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The What-Ifs Will Drive You Crazy

May 2, 2012

I recently joined a kickball team. Yes, kickball! For those who aren’t familiar with it, kickball is like baseball, only instead of using a bat to hit a little ball, you’re using your foot to hit a big rubber ball. Most of us haven’t played since we were in grade school, but in recent years, kickball (much like dodgeball) has started cropping up as an adult sport. It’s simpler than baseball or softball, requires less equipment (just a ball!), and most importantly, has a great nostalgia factor.

I signed up for the league kind of on a whim. I’m not athletic, but I figured that wouldn’t matter as much for kickball; I mean, it’s a grade-school game! More of a sticking point was the fact that I didn’t know anyone on any of the teams, so I was going in blind. That’s big for shy, socially-awkward me. On the other hand, it seemed like a good way to meet people, which is something I occasionally decide I need to try and do.

Meeting a new group of people is never easy for me. Intellectually, I know that I do want to do it and that it’s good for me. When it comes time to actually do it, though, I’m downright terrified. It’s like that person who signs up for skydiving and then gets to altitude and goes “OH MY GOD WHAT WAS I THINKING?” The certainty that following through means death is pretty much the same, too.

When it came to kickball, my fear was not helped by the fact that I had to miss our first practice and our first game. Not a great way to start out. There was no help for it, though; I had prior commitments that took me out of town. When it came time for our next game, I was thankfully able to push through the fear of death-by-socializing, get in the car, and drive to the field.

Here are my thoughts when approaching a social situation:

1) What if I go to the wrong place?
2) Will I even know I’m in the wrong place, since I don’t know anyone?
3) What if I can’t figure out who I’m supposed to talk to?
4) What if I talk to the wrong people?
5) What if I’m wearing the wrong thing?
6) What if I do or say something wrong/dumb/foolish/dorky?

Do those seem like small/inconsequential worries? “Oh, no problem, I’ll just figure out the right place and try again. No harm done.” Yeah, right. In my head, they take on the feel of TERRIBLE TERRIBLE DANGER. End of the world stuff. I am going to die or else go home and live as a hermit for the rest of my years, because I don’t deserve to be out in the world where I screw everything up. All because I showed up in the wrong place or at the wrong time or talked to someone who isn’t on my team or…

I’m getting better. I really am. I can go to kickball and remind myself that everyone is not sitting there judging me and everything I do. That it really and truly does not matter if I do something “wrong,” because that’s life. Because I’m in therapy and on meds, those self-reassurances are finally starting to sink in a little. Not all the way and not all the time, but some. Enough that I can go to kickball and usually not feel miserable and down on myself the entire time. That’s progress!

Music Monday – Stronger

April 23, 2012

Music is such an incredible force. It can lift you up or make you cry, energize or relax you. I’ve been realizing that when I’m down, I need to be careful about what I listen to, because it can really act like salt on a wound. Or in some cases, like digging a knife into a wound. Not generally a good idea. Better by far are the songs that bring me up, that give me energy. Also good are the ones that are relaxing, that take me away for a while.

Mondays on F&L are going to be music days, devoted to songs that have helped me through some of my tougher times.

First up: Stronger by Kelly Clarkson

This song became my anthem earlier this year. I was miserable. I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings. Work was a matter of trying to be productive around this aching knot in my chest. It wasn’t a good time. But this song — it helped. I’d turn it on and play it over and over, dancing in my chair or belting out the lyrics if I was in the car or at home. (I generally tried not to do that if I was at work.) It helped me remember that I am fighting this, and that I will get through it. That I am stronger than this disease.



What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone

Sounds good to me.

Asking for Help

April 20, 2012

I’ve never had a problem with going to the doctor. When you’re sick or hurt, it’s their job to make you better. They’ve trained for years to get good at that kind of thing. If there’s a problem in my apartment, I call maintenance; if my cats are sick, I take them to the vet; if I’m sick, I go to the doctor. That’s what experts are for!

