Winter and … winter

It doesn’t take the snow here much to disintegrate into oily puddles in the street, and muddy divots in my driveway. Even the snow on the lawns has taken on a grimy tinge where it has not melted completely.

This is not how our snow looks like right now.
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But while the snow falls, while the trees accumulate a blanket on their shoulders, I live in a fairyland. I live in a place where the cardinals silhouette against the snow and Christmas has reappeared, just for a moment. Because the snow will only last for a minute, and then the gritty winter of Northwest Missouri appears again.

I used to live in a place that, when they had snowy winters, the snow would accumulate six inches at a time and consistently fall weekly through the winter. This wouldn’t happen every year, but in the years that it did, I stared at white lawns, wondering how anything could seem that pristine. Back then, I didn’t drive, so I had to walk and take buses through that weather. It was dangerous; I discovered this after a couple of falls and sliding down the hill. I marveled at the snow anyhow.

Right now we’re at the gritty and cold winter in Northwest Missouri. Fallen leaves and brown grasses stick up through the patchy snow, and I miss the comforting snow of the past couple of days. This, too, is winter; I can’t wait for Spring to start.

How to Talk About Not Being Okay

How do we talk about not being okay?

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Being vulnerable is that scary, that human. It’s scary to risk rejection because we have been a sloppy mess in front of someone. It’s scary for society to witness the breakdown.

The alternative, however, is that we stuff our feelings until we explode. Or we manipulate others so we don’t have to feel. Or we try to control everything until we cannot function anymore. None of these are good ways to deal with feeling like a mess, but ironically, those methods can seem more functional in the short run. They give an illusion of power — power over oneself, power over other people, power over situations.

I have very raw moments in my life. Although it’s kept well under control, I have a mental disorder. I have breakthrough times in February and October. During those times, I have sleep disturbances that keep me exhausted, severe anxiety, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed. I have to talk about it because it’s an overwhelming bad feeling and, at the time I have it, I feel like it’s always been there and will always be.

I’ve come up with some rules for myself on how to talk about not being okay:

  • Choose wisely who you will talk to and how much to disclose.
    • Mere acquaintances might rate an “I’m under the weather right now.”
    • Coworkers might rate very simple situational statements, like “My father died.”
    • Good friends, if they can handle things, might rate a description of what’s going on with some frankness, like “I have seasonal affective disorder right now and I’m doing pretty poorly.” This list is to protect you from the people who might reject you or the message.
    • The best thing, though, is to approach people who are supportive toward you.
  • Don’t use your friends as therapists.
    • Don’t rehearse negative scenarios on them and expect them to argue endlessly against you.
    • Also, don’t unleash your worst behavior on them. Treat them like friends and honor their feelings.
  • Apologize if you have behaved badly, just as you would when you’re not overwhelmed.
  • Do not expect your friends to keep dangerous secrets, like suicidal or homicidal ideations, for you.

If you are dealing with depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, or other mental health issues, your best support system is not a substitute for therapy, whether that be psychotropic prescriptions, talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or others. Reach out to your health care providers or get yourself some providers on your side.

I hope this has been helpful. I feel like I’ve clarified some things for me, and I hope that I’ve helped others think about this, because all of us have heavy times.

A Cognitive Journaling

Last night I had the worst dream, which combined all my worst fears: illness, incompetence, rejection, loss of control, judgment. I will not tell the dream, because I should not burden you with it. Trust me, it was bad. It would be like watching Tar, but instead of sexual abuse, the protagonist was accused of insanity.

I carried the dream with me today, throughout the meeting of two deadlines and preparation for another, 600 words to add to the novel, and an idea of what I will work on at work next year. It took away a lot of the joy I would get in these activities.

I wasted my time here — not that I didn’t get stuff done, but I wasted time where I could have been joyful. I didn’t need to hang onto the nightmare. And I could have let it go by doing some cognitive journaling.

Let’s try some:

Instigating event: Horrible nightmare, and the fear it could come true

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I feel: Scared (80%), upset (60%)

Cognitive distortions: (link)

Fortune telling (I know this is going to happen?)

