REVIEW COMMENTS    

“...the Nora Roberts of medicals.”- Author Susan Carlisle

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Two Dianne Drakes under the one cover was an enjoyable treat!
-From Mills & Boon website

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What a sweet romance...I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading more of Ms. Drakes’ work.
- From Coffee Time Romance

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I recently discovered her, and enjoy her tremendously.
- Found on Smart Bitches Trashy Books

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For a medical romance this story has more than enough action and drama to hold anyone’s interest, and the romance is only a small portion of its appeal.
- From Coffee Time Romance

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Facing the Mirror (from I Never Thought I’d see you Again): In Facing the Mirror, by Dianne Despain (Drake), Maggie Holmes learns she has cancer while she is an Emergency Room. The author's writing is direct and poignant. When reading this well written story the reader is one with Maggie Holmes.

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Reviewed on the Mills & Boon website:

Firefighter With A Frozen Heart - An excellent story written with emotional depth and understanding.

Engrossing and probably Mrs Drake's best yet.
- Ten out of ten

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P.S. You’re a Daddy: This is a story of the love for a sister and family. Funny and loving, laughed, cried and waited for the happy ever after. Good read!

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 A Child to Heal Their Hearts: “To be honest a book set in a holiday camp for recovering sick children didn't sound an appealing subject and I'm also not particularly keen when children form a large part of the plot. However Mrs Drake has written so compellingly about this that I was able to forget my prejudices. Reid is an engaging and dedicated hero while enigmatic at first, Keera's emotions were portrayed realistically and sympathetically. There were unexpected turns in the plot and I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book. Nine out of ten"

Writer’s Block?  Maybe Not!

© Dianne Drake 2005

That blank stare you’ve been focusing on your computer screen for the past hour is getting you nowhere.  You’re not even sure you could scare up an idea, let alone string together a coherent sentence, although your editor is pointing a loaded contract, with the word deadline underlined in red, at you.

It’s writer’s block, you think.  What else could it be?  It’ll go away when you: refocus your efforts; take a walk to clear your mind; chant the “I can do this” mantra; eat more chocolate; bribe the muse; all the above.

Or, none of the above, if you’re not experiencing writer’s block at all, but one of several conditions that can sneak up on you, creep its way in, wreak havoc without major symptoms, but eventually cause the mental fuzz, slush or mush, if left untreated, that can totally destroy your ability to put that word on the page.

Take a look at three common illnesses and afflictions lurking about more and more these days, just waiting to get that muse in a choke hold.

LET THE SUN SHINE IN

Remember how Annie, the curly-haired optimist, burst onto the stage singing about how the sun will come out tomorrow?  Great sentiment, especially during the gray days of winter.  You know those days.  You wake up, look at the dull sky, pull the covers over your head and decided this is the first day of your hibernation - go away, leave me alone, let me sleep, wake me in the Spring! 

We’ve all been there, done that.  Once in a while is normal.  We need it.  Doing this on a daily basis, however, could be a symptom of more than just your love affair with your mattress.  It could be a disorder, identified only in the past twenty-five years, that zaps you of more than the just will to get up and write.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition resulting from a lack of sunlight between the months of September and April, zaps up to 28% of the North American population on a regular basis, depending upon where you live.  For example, only 1% of bright, sunny Miami’s population suffers from SAD, whereas people who live near the US-Canadian border are in the 10% range.  Move on up to Fairbanks, Alaska while you’re trying to write that book, and you’re at risk to slide into the 28% of those who suffer SAD symptoms, which include:

Depression - Your feelings of self-worth vanish, although, according to Doctor Michael Bagby of Toronto’s Clark Institute of Psychiatry, “They come back when the SAD season is over.”  This can go to your feelings of self-worth as a writer, too.  Quite literally, your ability to plot, put together a synopsis, edit, or do anything else associated with the writing process can become a whole lot tougher. Why?  Decision making can be affected.  So can your ability concentrate.   Mind wandering, staring off blankly into space, sitting in the dark, doubting your ability to ever write another book again...

