Friday, September 11, 2015

The Depression Discussion

It’s easy to become complacent with the pervasive myths about mental illness that continue to circulate, to hold back from speaking up even as those we love spread misinformation in fear of disclosing that we suffer from what they’re disparaging.

Mental illness so often seems to be framed as an outlook problem. I’ve heard that if people would just remember to “look on the bright side” they might be better. If people weren’t so overdramatic they would realize that everything is OK. If people would just try to look for the good, they would find it.

To the very few people in my life with whom I’ve shared this side of myself, I’ve lamented the lack of honest, harsh, real discussions of mental health not only on the Internet, but in the news and day-to-day life. Maybe it’s because the words just aren’t there. As a writer, words are my most powerful tools that I wield to create stories and worlds with unimaginable depth.

But mental health? Depression? Anxiety, suicide, bipolar disorder? I’ve never touched these subjects, because I simply don’t have the words.

For my dear husband, who witnesses my enormous highs as I sail forward and leap from one monstrous goal to the other only to fall, sailing downward towards darkness and emptiness and depths that even he can’t find me in, all I have to say is, “I feel like I’m slipping back.” And right now I'm slipping.

I try to hold on so goddamn hard. For my husband, for my kids. But depression has a stronger hold on me than I’ve ever had on it.

I went on my first antidepressant at age 12. Age 12. I want to be a normal, OK, well-adjusted adult with normal stress and normal problems and normal, average reactions to things. But I don’t know what that feels like.

So how do you start the discussion of depression when you don’t have the words and you don’t have a normal to weigh yourself against? When you can’t even stop the burn of shame when you go to get your medicine refilled, and the nurse asks you about feelings of hopelessness, because hopelessness is what led you there? It led my husband to begging me to make the phone call, to go to the appointments, to get the help, to stay on the medicine, to hang on, to just hang on for him.

How do you say, “Yes, I woke up and took a shower, fed my kids, got them out of the house, and drove myself here today. But I can’t focus anymore. It’s affecting my work. It’s affecting my school. I’m sleeping through alarms and never really waking up and drinking caffeine like it’s the last goddamn glass of fresh water this side of the Mississippi. It’s affecting my marriage and my parenting and my ability and will to sit down and push out the words that are in my head.”

You have to admit these things to another human being who is going through problems of her own, and you wonder how she manages to survive day to day. Is she just like you, pushing through a day, an hour, a minute at a time? Or is that smile real, and does she know something you don’t? Is her brain normal, not broken, adept at handling daily life and all that goes with it?

As writers we’re supposed to address the real in even the most fantastic of situations. The raw feelings, emotions, reactions, but for depression I just don’t have the words I need to start the conversation.

But my husband does. He has the words that have wrapped around me and carried me through days I didn’t know that I could survive. “I love you, and I’m here when you’re ready.”

I guess we have the power to use our words to start this discussion, even if all of the right ones haven’t surfaced yet. As bloggers and writers, I’d like to encourage you to write about depression. You’re experience with it, with watching a loved one suffer from it, or just your impression of mental illness and all that goes with it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What I'm Reading (and what I'm Not)

OK, depending on your opinion of how many books it is appropriate to read at once, your opinion of me might be about to change.

I like to read more than one book at a time.

Stop throwing things at me.

Seriously, I have met people who have gasped out loud at the notion of reading multiple books at once. I know I'm not the only person who does this, but they act like I've just told them about everything my husband and I did in bed last night.

Which was nothing, because I convinced him to let the dog sleep in our room and she snuggled the fuck right up between us like the coziest cuddle buddy you've ever had.

But hey, people follow more than one TV show at a time, which is basically the same thing, so...yeah. Take that, gaspers!

A lot of the time I end up splitting my readings between physical books (or eBooks) and an audio book (what up, Audible!). And if you now hate me even more for my love of audiobooks, I don't care. As per this article I wrote, they rock, and they will always rock.

Anyway, my physical read right now is How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, and so far it is as fantastic and wonderful as the title and cover promised it would be. I found it at Bookman's, our favorite used bookstore here in Tucson, and it immediately went to the (almost) top of my to-read list.

There's math, physics, time-travel and AI bosses who have no idea that they're little more than some code in a piece of software, but still enjoy using phrases like, "Yo dog."

