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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A Ray of Sunshine

THINGS have been happening in my brain and in my life lately, and I’m going to babble a little bit here about how I plan to proceed.

I created a Ko-fi and a Patreon (links at end of this post). I changed my name. I am starting a vlog. I changed my logo and kind of re-branded my entire online existence.

When I first got started online, less than a year ago, I was just trying to find a writing community and accept myself as a straight female writer of gay romance. I’ve been marketing myself as a “m/m romance writer and reader” on all my social media and such. But over the past six months, I have learned a number of things that form the basis for my new online presence:

  1. I’m not straight. Don’t ask me what I am. I don’t know.
  2. I’m asexual.
  3. I’m not exactly “female.” I’m some degree of non-binary. I go with “female-ish.” Technical term, there.
  4. THERE ARE SO MANY GENDER IDENTITIES AND ORIENTATIONS THAT I DID NOT EVEN KNOW ABOUT. I WANT TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEM.
  5. Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are insanely prevalent. You don’t realize it IRL much because people don’t talk about it as openly as they do online.

So with those things in mind, I re-branded. I’m now Leigh M. Lorien, queer romance author–I am both a queer author, and an author of queer romance, so the tagline can be read both ways.

My most popular blog post so far has been the one I wrote about depression. So many people said “Thank you for writing this.” It crushed my heart. I am both glad I am not alone, and so very sad that so many other people feel the way I feel. It’s awful.

I want to do more of that, though. More of the things that people need. I want to address things that so many people feel, but perhaps cannot put into words.

That being said, I’m not going to blindside you all with sudden shouting about issues and cisnormativity and heteronormativity and all of that. That’s not my thing. That’s not me. No one fucking knows what those words mean, anyway.

I’m just going to talk. I’m not going to lecture or argue. I’m going to pick a topic–a book, a feeling, an event, something–and ramble and swear and get excited about it, because I am an excitable person. I am, hopefully, going to make you laugh. I’m going to create “adventure recap” videos for my patrons–I posted the first one publicly on my YouTube channel (video at the end of the post).

I just wanna be a goddamn ray of sunshine, you guys.  Remember my post from waaaaaaaaaaaay back ’round election time when I said Let’s Not Talk About Politics? Let’s focus on being lights.

That’s my goal. I just want to be a fucking sunbeam. I am a depressed and anxious mess but I am going to keep fucking going and I’m going to keep creating and I’m going to keep sharing, because people need voices who are willing to talk about the tough things.

My Patreon

My Ko-fi

Self care!

Sometimes, you just have a shit week.

I mean, my week wasn’t bad really. I got back to writing after two weeks off, so that was good. I got a handful of beta readers for my short story (I love you all), I went and saw a movie–ooh, and I started a Patreon!!! Check me out!

But overall, this past week just felt weird. Upon reflection, that is MOST LIKELY due to the fact that I ingested way too much caffeine and energy drinks, did not sleep much, and got sick because of it.

…Yeah probably.

So I’m going to write a quick blog post on self care.

You’re not invincible. Don’t pretend you are. I know you’re not. I know your secrets, friend.

I like to think I’m super healthy, super resilient, and impervious to illness. Turns out I am not. I am getting less healthy, less resilient, and less impervious to illness with every passing day. Here are a few things I need to remind myself of, which you may need to be reminded of as well:

