Hello, 2017

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If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.

Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.

Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.

A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.

I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.

My Goals for 2017

Home

Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!

Me

Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.

There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.

I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:

I think this design is the one I’ll go with.

I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.

I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.

Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.

I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.

Money

Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.

Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.

My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.

They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.

Career

Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.

Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.

I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!

Marriage

Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!

Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.

Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.

Family

Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.

Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.

My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.

Health

Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.

But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.

I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.

I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.

Passion

Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.

I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.

I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.

Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.


What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!

The Pain Isn’t the Worst Part

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The worst part about this autoimmune disease isn’t the joint pain. Most people my age without children are out living it up: drinks at bars with friends, casinos to celebrate birthdays, rock concerts just for the fun of it, hiking in the fall. All of these things I can’t really do anymore. Very rarely is it that I have the energy or feel physically well enough to participate in, well, life.

This weekend is a perfect illustration.

Right now, I’m in a flareup; even though I’m on medication, it doesn’t completely get rid of the fatigue and joint pain. It also doesn’t help that I’ve got a cold on top of the flareup. (Yup—the one-day sickness that everyone else had has morphed into a full-fledged cold for me.) I’m exhausted. Plus, between painsomnia and now being sick, I haven’t had a good night of sleep in a few weeks. Still, on Friday I pushed myself to go to my family’s annual girls’ cookie baking date.

By the time we finished, though, I was exhausted. The cold had moved south; it felt like I had a frog in my throat and an elephant sitting on my chest. I was supposed to go to a surprise birthday party for a family friend that evening. The problem was, I knew if I pushed my body and went, I’d definitely be useless all day Saturday.

And Saturday—today—is the second launch party for Phat Lip, the art magazine that my husband is a partner in.

I missed the first launch party because, you guessed it, I was flaring and didn’t feel well enough to go. I never feel well enough anymore. I know Mike doesn’t resent me for it, but I can tell it bums him out that I barely attend his events. It bums me out.

Before the launch party tonight, we’re supposed to go to my parents’ for a homemade pizza night. And with the way I’m feeling right now, I doubt that I’ll make it to either gathering. The cycle will start anew.

Mike will go out without me, and I’ll stay at home lonely and missing out.

I always have to choose: between sick or sicker; between washing my hair or cleaning my toilet; between getting much-needed rest or getting work done; between participating in life or maintaining the tiny bit of health that I have. The best metaphor I’ve ever heard for this is Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory.

So many people don’t get it. Those that used to text me to make plans stopped trying. I’m flaky, cancel-at-the-last-minute girl. Others rib me for never seeing me. I’ve even been guilt-tripped several times. Thankfully, there are two people in my everyday life who truly do get it, and that’s only because they too have chronic illnesses.

The holidays for me are the hardest, because I just can’t do the house hopping thing. I don’t get to connect with much of my family and friends. This time of year is rough in general, because the cold weather, my flaring body, and my compromised immune system keep me holed up. I miss out on everything, and I can’t risk pushing through, because if I do I’ll pay for it for days afterward.

But it seems to me that there’s an even greater price, one that I can’t seem to recoup.

That—the missing out—is the worst part of being chronically ill.

Until Further Notice

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

My dear readers,

I’m going to be say this flat out: I need a break. I’m dealing with a nasty flareup of my autoimmune disease, which means every single one of my joints is in agonizing pain and stiffness and I’m beyond exhausted. Every day I fall farther and farther behind on my work load. I’ve been struggling to catch up on bills with freelance work and a GoFundMe. It’s almost December, which means I’m supposed to start my yearly inventory soon (updating covers, interior formatting, pricing, etc). The holidays are officially here, so my personal life is naturally more hectic. And pretty soon I’ll be starting pain management, which occupies a lot of time during the first month or so; hopefully I’ll also be starting Plaquenil or some other kind of DMARD.

Every aspect of my life is completely off track—including my marriage, due to my declining health and the resulting financial stress we’re under—and I desperately need to play catchup.

