Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Back to the grind...

Today was my third/first day back to work (first day with students). This is how I know I am ready, how I know I can do this:

1.) I'm more excited than anxious.
2.) My administrator peeked in on me, lending subtle support.
3.) My department head gave me a pound of honey from his bees.
4.) I'm awesome (but in a totally humble way). And I believe it.

Get that?

I believe it.

That, in itself, means something.

As you can probably guess, writing has gone on the back burner for a while. I didn't write all summer, other than to journal my way through the mess that was my brain. But I can feel the itch coming on again. Each day has been better than the previous day. I find myself zoning out, but instead of zoning out because I'm trying to use my coping skills, I'm zoning out because I'm thinking of Sarah and Bonnie. I'm thinking about how I've neglected them and their story. And I'm thinking about how I can fix the holes in their lives.

In short, I'm getting ready to write again.

Give me one, maybe two months. Then, Sarah will be mousing and Bonnie will be strutting their ways into agents' mailboxes.

This might not seem like a big thing, but it is to me. Writing has been nearly impossible for me to enjoy for the past year. When I was in hospitalization, I even told myself who was I kidding? I was never going to write another novel again. I wasn't going to revise WINTER ON BRIMSTONE HILL. And this isn't new. Last winter, I wrote an entire novel and haven't looked at it since. I haven't wanted to. I wasn't exhilarated when I finished it, just blank. Everything made me blank or made me anxious or made me cry. Now, I know I'm going to return to Lee, Jesse, Jake, and Matthew as soon as I'm done with Sarah and Bonnie. I'm excited about it.

This is going to work. I can feel it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Story of the Wicked Girl

Once upon a time, there was a wicked girl who often vacillated between Self-Hate and Sadness. She wasn't all wicked, because she understood this wasn't how she was supposed to feel. In fact, she knew an evil force cast the spell of Depression on her. So, in her attempt to free herself from the grip of Depression, she sought out three good fairies.

The first good fairy told her to travel to the Land of Medicines and seek out a remedy. The wicked girl did, and she slowly began to felt better. Alas, the remedy wasn't enough. The wicked girl soon fell harder into Self-Hate and Sadness. Unnatural Urges tickled at the sides of her brain. They told lies of knives and flame to the wicked girl, promising relief from Depression.  Not unconscious of these lies, the wicked girl sought out the second good fairy.

The second good fairy took the wicked girl to a land called Group and surrounded her with others like her. For three weeks, the wicked girl grew to understand she wasn't so wicked after all. There were many like her, people whom Depression sought and for whom Self-Hate and Sadness made the same evil promises. The second good fairy bade the not-so-wicked girl to once more venture to the Land of Medicines in search of an additional remedy the first good fairy hadn't suggested.

As time passed, the not-so-wicked girl became happy. Unnatural Urges slowly disappeared. Self-Hate and Sadness retreated. She began to picture herself once again in the world outside Group. She sensed something great was in her grasp. The second good fairy saw her desire to leave, understood it, and he deemed her well enough to leave. But then, on the eve of returning to the world outside Group, the Ringing came. Her ears filled with such sound! Her skin turned bright red and blotchy!

The second good fairy, in his attempt to make the no-longer wicked girl happy, had unknowingly given her poison. For many of the people in Group, this remedy from the Land of Medicines was not poison, but even though it banished Self-Hate and Sadness, Unnatural Urges and Depression, it was still poison to this girl. Unfortunately, the second good fairy had already released the girl from Group, so to find the antidote to this poison, the no-longer wicked girl sought the third good fairy.

Distraught, the no-longer wicked girl continued her journey. She was scared Depression, along with its promise of knives and flame, would return to her. The third good fairy gave the girl an antidote. The ringing disappeared. The blotches vanished. But the fairy told the girl she could not find what she was looking for there. She must continue to seek it elsewhere.

To this day, the girl journeys. She fears she'll forever be bound by Depression's wicked ways. Unnatural Urges threaten to appear from the shadows of her mind, so she is ever vigilant, ever careful to avoid the horrible promises of Self-Hate and Sadness. Despite the darkness that surrounds her, she feels confident--optimistic--that she will find what she needs to be happy. She refuses to be the wicked girl ever again.

