Every four years the Summer Olympics make the scene. This year it’s in London, though one story of note comes from Australia: a promising athlete won’t be making it to the city of Big Ben. Sculler Pippa Savage will not be on the team after she was dropped from the crew recently because of “incompatibility issues”, including heated conversations with teammates. And it wasn’t her first incident with extreme mood swings. She butted heads with a former double-sculls partner in 2007 and disappeared from training camp. Now it’s been revealed that Savage, with her jagged behaviors, is bipolar.

Obviously, at 31 she’s no longer a teen, but was she already dealing with the mental illness then? Possibly so, as Aurora, the protagonist in Light Fixtures, deals with the onset of manic depression (bipolar) during the summer of 1963 when she was 14. Of course, she had no idea at the time what was going on, as the mood disorder had her in ever-ballooning mania at the start of the teen novel. But as time went on, and with the help of her mystical friends (are they real or part of the mania?), Mr. Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly, she gains knowledge. By the time she dives into mania’s opposite — depression — she truly experiences the polarity of bipolar disorder.

But Aurora eventually manages to crawl out of the hole and move toward the Light. Hopefully, Pippa is moving forward as she deals with her diagnosis. At least she’s not completely off the team. She’s been placed on “non-travelling reserve.”

This time last year Light Fixtures went on sale. Different from my previously published book (Reflections of the Heart: What Our Animal Companions Tell Us), the Young Adult novel was an electronic book, available to read on your computer or an e-reader, such as Kindle.

The initial reviews were positive and welcomed. Only one reviewer offered a complaint; she did not care for the mystical beings Mr. Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly. But I knew why they were critical to the book: they were an avenue to reach Aurora, the bright protagonist who, with her quick (manic) thought processes, was attracted to challenges, especially thoses that challenged her normal, structured environment. By having Mr. Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly be singular in deed and thought, I could rely on them to give Aurora a unique point of view about life and eventually, her teen manic depression (biploar disorder). I do not regret that decision.

But with Light Fixtures’ one-year anniversay, I can look back and say there is one thing I do regret — not offering the YA novel in paperback sooner. (The paperback version was available in late spring 2012.) Though, knowing how the Universe works, there is really never a reason for regret, as all things are just learning exercises, exercises that we hope become a genuine part of our spiritual wisdom…which returns me to the book.

One of the “tweets” that her beloved friend Mr. Hematite bequeated to Aurora was a quote that would soon help her and that I keep with me to this day:

Leave yourself open and you will see that the Light of your day is upon thee. Keep your heart firm and you will know that the path of which you walk is that of secure. Understand your trust and you will find the rose of your day and the thorns of your mind.

Happy Birthday Light Fixtures!

Two weeks ago I returned from a visit in northwest Louisiana. Besides seeing family and friends, one of the primary reasons I wanted to touch the iron-rich red soil and feel the 90-degree warmth of the place was to reconnect to the locale, the setting of Light Fixtures. Though the Young Adult book is a novel, the setting is very real indeed. Yet, would I still feel that singular sense that it was the right choice for the book?

I do a yoga exercise every day before breakfast and jog after that. One morning I decided to retrace the mania-quick steps Aurora would take through the hay pasture to arrive at the far fence that separated her grandparents’ land from the Crawford woods. Of course, beyond that wire fence, with the help of Mr. Dragonfly, she’d go to visit the sage Mr. Hematite; both of the mystical beings would aid Aurora in finding who she really was, a girl with teen bipolar disorder.

As I ran, and at one point, walked, because the thigh-high weeds were more prominent than the grass, scenes from Light Fixtures greeted me: the oil wells with the grasshopper-looking heads, the fishing pond on the hill (the back pond was too overgrown for me to be able to stand at its banks) and, finally, the thick woods encircled by now a very dilapidated wire fence that held her mystical friends.

It was here I stopped, and with my back against a loblolly pine trunk, I sat still, listening to the soft wind and feeling the already-humid heat of the day. Aurora was still here. I could visualize her and the words I used to describe her bipolar mania and ensuing depression. Yet through it all, I understood how the land here kept her rooted with a promise that the pastures, ponds, and hills were there to help with keeping her balanced. I knew then the Chalybeate Springs setting was indeed the perfect setting for Light Fixtures and I jogged back to my sister’s house with no regrets.