I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, and I feel tremendously overwhelmed. Not only am I too stiff to get right out of bed every morning, but I also immediately feel panicked because there is so much I need to get done in a given day and my body just won’t cooperate. Even simple things like doing dishes have become a serious challenge. It’s not a good feeling.

love social media. I love blogging and I love sending newsletters and I love tweeting and I love doing Facebook takeovers. Most importantly, I love chatting with you. But if I’m ever going to catch up on my work and get my personal life in order, something is going to have to go.

So I’m going to go dark for a while.

I really hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings. But I’ll be using my time away to:

  • finish up some projects
  • update covers and pricing
  • rearrange my catalog
  • get my health in order
  • reconnect with my dear husband
  • spend time with my family

You won’t be completely cut off from me. I’ll be scheduling social media posts in Hoot Suite; I just won’t be able to respond individually or check DMs and messages. I’ll be releasing a special holiday novella starring Rowan and Matt from Just One More Minute. I’ll be checking my email every Monday; you can write to me at elizabethbaronebooks@gmail.com. And I’ll be sending out a holiday newsletter sometime in December with all my current happenings. (I may also be occasionally blogging, but nowhere near as much as I’ve been.) You might see some titles go unavailable on Amazon, etc for short periods of time while I’m updating, but please don’t worry. I’m just doing inventory to prepare for a rocking 2017.

And just to throw this out there, I’m not getting divorced or anything like that. Mike and I have just both been really stressed and I think we need to spend more time together to reconnect. We’re just as sickeningly in love as ever, if not very frazzled and overwhelmed.

I know I keep using that word but trust me, it doesn’t even begin to describe the state of Liz Land right now.

In the end, this will be the best thing for everyone. You’ll get things you’ve been long waiting for—like the rest of the Comes in Threes series—and I’ll (hopefully) get a diagnosis and start treatment. Not that my health hinges on the time I spend on social media; I just need to rearrange my priorities so I can focus on the most important things.

I hope this makes sense and I hope you understand.

I love you dearly, and I’ll see you in the new year!

Elizabeth Barone

Happy Birthday, Love

True love, circa 2009
True love, circa 2009

I can still remember the day I met you. Well, okay—I know that’s debatable. You remember meeting years earlier when I still worked at FYE, and while I vaguely remember that day, I don’t remember meeting. Which you will never let me live down. I do, however, remember meeting one summer night at Toys R Us.

We’d both been working there for a couple of months. It was a slow night and we were both scheduled to close. You were still working in Boys and I was in R-Zone. My friend Kristen and I were talking about her breakup with her girlfriend when you came sauntering up to us. You were such a flirt, those blue eyes sparkling with mischief and laughter as you smoothly asked us what we were up to that night.

Since I sort of had plans with a friend, I just shrugged and turned my attention back to Kristen. But she was a year older than me and that much smarter.

“He’s cute,” she said, “and he can buy us alcohol.”

True. I was 17 and had just graduated high school. A whole summer of celebration lay before me. But I’d also just gotten out of a series of bad relationships, and I needed another disaster like I needed another hole in my head. Plus, I was supposed to be hanging out with my friend Steve, even though I hadn’t heard anything definite from him.

“I don’t know,” I told you. So much warmth radiated from you, even back then. I wanted to hang out with you.

You said something like “Well, let me know before we close” and strode back to your department.

Throughout the rest of our shift, Kristen and I debated. We finally decided that we’d go for it. What was the worst that could happen? We’d have a couple beers and relax. There was no commitment.

At the last minute, though, Kristen backed out. She was still really upset about her girlfriend and not exactly in the mood to hang out. I couldn’t blame her, though I was kind of bummed because I’ll be honest: I had a huge crush on her and wanted to wipe away all memories of her ex from her mind. Which I realize was totally contradictory to my overall attitude about dating at the time, but I was a teenager, dude. Even though I’d endured some serious trauma in recent relationships, my hormones were still driving most of my decisions.

Which is exactly why I decided to hang out with you anyway.

