the rundown

Ah. I forgot about having one of these things for Pitchwars. I should have some kind of cheat sheet on myself for anyone interested in taking me on, yeah?

Here’s the pertinent stuff:

  • I work as a freelance editor. The only way I got here was by learning to be merciless with myself and listening to the wisdom of critique partners. Flexibility is necessary, and I know it. Sometimes you have to slash a draft and rewrite it from a different POV. Sometimes all 80,000 words are in the wrong tense, the wrong time, the wrong everything. Throw it at me. I’m only as good as the work I put in, and I want to make sure my book is the best possible version of itself. 
  • I’m cool with going out on a stylistic limb. I love playing around with weird structure, shifting POV, and twisty plots. A lot.
plotty raccoon
A lot. That raccoon has my plotting face down pat. Let us plot together, friends.
  • Characterization is one of my biggest priorities in writing. Plot is great. Plot is wonderful. But if the characters fail to grab me, there’s no connection.
  • Mental illness is a consistent theme in my writing. Trauma is #ownvoices territory for me. At fifteen, I needed protagonists who didn’t die or go mad. I needed a scrap of hope I’d make it out back then, so I write the stories I wish I could have given to myself. This is the same reason I have a Bachelors of Science in psychology and worked in mental health with traumatized vets and teens. It’s not just close to my heart; it’s a huge part of me.
  • Other stuff: I’m a huge nerd for stories set around or on Halloween. I love horror. I have too many writing playlists. I adore sad books. I have a wild sense of humor. I used to explore abandoned buildings. I might seem a bit rough around the edges, but I snort when I laugh. I love animals. I doodle sometimes. I daydream a lot.
Um. Is all of that pertinent? I don’t know, but I hope it helps. If you’ve read this far, you’re awesome. Best of luck to all of us hopefuls, and many thanks to all the mentors devoting time to this. ❤
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victory versus failure

I need to compose a monthly Thing for the official blog, but in all honesty, I’m stumped. So here I go.

On February 23, I set out for a life on the road. A seriously, seriously hard life I definitely wasn’t prepared for, but I wanted it all the same. I wanted to know if I could survive far from home, in unfamiliar places, sometimes getting by only by sheer grit.

And I did. I drove all over the place. Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan. Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky. Illinois and Indiana.

On March 17, we were less than two hours from our destination when we hit a deer. We weren’t too worried at first–neither Jess or I were hurt. But then we realized the radiator was leaking, meaning we couldn’t limp on even if we wanted to. And so we came to be stranded in Kansas.

The bad:

Being stranded came directly out of our own pockets. Short and succint summary: the guy we were working for dumped us. Kaput. All the money we’d saved had to keep us afloat till we got home. There were no rental cars available until the following Tuesday–and the only one-way car was a blistering $750. (Ouch.) So we came home, and the search has begun for another job as the costs of meds ($280) and the cost of insurance ($308) are bleeding me dry. And…I still have to settle the costs for the divorce, so getting by on sheer grit isn’t stopping any time soon.

The good:

I can clobber my fear.

Despite a giant cluster of fear around agoraphobia, I drove all over the freaking country at all hours of the day and night. Usually, Jess slept while I drove, so it was just me navigating through places I’d never seen before. Quiet drives through a snowy dawn, balmy nights driving up the Gulf Coast. There was beauty to be seen everywhere, even in the giant interchanges of Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

 

Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma rendered me speechless. And every time we drove back into Appalachia and crossed from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge in North Carolina, it tugged at my heart. Somewhere in the Pisgah region, there is a place that is definitely home, and it’s just a matter of getting there.

Working up enough funds, getting through the divorce, surviving, surviving…There was so much ahead of me when I walked away last September. I wasn’t prepared at all for what was ahead. But I had a rough idea of what I had to do, and I’m doing it.

I stand up for myself now.

I know I’m capable now.

I know I can survive couch surfing and the heater going out in the van when it’s 14 F and tornadoes in the middle of the night. I can stay sane, level-headed enough to get out of a terrible situation and drive back home.

I can find the value in my adventure out into the world and call it a victory even if others declare it a failure.

I can survive.

I could get back up and choose the path where I had no husband, no home, no security. Just a broken marriage and all the pain that came with it.

