Update (September 2019)

After a month’s of writer’s block, I am finally writing again.

That said, my current priority is not this blog.  I am working on expanding my MA thesis into a full-length manuscript.

I am not ignoring this blog, but I wanted to update everyone on my plans.  While my focus will be the thesis, blog posts will continue, if not at the same pace as before.



Thinking about Meditation

For the past 177 days, I have been meditating daily.  I wanted a way to “switch off” before bed in order to fall asleep faster.  After a few false starts, I have kept the habit going for almost six months.  Before developing this habit, I had never really meditated.  While many starts with YouTube videos of guided meditation, I didn’t go that route because I was worried I’d get distracted by other, more exciting videos.  Instead, I downloaded an app called Headspace onto my iPhone (I believe there is a version for Android as well).  Many may find the act of meditation as too crunchy or hippie for their tastes, which I completely understand.  I did not look to mediation for a spiritual experience.  I merely wanted a way to quiet my brain before bedtime.  Headspace, for me, does a great job at handling both the long history of meditation, as well as the facts about what happens when a person meditates.  According to the Headspace website: “[W]e see meditation as both a practice rooted in ancient history and a topic of modern science.  This is why we are as equally committed to providing authentic expertise in meditation and also studying the science of meditation” (LINK HERE).Unknown

There are many benefits to meditation according to the research that has been done.  Some of these benefits include: reduced stress, better emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, and improved sleep, among many others (LINK HERE).  The Headspace website even includes peer-reviewed studies on the list of benefits (LINK HERE).  But, again, I am not pushing this on anyone.  I just found that it works for me.

In the past 177 days, I have meditated for a total of 24 hours over the course of 231 sessions.  I have integrated mediation into my nightly routine.  I turn on the app and select from one of its many courses.  I only do between 3-10 minutes per night, although I find myself more focused the longer the session.  Since I began this routine, I have found myself slipping easily off to sleep at night, instead of overthinking and tossing and turning before sleep happens.  It has made me feel more rested in the mornings and more aware throughout the day.  I’ve always been told I was a self-aware person, but this routine has helped me realize my own thoughts more.  I can usually catch myself when I’m too deep into my own head.  I highly recommend this app or any others out there.  I should also mention that the Headspace app isn’t free.  If that holds you back from trying it, please do look for other options.  Any mediation is better than none at all.

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1 https://www.headspace.com/science

2 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section8

3 https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits


What is Hypomania?

The image of the maniac is ingrained in our culture.  What is a common image of mania?  While I hate to perpetuate the stereotype, I even think of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, hacking through a door with an ax.

What do you think of when you hear the word mania?  You may imagine a business person, working long hours and getting things done.  You may even discount the term mania because you think it is a harmless thing, like Sonic Mania or Mattress Mania, where some spokesperson in a commercial shouts “These low prices are crazy!”8E4463B6-F3FD-4B1C-916B-5C333B453D80.png

But that is not the normal or reality for most people struggling with mania.  How would I know?  I know because I have bipolar disorder and I often deal with something very similar to mania, which is hypomania.

What is Hypomania?

First, let’s look at a definition because I’m a good English scholar.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mania is “one of the aspects of bipolar (manic-depressive) mood disorder, characterized particularly by euphoria, grandiose thought, rapid speech expressing loosely connected thoughts (flight of ideas), decreased need for sleep, increased physical activity, and sometimes delusions or hallucinations” (OED).

But I said hypomania, not mania.  So what does hypomania mean?

Hypomania is defined as “A minor form of mania, often part of the manic-depressive cycle, characterized by elation and a feeling of well-being together with quickness of thought” (OED).  But this definition, in my opinion, is underselling the condition.  As someone with bipolar disorder, I occasionally suffer from hypomania and it is far from simple.

The Reality

When I’m hypomanic, I can go with little or no sleep.  Despite this lack of sleep, I feel an extreme boost of energy, like lightning in my veins.  I speak quickly, think quickly, zip around the house like The Flash or Quicksilver.16377486875_bd27a6a6a2_o

I am invincible.  I can do no wrong.  Every idea is pure gold.  I need to buy that useless something when I don’t have much money in the bank.  My mood changes on a pin, from happy to angry to irritable.  I forget to eat.  I think up a thousand new projects that need to happen now.  Then I reach a tipping point.  I become highly aware that I’m out of control.  I’m dangerous to myself and those around me.  I need to stop.

But I can’t stop.  I can’t focus.  I can’t come down off this high.  My thoughts and actions become foreign to me, to the point of annoyance.  I can’t control myself.

Then the crash. My seemingly endless amount of energy falls to E. Unknown.jpeg

Now there is only regret and exhaustion.  Can I return this item on Amazon or in store?  Do I really want to start a podcast?  When was the last time I had a meal?  I did what?

