The Lump On My Chest

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I knew that stress aggravates my arthritis. In the last nine years, some of my worst flareups occurred during stressful times in my life. Because I also suffer from PTSD, it’s extremely beneficial for me to incorporate relaxation into my daily life. If I don’t, I easily become a messy blob of pain, anxiety, and depression—all of which, of course, feed into each other. So when the news dropped that my publisher is closing its doors, I knew right away that it was time to ramp up my R&R.

After months of skipping my nightly meditation routine and daily yoga, I forced myself to get back into it. I use aromatherapy almost daily—okay, yes, this is actually how I justify my Yankee Candle addiction, shut up—and nightly (with lavender essential oil on my wrists and pulse points on my neck), but ramped that up too. Still, I almost immediately felt the effects of stress on my body.

I have chronic pain. I’ve had Reactive Arthritis (AKA Reiter’s Syndrome) since 2007 (and my rheumatologist tells me it could still be Rheumatoid Arthritis). Mine is enthesitis-related, meaning the inflammation is where my tendons insert into my joints. It’s brutally painful, and I’ve been in a flareup for over a year now (with a brief respite in September/October because of Sulfazine). With the weather all over the place and allergy season under way, my pain was already high. (Hay fever causes inflammation in the body. Just one more reason for me to religiously take my allergy medicine.) But last week something completely new happened to me.

I’d heard of costochondritis from other spoonies, but hadn’t experienced it myself. I do get swelling in my ribs. It’s really only uncomfortable if I wear a “real” bra, which is why I’ve basically been living in Gilligan O’Malley camis for the last couple years. (Praise my lord and savior Target.) I’ve had a rough time with my ReA, so was very thankful that I hadn’t had to deal with anything like costochondritis, because from what I’d heard, it’s pretty nasty. And now I can confirm this from firsthand experience.

Since the news dropped, I’ve had heartburn and nausea on and off. (Thanks anxiety.) Usually drinking 2-3 glasses of ginger ale eases it. At this point I should buy stock in Canada Dry. But last week, as I toweled off after a shower, I noticed that there was a big lump on the right side of my sternum, right under my right collarbone. And it hurt, even if I didn’t touch it.

So of course I ignored it. Or tried to, anyway. As the night wore on, it became more and more painful. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest. Taking Tramadol and massaging it eased it a bit, but even after my heartburn abated, it was still there. I tweeted about it like a good #spoonie, but it was midnight and I didn’t really expect anyone to be on. Because I enjoy torturing myself, I started Googling my symptoms.

After examining a diagram of joints in the sternum, I determined that the swelling was dead on the manubrium—the joint where the first rib and sternum connect. It was definitely costochondtritis.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do for costochondtritis. You basically have to ride it out. You can take anti-inflammatory medication, like an NSAID, but since they don’t usually much help my arthritis, I figured it probably wasn’t worth aggravating my heartburn any further. I did consider going to the ER and begging for a super shot of Prednisone. One of the last times I had a really nasty flareup, the attending in the ER did that for me and it brought the pain down immensely. I was exhausted, though, and didn’t really want to sit in the ER for potentially hours. I decided that if I didn’t feel any better in the morning, I’d go.

Thankfully, the swelling went down and the next day, it was as if nothing had happened. That spot is still tender to the touch, but nowhere near as painful as my hands, wrists, big toe, and hip have been lately. It’s now hardly even a blip on my radar.

In the days since, I’ve taken care to make sure I’m getting enough rest. My sleep schedule is way out of whack lately, as I’ve been staying up late working and combating pain. I’m easing my bedtime back an hour every night. I’ve now graduated to going to bed at 1am rather than 5:30am. I’m also continuing my nighttime yoga routine (mountain pose, standing forward bend, triangle pose, and wide angle standing forward bend). Stress is fun times.

Writing Rituals and Other Questions with Denise Dwyer D’Errico

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Happy Friday! This week was long and weird. I don’t know if it’s the change in weather or what, but my arthritis has been kicking my ass. I spent most of my time resting and squeezing in marketing and writing. (Savannah’s Song comes out two weeks from today!) Then of course Prince suddenly passed away yesterday. 😢 What the hell is going on this year?!

