Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression" by Laurie Jueneman

Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression
with the Help of Strong Cleats
by Laurie Jueneman

Laurie Jueneman is one of 14.8 million adults in the United States suffering from depression, but that doesn’t mean her voice is lost in the crowd. Nearly every weapon in modern psychiatry’s arsenal has been utilized forming some of the "cleats" necessary for her to climb what she describes as the Mount Everest of depression. Having written her memoir, Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats, Laurie is using the power of writing to share her journey and her message of hope.
Laurie stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from her book. You can also enter read my review and enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats.

Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats, published by Friesen Press is both an inspirational memoir and self-help book. Laurie started her struggle when she was thirty-five years old, and the most difficult times lasted about twenty years. She wrote, "As time went on, I found out that depression was a callous illness that had no understanding that I had other plans for my life."
During the course of her treatment she experienced many hospitalizations, medication trials, over four hundred electroconvulsive treatments and two neurological surgeries. She shares with her readers her struggle and personal thoughts on a variety of subjects with hopes of decreasing the stigma of mental illness.
She ends her book by saying, "If I could have one wish today, it would be that all people could have access to the mental health care they need, when they need it. I am very lucky to have received the help I did. It seemed that many people never stopped believing I could get healthy again. I hope that I can be one of those people for someone else."

It is difficult to know how to conclude my story. In I live in Minnesota where we experience nature in four seasons. As in other places the seasons can be very distinct. The temperatures range from 20° below zero to over 100. The seasons are necessary in order for re-creation to occur. After a long winter I frequently have to remind myself that spring will come again because I am a fan of warm weather. But I also have friends who like the cold season much better. I am sure that the person who can actually enjoy all four seasons is better off. I compare this to a rainbow. Rainbows have many colors that make it beautiful. I think my life can be compared to a rainbow also. I would call my dark colors sadness, anger, fear, insecurity, guilt and shame. I think that my light colors would include faith, self-worth, strength, courage, happiness and serenity. Others may change their colors around but it takes all the colors to make a beautiful rainbow.
Happiness is not just the feeling that all is good in my life. Every day there is something to be happy about. It may be that I got ”cleaned up, dressed and ate breakfast before exhaustion told me I needed to take a nap. It may be that I saw a bluebird at my bird feeder or that my spring flowers are blooming. A friend or family members call may have brightened my day. It may be because today I learned to be a friend to myself and gave myself a complement such as you look nice today or you did a good job.
Starting to write this book was painful at times and rewarding at others. The pain was caused by looking at over 20 years of mental illness. I had to realize that I had tried many different medications and combinations of these, had many hospitalizations, had thoughts of suicide almost constantly for years and made several attempts at ending my own life. I had close to 500 ECT and two brain surgeries and still struggle at times. Reviewing each hospitalization felt like another black eye.  I had to acknowledge that sometimes I was a cooperative patient and at other times I wasn’t. I often denied an increase in my symptoms. I would refuse extra ECT when it was recommended. I didn’t always eat healthy etc. I thought I knew what was best for me. There were times when I was writing that I became quite anxious. I let the feelings of shame and inadequacy overwhelm me. At first I had a few nightmares. One night I dreamt that I was endlessly lost in the subways of Mayo Clinic. Now it is true that someone who is not familiar with the subways of the Mayo Clinic could get overwhelmed, but I have been around them for 30 years. When I first started writing I did take some extra Ativan in order to relax. Normally I can go months without taking it. The rewards came when I saw how far I have come. I am alive. I do contribute to my community. I am a good volunteer and consider myself a good friend. I am still close to my friends and family who stood beside me. I own my home and I maintain my finances independently. I am getting positive encouragement for the effort I am putting into this writing. I have come to realize that pain whether physical or emotional is important. It lets me know that I have a need that has to be taken care of. I must try to take care of my brain and my body. After what I have been through, they are miracles in the true sense of the word. When I think this way I will take better care of them. I will eat better, exercise appropriately and treat them to a rest once in a while. I will ask for advice if any of the organs including my brain need assistance. I still have my faith in God. I’m experiencing serenity. I have come to realize that maturity and growth is a never ending road. I often find myself asking what happened after 2008 that I have not had to be hospitalized again. I really don’t think that any one thing changed. I believe that I gained more acceptance of my illness. Acceptance is never easy. Accepting my mental illness didn’t mean it was good or bad. I did some things throughout my worst times that were harmful to me and embarrassing. I needed to forgive myself, accept this and really start seeing the good parts of me too. Often in the past I struggled to be something I wasn’t. I was able to decrease the constant thinking about what others thought about me. I cannot always expect people to see the good in me, the efforts I have taken to get well and stay well, along with the risks. I don’t need to be overly concerned about this. Thinking this way has allowed me some emotional freedom. I had to realize it was not too late to try again and to begin again. Acceptance in itself allows us to take action. Action is the essential ingredient in progress. Besides acceptance I think that forgiveness was essential. I have been trying to forgive those who have hurt me in the past or haven’t been able to walk the walk with me. It is only through this that I have been able to live a life more calm than it has been in the past. It is possible that the medication changes made in 2008 contributed to my sense of well-being. I will never know exactly but with this serenity I have been able to cope with the problems that arose in my life a little differently. I know this to be true at least twice in 2011 alone. I experienced two major deaths of family members that I both loved and respected a lot. These were my aunt Betty and my mom. I also experience the death of my birth mother whom I had gotten to know over the years. There are still difficult days or weeks. However these bad days are so much better than the days I called good when I was in the midst of a severe depression. I realized that my true happiness doesn’t have to come from employment, my career or having extra things. I can be grateful for where I am now. I don’t have to analyze my feelings or run from them. I need to accept them for what they are, just feelings and react appropriately. This may mean taking a deep breath or going for a swim. I could take a half-hour nap or go out and shovel snow. I can volunteer, call a friend, pray or journal. I think I have come to realize that my past isn’t as important as my future. Senator Paul Wellstone once said, ”The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines.  The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. I have come a long way! What is in my future? I cannot predict. But today is a good day. I am realistic that I must not become too complacent with how well I feel now. I have a chronic form of depression. I know that if I do not take care of myself and ask for help at times, I could get in trouble. I am ready to do that. Now I have finished writing my story. Nothing increases self esteem like having a goal and meeting it!