My audio-book (which I listen to while driving, running, at the gym and while unloading the dishwasher if everyone would just be quiet for like two seconds) is You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day.

And oh my god, she is wonderful. I first discovered Felica Day through her web series The Guild, and she's been in other internet sensations like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the Dragon Age: Redemption web series.

In short, she's wonderful and hilarious and has just enough social anxiety to make me feel like we could totes be best friends. 

So what are you reading (or listening to) right now?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Schedules aren't Just for Toddlers Anymore

If babies and toddlers are indeed creatures of habit (which, according to every pediatrician, parenting book, mom blog, and that weird lady at the park that one time, they totally are), then count me in as a fit-throwing, Ninja Turtle-loving three year old.

I am a creature of habit.

I wish my desk looked this nice.
Which is useful since I telecommute.

Sure, there’s a lot of freedom with working outside of an office, but I still follow a schedule that changes a few times throughout the year depending on my classes.

Right now I have a few weeks before class starts up again, so my morning schedule is fairly simple:

  • Wake up and shower.
  • Drag protesting kids out of my own bed (don't you have your own?) and get them downstairs and fed.
  • Tell them for the last god damn time to put their clothes on or they can't watch Ninja Turtles when they get home.
  • Drop kids off at daycare. Try to act like I enjoy listening to the same song for the millionth time.
  • Come back home, eat breakfast while listening to an audiobook or podcast, and guzzle coffee.

Five days a week I start my day off the same way. I have the same thing for breakfast, the same thing for lunch, and eat the same snacks at the same time of day.

OK I sound really boring.

But there’s a good reason behind it, I swear. All of these little things that go into my routine get me ready for a day of work filled with writing, editing, and pacing my living room when I hit a roadblock.

If I rolled out of bed and plopped down in front of the computer still in my PJs, guess how much work I’d get done? Well, my Twitter feed might look busy, but that’s about it.

The same goes with writing. You know, my own fiction writing, not work writing.

When I was just a ball of hormones and energy and cigarettes I could write whenever, wherever. Now, I like a bit of habit before settling into some productive writing time. (Right now, it’s in the afternoon after I take a lunch break.)

Struggling to commit enough time to writing is a burden that most writers carry, and that’s one of the reasons that I find routine and habit so incredibly important.

I mean sure, those visions of the innately perfect writer who puts pen to paper and produces brilliant works of art any time the fancy strikes is nice and all, but for the most part writing takes an enormous amount of dedication and hard work.

Do you have any pre-writing habits or rituals that get you into the mindset to write?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Staycation 2015: Our Tucson Adventure

You know what sucks about vacation?

The driving there. Oh, and the driving back. There's also staying in hotels with kids who insist they need to share your bed, splitting a single toilet between 4 people (2 of whom either don't have to pee or HAVE TO PEE RIGHT NOW OR OMG I'M GOING TO DIE), and paying crazy amounts to eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So we didn't go on a vacation.

While staycations are actually pretty trendy right now, our motivation to take one was less from a desire to be cool and based more on our bank account and the lingering mental trauma from last year's cross-country move.

Plus, our city is pretty awesome anyway. Who needs to go somewhere when Tucson has so much to offer? And no, we didn't take any hikes, because going to the mountains or canyon any time after sunrise during the summer months is pretty much the most awful thing I can think of, and mama ain't getting out bed that early during vacation staycation.

Here are the highlights from our 3-day Tucson staycation.

The castle-themed arcade:

These awesome miniatures from The Mini Time Machine:

Eegees. 'Nuf said.

The surprisingly active animals at the Reid Park Zoo. Except for the rhino, but that dude's always pretty chill.

Oh, and this, because life hates us, and we've already blown enough trying to fix a problem that everyone totally promises they fixed this time.

Overall, it was wonderful. We only ate out once (except for the Eegees excursion, but c'mon, that's pretty much mandatory), used our annual passes to get into the zoo, swam at the YMCA with our membership, visited our local used bookstore, packed snacks, drinks, and lunches for while we were out, and ate dinner at home.

And I only had to set my alarm clock once, even if I did sleep right through it.

Have you gone anywhere fun this summer? Or are you chilling at home?

