Service Dog Etiquette by Catherine Cottam — ILLUMINATED BY U

As those of you who know me in real life, follow @RivertheWonderdale on Instagram, or keep up with my blog Accio Adventure know, I am the very proud “mother” of a three year old Airedale Terrier named River. I got River as a puppy after two therapists and a psychiatrist suggested I get a dog […]


Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory

by Christine Miserandino

“My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.

As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to have Lupus and be sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?

I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.

As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.

At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.

I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?

I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.

I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.

I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.

We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.

When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.

I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?” I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared.”

Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”.

After we were emotional and talked about this for a little while longer, I sensed she was sad. Maybe she finally understood. Maybe she realized that she never could truly and honestly say she understands. But at least now she might not complain so much when I can’t go out for dinner some nights, or when I never seem to make it to her house and she always has to drive to mine. I gave her a hug when we walked out of the diner. I had the one spoon in my hand and I said “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”

Ever since this night, I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people. In fact, my family and friends refer to spoons all the time. It has been a code word for what I can and cannot do. Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too. I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. It has become an inside joke. I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my “spoons”.”

© Christine Miserandino

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton


I first came across Glennon Doyle Melton when searching through TED Talks to watch about mental illness.  When I’m depressed or apathetic or frustrated or otherwise down, I find that watching TED Talks can really be helpful.  The TED Talk where I first learned about Glennon Doyle Melton can be found here.  She was inspiring and funny and fierce.  I kept seeing Glennon’s new book, Love Warrior, mentioned at different places on the internet.  I knew I needed to buy a copy when I signed up for a story telling course through Brené Brown’s Courage Works program and saw that not only was it recommended reading, but Glennon Doyle Melton would be the cohost of the course.  I was hesitant about the book at first because I had gathered that it was about Melton’s marriage falling apart, which is something that I can’t relate to at all.  I was so wrong about what the book is about.  It is about something bad happening in her marriage, but it’s also about strength, courage, beauty, truth, struggle, and love.  It’s about taking things one step at a time and just doing the next right thing.  It’s about the easy buttons we use to numb our feelings when they get too big or real or scary.

Love Warrior isn’t just a story about a marriage, it’s a story about a woman becoming who she’s truly meant to be and learning to be still with discomfort.  It’s about a reconciliation between mind, body, spirit, and the rules society has tried to impose on all three.  I found myself identifying strongly with things Glennon had to say, even though my experiences have been very different from hers.  It’s like she said, “pain the paradox of pain is that it is only universal in retrospect.  In the present, it is fiercely personal.”  She clearly articulates the rules of what it means to be a young girl, teenager, and woman in todays society so well that it’s heart breaking.  “Every girl must decide whether to be true to herself or true to the world.  Every girl must decide whether to settle for adoration or fight for love.”  She also says, “How can I be expansive and free and still be loved?  Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human?  Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?”  She touches on the rules for men, as well, which gave me a new perspective even though I think of myself as fairly modern and forward thinking individual.

Love Warrior is full of great nuggets  of wisdom such as the following:

  • “Having something to say and no one to hear it is so lonely.”
  • “Grief is nothing but a painful waiting, a horrible patience.  Grief cannot be torn down or scaled or overcome or outsmarted.  It can only be outlasted.  Survival is surrender to the brick wall.”
  • “Our story is the only thing we have that is completely our own.  A person who steals it and uses it to entertain is the worst kind of thief.”
  • “I learn that making decisions is never about doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  It’s about doing the precise thing.  The precise thing is always incredibly personal and often makes no sense to anyone else.  God speaks to folks directly and one at a time, so I just listen and follow directions.  And when I need to work anything out, I turn to the blank page.  There, no one can steal my pain or try to poison my knowing, and there I always have the final word in my own story.”
  • “I’m trying to strip myself down to my barest essentials so I can figure out where I begin and where the woman the world told me to be begins.”

Reading Love Warrior is like having a conversation with an old friend or revisiting a favorite author’s work.  It reads a lot like Brené Brown, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a work of nonfiction.  I would absolutely recommend this story of love and redemption to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and what it means to be true to yourself.


