I Feel Fine (and it’s weird)

Some days I wake up and feel fine.

It’s like a switch in my head flipped and suddenly I’m okay. The pit in the bottom of my stomach is gone. The shaking in my hands is still there, but I don’t want to chant “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” over and over anymore.

I feel invincible. I start making plans. Cleaning and decluttering is actually happening and not just something I think about. I bring out a writing project I’ve been planning on tackling for a YEAR and I actually get it done.

I’m finally filling in my Story Bible!!! (click image for details)

It’s amazing.

It’s also highly unsettling.

I feel good. Do I feel too good?

I wonder about hypomania. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically the baby sister of the Mania someone with Bipolar Disorder experiences. It’s nowhere near as severe and doesn’t last as long (at least with me) but you get a taste of some of the feelings and impulsiveness.

Logically I know I’m not hypomanic. This just happens to me. The same way I wake up one day and feel horrible and anxious. No matter how much therapy and medication I take I’ll always have these swings. The treatment helps them tremendously, but it can’t take them away. My brain just doesn’t work like other people’s brains.

Today I feel great. I feel like I can take on the world, so I’m taking advantage of it. In the words of the great Jenny Lawson, I’m going to be “Furiously Happy”. I’m going to keep writing and outlining while the creativity holds. I’m going to clean and declutter while it’s not overwhelming. I’m going to go places and see people while those social situations don’t feel like being waterboarded.

Today is a good day.

Tomorrow might be a bad one.

But today is good.

Do you ever wake up and just feel good instead of bad? Do you like my new blog header? And more importantly, how awesome is Jenny Lawson?

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Should is a 4-Letter Word

“Should is a 4 letter word.”

This is possibly the most helpful thing my therapist has ever told me. She explained that the word “should” to the mentally ill mind is as offensive as certain four letter words. It tells us that we are failing in some way by not acting in a certain fashion.

For example, someone might say “I should be eating healthier”. The phrase immediately conjures up guilt at something you aren’t doing. What if you said “I WANT to be eating healthier”? Instead of shaming, it is a statement with a goal you can work towards. That make sense to you?

I try very hard to stop myself from making ‘should’ statements. I restructure them in my head and remind myself over and over how it is having a bad effect on me.

Unfortunately, one place that advice never made it to was my writing.

When I first joined Twitter, I was almost immediately enchanted. There were so many writers out there to interact and chat with, and they wanted to talk to me! It was so inspiring to share little tidbits of my process with people and read all about theirs.

At first, my writing was boosted. It was motivating to get my words written every day so I could share it with people. It was that tiny bit of accountability that I need. Until it started to do the opposite.

Like with everything else in the world, writers on Twitter have very forceful opinions. Most have the best of intentions, but that didn’t stop me from forgetting that everyone has to find their own way, and just because someone is more experienced about something than me it doesn’t mean they are right about everything.

It played up on my fear of publishing. I openly admit that I never plan on traditional publishing because I know my works isn’t “marketable”. Even though I write romance, I don’t fit into a narrow niche. (more on that subject in a future post) When I’m done with something, I plan on setting it loose in the world, whether or not anyone else reads it. Writing is something I have always done for me, not other people.

That’s all fine. Although there can be a stigma attached, lots of people self publish and are quite happy with their results. Naturally I was attracted to posts with tips and tricks in them.

I let people get in my head. I started worrying about making mistakes. I heard people who clearly have much harsher standards than I say that they would stop reading a book after finding a single typo (which listening to several podcasts by published authors recently reminded me was not something uncommon to traditionally published works too). I listened to people who talked about how you had to have this, and you had to have that before publishing, even if it cost more money than you could ever reasonably spend.

I believed them when they said you had to pay someone else to make your work the best it could possibly be.

My anxiety sent obsessive thoughts swirling around my head until I didn’t want to work on my novels anymore. Sure, I wrote little bits here and there, but whenever I thought about editing one of the many things I have first drafts of I would get that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that said it would never be good enough.

I let the world psych me out. I forgot that I know what I want out of my writing, and it doesn’t involve perfection. I want to write the stories in my head down and edit them until they say what matters to me. Me, not the rest of the world. Would I like people to read and like them? Of course! But that cannot, nor do I want it to be my main goal.

