Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness

In a recent recording for a yet unaired episode of the Pub podcast, we discussed mental health in graphic novels & web comics. One of the things we celebrated in these works was normalizing these issues and I thought, hey, as a (mostly) reformed sad person, I could talk about my own personal relationship with depression/anxiety on the off chance it helps someone somewhere, even a just little.

My main problem has always been anxiety, something I’m pretty sure is genetic and has no logical cause. Since I was a kid, curbing my anxiety was based on the safety net of my parents and my home. When I would go sleep over at friend’s house, once we laid down at night and everyone fell asleep and I was alone in a strange place, I’d basically have panic attacks. I couldn’t breath and my stomach hurt so bad I would make myself sick. Honestly pretty normal for a little kid, but the trouble was I never grew out of it.  

My parents got divorced when I was thirteen, and the safety net of my home/family structure was disrupted allowing my anxiety to run free. I became incredibly depressed and my coping mechanism was joking about suicide. I thought I was being edgy and funny but I wasn’t. I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to process what was happening and a concerned friend alerted a counselor and I wound up in therapy. Once I started talking about the jokes I started to realize I wasn’t exactly joking. No, I didn’t really want to kill myself but I was desperately hurting. Confronting that hurt instead of making light of it (in very poor taste) helped me work through the restructure of my family unit. I got used to two houses, to my parents separation and the safety net was strung back into place. I was in a good headspace for the rest of high school and college. (or as stable as one can be in those tumultuous years)

But when I lived alone for the first time during my early twenties, I unraveled. Now, keep in mind, I hadn’t made the connection between my safety person/safe space and my anxiety yet. I thought I had just been a dependent kid and had simply reacted badly to my parents’ divorce. All around pretty normal behavior.

When I lived alone, my anxiety became overwhelming and frustratingly, it had no cause. My apartment was shitty but it was safe. I had no reason for the panic attacks that at one point plagued me daily. I felt like I was being crushed. I cried on the floor for hours at a time for no reason whatsoever. I would rush to the bathroom to keep the tears back at work. When I was home, I would put Mythbusters on the TV and let it play over and over again every night just for the comfort of something familiar. It eroded me. I found myself going to bed at night and hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I would never call myself suicidal, I could never imagine inflicting that kind of pain onto my loved ones no matter how much pain I was in, but I recognized I was at a pretty serious stage and decided to get help. I went back into therapy.

Honestly, just having someone tell you that this behavior was normal, that it happened all the time to all kinds of people in all different circumstances was a relief. I mean, of course I logically knew that already, but it made all the difference having someone in a position of authority on the subject confirm it to my face. Slowly, I got a little better. In the meantime I had started dating and eventually moved in with my now boyfriend. Having a safety net restored helped me a lot but it didn’t solve all my problems. It was a band-aid. It had always been a band-aid. I developed stomach issues during my father’s sickness and death, though I hadn’t realized they were connected. They never went away. After every gastrointestinal test under the sun came back normal, over the following years I started to notice a pattern. When I was hyper anxious, my stomach was worse. Travel was a huge trigger, even vacations with my boyfriend were a guarantee for panic attacks and stomach issues. I would get so bloated that I looked nine months pregnant, my skin on my stomach pulled so tight it hurt. Even going to visit my mother had me waking up in the middle of the night, rushing to the bathroom to throw up.

Did you know that if you don’t have enough serotonin in your system, you get anxious? Did you know we have serotonin receptors in our STOMACH? Because I didn’t. I finally sought out a doctor with my hypothesis that my stomach issues were actually anxiety issues and I was right. They put me on medication to help me retain the serotonin I was losing too quickly and it was amazing how quickly things changed. I could have been angry if I wasn’t so relieved. All this time, all these problems, and a little white pill once a day made my life manageable again. Sure, I still get anxious sometimes, but it’s nothing like it once was.

Long story short, it does get better. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to get professional help. Medication is sometimes necessary and there’s nothing shameful in that. If you’re struggling, you are most certainly not alone. <3

Back, & Back At It

Back, & Back At It

Back from vacation- I survived! Well, except that I’m sick now, so I suppose I shouldn’t speak so soon. I always get sick when I travel. Air ports are goddamn Petri dishes. And I was so careful! T-T Oh well, it’s just a cold, more annoying than anything else.

Had a lot more fun on the cruise than I was anticipating. I’m not a drinker and my partner is, so I wasn’t sure how that dynamic would play out. Plus travel and crowds hella spike my anxiety, but it was actually a lovely time. I got plenty of sun; the view was always incredible. Did some fun stuff at the various ports and, most importantly, got some reading in!