We hopped into the backseat of your brother’s car and took off for a friend’s garage. I’d had my share of partying in garages throughout the past couple months—my friend Steve’s friends regularly hung out in their own version of “The Garage”—but this was different. Once outside of work, I couldn’t ignore the magnetic pull I felt toward you. It might sound cheesy, and I know you’ll probably laugh it off, but I knew almost instantly that I was in trouble.

Given time, I was totally going to fall in love with you.

And I didn’t want to.

We drank beers and shots of vodka while sitting on milk crates and just getting to know each other. Your brother and friends were really cool, and you made me laugh. Your sense of humor was completely off the wall at times—but I got you. Half the time, you said things that I’d always been thinking but could never really put into words.

Since I wouldn’t be 18 until the end of summer, I still had a lame-ass curfew. (THANKS MOM.) But instead of making me feel bad about it or begging me to push it a little later, you helped me keep an eye on the time and then drove me home. When we pulled up in front of my house, I thought for sure you were going to kiss me. I was floating on booze and a little curious. What would it be like to date you? Would we have a normal relationship or would it all be a total disaster? Mostly, though, I wanted to know what it’d be like to kiss you.

“So,” you said, letting the engine idle. “Who do you like at work?”

The question caught me off guard. I was expecting a mostly awkward goodnight, maybe a kiss. I hadn’t been expecting that at all. A nervous giggle escaped my lips and I tried to dodge the question. For one, I couldn’t just blurt out that I liked you. I was supposed to be playing hard to get or something. But I was also a little tipsy and wasn’t exactly sure what would come out of my mouth.

There were a lot of hot guys and girls at TRU. I knew I had options, and my plan was to kind of play the field a bit. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to date someone I also worked with, but I wasn’t opposed to having some fun.

So I smiled coyly and said, “I don’t know. A few people.” Then I kissed you on a stubbly cheek and slipped out of the car.

That was the first and last time I’ve been able to control myself around you.

I tell you that I love you all the time, but I still think it’s important to tell you why. Especially on your birthday—a day to celebrate everything you are. I’m always proud to be your wife, because no matter how hard things get, you’re nothing short of amazing.

From your sense of humor to your smile, you are intoxicating. You radiate life, love, and laughter—and I’m not exaggerating. Whenever I’m around you, I instantly relax. Your enthusiasm for everything is contagious; you’ve taught me how to embrace life and live it to the fullest. Your stubbornness is simultaneously your best and worst quality, haha. Because of it you’re both loyal to the people you love and tenacious in pursuing your dreams… and also a fantastic procrastinator when it comes to things like seeing a doctor or trimming your beard.

Love, I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am that you’re on this planet. Your existence has been the best gift I’ve ever received. Your sister tells me all the time that you and I “were written in the stars,” and I have no choice but to believe her. Everything in my life before that first night led me to you, and once I found you, I couldn’t let go even if I wanted to.

If I could, I’d give you the world. I think about that house we talk about sometimes—the one with the barn out back that we’ve converted into your studio. I imagine sitting on our porch drinking coffee, watching our kids play in the yard while I daydream about my current work in progress. You glance out the window at me, a paintbrush resting between your fingers, your hand pausing in midair. Our eyes meet and we both smile at the same time, equally content with the life we’ve built.

That feeling is the gift I want to give you over and over. Even now, when the bills are piling up and our fridge is running low, this is how I feel most of the time. I know things are hard and we both often feel frustrated, but I wouldn’t trade our life together for anything.

I love you forever.

Happy birthday, bearded man.

10 Years Together, 3 Years of Marriage

Singing karaoke at our wedding.
Singing karaoke at our wedding.

Sometimes I marvel that this man is mine—even when he’s driving me absolutely bonkers. Especially then, actually. I look into those soft blue eyes and I feel like I’m living a real-life NA romance. We’ve had plenty of our share of the back-and-forth.

Fire, meet gasoline.

When Mike and I first met*, I’d just started working at Toys R Us and also just exited a series of bad relationships. I was the heroine just looking to have a good time. Or so I thought.

