Mental Health and Self-Awareness

I’ve been absent for a while here in blog-ville. It’s partly because yes, I burnt myself out on writing and, to be honest, life in general. All summer, I kind of just… meh. I “meh”ed through the past several months of my life. Financial strain, [physical] health issues, yadda yadda yadda. I won’t bore you with those details.

The other part of the reason I’ve been MIA from the blog is, well, mental health.

My anxiety has been unbearable. My depression has been there, too, but not nearly as bad. Usually depression is my prevailing illness. It makes me apathetic, unmotivated, just kind of a living blob, sluggishly meandering through the motions expected of a functioning member of American society. Work. Eat. Sleep. Work. Eat. Sleep. Meh. Life. Blah.

I know depression. Depression and I are bros. I wake up in the morning and go, “Oh. Guess it’s gonna be one of those days. Fuck. Gotta go to work anyway. Blah.”

ANXIETY, though. Man. Shit. I knew I had anxiety, but it’s usually kind of a lesser thing. It’ll flare up for a little while and make me avoid grocery shopping for two weeks because I’m afraid I’ll forget where I parked, or because I’m afraid I’ll see someone I know and have to talk to them, or because I’m afraid I’ll have to talk to someone I DON’T know. What if I get in a car accident? What if my credit card gets denied? What if what if what if what if…

Lately, though, it’s been… more general. I wake up in the morning and before I’ve even had a single thought, I’m afraid. No reason. No overthinking. Nothing. It’s just there. It’s there it’s there it’s not going away it’ll never go away what is wrong with me why am I like this?!

It was so bad I had to leave work because of it one day. I was sitting at my desk, pulling a blanket around my shoulders because I thought maybe that would help me calm down. I couldn’t talk to anyone. My staff had questions for me and I had to try to act normal to answer them. Finally I had to leave, I couldn’t function anymore. My heart was racing. I cried the whole way home. This was the first time I ever, ever in my life, thought about self-harming, just because I. NEEDED. IT. TO. STOP. and maybe pain would overwhelm it, or release it somehow. I didn’t, because once I cried a lot and got home and lay down with my pets, it abated some, but I finally understood the drive to self harm.

It was so bad I couldn’t go to my friend’s wedding because I didn’t know what to wear, I didn’t know who would be there, I didn’t know where it was, I didn’t know what would happen, I couldn’t drive that far, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stop shaking, I had five sobbing emotional breakdowns before noon, I was eventually driven to drinking because I just wanted it to knock me out, calm me down, something, please, make it stop, please.

About two weeks ago, I saw a doctor and got on medication. I was told “you might not notice a change immediately. After about two weeks, other people will probably notice you’re acting different. After a month, you’ll probably realize you’re feeling better. After six weeks, you’ll feel great.”

Either there’s some placebo effect going on and I just feel better because I know I’m on meds, or my doctor seriously underestimated how aware I am of my own mental state, because I’ve noticed a change already. I feel more hopeful, less scared. I have motivation to do things. I cleaned my house this weekend for the first time in, hell, probably six months, and wasn’t annoyed or frustrated about it. I’m writing again, and feeling kind of excited about it. Even though things are fucking terrible in the world, it’s not getting to me as much as it has been lately.

It’s strange to notice these things. Logically, I know that anxiety and depression are just brain chemistry issues, but they’re me. They’re mine. It’s odd to feel better and know it’s not me. You can relate it to having a cold and taking Dayquil or something, and you know the cold is still there but the meds are suppressing it. It still feels different when it’s a mental health issue, though. A cold is physical symptoms–you take meds and notice you’re not as sniffly, your throat isn’t as sore, your muscles don’t ache. Anxiety and depression are mental symptoms. You take meds and realize your entire mindset changes. Your motivation changes. Your attitude towards situations and people change.

I will say this: I was on medication a few years ago (Zoloft) and I hated it. It did help, but it affected my creativity and eventually I ended up feeling like Not Myself. I felt better but it was artificial, like it forced my brain to change my behavior without changing my core feelings. I couldn’t write, so I was less clinically depressed but ended up being situationally depressed (or whatever the medical term is for that) because I knew I wasn’t doing the things that I normally like to do, and couldn’t make myself do them, and it was very frustrating.

I told my new doctor about this and she said she hates Zoloft and the one she prescribed me is much better, so we shall see.

