Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

The Truth About the Valley

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Like an exhaustion that can never be cured by sleep.

Like a chronic agitation brought on by sounds, lights, and fabrics. Nothing is right. Everything is too much.

Like a hungry ache down deep inside, filling every bit of me up with sadness, while somehow also leaving me achingly empty.

Like tears sitting behind my eyes that never get the chance to fall.

That’s what depression feels like.

Like eight solid hours of cracking stupid jokes at work to keep everyone else laughing.

Like belting out the off-key lyrics to songs that once made you feel happy, just in case.

Just in case they bring a tiny bit of happiness once more.

Like teasing and plotting and planning and hoping out loud.

That’s what depression sounds like.

Just over a week ago, my husband’s brother was found dead at his home. At first it was utterly surreal. And then it was a rush of planning and notifying and shopping for appropriate funeral attire because my kids had outgrown their dress clothes. It was walking through fog and knowing what’s coming next. It was being terrified of losing my shit again and knowing there’s no other way through grief but to force my way through it. It was not crying when we heard and it was not crying at the funeral and it was wondering when I’d become such a coldhearted bitch. It was being afraid of falling asleep lest the same nightmares that assaulted  me after my own brother’s death turned up again. It was we can’t do this again, not again, not so soon, we won’t make it. 

And of course, it was making it through anyway. Because that’s what we do. We make it. We have to.

But somehow during the haze of all the things we needed to get done and the requesting time off work for yet another funeral and the trying to be there for my grieving kids and the making frantic phone calls to family members before the sad news hit Facebook and some loved one found out that way, I forgot to refill the medication I need to make my brain work right. I remembered suddenly just before we left for the funeral, so I called it in to my local pharmacy. But we came home late, after the funeral dinner at my church, and we were all sort of stunned still and I forgot about picking it up until after they’d closed for the night. The next morning started with my daughter losing air in her tire, so we let her take our vehicle to work and took hers to get the tire fixed – there’d been a nail in it. Then my son called me, his voice all wobbly, because one of his best friends and his mom had been in a terrible car accident, and he wanted us to drive him up to the hospital so he could sit with his buddy while his mom was in surgery. When the tire had been fixed and we got our daughter’s car back to her place of work, and then made it home to pick up our son, his friend had already gotten a ride home, so my husband took him over there. And nowhere in that flurry of activity did I remember about my medication. I did eventually get it picked up, but not before I’d gone several days without it. How many days? I can’t recall. I’m unsure if that’s what has set off this latest emotional valley. Regardless, it’s here. It’s here. In my bones. In my soul.

But I’m trying. I’m working at remembering to practice self-care. I’m working at remembering to take a shower. To drag my sorry self up in the mornings for work. To pull the cleanest-looking clothes off the floor to dress myself. I’m hoping this valley won’t be a long one, because already every step I take feels as though I’m shuffling through heavy mud. Having half my hair dreadlocked is handy, because yesterday I literally didn’t even hit my hair with a brush before work, I just pulled on a wide headband to cover the mess. I listen to people talking about going to the gym and what foods they can eat on their current fad diets and I quietly remind myself to just take a step, take a step, take one more step.

And I smile. I laugh.

Like a writer furiously writing a new book. Two new books. Three.

Like a weird hippie chick snuggling her dogs and chunky guinea pig.

Like a responsible adult, clocking in at nine and out at five, every day of the week.

Like a responsible parent of kids with a chronic illness, making appointments with the home nurse and scheduling IV pump swaps with the infusion company.

Like a responsible mom hassling the public school principal over my son’s missing English class credit until she does something about it.

That’s what depression looks like.

Every part of me, every cell, feels like it’s been bruised. My hair hurts. My eyelashes hurt. I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell the difference between being tired and just not wanting to be awake any longer.

Isolation is my best trick. I’m better at that than I am at crocheting or sewing or cracking jokes or probably even writing. Isolation is easy. When things hurt too much, my instinct is to cocoon down. I crave silence. I crave solitude. But it’s addictive. I can’t just lock myself away so I can avoid dealing with pain. If I did, I might never come back out. I force myself to return texts. I force myself to answer my ringing phone. I force myself to connect with people. I force myself to go to the grocery store for necessities.