Not The End.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Progress Part 2

To relieve some of the stigma of hospitalization for mental health, I want to walk you through a typical day of therapy for me.

Check-in: We rate our moods (on a scale of 1 to 10); report how many meals we ate in the last 24 hours; report if we've taken our meds; report if we have any suicidal, homicidal, substance, or self-injury ideation; set a treatment goal for the day. We also talk about what happened to us yesterday evening and this morning.

Group1: Usually a continuation of the previous day's topic. We read literature on subjects on everything mental health: self-esteem, perfectionism, anger, health anxiety, improving perception...No one is forced to share their stories, but everyone is welcome to, and many do.
Part of an assignment during group.

Group2: Generally a different topic from Group1, but still focussed on mental health. Those people who are in the substance abuse track generally leave to attend a group specifically for substance abuse.
We had to draw what life felt like to us today, and envision what we want it to be tomorrow.
Two versions of the same scene.

Lunch: Provided and generally icky.

Group3: Usually some form of meditation or recovery session. We've done journaling, dance, yoga, zen meditation, improving perceptions, karaoke. Depending on who you are, you're sometimes allowed to leave to go to a concert or a program in another building. I am not one of those people.
Writing about myself in the third person is extraordinarily powerful.
(excuse the spelling)

Check-out: We go back to our original groups, and repeat the check-in process. This time, we have to explain how we've met our treatment goal, what we're going to do in the afternoon, name a coping skill we used or learned, and say one positive thing about ourselves.

Throughout the day, we can come and go as we please. Some group sessions might be too intense for some people, others may need to leave to see their psychiatrist or therapist. Although, if you miss too many group sessions or break any rules, you can be discharged from the program.

And where am I in all this? My stay has been extended for an additional week, to be reevaluated later. At that point, they'll determine if I need another week, if I should move on the half-days, or if I should be discharged altogether.

Progress Part 1

After a particularly bad day, one of the clinicians in the hospital said something to me. Healing from depression is like having a bruise. The only way to make a bruise better is to treat it with care and wait for time to pass and the body to mend itself. But sometimes, we're more aware of our bruise than other times. It could be that something in our lives brushes against it enough to make us notice and wince. Other times, it could be something poking the bruise outright; in which case, it would hurt. A lot. She told me my day was the latter example. That doesn't mean I'm not healing, she said. It just means I'm not fully healed. And that, like all things, takes time.

So I'm here today to update you on my treatment, should you wish to know. I went into this hospitalization thing feeling very scared, very overwhelmed. My first few days were close to horrible. I couldn't stop shaking, couldn't stop crying, couldn't stop getting caught up in my head. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and I had no clue if this program was going to work for me. I even told my case worker I felt like this. Because I have a case worker. And a social worker, and a therapist, and a psychiatrist.

But I decided I want to get better, so I've stayed in the program. I've made progress. I have fewer nightmares. I haven't been raped, killed, been bombed, been attacked by dogs or coyotes or bears. Once, I got attacked by a moose, but it wasn't that bad because it was so clearly a dream and I had been trying to save the moose from people who were attacking it, which was nobel and right.

I'm much more open in group sessions now. Actually, group sessions are the best part of my day. These people. They're normal, everyday people. They are people that I want to be friends with outside of group (but the program forbids it), so we are friends within the program. We talk. We read packets about issues depressed people experience. We exchange stories, both happy and sad. We know what each other likes to do outside. We share many of the same hobbies and activities. We also know which meds we're on, if substance abuse is a problem, and who's been in a coma from a suicide attempt.

And it all feels very normal. I'm telling you this because I want you to understand that it is normal. We have an illness, and we're working to overcome it. We don't like to be judged by family or friends because we're depressed or anxious. We notice when a room quiets when we enter. We notice when you stare at us, wondering if we're going to break. We notice when someone cuts off the end of a joke because the punchline has something to do with a knife and, 'Oh my god, she took a knife to her wrist, if I finish this joke I'm being insensitive.' We notice when you text our loved ones instead of us or lean in and whisper, "How *is* she *doing*?"

