This is What Mental Illness Looks Like

This is what mental illness looks like:

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Me and my son Xander

I am not ashamed. I have Bipolar disorder (or depression depending on which of my many psychiatrists you ask.) My disorder is not a secret. I don’t hide it from friends and family, but neither do I broadcast it.

That doesn’t mean I’m ashamed. Someone with a physical disorder would not be expected to go around broadcasting it (or judged if they did in most cases.) But there is a stigma against mental illness, and I’ve been advised that being too vocal about my disorder will drive people away (both professionally and personally.) And I read advice on keeping a professional face online, especially if you are using the platforms to promote yourself. After all talking about negative feelings drives people away.

This is why I’ve remained mostly silent on the issue when it comes to social media. I figured if speaking would harm me, why do it? It’s not like my words on the subject are expert or my stories earthshattering.

Nor is it all just what I’ve been told—I’ve lost friends both in online form and in personal form because they got fed up with dealing with my issues. Long absences drive people away too…and since I can’t cope when I’m hurting, I have to disappear. When I can barely keep myself going I don’t have the energy to maintain social relations. I couldn’t speak when I am depressed even if I wanted to. That is why I’ve remained silent for so long.

I have not been silent because I’m ashamed.

But now, I feel a need to speak out. Even if my words won’t change anyone’s life. Even if only a few people ever see them…the problem I’m seeing more and more is that when those of us coping with mental illness remain silent, it makes us look ashamed. And it keeps the face of mental illness looking desperate and unsolvable.

Maybe my words won’t do any good but my silence is doing harm.

This is what mental illness looks like:

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So is this:

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And this:

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The worst part for me of discussing my mental illness in the past is that many people feel the need to foist their anti-medication beliefs on me. I’m told I don’t really have a mental illness—it’s over diagnosed. Or I’m told I don’t really need meds that if I exercised and slept regularly I’d be fine.

Let me address these statements.

First: You don’t really have a mental illness.

I am a functioning member of society—yes. It’s true. But that is because I take my meds and because I have a loving and supportive family and a husband who helps prop me up when I start to slip. Who bears with me through months of weeping and barely getting out of bed when a medication stops working or I have to switch meds. They never, ever tell me I need to try and suffer through without meds. I am privileged to have this—my life could have gone very differently.

I don’t need to prove I’m sick to the people I meet—in fact, I don’t want to because that means the disease has taken over.

And sometimes it does take over—even when I’m on meds.

One night, probably eight years ago, my now husband, then boyfriend, Aaron and I had a fight. He stormed out of the house.

Now, this sort of event upsetting for anyone. But I’ve seen people deal with fights and be fine. I can’t compartmentalize those feelings. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I breathe shame and self-hatred along with air. I hate myself so deeply and so much that the idea of someone else hating me seems to confirm how much space and energy my very existence is wasting. Even when online correspondents have gotten upset at me, I often lose sleep and am a ball of self-loathing for days. It’s worse when it’s someone I love.

No there is no physical pain—but that mental anguish can be just as unbearable. It’s torture hating yourself that much—every inch of your body feels offensive. The only relief would be oblivion, to curl into yourself and stop having to exist.

Now, that night, when Aaron stormed out over some fight I don’t even remember now, I had a full bottle of pills in the house. They were meant to calm my anxiety, to help me back down from those emotions I couldn’t escape. I took one. I took two. And every second waiting for them to DO SOMETHING was excruciating. I didn’t want to die—I just couldn’t endure being me. I wanted to sleep and hoped when I woke things would be better.

I took a handful of pills.

I wasn’t trying to die, I was trying to make the hurting stop—to get out from under that weight.

Then the world went fuzzy. I got scared. I tried to puke the pills up but couldn’t. Plus, I couldn’t get my limbs to work properly. I managed to stumble from the bathroom to the living room couch.

Aaron came home. I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t. I tried to pretend I was fine—I just needed to sleep. I didn’t want to admit what I’d done and have him hate me. I tried to walk to bed. But it turns out, my legs forgot how to work and I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.