Sound familiar?  If so, take an objective look at your writing process. When are you at your best?  Do you go sluggish during the months when you’re not exposed to as much sunlight?  Do you feel like a writing lump in January but turn into a writing machine in May or June when the sun is in full shine again? 

•Appetite Change & Weight Gain
- Your appetite increases, especially for carbs, and you crave the sweets (chocolate!) that give you a quick energy boost.  You’d rather eat that candy bar, scarf down that doughnut, belly up to the ice cream bowl than write.  Yes, this can officially be your excuse for all the chocolate you consume, but if you’re doing this more during SAD season than you do during the rest of the year, it could be SAD. 

A dietary fix is easy, though.  Cut back on the fast sugars (candy, cake, cookies, refined sugar products).  It’s as simple as that.  They might give you the momentary energy boost you need, and satisfy that craving, but the good benefits fall off too quickly, and in an hour or two you’re right back where you started - craving the bad carbs.

So, why is that bad?  Can’t I just load up for the sugar boost every time I feel the crave?  The answer is, yes, you can.  But you’ll gain weight for starters.  And you’ll cause yourself blood sugar problems because fast sugars result in a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels which, in turn, leaves you feeling lethargic when the sugar boost wears off.  Up and down, then crash - your body’s not getting the long-term source of energy it needs, and the short-term substitute coming in the form of a fast sugar just doesn’t cut it. Your brain needs a constant feed of energy to perform at its best, and the ups and downs of sugar snacking literally throw it into a tizzy.  Sugar high, lethargy, sugar high, lethargy.

Not good for the body, the brain or your next novel.

But you’ve got to snack!  You’re craving something.  Body’s not going to be happy until you feed it, but instead of after the sugary stuff calling your name, go nuts instead.  Nuts are a great source of protein, which releases long-term, steady energy into your body.  And if you want to go straight to the top of the nut heap - go walnuts!  They’re packed full of omega-3, a brain-essential nutrient also found in fish, that has a great energy-regulating property - one your brain truly loves.  Research is showing that walnuts may also be beneficial in controlling blood sugar levels in diabetes, too. 

Lethargy & Sleeping Too Much - You’re tired when you get up out of bed in the morning, so you crawl back in the first chance you get, or at least, take your first nap after breakfast, if not before.  You’re too tired to write, you doze off during the most critical love, murder or resolution scene, or you wake yourself up snoring through your plot twist.  No matter how much sleep you get, it’s never enough.  SAD is definitely on the list of contenders here, but other sleep disorders like apnea can also cause the same lethargy.  If you’re sleeping more than you should, more than you normally do, more than you want, keep a sleep diary.  Give it to your doctor!

No interest in sex during the SAD season - Not in your personal life, probably not in your heroine or hero, either.  And it’s not just your sex life that suffers - it’s your interest level in other things you might normally love to do.  Maybe you just don’t feel like reading a good book the way you usually do.  Or going out on the town for an evening seems like too much effort.  If, during SAD time, the things you love to do just aren’t that appealing, it could be a sign you’re suffering the effects. 
           
First recognized as a medical condition in 1984 by Doctor Norman Rosenthal, SAD comes in varying degrees.  Rosenthal explains, “At one end of the spectrum are those who have few, if any, seasonal changes.”  Then there are those who experience mild depression and minor symptoms that don’t necessarily affect their live adversely.  “But at the far end of the spectrum are patients with SAD whose changes in mood and behavior are so powerful that they produce significant problems in their lives.”  Problems that can affect your quality of life, relationships, and yes, your writing.

Who gets SAD?

Anyone living in an area without the benefit of full sunlight can be affected by seasonal changes.  Women are four times more likely to suffer the symptoms than men, and the most common age for onset is between 20 and 40. But if you don’t fall into these groups, that doesn’t mean you can’t be afflicted.  You can.  SAD has been identified in virtually every age group and in geographical areas not so commonly associated with it.  However, if you’re not bothered during the low-sunlight months, there’s probably nothing to worry about.  But keep these two things in mind:

1.  Onset can happen at any time.

2.  Researchers estimate that one in four will experience seasonal symptoms at some time in their lives. 

In other words, SAD can happen even when you’re pretty sure it can’t.  But here’s the thing - you can’t diagnose yourself.  According to Rosenthal, SAD symptoms mimic other serious medical conditions: underactive thyroid gland, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and low blood sugar, to name a few.  If you think you’re SAD, it’s time to see your doctor.

