*%&$ Bipolar Disorder (and Depression, and other Mental Illness)

robin-williamsRobin Williams’ death is a blow to just about everyone I know. Young or old, black or white, Jewish, Christian, athiest… I have yet to hear one person say they were not touched, saddened, or outright devastated by the news that at 63 years of age, this beloved actor, comedian, entertainer extraordinaire took his own life after a long struggle with bipolar disorder, a mental illness where a person vacillates between periods of extreme energy, creativity, focus and productivity (the manic end of the spectrum) and periods of severe depression. Suicide is not uncommon for sufferers of bipolar disorder when they succumb to a depressive state, and Robin Williams–as great as he was–was but human and was unable to win his battle with the demons that haunted him.

I know so many people who will judge his suicide as a selfish choice. They’ll see only that he deprived the world of his genius, his wife of his companionship, his family of his love. This only underscores how insidious bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses really are. Mental illness still carries with it a stigma of choice, as if we have more control over our brain chemistry than we do over the functionality of our other organs–lungs, hearts, livers, kidneys. You see posts all over Facebook that raise awareness for cancer (e.g. *%&# Cancer posts) or ALS (ice bucket challenges), but how often do you see people raising awareness for diseases of the brain? There is no cure for bipolar disorder which requires lifelong treatment with medication, therapy, and careful life choices. Medications make the sufferer feel like they live in a fog, robbed of their creativity and productivity. The absence of the medication may cause risky behavior or dangerous depressive cycles. Thoughts of suicide is the most severe “symptom” of severe clinical depression and yet we decry successful (or even unsuccessful) suicide attempts as a selfish choice.

From the outside looking in, we may think Robin Williams had everything to be happy about and live for. Success. Fame. Worldwide admiration and adoration. A family who loved him. But we can’t know the demons that plagued him and we still have very little medical research to begin to understand the physiology behind the disease from which he suffered.

I hope that his death helps people who suffer from mental illness, or suspect they might, come forward and talk to their doctors. Elevate the conversation to a medical level, not a shameful failing of personality. Make it important enough for big pharma to want to study the brain (after all, they’re in business to make money, so they need to see a pathway to profit) or for government agencies to sponsor the research and remove the stigma so we can get people help, develop treatments that help people not only cope but thrive with mental illness.

Suicide is not the choice of a healthy brain. It’s a symptom of serious illnesses that desperately needs funding, discussion, and elevation to medical status alongside cancer, ALS, and others that affect so many in such devastating ways. Let’s talk about it. Let’s remove the stigma. It’s time.


Read this article from The Guardian. Just do it.

What? You haven’t clicked yet?

Here’s the teaser, and I quote:

News of Robin Williams’s death due to apparent suicide, said to be a result of suffering severe depression, is terribly sad. But to say taking your own life because of such an illness is a ‘selfish’ act does nothing but insult the deceased, potentially cause more harm and reveal a staggering ignorance of mental health problems.

It’s especially important to read if you’re scratching your head and wondering how you might see suicide as anything but selfish. This might help you understand.

Adventures of Leonardo, the Traveling Bearded Dragon

Unless you live in a closet, you know that there was a huge ice storm that affected the northeast/mid-atlantic corridor (and more) Tuesday night into Wednesday (February 4-5, 2014). Many of us have lost power, and the hardworking folks at PECO (and presumably other power companies who serve affected areas) are working to restore power as fast as they can safely do so.

Current estimates are that we are likely to be without power through Sunday night (2/9/14) at 11 p.m. So, we’ve had to get creative. No power for us means no heat, no lights, and no running water as we are on a well, not public water. So, we can’t just prop up some heaters, tolerate some cold showers, and tough it out. NO FLUSHING TOILETS (without extreme measures to gather snow, melt it, and dump the water in the tanks). Grossness.

So, typical concerns: Warmth, plumbing, keeping food from spoiling (yes, I realize we can put it all in the snow or something but that seems like a lot of work and not entirely something I’m excited to take on), pets, kids, etc. But this is the first time we’ve had a major power outage where I’ve had to worry about a lizard. Yes, a lizard.

My son (Thing 2 of 2) has a bearded dragon who is maybe a year or two old, I can’t quite recall. Lizards, of course, are cold-blooded which means that they cannot produce their own body heat. Our lizard is named Leonardo. And this is his story.

Two days ago, the sun went out. I mean, completely out. One moment I was happily basking in the glow of the night-sun (it’s a reddish orange color) awaiting the arrival of the morning sun (which is much brighter and whiter). Every morning, my god (or I think he might be a god – he controls the sun, heat, water, and food, plus everything in my whole world) switches the sun from night to day and it seemed like it was about time for that when–POOF–darkness. And coldness. Looootttts of coldness.

Not long after this, my entire world turned upside-down. My god reached down from on high and removed me from my world. He put me into a much smaller world without all the fun trees, dirt, and plants I’m used to, and started carrying me around with him. First, he put me here:

Leo on table

I have to admit, the accommodations weren’t great, but it was a little warmer than my cold, dark home.

Then he started doing something weird. I have no idea what this is, but it seems like some sort of ritual. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Zach and Leo

Next thing I know, we’re on the move again. This time, the ritual objects came with us, but there was this weird new sun. It didn’t quite look like the night-sun or the day-sun, but it was definitely a nice change to a warmer environment, so I couldn’t complain.