I’ve known for a few months that I needed to find a way to stop other people from stealing my joy of writing. Amusingly, it’s only been during a very stressful family crisis that I have been able to sort through my feelings and come to a sort of solution.

The solution was basically to think a lot about writing, listen to some of my favorite writing podcasts, and sort through the negative thoughts and “shoulds” that my brain had been infected by. I found the nest, sprayed for pests, and with any luck I can keep the infestation under control from now on.

Writing this entry was half the battle. What better way to sort out thoughts and feelings for a writer? For the first time in a long time, I feel positive about my writing. I’m looking forward to sitting down at putting words to page.

I’ve stopped ‘should-ing on myself’. And it feels great.

Do you find yourself plagued by ‘shoulds’? Has it negatively impacted your life (writing or otherwise)? As always, I hope something I’ve said resounds with someone and makes their life just a little bit easier.

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How I Cope on ‘Bad Days’

I didn’t have any orange days in February.

I started keeping a mood chart in the back of my planner three years ago and I love being able to look back at the entire year and see many good (and bad) days I’ve had. Anyway, this year orange is the color for an anxious day and February was completely devoid of orange. Instead it was filled with turquoise (for a ‘meh’ day) and blue (a happy day!).

Unfortunately the streak didn’t make it though March, but it was still a big deal!

I’ve been feeling disturbingly good mental health-wise the past few months. Disturbing because some days it just feels weird and suspicious. Unnatural even.

I wrote this on my personal insta a couple years ago and it still says it the best.

For the first time in, probably a decade, I feel like I’ve really got my life on track. I can finally focus on my physical health more. For so long I had to put my mental health at the front of the line because if I didn’t have good mental health, my physical health didn’t really matter. But now I’m at a point where I can focus on eating more nourishing foods and getting more movement.

I’m having fun.

It’s always scary when I start to feel this way because I know it won’t last. I could wake up tomorrow and have a bad day. I could have a series of Bad Days. With Anxiety and Depression there is just no way to know.

Over the years, I’ve developed a routine of sorts. When those Bad Days come (and they will), I know what to do. And that makes them just a little less terrible. For me, I know nothing but time will make that terrible feeling go away. I just have to survive each day at a time until it runs it’s course. Having a routine makes those days a little less scary and reminds me that it will end, just like it did the last time it happened.

Here is how I cope on the days when I wake up and know instantly that things are not all right:

  1. “Comfort” Shows.

I use television as a coping mechanism a lot of the time. I find the background noise comforting while I do other things. When I am anxious, the distraction becomes even more important.

I have two main shows that I use on Very Bad days: Psych and Castle. Both are light hearted shows that always make me smile, even when I don’t want to. They are well written (at least the early seasons) and the characters are like good friends that keep me company when I’m sad.

On days that are a little less bad, I have others I add into the mix: The Mentalist, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Elementary. You’ll notice these are all police procedurals. I find the predictable format reassuring and they all have clever and quirky characters that keep things from getting too serious. (I love Criminal Minds, but that one has to wait until I’m much more emotionally sound!)

  1. Comfort Foods.

When I’m a little anxious, I might eat a pint of Ben n Jerry’s to cheer myself up. But when I’m a lot anxious, I’m too nauseated and sick to eat. However, I also know that if I don’t keep something in my stomach I will only get sicker feeling as my blood sugar gets low.

So what do you grab when you’re nauseous? Ginger Ale and crackers. Sipping Ginger Ale (Canada Dry being my preferred brand) and nibbling on crackers doesn’t make me feel more sick and it keeps me from feeling worse because of not eating anything. There have been weeks where I drank nothing but Ginger Ale because it was a simple comfort to cling to and remind myself that things were going to be okay.

I even have a specific type of cracker for the occasion. My current ones are Tollhouse Foccacia crackers in Rosemary and Olive oil flavor. I buy them in bulk and always have a box on hand. Over time, I’ve come to associate these crackers with the comfort they provide. Not to mention they are delicious.

  1. Distraction.

This can be a tricky one. I need something complex enough to keep my brain engaged but also fairly simple. (TV isn’t enough, I need something to do with my hands.) Bad Days bring brain fog, which makes it hard to focus or concentrate, which is why reading doesn’t make the cut. I also shake, especially my hands, and find that I’m more clumsy and prone to dropping things.