The point of this post, I suppose, is to continue my attempts at being open about mental health issues, trying to crush the stigma surrounding them. I also want to say, don’t let anti-medication people get to you. I posted on Facebook when I got medication and a family member immediately tried to tell me that medication is bad. Why? Yes, I understand, it messes with your brain chemistry, and there are horror stories about “feeling like a zombie,” etc etc etc, but it’s the same as any other medication. Just like mental illness is the same as any other illness. You wouldn’t let your diabetes go untreated, would you? Why treat your mental health any different than you would your physical health? Yes, I know my sudden motivation and positivity is chemically induced. So what? If I need treatment in order to keep my sickness at bay, I will take the treatment. I want to feel better. There’s no shame in taking medication to achieve that.

Pay attention to your moods. I didn’t realize how far I’d slipped until I’d already gotten really, really bad. It sort of becomes the norm, the longer it goes on, but it shouldn’t be. If you realize things have been getting bad, seek help. You’re not weak for it.

Hopefully medication will also help me get back on track with blogging and writing. Fingers crossed you’ll see more of me here again soon!

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Gender is Weird

Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by even though I’ve been quiet lately. I’ve been on an unofficial writing hiatus trying to recover from burning myself out, but I have some thinky thoughts on gender identity right now and I want to put them into words.

Since joining Twitter and diving into the queer writer/writing community, I have learned Many Things–about queer things in general, and about myself specifically. My first big personal revelation was that I am asexual. That was cool. It was nice to realize that I’m not sick and I don’t need to keep working my way through lists of “how to improve libido.”

The second thing I have realized is that I am non-binary. Now, I had some inkling about this for a while, but I didn’t have the words or knowledge to understand it. Society conditions us to associate gender with reproductive organs. If you have a dick, you’re male, if you have a vagina, you’re female. End of story, and there are no other options. I’ve been spending months un-learning all that bullshit. It was surprisingly easy when it comes to other people. They say “I’m a man” and I say “Okay” and he is a man and I don’t give it another thought, regardless of their physical bits.

But it took me forever to realize and accept that I’m non-binary. I’ve always known I’m not “girly,” but I’m not “manly” either, and thanks to society, I figured those are the only two options and therefore I’m female because I have a female body. I assumed the “not liking girly stuff” is a matter of style and taste (let’s not even get into society’s definition of “girly stuff”). I don’t like certain female “titles” such as bridesmaid, maid of honor, Mrs., woman, or anything that has -ess on it to associate it with a female gender (hostess, mistress, etc). I don’t like those words assigned to me, but I assumed it had more to do with the social power implications (“bridesmaid” for example–“maid” implies sexual purity and/or servitude. Fuck all that).  I am fine with my anatomy. Boobs are annoying and I don’t want them, but mainly ’cause they’re big and floppy and bras are expensive, not because of any sort of dysphoria. I was raised very gender neutral, so for my whole life I’ve just thought my “not girly” behavior is just “me.” My dad wanted sons, and when he got daughters, he took them fishing and hiking and let them play in the mud anyway. My mother never tried to stuff me into dresses or force me to wear makeup.

So I assumed I’m female because anatomy and no dysphoria, and my quirks about feminine stuff are just a product of upbringing.

Then one day, suddenly, I realized there’s a third option. I was easily able to accept it with other people because they had it all figured out already and they’d tell me “Hey, I’m enby.” and I say, “Cool, what pronouns should I use?” Actually realizing that maybe I’m not girly because I’m not a girl was a mind-blowing moment. It’s not a style thing or a personal preference thing, it’s a gender identity thing. I’m not girly because I’m not a girl. HUH. WHAT?! NO WAY.

There are a zillion and a half gender identities out there, and I haven’t gone in depth with my research to determine which exact one I most fit. I’m content, for now, with leaving it at non-binary. I’m also content with using she/her pronouns, since those are the ones I’ve been using my whole life. I respect the fact that some people want to change pronouns, but for me, it’s not worth the effort of the conversation, explanation, request, and then reminders and feelings of disappointment when people forget (or worse, intentionally choose not to respect your request). So you can call me she, because that’s what I’ve known for nearly 30 years and that’s how I usually present. But if you call me he, I wont protest. You can call me “hey you.” I don’t care.

It’s an interesting thing, this “self discovery.”

Jigs and Reels – Giveaway!

Hi everyone! Who here loves free stuff?

Jigs and Reels has been out for a whole week already! Woohoo! To celebrate, I’m giving away two ebook copies of my story through Rafflecopter. Participate in any of the three entry options for a chance to win!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1c4c99ba1/?

Renewal Anthology – released today!

QSF Renewal-Print

QSF has a new book out, the latest in our series of flash fiction anthologies:

Re.new.al (noun)

1) Resuming an activity after an interruption, or
2) Extending a contract, subscription or license, or
3) Replacing or repairing something that is worn out, run-down, or broken, or
4) Rebirth after death.