Unfortunately, going to the doctor for a mental health problem isn’t as easy as going in for, say, pneumonia. Oh, the process is the same: call the doctor’s office, tell the receptionist/nurse you need an appointment and why, she schedules you, and you go in. Except, wait, I forgot a step: deciding you need to go to the doctor.

Deciding to go can be hard enough when you’re sick or hurt. Are you really sick enough to need medicine? Surely it’s just a cold. Or the flu. Nothing they can do for that. Or your knee hurts, and it has been hurting for a while, but it’s really nothing to worry about. Despite my being okay with doctors, in general, I tend to put off actually calling. I don’t want to waste my time and theirs. (I also hate making phone calls, which doesn’t help.)

If you’ve had a headache for three years, though, you’d probably call the doctor. Actually, if you’ve had a headache for three months you’d probably call the doctor, because that’s not normal. Depression is trickier. With a headache, you know your head hurts. You can probably think back and go, “Dang, my head has been hurting for months/years.” You can make a guess at when it started. Depression isn’t that easy to pin down. Like I said in my last post, it can be a gradual thing. It sneaks up on you. Even when it’s got you firmly in its claws, you might not know it’s really there.

That’s the kicker about depression: it makes you doubt yourself. For a long time I was convinced that that while I felt horrible, it wasn’t really depression. It was something I was doing to myself. I was making myself feel bad. There was nothing really wrong with me, other than that I was a weakling worm who couldn’t deal with things that everyone else handled just fine. It wasn’t something anyone else could help me with. The strength had to come from me. And if I couldn’t be strong enough, then I deserved to suffer.

You know what? Depression lies. It is a lying, manipulative, emotionally abusive bastard. It told me I was weak and a failure, and I believed it.

Even after I hit bottom early last year, it took a few weeks of Mom urging me and of me not eating proper meals because it was too hard to finally give in and called my general practitioner’s office. I didn’t tell them I was depressed, though. I said I needed referrals. And when I went in that Wednesday, that’s what I asked for: referrals to three types of doctors, one of them being a psychologist/therapist. I told my doctor, “I’ve been really down lately, and I want someone to talk to.” Which was true, but didn’t really address the fact that I was in crisis mode. I thought — hoped, maybe — that she’d ask follow-up questions, maybe ask if I wanted medications, but all she did was nod thoughtfully and write down a few names. Okay, I thought, at least I have that much.

When I got home, I made two more phone calls: one to a psychologist office to make an appointment, and the other to Mom, to tell her how things had gone. When I told her I an appointment with a psychologist, she was pleased but reserved. “A psychologist can’t prescribe anything,” she pointed out gently. “You need to talk to someone who can give you something to bring you out of this pit you’re in.”

Here’s a tip: if you end up in a ball on the couch sobbing about how you can’t even ask for help right, you really do need help. And talking about your problems probably isn’t going to be enough, in the short-term, to get you out of the danger zone.

I called my general practitioner’s office again, hating myself and certain they would think I was an idiot. I told the nurse that I needed to come in again to talk about getting on medication for depression. She offered me an appointment the following Monday. I cringed — that was another full week away. “Do you have anything sooner?”

She paused; I knew she could hear the desperation in my voice. “Hold on for a minute.” I waited. When she came back on the line, she had an opening Wednesday afternoon. I don’t know if she talked to the doctor or called someone to reschedule an appointment or what. All I know is that I got in that week. The doctor listened to how I’d been feeling, asked me questions, said that I was definitely depressed, and talked to me about the various types of meds. I went home with a prescription and a lot more hope.

Honestly, I was surprised at how hard the decision to get help was. I’m not really hampered by the prejudices against mental illness that are so prevalent in our society. I’ve been surrounded by people with depression and anxiety and bipolar disorder for as long as I can remember. I know there’s no shame in it. I know that seeking help, both through therapy and through meds, is totally okay. What I didn’t realize was that it is so much easier to stand on the outside looking at someone and objectively say, “You need help,” than it is to be on the inside and come to the same conclusion.