Very basic knitting projects have made the list. One year I joked that you could tell the status of my mental health by how many dishcloths I had knitted. (I made a lot that year) The kind of project I usually find tedious and boring is all I can manage on Bad Days.

One year when a medication change left me really messed up for a couple months, I sorted buttons. My mom who is a professional seamstress, has always had huge jars of loose buttons. As a kid I remember playing with them. That year, I spent the better part of those two months sorting buttons by color and type, stringing like ones together on pieces of yarn. Was it a useful project? Eh, that’s debatable. But the act of sorting and organizing was a simple job that kept my mind occupied.

More recently I’ve added puzzles to the mix. I buy mostly 500 piece puzzles from the dollar store (and thrift shops too) that are small enough to assemble in the top of a copier box. That way I can sit on the couch while I do the puzzles. I buy colorful ones and sort the various colors into special puzzle sorting containers before I begin assembling the pieces. (Any small plastic container work just as well. I used them until I decided to treat myself to the “fancy” version.) For me, the sorting is just as enjoyable as actually putting the puzzle together.

Phone apps cycle in and out of this routine as well. I don’t like anything timed, nothing stressful. Solitaire is always a favorite. (I did grow up in the 90’s with a bulky desktop that only had solitaire and minesweeper on it after all.) Other puzzle games cycle in and out depending on the day.

Those are the three things that I primarily use as coping mechanisms on Bad Days. I’m sure other’s look different, especially people who don’t have the ability to stay home as much as possible when those terrible days come. In many ways I know I’m very blessed, although staying at home has it’s own disadvantages.

What do you do on those days that nothing is going to make the darkness better? How do you power through to the other side? I’d love to hear from each and every one of you.

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#MakeChesterProud – One Year Later

(From a series of posts I made on Twitter on the one year anniversary of Linkin’ Park frontman Chester Bennington’s death; placed here as a  permanent memorial.)

When I got the email last night from @TheMighty about the anniversary of Chester Bennington’s death I didn’t think it would impact me. My first thought was to wonder why people kept track of the day. Today I put on the playlist #themighty put together and I understood.

Last year when I saw the news that Chester Bennington had killed himself and read about his history with mental illness his death hit me in a way few celebrity deaths do. Suddenly I understood why Linkin’ Park’s music meant so much to me as a teenager. Why those songs meant what they did to a scared, anxious kid who didn’t understand why her mind was hurting her.

When #LinkinPark first came out with “One Step Closer” I was 15. To me their music was a complete game changer and I probably listened to Hybrid Theory a thousand times. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. When I was frustrated at the world I would pull out my Walkman and put my headphones in, blasting the album until I calmed.

Today my heart ached as I listened to “One More Light”. I realized how much of his music I had never heard. When “Leave Out All the Rest” played my jaw dropped in amazement. How eerie it is to listen to on today of all days. We all fear never making an impact on the world or the people in it, Chester put it into words.

If I could say one thing to Chester Bennington today, it would be that he did make an impact. That his music made a difference in so many people’s lives. He will not be forgotten. Even through his death, he’s helping. #MakeChesterProud guys.

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What Having Depression Means

(This post originally appeared in my personal Instagram account, but it’s message is still utterly accurate so I wanted to share. There may be a few more like this.

2/12/17

Having depression means when you wake up happy, it’s unsettling. Instead of enjoying the feeling, you’re suspicious. You wonder why you have a smile twisting the corners of your mouth. Why is it here and when will it go away?

(Because it always goes away.)

It makes happiness hard to enjoy because you’re constantly questioning it. Constantly accessing it. Is it just a fluke or did you do something different? Was it that good therapy session? The new Vitamin D tablets you started taking? Is it the result of a normal upward swing in your serotonin levels? 

Unsettling though it may be, one thing you do not do is waste it. Depression sucks, but it does make you more appreciative of the good times. You cherish them, make the most of them, because you never know what the morning will bring. 

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My Stolen Imagination

imagination photo

When I was a kid and a teen I had a huge imagination. I had so many story ideas I couldn’t write them fast enough. I kept

lists of novels I wanted to write, ideas that I wanted to explore.

