Hanging on to vacation brain

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I’ve spent the last ten days on vacation, mostly on a beach in Florida doing nothing but watching waves, drinking Corona, and smoking the occasional cigar. Oh, and eating seafood obviously.

I do this pilgrimage every April, so I know what to expect: utter relaxation and escape from “real life.”

When I’m on my beach in Florida, I don’t worry about anxiety or depression. I don’t think about all the work I should be doing. I don’t stress over my upcoming schedule or money/death/Indians baseball. No, I simply exist without social media or email for over a week. It’s incredible.

I arrived home yesterday, and I’m trying to move slowly. Last night, for instance, instead of hurrying to the grocery store and cooking dinner, I went to my favorite Cleveland bar for cheap wings. Instead of working through my lunch today, I did yoga. I took my dogs to the park. I’ve been working, yes–catching up on email and organizing the coming month–but I’m trying to be slow about it. I fear rushing back into the stressors of day-to-day could erase the vacation brain I’ve spent ten days cultivating.

Now, I realize beach life is a different life. I love beach life. I enjoy the slow pace, the walks on the beach, and need to be … nowhere. The air smells different down there; the breeze feels freer. I’m different in Florida. I laugh more, relax more, and just don’t worry about anything.

I can’t exist in that space forever.

Well, I could.

I spent time with several official “beach bums” in Florida who seemingly do nothing but drink beer and talk about boats. I could, in theory, give up on real life … but I won’t. The question I ponder today is: How do I tap back into vacation brain? Is there a hidden pocket in my mind where I can tuck it away and metaphorically visit the beach whenever I want? I’m working on it.

Doing nothing is an art form. I did a whole lot of nothing recently in Florida. I need to do more nothing here in Ohio. I just need to travel to that special place in my brain where the Corona flows freely and no one mentions work, money, or (best of all) feeling sad.

Writing the next chapter?

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Since I’m a writer, my therapist thought it would be good for me to write about my life in order to see where I am and where I need to go, considering I’ve been completely lost for a couple months now.

Fair enough. So far, I’ve written eight pages of pretty much stream-of-consciousness. Have some snippets …

(And yes, for some reason, I wrote in third person, which my brother thinks is a cop out. He thinks I’m distancing myself from myself. But I’m a writer and couldn’t help the third person POV. I swear, this even reads like a children’s book on occasion, if you discount the content.)


She gets anxiety in grocery stores. She hates grocery stores—the people and the bright lights.

She reads a lot to escape. She prefers the lives of fictional characters. She knows her friends (especially the ones with kids) think she lives a golden life. They know she has “mental health issues,” but they don’t know the reality of her mysterious misery. What does she really have to be miserable about anyway?

She relates to Tom Petty:
Every now and then I get down to the end of the day
I’ll just stop… ask myself: why I’ve done it?
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard
And nothin’ ever really seem to come from it

Sara has too many thoughts about too many things and too many opportunities that swirl around her head until she’s overwhelmed and can’t do anything.

The problem is she looks outside herself for validation, for joy, when it’s not fair to put that much pressure on the world. The world isn’t always a very nice place, so why should it be nice to her?


So, as you can see, I’ve pretty much pegged where I am RIGHT NOW. However, my therapist’s challenge was to write “The Next Chapter.” What does Sara do next? I’ve been thinking about focusing more on public speaking. Maybe returning to journalism … although I never was much of a fan of that. Finding a way to travel more. Even teaching yoga.

Yet, nothing is clear, possibly because I’m not psychic, but possibly because in the thralls of mental illness, it can be impossible to picture what it looks like on the other side of the road. I mean, how do you remember light when you’ve been in the darkness so long? How do you regain purpose, remember how to dream, imagine doing something NEW and BIG when you can barely wash the dishes without wanting to nap?

I see what my therapist is getting at. “Write your next chapter.” She’s trying to get me out of the present depression and into a future where I’m happy and healthy. Or perhaps just content. It’s okay to be content, I think. We don’t have to be smiling all the time, but we can be just … good.