My goal this week was to finish the first draft of Just One More Minute. I’m hovering right under 30K but am still miles away from the ending. Since I have to revise the third book in the South of Forever series next week, I’ll be putting it aside for a bit.

Best laid plans, am I right?

Today I have a fresh new interview up at Denise Dwyer D’Errico’s space! Denise is a super sweet writer friend who recently released a book of poetry, so make sure you check out her work.

Here’s a little snippet of the interview:

What subjects & causes are near and dear to your heart?

I tend to write about contemporary social issues, like substance abuse and taking the offbeat path. I think it’s because I’ve watched a lot of people I love struggle with drugs and alcohol—and I don’t think I know anyone who’s taken the “normal” path in life.

Growing up, I was always under this sort of impression that you’re supposed to go to college, settle yourself into a stable career, then maybe get married and have a family. But my post-high school life was nothing like that. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I met someone I was crazy about. Then I got sick and had to can my already tentative career plans. My husband and I dated for seven years before we got married, and we’re currently child-free.

Life never turns out the way you plan for or want. I really try to tell people, through all of my books, that it’s okay to do things differently or to roll with the punches.

Read the full interview here!

What are your plans for this weekend? I’ll be resting, reading Drums of Autumn (Outlander, Book 4) by Diana Gabaldon, and then having my cousins and sister over for drinks and catching up. Tell me your plans in the comments below!

Odds and Ends

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It’s been a while! I so didn’t mean to slack off on this blog. I’ve been editing Diving Into Him and writing Just One More Minute, and everything else kind of took a back seat. Even my house. In the process, I learned once again why I absolutely can’t edit one book and write another at the same time. I’ve tried so many times, but I guess my brain just doesn’t function that way. You’d think it would be easy peasy, but apparently editing and writing use opposite sides of the brain. I was able to keep it up for a few days, but going back and forth was mentally exhausting. Plus, to be totally honest, I was having a hard time focusing on each book.

So I (begrudgingly) pushed Just One More Minute aside and put all of my effort into Diving Into Him. Because it’s a re-release, there weren’t too many major changes. It was mostly tidying up and nabbing any lingering continuity issues. For example, Jett spends a night in the studio on an air mattress, but later on when she needs to sleep there again, there’s not even a blanket. I made sure to mention that she’d brought it all back to the condo. These are seemingly small things but it does jar the reader. Shout out to my editor Christina Lepre, whose attention to detail is impeccable! She also happens to live in Boston, where the South of Forever series is set. While writing Diving Into Him, I really struggled with Boston’s super complex T system. Christina was able to clarify some things for me. I feel like the book is so much more realistic now. Any remaining errors are completely my own. (Note to self: mention that in the acknowledgements.)

Speaking of Diving Into Him and the South of Forever series, I spilled the beans to my reader group the other day, and now I’m going to tell you! I know a lot of you have been patiently waiting for the South of Forever series to continue. I self-published Diving Into Him last summer and had plans to release the second book, Savannah’s Song, in the fall. But between some health issues and time conflicts, I had to push the release back. And then back again.

In the meantime, I’d also signed with Booktrope. Through them, I’d re-released my debut novel Sade on the Wall (a YA suspense) as a sort of test balloon. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I would like working with a publisher, compared to self-publishing. The two paths are very different, and which is best for you completely depends on you the author, and your goals. It turned out that, even though there was a major learning curve for me, I actually really liked the process. Booktrope is different from other publishers in that they have a very team oriented approach. You handpick your production team, consisting of a project and book manager, editor, cover designer, and proofreader. I got very attached to these humans, you guys. As an indie author, I’d worked with different freelancers, but never so closely. It feels like being part of a family.

There are, of course, some cons. But what sealed the deal for me was being able to focus more on writing, while trusting my team to take care of the other details. I used to work almost around the clock while wearing all the different hats. With Booktrope, I could let go and put the majority of my time into writing new books.