I sped through Howl’s Moving Castle within the first two days and loved it. Very IMG_5769interesting to see the similarities and differences between the source and the Ghibli adaptation. I really want to read the sequels now. Then I started Truthwitch and MAN what a book. I’m halfway through and I know the whole series is going on the TBR list. When am I going to have time to read all this stuff?! Very exciting, though- I love finding new favorites.  Reading such awesome stories has really got me inspired to write again, too. I bought a lil’ dollar pocket notebook and have been jotting down ideas for a new fantasy. Plotting and world-building again is so enjoyable and a great pallet cleanser after finishing another round of revisions on my manuscript.

Speaking of, I wrapped up revisions just in time to enter Author Mentor Match. I have no idea if anything will come of it as I still have a hard time judging if the book is ready. I certainly feel better prepared than I did for Pitch Wars. I knew that was a shot in the dark- I had barely finished the manuscript when I entered. I’ve done a lot of polishing since then. I think my greatest hope (aside from being selected, obviously) is that I get some sort of defined feedback to better guide me in where to go next. We shall see.

All told, I’m loving where my writing life is right now. I have a finished story I adore and I learned a ton about the craft in the process. I’ve got my toes in a community that seems really supportive and fun and I’m dying to dive deeper. I don’t feel as frustrated or impatient with myself anymore. I write more and feel burned out less. Hopefully the trend only continues to improve.

The only thing that could make me happier is ditching this cough and maybe some warmer weather. (And a request for a full in my inbox, of course)

Here We Go Again (2020 Edition)

Here We Go Again (2020 Edition)

Happy New Year and all that jazz.

Holidays came and went mostly without incident and I made it through the most trying time of the year: boat show week. Now I’m ready to settle into some sort of routine- hopefully a productive one. I’ve got my normal new year ‘resolutions,’ if you can call them that. I want to start getting more active again (I go total sloth mode over the winter and I’m starting to feel sluggish and unhealthy) and I need to get my sleep schedule right. I’m always tired. :(

I’ve finally got an appointment on the calendar for seeing someone about my anxiety. It’s gotten so much worse lately and I’m starting to think it might be more directly responsible for my stomach problems than I’ve been willing to admit. I can’t get in to see anyone till April, but at least it’s scheduled. I’ll survive till then.

2020 is also going to be the year I get my finances back on track. I have a budget planned that should get my credit cards all paid off by the fall. That means this is going to be a really lean year- no frivolous purchases, no new cosplay, no conventions.  The positive flip side of living really frugally means I should at least have more time to dedicate to writing and reading. (in theory, haha)

I would like to make a big dent in my TBR pile this year. Titles of interest include: Tarnished are the Stars (reading now), Howl’s Moving Castle, Serpent and Dove, Throne of Glass, Six of Crows, Furyborn, Girls of Paper and Fire, and Truthwitch, just to name a few. I also picked up a few highly recommended author craft books that I’m dying to dive into.booksshelf

As far as writing goals go, I’m working with an awesome critique partner right now and starting to chip away at revisions. I’m entering the drawing for RevPit to see if I can get some editor eyes on my query and then I’m also submitting to Author Mentor Match. Depending on how those shake out, I’m hoping to be ready to start seriously querying agents by March or April at the latest. I’ll have a better idea when I get into the back half of my revisions, where the changes are more work intensive. I’m excited though!

Life is pretty good, all things considered. I saw Star Wars twice and loved it. I haven’t gotten around to starting the Witcher yet but that damn song is still stuck in my head. (thanks internet) I might get back into playing Warcraft just because I need a pressure release and it honestly sounds really fun. Don’t really know if that’s necessarily the wisest decision but I’m committed enough to my goals that I’m not worried about shirking my work to play. My guilt won’t let me anymore.

Best of luck in the new year everyone! I’ll check in again soon.

Life is Weird

Life is Weird

I started the day by waking up at a quarter to four in tears. I had another dream about my Dad. I was speaking to him on some strange little speaker, and the sound kept going in and out, so much so that I wasn’t sure if he was hearing me. But I loved hearing him. He sounded happy. I’m getting teary-eyed just trying to recount it and I’m heartbroken that the finer details of the dream are already fading away, as dreams always do. When the transmission went out, I tried to call him back and got some strange automated message, something about the recipient having moved on.

I’ll probably never move on. Something I’m sure everyone who’s lost a parent can relate to, young or old. I got out of bed and washed the dishes just for something mindless to do, to settle down before I tried to go back to sleep. On the way back to bed, I stopped in the living room and stood beneath the little black chest that holds his ashes. I stared at the ceiling and wished I could tell him how much I missed him. I had the same old wistful thought- that I should have used the time we had better. I went back to my room and crawled back under the covers. Kitty was right on my heels and curled up next to me, purring. We’ve only had Kitty for a week and already I adore her so much. She’s such a good cat. Such a comfort.