“SAD symptoms resemble some symptoms of clinical depression, too,” says Bagby.  “But seasonal disorders come and go with the seasons, while clinical depression does not.” .

Help’s on the Way

If you think you’re a SAD sufferer, call your doc, because you’ll probably be poked and prodded a little to rule out other medical possibilities.  Don’t despair if you get a SAD diagnosis, though.  While there’s not one surefire treatment, not a convenient pill to pop either, there are ways to lessen, and even alleviate, the symptoms.

1.  Take a walk in the sun on a regular basis.  You’ll be amazed at the changes a little sun will make.    Try to walk when the sun is at its peak.

2.  Cut trees and bushes away from your windows.  Remove heavy drapes, curtains and shutters that block the sun.  Letting some natural sunlight in can really help.  It can make all the difference in your writing, too, if you do this in your office.  In other words, write in the light!

3.  Add more light to your home or office.  Add some wattage to those dim bulbs.  The body can be tricked, even by artificial light sources.  Also, if you’re suffering SAD symptoms, you may be tempted to write in a dim room because it suits the way you’re feeling.  Don’t!  Turn on all the lights, drag in some extras if you have to.  Unless your natural writing habit is to do it in the dim or dark, you could be having a SAD reaction.

4.  Lighten your home or office with light fabrics, walls and rugs.  Again, don’t write in a dungeon.  Remember: Any lightness is good lightness.

5.  Avoid stress. It compounds SAD symptoms.  Pace your life, pace your deadlines.  Keep deadline time free of other activities that are stressful. 

6.  Exercise.  According to Dr. David McDonald, Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri, “Aerobic exercise has a positive effect on moods.  It reduces depression, tension and anxiety, and brings out a positive feeling of self-worth.”  Exercise in the sun if you can, or pull that Nordic Trac over to the window and pretend you’re cross-country skiing.

7.  Do as the geese do and fly south to a sunny destination for a winter break.  If you know you suffer from SAD, skip that July writer’s conference and find one in January, in a sunny location. Even a short two or three day hop to somewhere bright can make a tremendous difference in the way you feel, which, in turn, will make a tremendous difference in the way you write. 

8.  Talk to your doctor about the benefits of a sun box.  It simulates real sunlight, and a few minutes of exposure every day can work wonders.   FMI: www.sada.org


THE SILENT KILLER

The ugly statistics tell this story.  Nearly 21 million people in the United States have diabetes, but 7 million of them don’t know it yet.  Of the 14 million who have been diagnosed, around 10 million are women, and each day, according to American Diabetes Association statistics, over 2500 people are diagnosed with the disease.     

What is diabetes?

According to experts at the American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into the energy needed for daily life.”  In other words, your body’s insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, isn’t doing its job.  It’s not keeping your blood sugar regulated.  Instead, the glucose (sugar) needed for energy is building up in your blood, not in your body’s cells where it’s supposed to be, and this wreaks havoc with all sorts of bodily functions, including your energy level and mental sharpness - with a huge emphasis on mental sharpness.  When blood sugar is out of control and rising, the higher it rises the more your brain goes sluggish.  It’s literally starving for the proper energy sources to feed it.

The most common form of diabetes is Type 2 or Adult Onset.  It’s seen in 95% of all cases these days , and especially in those who are:

•Over 45 (note that onset age is getting lower and lower)
•Have a family history of the disease
•Are overweight
•Are sedentary or don’t exercise regularly

If you see yourself in at least two of the risk categories, chances are you’re at risk, too.

Warning Signs

Sometimes they’re subtle, sometimes they’re not.  But whether or not you know they’re there, they’re playing fast and loose with your body, causing damage you probably didn’t know was associated with the disease.  And each and every warning sign can result in a devastating problem if it isn’t treated.  So, check out the symptom list.  Do you have a few, or even several of these?