I’ll be fine, as I always am. Even if I fall completely apart again, I’ll glue my broken bits back into some semblance of order and carry on. At some point, I will. But not today. Today I am tired. Today I don’t have the energy to put my broken pieces back together.

Today I’ve been laughing and typing and calming down upset clients who call the office. Today I stopped on my way home from work to pick up a dollar store Barbie doll, because my coworker turned 37 today and told me she’d never gotten a Barbie doll cake when she was a kid but had always wanted one, so I’m typing this piece while waiting for the rainbow sprinkle cakes to cool enough to frost them. It’s been years since I’ve made one but I’m fairly certain I remember how. At least… well, we’ll see. I’m pretty sure I can do it, anyway.

Today I threw together a new book teaser for my fantasy series, and created a silly poll in my FB group, and I ate half a chicken quesadilla at lunch even though I had no desire to eat, because my awesome boss bought us all lunch today. Today I reminded myself that my guinea pig won’t be dead in the morning, even though I always think he will be, because I know that depression and anxiety lie to me all the damn time about things like that. Today I brushed my teeth and put some braids in my hair so I have less hair to brush before work tomorrow. Today I went to the grocery store to get milk. Today I didn’t practice my guitar, because, once again, my kid accidentally busted my strings, but I thought about the way I place my hands for each chord so I don’t forget.

Today I got up and I tried. I made myself think of all the positive things I have to look forward to. I have a gift card to Barnes & Noble so I can order new books, and I absolutely love to get books in the mail. I have an upcoming tattoo appointment I’m insanely excited about. I’m thinking about a new piercing. I’m thinking about getting new guitar strings, because I’ve got to teach myself to play the opening part of “Minority” by Green Day. I’ve written a new book that people seem to really like, and more importantly, I’ve written a new book that *I* completely love. I’m so proud of that book. There’s a lot of truth in it. Covered in pirates and magic, but still. It’s there and it’s mine.

Tomorrow I will get up and try again. I will probably wear the same sweater I wear most of the time, because it is soft and has pockets and is weirdly comforting. I will take this silly Barbie cake to work, and I will laugh at some point, and I will check on my guinea pig way too many times, just to make sure he’s fine.

It gets dark here in this valley, but I hold onto the knowledge that sunshine will come again because it always has before. It might take a while, but still. I trust it will come. Until then, I will keep trying.

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Everything else, Writing

On Writing Strong Women

 

I prefer to write strong women, but not in the way you might think. I’m not a fan of the female characters who don’t show emotion in  some pretense of remaining “strong.” Not a fan of the robotic, two-dimensional females so boring in their supposed strength it becomes impossible to identify with them.

I like writing strong women, because the women I know personally are strong. These are the women who’ve struggled through extraordinary pain and grief, yet continue to get up each morning and do the things that need doing, though their insides may be filled with shards of broken glass. These are the women simply living life as the unique individuals they are: funny, melancholy, frustrated, exhausted, angry, imperfect as they may be. They’re showing up to work at six a.m. even though they’ve got a toddler that kept them up all night, puking and crying. They’re sitting quietly at a funeral home with their best friend, despite the big fight with their spouse and the weird clicking sound their car is now making when they’ve got no money to fix it, because they just spent the last of their paycheck on the heat bill. They’re taking care of their elderly parents, teenage children, exhausted beyond all reason, and still trucking along, doing the best they can in life.

These are the women who have been completely broken at some point, by a disastrous relationship or a catastrophic loss or the demons of their own minds, but finding a way to make it through. Finding a way to push through their tears and go on. These are the women who have balanced on the cusp of the great void, wondering if it’s going to be worth it to get up in the morning, or ever again. They’ve fought through illness, fought through monotony, fought through mountains of laundry and mountains of pain, and still. They show up. And then they show up again, and they keep doing that until they remember how wonderful it feels to genuinely laugh.