It's because mental health does not *feel* normal. I want it to be. This is me saying it needs to be. If you can talk about the time you were in the hospital because you had pneumonia, went through physical therapy because of a bad car accident, and if you feel comfortable answering all your friends' questions about those incidents BUT you don't feel comfortable asking me questions about my mental health, it hasn't been normalized yet. Please, help me feel normal. Ask me about my treatment. Do so in front of others. Let's make everyone see that I am--and people like me--are still intelligent functional human beings with a family, and friends, and hobbies, and careers. So I've got a mental illness. So what? You broke your arm. So what?

And my diagnosis: major depressive disorder (recurrent, severe, without psychotic features), generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hi. It's me. April Rose.

Hi. It's me. April Rose. I know I haven't blogged in the past four months. So yeah. Here goes.

Let me start off by saying I don't want to be a hypocrite. If you follow me on twitter, you'll know how I feel about mental illness. I've probably even blogged about it here. But just in case you don't, I'll say it again.

Mental illness should be treated like any other physical illness. Mental illness is a type of physical illness because it involves the brain. Last time I checked, the brain is an organ, and hence physical. Mental illness has a huge stigma, a stigma it doesn't deserve. If you break your leg, you don't hide it from the people around you. You let them sign your cast. They *want* to sign your cast. They want to hear the story of how you broke it jogging in place (which, by the way, is exactly how I broke mine five years ago). And then, when you have physical therapy, you have no problem saying, "Hey, my leg isn't fully healed, but this here doctor's gonna give me some exercises to make it better."

That's what mental illness should be. That's what I want it to be. So yeah. Here goes. This is the part where I try not to be a hypocrite. Okay. This is hard. It shouldn't be, but it is. I don't know how you're going to judge me.

No more stalling. I'm just going to say it.

Tomorrow I start a program called partial hospitalization. It's now officially in my medical records. My chart says I have a "mood disorder." Depression, to be exact. I already knew this. You already knew it. It's just...I don't know how much I should share, but if my "mood disorder" is anything like a broken leg, then I should be okay with sharing it with you. Right?

Then why is it so hard?

Okay. I'm going to do it. My doctors are worried about me. They are worried about my safety. They're afraid I might do something to hurt myself. And...they might be right. I don't think I'd do anything like that. My logical self says I'd never do anything that'd ultimately end up hurting my family or my friends. But my brain isn't working exactly like it should, either, and I'm not sure if I can trust it anymore.

For the next two weeks, I'm going to enter intensive group therapy, five days a week, from nine am til three pm. And I'm scared. I have no clue what's in store for me. I've never faced a situation where telling the truth is so necessary, yet so possibly damning. There's a possibility that the truth might land me somewhere for a few days, maybe longer, where I won't even be able to come home. I don't know.

And that's not the only thing that has me worried. I don't know anything about what I'm getting myself into. I don't know who I'm going to meet. I don't know if the hospital will let me use my cell phone. Hell, I don't even know if I'm supposed to bring a lunch.

Why am I telling you this? It's because mental illness needs to be normalized. I should feel just as comfortable telling you about this as I would about my broken leg (which is an embarrassingly funny story, a story worth laughing about). Some day, I want this to be a story worth laughing about too (well, maybe not laughing, but I should feel comfortable talking about it). But it can't be, not until we normalize mental illness.

So I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this because, as scary as it might be, the bone still needs to be set.

Just please: don't hate. Don't think this lessens my ability to be a good teacher, a good writer, a good mother and wife, a good person. And for the people who know me, who are hearing about this for the first time in this blog post: before you get angry at me or judge me for this, know that you'd feel just fine learning about a broken leg this way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Post NESCBWI 2015 conference thoughts

It's been a while since I've written, mostly because I'm trying to wrap my head around this depression thing. Sometimes it's wrapping around me instead, coiling through my brain and lungs and heart, squeezing tighter and tighter until I cannot think, breathe, or feel. I'm working on it. It certainly won't win. I've never failed at anything, and I certainly won't fail at this.

So back to this post...

I attended the NESCBWI conference this past weekend for the first time. The workshops were so engaging, and the people were just incredible. I'd forgotten what it was like to be surrounded with people who love writing as much as I do. It was better yet because they all write for children, and that's where my heart lies.

I don't want to spend too much time blabbering on here, so I'm only go to describe what I feel has been the biggest thing I noticed at the conference: that I'm extremely lucky. Why? Because I have such an awesome support group of writers.

