Hanging Out With Myself

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There was once a time when I looked forward to those precious hours alone, when I could fill the house with song or scrub the bathroom clean. Growing up, I had little true privacy. Though I love my family, I’m an introvert by nature. I look back fondly on long hours spent inventing elaborate games with my sister in our room—some of my favorite memories. Some of my most peaceful childhood moments, though, were playing office in my closet or reading under the covers at night with a Barbie-sized flashlight. (It came with the Winnie the Pooh Stacie doll.) I didn’t have my own room until my teens. Even that was short lived.

I spent my teen and early adult years living with my grandparents, parents, and sister. At one point, my uncle lived with us, too. There was even a period when Mike moved in with us. So when Mike and I moved into our own place a couple years after getting married, it felt almost weird to have so much space to ourselves.

Initially, the spare bedroom was meant to be a shared room, an office/studio. Mike, an artist, quickly decided he preferred the living room (more room for him to spread out his canvases and paints). So we began referring to it as the office, and it became the room I spent most of my time in. A room of my own.

Add to that the long hours that Mike worked at his day job, and for the first time in years, I had long periods of alone time. At first, I reveled in it. I worked from home, so I set strict hours: nine to five, no weekends, no excuses. I missed him, of course, but it felt good to settle into my introvertedness. (That’s a real word, I don’t care what spellcheck says.) As the weeks turned into months, though, the novelty began wearing off. When we lived with my parents, there was always someone around. Even though neither of us are big talkers, I always had the comforting presence of my dad. In the new apartment, the only interaction I had during the days was with my cat.

Mike would go off to work for the day, and I would long for the moment he walked back in. A combination of ill-prescribed antidepressants and past trauma spiraled me into a bad bout of depression. Struggling sales and writers’ block forced me to face the fact that this writing gig was not what I thought it’d be. The three united into a crippling triumvirate. I began to loathe even a few minutes alone with myself.

I knew that kind of discomfort could easily flip into self-hatred. Already I was thinking unkind things about myself. I needed to learn how to be my own best friend again, but how?

Somewhere along the way, I decided not to give up on my writing career. I also began seeing a new therapist who helped me wade through the misdiagnoses and after effects of coming off the medication; she recognized almost immediately that, at the core of it all, I was actually dealing with trauma (and possibly PTSD). With so much work to do, my days began to fill up again. I didn’t have time to feel lonely. Slowly, I began doing things I enjoyed just for the hell of it.

Today, I caught myself laughing out loud at a joke I’d made in my head. I realized that, for the first time in a while, I was actually enjoying hanging out with myself.

A New Appreciation

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In a moment of weakness, I decided to re-read The Hunger Games series—a move that, before I even started, I knew would result in tears. Lots of them. For multiple reasons. For one, I don’t do well with storylines involving little sisters in danger. But toward the end of The Hunger Games, I realized what it is about this series that strikes me the most.

It’s not just the tragic love story or the horror of the Games themselves. What simultaneously tears me to pieces and makes me appreciate these books even more is the way that the trauma of what Katniss has been through is handled.

Too often in entertainment and even in our society, the impact of trauma is ignored. People will sympathize with you—to an extent. They don’t understand the long-term effects of surviving a tumultuous event. For the survivor, it’s almost unbearable.

But as The Hunger Games began to wind down, I remembered that the things that Katniss and Peeta endure are not simply glossed over as the series continues. The next two books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, portray a lot of the aftermath: the nightmares, the anxiety, the guilt, the shame.

This morning, as I sipped my coffee and devoured the familiar words, I realized a new appreciation for Suzanne Collins and her masterpiece. She went there. The aftermath of trauma is not romantic or especially entertaining—not in real life, and definitely not in fiction. But The Hunger Games series devotes some serious time to these things, painting a very realistic picture of what it’s like to overcome any trauma.

The first time I read this series, I didn’t pay much attention. I empathized with Katniss but because I was still suppressing my own trauma, I barely noticed. Only now that I recognize how my own trauma has affected me can I truly understand why these books mean so much to me and their potential to act as a beacon for other readers grappling with their own trauma.

I see these books in a whole new light, and I love them even more for it.