They’re in business suits with high heels, or they’re in tank tops and long thrift-store peasant skirts. They’re perfectly coiffed or growing out dreadlocks or it’s all they can do to pile their hair into a messy bun. They’re stay at home mothers or they’re working fifty-plus hours a week, or they’re artists stumbling along, trying to find balance while finding themselves. They’re falling asleep during their nighttime college classes but pushing through, hoping to make something new and better with their lives. They’re gluing the heels back on their favorite pair of boots because there’s no money to buy new ones. They’re eating another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even though the thought of it makes their stomach turn, they’re so sick of them. They’re making the rent and they’re making dinner and they’re wondering at what point along the way did they forget exactly who they were, and can they ever get that person back?

They’re wondering if it’s going to be worth it to start all over this late in life. They’re worried what other people might think. They’re falling down and getting back up, the way we all do throughout life. They’re laughing and crying and telling people to fuck off, and they’re listening to angry music and falling in love and learning to play guitar for the first time at sixty-five. They’re making big changes and they’re keeping routines exactly the same. They’re raging against the patriarchy and they’re settling in with a book and cup of tea at night, wishing they’d had just the right words to tell their boss off earlier in the day. They mess up and they hate themselves and they love themselves and they start all over. They are weak and they’re strong, quiet and loud, nervous and brash. They are anxious and bold. They are terrified and brave. Broken and courageous. They’re wondering when was the last time they made it through a day without alcohol, and they’re lying on the floor for the second day in a row because remaining upright is just too hard; they’re singing joyfully where everyone can hear them, and they’re realizing they deserve more than what they’ve settled for. They’re finding their own truth and they’re finding Jesus and they’re finding purpose beyond pleasing everyone else.

Every woman I know is a strong woman. Every female character I’ve ever written is a strong woman. Strong women are just people, trying and failing and trying again. They’re you and me. They’re real and raw and scared and angry and joyful. The myth of the “strong woman”, that cardboard cut-out of what the world thinks strength looks like, is a trope that needs breaking.

Strength doesn’t mean you never fall, never cry, never break.

True strength is exhausted persistence, nothing more.

So, yeah. I prefer writing strong women, but not in the way you might think.

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Everything else, Writing

Blocked.

 

 

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Writers block isn’t real.

It’s just an excuse to be lazy.

Real writers write. Every day.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard some version of these statements. I’m not sure what the people offering this non-advice hope to achieve, but personally, I think such words are extraordinarily detrimental.

For one thing, nobody gets to tell an artist how to do their art. Some people naturally create more in certain seasons. Some artists work a day job (or two, or three) and only get to be creative on weekends. Or every third Thursday. Some artists are single parents, and the idea of creating on a daily basis is so laughable as to be fiction.

Beyond these things, though, is the harmful notion that a struggling person just isn’t trying hard enough. There are all sorts of reasons a creator might be blocked. Maybe they’ve been ill. Maybe there’s been a death in their family. A divorce. Maybe the season of life they are in has them caring for elderly parents around the clock. Depression. Anxiety. Insomnia. Maybe there’s no reason other than that they need a break, and their brain is trying to get that message through to them.

Real writers write. That’s true. You’ve got to write something. You don’t need to write every day, unless that’s the way you work. Pressing unrealistic expectations on someone already barely keeping their head above water isn’t helpful. Despite the overwhelming amount of advice suggesting writers are machines, meant to work every day, all day, without regard to physical or mental health or other difficult outside factors –

You know what? We’re not.

We’re just people. And sometimes being a person is hard. Sometimes the difficulties in life kill our creativity. That doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. That doesn’t mean we’re no longer writers. It means we’re human beings who need a break. And that’s okay.

Take it. Rest. Go outside. Deal with the things you need to deal with. Read. Learn something new. Spend time with your family. Your friends. Laugh. Cry. Heal.

And come back to it. Your story isn’t going to run away because you left it alone for a little while.

If you aren’t a writer but you know one, and they’ve shared with you that they are blocked, telling them they are making up excuses or being lazy isn’t helpful. Instead, encourage them. Remind them they deserve rest like anyone else.

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