I found myself laying on the floor under the breakfast bar. I couldn’t stand up. I remember saying again and again that I was okay, that I just needed to go to bed.

Aaron called an ambulance.

I recall insisting to the paramedics that I could walk, but since I couldn’t even stand they didn’t believe me. I don’t remember arriving at the hospital. What I do remember is the doctor heavily implying I’d tried to kill myself and telling me that my blood pressure was so low that if he hadn’t been standing in front of me he would’ve thought I died.

That scared me.

He didn’t say I almost died. I don’t know if I did. I probably would have been fine if I’d fallen asleep on the couch.

But maybe not.

I’m not proud of that night, or what I put Aaron through. No one should have to experience what he did—that fear. Since then I have looked up every medication I have to be sure that even if I downed the whole bottle it wouldn’t kill me (the lithium wouldn’t be good for me at all), just to be sure that even if I slipped, I wouldn’t put him through that.

Don’t tell me what I do or don’t suffer from. If you don’t see me as sick, that means my regime of pills is working.

 

Second: Exercise and regular sleep are better cures than pills.

I have been depressed since I was four.

In kindergarten, I had such trouble socializing with the other children that I had no friends at all. One day we had to take pictures and our teacher had us pair up. No one wanted a picture with me. I cried at the back of the line and the teacher had to force someone to stand next to me.

I played at recess by myself, talking to blades of grass who were the closest to friends I had.

When I look back at elementary it brings up a deep horror.

My parents tried everything they knew of—they saw there was a problem but had no idea that a child my age could be depressed. They tried to force me to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids and I tried, but every interaction was excruciating as I judged and insulted my every word, breath, and motion. My parents struggled with me, hurting when I hurt, but having no solution in sight.

At twelve I tried to kill myself. I swallowed a bunch of nightshade berries.

My parents found me a psychiatrist. She diagnosed me with depression (the bipolar diagnosis came later after years of me outgrowing medications that never fully worked.) She put me on Zoloft.

My world changed. Suddenly it didn’t always hurt to be in my skin. I could even enjoy social interactions sometimes (though I remained painfully reticent and easily spooked).

Let me tell you, exercise and sleep wasn’t the issue. You think that at four, at five, at twelve I didn’t exercise enough or that my parents didn’t give my regular sleep hours? Sure those things can be supplements to help keep someone stable, but don’t ever tell someone they don’t need meds unless you actually understand why they have them.

This is what mental illness looks like:

Family Jesse Sprague

It’s easy to picture only those who have failed to function within society as what mental illness looks like. But that is doing everyone with mental illnesses a disservice. Because even those people who couldn’t make it, that beggar on the street corner talking to himself, for instance, shouldn’t be seen as lost causes. If you only consider the failures you miss the point that mental illness may be a life sentence but it isn’t a death sentence.

The fact I’m not homeless or drug addicted, or dead in a ditch is not proof I’m not ill. It’s proof that if we support and understand those with mental illnesses, it’s just as survivable as any impairment.

I easily could have ended up on a street corner. I didn’t because my family never told me my mental illness was my fault or something to be ashamed of. I didn’t because when my boyfriend found me overdosed on pills he didn’t leave me, he insisted I get counseling. I didn’t because that first time I tried to kill myself, my parents immediately got me help, and listened to what the experts said.

Not everyone has this support. I’d love to think that those people who don’t have the perks I had, live in a world where they can open up and get assistance and support. But that isn’t the world we live in. Instead, we’re told not to post our offensive sadness on social media. And as long as that is true, I’m affraid mental illness’ uglier face will always be more visible.

Please, be kind and understanding. When those people do open up to you…don’t turn away. Everyone needs strength, and we can’t always carry our own weight.

Mental illness can look like anyone.

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NEWS! Giveaway, Anthology and Parties

August is shaping up to be a busy month for me. On a personal level, I get to go back to school shopping for the first time, try to get the kiddo to his next day camp, and try to get him to see his grandmother before summer is over. But no one wants to hear about that!

So on to news on the writing front.