So I decided that I wanted to submit new work to Booktrope, as well as some other previously published work.

At the time when Savannah’s Song was scheduled for release, I didn’t go into major details about the delay because I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And on top of that I was dealing with a lot of health issues. I lost a lot of September and October to side effects from medication, then spent November and December recovering. In the process, I learned that I’ve been dealing with PTSD for the last fifteen years, and so began an intensive therapy program to overcome it. And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, the medication I was taking for my arthritis stopped working so well. I started experiencing breakthrough pain. Then my health insurance lapsed, I ran out of medication, and my joint pain flared up to the point where I almost couldn’t get out of bed.

Thankfully, I was able to get back on track in January. Last month was all about a fresh start. I’m doing really well, both physically and emotionally, and because of that felt ready to get back into a production schedule.

I truly hated that Savannah’s Song was delayed so much. In the past, I’ve had to push back release dates maybe a week or two, but never months and months. I hate when series are delayed. It’s torture, waiting to find out what happens next—even if there isn’t a cliffhanger. So I had a conference call with my project/book manager at Booktrope, and South of Forever is officially in our production schedule for 2016.

We will be releasing the first two books in the series, Diving Into Him and Savannah’s Song, on the same day this spring. My goal is to release all four books in the series this year. (The third book is already written, and I’ve started the final book.)

My cover designer has created the covers of the first two books, and they are gorgeous. I can’t wait to share them with you!

However, I can share with you some other exciting news. My standalone contemporary New Adult romance, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos, was scheduled for a February 19th re-release. Because my production team was so ahead of schedule, though, we were able to secretly release it early!

The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos, by Elizabeth BaroneBLURB

Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—he only needs someone to help take care of his two-year-old daughter, Chloe. Or so he thinks. After being kicked out of his parents’ house, he’s determined to make it on his own. But juggling a full-time job, an undergrad program, and childcare is pretty much impossible. When his best friend jokingly suggests he post an ad for a live-in nanny on Craigslist, he goes for it. After all, he has nothing to lose… right?

When artist Savannah quickly responds to his ad, Max is thrilled. Her resume is perfect and Chloe seems to like her, despite the slightly menacing tattoos decorating her arm. Savannah brings a light and warmth into his life that he never thought possible. Max hasn’t so much as dated since Chloe was born, but he’s willing to give it a shot with Savannah. There’s just one problem.

Everything is perfect just the way it is. Even his daughter is happy. If he messed up things up with Savannah, how could he ever forgive himself?

Buy Now: Kindle · iBooks · Nook

Read a Sample on Wattpad

If you’d prefer a signed paperback, I’ll be taking orders for those soon.

So that’s all for now. I have some other potential news, but won’t announce anything until things are concrete.

Have a great weekend!

XOXO

Breaking Through the Pain

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These last few weeks have been miserable. We kicked off the new year without insurance and, of course, I ran out of Sulfazine at the same time. I’d already been having breakthrough pain. Throw in the brutally glacial temperatures that rolled in with January, and the week and a half or so without my medication was hell. Thankfully, I had some Tramadol left, so made due until I was able to get our insurance turned back on.

(Never, ever take health insurance for granted. Ever. Lesson learned.)

I’ve refilled my prescriptions and resumed my regular dosage, but it’ll be some time before it builds up enough in my system again to quell the fire in my body.

Inflammation is the worst.

I’ve got more Tramadol and Tiger Balm to carry me through, but after four months with hardly any pain, I’m having a hard time readjusting. On the first really bad day, there were a lot of tears. The other night, I was so exhausted I collapsed on my couch around 8pm and passed out under my electric blanket.

(Turns out Invader Zim is so much weirder than I’d remembered, but the comfort of the show I loved in my teens was enough to lull me to sleep.)

So I’m writing again, but very slowly. Last year, when I was in remission, I worked my way up to writing at least 3,000 words in an hour. Now I’m lucky if I can churn out 1,000. Even if my wrists and fingers didn’t hurt so much, the rest of the pain throughout my body is enough to blur my focus.