  1. Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep. Don’t stay up until 2am thinking “I’ll just chug a gallon of espresso/five energy drinks/a 24-pack of Coke at work in the morning and I’ll be fine.” Spoiler alert: You will not. You will not be fine. You will be miserable. Staying up late is not worth it.
  2. Exercise and sunshine are actually really important to human life. Go outside, for Christ’s sake. I know you have to write, but did you know that taking breaks actually increases your productivity? It does! So go outside. Walk a lap around the block. Sniff a flower. You’ll feel better when you return to your dank writing cave.
  3. Human interaction is healthy too. I KNOW you have to write, and I KNOW you talk to people on Twitter, but it’s not quite the same. Call someone. Go out for a drink or lunch or whatever people do these days.
  4. Eat actual food. GOLDFISH CRACKERS AND COKE ARE NOT A MEAL. Cookies aren’t breakfast! (I use these examples because I frequently eat Goldfish crackers for lunch, because I am an adult person and I make good life choices, clearly.)
  5. Write. You say you’re writing, but are you really just sitting there trading Tom Hiddleston gifs with your friends on Twitter? Because that is not writing. If you’re going to write, buckle down, focus up, and put words on the page. Set a reasonable goal, meet it, and THEN trade Hiddlesgifs.

That’s it. It’s halfway through the year and I assume most peoples’ best laid plans have gone flying out the window. I know mine have. Take a moment for self-care. Relax. It’s okay. You don’t need to stay up until 3am to get that scene done unless your deadline is 4am. Then maybe you should. But if not…… don’t. Take care of yourself, friends. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to run yourself into the ground trying to be productive.

I needed to write this to remind myself of these facts. I hope they help you, too!

Let’s Talk About Depression!!!

I have depression. I used to refer to it as seasonal depression, because it lasted from October to March[ish], but over the past couple years it’s sort of becoming “all the fucking time depression.” I have high points and low points regardless of the season (okay, in winter I have low points and even lower points).

I’m writing this because I just got past a low point. I went five days without showering. I felt nauseous for two weeks. I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to leave bed. What little energy I had went into feeding my pets and going to work. Eventually, I sat down at my dining room table and couldn’t move. I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to pet my dogs, I didn’t want to talk to my husband, I didn’t want to fucking be alive. After a while, I broke down sobbing and curled up on the floor. I cried for a while. My husband lay down on the floor with me, bless his heart. Then my cat came over and sniffed my face, very thoroughly, as if my tears were some fascinating substance… and then she ran away as fast as she could, like she’d finally determined they were poison. And I started laughing. And I started feeling a little better.

And today I took a shower! And I feel sort of excited about an idea I have for something. And I give a shit about the tiny plants I have growing in seed trays on my porch again. Hooray, heading back up to the land of the people who aren’t zombies.

This happens to me often. Varying lengths of time, varying levels of seriousness.

I have never actively considered suicide. Not really. Depression, for me, is apathy. It is deep, unyielding lack of interest in life. When I am depressed, I want to lie on the floor and stare at the wall or ceiling until existence just stops happening. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to kill myself, I just don’t want to deal with life. Existing is hard. 90% of existence is bullshit. When I am depressed, every action I take, every word I speak, only comes about by scraping my fingers through the muck and mud in the bottom of the well inside me, cobbling together some slimey, filthy shreds of energy to keep me staggering through everyday existence. I am constantly digging, trying to find something to keep me going, but for every one speck of energy I find, the world demands three more. You got out of bed? Great. Now you have to get dressed. You have to fix your hair. You have to pack a lunch, even though you don’t want to eat. You made it out the door? Remember there’s a detour, you have to go a less familiar way to work. There’s construction. There’s traffic. It’s raining. So on, so on, so on. Little things that are minor inconveniences on a “normal” day to a non-depressed person have me dragging and drained by 8am.

This piece from Hyperbole and a Half describes my relationship with depression pretty well. Especially this:

hyperbole and a half

I’m one of those “high functioning” mentally ill people. Anxiety and depression make me absolutely miserable and emotionally unstable, but I can go to work and carry out all the functions expected of me at my job. Usually. Maybe I’m a little quieter than usual. Maybe I make more jokes about the eventual heat death of the universe, or the fact that in the grand scheme of things, this job is absolutely pointless and contributes nothing to the world. But I can function. When I tell people I have anxiety and depression, they say, “Really?! I never would have guessed.”

Why? Because I’m at work? I’m wearing clothes? I’m not sobbing uncontrollably?