First…I have a new anthology that came out today (well as it is an anthology it isn’t really mine, but I have a killer story in it ;p ) Undeath By Chocolate is a project some fellow Wattpad authors and I have been working on for a while. As soon as the editor (the lovely and talented Steven R. Brant) pitched the idea to me I fell in love. And I wrote my story immediately—it’s a Snow White retelling of sorts, but also the struggle of a young woman to regain her faith in love after an encounter with a witch in her youth.Undeath By Chocolate

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074FWCQ2L

Blurb: Have you ever met a necromancer with dreams of being a mariachi player? Have you ever mixed a potion with dragonfly tears, or made a deadly wish on a cake and had it come true? Did you ever visit a voodoo shop that only opens after midnight or kissed a corpse to life? Come and join ten specially selected authors for a sweet combination of paranormal and horror stories–tales which have both the undead and chocolate as their special ingredients.

 

Now on to my other August news. As I’ve mentioned before August is proud home of the Wattpad Block Party Summer Edition, and I’m one of the featured authors. So what’s new? Well, it has started and the posts even just of the first day are amazing. There’s even a great one on genre hopping.112942839-176-k490197

My article on Dialogue will be going live on August 4th (Friday) and I encourage people to check it out… because I think I’m brilliant. I’m mostly joking ;p

https://www.wattpad.com/story/112942839-wattpad-block-party-summer-edition-iii-august-2017

But there is more! More you ask? Yes. More. Cheers!

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There are a slough of giveaways that go along with the Blockparty.

For a full list visit: https://goo.gl/2x2anC

For my giveaway of a chapter critique you can go directly to the rafflecopter page: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/27854a79389

Wattpad Summer Blockparty III

As I approach another promotional event with the other wonderful writers on Wattpad, I realize I never shared on my blog that I was part of the Winter Block Party…let alone that I was intending to revisit the experience in summer.

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This is a lovely event where a ton of authors band together and support each other. This time around there are just under 100 authors contributing (many of whom offer giveaways).  Mainly though, it seems to be a great way to build up the community and build bridges between authors.

In winter, I wrote a short based in the world of my Watty Award winning book Spider’s Game. I’ll come back to that, in fact, I may even post the story for you lovelies at a later date!

For the summer Block Party, I’m writing an article on writing dialogue. It will be called “Dialogue, Tightropes and Tentacles.” And yes, I discuss all of those things at variable lengths. Tentacle high five!

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This lovely even will take place in August and I hope to update with the date of my feature (each author is given one day to post their work and interact with those who respond.) Tentatively my date is set to be Friday August 4th.

As much fun as I had writing the short last time, I wanted to do something more constructive this time. The short was fun…but if you hadn’t read any of Spider’s Game not super inspiring. Thus, this time around, I’ll drop a little know-how ;p

Oh and my hair is now blue. Its fun, and also discussed at length in my article!

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Ruins & Angels- A Title Dilemna

Over the years, I’ve noticed a penchant in myself to go through manuscript titles compulsively. Typically, I have a working title while I’m writing, then a title when I finish… followed by a new title when I decide I don’t like that one.

Why? If it made some real difference to the story, this compulsive need would make sense. Instead it’s become almost like putting on a fresh dress to go to a party. I noted this when I moved my story Kingdom South (working title was Let Down Your Hair) to Radish and immediately renamed it Ruins. Then I realized I have done the same thing with every book I write.

Is this normal? I don’t know. Is it productive? Probably not but it helps keep me sane.

Much like my compulsive cover changing.

Speaking of, I got my cover for Angel’s Beneath 5th City (now calling it Beneath 5th City… don’t judge me.)

ANGELS BENEATH 5TH STREET Radish(1)

 

 

I’m having a ton of fun with these two stories on Radish Fiction, but I need to stop my messing at some point. Maybe even… I don’t know… write?

I have a sneaking suspicion that all of this is based around my desire to be in some sort of control of the success of my books… which I have very little real control over.

Twist the Blade… but Only a Little

Having touched on how to kindly take a vicious stab… now I’ll go in to how to graciously stab someone else (yes I’m still talking about critiquing.) First, if you are new to it, realize that just like anything else, giving a good crit is a skill. Don’t expect to be amazing or for it to come easily.