If Only I Had An Enemy Bigger Than My Apathy

Originally posted on

As some of you know, I see a therapist each week. Last Thursday, she challenged me to write about the hopelessness and apathy I’ve been feeling. I’ve struggled with writing over the past couple of months as the words seem to crawl into my brain slowly, I forget them quickly, and my hand doesn’t want to put them to paper. Those symptoms, the hopelessness, and the apathy are all pretty classic indicators of depression. I’m 27, this is not where I thought I would be in my life, and it feels so unfair sometimes. I feel hopeless about several things, but the big ones are wellness, future success, financial independence, and competence.

If I’m this ill when on medications (I have taken my meds as prescribed since I was diagnosed in 2013 and still had to be hospitalized at the end of May), I can’t even imagine how bad off I would be without meds. I don’t see a light at the end of this endless tunnel and that’s frustrating. I don’t feel like doing anything besides binge watching tv shows alone in my room and I’m not getting enjoyment from things I would usually enjoy. Anhedonia is the word used to describe the inability to feel pleasure, and I’ve definitely got some degree of that going on.

Because I’m not enjoying things and I can’t write much or well right now, progress on my memoir is going much much slower than I thought it would. It makes me feel like I’ll never finish the book, let alone find an agent or publisher that are willing to work with me and put my book out into the world. At my core, I just want to make a difference and help other people. I think the book would be a good way to do that as it would help normalize thoughts, feelings, and behavior for people with Bipolar Disorder, help friends and family members of people with Bipolar Disorder understand the illness a bit better, and offer education for others who read it. I am also currently feeling like it will never get finished or see the light of day, which is frustrating and makes me feel sad and incompetent.

I’m the type of person who always had a plan for what was happening next in my life, and now I have no idea what that will be. I have a huge fear of the unknown, which is why I used to plan things so meticulously. I picked out all of my classes for high school freshmen year. I declared my college major at orientation. I knew I was going to grad school a long time before I finished college. I applied for the Peace Corps a year before I finished graduate school. Now, life is primarily a large question mark and that is terrifying for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be 27 living at home with bipolar disorder. I never anticipated that one day I would have legitimate need of a service dog and a daily regimen of medication that includes taking multiple medications three times a day. This just isn’t where I thought I would be.

In terms of financial independence, I can barely afford everything now living at home and having a car that my parents graciously gave me when I was 17, let alone trying to rent an apartment or house and having a car payment. It just doesn’t seem like there will ever be a time when I can live on my own and pay for everything I need to pay for. I can save up some money each year, but it isn’t enough to live on and I usually use it for travel because travel feeds my soul in a way nothing else does. Some people probably think that’s irresponsible and stupid and a mistake, but traveling makes me really come alive. Last year, I had alternated between a mixed state and a depressive episode for months when I left for London. I got to London and the next day started my longest period of stability to date since my diagnosis. 8 months of stability that are at least partially attributable to spending 2.5 weeks in the UK with one of my very best friends.

I used to feel super competent. I could set goals and accomplish them. I loved making lists and checking things off. Now, it’s hard to get one or two things done a day, so forget about a whole list. I just don’t have enough spoons to do everything I was able to do before the Bipolar Disorder. Aside from the exhaustion, anhedonia, apathy, and hopelessness, I have a definite pattern of negative thinking going on that’s keeping me down. It goes something like “I am not _______ enough. I am too ________. I am incompetent. I am stupid. I am fat. I will never be ________ again.” This isn’t how I want to live my life, but I’m having trouble figuring out how I can live boldly, courageously, and authentically while using as little extra energy as possible. I can’t currently work. I’m not good at social interactions with people I don’t know well. My memoir and my children’s book about River the Wonderdale the service dog are promising, but I’m having so much trouble working on them currently that it’s very disheartening.