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

But I have learned to appreciate the power of scissors. Almost all packaging defeats me—even Emergen-C packets with their perforated edges. I’m finding that there are few problems a good sharp pair of kitchen scissors can’t solve.

(Emergen-C, by the way, is a wonderful invention. One of the symptoms of my disease is bone deep fatigue—and it’s also a side effect of Sulfazine, sigh. Emergen-C gives me the boost I need that caffeine can’t quite achieve anymore.)

I’ve been taking every day very slowly, but I have to say I’m relieved the weekend is here.

A Look Back, and a Plan for Moving Forward

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I can hardly believe that 2015 is almost over—yet I’m also relieved.

This year went by fast. In a way, I guess it was kind of like ripping off a Band Aid. I’ve now been writing full-time for a full year. It wasn’t what I’d planned; it just kind of happened. And although I’ve yet to make a full-time income, I’ve learned a lot about the business and myself. I wrote several novels and released a couple, too. I spent a lot of time evaluating my plan and changing things up. Literally nothing went the way I thought it would. Not that that’s a bad thing. Halfway through the year, I got picked up by a publisher.

Aside from writing, I spent much of this year battling depression. I’m actually kind of ashamed to talk about this. Turns out, it was a combination of trauma and poorly handled meds. I’ve most likely been struggling with PTSD all these years, which explains why antidepressants only make me feel worse. There’s nothing chemical about my depression, but as a result of multiple traumas, I’ve been trapped in certain behaviors and coping methods. (For example, I beat up on myself and withdraw.) Even worse, I’ve dealt with a lot of so-called professionals over the years who only made things worse for me.

Someday I want to share my story. I don’t really want to be anyone’s poster girl, but I long to be understood.

In a lot of ways, 2015 was about getting hopelessly lost and then finding my way back to myself.

Some good things happened this year, too. I finally got a diagnosis: enthesitis-related arthritis, probably reactive arthritis. (My rheumatologist thinks the medication I’m on will get rid of it completely. I’m not getting my hopes up, but my fingers are crossed.) Mike and I moved out of my parents’ and into our first apartment in a cute little town.

Already, 2016 is shaping up to be my year.

My Goals for 2016

I still want to be a full-time novelist. I’ve been writing professionally for four years now. My best production year was 2014; I slowed down a lot last year. In 2016, I’m aiming to release something new every 2-3 months. In February, my publisher Booktrope will be re-releasing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. Then, sometime during the spring, my team and I will be publishing the first two books in the South of Forever series. Diving Into Him will be getting a facelift and Savannah’s Song will be released for the very first time. I know a lot of you have been waiting for this, and I’m super excited to finally give it to you! The rest of the South of Forever series will be released as 2016 progresses.

In the meantime, I’d like to write six new novels. Currently I’m doing pre-production for a standalone romance that I plan to start writing in January. Ideally, I’d like to arrange my schedule so that I’m writing a complete novel in roughly four weeks, taking a week to refill the well, using another week to edit a previously completed first draft, then spend another week or two on pre-production for the next novel. Now that I have a publisher and creative team behind me, I’m confident that I can pull this off. It’s basically what I was doing when I was self-publishing, only a little faster.

I don’t want to write my year away, though.

I’ve fallen absolutely in love with the little town we moved to. Though I’m an introvert, I’d really like to get more involved. I’ve kind of been toying with the idea of joining a social club.

I’d also like to read a lot more books. I spent a lot of 2015 doing and though I read quite a bit—I even re-read several older books—I’ve been making an effort to read even more. I enjoy a little bit of everything, so let me know if you have any recommendations! I’m especially looking to read more NA. (Some that I really enjoyed: Scorched by Jennifer ArmentroutCam Girl by Leah Raeder, and As You Breathe Again by Molli Moran—my super awesome critique partner.)

I’m also working on practicing acceptance. When it comes to trauma, I’m really good at placing it in a box. But denying it only brings more heartache. Accepting trauma, to me, means just acknowledging those feelings. There are a lot of nights where I lay awake, in this sort of frozen mode where the fear starts to take over. Sometimes I’m really angry. And a million other feelings. I’ve been working on being more kind to myself and telling myself it’s okay to feel however I feel.