I loved going to bed at night. I would close my eyes and daydream, usually about members of boy bands meeting and falling madly in love with me. Or I’d pretend I was one of my characters and mentally write scenes that were yet to come and exactly what I would write down the next day.

But when I got depressed, that all ended.

I stopped writing, except during November of each year, for Nanowrimo. But I never wrote new ideas, only ones I had come up with years before. I chipped away at my list of novels I wanted to write. When November ended, I turned off my laptop and never went back.

I didn’t daydream anymore. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything to daydream about. My life was so dark and colorless that daydreaming was pointless. Instead, when I went to bed I read fanfiction for endless hours. The familiar characters comforted me. I didn’t like reading original fiction anymore. The idea of reading about new people made my stomach twist into knots.

 

alone photo
Photo by My name is Randy

 

When I finally admitted my depression and went on medication to fight it, everything started coming back. First was my motivation. I wanted to do things again. I cared about my surroundings. People didn’t have to drag me out of the house. I had things I wanted to do.

When we moved here two years ago, I made a rule for myself that I could only read fanfiction at night. No more going back to bed after meals and doing nothing but read fanfic and nap. I had the ability now and I was going to take advantage of it.

Then came reading. I’d never stopped buying books, but they’d sat unread on my shelves. I bought books I knew I’d have wanted before I was depressed, and they were all sitting on my bookshelves, dusty and waiting to be opened.

Lastly, my imagination came back.

For the first time in years, I have new novel ideas. In fact, I’m starting to build up a list again of things I want to write. As I read, ideas pop into my head I need to jot down, complete scenes, characters, little blurbs for future books.

It hit me today how much I’d missed my imagination. Depression had come like a dark cloud, covering up all that was beautiful in my life. It had done so so slowly that I didn’t even realize what was gone until I came out on the other side.

Every day I see a little more of ME come back. And I swear on everything I love that I will never forget to be grateful. Because when the black days come back, I know that the bright days will return.

And the bright days make everything else bearable.

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My Motto for 2018

“Be better, not perfect.”

I’ve decided this is going to be my mottofor 2018. I’m a terrible perfectionist and have a tendency to avoid doing things simply because I know I can’t do them the way I want to be able to. This is the year I’m going to put that aside.

Those of you who suffer from mental illness likely know what it’s like to feel paralyzed. You see all those things that need to be done, like cleaning, and all the things you want t

o do, like writing, but you can’t seem to get yourself off the couch and actually do them.

It’s a terrible and frustrating feeling. Especially when you know that getting certain things done will do wonders for your mental health. I don’t know about you guys, but when my apartment is clean and decluttered I feel a sense of satisfaction whenever I look at it. I can’t help but feel better.

But that nasty perfectionism comes and bites me in the butt.

I’ve always struggled with it. It likely began with my mild case o

 

f OCD. I can remember as a kid my mom would send me to clean my room and two hours later she’d find me putting the finishing touches on alphabetizing my bookshelf. I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Everything had to be done just so. To this day my bookshelves are more organized than the rest of my home.

This year I want to put into practice something that I’ve learned from reading books by The Fly Lady (Sink Reflections), and more recently, UnF*** Your Habitat. Both books focus on building routines and doing something rather than nothing. Dust for ten minutes. Give the worst spots 20 minutes every day. Or ten, or five. ANYTHING you do is better than doing nothing.

On an extra hard day, it might mean cleaning my bathroom i

 

n increments over the course of the day. One bathroom trip I might wipe out the sink. Another, clean the toilet. A third, shake out my rugs and leave them in another room so next time it’s easy to run my vacuum around. At the end of the day, it might not be perfect, but it’s a million times better. And instead of putting it off another day because I can’t do everything at once, I’ve divided the chore into short steps that don’t seem so overwhelming.

Life is still frustrating. I was all excited, feeling like my new medication was kicking in and feeling ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, I was sick for the last two weeks of December and by the time I could get up and move, all that motivation was gone. I feel hopeful, however. Maybe the next dose increase will be the one that sticks. It’s obviously working at least a little.

Until then, I’m not going to let myself get tripped up by perfectionism. It’s an ideal I can never achieve and it will only cause frustration and hopelessness.

Be better, not perfect.

Do you have a mottofor 2018? Does perfectionism get in the way of your getting things done? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing from each and every one of you.