Trust me, I am a fucking mess. Human interaction is a nightmare. Eating is a Herculean feat. Don’t even talk to me about showering. Count yourself lucky that I put on deodorant. I smell like four-day-old sweat tinged with freesia.

Being a writer is hard. Being a depressed writer is just awful. How do you find the energy to write when you don’t have the energy to eat?

Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you just can’t. If it takes everything in you just to get out of bed, it’s okay that you don’t write that day.

I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and self-care. For me, self-care means being gentle with myself. Some days I shower and get dressed and eat salad, other days I eat an entire bag of M&Ms and lay around in the same pajamas I’ve been wearing for two weeks. Usually I just sort of… float, for a couple days or weeks. I exist. I stagger through this existence, gasping and panting, tripping and falling, but I keep existing. Usually I reach a breaking point where I break down crying. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Crying. Twenty minutes of gross sobbing flips a switch in my brain and reminds me what a “feeling” is, and my brain goes “Oh! There are other ones, too. Check it out.”

There is no tried and true magical cure or methodology for getting past depression. It is a huge ugly dark thing with its fingers tangled in your hair, scrawny legs wrapped around your waist, whispering lies in your ear, and it won’t. fucking. let. go. I don’t want to spew hackneyed word-vomit about things getting better. Things are mostly okay. The world is not rainbows and unicorns. The world is a dumpster fire, but there are good things. Find a good thing. Cling to it. Maybe it’s a flower. A cat. A good deed. An internet video. A kind word. Look for other good things. Cling to them. Good things are flotation devices in the sinking abyss of gross blah that we live in. If you string together a few good things, maybe you can stay above the abyss. If you string together enough good things, maybe you can make it to the shore of the sinking-abyss-lake and drag yourself out onto solid ground. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to seek it out. Try not to wait until it’s unbearable. Know that there are people who understand. You aren’t alone.

I am open about my anxiety and depression because so few people are, but so many people experience it. I hate the feelings of isolation that surround so many mental health topics. If you’re depressed, please know that I understand. I don’t expect anything of you except that you remain alive. We can join hands and watch paint dry together. Lie down in the yard and watch grass grow because we can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm to make it any farther. And remember that the people who “don’t seem like it” are just as likely to be unhappy as the people who obviously are unhappy. Neither is more or less deserving of care.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (it’s free): 1-800-273-8255
and their website

I love and appreciate everyone who reads my posts and if you ever need to talk, Twitter is the best method to reach me. Direct link to my profile here – DM or @ me so I’ll get a notification on my phone. I am by absolutely no means a trained professional, but I can listen/read and sympathize. Sometimes all it takes is talking/writing your feelings out to someone, and you feel better. I am willing to be that someone.

This post got way more serious than I expected it to. Have a funny comic to lighten the mood.

sad owlturd

Source

Writing #OwnVoices – You Are Enough

I’m asexual. I wrote about this just a couple months ago when I realized it for the first time in my 10+ years of adulthood. Since then, I have joined the #ownvoices movement by starting to write a novel with an asexual gay man as a main character.

Let me tell you: It is hard. It is really, really difficult for me, despite being asexual myself. The temptation to put these guys into a regular old sexual relationship is strong. It’d be a lot easier to write. Despite not being sexually motivated or driven myself, writing sex is natural because it is everywhere, and I know it is expected, and a lot of readers live for the sex scenes.

Writing anything is hard. Writing gay men as a straight[ish] female[ish…person] is hard. Writing romance with a character who is not driven by sexual desire is a hard. Put all this together and add a heaping dose of crippling self-doubt on top, and it’s a miracle I’ve put a single word on the page.

“Self doubt?” you say. “Why are you drowning in self doubt? This should be easy. You’re asexual. You’re writing an asexual character. That’s like being a writer and writing about a writer. Right?”