I know logically that it will be better in the future. Historically, that has been true. But my brain and heart aren’t connecting on that at this particular moment and it’s really hard to live my life feeling this way. I feel so unfulfilled and incompetent and down and apathetic.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling and written by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Nine years ago, I anxiously waited in line at my local Barnes and Noble to see how the epic Harry Potter series would draw to a close. I opened the book immediately and read at every stoplight and stop sign on the way home (Sorry Mom and Dad! At least I wasn’t reading WHILE driving). I don’t remember if I slept before I finished it or not. If I did, I stayed up late into the early morning reading it that first night. The midnight release of Cursed Child brought me no less anxiety but also almost just as much joy as receiving the final tome of the Rowling 7. The other difference nine years has made is that I now have Bipolar Disorder and a sleep schedule is incredibly important, so it was an internal battle whether to even open Cursed Child on the first night. Though not written by J.K. Rowling, it is, after all, based on an original new story by her. The idea of more J.K. Rowling sanctioned Harry Potter canon was ultimately too tempting, and I got comfy to read “just a chapter or two.” Alas, the book is a script instead of an actual novel and is split into two parts that each contain two acts, so reading “just a chapter or two” was never really in the cards, but I was optimistic at the time.The script starts exactly where the last novel left off, immediately throwing the reader back into the world of magic and witches and wizards. Albus Potter is sorted into Slytherin and time initially passes very quickly, with about three years passing in only six scenes. The first piece of information that was noteworthy was that Hermione Granger-Weasley (of course she hyphenated) has become the Minister of Magic. That information had come out in the media a few weeks ago, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it was still interesting. The second was that wizarding nursing homes exist. I don’t know why I found that so fascinating, but I love learning about the wizarding equivalents for mundane Muggle things. It seems to me that Albus has some type of mental illness, maybe depression, which is going untreated. He is miserable at school, disliked by and disliking most of his peers. The biggest surprise in the early part of the script, however, is that the Trolley Witch is an utter and complete bad ass! However, her scene was very clearly not one where J.K. Rowling had a lot of input. By the end of the first act, I had my suspicions about what it meant that Albus Severus was the “Cursed Child,” but nothing had been even close to confirmed yet. At this point, I had been reading for about an hour and a half and was a quarter of the way through the script, so it’s a fairly quick read.

In Act Two, Harry says and does things that are decidedly unlike the Harry I’ve come to know and love. This could be because 22 years have passed but is more likely because someone other than J.K. Rowling is writing him. At this point, I’m grateful for the new story but a little frustrated by all the tiny differences that seem to shout “J.K. Rowling didn’t write this!” at me. Harry continues to act very unlike himself and I found reading the sections with him in them unsatisfying and a little confusing. I understand that the whole point is that Albus’ actions have had undesired consequences, but watching the Golden Trio all act so out of character is a difficult thing to read. I’m also left desiring to read more Ginny Potter. I always wanted to see her character fleshed out more in the book series but that doesn’t seem to be a wish that will be fulfilled in the script. There was a bit thrown in at the end of Act Two, Scene Sixteen that I found very confusing. Scorpius says something to Albus about how he isn’t allowed to leave the school building. Given the circumstances of what they are about to do, whatever prevents him from leaving the school building shouldn’t be able to work. A fun little cameo was made by Moaning Myrtle, whose full name we finally learned. That was a question I never knew I needed the answer to, but I like knowing more about her as a live human. Exhaustion got the better of me and I only made it through half of the book in the first sitting, but even that only lasted until 2:45AM after starting to read around 12:45 due to the format of the book.

 The concept of alternative realities really explores what it could have been like if Voldemort had won the Battle of Hogwarts. One of the most interesting things to read was about what became of Mudbloods if that was the case. It really drove home the parallels between Voldemort/Hitler and Death Eaters/Nazis. The end of Act 3, Scene 11 seemed like it would be an appropriate place for the script to end, but it kept on going and I was not disappointed. My favorite quote  really hit home and reminded me of my struggle with Bipolar Disorder in a big way. In a sea of words written by others, these words rang the most true to Rowling’s previous writings and were completely appropriate for the character who said them:

In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.

If I’m being honest, the climax was a bit rushed and didn’t have me on the edge of my seat or anything, but I’ve come to expect a lot from any book with “Harry Potter” in the title and may be judging the script a little too harshly. Overall, I greatly enjoyed delving back into Harry’s world and feel like the authors did the characters justice. I would definitely recommend that any Harry Potter fan find a copy of this and read it!