I could totally type “She lived contently ever after!!!” New chapter finished! But that’s a cheat. How do I reach that contentment? It’s something I’m seriously trying to think about and actively take steps toward.

What about you? What does your next chapter look like? Step outside whatever crap you’re going through right now and try to picture what would make you happy–and how to get there.

Invisible me

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One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was three. I was friends with these twin sisters who were blind, and we were looking under my bed, possibly for monsters. I told them to “Look,” and they told me, “We can’t.” I’m not sure my childhood brain really understood, but I knew they couldn’t see me.

A later memory was of swimming at the Perrysburg pool. I was a good swimmer, but I was tiny. A friend of mine—who was a lot bigger than me—started panicking in the water. She shoved me under, held me under, in her rush to get out of the deep end. Once I was able to escape her grip, I vomited. Hygienic, I know, but it was like she didn’t notice I was drowning.

When I look back at school as a kid, I was the smallest one in class. I wore big glasses and had a funny haircut. I was smart, well behaved, and shy. No one saw me. I was an invisible kid simply because I was good and average and quiet.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t loved. I’m sure I was, dearly, but when I think hard about my childhood memories, they’re mostly of things happening to other people, like I was an observer but not a participant in life. I remember my dad crying when his father passed away. I remember a drunken woman peeing on our front porch. I remember watching the neighbors have a huge screaming fight. I saw, and no one noticed because I was the invisible kid.

Most of my current issues, seemingly, have to do with my fear of returning to that state—of becoming Mrs. Cellophane. (Look right through me, walk right by me.) Maybe this is why I dye my hair crazy colors and wear revealing clothes. Although I can’t imagine being anything else, maybe this is partially why I’m a writer. It’s a limelight sort of career, especially the romance genre, especially erotica. (Look at me! Look at all the smut!)

Lately, despite professional success and an amazing support system, I have felt invisible. Like no one cares. Like no one is listening. Like no one can really see me. It’s partially my own fault, because I come off as happy and carefree—the social butterfly. And, yes, there’s a thing as being “too seen.” This past weekend, I was sexually harassed at a convention, possibly due to my weird hair and revealing clothes. Desperate to disappear on Monday, I wore a huge coat, didn’t wear makeup, and covered my head in a big hat. Sometimes, surprise, I want to be as invisible as possible.

But not usually. Usually I want to be seen and heard and understood. Our early memories shape us greatly, and the invisibility of my youth has followed me like a ghost into adulthood. I fear being forgotten, being ignored. My depression thrives in this space. When I begin to feel invisible, the Depression Monster loves coming around to remind me … “You’re not important. No one needs you. They look right through you, walk right past you.” Maybe this is why my mental health has been so bad lately.

Do you know me? Do you see me? I’m barely here.

Con-drop

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According to the powerful Internet, con-drop “is a physiological reaction that often has emotional or psychological symptoms. Essentially, it’s the endorphins and other happy chemicals your body has been spewing out the last 3-5 days drying up. It’s the crash after the high.”

This feeling applies to huge events like Comic-Con in San Diego or something smaller like a local book fair. I went to Cleveland Concoction this weekend: a big geek fest featuring movies, comics, books, and cosplay. I was one of the featured authors, which meant I spoke on panels, signed books, and mingled for two days straight.

Contrary to what you might think based on my ravings, I am actually an extrovert. I’ll talk to anyone about anything. I actually approach strangers. I’m, like, charismatic and shit (I’ve been told).

However, in the opinion of my therapist, I’m an introverted extrovert. In other words, no matter how much of a social butterfly I am, being a social butterfly sucks the very life out of me.

I’m beginning to think this is both literal and figurative because not only am I thoroughly depressed today and basically unable to do anything, I also feel physically ill. I slept twelve hours and am still tired. I have a sore throat and headache. I’ve been sick off and on for months, so I’m frustrated to be SICK again, but there’s nothing to be done. I spread myself too thin at Concoction. I literally networked myself into a physical and emotional coma.