But…I could, at the same time, deal with the pain that comes with losing your entire support network. I still scrabbled forward. I know I can live on next to nothing and not go into meltdown, because there are other ways.

There are so many ways to survive.

I was lucky to have Jess at my side–rough-and-tumble Jess who knew how to be homeless, how to weather the worst, how to keep thinking even when the screws are tightening and it very much looked like there were no ways out. Every time I thought I couldn’t, he would nudge me with the reminder that yes, I could. I chose to stay alive, and staying alive would always be hard for people like us, but that was the thing:

Staying alive is one of the hardest choices you can make, especially when all you want is an end to pain.

He knew that as intimately as I did–he knew exactly how hard it would be to keep walking forward into more hard choices. More pain. More failures. More rejection. And absolutely no guarantees that it would ever turn out all right.

But neither of us would find that out if we didn’t keep going.

It’s a funny thing. Grabbing someone’s hand and deciding to battle illness together, neither the stronger half. What matters is the understanding, despite differences, that it is terribly, terribly hard, but at least one person knows exactly how hard you’re fighting. It shouldn’t work, because it makes things even harder, but that understanding–that makes all the difference.

So what now? There’s a bevy of temp jobs, continued work as both editor and assistant on a publishing team, a possible job at a tea shop. Good–and necessary, given the staggering bill for the Pristiq ($228/month), the health insurance ($308), divorce costs ($2000), a hospital bill ($800), along with everything that comes with paying the costs of staying alive.

There are still six months to get through, to save up money to find a way to Asheville, and then…

Then the process of starting over begins all over again.

To all that, I say:

“Yes.”

Seven months.

About to be eight, if we’re really keeping count, but at this point, what’s the difference? Why haven’t I posted in half a year’s time?

Let’s throw out some guesses.

  • working on new projects
  • crappy mental health
  • crappy health in general
  • OCD

That last one. What the hell is that? is something I asked roughly two months ago. What are you talking about? There’s a long list of abbreviations in my medical file, but OCD is not one of them.

Sure, I have problems getting out of the house sometimes. But I’m not a neat freak by any means. I don’t get twitchy if something is out of place. I do have a thing about getting stuff on my hands, but that’s from working in healthcare. It’s not like obsess over it or anything.

Unless it’s bleach. Or engine oil. Or gasoline. Or chemicals.

Or someone’s sick. Or if it’s a bathroom. (Yikes.) Flu season? You best believe my hands will be freshly washed before I eat in a public place.

If I eat in a public place, because that’s difficult sometimes. The noise level bothers me at times, and then I feel a little on edge because it seems like people are staring at me, and I get weirded out when people see me eat. I can only eat half my plate, because if I eat more than that, I could get nauseous or get stomach cramps and end up having a panic attack.

And–oh yeah, if I have a panic attack in public, I start having trouble leaving the house. All that trouble with driving starts. I get to where it’s difficult to go to and from the mailbox. You know that lady on Shameless? Sheila? Yeah, I get her. I totally understand her deal.

Mine’s not that bad–really, it’s not that bad–it can’t possibly be that bad…

That’s what I kept telling myself most of this year. It’s not that bad. Bad was the time I was trapped in my bedroom at thirteen with the bureau shoved up against the door.

Bad wasn’t only being able to go outside very early in the morning or very late at night. In my mind, I could still get out–albeit with someone else, not alone. That was still something. I’d been in worse places.

But denial isn’t that great of a place to be, either.

Turns out that my definition of “bad” is pretty far off base. It’s easy to keep digging yourself into a hole when you believe it really isn’t that deep. You can jump out any time you like. You’re fine, really. And when you start getting pinned in a corner with meds not working and your view of the future getting really narrow, well, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough.

Or maybe you just can’t be fixed.

Here’s what I didn’t think OCD was: I didn’t think it had anything to do with the endless, ever-spewing thought tape running constantly in my mind. That was just background noise, you know? Just negative cognitions, a logical outcome of the things I’ve lived through. But there was a problem with that.

There wasn’t just the negative thought tape, running independently despite my attempts to shut it down. There was also the constant chess game of trying to out-logic myself.