Body Hatred

I hate my body today. I hated my body last night. The medicine makes me so hungry and I have gained like 20lbs since I went into the hospital.  Maybe even more. The hospital scale said 236.6 this morning. That’s the highest it’s ever been and it’s making me feel depressed.  I don’t know how I was dealing with it before last night, but I didn’t even really care about it until I saw a picture of myself then. I think that’s a pretty good sign that I’m bouncing back into a mixed state.  I was definitely irritable yesterday. 

What if no one ever loves me? 

I just saw the doctor and he said we need to wait until I’m stable before we even really worry about my weight. I’m obsessed with it today. I just feel terrible about myself. I want to love myself again. That only ever happened briefly, but I already miss the feeling. What would I say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing?

Dear Catherine,

You is kind. You is smart. You is important. But seriously, you are beautiful no matter how much you weigh! It’s time to practice some radical self acceptance and realize that you’re a totally bitchin’ kick ass lady! You were fine with how you looked two days ago, but then saw that photo and the self-loathing began. You are so much more than your outward appearance. You know that. You are a worthwhile human being deserving of love and belonging.  You are funny, smart, generous, and helpful. Your body has made it through 27 very hard years. It has loved you and lived for you. It’s time to love your vessel back. Castiel would be ashamed.


Coming Clean

Originally posted on

This is a post that has been brewing for over two years. If you know me in real life, you likely already know this; but, I lied to you, readers. Or at least, I didn’t tell the whole truth. I wasn’t sure how or when or how to know when it was the right time, but I think I’ve reached the point I was waiting for.


Over two years ago, I described to you how depressed I became while serving in the Peace Corps. I named it as the reason for my medical separation from PC (the reason they brought me home). While that was partially true, I left a lot – and perhaps the more important parts- out. I was embarrassed and ashamed and was stigmatizing my own very new and misunderstood illness.

While I did get very depressed while serving and PC did take me into Pretoria to get treatment and the psychiatrist I saw there did change my antidepressant, I left out what happened when he changed the antidepressant. I left out how I became irritable and irrationally angry. I left out how I would become furious when people invited me to do things because they were interrupting my reading. I left out how ungrateful I was to the few people who were reaching out to try to help me. Most of all, I left out the night I didn’t sleep, electing instead to stay up listening to music, singing along, and dancing in the room of my bed and breakfast, only stopping for an hour to nap before leaving for PC headquarters to tell the doctor what I knew by then to be true- I was manic, which means my diagnosis had changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Bipolar Disorder. The not sleeping was the biggest clue, but the dancing was a pretty big one as well because I don’t usually dance. My mind was racing a million miles an hour and I just couldn’t stay still, even after taking some anti anxiety medication to try to get myself to calm down. My appointment got moved to later in the day for some reason or another, so I spent the day in the company of a few other PCVs, hardly able to close my mouth for a second to let anyone else speak.

Things happened pretty quickly after I saw the PC Doctor. A team of people at PC headquarters in Washington D.C., the PC Doctor, and I made the decision that I would go home to stay with my parents and get treatment. I actually vaguely remember them speaking with my parents to make sure that was okay. The only other option I was given was to go to DC and be hospitalized at an inpatient psychiatric ward. Thanks to my M.A.Ed. in School Counseling, I knew that they couldn’t commit me without my consent because I wasn’t a danger to myself or anyone else. I elected to go home where my parents would become responsible for me. A PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) from another country happened to be in South Africa, and it was decided that she would “accompany” (babysit) me all the way home until I was with my parents.  In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that I had her by my side.

I saw my someone at my primary care physician’s office shortly after arriving home (maybe the next day?) and got into an intensive outpatient treatment program through our local hospital the next week. That consisted of three hours a day three days a week for three months of group therapy with an hour of individual therapy each week and an appointment with a psychiatrist each week. That was in the fall and winter of 2013-2014.