Depression begins to creep in.  I go from Flash/Quicksilver to some slow turtle creature.  My life becomes boring and everything takes effort, like walking through Jello.

What Can Be Done? 

When I describe this process to people, they are usually stunned.  Then they all ask the same question: How do you recover?  Here, I’d like to break down my answer.

First, I have to acknowledge that yes, I am hypomanic.  I am experiencing something that may feel wonderful at the time but it will pass.

Second, I try to minimize the damage.  I avoid Amazon.com, which is my Kryptonite (apparently, I have superheroes on the brain today).  If I cannot avoid Amazon, I put all the things I want to buy in my Wishlist or my Cart, but I do not press “Buy.”  For food, I stock my fridge with easy-to-make items and snacks.  I schedule my day to include meals and I will sometimes set reminders telling me to eat.


Third, I take advantage of it.  The ideas that come when I’m hypomanic can be great.  But I don’t pursue them all.  I write them down in a notebook or an app like Evernote.  I get everything out of my head when it hits.  Maybe one day, I’ll start that podcast, but not today.  Once the ideas are out, I don’t have to dwell on them.

Fourth, I try not to let it interrupt my schedule.  My hypomania is typically tied to my monthly cycle, so I know when it is coming.  I block off days that I know I will be hypomanic and do not try to be productive on those days.  If I have an appointment, I try to reschedule.  But some things can’t be avoided.  If I have classes or something that can’t be moved, I tell the person in advance that I’m feeling a little off today, just a heads up.  I don’t go into detail unless I have to; they don’t always need to know.

Last, I try to fight it.  I try to sit down and write or read with no distractions.  I use my energy to clean the house–might as well put it to good use. (PS- I generally hate cleaning, but when I’m hypomanic, it is a great outlet.)  I try to be calm and not give into the hyper energy that I feel coursing through my body.  This doesn’t always work, but I try, which I feel is more important.


While hypomania, or mania, is not a walk in the park, it is manageable.  The key to dealing with it is the same key to dealing with any aspect of mental health: self-awareness.  Look at the patterns in your life.  Notice things that seem to crop up.  Keep a journal or even a mood journal.  I use an app on my iPhone called iMoodJournal, which is also available on Google Play (link here).  I’ve been using this app for over a year and it is great for tracking moods and patterns.

Also, know that you are not alone.  There are many people who struggle with the same things.  Reach out.  Ask your friends and family for help.  Ask your doctor.  Look for communities online.  I am a member of a few groups on Facebook, including TWLOHA,  who remind me that my struggle is valid and I don’t have to be in it alone.

Note: If you want to reach out to me, you can reach me on Twitter @LeslieJClaussen or via my website, LeslieJClaussen.com.

Update (May 2019)

Hello all!

The plan from here on out is to write more.

In order to do this, I’m setting up a writing schedule to resurrect my writing habit.  I’m be blogging more, with more content in the next couple of months.  My plan is to focus first on simple essays and then move onto revisiting my MA thesis around July.  I’m publishing this update to hold myself accountable to the vast void of the internet.

Look out for more content and possibly some stories and pictures from my recent travels to Europe!

New Beginnings

Now that I have everyone up to date [see previous post], I want to talk about this blog going forward.  I am in the process of moving into my new space in Central Iowa and my therapist pointed out that this time of change can be dangerous for my mental health.  In other words, I react badly to change and moving to another state is a big change.  So, I need to do what my therapist has drilled into me over the years: create a routine.  In order to stick to this new routine, I have decided to make it public as much as I can.  Using techniques from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, I will plan out my day in blocks of time.  I have used this technique previously to pass my MA exams and it worked well for me then.  I have a few good habits that I plan to carry over, such as making breakfast for myself and meditating every day, and I plan to add in new habits, such as working out weekly.  [I worked with a trainer in my old town and plan to find a new trainer in the next few weeks.]  By making this schedule public, I hope that I hold myself accountable to it, as I have been known to start with good intentions and fall flat on my face.

As this blog will be my main focus for a while, my plan is to post weekly, if not more.  I know that this goal is ambitious, but again, citing Cal Newport, it doesn’t hurt to aim high.  In this blog, I plan to explore my passions and interests, as well as built up a portfolio of posts for future work.  My future is in flux as of writing, so things may change in the future.  Time will tell.

If you want to comment with words of encouragement or tweet me, feel free.  With this new schedule in place, I hope to interact with you lovely people far more often and grow a community.