•Frequent urination
•Unusual thirst
•Extreme hunger
•Unusual weight loss
•Irritability, jittery feeling
•Lack of concentration (a real deadline killer!)
•Frequent infections: skin, gum, bladder, vaginal
•Blurred vision
•Slow-healing cuts/bruises
•Tingling or numbness in your fingers and toes

If you have one or more symptoms and you fit into the risk categories, check with your doctor.  Diagnosis is made through a series of simple blood tests.  However, if you aren’t experiencing any of these symptoms but you are still at risk, get the test anyway.  One little stick of the needle could prevent serious diabetic complications and save your writing career or, more importantly, your life.

Will I Be Cured if I Cut Back on Sugar?

Unfortunately, no.  Diabetes can’t be cured yet.  It can be greatly reduced, or kicked back to normal values and kept under control, but once the diagnosis is made, you’re a diabetic, and it’s a lifelong battle to keep the blood sugar levels in your body under control.  But diabetes isn’t an early death sentence the way it used to be, and it’s not all doom and gloom now days because it can be controlled with lifestyle changes such as:

•Strict attention to diet - when diabetes is diagnosed, nutritional counseling comes next.  Believe it or not, the diet’s not so strict.  It’s more a matter of balancing your food intake and watching your carbs than eliminating favorite foods.  Ice cream can be allowed.  So can chocolate.  Maybe not in the proportions you’d prefer, but a little is better than none at all. Overall, diabetic philosophy and treatments have changed to be more lenient, but that doesn’t mean a careful watch over your diet isn’t required, because it is. 

•Exercise - Studies prove that regular exercise lowers the sugar level in your blood.  Exercise also helps reduce excess weight, and weight loss also lowers blood sugar.

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to overcome the blood sugar problem, there are numerous medications available to help with that.  Don’t start hyperventilating over the thought of a daily shot, though.  There are pills, patches and pumps, too, with new procedures on the horizon. 

Warning!

Diabetes can never be controlled without the guidance of your physician.  There are too many complications that can come of improperly treated diabetes: blindness, circulatory problems leading to amputation, kidney failure, heart problems, stroke, to name a few. If you suspect you are at risk for, or may already have, diabetes, call your doctor.  Become the decisive and strong hero about whom you write and take the action you need to control the problem.  If you don’t, the problem will control you, and that’s not a fitting ending to any book, or for any writer.  FMI:www.diabetes.org


RUNNING ON EMPTY

Do you feel like your energy tank isn’t quite full, but you chalk it up to a hectic lifestyle, too much work or worry, trying to squeeze in some extra writing time or anything else that accounts for your not-quite-peppy feeling?

About 15 - 20% of all childbearing-aged women aren’t quite so peppy either, and that number jumps to 40% for women who participate in strenuous exercise or physical activity.   The cause is what was, years ago, advertised as “iron-poor, tired blood.” 

So what the big deal?  Can low levels of iron in the body make that much of a difference in the way you feel?  In the way you act?  In the way you think?  Or write? 

“It sure can,” says Doctor Ian Newhouse, Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. There may be subtle signs, like lethargy.  “They won’t hit you like a hammer over the head at first, so you might not even notice the changes.  But as your iron stores continue to lower, your symptoms will become more pronounced.”

“Iron deficiency comes in three stages,” says Doctor Angela Johnson, internal medicine specialist from Indianapolis, Indiana.  In stage one and two, neither of which carry a diagnosis of anemia, iron levels are deficient. “Stage one usually doesn’t present symptoms, but the beginnings of fatigue can be seen in the second stage.”  Stage three, however, is iron-deficiency anemia, and it comes with one or more of the following common symptoms:

•Exercise fatigue and weakness
•Nausea
•Shortness of breath
•Dizziness
•Increased intolerance to cold temperatures
•Headaches
•Concentration difficulties (yep, there it is again!)