I’m glad I got there eventually, though. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since I started, but I’m getting better and that’s what matters. And I dearly love my doctors for helping me get as far as I have.

Fighting

April 18, 2012

My name is Kristin, I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life.

I don’t actually know when it started. I’ve always been socially anxious, even as a young kid. But when did that anxiety become depression? When did it become this darkness that eats at the heart and soul of me? I wish I knew. I wish I could point at something, some event, and say, “This is what made me this way.” But it was more gradual than that. A death of a thousand paper cuts. The combination of all the rejections in grade school, middle school, high school; all of the awkward moments when my lack of instinct about what was socially correct became glaringly apparent; all of the family fights; all of the tiny things that no one else noticed but which I remembered and dwelled on for years. All of it built up, piling onto my shoulders like layers of sopping wet blankets.

Maybe at some point I cracked, the pressure of everything overcoming the structural stability of who I am, and it let this demon crawl inside of me. Now the demon lives there, gnawing on my internal organs like a disease that no one can see. Some days it sleeps, and I can breathe and smile and laugh with friends. Those are the good days. And then there are the bad days, when the demon is awake and hungry, when the pain inside makes me want to curl up into a ball and beg the world to leave me in peace.

Days string together and become years. A good year — and I’ve had several — has more good days than bad. That’s what life should be. No year is going to be perfect, but having more good than bad… I like those years. A bad year, though, that’s when the bad days reign and the good days are few and far between.

2010 was a bad year. My work life was thrown into a state of confusion and and chaos and constant tension when the program I was working on was canceled. No one knew what was going to happen. Would we all be laid off? We wondered for months, struggling to keep working through the uncertainty. Talk about stress. Now take all of the stress from that and add my personal issues on top of it: my feelings of inferiority now that there were other female engineers on my team who dressed better and were friendlier than I was; my fears that I was going to screw up and lose the few friends I had; my certainty that I should be better (read: perfect) at everything — friendship, family relationships, house cleaning, work, you name it. By the end of the year I was a wreck.

Sometime in January 2011, I had the worst day I’ve had in a long time. The kind of day where getting out of bed made me want to cry, where existing made me want to cry. The kind of day where “working” consisted of sitting in my chair, curled in on myself, somehow not crawling under the desk or fleeing the building. The kind of day where after work, I came home and curled up on the couch, staring blankly at the wall. I told myself numbly that I would feel better in the morning, because that’s usually how it worked.

I didn’t feel better in the morning. As the week went on, I began to feel a little better, but not nearly enough. That weekend, I finally tearfully confessed to my mother what a sorry state I was in. She encouraged me to get help.

It wasn’t that easy for me. I thought I should be able to deal with it on my own. Never mind that I’d been trying that for years to no avail. Thankfully it only took a few more awful weeks before I realized that Mom was right – doing it on my own wasn’t working. I had to try something new. I could not keep on living the way I’d been feeling. So I finally sought help. I got in to see my general practitioner and asked for a recommendation for a psychologist, as well as meds to help get me out of the crisis I was in.

And it’s helped.

For the last year, I’ve been fighting the good fight. I see my psychologist once a week. I’m on meds, and I have hope that the ones I’m on now will finally be the right ones. I still have plenty of bad days, but more good days are beginning to shine through. Hope exists, because I am fighting.

I’m (re)starting this blog to share what I’ve gone through, what I’m going through, both for people like me and for people who know people like me. I can’t promise to be funny. I can’t promise to always be interesting, though I’ll do my best. I can only promise to be honest. Hopefully that’s enough.

Review and Revise

August 19, 2011

A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and posted two stories to BookCountry: the first draft Whiskers and Wings (my NaNoWriMo 2008 story), and the first six chapters of Raven’s Shadow, my current work-in-progress.