Though I have had short periods of stability since, my longest period of stability so far was for about eight months from September 5, 2015 to some time in April.  At that time, I started hallucinating the feeling that there were bugs crawling all over me and the sound that a man was repeatedly calling “no” to me from the yard as I was grilling my chicken.  Things progressed from there with me not sleeping, speaking too quickly and too much, and having racing thoughts and far too much energy, culminating in a week long stay at one of our local psychiatric wards thanks to my psychiatric nurse practitioner not taking me seriously when I called and said I was in crisis and refusing to return my phone calls and adjust my medications.  I haven’t said anything about it publicly yet because I just didn’t know how, but this seems as appropriate a format as any.

I am in the process of writing a book about my experiences starting all the way back when I was first diagnosed and going through the current Intensive Outpatient Program I am in in beyond.  I currently do group therapy three days a week for three hours a day, individual therapy for one hour a week, and see a psychiatrist every week.  When I become more well, I will no longer have to do the IOP and will just have therapy one day a week and see the psychiatrist once a month or less.  I can tell that the mania is finally waning but that means that I now feel apathetic and occasionally hopeless, which means the depression is probably about to rear its ugly head, at least for a while.

I’m sorry that I lied and I’m sorry that it took me so long to have the courage to be honest.  My current diagnoses are Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Disorder I with mixed features and anxious distress.  If you’re reading this, you know someone with Bipolar Disorder.  Sometimes that person needs extra help, and that’s okay.  Bipolar Disorder results in a 9.2 year reduction in life expectancy and as many as one in five people with Bipolar Disorder complete suicide.  One in five.  That number is way too high and I’m convinced that part of the reason for it is the stigma associated with Bipolar Disorder and people not getting the help they need.  So here I am, trying to be vulnerable by having the courage to show up and be seen, as Brené Brown would say.

In other news, after my hospital stay I decided it would be really great if River could be trained as a psychiatric service animal, so we are currently working on training so that she can accompany me almost anywhere and perform certain tasks for me to help ground me when I’m manic or anxious and help provide a buffer between myself and strangers so that I don’t feel crowded and become panicky.  If you see her with me and she is wearing her vest, please completely ignore her.  We will be going out into public for the first time as a team on Wednesday.  Wish us luck! (Service dog training is very expensive! If you’d like to contribute to River’s service dog training, you could click here to donate by sending money through PayPal to Riverthewonderdale@gmail.comThank you so much!)

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro


A Study in Charlotte is a novel about the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson.  Charlotte and Jamie are teenagers attending an exclusive prep school in Connecticut where they meet and are soon after accused of murder.  Hijinks ensue as they try to prove their innocence and solve the case together with several throwbacks to classic Holmes and Watson cases.  In this world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was John Watson’s literary agent and the events of the Sherlock Holmes books are biographical rather than fiction.

By page five, I was hooked.  Brittany Cavallaro’s writing style and prose are beautiful and sophisticated and every time I thought I had it all figured out, I was very wrong.  This story was familiar but new and exciting at the same time.  It felt like reading the most amazing fan fiction I’ve ever encountered on crack- and I mean that in the very best way and say it with the highest regard for fanfiction- in the sense that it was invigorating to read a very old story in a very new and intoxicating way.

Not once did I suspect the person who was actually responsible for the murder and attack and the story was layered like a perfect pie crust that Paul Hollywood (of The Great British Bake Off fame) would be very impressed by, indeed.  The characters had depth and were very easy to love, despite their flaws.  I loved seeing Holmes and Watson work together at school age and I absolutely adored the genderbent portrayal of Holmes as a young woman. Does it really count as being genderbent if it’s a characters great great great grandchild and not the character himself?  I think it does.  I was also a big fan of characters reminiscent of Mycroft Holmes and Mrs. Hudson making an appearance.

If you love the classic Sherlock Holmes stories or the Sherlock TV show, this is a book for you!  The tagline is absolutely right – you’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before!  Amazon says that it’s for grades 9 and up but due to some infrequent language, references to sexual violence, and drug use, I honestly feel like this is a book for very mature teens and young adults – people age 100+.