Awfulizing (Looking at the absolute, cartoonishly worst outcome)

How do I feel now? Both scared and upset are now down to 20%

What do I do now? Relax and take care of myself because I still have mood issues to deal with

The Dreary Months

We’re officially past Christmas and New Year’s, and I’m officially done with the first draft of my next October release, and the skies are relentlessly gray. For someone with bipolar (II) disorder who uses the holiday season to hide from the darkening days, I am officially in the dreary months, or those months where I’m at risk for depression.

I’m tired all the time right now, and I’m weepy. I feel bogged down by a pretty normal workload. The answer to the question “What am I looking forward to?” is “A nap”, but there seems to be no time for that. I might nap on Wednesday. I have meetings all afternoon this week. On Friday I have an appointment in large letters: “NATHAN”. I do not remember who Nathan is or why I’m meeting with him. Since it’s in all caps, it must be important.

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What I need to do is get some strategies in place to help boost my mood:

  • A sun lamp. I don’t know if these really work, but they give me a sense of control
  • Naps when I can, even if this means while sitting under the sun lamp drinking coffee.
  • Things to celebrate. (I need help making this list)
  • Cat therapy
  • Possibly a phone call to the doctor

More coffee and booze are not on this list, as these will make my mood worse.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Winter That Was Barely There

Today we finally have a Winter day — three inches of snow on the ground and 31 degrees, so we’ll have the snow through tomorrow. That’s been the status of our snow. Barely enough to cover the ground, barely long enough to call a snow cover. No snow days in my future.

All our snow, strangely, gets forwarded to Kirksville, some 150 miles away. Or malingers just north of Omaha. We keep acting as if the big one is coming in any minute, but then we get barely enough to cover the ground. One doesn’t even have to shovel it, just look cross-eyed at the sidewalk.

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Oh, do I long for the eight inches of snow weekly I got back in Oneonta! Now that was Winter! We still didn’t have snow days because New Yorkers are hardy! (They’re also talented complainers, at least the downstate variety are.) To be honest, it was a pain in the ass parking up the side of a hill with an inch of ice at the curb. But it was a camaraderie, hoping our cars were still there when we left the party.

So I’m going to look out the window watching the snow slowly melt. By tomorrow, we will have marshy ground again and it will freeze when we have no snow on the ground. And so it will cycle till Spring, which will come with a sudden fluffy snowstorm just to irk us here in Maryville.

Almost Finished (with the first draft)

I can’t believe it! I should be finished with the first draft of Kringle on Fire today! I thought I’d never get here!

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I’ve been suffering through the worst case of writer’s block since I started writing. It started with me trying to write a steamier romance, Walk Through Green Fire, and then stalling out in the first chapters because I was getting antsy about writing sex scenes. It continued through Avatar of the Maker, which stalled out because I couldn’t figure out whether the female main character was pregnant (yes, she is, I finally decided.) Then I failed NaNo for Kringle on Fire because of my dad’s dying.

I’ll be done with Kringle on Fire today — sort of. There’s going to be a lot of editing. There’s not enough description, there’s refinement of language that needs to happen, there’s seeing if everyone is in character (but that’s one of my strong points), there’s making sure continuing characters and places from the previous book are correct. I’m thinking another month of editing ahead of me.

I have plenty of time. This book will go live in October as part of the Kringle Chronicles series. Look for it on my Kindle bookshelf,

More Big Audacious Goals

Three weeks into the new year and I still don’t have a Big Audacious Goal. I have goals, but they’re not new and they’re not big. For example, I want to publish my latest Kringle book in October, after writing (almost done) and brushing up (a lot). Publishing one’s fifth book (or is it sixth?) or writing one’s eighth book is not a Big Audacious Goal. It gives some satisfaction, but not the explosive happiness of accomplishing a new thing, a Big Audacious Goal (B.A.G.)

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I have not accomplished all my B.A.G.s. The big one I haven’t accomplished is getting an agent. I tried for years to get one with my best efforts. Supposedly, my books are too short, although I have never been told that. I have done many revisions of my cover letter and synopsis with no luck. Maybe my writing is not marketable. I hope not! This will not be my B.A.G. again; I have become accustomed to self-publishing.