Chicken in a Creamy Whiskey and Mustard Sauce

I was going to write about Mike’s and my first Christmas tree, but I didn’t get the chance to finish decorating tonight. So, instead, here’s a recipe!

We’ve been eating a lot of chicken—#starvingartistproblems—so I’ve been trying to keep it interesting. Mostly, I’ve been trying to keep Mike from using the words “Chicken again?!” I’ve been wanting to make a creamy sauce. So tonight I took the plunge. Actually, I was completely out of ideas and Googled “creative chicken recipes.” 😂

One thing led to another and I eventually stumbled upon this recipe. I didn’t have everything on hand, so I modified a couple of things.

1/2 c Jack Daniel’s instead of brandy or wine
3 tbsp dijon mustard only
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 c half and half instead of heavy cream
no chicken broth

I followed pretty much everything else. I think, next time, I’ll add more maple syrup to make it sweeter. Oh! The other thing I did differently was, I used a whisk. It makes a difference, trust me. It came out pretty good, but I definitely think it could’ve been a little sweeter.

Let the Hard Times Roll

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When Mike and I moved out of my parents’ in August, I knew things would get tough at some point. We’d saved a lot of money, he was working full-time, and I was making a fairly decent part-time income from my writing. I thought we were prepared.

For a while, things were good. It wasn’t easy, per se, but we made it work. And then, almost overnight, we hit a wall.

My writing income flatlined.

Depression slammed into me, full force.

We went on food stamps.

Every month, it got harder and harder to make rent.

As of today, we’ve been on our own for five months. It seems like it’s way too soon for this shit. I know when you’re young and freshly married, you’re kind of supposed to struggle. It’s like a rite of passage. But damn it, haven’t I paid enough of those proverbial dues?

As I write this, I’m glancing nervously at my Wi-Fi. It was due today and we couldn’t afford it, so we have to let it go for now. I’ve cut a lot of things in the last few months but this one hurts the most. The internet is my livelihood. And honestly, I’m even starting to question whether this writing thing is a good idea. At least, if I had a “normal” job, I could count on a paycheck at the end of the week. But I get paid monthly and if I don’t meet certain payment thresholds, I don’t actually get paid until… some later time.

Callie Crofts said it perfectly in her vlog: Where extreme narcissism and crippling self-doubt meet, lies art. I love what I do, but I often question whether this is a sane choice. I’m in one of those ruts where I’m wondering what the fucking point is, thinking that maybe I should just go back to school for something that actually pays.

I think a lot of people think authors make decent money. And maybe it’s true for the majority of novelists out there. But I have yet to see that tipping point.

I love my readers and I love writing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s times like these, when I’m up against the wall, that I question whether it’s all worth it.

Honestly, I’m really scared. I’ve lost several jobs because of my shitty health. Writing seemed like a great fit; I could do it from home and work around doctors’ appointments. And, at the time, my book sales were decent. I really don’t know what to do now.

I mean, I’ll probably keep on writing because I’m in love with it and I’m kinda blinded by that love. But I really feel stuck, and it’s terrifying.

NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNo-2015-Participant-BannerNaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—starts in just a few weeks. During the month of November, novelists attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s a marathon-style event that encourages people to write. I haven’t done it in years.

Usually, I’m already waist-deep in another writing project. This year, though, things are very different.

Depression got the best of me. I haven’t written anything in weeks. It’s a bitter cycle, because not writing makes me more depressed.

So I think it’s time to rectify this.

I’ve tried everything else. When I face the blank page, I still feel unmotivated and overwhelmed.

So a friend and I made a pact. We decided to participate in NaNoWriMo to get ourselves back on track.

Starting November 1st, I’m going to write every day—even if I only manage to lay down a couple of sentences.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Add me as a buddy!

#FridayReads Only She Can Save Herself

Scorched, by Jennifer Armentrout

Sometimes life leaves a mark…

Most days, Andrea doesn’t know whether she wants to kiss Tanner or punch him in the gut. He is seriously hot, with legit bedroom eyes and that firefighter body of his, but he’s a major player, and they can’t get along for more than a handful of minutes. Until now.

