month, but sometimes I have to cross over to the insanity side to bring people back. It’s a risk to my mental health, but what can I do? It’s like going into a burning building to save someone you love. How can you stand there and watch it burn down without at least trying?

Maybe it takes more than one person to bring people back to the sane side. Maybe you have to form a human chain like you do in a tug of war, where someone is anchored at the line. That way the person who has to go deep into the woods won’t get lost. They have people who are holding on to them, pulling for them, making sure they’re able to get back. That way demons can’t win.

So maybe I need to start recruiting for a team, just like I do in tennis. Find a few sane people, some people who can walk the line, and a few who are adventurous enough to cross the line so I can save someone who is lost.

If only I could find some sane people.



Bipolar and Brilliant

I just finished Haldol and Hyacinths, by Melody Moezzi, and it is one of the best memoirs on bipolar disorder that I have ever read. A lawyer and human rights activist, Moezzi talks about how her passion and aspirations come from the same place that her mania and psychosis come from, and sometimes it is difficult to separate the two.  

In An Unquiet Mind, the gold standard of bipolar memoirs, psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison says the same thing: that she was the most productive and most brilliant on the way to mania–until she became psychotic.

From personal experience I would argue that it’s true that for some people, it’s a thin line between brilliance and mania. I have never reached the heights of brilliance and mania that Moezzi and Jamison describe, but I know what it’s like to walk that line between sanity and insanity. Most of the time I stay on the side where I know the rules and try to follow them as obsessively as possible.

But there have been periods where I have had one foot in this world and one foot in the other. A world where the lines between black and white, good and bad, and reality and fantasy are blurred. I have had some of my best insights at those times, but I was also the most reckless during those periods. It is both freeing and dangerous.

At those times, I pay close attention to where I’m standing and do my best to maintain my balance.

Four of the six people in my family are bipolar. The kind of people who light up a room when they walk in. But when they are manic their light is blinding, and they can no longer see how they are hurting themselves and other people with their actions.

Sometimes people with bipolar disorder don’t want to take their meds because they don’t want to dull their creative side, kill their buzz. And it’s true that when you’ve reached the peak of mania the drugs you take are meant to put out the fire, so they dampen everything for awhile.

But there’s a lot you can do to keep from crossing that line. There are a lot of things that are in your control. You can be honest about your diagnosis. You can be compliant with treatment. You can pay attention to the warning signs and intervene right away.

It often takes a person with bipolar disorder many years before they can reach this place of self-acceptance, as these authors demonstrate. But they also demonstrate that you can still be brilliant when you’re stable.


Unlike the men in my family who can draw and sculpt and make replicas of batman masks out of construction paper, I am not artistically-inclined. I can’t even draw a straight line. Or a round circle. I knit, but you just have to follow a pattern.  And I make jewelry, but for some reason I don’t think that counts, either. And I was an English major and love to write, but I don’t think I’m creative enough to write a novel, so I just write about myself.

This past weekend I went to an eating disorders conference because that’s what I specialize in. This year I decided to do all the touchy-feely workshops rather than the research ones. My favorite workshop was the one on art therapy. We had to do 6 different drawings of a bunch of doodles. Then we had to pick the 2 that we felt the most strongly about. Then we had to tear out the shape of our body for the #1 pick and glue it to the #2 pick. This was supposed to tell us something about ourselves.

I’m all about symbolic expression, but I was a little skeptical that this exercise could reveal anything meaningful about me. But then she showed us examples of self-portraits from eating disordered patients, and it was remarkable how much they revealed their struggles with their bodies, food, and emotions. Then she asked for volunteers to show their art work.

Ordinarily I would be too self-conscious to show my work, even if it is just a bunch of doodles. But I really wanted to get some feedback about my self-portrait. I thought that it might have something to do with being stressed out, since there was so much going on outside of me in the picture–almost like colorful asteroids knocking me over. And I had just gotten the rejection email minutes before the workshop, so I figured that must have played a role, but I wasn’t sure how.

After the workshop I asked her for some feedback, and then I spent some time looking at my self-portrait. I can’t explain how I came to this conclusion, but the drawing made me realize that I needed to stop doing the freelance writing job–which really fascinates me.

Maybe creativity is like athleticism: we think it’s some innate ability that we either have or we don’t, but maybe it’s possible to get better at it. She recommended that we take time out every day to play by doodling pictures, and I thought that was a great idea. I have been doing it every night before I go to bed. If there’s any chance that it can help me get my blog turned into a book by enhancing my creativity, then I’m all for it! I have no idea whether it’s working, but it does make me feel like a kid again.

I am so proud of my self-portrait that I’ve shown it to a few friends, and one of them said that it’s multicolored/multifaceted, like me. I really love that interpretation! I am open to other interpretations, too, if you have one.