Daily Schedule
Week: 2/18/19 Start Time: 8:00 AM
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
8:00 AM Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up
8:30 AM Garbage Day
9:00 AM
9:30 AM Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
10:00 AM Writing Block Workout Writing Block Workout Writing Block Binge Day Offline Day
10:30 AM
11:00 AM
11:30 AM
12:00 PM Sort Mail
12:30 PM
1:00 PM
1:30 PM Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
2:00 PM
2:30 PM
3:00 PM Blog Mant. Blog Mant.
3:30 PM
4:00 PM
4:30 PM
5:00 PM
5:30 PM
6:00 PM Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner
6:30 PM
7:00 PM
7:30 PM Read Read Read Read Read
8:00 PM
8:30 PM
9:00 PM
9:30 PM
10:00 PM

Bowling In the New Year


As I write my first draft of my first blog post in over a year, I can help but think how much I’ve changed. Where am I as I write this? Strangely, a bowling alley during the horrible Polar Vortex that has descended on America. The bowling alley is mostly quiet as I sit and type in a corner. Things surely have changed in the last year.

The year 2018 was generally terrible. The politics that constantly pervaded the air didn’t help lighten the millions of melancholy hearts in America. I don’t want to dwell on the Orange Puppet, but every day seemed to bear out a new and horrible bit of information tweeted by this idiot. It was frustrating and demoralizing, to say the least. But that is news that everyone knows and most shared a role in; what about me?

My 2018 started off badly. I had a set of very important exams and I totally bombed them. Like—Completely, Fully, Horribly BOMBED! These written exams determined if I could earn my MA in English. Failing them would mean no degree and nearly three years of wasted time. But I had another chance at them in April. While I had felt prepared for these exams my first time around, I knew better the second time. With the help of a few key people and great advice, I buckled down and focused incredibly hard on preparing. I wrote mock practice exams and timed myself. A professor of mine then graded them and gave me feedback. (I’m extremely grateful for this person.) I read more books on the reading list, but I also included works that I had to read anyway for my classes. I thought deeply about themes and how they I could connect various, seemingly disparate, works. I also asked for help with the environment I would be taking the exams in. The first round had been in a room with several other test-takers and the noise and distracted had not help me when it came time for me to focus. I didn’t have headphones or anything that could block out the noise. I contacted my university’s disability services and they accommodated me with a private room (nothing fancy) and an hour of extra time for each exam. These accommodations, while they may seem trifle, were of great help to me as I had more time to think and didn’t feel rushed and anxious.

Guess what? I nailed them the second time around. Okay, there was really no “nailing them” because that’s not the kind of exams I was taking but I did pass. I was able to complete my degree.

I also completed the other element of my MA degree, which was writing a 70+ page thesis. I had been thinking about this thesis for years, but I didn’t really think I could use that material as a thesis. I have been writing and journaling for a while now, on topics like my mental health and my family. I didn’t imagine anyone wanted to read these stories but when I pitched the idea to my thesis chair, she thought it was a good idea. While there are stories about mental illness in the world, it doesn’t hurt to add one more voice to the group. I could add my unique tale to the list of writers who have come before me and opened up to the world. I was nervous about writing such personal things that would then be analyzed by my professors in my thesis committee. I started my first draft with shallow nonsense that didn’t get to the essence of what I wanted to tell the world. After much debate and immense hesitation, I threw that draft out (well, I buried it in my computer files). I started to brainstorm events from my life that would be a good story. I managed to fill 72 pages and I still have more to add. I just need to work on the structure of the manuscript, which for me is the hardest part. I wrote essays about my life experiences and purged a lot of sadness and anger that I—who is fairly self-aware—didn’t realize I had in me. It was great.

Then the day came to defend my thesis in front of my committee. I felt sick and nervous. I didn’t do my statement correctly, but I did pass the defense. I just had to resubmit my statement and I would get me degree. After looking up templates and examples online and actually reading the requirements from the student handbook, my statement was approved. I then submitted the whole thesis for registration at the Library of Congress.

Then tragedy struck. My Aunt Judith was diagnosed with cancer and she didn’t have long to live. I rushed back to my hometown to see her and say goodbye. But I had to go back to my college town, as I hadn’t done my retake exams yet. I was torn but didn’t have any options but to stay in South Dakota and take my exams. I regret this decision, as I missed her funeral and my chance to grieve with my family. I still feel like she isn’t gone sometimes. Like she’s just on vacation and will return some day. I had trouble with tenses when I speak about her. She was my Mom’s eldest sister and the two of them were very close. My Mom moved back to our hometown to care for her after she had cared for their mother for over twenty years. There is a hole in my family now and it cannot be filled. This is the second sibling my Mom has lost, not included those who did not survive childhood. My aunt was a figure who loomed large in this town and she was a presence to be reckoned with. She had a great personality and a caring heart. I didn’t tell her this but after my grandmother (her mother) went senile when I was a toddler, I always thought of my aunt as more of a grandma to me. Her own grandkids are my age and, although she was my aunt, she was always grandmotherly to me. I wish I would have told her this—I thought about it while driving the four hours between South Dakota and Marshalltown, IA. But I didn’t. I held her hand that seemed so small and she winked at me and I said goodbye. It was the first time since losing my grandma Louise that I felt a piece of me fade away. (Even as I write this, my eyes are watery and my mouth tastes of salty tears.)