Tanner knows he and Andrea have had an epic love/hate relationship for as long as he can remember, but he wants more love than hate from her. He wants her. Now. Tomorrow. But the more he gets to know her, the more it becomes obvious that Andrea has a problem. She’s teetering on the edge and every time he tries to catch her, she slips through his fingers.

Andrea’s life is spiraling out of control, and it doesn’t matter that Tanner wants to save her, because when everything falls apart and she’s speeding toward rock bottom, only she can save herself.

Sometimes life makes you work for that happily ever after…

I read this book in just a few hours. Not because it was super short. It wasn’t light reading, either. But I devoured it. I had to know what happened next. Because Scorched isn’t just a romance. It’s about living with depression and anxiety—two conditions that are a huge part of my life.

Andrea tries to self-medicate using alcohol. Her concerned friends aren’t sure what to do. Even she isn’t sure.

There were plenty of moments of levity. I laughed out loud quite a bit. Scorched balances out some pretty heavy material with brilliant dialogue and witty narration.

My favorite part about this book was the relationship between Andrea and Tanner. He gives her room to figure things out for herself, with lots of support.

Readers who enjoy books that tackle real issues with the prevailing message of hope should definitely pick up a copy of Scorched.

If you read and liked Scorched, you may enjoy my novel Diving Into Him, a story about a young woman struggling with alcoholism and her dream of redemption.

October Goals

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I used to set goals for myself every month.

I don’t know why I stopped.

Maybe because I thought they were stupid, that they were just distracting me. In truth, I think they were keeping me on track.

My goals for 2015 were divided into three areas of my life:

Career

  • Make a full-time income
  • Write the South of Forever series
  • Write a YA series

Marriage

  • Get an apartment
  • Have a date every week
  • Be more patient

Health

  • Get a diagnosis and treatment
  • Eat healthier
  • Do more yoga

Jury’s still out on the yoga thing. I remember to do it maybe once a month. #oops

The last time I set goals for the month was July.

That’s two months of nothing. Interestingly, I was super depressed throughout August and September. Does setting goals really impact my mental health that much? Maybe.

When I think about September, I think about new beginnings. But when I think of October, I can only think about the impending winter. November is even worse.

It doesn’t help that I feel so heavy because of the medication I’m on. Thinking is very hard right now. But I want those goals. I need something to refer to this month to keep me on track.

I think, when you are in a fragile place, you need to set goals that are super attainable but not too easy. I decided to pick three things that I’m already working on.

  • Release Savannah’s Song
  • Adjust depression medication
  • Read 1-3 books

Savannah’s Song comes out on the 26th. I’m seeing my APRN tonight to do something about my meds. (I still think I want to come off of everything and start fresh.) And I’m already reading K.A. Tucker’s Ten Tiny Breaths.

Sometimes, when you’re down, you need to build yourself back up.

I’m a work in progress.

Happy Birthday, Popi

Popi, me, and Noni on the day I graduated college.
Popi, me, and Noni on the day I graduated college.

My family is scattered. At one point we all practically lived in the same house. Now we’re separated across Connecticut and Virginia. Normally, I miss them but I’m able to go about my day. We’re all living our own lives, occasionally reuniting to celebrate the milestones. Times like today, though, I feel the pang of that split.

It’s my grandfather’s birthday, and all I want is to be around my family.

I can’t.

I’m too sick.

Plus, later, I have to go to the DMV. Today is not my favorite.

But thanks to Facebook, we can trade photos and stories. My sister dug up this photo of my grandparents with me on my college graduation. My aunt and I were discussing the various traits we all inherited from Popi. Across the gap, we’re still closer than ever.

Under One Roof

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I’ll be honest: blogging twice a day, five days a week was killing me. I was lucky if I managed four days at Elizabeth Barone; I hit the lotto if I managed two at Kaylene Campbell. I also kept stumbling on a pesky question with a pretty good point: What do I write about where? Meaning, did I reserve just personal stuff for EB? or should I only blog about mental health on KC?

Dude. It was exhausting.

Plus, I don’t keep my pen names a secret. There was no real reason to keep my blogs separate.

It dawned on me that I could make one blogging home for myself, while keeping the other websites as static “look at my books!” command centers.

So what can you expect here? Everything: news about both my Young Adult and New Adult books; my life with dysthymia and Enthesitis Related Arthritis; and more!