Con-drop is a thing that happens to many convention attendees (especially the introverted ones). The energy at conventions is so high, and you have to be constantly on your game because someone is always watching. People are talking to you or you’re speaking in front of a room-full of people. Then, there’s the bar mingling and NSFW panels at 10 PM that pretty much require you never, ever rest.

I feel freaking terrible today.

I’m glad I went to Concoction. I always have a great time, and I get to see all my nerd friends. It’s wonderful … but this is a reminder of why I don’t do very many conventions. In the beginning, with the release of Bite Somebody, I traveled all over the place for promo. Now, I do two or three events a year because I literally can’t take anymore.

The depression is back so hard right now, and I feel so sick. Why does one late night give me a terrible cold? Why does a weekend of excitement, fun, and yeah, high pressure, make me so very sad? Does anyone out there know how to fix con-drop? I’d love to know how to heal myself this week.

I get scared sometimes

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I get scared sometimes. Irrationally, stupidly scared. Morbid scared. Want some examples?

Sometimes, when my brother leaves to walk to work in the morning, I sit at my desk and tell him, over my shoulder, “Have a great day!” Then, I listen to him walk downstairs and putz around in the kitchen. I start freaking out, thinking I should have hugged him because what if he disappears on his walk to work? What if I never see him again? He lived so far away from me for so long, and we didn’t talk very often. Now, he lives with me, and I’m scared of taking it for granted. I’m scared of losing him again, so I rush down the stairs and say, “HUG DAY!” And we hug, and I tell him “Have a great day” again. He thankfully puts up with me.

Before leaving for yoga (which I do three time a week over my lunch break), I kiss my dogs. I check all the candles in my house to make sure they’re blown out because I’m convinced my house is going to burn down, and my dogs are going to die. Due to this, I even got stickers for our front and back doors so that if firemen show up, they know to rescue my children. I’ve gotten halfway down the street and turned around, convinced I forget to turn off a string of twinkle lights, which could and will somehow prove fatal to my pups.

I’ve gotten better about the Jake thing. When I first moved to Arizona to live with my then boyfriend-now husband, I felt very alone in a big city. Jake was the only person I knew. My dark, little mind was sure he was going to die in his sleep. Every night, I would wake up randomly, reach my hand out, and expect to find his body cold. Like I said, I’ve gotten better about this, but I still do it sometimes … reach that hand out and hope and pray that the love of my life is okay.

This isn’t a phobia (as far as I know). I’ve seen phobias. My girlfriend Lindsey is scared of butterflies. I thought she was sort of kidding until we visited Charleston, SC. We walked through a garden, and a couple butterflies flew by. She froze. She couldn’t even speak. We had to carry her out of there. Same with my friend Steph and snakes.

From what I’ve witnessed, phobias make you freeze; fear makes you moves. It makes you over-active as you worry about everything. Your mind races about all the things that could go wrong.

Fear is real.

Today, in fact, I came home from yoga to find Bearenheart, my oldest childhood stuffed animal, ripped to shreds on my office floor. (See picture above.) The dogs had gotten to her. Her smiling face is now distorted. Her clothes are ruined. There’s an empty hole where her teddy bear heart should be. I have a headache from crying so hard. I couldn’t stop crying.

Maybe this is a sort of phobia. Maybe my phobia is loss. I’m afraid of losing people and dogs and favorite stuffed animals. But, again, I don’t freeze when I fear loss. No, I reach out and hold and hope these things I love won’t leave me.

I’ve dealt with a lot of death in my life, but the ones that hurt the most were the ones I never saw coming–especially my Uncle Barney, who died in a hospital in Bali randomly one summer day. I remember my mom calling. She said, “We lost him,” and I didn’t understand. Was he in a maze somewhere? Lost at sea? No, WE LOST HIM.