When I chose the setting for the YA novel Light Fixtures, which features bipolar teen Aurora, I wanted to bring back to life a place I’d known in my youth. Deciding on the red-dust hills of Chalybeate Springs in NW Louisiana was a natural: my grandparents, who served as role models for two of the characters, had lived there, so I knew well its hot, humid air, its flowing hills and especially its culture. (See the website videos.)

I also learned twenty years ago when a good friend of mine, a psychiatrist in New Orleans who had grown up in New York City, told me that in dealing with patients with bipolar disorder, he’d began to notice that many of those he saw came from north Louisiana and east Texas. A chemist before a physician, he believed that most probably a lack of lithium in the soil might be the culprit. Of course, bipolar disorder is often treated with the lithium, so if the soil is missing this natural element, it would make sense that there could be a correlation between lithium-deprived soil and bipolar disorder.

But whether his hypothesis is still valid these days, I do not know (he’s no longer alive), but I do know that when I return next week to spend nearly two weeks in those beloved hills, where the fish ponds twinkle in the dusk and the deer are easily spooked in the piney woods, I know I’ll readily be reminded on why I chose this country setting for the book: the hills speak the truth in more ways than one.

With the tragic suicide of NFL linebacker great Junior Seau, questions arise as to whether his actions to end his life was because of brain trauma caused from his hard-hitting–and being hit hard–professional football days. This link between football and brain damage from concussions is increasingly seen as a big concern; after all, brain changes means mental changes and one expression of these alterations can be depression.

Whether this holds true with Seau or not, there is no debate that depression is a serious mental disorder that should not be denied…even though there may be no warning signs from the sufferer. As in Aurora’s case, a bipolar teen who fell from her elated manic state to depression toward the end of the novel Light Fixtures, the depressive state at first offered no overt behaviors. No one saw that she was depressed until she was deep “in the dark hole” – and even then, she worked hard to try to appear “normal”. Eventually though, with the depression full-blown, she could no longer participate in life’s regular rountines.

Maybe this is where Seau headed toward and, just as Aurora felt, he began to feel a sense of no-purpose and a sense of a no-point-of-going-on. I don’t know. I only know I feel for his family and for any family who learns too late that there was trouble with a family member’s sense of mental balance, for depression can, and often does, = suicide.

Not long ago I wrote about a TV role that has everyone talking: “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison, a CIA analyst with bipolar disorder, played by actress Claire Danes. Looks as if it’s time to do so again.

Danes has made Time magazine’s “The Most 100 Influential People in the World” for her portrayal of Mathison. As Plame Wilson, a former CIA agent and author of the Danes’ article, points out, the actress adds life and realism into the role, a role that goes against the grain of what a CIA anaylist is expected to behave and look like–and her living and working with bipolar disorder only heightens the scenario. As Wilso writes: “Her bipolar disorder, which she must hide from her employers, is both a blessing and a curse.”

That could easily be a descripton of Aurora in Light Fixtures. With the onset of the mood disorder, she feels the blessing of being fast on her feet and even faster with her brain when it comes to dealing with situations; yet, when she falls into bipolar disorder’s abyss, she feels the curse of being in the hole, where the darkness, the depression is immune to hope, joy, and the ability to think clearly.

Yet, so far, like Carrie Mathison in “Homeland”, Aurora manages to keep her head above water…for now.

Missed the opportunity to blog on April Fool’s Day, so I will play some catch-up today.

What’s the connection between April Fool’s and Light Fixtures’ protagonist Aurora? For a bipolar teen, it’s all about dealing with “fools”, especially those who don’t think, or those who refuse to see the big picture.

Often, when someone with teen bipolar disorder is in the mania stage, it’s not uncommon for her/him to see things in a very, lightning-quick, perceptive light. Often, with that keen awareness comes a sense of having a smarter-than-the-average person’s take on things. The speed of mania can do that.