Four definitions to spark inspiration, a limitless number of stories to be conceived. Only 110 made the cut.

Thrilling to hopeful, Renewal features 300-word speculative fiction ficlets about sexual and gender minorities to entice readers.

Welcome to Renewal.

Mischief Corner Books (info only) | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads


Renewal Banner

Excerpt

Because these stories are only 300 words each, we’re not supplying long excerpts, but here are the first lines of several of the stories. Enjoy!

“Griselda pulled the weeds from between the rows of Valerianella locusta plants in the garden, careful not to disturb the buds that would grow into the babies that were her only real income-producing crop.” —The Witches’ Garden, by Rie Sheridan Rose

“I didn’t know how truly the world was in trouble until I went journeying to look for Anisette’s bluebonnets.” —Bluebonnets, by Emily Horner

“The ship’s drive malfunctioned at the worst possible time.” —The Return, by Andrea Speed

“Before we continue, there’s a rather macabre fact about me I should share.” —Rejuvenation, by Christine Wright

“When I died they buried me at the bottom of the garden and returned to the fields.” —Below the Hill, by Matthew Bright

“The world is ending and I can’t look away from your eyes.” —Sunrise, by Brigitte Winter

““Losing one’s superpowers to your arch nemesis sucks donkey nuts, I tell ya. And trust me when I say I suck a lot of them.” —Rainbow Powers, by Dustin Karpovich

“The day I was born again was damp, rainy—a good day for rebirth, all things considered.” —The Birthing Pod, by Michelle Browne

“Intwir’s twelve eyes roved over the container, taking in the cracked outer lock and the elasticated fabric stretched tightly over its exterior.” —In a Bind, by S R Jones

“‘You’ve reached Androgyne HelpLine. Press one to start service. Press two to interrupt or cancel service. Press three—’” —Auto-Renew, by Ginger Streusel

“The doctor tells me that my wife is dying, but I already know.” —I Will Be Your Shelter, by Carey Ford Compton

“‘San Francisco was the first to go dark, followed by Los Angeles.’” —When Light Left, by Lex Chase

“My fingers lingered on the synthetic skin, trailing soft patterns across my work.” —Miss You, by Stephanie Shaffer


Included Authors

‘Nathan Burgoine
A.M. Leibowitz
A.M. Soto
Abby Bartle
Aidee Ladnier
Alexis Woods
Andi Deacon
Andrea Felber Seligman
Andrea Speed
Andrea Stanet
Anne McPherson
Bey Deckard
Brigitte Winter
Carey Ford Compton
Carol Holland March
Carrie Pack
Catherine Lundoff
CB Lee
Christine Wright
Colton Aalto
Daniel Mitton
Dustin Blottenberger
Dustin Karpovich
E R Zhang
E.J. Russell
E.W. Murks
Ell Schulman
Ellery Jude
Eloreen Moon
Elsa M León
Emily Horner
Eric Alan Westfall
F.T. Lukens
Fenrir Cerebellion
Foster Bridget Cassidy
Ginger Streusel
Hannah Henry
Irene Preston
J. Alan Veerkamp
J. P. Egry
J. Summerset
J.S. Fields
Jaap Boekestein
Jackie Keswick
Jana Denardo
Jeff Baker
Jenn Burke
Joe Baumann
John Moralee
Jon Keys
Jude Dunn
K.C. Faelan
Kelly Haworth
Kiterie Aine
Kristen Lee
L M Somerton
L. Brian Carroll
L.M. Brown
L.V. Lloyd
Laurie Treacy
Leigh M. Lorien
Lex Chase
Lia Harding
Lin Kelly
Lloyd A. Meeker
Lyda Morehouse
M.D. Grimm
Martha J. Allard
Mary E. Lowd
Matt Doyle
Matthew Bright
Mia Koutras
Michelle Browne
Milo Owen
Mindy Leana Shuman
Naomi Tajedler
Natsuya Uesugi
Nephy Hart
Nicole Dennis
Ofelia Gränd
Patricia Scott
Paul Stevens
PW Covington
R R Angell
R.L. Merrill
Rebecca Cohen
Redfern Jon Barrett
Reni Kieffer
Richard Amos
RL Mosswood
Robyn Walker
Rory Ni Coileain
Rose Blackthorn
Ross Common
S R Jones
Sacchi Green
Sarah Einstein
Shilo Quetchenbach
Siri Paulson
Soren Summers
Stephanie Shaffer
Steve Fuson
Tam Ames
Terry Poole
Tray Ellis
Vivien Dean
Wendy Rathbone
Xenia Melzer
Zen DiPietro
Zev de Valera

Jigs and Reels pre-order available!