I’m afraid the shock of loss, years old, is still with me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be free of that fear, so now, I hug my brother, kiss my dogs, and reach for my husband in the dark of night. And just hope the fear one day goes away.

Nightmares

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I had a dream this morning that my brother fell off a cliff into a raging river, and I couldn’t save him. It was a “screamer,” my affectionate term for a night terror. I woke my husband crying for help. He had to basically hold me down until I stopped shaking. I couldn’t breathe. Once I realized where I was, I clung to him and sobbed.

I’ve had nightmares my entire life, but screamers have become rarer and rarer over the years. That doesn’t mean they’re gone. Very few aspects of my mental illness are ever gone; they just take breaks. For instance, I’ve been waking up feeling okay lately. I don’t feel okay today. I feel sad and panicky. Scared.

Nightmares don’t just happen in our beds. Mine, at least, tend to follow me throughout the day. I will be seeing the image of my brother being sucked underwater for at least twenty-four hours, maybe longer. I’m a writer. I’m great at visualizing things. When I write, I even visualize scenes like movie storyboards.

This is why I’m careful about what I consume. I’m not talking about pizza toppings. I mean I’m careful about what I watch. For instance, Jake and I started watching a movie called Polar recently because we both love Mads Mikkelsen. As soon as his character drilled a, well, drill into a villain’s forehead (extreme gore, folks), I told Jake, “Turn this shit off.” I knew that image would haunt me, and I didn’t want to know what other images would eventually be warped by my too-creative subconscious into a screamer.

Same with the news. I stopped watching the news years ago. I apologize for my ignorance over some current affairs, but it’s either I sound informed in political debates or I sleep better at night.

Nightmares often make their way into my fictional works, probably because they’re such a big part of my life. Real life tends to pour into my fiction–an exorcism of sorts. Get the poison out by putting it on the page. (Actually, more on that later today. I’m making an announcement on my writing blog in a bit in direct relation to this.)

I know I’ve been dealing with nightmares my entire life, but it never gets easier after screamer nights. Right now, I feel disoriented, unfocused, with a curious lump of dread in my chest as if my stupid dream portends some future event. No, my nightmares have never come true, but they feel true in the moment, and this moment is all we have.

The PMS problem

cryFor one week out of every month, some women lose their damn minds. I am one of those women. PMS. Premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as “Sara is a psycho.” (Feel free to insert your own name here.)

The week leading up to Aunt Flow’s arrival, my mental health takes a nosedive. The depression is practically crippling. My temper FLARES. (Flames basically shoot from my eyes.) I feel fatty fat fat. I make bad decisions or I am incapable of making decisions. I want to scream at everyone and then, cry about it.

This shit happens every month.

My husband, Jake, has a radar for its arrival. He claims he gets more annoying whenever I’m PMSing, like he needs to annoy me on a deep, hormonal level. (The man has no sense of self-preservation, considering PMS time is the time when I am most capable of homicide.) He’ll suddenly realize he’s acting super annoying and say, “Wait, you’re PMSing, aren’t you?” It’s uncanny.

The problem with PMS (other than the obvious emotional turmoil) is the difficulty in treating it. I’ve talked to my doctor about this. Many doctors, honestly. They all suggest going on antidepressants … to treat one week of the month. No, thank you. Then, they say maybe I could just take antidepressants for a week of every month, but that doesn’t make any damn sense because, in order to work, antidepressants need to build up in your system … which is when side effects show up … which is exactly what I do not want.

There are the “natural cures:” take more B vitamins. Chaste Tree. Ashwagandha. Physical activity. Eat healthier. Drink more water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine around the PMS time.

Far as I can tell, nothing works.

So, dear reader, I implore YOU. I know I’m not the only woman who goes possible-serial-killer once a month for seven entire days. For the women out there who’ve found a way to manage their PMS, what do you do? For the husbands whose wives are not Pennywise with better makeup during PMS time, what have your wives done as treatment?

SEND HELP!!!!