Except I only realized I’m asexual like two months ago, and only decided to apply/embrace the label several weeks later. All in all, I’ve considered myself a part of the asexual community for like, maybe 5 weeks now. So who the fuck am I to write an asexual character? I have no idea what I’m talking about. Right? What if I accidentally write bad rep? Even though I am ace, and I have been ace forever, I could easily write something that offends someone else. I could write it wrong. The internet is a terrifying place. There are a lot of outspoken, aggressive people on every side of every issue (especially on Twitter, where I spend most of my time). What if I write this asexual character based on my own personal feelings and experiences, and someone comes along and says “He’s not asexual.”

But he’s based on me! And I am! Does that mean I’m not?!

What if I write this #ownvoices book and someone comes along and shits on me for it because I’m not repping enough? I’m not outspoken enough? I’m not… I don’t know what, but what if I’m doing it wrong?

TAKING RISKS IS TERRIFYING.

Somebody save me.

Do you see my issue?

And then, while I was musing over this hang-up I’m struggling with, here came Ana Mardoll with a miraculously well-time tweet thread:

If you could just pardon me for a moment, I’ll be in the corner, sobbing.

misha crying

Okay. Better now.

So this is what it boils down to, kids: You are enough, and the world needs your voice. No one is more enough-y than you. No one can write a marginalized character better than a marginalized person, and no one can tell you that your feelings and experiences disqualify you for the group you feel you belong to. There has been a lot of hate flying around lately–transphobia and biphobia, erasure of all sorts. There is no better time than now for writing #ownvoices, and there is no better person than you.

So I’m going to go on writing my asexual gay man, and if he wants to have sex, he will. And if he doesn’t, he won’t. He’ll find his boyfriend attractive, he will be infatuated and in love and make flirty comments and sexual jokes, and if anyone reads about him someday and says that his relationship is unrealistic, I’ll give them a great big middle finger, because I am an asexual person, and I have sex, get crushes, flirt, and make a hell of a lot of sexual jokes. Those things do not disqualify me from the a-spec. I am asexual enough to write an asexual character, even if I just realized it a few weeks ago. It’s my identity and no one will take it away from me.

(If you want snippets and lines from Alex and his asexual D/s adventures, you can follow me on Twitter. I post quite frequently.)

GRL 2017

Well I registered for GRL 2017 (aka GayRomLit / Gay Romance Literature Retreat) last weekend. I’ll be attending as a general attendee, not as an author, being as I have nothing published [YET. #GOALS]. I will be attending alone, because I have no friends in real life.

*wait a beat… let them question how sad my life really is… okay go*

Just kidding, I have friends. They just aren’t in this genre and/or are not comfortable with the financial aspects of a shindig like this.

I am not really sure what happens at a GayRomLit retreat. I am not sure what happens at any sort of “retreat.” I don’t like going into situations where I don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening. Spontaneity is not my thing. As you may know, I have anxiety, so doing something like this alone is ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY TERRIFYING. But at the same time, really exciting, and I feel pretty confident I can handle myself with minimal breakdowns and/or panic attacks. It is very likely, however, that I will say something stupid to someone and dwell on it for the next 15 years.

thats-how-i-roll

Can you ever eventually get over anxiety? Like, could I someday actually not have anxiety? Because if that’s possible, I may be taking steps in that direction. Signing up for GRL alone is immersion therapy. Maybe this time next year I won’t be such a mess.

I do want to tell you a funny story on that note. Sometimes I have “anxiety dreams” when something big is going to happen in my life, and I dream that everything goes horribly wrong. I had them before my wedding, I had them about my new house, I’ve had them about new jobs. So one night last week, I had a dream that I flew to Denver for GRL early–like, now. I had no money for food, I forgot to rent a car, I didn’t tell my friend who I’ll be staying with that I was arriving, and as it would turn out, Denver had relocated to Hokkaido, Japan, and I had to wade through chest-deep snow to get from the plane to the terminal, and no one spoke English.