All 6’3″ of him strolled up to me one night at work and asked me what my plans were. I hadn’t heard from my friends about our tentative plans, so I smiled up at him and shrugged. One night of drinking vodka and beer in a friend’s garage quickly turned into seeing each other almost every night for three months straight. I was giggly-drunk when he dropped me off that first night.

“Who do you like at work?” he asked in that low voice.

It was sexy as hell but I still managed to play it cool. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said, planting a sweet kiss goodnight on his cheek. “Someone.”

Still, the more time we spent together, the less nonchalant I was able to be. No matter how hard I tried not to, I wanted more of this guy who was a mind-blowing kisser and could kick my ass at Scrabble. He, however, did not appear to want more; brat wouldn’t even hold my hand in public.

As the end of the summer neared, I started to accept that we would not end up boyfriend and girlfriend. Too bad, too, because I could actually see myself dating him—really dating.

Right around my birthday, he called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner. A real date. I was surprised. This was the same guy who’d told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious. Thus he has been confusing me for the last decade: when we’re ordering food at a drive-thru; when he stops painting a piece halfway through and starts another; when he changes the song right when it’s getting good and switches to an entirely different band while driving. But even though he can be extremely indecisive, he’s always been loyal.

That night, when we went out to dinner, he officially asked me to be his girlfriend. That was August 31st, 2006. Five years later, on the same day, he took me out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I was a nervous wreck; I just knew he was going to propose. I couldn’t decide what to wear or if I’d even say yes.

I mean, marriage? For real?! Getting married was for adults. People who knew how to be in mature, serious relationships. I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, never mind who I wanted to wake up next to.

After we finished eating, I went to the ladies’ room to pee and collect myself. As I washed my hands, I stared at my reflection. This is it, I told myself. When I go back out there, he’s gonna drop to one knee. Practically shaking, I walked back out to our table.

But all he did was pay our check and tip our waiter. Stunned, I followed him out to the parking lot. I’d been so sure. He’d been acting so weird all night. It was our five-year anniversary.

I exhaled and let it go. At least now I could stop being nervous and just enjoy the night.

We got into the car and headed toward the highway. As we drove into the dark night, we talked about things the way we usually did. Just content boyfriend/girlfriend chitchat. Nothing serious or heavy. We were on I-84 when he glanced over at me.

“So you wanna get married?” he asked. It was our inside joke, our thing. We’d talked about doing it eventually. We always said things like “I like you. I might marry you someday.” It was always casual, no pressure.

I responded automatically: “Of course.”

“Okay,” he said. “We have to go to Britt’s. She has the ring.”

I blinked into the night through the windshield. Slowly, I turned toward him in my seat. “Wait, for real?”

He’s always surprising me.

He once made these crazy good New York strip steaks. I hadn’t even known he could cook—not really, anyway. They were the best steaks I’d ever had, which says a lot because that particular cut isn’t the easiest to cook.

I could count a million things I love about him, but I mostly love his sense of humor, the way he cheers me on with my writing, and how good he is with kids. He doesn’t even blink when I get goofy, and sometimes he even joins in. Even when I burn dinner, he eats it without complaint. (Alien.) He’s been kind, patient, and supportive from the moment my arthritis set in, never making me feel bad and always taking care of me. Through years of setbacks and hardships, he’s never left my side and has always been there for me. I never even had to ask.

Like every real couple, we have our ups and downs. Sometimes I want to choke his beard (and do). Sometimes he needs a break from me and my intense personality. At the end of the day, though, we go to bed with kisses and “I love you”s.

He’s my alpha male hero, always taking the wheel when we have somewhere to go—even if his knee is acting up. We’re both stubborn and have that “my way or the highway” mentality, but he is rarely the one to budge. I’ve met my match.

And he’s still a devastatingly good kisser.

Three years ago today we said “I do,” and I’d do it again.

I love you, bearded man.


*He swears we met years before that at my first job, but I honestly don’t remember meeting him. Which he will never let me live down.