I graduated in May and walked at the ceremony with a few fellow MA students. One of my friends (a PhD student in English) took pictures from the audience. My family and friends cheered me on as my name was called. I thought of everything it took to get to this point and all the people who were there for me along the way. But I knew that I couldn’t continue to stay in South Dakota for much longer after Judith passed away. I needed to be closer to my family, who were mostly all in central Iowa. With my parents both nearing the age of 70, I realized that my next step would be to move to Iowa.

Despite being born in Iowa, I didn’t actually grow up in this state. I lived most of my formative life in South Dakota, on the very edge of the south-eastern part of the state. Although I consider myself an Iowan, I’m fibbing only a little. Where I grew up was a 10-minute drive from Sioux City, IA and everything that we did took place in this city. The mall, the arcade (inside the one and only mall), and the sports were all in Sioux City. Any movie or concert was there too. So, although I told people I grew up in South Dakota, it was more like an offshoot of Iowa that happened to be located in the state of South Dakota.

The Best Laid Plans…

Well, my plans for this blog did not come to pass.  I didn’t post book reviews or post weekly.  Life got in the way.  But I have new plans.  While weekly posting was a high order for a novice blogger, I will try to post a few times a month, from important items to essays to anything I damn well want to post.  I want to share my life and my travels on this crazy blue orb with the world, but I can’t do it if I don’t make a habit of it.  So I have set myself as task to write something–anything–daily.  That doesn’t mean I will post daily.  I will edit the best of what I write and generate my posts from there.

A new year (although it is almost February) is a fresh start.  Let’s kick this off!

“I’ll never be a theatre person!” Part 1

Driving down the highway on a rainy day in March, I sing-along—complete with gestures and choreography—to the original Rent Broadway cast soundtrack. This is just one example of what I find myself doing often: enjoying any of a variety of musicals.

I don’t sing well. And I’m not being humble. I know I’m partly tone-deaf and have the range of that only some witty comment could convey. My hands tend to be more coordinated than my feet, which is my excuse for lacking all ability to dance. I just love to sing in the company of my home or car and find an exciting, indescribable vibe from watching a live show. I don’t even mind if I can only get my hands on a movie version or just a soundtrack.

There’s something about a great musical, where the characters have no other way to express their feelings and find the only way they can communicate is through the power of a soaring musical rifts and some well-crafted lyrics. Musicals come in all forms: live shows, movies, soundtracks, Internet broadcasts, and even television. People bursting into song, alone or in a group, are not that strange in my world.

Though I am new to the world of the musical, green on the Great White Way, I do have some clear favorites: Annie, my first play I ever acted in; Rent; The Phantom of the Opera; Wicked, based on the characters’ of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz; Reefer Madness the musical movie; Singin’ in the Rain, a classic; Spring Awakening, an awesome, blasting show; and television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer… to name a few.

Joss Whedon’s excellent shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spin-off Angel, along with Firefly and his other works, are insightful views into human nature. In his Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling” (6-7), Whedon and his crew constructed and composed over 40 minutes of music, lyrics, and choreography. The show achieves all this while still carrying the story along and continuing the different character arcs. And it was all within an episode of your everyday television for Joss Whedon.

“Once More, With Feeling” may be set in the fantastical world of Sunnydale, but there are many awesome musicals set in the “real” real world.

One of my personal favorites is Rent, about a group of 20-something friends, living and dying in New York City within one year—from Christmas Eve 1989 to Christmas day of 1990. The musical, a world-wide hit that has been running on Broadway, finishing after 12 long years in 2008, is about the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 90s and the lives of those infected and affected. All with rock, R&B, gospel, and pop music and story-carrying lyrics that move and let the audience laugh and feel along with the characters that reflect real people to connect with. Rent is what the world would be if every emotional moment resulted in a song.

“I’ll never be a theatre person!” Joanne, Rent.

I would have said this very phrase if I’d known it, about five years ago, during the summer of 2003. As I didn’t know this line, I said something to the effect of “I can’t sing or act.” Well, those raw facts may be true, but it didn’t stop me from taking an unseen leap into the world of live theatre via a high school play my junior year, Annie.

I could say that’s how it all started, a high school production, but I slowly realized that that is wrong. I was interested in musicals long before high school, before I knew what a musical was and that singing in the movie wasn’t typical. Apparently, I grew up with musicals, in the form of movies that my Mom would pop in the VHS player. From what I remember, the list includes the following: The Music Man, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Singin’ in the Rain, and The King and I. If you played any of these classic movie musicals, I would be able to join in without even thinking about it.