Praise for the Book
"An incredible insight into the life of a woman in the medical field who lives with clinical depression. At times hard to read but harder to look away. It was written I believe as a cathartic endeavor for the author, a missile of hope for those who live daily with the pain of depression and for family and friends who want to be support and be the 'cleats' for those they love who may not be able to articulate yet what they are experiencing. Ms. Jueneman's accounting of her years is a gift to those who are struggling." ~ Kansas Girl

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
In 1985, aged 35, Laurie Jueneman was diagnosed with depression. At the age of 51, she decided to share her story about dealing with mental illness. The result is Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats, in which she uses the metaphor of climbing Mount Everest to describes her experiences with depression, with the strong cleats being her friends, family, and support system.
Laurie details how she has suffered from suicidal tendencies, coupled with unexplained abdominal pain, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, self-harm, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sadly, because there was no recognized reason for her depression, friends and relatives, although supportive, didn't really understand what she was going through.
Because of her illness, Laurie undergoes extensive hospitalization, treatment with several different medications, electro-convulsive therapy, cognitive therapy, light therapy (for SAD), and even brain surgery. As time goes on, her treatment focus changes from seeking a full recovery to establishing a treatment plan for chronic illness. Her account is pieced together from her medical records, journal entries, and letters written at the time. Because of her nursing training the author is able to give a comprehensive description of her diagnoses and treatments. She finishes by sharing her thoughts on a variety of topics, such as her sexual abuse history, suicide, fear of relapse, spirituality, and the importance of her friends.
My only issue: the author mentions a few helpful books throughout the text and a list of resources at the end would have been handy. Thank you for sharing your story, Laurie. I hope it helps others out there who know someone suffering from depression and also those who may be suffering unknowingly. This book is a portrait of true courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