The second book in the trilogy, The Last of August, will be released February 14, 2017!  You can buy A Study in Charlotte from Amazon for $10.44 new.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

queen of the tearling

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.”  -Erika Johansen

I recently began participating in the Flourish & Blotts Book Club that I discovered post LeakyCon 2014 and the first book we decided to read was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.  On the day that we were supposed to begin reading and read the first two chapters, I sat down and didn’t really get up again until I had finished reading the book.  That night, I accidentally read the entire book instead of just the first two chapters.  That’s right, for some people in this world, accidentally reading a whole book it is a legitimate problem.  I am unashamed to say I am one of those people.  I am now going to attempt to write my first book review since undergrad, so please bear with me.   VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Queen of The Tearling (QOTT), the first novel in a trilogy written by Erika Johansen, was published by Harper Collins in New York, NY on July 8, 2014. Set in a future feudal society after “The Crossing,” a mysterious event where most modern technology, modern medicine, and books were lost, QOTT’s world-building and character development are on par with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Anyone who knows me knows what a huge compliment it is for me to compare any part of any series to “the seven volumes of Rowling,” as the series is referred to in The Queen of the Tearling.

The Queen of the Tearling is basically an incredibly dark fairy tale with real world social problems like hunger, slavery, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Johansen manages to cover these topics with a seriousness, empathy, and sincerity that I have found other recent authors lacking.  The book is equal parts political thriller, mystery, and fantasy and makes for a compelling read.

The novel starts on Princess Kelsea Glynn’s nineteenth birthday as she is whisked away from the foster parents who raised her in exile.  The Queen’s Guard, an organization largely made up of men who served Kelsea’s mother, Elyssa, when she was the Queen of the Tearling and entirely made up of men who refuse to tell Kelsea anything about Elyssa or her reign, despite the fact that the former Queen has been dead for many years, is comprised of nine men of various ages. Their tight-lipped attitude is strange, though not entirely unexpected since Carlin and Barty, Kelsea’s foster parents, managed to gloss over the parts of history related to Elyssa in the process of providing Kelsea with the education she needs to be a good queen. Kelsea inherits a love of books and reading from her foster parents that will become an important theme throughout the story.

A good chunk of The Queen of the Tearling takes place during Kelsea and the Queen’s Guard’s journey to New London, the capital city where Kelsea was born and where she will take up her throne.  During their travels the group encounters assassins sent by Kelsea’s uncle who has been acting as Regent, dangerous trained crows who succeed in maiming Kelsea, and a group of assassin’s led by the mysterious man known only as “the Fetch.”

After arriving in New London, Kelsea’s first act is to abolish the slave trade and destroy the cages that were used to take the slaves to Kelsea’s enemy to the east, the Red Queen. Kelsey’s coronation ceremony is filled with drama and intrigue that leave her isolated in her castle for a short time afterwards.

During her time spent at the castle, Kelsea gets to know the members of the Queen’s Guard better and even strikes up a sort of friendship with a slave she freed (from her uncle) who is a seer and Kelsea’s servant. An attempt is made on Kelsea’s life and she very cleverly finds a way to tell her servant without giving away that she is calling for help. After this attempt, it becomes apparent that the attempted assassins have help from inside the castle and Pen, a member of the Queen’s Guard, is assigned to be Kelsea’s personal body guard.

One of the Queen’s Guard, who Kelsea becomes particularly close to, returns to the cottage where she was raised and surprises her by bringing Carlin’s library back to the castle.  Kelsea is thrilled by having all of the books and opens a library for castle employees, as printing presses are one of the pieces of technology that were lost in The Crossing and books can no longer be mass produced.

The ending of the Queen of the Tearling and the title of its sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling (Release Date: June 9, 2015), lead me to believe that we will be seeing a lot more of the Red Queen as the series goes on.

One of my favorite aspects of The Queen of the Tearling is the focus on the strength of women and the fact that the crown is passed from mother to daughter in the Tearling.  While Kelsea certainly has help from both men and women along the way, it is her own strength that ultimately saves the day.

The Queen of the Tearling is a gripping novel that I stayed up well into the night to finish reading. I highly recommend that anyone who likes fantasy, sci-fi, or young adult fiction makes the time investment to read it. Another thing that I find tremendously empowering is that the protagonist is described as being plain.  It is typical for a princess/queen in a fantasy series to be breathtakingly beautiful and the fact that Kelsea doesn’t play into that particular trope and unrealistic expectations forced on women is refreshing.

Buy your copy here!