Treatment

“Ask your doctor for a blood work-up for iron deficiency or anemia, and discuss the treatment options before you undertake anything,” says Johnson.  Usually, the treatment is better diet and a prescription for iron pills.  But don’t buy those pills OTC (over-the-counter) without first consulting your physician because 1 in 250 people suffers from a disorder called hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) where the body can’t dump excess iron.  HH results in liver, pancreas, heart and skin damage.  FMI on HH: www.ironoverload.org

Getting back to iron deficiency, one of the biggest steps in correcting the problem is overall nutrition.  Besides following a proper diet, here are some simple tips to follow:

1.  Keep a diet journal.  Be honest.  The way you eat could be a nutritional eye-opener.
2.  Use iron-fortified cereals, either as breakfast or a snack food.
3.  Use a cast iron pot for cooking.  Iron from the pot absorbs into the food - this is not a myth.
4.  Drink your coffee or tea two hours after your meal.  Coffee contains polyphenols and tea contains tannins; both hinder iron absorption from 40 to 60%. 

“If you’re not a vegetarian, don’t leave out the red meat,” says Newhouse.  “A moderate amount of lean, red meat is an extra defense against iron deficiency.” In studies conducted at the University of Minnesota, female runners who ate only two or three servings of red meat a week had significantly higher levels of stored iron than those who ate no red meat at all.  Better iron levels=better energy levels=better concentration=better writing.  (Guarantees of a NYT bestseller not included, but a little red meat could be the start of one!) FMI: www.eatright.org

FINALLY

There are dozens of ailments that can drag you down physically and mentally, and give you that writer’s block feeling.  A day or two of a blank computer screen may not mean anything, but going beyond that should be checked, because it could be something other than your muse taking a vacation.  Call your doctor, tell him/her your hero’s in hot pursuit of a three-headed monster, his sword is raised to strike the one blow that will save the world, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out what happens next. Make it known that something’s blocking your writing process, and DO NOT accept the diagnosis of writer’s block so quickly.  What’s blocking your writing could be another matter altogether.


Recommended Daily Allowance of Iron

WOMEN

MEN

Ages 15-51: 15 mg/day

Ages 11-18: 12 mg/day

Ages 51+: 10 mg/day

Ages 19 & over: 10 mg/day

Pregnant: 30 mg/day

 

Breast feeding: 15 mg/day

 

A Few More Concentration Munchers

➔Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Symptoms include: headaches; tiredness; dizziness; sleep disturbances; panic attacks; sudden-onset clumsiness; muscle pain; indecision/confusion; lack of concentration.

➔Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - Symptoms include: persistent fatigue; depression; headache; sleep problems; muscle aches; memory loss; lack of concentration.

➔Sleep Apnea - Symptoms include: excessive daytime sleepiness; restless sleep; loud snoring, glottal stops or choking when you sleep; loss of energy; irritability; mood changes; forgetfulness; lack of concentration.

➔Lyme Disease (from ticks) - flu symptoms; general malaise; headaches; stiff neck; fatigue; sleep disturbances; mood changes; memory loss; lack of concentration.

➔Lead poisoning (yes, even adults may be afflicted by lead) - metallic taste in mouth; headache; lack of appetite; nausea/vomiting; mood swings; memory problems; lack of concentration.

This list is not complete - it’s only a smattering of all the various conditions that can zap you of your ability to concentrate.  But this does illustrate just how many ways a writer’s concentration can be affected by something other than writer’s block.  Bottom line - if the writing’s just not working the way it normally does, call the doctor.

More Info...
Uninsured?

A lot of writers are.  Here are some hints that might just help with some of those medical costs. 

•Doctors who accept Medicare assignment have mandated office call fees, and they cannot discount below the fee schedule Medicare requires.  However, many doctors will discount an office call down to that level, which can, in many cases, cut the office bill in half.  Ask for a discount.  Don’t be shy.  Simple office calls can run more than a hundred bucks these days, and if you don’t have insurance to comp that, why pay more if you don’t have to?  It never hurts to ask. 
•Ask your pharmacist for a list of the drugs that are now deeply discounted.  They’ll lead you to believe it’s only a few antibiotics, but in fact, there are, at any given time, more than 300 drugs on that list (it does change from time to time).  Check it out!  Take that list to your doc and ask to have your drugs prescribed from it if possible. 
•Some medical labs will discount, too.  Before you get that blood work your doctor prescribed, do some comparative shopping, call around and ask specifically for discounted programs.