Interview With the Author
Hi Laurie, thanks for joining me today to discuss your book Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats.
For what age do you recommend your book?
I believe my book could be read by the college age person on up. High school aged children could probably read it under the guidance of an adult.
What sparked the idea for the book?
The initial "kick in the butt" occurred sometime around 2002-2003 during a morning coffee outing with two friends. We had been getting together to chat for several months. We had all experienced the illness of depression in different ways and had met through various activities at the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) office. The chat that day went toward creativity and how using it could help with diversion and relaxation. Both Mary and Barb liked to paint pictures using different techniques. I was stumped because I didn’t feel like I had any creative skills. Eventually I opened up a bit by saying I didn’t like to paint or draw but I did like to write. I admitted that I had actually enjoyed writing my graduate research paper. I thought they would surely think I was crazy. Mary and Barb encouraged me to write my story. I continued to think about it but because of my illness, this turned out to be a long process.
What was the hardest part in writing this book?
The most difficult thing I had to do was go back through my journals and medical history. It was kind of like reliving the whole experience a second time. Sometimes it was difficult for me to believe that I had been that ill.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope this books provides hope for the reader whether it be the mentally ill person himself or the person’s family or friends reading it. I want the reader to feel less alone, more confident and better able to make it through each day.
How long did it take to write this book?
That is a hard question to answer. It sounds like it took me about 10 years if you go back to the very first time I thought of it. Because my depression was relapsing frequently over that time, I had to reach a stage of health in which I could actually sit down and do it! Then it took me about one year.
What was your writing routine?
When I was actively writing, I would either be doing research or actual writing and re-writing about six hours per day. I am not a computer whiz, so I probably spent more time actually getting it in print than the average person. There were times during the year that I had to take an emotional break because of the topics I was writing about.
How did you get your book published?
This was probably one of the things I feared most when deciding to publish my book. I really didn’t have much knowledge, so I depended on what advice I could get off the internet. I also read books on the topic of self-publishing. I knew that I was writing a "NY published book". I didn’t have a manager or any other professional working with me. I did have contact and met with a small publishing firm in Minnesota. They didn’t think that they had the market to sell the book. From there I did more research on self-publishing and chose one self-publishing firm from a few that I contacted.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Take some classes on publishing and marketing. If you are going to self-publish, see if you can find someone to be your mentor. Align yourself with someone who does have marketing skills if you really want to sell a lot of books.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Since writing is not normally on my daily schedule, especially since my book is finished, I keep busy with a multitude of things. My friends are essential in my life and I find many ways to keep busy. I am quite active in my church community. I belong to a book club. Another activity that is essential in my life is volunteering. I volunteer at several different places in the community.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family saw me through some very difficult times. They are very proud of this accomplishment. They have made that known to me.
Fantastic! Please tell us about your childhood.
I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, My twin brother and I were adopted when we were two years old. Our birth family had fallen apart when our mother left the family. Our birth father was able to only care for our two older siblings. Our life was good with our adopted family. We grew up in SW Minnesota. We did a lot of camping, swimming, and had many family gatherings with cousins. My father was primarily a teacher and my mother was a secretary. My father passed away when my brother and I were fourteen and my mother took over as head of our family.
When did you first realize that you wanted to write your story?
I don’t know if I ever really sat down and decided to become a writer. It was because of my diagnosis and my feeling that I had something to share with others which might help them that I did sit down and start writing. Once I started, I found I enjoyed it. I had read other authors who shared their story about experiencing a mental illness. These books all gave me the inspiration to do it too. I found them very helpful. I do not believe that childhood experience influenced my writing in general, but life experiences did. I wanted some good to come from them.
What kind of things do your readers say?
Truthfully I have heard very positive things from my readers. They are glad to know that I have made it to a point in my recovery that I could share my story. Several of the people who knew me during this difficult time said they really had no idea what I was going through. Some people have told me that the book made them sad. I answer that I am sorry for that, but it was healing for me to do it, and I hope they can find the good in it. A couple comments from complete strangers were really helpful to me: One being, "Wow, I can’t wait to read your book. I am 49 years old, a business owner and former attorney with a wonderful wife and three sons. I too struggle with a treatment resistant depression." He went on to share some of his history. A second stranger commented, "Laurie, I am halfway through the book. I don’t know whether to say that 'there are no words' or 'I would have to write a long paper' to tell you how much I am getting from the book." Since I am really just beginning to try some new avenues such as reviews to get the word out about my book, I hope to hear from people across the world. Depression is everywhere.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
That is a big question. I truthfully don’t think that there will be a sequel. I do have a blog. I plan to get better at writing more frequently on it. So that is where you will probably hear from me. I plan to look into other opportunities to share my story and book. My main goal is to stay healthy and enjoy the rest of my life here on earth.
Thanks so much for stopping by today to share your story, Laurie.
Thank you for sharing my story on your blog.

About the Author
Laurie Jueneman is a registered nurse who finished her training with a masters degree in nursing education from the University of Minnesota. She worked in a variety of settings until her career was sidelined by depression. She continued to be active in her community by volunteering in many arenas including Mayo Clinic Auxiliary-Methodist Campus and the National Alliance on Mental illness.
It is not her nursing degree that qualified her to write her memoir/self-help book about depression, but her thirty year history of living with the illness. Laurie hopes to help those who struggle with depression or have loved ones suffering from the disease. She wants to share her story and help educate people about mental illness and the effects it has on one's life.

Enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats by Laurie Jueneman.