**If you haven't entered yet, you've got about 7 hours left to enter Coffee Copyediting's giveaway!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Giveaway Alert!

In need of a professional editing for your manuscript? Head over to Coffee Copyediting to snare a chance at a free editing.

And if you're not interested in possible free editing that's OK too. Instead, here's a funny picture perfectly depicting how fed up this mom was with people's bull shit. Seriously though, imagine all the questions people asked.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Surviving Night Classes

I'm in the homestretch of my summer courses, meaning that I only have 4 weeks left of my 4-days-a-week, 3 hours and 20 minutes night class. Phew. For real ya'll, I'm tired. Luckily I like math, or this would really suck.

Except you would expect this type of class to fly by. After all, it's only a 5 week course, and the first summer session I took went by in the blink of an eye. In reality, this class is draaaagggging because, apparently, no one else has ever heard of a pre-requisite. On the first day of class one girl raised her hand and very loudly announced that she hadn't had math in 7 years, and that she needed to know what subjects to brush up on.

Trigonometry. This is why we're all here.

OK, I admit it, I had a very bad, judgey moment. If you haven't had math in 7 years, you should not be in this class. Period. When I returned to college I hadn't had math in over 7 years and so I started at the bottom and worked my butt off to get to the level I'm at now, and instead of moving forward I'm stuck in a class with people who don't understand how to put all the terms of a function under the same denominator.

But my saving grace has been my teacher who, with infinitely better fashion sense and a masters in electrical engineering, is hilarious. During the half hour intervals in which she has to re-explain all of the principles that should have been learned in college algebra, I spend my time doodling in the margins of my notebook, jotting down notes for stories, and writing down all of the funny things my teacher says.

For best effect, please read in a heavy Greek accent.

Wisdom from my Precalculus Teacher

"If you could be a number you should be zero. It's chaos! Multiply by zero, it annihilates everything. Divide by zero, BOOM! Everything blows up."

"The circle is your friend. You're gonna love that little circle. Girls you want someone to treat you right? Get a circle."

"I try to tell her, but I'm 30 and she's 11, you try telling her she's not the boss."

"When we get to trigonometry that's party time. That's time to bring the pizza and beer."

"It's all just stuff. Just this is X stuff and this is Y stuff."

"Be careful because these look very much the same. This is a drunk 8. When 8 becomes drunk, it falls down and becomes infinity."

"'Hey brother, you have some weed?' And brother does, because it's the 60s."

Monday, July 6, 2015

On Hating the Process and 2D Characters

Earlier this week, I left the planning and outlining phase of my most recent work-in-progress, aptly named: WIP #Bazillion. And no, that’s not a hashtag you young hooligans with your fancy words and Twitter machines.

I was thrilled to start, even if kiddo #2 was home sick from daycare and camped out on the couch next to me. (Side note, I’m now completely caught up on the first season of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon.)

But the thing is, that excitement didn’t last long. It lasted approximately half of the first paragraph, and then it died as suddenly and devastatingly as climate change’s impact on Texas’ weird rain thing. (Too soon?) I’ve never had the love and joy and excitement of starting a new novel die as quickly as it did then, and I thought, “OK, this is just a fluke. Keep going.”

And I did keep going. For three, miserable pages.

Guys, it was awful. I didn’t just not like writing it, I hated it like I’d been working on it for four god damn years and was on my seventh round of edits. First drafts aren’t for hating, they’re for loving.

I decided to close my laptop and give the experience some thought. I’d spent so long thinking of this story and playing it through in my head before I ever sat down to outline or plan out any scenes. Character sheets with my characters’ information, back story, and other little tiny details were stored on my computer, I’d organized my sequence of events, parceled out some chapters, and yet there I sat, hating the process.

It took my three days before I realized why. My main character? She’s as flat as a freakin’ pancake. There’s no substance to her, no reason for the readers to like her. Honestly, I don’t even like her.

Instead of embarking on the adventure of starting a new manuscript, I’ve been spending a little more time with my main character, getting to know her better, understanding her past in an intimate fashion, discovering the motives behind her actions.

And if you need any further evidence that 2D characters suck, turn your attention to Paper Mario, and never forget that Nintendo thought that would somehow be an awesome game.