Zach and Leo

We stayed like that for a bit, and THEN, there was some major crazy stuff going on. It got dark and cold again, and it felt like we were moving. There was some warmth, some weird “vroom” noise, lots of loud banging, and then more moving and bouncing around.

Then things settled down. It was acceptably warm, someone gave me water, and lots of god-like creatures looked in at me, reached in to pet me (love those warm god-hands), and generally speaking I was feeling pretty good.

Leo at Dtown bookshop

Leonardo takes shelter at the Doylestown Bookshop

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur. Moving, settling, touching, more moving, and then at last I was returned to my comfortable environment with the night-sun in full force. Ahhhhhhh. But then–THEN–it happened again! BOOM! The sun went out again! I didn’t think I could take any more. Again, my god retrieved me and placed me in the smaller world, but this time he had set it up with some dirt and even threw in some fresh crickets for me. We heard more “vroom” and banging sounds, and then I settled down on a nice warm spot AND suddenly the day-sun came out! It may not be home, but it feels like a slice of heaven. Warmth, crickets, soft dirt…OK so I can’t turn around without bumping into things, but I can’t complain.

Leo's temp digs

Leo at Grandma’s house

It does seem like my god is trying to take care of me. I hope I get to go home soon, but for now, all is well. Thank you for your concern.

A huge shout-out to the Doylestown Bookshop for hosting us and Leo yesterday. They even babysat for him so my kids and I could go get some lunch. I mean, if that’s not the best bookstore ever, I don’t know what is. (Oh, and we all bought some great books we’re enjoying while we weather the rest of this power outage, expected to last through the  weekend.) Seriously, if you live anywhere within driving or walking distance, I have no idea why you’d buy your books anywhere else.

And, of course, thank you to my in-laws for hosting us while we hang out to work and warm up today. We appreciate it and so does Leo!

Moolala customer service fail: The gory details

Usually, I prefer to use this blog for posting things that are positive, helpful, useful, interesting, beautiful… But now and then I use it to share customer service experiences. Positive ones, ideally. Negative ones when necessary. This is one of those times.

Moolala is a daily deal site. They offer deals from online or local merchants that represent huge savings. I get emails from them every day, and many of them are quite compelling.

On December 5, 2013 I purchased two of these deals–a rainbow loom kit and two loom band storage containers that I intended to give as gifts to my nephews for Hanukkah (which actually started in November, but our family celebration was December 18, so it should have been plenty of time). Here are my purchase confirmations and voucher emails:


Moolala voucher

Moolala voucher

I redeemed my vouchers with the vendor, Belleza Jewelry, and patiently waited for my order to arrive. Here are the order confirmations from them:

Order confirmation Belleza

Order confirmation Belleza

Fast forward to later in December, I received an email from Belleza which I seem to have deleted (shame on me) saying that they were still working through orders and would likely not ship my order before Christmas. At this point they offered me a 75% off coupon, which I actually just found insulting (which is probably why I deleted the email) and I went to buy my Rainbow Loom kits at Michael’s craft store. I figured once I got the order I’d give them to a friend’s kids who love Rainbow Looming and would make use of them.

Then, on January 8, I got this email from the clearly overwhelmed folks at Belleza:

Belleza won't honor voucher

So now, I know I’m not getting my order AND I need to do something more to get my money back from Moolala. Way too much effort for a couple of Rainbow Loom sets, but money is money and I deserve a refund. I thought, hey, it’s not Moolala’s fault, so I’ll put together a nice helpful email that will make it easy for them to refund my money. Here is that email:

Refund request email

I got, of course, an automated response:

Moolala automated reply

Now, I realize that I am not the only one requesting a refund. I know that service can take time. How much time is a reasonable turnaround? 24 hours? 48? A week?

On January 15, after a week had gone by and I did not get a reply, I sent this email (which also got no reply):

No reply?

And this tweet, which did get at least a nibble of a reply (thank you, social media team) despite my unfortunate typo:

Moolala tweet

I also sent follow-up tweets on January 24 and yesterday that did not receive replies (have I mentioned that I have over 1,800 followers? Not that that’s a huge number but it’s not nothing either):

Moolala tweet

Moolala tweet

So, yesterday, I sent this email (which as of yet has also not received a reply):


So, now that I’m fairly sure that Moolala does not care about my $33 or my continued patronage, I’m left with no choice but to dispute the charge with my bank. Which is a shame, since I know chargebacks are not good for businesses (having worked many years in the financial services world), it burdens the bank resources unnecessarily, and it could have been resolved with so much less effort.

So, if you are a Moolala subscriber, take heed. Their deals aren’t worth this kind of hassle.

Now, off to request a chargeback from my bank.



3 days after I posted this, I got the following emails from Moolala. Of course now that this is happening, I have to figure out how to cancel my disputes (once I verify that the refunds happened). I figured it was only fair to share the reply I ultimately received. Whether the response triggered by emails, tweets, or the tweet of this blog post–or if I simply finally got to the front of the line–I’ll never know.

Moolala update email



Update 2/4

And…a reply to the tweet from January 15 came through TODAY. A little late, guys…

late tweet