Hi everyone!

I know I’ve been kind of quiet on the blog front lately. I’m working on getting back in the swing of things. I just wanted to pop in and give another publication update!!! Jigs and Reels is up for pre-order! The release date is September 16. I am absolutely in love with this cover. Check out the blurb below and click the link under the image to pre-order!!

 

Jigs and Reels final

BLURB:

Elijah works in a cubicle, lives with his parents, and never goes on dates. It isn’t an exciting life, but it’s safe and easy and that’s good enough.

Then he meets Peter, a whirlwind of a man who leads a traveling renaissance band. Peter represents everything Eli usually avoids, but his boisterous enthusiasm is infectious… and his band needs a fiddle player.

When Eli agrees to fill in for a weekend, he awakens a part of himself he thought long gone. With Peter’s help, he shakes off the dust that has settled on his soul and remembers how to have fun.

But when the band asks him to join them permanently, is Eli’s newborn sense of adventure — and insane crush on a man he barely knows — enough to make him leave the safety of a life he’s clung to for years?

Click here to pre-order!!

I’m going to be arranging some sort of release party on September 16, so stay tuned!

Publication Update – Jigs and Reels

Holy crap, guys, this is insanity!

A couple weeks ago, I submitted a short story to JMS Books, and within three days (THREE DAYS), they got back to me and offered me a contract for it. I’ve heard good things about JMS Books, so I accepted! My short story, Jigs and Reels, will be released in September! It features an anxious fiddle player, a rambunctious singer/flutist, and is set at/around a Renaissance fair.

awesome

You may remember a few months ago, I found out my flash fiction entry for the Queer Sci-fi contest, “Renewal,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology. Since then, I’ve been notified that it has received an Honorable Mention, meaning it scored in the top 25 of all entries! This is also awesome!

Jigs and Reels will be my first standalone piece, and I believe it’s going to be published before the QSF anthology, so it’s technically my first publication. My debut!

This is SO EXCITING, GUYS.

I’ve also been paying attention to submission calls for various publishers and I think I might submit something for one of NineStar press’s calls. Short stories seem to be doing well for me.

I may eventually self-publish a short story collection. I’ve written several recently which are less than 10k, which means virtually no publisher wants them except for anthologies, which generally have a theme, which my stories probably don’t fit into. We’ll see about that.

For now, I am QUITE content with what I’ve accomplished this year. I will announce a publication date for Jigs and Reels as soon as I know it. For now, it’s “September.” Stay tuned for more updates in the future!

Basic Tips for Beta Readers

A while back, I wrote a thread on Twitter with some quick tips on beta reading. I’m going to expand on this a little bit here.

First off, let’s get some terminology straightened out.

Beta reader – Your job as a beta reader is to tell the writer overall thoughts, point out areas where you didn’t follow the story or understand the characters’ motivations, and express opinions on style (for example, alternating POVs making it difficult to keep track of characters, certain chunks of the story being written as text messages made plot hard to follow, dialects and slang being confusing). As a beta reader, you don’t have to be a writer yourself, you just have to enjoy reading (and be familiar with the genre the writer is asking you to beta).

CP/Critique partner – Usually another writer of similar or higher skill. As a critique partner, you may want to trade your writing for theirs and ask for a critique in return. A CP should be able to give more in-depth feedback than just general impressions, and should be able to give advice on how to fix issues. Being a CP implies a more lengthy relationship than just a simple “read this when I’m done with it.” As a CP, you may engage in back-and-forth discussion and brainstorming about each others’ works.

Editor – Editors are the ones who polish up your manuscript after you’re pretty much done with it. They’ll check grammar, punctuation, and style. Where a beta reader and a CP will do what they do for free (or in exchange for critiques on their own work), an editor should be a professional who gets paid.

How does one become a beta reader? You can either advertise yourself, or keep an eye on authors’ social media to see when they ask for betas. Before you agree to beta, you should be aware of the manuscript’s genre, length, and the writer’s hoped-for turnaround time. If you’re going to advertise yourself, list what genres you’re willing to beta read (they should be genres you’ve read a lot of already, so you’re familiar with styles and tropes) and an estimate on how long it would take you to complete a book of average length for that genre (i.e., “I’m willing to beta romance novels. My turnaround for an average length romance is 2-3 weeks”). Keep in mind, beta readers are volunteers. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

So now that we have that cleared up, a general tip: use the comments feature in MS Word or Google Docs to insert thoughts and opinions as you go, if anything jumps out at you. Then, also write a summarizing few sentences or paragraph at the end with your overall impressions after finishing the manuscript.