Over the duration of the conference, I spoke with tens of people. The subject that came up the most was critique partners, beta readers, support groups. Who do you bring your manuscript to once it's completed? How do you know you have what it takes to be a writer? When should you give up? Should you?

To quote agent Lauren MacLeod, "writers are crazy." We are. And we doubt ourselves and our abilities. One moment we feel we've written the next Harry Potter, and the next moment we're curled up in an empty party-sized pizza box with cheese in our hair and marinara down our chins. I've been there. Oh have I been there. And one thing has made a difference through it all. My support group.

Writers, we are not alone. We don't need to go it alone. Finding my group, a group of 2014 PitchWars mentees and alts, has made all the difference. If I need to cry, they're there. If I need to laugh, they're there. If I need to vent, to inquire, to joke, to hope, to celebrate, to staunch the crazy, to share a hotel room even though we'd never technically met (thanks, Rachel!), to find out where the hell in the world makes a pizza bigger than party-sized...they're there.

It's taken me almost three years to find mine, but I saw at the conference, those writers who seemed happiest, who seemed the most sure of themselves, all had their own version of a group. Writing is lonely, and, let's face it, most people don't understand exactly what writers go through, which is why finding a group is so important.

So yes, at the NESCBWI conference, I learned new exercises to open my mind to writing. Yes, I now understand the importance of blending emotions to create more complicated emotions, and I have more confidence adding diversity to my characters. But I also know how lucky I am to be a member of a strong writing group. The conference reminded me of it, solidified it really.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Us versus Them: The problem with adults reading YA?

My school has a book club, which many teachers use as a way to glean precious PDP's (professional development points) for re-licensure. It's not just for English teachers. The school librarians come, administration, and a few avid readers. It's been going on since September, but as far as I'm aware, this was the first time they'd chosen fiction, and it was YA to boot.

We all know how social situations make me nervous, so I spent the majority of the time listening to what people had to say, offering little myself. What I had discovered was an "Us versus Them" attitude.

I was amazed. We're all educators, and granted, some of us were older than others, but I've never once stopped trying to think like "Them." The attendants repeatedly said how they had to remind themselves the "the novel was written for teens," that this novel was okay because students connected with something so "low."

The whole time I wanted to be like, "Wait a second. Wait a minute." The book was a brilliant commentary on consumerism. Over a decade ago, it predicted technology much like we have today. Yet, some of the people in the book club said they thought it was uninteresting (okay, personal preference), but to go as far as say that it was unoriginal? written with slang and too much curses because the "author liked to swear, and not for any purpose"? I was just floored. One person even said, "Wouldn't the students be better off reading Hemingway? Wouldn't they get more out of it?"

Some commented on how they're so sick of the Fault in Our Stars, and Hunger Games, and Divergent, and...oh wait, every book that seems to have captured the attention of young adults. This is a problem. What is wrong with these books? Maybe my personal preference doesn't really sway towards the Hunger Games, but why is it a problem that teens are reading books "we" don't like? When did reading become just about the literary quality and less about the joy, the adventure? Putting yourself in somebody else's shoes and experiencing humanity from their perspective? It doesn't matter if the humanity is from a dystopian world or a contemporary one. If it helps us understand ourselves or the people around us, what's wrong with that?

Let's not spend more than this sentence talking about the benefits of reading for vocabulary. But really...why do we read? Why do we encourage reading?

I'm a parent. My daughter is three, and she loves books. I won't say I don't ever ask her to use critical thinking skills to predict what's going to happen on the next page of some Henry and Mudge book. But I do use the books to ask her questions about herself and how the characters are feeling. Reading for humanity. Reading for understanding people. Reading for reading.

That's not to say reading critically doesn't have its place. I majored in English. I wrote a 30-page paper on a sonnet. My mind is better having had these critical exercises. But. Reading. Come on. Let's read. Let's encourage reading. And let's get rid of the "Them versus Us" attitude, because I'm pretty sure we're all people. And I'm pretty sure I was once an adolescent. And I'm pretty sure I once wanted to change the world. And I'm pretty sure I experienced love and hate and hopelessness and anger and frustration and love, love, love. And I'm pretty sure that, if someone want to read because they want to read, they should read.

Rant over.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Making readers feel

So I had this epiphany.