So… clearly I’m nervous about this.

The outpouring of support as soon as I posted in the GRL2017 attendees’ FB group was amazing and did wonders to assuage my nerves. I’m looking forward to it, beneath all the nervousness. Hopefully by the time October rolls around, I’ll have something(s) published. I have one short story/novella in the works, another on deck, and a third drifting in the ether with just a single scene clear in my mind. Plus I have my urban fantasy novel from NaNoWriMo awaiting revision. Surely something there will be publishable! Right? RIGHT? Ugh.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety!

These days, it seems like everyone I talk to has anxiety.

I don’t know if that’s because some of the stigma of admitting your feelings is dissolving, or if modern society is creating more anxious messes, or if I just associate with a particularly anxious bunch of worrywarts.

Regardless of the reasoning, it is what it is.

I’m feeling particularly anxious for a number of reasons right now. First, politics. Let’s not talk about that. Second, it has been nearly 8 weeks since I sent my manuscript to Dreamspinner Press. Their estimated turnaround is 8 weeks. I’ve started checking my email multiple times a day. I’m freaking out.

So I thought this week I would share a bit about my anxiety.

I made it all the way through high school, college, and grad school without realizing I had anxiety (and depression). I didn’t realize it was a real thing, and that I probably had it, and I should probably go to a doctor about it, until I was in my mid-twenties. I had a panic attack my freshman year of college but didn’t know what it was. A friend of mine who was big into frat house parties invited me to a college-sanctioned “paint party”. I was excited/nervous to go. I had not been to any parties yet. This was actually organized by the college so I figured it would be okay, not like the drunken orgyfests at frat houses every weekend.

So I went with my friend to this paint party. We walked into a building I was not familiar with. It was crowded. People lined the halls–halls which had been covered in black paper, the better to show the neon paints under blacklights. As soon as we walked in, some guys threw paint on us–okay fine, paint party, that’s the idea, calm down, calm down.

My friend headed straight for the dance floor. The room was dark except for a strobe light. She spotted someone she knew.

Someone handed her a beer.

She disappeared into the crowd.

Instant.

Panic.

I turned around to leave. I fought the incoming tide of people. A guy reeking of beer put his arm up on the wall beside me and started talking to me. “Leaving already?!” He spilled his beer on me.

I ran back to my dorm, got in the shower, and broke down crying uncontrollably.

When I told my best friend about this, hoping for comfort or understanding, she just said, “Why would you cry about that?”

 

I wish I had known in high school that I had anxiety, or even in college. I thought it was just me. I thought I just “didn’t like” doing things other people liked doing due to some kind of flaw in my personality. I wasted most of my opportunities in college because of anxiety.

If I had realized when I was 14 that I had a legitimate medical condition that was causing me to not want to engage with my classmates, maybe I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. Instead, I dealt with self-deprecating thoughts until I was 22 or 23.

Why can’t you just do the things other people do? Why aren’t you like them?

Sure that club looks interesting, but you shouldn’t join. No one would like you.

You can’t start playing sports in high school. Everyone will be better than you. You missed your chance.

It is incredibly difficult to battle yourself. When you sit there thinking it’s “you” that’s the issue, it feels hopeless.

But here’s what I’ve discovered in the past few years:

When you realize it’s anxiety–it’s not you! It’s a thing, it’s a monster, it’s a dark shape in your mind that looms over your brain and pisses all over your life–you suddenly have a nemesis outside of yourself (figuratively speaking). When you can put a label on it other than “me,” when you can say “It’s anxiety” instead of “It’s just who I am,” you suddenly feel free.

I am not afraid of new situations. Anxiety makes me feel afraid.

I am not inferior. Anxiety convinces me I’m not good enough.

Anxiety is a sneaky little worm in your brain, but as soon as you realize it’s there, you can start to pull it out, expose it to the sun. And you know what happens to worms that spend too much time in the sun.

earthworm