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Bipolar author on a mission

Like many high-energy “doers,” Melva Freeman packed her days with activities. She had a sewing business. She had two teenagers and a husband. She was volunteer district commissioner for Sonoma/Mendocino County Boy Scouts, along with other obligations.

“I couldn’t seem to say ‘no,’ ” she says.

Then, on Mother’s Day weekend 1987, something snapped.

“I became obsessed with writing,” Freeman says. She had always kept a journal, but now she found herself unable to stop. Grasping a ballpoint until her knuckles were white, she filled page after page of a yellow legal pad.

“I was driven,” she says. “Nothing stopped me. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. I just kept writing. I was writing about how the Boy Scout oath and law could help change the world for the better.”

Her concerned husband and a counselor hospitalized Freeman, the first of what would become six hospitalizations. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Following the first hospitalization, she closed her sewing business, quit her volunteer activities and began working to regain mental stability.

Despite psychiatrists, therapists and medication, Freeman’s life bounced between manic episodes and depression.

“We lived in a fixer-upper and it wasn’t being fixed,” she says. “My husband left in 1990, and the two kids left six months later. I was in the house by myself, and I had never been all by myself like that before.”

She took in roommates and lived a life in turmoil.

In 2000, Freeman landed a job with Disability Services and Legal Center in Santa Rosa, a nonprofit resource center for people with disabilities.

“Working there gave me a purpose and something to think about besides my disability,” she says. It also led the way to a book.

Freeman and another employee with bipolar disorder began comparing notes on what helped them and found they had a lot to share with others. They began giving workshops as part of their job.

“We made a list of what had helped us. At our workshops we just told our stories and passed out our list.”

The workshops were a success, and Freeman continued developing the hand-out sheets, adding poetry, helpful quotes and updated information.

“I was doing all this writing for the workshop, and the people attending kept saying the information was so important I should write a book,” she says. “When I reviewed my handout sheets, I discovered that I was writing a book.”

It’s ironic that compulsive writing led to her first hospitalization and now, 25 years later, her writing has produced a 186-page book titled “Tools for Stability.”

Self-published in October, the book covers topics such as anger management, stress management, how to work with doctors, how to deal with medications and how to find compatible roommates. It also includes a list of books, movies and organizations that have helped Freeman deal with her condition.

This deeply personal self-help book offers the unique perspective of a woman who has been through all that she’s writing about.

Equally unique, Freeman is giving her book away to those who need it most.

Every Monday, those seeking help from Disability Services and Legal Center attend an orientation meeting. And at those orientations, Freeman distributes her book through a loaned book program. She urges those who take her book to read it and share it with others.

In the past three months, she has given away 45 copies, 25 of which were donated by Sonoma County Behavioral Health.

“Through my loaned book program, I’m hoping to give a book to everyone who can use one,” she says.

The paperback edition, which sells at Amazon.com for $16.29, costs Freeman $7. So far, she has paid for each one given out through her loaned book program, but her funds for the program are running low.

“People can contribute to the program by sending checks to the financial director at Disability Services and Legal Center, 521 Mendocino Ave.,” Freeman says. “Every $7 buys a book. That’s my cost, so 100 percent will go for books.”

Freeman is grateful that Sonoma County Behavioral Health Department has bought 150 copies of “Tools for Stability,” and that county libraries in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties have the book on their shelves.

Today, at 67, Freeman is on good terms with her two children and her former husband. Although she no longer writes compulsively, she’s an author on a mission.

“Bipolar is something I cannot change any more than a person with diabetes can stop their diabetes,” she says. “I cannot change my brain, but I can take care of myself as best I can to keep from getting manic or extremely depressed. And I can share my story so people can benefit from what I’ve learned.”

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