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MR. ROBOT is awesome, by the way.

If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over in my trials with my own mental health, it’s that to all appearances, I’ve got my crap together. I’m smart, I’m competent, I know how to advocate for myself. I stay on top of my treatment and I do my best to understand its rules so I can beat the illness at its own game.

Well, it’s a bit of a problem if you’re following the rules for the wrong game. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this. So when friends and family threw together the cash to get me to see the therapist who pulled me out of the nosedive I initially fell face-first into at 19 and got me to graduating college with a 3.0, I kind of had to go. My own strategies weren’t working. The thought tape was getting louder than ever. Meds were failing. Everything we tried not only didn’t help, it made things worse.

So I sucked it up and I went to go see Bailey, because if there’s one person I know I can trust with their hands in my skull, it’s her. I filled her in on the last eight years, explained the situation, and almost immediately, she said “Here’s the thing–this isn’t trauma you’re struggling with right now, this is OCD.”

Say what?

What?

I was thinking, Whoa, wait a minute. I don’t have rituals. I don’t have compulsions. Obsessions? What are you…

Oh.

And over the past two months, it’s fallen into place fairly neatly. Not only have I not kept this thing we will call The OCD at bay, I’ve fed it. I made it bigger. And yeah, trauma has fed it over the past eight years, with good reason, but the presenting issue, the thing that is in my way, yes.

Yes. The thought tape. The obsessing. The attempts to out-logic the monster.

You can’t out-think a thing that has already overrun your thoughts.

I thought I was facing my fears, but…I wasn’t approaching them the right way. I thought, if I can just get through it, even if it’s awful, then I’m still okay. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. That simply reinforces thoughts like I just can’t eat in public or I knew I’d be miserable on that trip anyway. Sitting there, eyes closed, sweating, trying to wait out the anxiety or keep it pushed back far enough that it wasn’t obvious how scared I was–that wasn’t the right approach at all. Shutting my eyes, bracing, flinching…those things might have gotten me through the moment, but they never got me to see what was really happening. They hid it. And all those avoidance strategies just made it worse.

So, it’s been about two months since I’ve started working on rerouting my thoughts, and I’ve learned a few things. Huge things. Things that are now clicking and making sense.

Instead of tolerating the distress of a fear, I walk straight into it.

I see it, I recognize it, and I face it intentionally.

And then I do it again, and again, and again. Willfully approaching situations that make me nervous isn’t easy, but it’s getting easier. It comes more naturally. The instant The OCD whispers You can’t do this, I respond by doing it. Whatever it is.

Two months in, I can drive again. I’ve gone from seeing friends maybe once a month to at least once a week. I’ve even made new friends. I’ve made awesome progress getting back to doing things I hadn’t done in months. Life is improving so quickly now that it’s hard to think I was so hopeless two months ago. I thought there wasn’t any direction left to go in.

Now, I’ve realized I can go in any direction I want. I just have to take the first step. One of the biggest ones is actually talking about it:

Guess who said “hi” to the neighbors for the first time in months–and didn’t have a meltdown!! 

Okay guys…next up is going to the mailbox…without checking first…to get the mail. I CAN DO THIS. BELIEVE IN ME.

I RAN ERRANDS BY MYSELF. The bank. The grocery store. The DMV. I did it alone. And I didn’t freak out!!!

SAID HI TO MY NEIGHBOR. AGAIN. AND GOT THE MAIL WITHOUT CHECKING.

Had dinner in a loud restaurant which was kinda crappy at first, but eventually I acclimated and it came down WHILE I WAS THERE. WHAT?! I recovered enough that later I even swung by to meet Pru at the close of her shift and she and I hung out for a bit

Guess who had a giant panic attack and started sobbing in the grocery store but pushed through it and didn’t run and stared at people like YEAH I’M CRYING THIS PLACE SUCKS AND I HAVE STOMACH CRAMPS BUT I AM GONNA POWER THROUGH IT AND IF I VOMIT WHATEVER, DON’T CARE, I DO NOT CARE….and eventually I even calmed down and got through the store. The world didn’t end!

Biggest surprise? People are actually supportive of that stuff. No judgment. No laughter. No people making fun of a thing that has crippled me for months. Hmm. Another thing The OCD was wrong about.