So I’m in a weird head-space today. I feel tired and bleary-eyed and heartsick but on the other hand, the rest of my life is so happy. The summer has finally bloomed, rainy and hot with so many fun things in store. Work is going well. I have a costume half-finished for Renn Faire this weekend and the day off tomorrow to wrap up preparations, which is exciting to me. So strange how life can run such a simultaneous spectrum of sorrow and joy. Guess that’s an obvious observation, but I feel it very acutely today.

Sorry this update is a little weird. Just felt good to write it all out.

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Life’s Too Short

Life’s Too Short

It’s been a high stress couple of weeks but I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was feeling overwhelmed to the point of depression and now I think I’m finally treading water again.

I’ve sorted my money situation, I think. I reevaluated my budget, revised my payment strategy, and I should be out of this hole I’ve dug by summer’s end. It just meant cutting back on some of the things I’m able to do this summer and delaying some cosplay and convention aspirations till next year. But that’s ok, it’s necessary, and I feel good about it. So that’s one cinder block off my chest.

I’ve made a ton of progress on my WIP. Part three ended up being about 50 pages and it’s a few solid hours of work away from being totally finished. That will put me at 150 finished pages or about 50,000 words. I have 25,000 words in the partial parts five and six to go over and add to in the coming months. It’s looking like the finished product will be around 90k. (for comparison’s sake, the first Harry Potter was 76,944 words) So that means I’m officially over half-way done and I’m honestly pretty proud. I’ve never had a writing project so close to completion. And at this pace, I know I can finish it this year. Plus I just got some positive/constructive feedback from my favorite beta reader and that put some wind back in my sails.

Now all I have to do is make it through this Sunday. Sunday is my Dad’s memorial and it has been gnawing away at me for months.

My father passed at the end of April after a long and ghastly sickness. Born with a hereditary kidney disease, my Dad’s had poor health all his life. He was in and out of hospitals since I was a baby, so it’s something I was used to- it never affected his spirit and he brushed off each incident, his personality unaffected. About five or six years ago, he moved south to be with his long-time partner (basically his second wife though they never had a ceremony) and my young half-sister. She had moved back home to be close to her own family, which made sense. I know he felt like he was abandoning my brother and I, and as hard as it was to be so far away from him, I believed he was making the best decision both for himself and his daughter.

And then he got sicker. About two years ago he got into a car accident and began behaving strangely. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first signs of vascular dementia- brain damage caused by the lack of blood flow and multiple mini-strokes, which were side effects of his kidney disease and the treatment involved. The only way I can describe it is… it’s like my Dad began to fade. Every time I saw him or spoke to him he was a little bit less himself. And it utterly dismantled me. My father has been a pillar in my life, an unshakeable force, a constant. I was terrified of talking to him, I dreaded visiting him. I couldn’t stand to see what was happening to him. And he only got sicker, his body failing just as quickly as his mind. He ended up in a nursing home, which was a relief in some ways, knowing he was safe and surrounded by those best suited to care for him. And it was awful. My brother and I would drive down and visit once a month, about 8 hours in the car round trip. I’d get so sick to my stomach seeing him that way, I’d barely eat the whole weekend. He had gotten so bad, he didn’t even recognize us the last time we visited. So it was almost a mercy when he passed, but still my heart feels shattered.

The way I deal with this kind of grief is to squirrel away- to be alone with the things and people I’m close to. I do not like to put my sorrow on display. I do not know how to deal with both my feelings and strangers at the same time- I’m too introverted and too awkward to do both. So planning this memorial, as simple and casual as we’re making it, has still been trying. I don’t know my dad’s partner or her family all that well- I lived mostly with my mom as a kid, so we never got super close. That makes planning the event an emotional tightrope of trying to take care of as much as I can and constantly feeling like I’m overstepping my bounds. Plus I haven’t been to many funerals (only one as an adult) and though this isn’t really a funeral, per se, I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I worry that I won’t be prepared, that I won’t know what to do or say when I get there. I realize, as many have reminded me, that there isn’t much for me to do beyond receive those that want to come say hello and be myself, but still I feel lacking. So though I know logically that the event will go fine, I can’t wait for it to be over, for the relief of knowing I can move on and deal with my grief privately. I know it’s not the right way, bottling stuff up like this, but it’s my way and I can’t imagine I’ll be changing anytime soon.

And we’re almost there. I read something this week that, oddly, gave me such peace of mind: Life’s too short to give a shit. Don’t laugh- I know it’s crass but it honestly made me stop and take stock of what I was worrying about. It sounds like something my dad would say. My dad is gone; he’s at rest. All this other bologna doesn’t really matter. I know I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all that counts. Whatever happens, happens, and I need to disengage and keep on moving. It’ll be all right.

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Thanks for the insight, Geoff. I needed it this week.