Now, without further ado, here’s a list of do’s and do not’s for beginning beta readers.:

  1. DO pay attention to what the writer specifically asks you to pay attention to. If the writer says “Let me know if you think John’s breakdown in chapter 4 is over the top,” pay particular attention to John and his breakdown in chapter 4. Write your thoughts on it as soon as you get to it, so you don’t forget to tell the writer what you thought.
  2. DO NOT make changes to anything, especially to stylistic things, especially if the novel is in first person. I had a beta reader who put my document in track changes and deleted every ellipses in the story with no explanation. That was neither helpful nor what I asked them to do, and all it did was annoy me. Those ellipses were a decision, not a mistake. If you notice that the writer uses a distracting amount of ellipses or frequently uses the wrong “too” or some other grammatical/stylistic thing bugs you or pulls you out of the story, definitely comment on that, but actually changing things like that is an editor’s job.
  3. DO give feedback on what you like and what does work just as much as you give feedback on anything you don’t like or doesn’t work. “No news is good news” is not how a writer’s brain works. They aren’t going to zero in on the 5 pages with negative comments and assume that the other 195 pages are good. If all they see are negatives, they’re going to assume it’s all bad. A general rule of thumb for feedback is to try to offer a positive for every negative. If you found my ellipses abuse distracting, balance that out by saying that my main character’s pop culture references were spot-on and made you laugh. As you read, use that comments function—even if it’s something as simple as “aww!” or “oh no!” it lets the writer know that their writing is evoking emotion, which is ultimately the goal of writing.
  4. DO NOT say “I don’t like this” or “I don’t think this works” and leave it at that. Why don’t you like it? Is the sentence confusing? Does the action seem to go against the character’s moral code? Similarly, if you read the whole manuscript and all you can say at the end is “I like it, good job,” you just wasted everyone’s time. I’m glad you liked it, but… what was the best part about it? What did you like most, so I can do more of that? And I know it’s not perfect. It can’t be. You mean there wasn’t a single point you didn’t like that I could improve upon?
  5. DO look for consistency issues and disappearing characters. If Aunt Sue seemed like she was going to be an important character back in chapter 2, but then we never see her again, that’s worth mentioning. If it’s the middle of winter and then two days pass and it’s suddenly summer, that’s worth mentioning. Writers tend to have brilliant ideas when they start writing, and then change time frames, delete characters, and forget about pets halfway through their writing process, but threads of those ideas might remain by accident. If you notice it, it’s worth mentioning.
  6. DO NOT be sarcastic or make jokes in your comments. This manuscript is a piece of the writer’s soul. Handle with care. There is no sarcasm font, and even the most well-meaning, lighthearted joke can damage the writer’s self-esteem and motivation. Reading feedback on a manuscript is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. The writer is likely hyped up, nervous, cringing at every critique you provided. Don’t make a joke at the story’s expense. It’s not helpful.
  7. DO be nice, but don’t be too nice. No manuscript is perfect, and a writer can’t improve themselves if they’re only provided with positive feedback. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to spare the writer’s feelings. However, in the same vein…
  8. DO NOT be a dick. Don’t nit-pick, don’t decide you hate the manuscript and tear it down at every opportunity. If you start reading and realize that you don’t even want to finish the book, you may be better off reaching out to the writer, providing feedback on what you’ve read so far, and politely telling them why it’s not your cup of tea. Even that kind of feedback can be valuable.

Ultimately, your overall thoughts and feedback should include whether the characters felt real, whether the plot made sense, if there were any gaps or places you felt rushed, and anything else major you noticed. It’s also important to note that different writers may expect different things from their beta readers, and you should always ask if the writer has anything in particular they want you to do.

Another thing worth note is that you are working for free, just for the love of reading books. It is possible for the writer to expect more from you than you’re willing to provide. A beta reader is not a CP or an editor. A CP is usually a tit-for-tat kind of relationship, and an editor is usually paid. If the writer wants to call you a beta reader but expects you to edit their manuscript and you’re not okay with doing that for free, you’re allowed to step back. Beta readers are wonderful and amazing people and writers should appreciate them. As a writer, I’d like to say all writers are wonderful people who will treat you like gold, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Beta reading for a person once doesn’t obligate you to read for them ever again.

I think that about covers it! I hope this helps some new beta readers, and maybe even some writers, to know what should go down during the beta reading process! Comment below if you have anything to add!