Plus? A lot of people have messaged me that they’re glad I’m talking about it because they suffer from it, too.

Maggie Stiefvater has written some brilliant stuff on OCD, and there are plenty of other people in writing who struggle with mental illness. While stigma promotes the idea that we shouldn’t talk about it…it’s evident that we should. People feel less alone. They connect with each other. Help each other. Offer encouragement. Y’know, the things we all need to get by.

Anyway, that’s been my life for the past few months. I think I’m slowly getting back to writing. The thing tickling my brain now involves a haunted house set in a patch of woods where time gets weird and the kudzu is a little strange. It’s equal shades Lost Souls, Stranger Things, and Donnie Darko. So far, it’s very fun. We’ll see where it goes.

Take care of yourselves, guys.

 

Mania & its new best friend, Habitica

I don’t really keep it a secret anymore that I live with chronic mental illness. It’s something that touches every aspect of my life. When it’s impossible to hide, as it has been these past two weeks, worrying about stigma makes it worse. The only thing that makes it better is knowing other people who very much live in the public eye don’t hide it. They own it, and it makes me think “I can own my illness, too.” Even if more people own the depression side of bipolar and refrain from mentioning mania at all costs.

(Look at that title. So much for that.)

I’ve lived with bipolar I, among other mental illnesses, since I was 14. It’s the easiest to identify as my bouts of depression and mania typically run on a seasonal clock. Summer brings depression, early autumn brings hypomania, late autumn brings moderate depression, and the end of winter is marked by brutal mania. Usually the mania is controllable, but sometimes it lands me in the hospital. The last time I had a flare of mania bad enough to be hospitalized was 2007. Nine years of not being hospitalized–what a streak! There have been times where I probably would have been better off in a hospital but…that’s something I can’t financially afford, so I do the best I can to keep myself functioning. It’s crucial that I watch my habits and behaviors like a hawk. If I see a dip or a swell, I have to act quickly before it takes me under.

And this is where Habitica saved my butt.Screenshot 2016-02-05 04.59.29

Habitica is a neat little RPG that turns daily tasks and behaviors into a game. When you accomplish things, you gain experience, gold, and pets. As a lover of RPGs and a person who needs to watch behaviors and habits very closely, I figured I’d give it a try. And it did help, especially with keeping me motivated to accomplish my tasks. It helped me figure out what my averages were for how much I could realistically accomplish and how much energy I had.

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Like paintings for HOLLOW FOREST, though I should have been asleep at four AM.

When I had to add “not sleeping” to my habit list I wasn’t overly worried. Sleep is always a battle. My brain hates it. Doesn’t know how to do it.

But then I was adding “take Pristiq earlier” and “limit bright light” to the list. I was knocking out an amount of tasks that would have been impossible in December. Feeling almost better, if faster. My brain had finally found the accelerator and after months of depression, I’ll be frank: it was a relief to be getting stuff done. I fixed things that had needed fixing months ago, but I was fixing them when I’d had two hours of sleep and had been up for eighteen, nineteen, twenty hours. Thirty hours. My body was exhausted, but its pilot had dropped a brick on the accelerator. And I was so exhausted that checking off behaviors was the only thing that made the lightbulb go off in my head that I was in major trouble.

If I hadn’t been tracking my behaviors and habits so closely, monitoring them via a game every single day, I’m not sure whether I would have been able to steer myself out of the slide and called the doctor. Would I have done that if I hadn’t been watching my behaviors? I don’t know. But the thing that made me realize I was in trouble was the little game on my phone.

I’m still having trouble navigating this flare, but the doc is confident that I’m watching myself enough to get through this. I have the little game on my phone helping me know when I need to come in again again. I have an incredibly strong support network. And even though I don’t like the medicine that slows me down, I take it because without it, I can’t function. So having an app that reminds me to take my meds, enforce rest times, and call on my support network really helps–much like the routine I’d follow in an acute unit or partial hospitalization.

My hair is a really unfortunate shade of blonde, my house is bizarrely spotless, and I’m still exhausted, but I’m confident I’ll get through this. I’ve got the tools to do it.

Thanks for watching over me, Habitica.