For me, giving critiques is more complicated than how to take a crit. There are many different critique styles and I don’t want to say that mine (and the one I prefer others to use on me) is better. But like every other human, I’m slanted by my own preferences. Due to this rule number one for giving a critique is:

  1. Realize that what you want in a critique may not be what others desire to receive.

Listen to what people say they are looking for and trust that they know. It may be you can’t give that style of crit effectively. If so, maybe this isn’t the person for you. I got myself into trouble early on doing this. I was learning so much so quickly and I went in with a sledgehammer on others… and wound up with some angry recipients. People who 100% never wanted rules quoted at them, or people who I disagreed with ideologically and so was not the right person to be reading their story since I saw their main conflict as immoral and they did not.

Okay having gotten that rule out of the way, let us go on.

2. Understand that ‘more’ isn’t better.

Say what needs to be said and stop. Because if your goal is a word count, what you are doing is searching for flaws. And guess what? Most writers don’t want you to do this, namely because then you start calling out things that aren’t wrong. You start going way too deep into opinion territory or quoting rules without considering context and relevance.

3. Limit the number of negatives.

I’m not saying lie and tell people things are right if they aren’t. But guess what? It’s daunting received a crit that is as long as your submission packed with negatives. And even if every point is spot on the damage it does to self-esteem isn’t worth it. Most people can’t absorb everything at once. Find the main flaws and focus. If the author is POV flipping in a slightly jarring way… but they also seem to be switching tenses and telling way more than they should. Isolate what is the most distracting (or two or three) and go into those. Don’t mention the others. Not because there isn’t a problem but because they’ll shut down and stop hearing you. When your boss yells at you (or parents) most of us get angry and stop hearing what’s being said. A crit that calls out every word as wrong reads like yelling. Oh you say “But editors would do it.” Maybe but they are a professional … a critique partner is a peer and NO it’s not the same thing.

4. If you don’t know the rule… don’t quote it.

It isn’t your job to find everything. And if you “think” something is wrong but aren’t sure, leave that for someone else to find. Why? Because as a recipient, nothing takes away a writers faith in a reader like being told “don’t use said so much, use a variety of tags like, whined, yelled…” Okay, occasionally that could be a valid statement, but for the most part, that runs against conventional writing wisdom. As soon as I see that on a crit (though I try to fight the reaction) I relax and disregard what the reader says.

5. Don’t forget the positives.

When I started I was all gung-ho for negatives. I rarely pointed out good things and I didn’t want mine pointed out. Until I noticed that receiving crits was leaving me drained. I dreaded it. Yes, we get critiques to improve, and in order to do that we need to know what’s wrong. But we also need to know what’s right. For example: if I had seven critiquers and five loved a paragraph but none of them said anything. But the other two didn’t like it and called it out. I would probably trash it. Now that may be extreme but it holds true in less obvious ways. If a balance is correct, like description to action ratio, and no one tells me it’s right, I might mess it up in revisions. It IS helpful to know what’s working.

6. Point out the basics- Pacing, plot, characters, dialogue believability, consistency in tense and Point of view.

This is structural advice- Let them know what you understood (who knows it may not be what they intended.) Unless you are asked to do a line edit don’t worry about every comma. If someone misses a few, help them out. If someone doesn’t understand a grammar rule, explain the rule and point out a few places where they messed it up.

7. Keep the crit aimed at the writer’s ability range.

This harks back to 3 but I consider it separate. You wouldn’t crit a five-year-old’s story the same as you’d crit Stephen King’s (though how did you get Stephen King’s story!) And while that is extreme, there are lesser degrees. Don’t crit a first draft with the same intensity as a third draft. Don’t crit someone’s first novel the same as you’d crit someone who has been published a few times (unless they are on the same level.) We all develop one step at a time. Demanding someone skip from step 1 to 10 is discouraging, not helpful.