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Why I Medicate My Mental Illness

Why I Medicate My Mental Illness*

pills photo
Photo by .v1ctor Casale.

Every morning I take four pills. Three for Anxiety and one for Depression. I’ve been taking the first three for nearly a decade. I have no plans to stop.

Medication for mental illness is a hot button subject. Everyone has an opinion, including people who have no experience with which to form said opinion. Some are for it, some against it, and some think it only should be used in the direst situations. 

I, for one, am pro-medication. That doesn’t mean I’m a pill pusher, or that I think it’s the answer for everyone. It just means it’s worked well for me and I would never advise someone to avoid it.

A year or so before my seventeenth birthday I had finally hit bottom. The anxiety disorder I didn’t know I had had been stalking me for over a year, manifesting in near constant nausea and the inability to focus on anything but the unpleasant physical sensations that were plaguing me. I followed my mother around the house, terrified to be alone. At that point, it was obvious something needed to change.

My doctor prescribed Paxil. It was new to the market, the new miracle anti-depressant. I was so convinced there was something physically wrong with me that I agreed to medication without even realizing what it was for. It wasn’t until I left that I realized she had prescribed me something for my anxiety.

Paxil was like a miracle to me. Within a month not only had I been pulled out of the deep hole I’d been living in, but I felt better than I ever had in my life.

Suddenly, my whole life made sense. All those little eccentricities I had as a kid? Anxiety. The strange fears that cropped up? Anxiety. The way I’d never been able to handle anyone being angry at me? Anxiety.

I remained happily on Paxil for a few years until the side effects prompted me to find an alternative. On the second try, we found one that worked for me nearly as well as Paxil had.

I take that medication to this day, along with the two others that were added over the years (if you’re looking back at the first paragraph and wondering if one of the side effects is losing the ability to do basic math, I take four pills but only three medications. Two pills are the same drug.).

I am one of the lucky ones, someone who responds well to most medications. They don’t cure me, they don’t change me, they just give me the ability to get up in the morning and be me, not Anxiety.

I will take these pills for the rest of my life if I need to, the same way my father will likely take heart medication for the rest of his life.

And I will never be ashamed.

 

*in addition to therapy, which is an integral part of treating mental illness. I’m very lucky to have found a great one. (Hi Julie!)

 

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Introducing LydiaEWinters.com

Welcome to An Anxious Author. I am said anxious author, Lydia Elizabeth Winters. I thought I’d take a few minutes with this first post to give you a little background information and a mission statement of sorts for this blog.

Biography:

I was born and raised in Southern New Hampshire. I currently reside in a small town on the Vermont border (I can see Vermont from my window!). I have an upstairs apartment in a house I share with my parents and the memories of my tempermental kitty, Mr. Muggles.

Mr. Muggles
October 2007-May 2017. You will be missed.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. An avid reader from a young age with a big imagination, it was a natural transition. As a teenager I began writing fanfiction, something I’ve continued to this day. I ran a website for many years where I posted all my writings and where I made a lot of good friends I still keep in touch with.

LitTrip 2015. Wish I could have been there!

I’ve never been bored a day in my life. My current hobbies include knitting, spinning (as in yarn, not on a bike), memorizing the Nations of the World song from Animaniacs, reading, and of course, writing.

One laptop for writing, one for procrastination.

I’m a thirty-something proud aunt of five and great-aunt of three who is trying not to feel ancient when I remember those things. My mom is my best friend in the world and we are freakishly close.

Youngest Nephew is getting married in July. See? Ancient.

My apartment is full of geeky memorabilia, including my large Funko Pop collection. My bookshelves are overloaded.

old pic of the collection

Goals:

1. I admit, starting this blog is at least partially in the hope that a little accountability will help me keep in a good writing routine. After all, if I don’t write anything, I won’t have anything to post!

2. Making some new friends. You can never have enough writing friends. People who understands having a search history that could probably get yourself on a terror watch list.

3. Share what it’s like to live with chronic mental illness and how that impacts my daily life, including how it impacts my writing.

4. Generally be an outlet for myself to talk about life and whatever else is on my mind.

If you made it this far, I’d like to say thank you in advance for giving my little blog a chance. Please forgive me while I figure out what the heck I’m doing.

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