BookCountry is a relatively new online community for writers. It has a lot of great features, including discussion boards and articles about the craft and business of writing. The biggest thing, though, is the ability to share and critique work. Critiquing is emphasized; you’re required to give feedback on three works before you can post your own. I know I needed that kick in the pants to force me to read first! And I’m glad I did. It’s enlightening to read and give feedback on someone else’s work — you can see areas that you maybe need to work on, yourself. Plus, it feels good to help out a fellow writer.

But of course, what we really want is feedback on our own work. Once I’d done my three reviews, I posted my stories. And then I waited.

After a week and a half of biting my nails, I got my first review! I was so excited when I saw it. Someone had read and given me feedback on my work! Both excited and more than a little nervous, I clicked to read it.

The review was from RJ Blain on Raven’s Shadow. I’ll say right now that it was a great review. I don’t mean that it was all glowing and positive and showering praise. I mean that it gave me a ton of really valuable feedback.

When you post a story for review on BC, you select two specific areas you want feedback on, in addition to general feedback. I asked for comments on pacing and voice, two areas I’ve been concerned about in my writing. I can’t judge either myself; I’m too close to the story. RJ’s comments were incredibly helpful. The voice, she said, was consistent and good — “promising” was one of the words she used, which made me happy! It needs some work still, obviously, but for now I can live with that. Pacing is where she really helped me out. The story dragged in places. The tension died too quickly. Things were wrapped up in nice, neat bows, leaving no suspense. And the scene with the future roommate seemed unnecessary.

The review gave me a lot to think about! Having those issues pointed out to me, I could see them myself. It was obvious I needed to do some rework on those first several chapters — and I need to do it before moving on, because it would seriously affect the rest of the story.

The biggest fix I made was changing the timeline: in the first draft, Allison was looking for a roommate; in the new draft, the roommate (Lia) moves in in the second chapter. As a result, Lia is fully integrated right from the start. That takes out some of the biggest draggy pieces of the first draft. I made a few other changes, too. I wound up taking out paragraphs, sections, and even an entire chapter, and doing a lot of new writing. The end result is a new draft that feels much firmer; it will give me a good foundation to build the rest of the story. Hurrah!

I’m thrilled with the experience. It was a bit nerve-wracking to have someone I don’t know reviewing my work, but it really helped. I’m hoping to get more reviews that will help me as I go!

Dollars and Sense

August 3, 2011

The other day, a conversation with some coworkers turned to the topic of professional athletes and money. Apparently rookies in the NFL are required to attend a week-long financial management seminar. It makes sense; they’re fresh out of college, suddenly making boatloads of money, and they’re in jobs that could be end in severe injury at any moment. If anyone needs advice about smart investing, saving, and spending, it’s them.

The truth, though, is that we all need that kind of advice. Money isn’t an easy thing. We know we need it; we like having it; and most of us like spending it. Get more complicated than that, and a lot of us are lost.

Let me get more specific: I get lost when money matters get complicated.

Money is an odd topic for me. I have a visceral dislike of the entire concept. Weird, right? It’s such a necessary thing in the world. Having money is a good thing. Why would it make me arch my back and bare my teeth? A large part of the problem is that I just don’t get it. I know I’m a smart person, able to grasp a lot of complex concepts. And yet, somehow, money concepts elude my grasp. Interest? Stocks and bonds? This whole financial crisis that’s going on? That whooshing sound is those things flying over my head. It’s a frustrating feeling!

I do understand enough to get by. How much money I have in the bank — that’s easy. Credit cards? I try not to use them, but when I do I get that I need to pay them off the amount. I have my bills, including student loan payments, automatically withdrawn from my checking account so I don’t have to worry. I can even put together a budget!

