A Touch of the Flu, a Touch of Depression

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It’s been a full week since I last posted here, which is weird for me because I’m usually a font of word vomit. I managed to come down with another flu virus, though, so I’ve been busy napping. This bout was particularly nasty and, from what I understand, it’s been going around. I didn’t even bother to get swabbed, because the second my eyeballs started hurting and my temp started climbing, I knew.

Still, it’s been rough. For several days, I had muscle, joint, and skin pain. Yes, skin pain. It’s a thing I sometimes experience with my Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, but it’s never a big deal. This? Was hell. I couldn’t move, because every inch of my upper body felt like it’d been badly sunburned. Showering and toweling off after? Hell, I tell you. The muscle and joint pain were nasty, too. On its own, the joint pain would’ve been a 6/10 and the muscle pain a 4/10, but the three together were damned near unbearable.

I decided not to call my doctor because A) Tamiflu only shortens the flu by like two days and B) I kind of currently don’t have a primary care doctor. My doctor’s office has been blowing me off ever since I sent in my letter of complaint, and I honestly didn’t have the energy to talk to them about my concerns and explain my symptoms—especially since they don’t listen in the first place.

I just toughed it out, and I’m still recovering. At this point I just have a runny nose and dry cough, and I’m still easily fatigued. I do feel better, though, so I really can’t complain. However, I’ve also come down with a touch of stupid depression.

It’s not easy for me to admit this. I kind of thought, once I’d worked through my PTSD, that I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit anymore. But there’s been a lot going on in my personal life lately that I haven’t really talked about. I’ve been overwhelmed and dealing with a lot of anxiety, and it’s apparently turned into depression.

Granted, I think anyone in my shoes would feel this way. I’ve been through a lot lately, and things pretty much suck in my country right now. For the past several weeks—months, even—I’ve been in survival mode, reacting as I need to and staying on my feet. It’s not at all surprising that I got the damned flu again. In emergencies, I’m always the one to panic after it’s all over. Today I burst into tears and had to remind myself that Mike is okay, I’m okay, everyone’s okay, we got through it all, we’ll get through everything else.

I guess I just haven’t had the time to process everything.

So while I’m recovering from the stupid flu, I’m also working on processing the past few weeks and the things that I know are to come. I’m also working on easing up on myself; I put a lot of pressure on myself, and tonight I realized it’s time to let it go. Writing has been really hard for me lately. I had a lot of plans for 2017 and the only one dictating what I “need” to do was, well, me. I’m working on clearing my plate a bit and giving myself room to recover, as well as room to just be, and then room to grow.

I’m also working on my author website this week, so if it goes down for a while, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.

Sometimes, you just need to pause and practice breathing—and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

It Can’t Rain All the Time

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It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 10 days since Mike’s surgery; ever since then, it’s been pouring on us. I could sit here and list every single thing that’s gone wrong since, but 1) it wouldn’t really be productive and 2) ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’ve got articles to write, 15-20K to reach for SOF4, and a nice hot shower to take.

These past 10 days have been very difficult and stressful—my blood pressure was 140/92 when I checked it Wednesday night, and that was hours after I blacked out, so I’m guessing it was much higher—but Mike and I are fucking scrappy. We’ve rallied so many times these past couple weeks, and somehow we’re still cracking jokes and cracking each other up.

10 years together, and we just keep getting stronger.

We also have fantastic family and friends who have helped us in so many ways, more than I could ever count or repay. Even simple things like late-night face time with my best friend, sitting outside just talking. I told my mom last night that, while I was bailing out my tub earlier, I had a moment where I was thinking Where are the grownups? and then realized Shit—I’m the grownup! We laughed way too hard because she told me she still has moments like that.

Adulting is hard, but no one actually knows what they’re doing. Which, if you want to be cynical, could mean that we’re all just a bunch of overgrown and unsupervised kids, but I’m just grateful that I’m not the only one who doesn’t always have the answers.

It’s only February and I’ve already changed my business plan and production schedule several times to roll with life’s punches. At this point, I’ve decided to just focus on writing for now.

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It kind of sucks, because I wanted 2017 to be a publishing year for me, releasing something new every quarter or even every two months. Since my blood pressure is high, though, I need to clear my plate as much as possible. Right now I have no release dates in mind, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know when SOF4 will come out. In the meantime, check out this teaser. It’s dead sexy.

For the time being, I’m buckling down and focusing on just writing and taking care of everything in my immediate world. To keep up with me, subscribe to my newsletter.

☔️

Self-Care for Writing Through Trauma

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Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.

I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.

If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.

I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.

I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.

Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.

Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.

Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.

My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.

It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.

A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.

It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.

With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.

Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.

A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.

Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.

Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.

I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.

Trauma is anything that disrupts your sense of safety and trust in the world—your sense of normal. Anything can be traumatic, and the effects of an event vary from person to person.

With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.

My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.

Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.

Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.

When that happened, I had to practice self-care.

When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.

For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.

When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.

I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.

Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.

My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.

The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.

So I took my time.

I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.

I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.

I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.

I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.

I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.

When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.

I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.

For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.

What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!


Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


Read More: Chapter 1

Note to Self

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You can’t catch up on old projects and work on new ones at the same time. It just doesn’t work that way, especially with chronic illness—and life in general. Sometimes, you just have to accept that shit happens and, rather than “should”ing on yourself, slow down and focus on what’s most important.

Your physical health.

Your mental health.

Your loved ones.

Your wellbeing.

Eerily accurate. #virgo #horoscope #2017goals

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Goals can be adjusted. Production schedules can be rearranged.

So, tomorrow morning, grab a cup of coffee, let go of the things you think you should be doing, and be gentle with yourself.

You’re way more important than any silly schedule.

Until Further Notice

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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

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.