My work is cut out for me in 2016.

It’s going to be my year.

What are your goals for 2016? Leave a comment and let me know!

Keep Playing Anyway

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I’ve decided to participate in Blogmas (at least until my internet gets cut off 😂). During Blogmas, bloggers post something every day until Christmas Day. Usually these are Christmas-themed posts, but I’ve decided to do something a little different. I love Christmas, but I feel like I need to share my experience. Things have been really hard lately and this is my reality. And that’s totally okay! I think there are a lot of other people out there struggling like I am, and my message to you is this: You are not alone!

So I want to clear something up after yesterday’s post. I appreciate all of your comments, messages, tweets, etc. Thank you so much for reaching out to me!

In no way am I giving up. I love writing, and I’ll probably be telling stories until the day I die (which will hopefully be when I am wrinkled, grey, and so old that I just peacefully pass in my sleep). But I’ve been thinking about this for months, ever since my book sales started to plummet. Making any form of art for a living is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, and for a while it looked like I was going to be able to do this full-time, for a living.

I’ve been thinking about going back to work part-time, which is a very complicated issue. I’ve lost a lot of jobs because of my arthritis. Every time I go back to work, I think things will be different. I’ll be feeling better and then wham! I’ll get slammed with a nasty flareup and I’m out of a job again. I feel very nervous about the whole thing because, even though I’m on medication now and my pain is relatively under control, that’s no guarantee. Honestly, I’m very scared that this is only a temporary reprieve. My rheumatologist is hoping that after a few months of treatment, the arthritis will be completely gone, but I’m nervous. We don’t know for sure. And I can’t stay on Sulfazine for very long, because it tends to pummel the liver and kidneys.

Aside from my health problems, transportation is an issue and at this time of year it’s difficult to find a job opening in an already suffering economy. So there are hurdles, to say the least.

That said, it’s still worth a shot. Every little bit helps our situation, even if it’s only for a little while. It’s frustrating, to say the least, that this is the hand I’ve been dealt, but I’ve got to keep playing the game anyway.

I Have Arthritis

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This morning I rolled out of bed, stood up, and immediately stumbled. Excruciating pain shot from my left ankle. Gritting my teeth, I hobbled to the bathroom.

On Thursday, October 15th, I was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. After eight years of pain and searching and tears, I finally got my answer. My rheumatologist thinks that, after a few months on Sulfazine, this disease should be gone completely. Honestly, I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m just happy to have answers.

I got the news right before going away for the weekend with Mike. I did some research on reactive arthritis, but it was kind of confusing because most of the information out there is about reactive arthritis caused by STD. As far as I know, I’ve never had an STD, and still get tested regularly. I love and trust my husband, but you just never know in this world.

This AAFP article on reactive arthritis was pretty interesting:

Reactive arthritis usually occurs following an infection in a genetically susceptible person. Over two thirds of these patients are HLA-B27 positive. Those who are negative frequently are positive for cross-reacting antigens such as B7, B22, B40 and B42.8 A recent study9 found a similarity between some peptides found in gram-negative organisms and peptides that are in the binding site of the B27 molecule.

I am seronegative, which means I don’t have the HLA-B27 and my sed rate is normal. I do occasionally have a borderline double stranded DNA. I’m definitely curious to see if I have B7, B22, B40, or B42.

I’m still learning about this disease. I suspect that the mono I had as a teenager caused my reactive arthritis, because the timing is perfect and I’ve had no other major illnesses. But somehow I think we’ll never know. The important thing is that Sulfazine is helping and I’m able to do things like climb stairs. Small victories, you guys.

I thought that I’d feel better once I got a diagnosis, and I do. I still have pain. I still have bad days and nights. Jury’s still out on whether this will actually go away. If it doesn’t, I think I can be at peace with that. I’ve had eight years to get used to the idea of forever. But I am more at peace knowing that this wasn’t all in my head, that it’s a real illness. Now that I can say, with confidence, that I have arthritis, I feel so much better.