Working from said budget, though, that’s a harder thing. I’ve been trying to do that this summer. My goal is to be able to save money each month, then turn around and use that money to pay down my student loans. If I can pay just a few hundred dollars more each month, I can pay off the loans many years earlier than if I only pay the minimum. That’s motivation! It’s harder than I expected, though. I spend more on non-essentials every month than I knew. Entertainment, restaurants, cash, miscellaneous purchases — they all add up, and quickly. Saving even an extra hundred a month requires curbing my impulse spending more than I realized it would. It’s an interesting exercise. Which is more important to me: instant gratification (buying that DVD set) or long-term payoffs? Obviously the latter should be — but it’s hard to keep my eye on that!

Looking farther ahead is even more challenging. I’m 27 years old; retirement is a long time away! And yet, I know I have to save for it. I am, amazingly enough. I have a 401k through work, and I also have some money invested separately. The latter took me a long time to finally set up; I had the money waiting to be invested, I just had no clue what to do with it. I was so intimidated by just the investment company’s website that I was paralyzed. I finally called my dad, who is my financial guru — he knows this stuff, and he enjoys it. He walked me through what I needed to do with my money, just like he’d helped me with my 401k. I don’t know what I’d have done without his help. I seriously wasn’t capable of figuring it out on my own. That’s not a good feeling.

I know there are financial management classes out there for people like me. Something like that should probably be required in high school or college, so that we don’t get out into the real world without some of that vital knowledge. On the other hand, it’s hard to care or even truly grasp some things until you’re faced with them in reality. But then what do you do, if you’re not prepared? I’m lucky to have my dad around to ask for help; not everyone has that kind of support. I don’t know — maybe the lack of good education on finances is part of why we’re having so many financial troubles as a society these days. I can’t speak to that. All I can do is work on is my own issues with the subject. I’ll leave the rest to the experts.

Raven’s Shadow

August 1, 2011

I mentioned last week that I have four novels in progress. Most of them have been set aside — for now — while I work on the one that’s currently most vivid in my mind.

That novel is called Raven’s Shadow. It’s about a vigilante struggling with loneliness while she fights for her city. She takes in a roommate and gets more than she expected. At the same time, she comes up against a foe whose goals are the same as hers — to protect the city from criminals and corruption — but whose methods are far more ruthless.

Raven’s Shadow is a superhero love story. Allison is the Raven, a mask- and armor-wearing vigilante. A superhero without powers — she’s far more on the Batman side of things, though less brooding. She took up the mask after her school was destroyed by a villain her senior year of high school. The cops couldn’t do anything to stop it, and they stalled out on finding the guy who’d done it. Allison took matters into her own hands. She took the name Raven to honor her fallen classmates, and hunted out the man who committed their mass murder. When that was done, she kept the name and continued to fight for her city.

The novel begins several years after Raven starts protecting Cedarville. At this point, Allison is largely alone. She has a day job at the martial arts academy where she trains. She has a couple of friends, both in and out of costume — but no one who knows her as both Allison and the Raven. There’s no one at home with her now, either, in the house where she grew up. She’s lonely. At the recommendation of a coworker, she puts out an ad for a roommate-slash-housekeeper — someone who’d be another voice in the house, who preferably would also do the chores that Allison generally neglected.

Enter Lia, a work-from-home graphic designer. She’s looking for a new place to live, since her current roommate is about to get married. Allison’s roommate ad is a dream come true — she wouldn’t have to pay rent, just clean and cook and do the grocery shopping. Easy. The “discretion required” clause could be a red flag, but she’s willing to give it a try anyway. She’s not the type to go digging into someone else’s secrets; she has her own baggage, after all.

As the case Raven is investigating heats up, Lia begins to support her in ways she never expected. She didn’t put out the roommate ad looking for love, but she just might find it with Lia — if they can survive the trickery and mayhem coming their way.

I’m a little more than 16K words into the novel, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I don’t have a solid outline, just a general idea of what’s coming and when. The relationship arc is far more defined in my head than the mystery/action plot — I’m discovering a lot of that as I go! I’m excited to see what turns up.

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