It was too cold for me to work up the nerve to get our of bed to write, so I lay there, not thinking about my WIP, but thinking about a novel I'm reading for my work's book club. This isn't something I normally would have chosen for myself, but it was the first non-nonfiction book they'd chosen AND it was YA. As I lay there, analyzing it, I started to think about this one point where the main character is really just a jerk to the love interest. He doesn't intend to be--he's dealing with his own feelings about what's happening to his love--but he's being a jerk nonetheless, and he's really making me not like him.

I began thinking about why I felt so strongly against him. Here was a character that had been engineered for readers to like, and up until this point I had. Then I got it. It was because his girl needs him, and the more she needs him, the more he backs off. He can't deal with the stress--I get that--but that doesn't mean I need to like it.

Usually, when I read while I'm writing, I go through this phase of hating my own writing, a phase of insecurities so large that it backs my own manuscript into something black and deep. But then it hit me. I want my readers to think my main character is a jerk, too. I've always known this, and just yesterday I was speaking with someone about how I feel my WIP is falling short in this way. It's not as powerful as I want it to be.

So ready for the epiphany?

I could use this author's technique, tailor it to fit my novel, and make my readers feel the way I want them to. Why hadn't I thought of this before? There are a million excellent novels out there. Instead of letting them make me feel insecure, I should really focus on how they make me so invested in their characters.

I'm not talking about mimicking them or turning my novel into something tropey. The last thing I want is a pile of pages about mysterious boys and average girls. I'm talking about really discovering what these successful authors do to make their readers feel, analyzing it, and then looking for that thing in my novel, the thing that will make my readers feel, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Introducing Anne Margaret

I know this is going to come as somewhat of a shock for all of you, but I'd like to introduce you to a little girl who's going to be staying with us for a while.
Her name is Anne Margaret Stinch, and she's five years old. We're not sure how long she'll be living with us, but Hazel's already in love with her. Just to give you a good idea of the type of kid we're welcoming into our home...
Anne Margaret is a little tall for her age, and she's marvelously behaved. Hazel already says she's not lonely anymore, and last night, she preferred an Anne Margaret-snuggle instead of her usual Mommy-snuggle. Oh, and Anne Margaret was awesome; today, when we got home from day care, she made fried chicken with tomato soup. And it wasn't even on Hazel's kitchen set--it was on our very own stove. So you can see, she's already the perfect playmate for Hazel.
This evening, Hazel insisted Anne Margaret sleep on the floor in our bedroom like she (Hazel) does. I recommended to Hazel that maybe she can start sleeping in her bedroom now, now that Anne Margaret is here to keep her company. Hazel told me that wasn't an option because, "Mommy, she's not real."
From the way Hazel talks about her, you'd think she is.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Yesterday was a bad day

Yesterday was a bad day.

Depression is being Schrodinger's cat.

Today will be better.

I'm going to try to write today. I've taken a brief hiatus from writing. It's been nearly a month, and this is why. I've been battling with depression again. Like a lot. As in, twelve hours of sleep isn't cutting it. Twelve hours of sleep and then napping for three hours isn't cutting it.

That's not to say I haven't been trying. It just feels like there's something wrapped around my brain, slowing me down, preventing me from thinking coherently. It makes me forgetful. Mid-idea, I forget what I'm doing, what I'm thinking. It's like opening the refrigerator and forgetting what you went inside for, except worse, because you forgot to open the fridge in the first place. Then you stand in front of the fridge staring at it, trying to remember what it is the refrigerator does. Why is it you're standing in front of the fridge? Why is it you're standing? Where are you? What are you?

Not who. Never who.

That's not to say I haven't been trying. Yesterday was a bad day. It took me by surprise because my days *have* been getting better. I just couldn't function. I tried. I cleaned the bathroom. I did other stuff. I know I did other stuff. For some reason, cleaning that darn bathroom was so important. It's the first thing I remember from yesterday. Really, the only thing, now that I'm trying so hard to remember. But I did other things. I remember *trying* really hard. Trying to do something.

Oh, I took in wood, too. Five cart-loads.

I just looked over and my daughter was biting her lip. I furrowed my brows at her and she furrowed hers back. "Are you copying me?" I asked. She smiled.