So, I need a B.A.G. One possibility would be writing a different genre than I’ve written before. As I’ve only written Fantasy, Romance, and Romantic Fantasy (and a space opera serial with somewhat romantic leanings), I have some genres I haven’t touched. Women’s Fiction (a self-discovery based genre), straight Fiction, and Horror seem to be the next candidates. I do not feel moved to write those genres, so that’s not likely to be my B.A.G..

There are some I’d love to take up as B.I.G., but I don’t have the resources for them. Build a she-shed in the backyard? I even have a place for it. I just don’t have the $10k plus to get a drop-in retreat, nor do I have the know-how to build it from scratch. (If magazines are to be believed, I can cobble it together from wooden pallets and a reclaimed fuse box. I do not have the skills, or even the pallets, to do it.)

I need something that will take skills and effort, is theoretically achievable, and gives me a thrill when I’ve completed it. A thrill worthy of a celebration at the local Greek steakhouse. If anyone has ideas for a Big Audacious Goal, let me know!

Hurray! The Writer’s Block is Gone!

I have been struggling with writer’s block so badly that I have to push myself to write 1000 words a day, which is about half of what I write when I’m not struggling.

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But these past three days I have been writing! Up to 2000 words a day with the words flowing through my fingertips and two, maybe three, chapters gone through. Hallelujah, I might even complete this book!

The book I’m working on is the next Kringle Chronicles book, Kringle on Fire. The characters are a single mom and a firefighter, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t go the way most of those books go. I try not to write stereotyped, overly built firefighters and damsels in distress. Just like I like to include sardonic old ladies, gamers, a group of somewhat clueless frat boys, a sympathetic Karen, and the Kringle Society.

I better get back to writing.

Friday the 13th and Other Superstitions

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I do not feel cursed on Friday the 13th. I like to joke about it, but I realize that counting all the negative happenings on Friday the 13th and declaring the day unlucky is just confirmation bias. When we see what we expect to see, that’s confirmation bias.

The problem with superstitions is, after the expectation of doom develops, then comes the self-fulfilling prophecy. In thinking something bad is going to happen, the bearer of the superstition may act in a way that creates the prophecy. Someone with a Friday the 13th superstition may be so distracted by fear that they cross the street without looking.

There are several other superstitions I don’t share. Broken mirrors? I pick the shards up. Spilled salt? I admit I throw salt over my left shoulder because I think doing so is funny, especially at a restaurant. Hat on the bed? Is that a thing? Walking under ladders? The only doom there is for the person on the ladder, so I don’t do that. Opening an umbrella in the house? I think moms invented that superstition to keep kids from opening umbrellas in the house.

Don’t think I’m without my superstitions: I have superstitions of my making. I take a different path to a place than from a place, because I believe that will improve my day. I take a long, luxurious bath with good-smelling bath products before major happenings in my life because I believe it will improve my chances with whatever is happening. When I see dragonflies, I believe something unexpected is going to happen (usually good).

My superstitions are just as driven by confirmation bias as the mirrors and the salt, except they’re positive. No doom to prepare for, only self-fulfilling prophecies of good. Tripping myself into good things, yes, please!

As I sit whistling, my black cat looks at me curiously. It’s going to be a good day.

Taking Care of Myself

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I’m getting old.

Monday night I stayed up a couple hours late doing some prepping for my classes. I had to adapt my lecture slide shows to make them more pedagogically effective, and I had until Thursday to get the first few slide shows done. Being an overachiever, I instead completed all fifteen weeks’ worth on Monday. I did not take care of myself.

I got through Tuesday’s work completing the other class, falling asleep sitting up. Now I’m on Wednesday, the day before my classes start, and I’m totally wiped out despite a good night’s sleep on Tuesday night.

I feel like I did when I was younger and got only three hours of sleep a night, which was not uncommon given that I hung out with computer programmers. I used to walk around like this all the time, and I do not know how I got through college this way. Or life.

Today I’ll be taking care of myself. A nap on the couch, some leisurely writing, and a promise to myself that I will not be staying up past my bedtime again.