 

Radish (They are tasty, but not that kind)

 

Not only am I officially a writer for the Radish app (check it out. It’s brand new and I assume awesome… though I can’t look at it because it isn’t available for Android yet,) but it is Sci Fi week! And I am one of the authors featured.

If you are interested, check out their blog below (hint, I’m number 6.)

If you aren’t interested in that… I am posting a brand spanking new story on the app called Angels Beneath 5th City. I’ll have a cover for it soon… you know I go crazy over those. For the moment I’m using this sexy little number… which I’ll have to find a new use for once my cover is ready!

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Fun, Fun

My story Spider’s Game is going to be featured on Wattpad in a few days. I’ve been working on updating the story and…the cover…yet another cover. Because apparently I’m a cover addict. Though I didn’t make this one myself.

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New blurb for Spider’s Game:

Tired of dwelling in the bowels of the galaxy’s most infamous brothel, Silvia plots to escape her bonds, setting in motion the resurgence of a race of spiders thought extinct. As Silvia, the spider queen, and her mate claw and kill their way to freedom, some of their victims refuse to stay defeated.

Police Chief Berrick Trehar and his family begin the spider’s game without knowing the rules. But after a brush with Silvia, they learn the consequence losing. Survival is the goal, galactic dominance the prize and failure is death. All the players must walk the line between playing to win and getting lost in the game.

 

(I also did a new cover for Spider’s Gambit)

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Spider’s Gambit

Wow, life gets crazy.

November has Nano and then December has the holiday season. I haven’t had a moment of downtime in months!

So updates, I posted some possible covers a while back…but then I redesigned everything. Wednesday I will finally be posting Spider’s Gambit on Wattpad.

Spider's Gambit6

Blurb:

Silvia Black is marked for extermination by the Brothel. Her continued survival and her lust for revenge all point in the same direction– kill them before they can kill her. Friends are hard to come by and Silvia can’t afford to play the board alone.

Darith Cortanis lost almost everything when he got entangled in Silvia’s scheming, but with the help of his former enemy, he stands a chance of winning back what he prizes most. His wife, Marim. Held captive by the Brothel and her own mind, Marim is worth any sacrifice.

For the time being, their paths intersect. But there are other moving pieces, and goals that conflict with Silvia and Darith’s desires. In a game of strategy, it pays to think about the long run.

Everyone Needs a Support Group… Doesn’t Mean I’m not Crazy

I’m getting overwhelmed by everything I “have to do” right now. And sadly, the more overwhelmed I get, the less likely I am to do any of it. I just get tired. Like down to the bones, aching tired. I think all day about all the things I need to get done that I can’t as long as I have a three-year-old trying to wrestle onto my lap. Then when his bedtime rolls around, all I have energy to do is crawl into bed.

I have a novel 3/4ths of the way drafted, with people who have already stated an interest in beta reading… and I haven’t written a word on it in weeks. Every other writing project is fairing about the same.

The only thing I’ve managed to write is a few one-off horror stories. Which I can only assume is because there was no pressure to write them. I sat down, dumped out my thoughts, vented my hidden bloodlusts and was done. I have this fear that if I edit my horror pieces more than a good once over I’ll just stop writing them.

But the biggie is… I have my novel out with agents and editors, waiting on a response. There is nothing I can do about that. Nothing. But somehow it puts extra weight on the other things like somehow if I just wrote more on my fantasy novel, or finished that rough draft, or finished editing my paranormal-scifi… somehow that would help my chances.

It’s like a noose just hanging over my head. Not doing anything but waiting to swoop down and destroy me at any moment. I feel like shouting “I can’t do this! I’m not strong enough, I give! I’m out.”

I won’t because I can’t. There is nowhere to go but forward. So I pile these projects around myself to keep busy and then I drown in them.

I’ve found myself wondering this week if it will always be like this. Will the possibility of rejection always hang this heavy? Why can’t I just find a way to find contentment?

Speaking of… on a completely different note— my novel Deprivation is a fraction away from 20k views. All week, that’s the thread I’ve been holding onto (and trying desperately to keep my brain from reminding me that 20k isn’t nearly 200k or 2 million… I really need a zapper to silence that voice.)

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