With Aurora’s mania increasing in the book, she becomes more impatient with others and she doesn’t, as her grandmother’s Bible says, “suffer fools gladly.” In fact, if it weren’t for her good Southern manners, she would be putting folks straight often. She feels this manic frustration when she’s with those who seem to take so long to get a point, or to see the smartest, most efficient way for things to be done. And not just done…but done fast: a just-do-it-and-move-on action. That’s teen bipolar mania.

Of course, Mr. Hematite, the mystic and friend in the woods across the hay fields, understands this and tries to guide her along. But mania is rarely recognized when it’s in full bloom and Aurora is an example of that. Yet Mr. Hematite does not give up!

I encourage you to get a copy of Light Fixtures and follow Aurora’s journey. It’s in paperback now!

With the happenings in NFL football recently, and notably today with Peyton Manning’s officially joining the Denver Broncos, I thought about Aurora, the protagonist in Light Fixtures, who lives in the football-is-everything South.

As a Louisianian, Aurora is certainly a football lover, and though the New Orleans Saints wouldn’t be founded until four years later in 1967, when she’d be a senior in high school, she still thinks about the game. No more so than when an upper classmen from her high school–Johnny Lee–, who plays wide receiver on the school’s team, comes to help her granddaddy and her with summer hay baling. After an afternoon of sweaty work, he drives away in his pickup but not before he pops his head out the window to tease Aurora. Triggered by Johnny Lee’s teasing, she tries to chase after him on foot. She goes nearly half a mile before she finally stops, though she felt like she could run forever. Was his joking a trigger for Aurora’s teen bipolar disorder mania?

Last night the TV documentary Demi Lovato: Stay Strong aired with many critics expecting the story to be just another trite show on a pop star’s life. But just as many or more were surprised to find Lovato not only open and fearless about her personal challenges, but also her willingness to say she must deal daily with these issues, including teen bipolar with its symptomatic mania and depression. “I still have my ups and downs, but I take it one day at a time.”

Of course during Aurora’s day–with Light Fixtures set in 1963–there was no brave teen standing up to talk about the bipolar disorder. Known then only as manic depression, it was not considered to be a condition found in young people. Even if it were, there was no Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to share the word. (Speaking of YouTube, check out Lovato’s interview with 20/20’s Robin Roberts.)

In the novel, when Aurora’s flying high, she sleeps little, is busy, busy, busy and thinks she’s in full control. Interesting to note in Lovato’s interview, she said she was working hard hard nonstop and was just as demanding of others when she was in full-blown mania. She even struck one of her backup singers. Aurora does not strike anyone during the bipolar mania, but she often finds herself feeling she was a step ahead of those around her and wishing they could be more “aware”. So, although they are nearly 50 years apart in their eras, but both Lovato and Aurora still share the mental disorder challenges that started out in their early teens.

Did any of you see the Lovato documentary? If so, drop your review in the Comments Section on the Light Fixtures homepage. Thanks!

With today being Leap Day in this Leap Year of 2012, thought I’d blog this week on the idea of such a time. Though Julius Caesar established the 365-day calendar about 2,000 years ago, it was the Eygptians who added a Leap Day every 4 years and the Romans who choose February 29th–all this was needed because planet Earth doesn’t orbit the sun in an even 365 days. In reality, it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds to do this. So you can see how a Leap Day is a necessary adjustment.

Of course, why is this important to Aurora in the novel “Light Fixtures”? Because, as Leap Day is an odd slice of life, so are Aurora’s moods in the story. And as she’s in the early stages of teen bipolar disorder, she doesn’t notice anything odd–other than at times her two friends in the night woods, one a guide who seems so intense about her knowledge of who she is, and the other who’s equally intense about showing her the way to the guide’s cabin–about her mania, nor later her depression. She doesn’t identify these up-and-down thoughts, feelings, and actions as teen bipolar.

And, with 1963 not being a Leap year (1964 would be), Aurora’s not thinking about the odd day, anyway. If she were, she might remember that sometimes odd days or odd events might just be a time to consider one’s own idiosyncratic ways, ways that might indeed differ from the norm.

Nevertheless, hope you enjoy your extra February Day.

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