Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding What Works

Shortly after my daughter was born (2000), I asked my husband for Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, and received it that Christmas. I eagerly plowed through it and began to follow her advice of doing morning pages. But, since I am not a morning person and usually don't roll out of bed and write first thing in the morning, I tweaked it so it would fit my life.

For a couple months, I used this technique to "get the gunk out" before writing sessions. In the same way that you stretch your muscles or do warm-ups in preparation to exercise, writing morning pages was a way to wake up my writing brain and get it ready to work.

And then life happened and I never got back around to doing morning pages again. A shame.

A week ago, I was lamenting this horrible block I get whenever I think of sitting down to write, well, anything. I freeze. Even to write a blog post was difficult. Why, I thought, am I having this problem? I'm sure resistance, which Steven Pressfield speaks about so well, was part of it. Fear, as well. Heck, it could be a bunch of things. But in the end, I had to do something about it. I had to figure out a way to bust through that resistance and just get on with the writing.

So, what did I do? I went back to a tried and true method: morning pages. And you know what? It worked.

I use morning pages as kind of a freewriting time. I put down whatever I want - stream of consciousness, thoughts about my day, ideas for my characters or plot, etc. It has a way of blowing the cobwebs out of my mind. Now, before I sit down to write, I always spend at least 5-10 minutes on writing my "morning pages" (though in truth, it's usually early or late night pages!). Since I've started doing this again, my writing has been much more productive and I've been able to keep the resistance at bay.

What about you? Any methods you use for overcoming the dread of sitting down to write?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hey! It's Autumn!

Normally, I would be shouting my joy to the rooftops that fall is finally here, but the weather here in Nebraska has stymied that for a few days. It's been in the 90s all week. Yes, the 90s. The humidity was so bad on Monday that I felt like I was stepping out into a swamp in Louisiana in the middle of July. (I went to Louisiana in March one year and the humidity was terrible, so I'm making the assumption that it's ten times worse in July!)

Anyway...

It's autumn! And that means golden-hued leaves and pumpkin bread (I've already made two batches!) and blankets and cool mornings and evenings and reading books and watching old classic movies and writing and  Halloween and Thanksgiving and...YAY AUTUMN!

I found this online; not sure who created it, but it's super awesome!


So! What's your favorite thing about autumn?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Coping

The last few days have been particularly hard for me. On Wednesday, I got hit with excruciating pain in my left shoulder blade area, rendering me incapacitated for two days. Who knows where it came from? I've had it before. I don't know if it's a flare of RA in my shoulder or what, but the pain brings me to my knees. As a result, I missed two days of work, and today, while the shoulder pain is vastly improved, the rest of my body feels like it's been hit with a truck. I also feel like I might be getting "normal people" sick, i.e. a cold.

Ah, the joys of living with chronic illness!

I've been wallowing in self pity for the past week. I watched a lot of t.v. (mostly Star Trek, the original series), slept a lot, and surfed the internet. My mind was nowhere close to being able to write. And that frustrated me to no end.

Today, though, I've had enough of the self pity. Time to pull myself out of that dark hole and get motivated again. I've got to get this novel done. There's only so much wallowing I can take before I get tired of it and myself for allowing it.

But that's the thing with chronic illness. There is a level of frustration that must be addressed. Simply being positive and sunny every single time I get taken out by a flare isn't realistic. I don't feel good. Period. And I have to acknowledge that. Ignoring it will only make it worse. But while I need to acknowledge it and allow myself to wallow for a bit, this, too, has a limit. I've seen too many people fall into the trap of living in a world of self-pity and "poor me." I don't want that to be me.

I'm constantly learning how to deal with my new normal and I don't know if I'll ever get it right. But darn it, I have to keep trying. That means not freaking out when I see how badly my house needs cleaned, or how I can't get any exercise in yet again, or I fall down repeatedly on my attempts to eat healthy.

The acceptance part, as I wrote about here, is the very hardest part of having chronic illness. We are conditioned to live in a culture that prides itself on exercising regularly and being fit, on participating in all sorts of activities every day, of working hard and going to your job no matter if you feel rotten, on not, on ferrying our kids to extracurricular activities several times a week. That's not my life and it hasn't been for some time, and in particular, the last year. I'm out of sync with most everyone around me. That's a challenge in itself.  

Why do I keep writing about life with chronic illness? Not for pity. But for understanding. For awareness. And as a way to cope. That's who I am, after all, a writer. And words are how I make sense of the world.



Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Our New Addition!

It's been close to seven years since we've owned a dog. Part of it is because of my immense grief over losing my beloved Charlie Brown and part of it is because we lived in a place that didn't allow dogs.

Now that we own our home and it has a fenced-in backyard, the thought of getting another dog crossed our minds. My daughter and my husband wanted to get a puppy. I, on the other hand, having dealt with, and house-trained, numerous puppies, wanted a rescue dog that was already housebroken.

So imagine my shock when I came home the other day and discovered that my husband and my daughter had planned to surprise me with a half-lab, half-border collie puppy. They were smart, though, because instead of just showing up with the dog, they actually told me about it first.

You could say I was not pleased.

With my health the way it is, another responsibility is something I can ill afford. But when I looked at the picture of the puppy, my heart melted. Still, I stayed firm in my insistence that this puppy not be my responsibility, but my husband's and my daughter's. They readily agreed.

So here he is:

His name is Blitz, short for Blitzkrieg. He is adorable. He is shy and timid and loves to be held and babied. And as promised, my husband and my daughter have taken the responsibility in caring for him. My daughter is finding out what a BIG responsibility a puppy is! I don't think she realized the magnitude of it, but now she most certainly does!

It's hard for me to relinquish control over the situation, but I'm doing pretty good with it. I don't take him outside for potty breaks, I don't feed him, and I don't give him water: those are all my daughter's responsibilities. She is learning to train him on the leash and get him to actually come back into the house as opposed to staying outside (he was born on a farm and has always been an outside dog). I supervise, of course, and I *did* give him a bath, but that's about the extent of it. And obviously, I cuddle and hug the little guy! How could I not?

This will be a great life lesson for my daughter and I know she will grow and mature a lot in the process. And this little fellow has already made her his surrogate mom. :)




Sunday, August 21, 2016

Thoughts on a Late Summer Evening

The hint of autumn spices the air here in Nebraska. We had cool temperatures yesterday, and I threw my windows open, relishing the wonderful breeze on my skin. Soon, the leaves will start to turn, the sun won't shine nearly as bright and hot, and pumpkins and Indian corn will begin dotting doorsteps.

It's a taste of what's to come.

But until that moment, it is only a taste. The temperatures are supposed to climb into the high 80s tomorrow and while that may be a comfortable temperature for some, it is still far too hot for me. Give me temperatures in the 50s and 60s. That's where I am comfortable. That is where I can breathe and sigh in contentment, hopefully walking through crisp piles of leaves and drinking hot cocoa.

I hope that the cooler temperatures will also improve my health. Heat does quite a number on me. Of course, almost anything lately does a number on me. I find that I am not improving; I am getting worse. That's rather scary. I still have at least two months to wait to see if the new drug I'm on for my rheumatoid arthritis will work.

There are times when I wonder: would I feel better if I was not working full-time, if I did not have the stress of wondering how I will feel every morning when I wake up and whether I can go to work or not? I cannot see myself lazing about the house and doing nothing; no. But the harsh truth is this: working full-time at a job that requires  I be present for several activities is taking its toll. Good days are few and far between.

But if I didn't have to go to work - if I had time to rest, time to prepare good, healthy meals, time to take slow walks, time to write - instead of trying to cram everything in on top of working full time...would I improve? Would I find that my good days began to increase? Or would not having a place to be every day be far worse? Do I need that responsibility to get me out of bed in the morning?

These are the thoughts I've been having for several months now. Two years ago, I did not have these thoughts. Two years ago, I could go several weeks and even months without taking a sick day. Now I can't make it through one week without a sick day.

What does my ideal look like? This: to write full-time, to be committed to writing a novel a year. I believe that would give me the necessary motivation to get up in the morning and to properly structure my day so that I would be able to take care of my health and my family without worrying about the demands of a job.

There is sadness in thinking this way. Sadness because I enjoy my job and I enjoy what I do; it's a perfect fit for me. I love my co-workers and I love the environment I work in.

But there may come a point, and it may come far sooner than I think, where my health will simply now allow me to do it any longer. I am the type of person who takes pride in my work; I do not want to only partially do my job and let people down. I don't want to reach a point where I cannot be successful.

I never thought I would be dealing with a chronic illness at this stage in my life. I was a healthy kid and only dealt with headaches (from a volleyball injury) through college. My health battles began in 2000 - so it's been 16 years of going from one doctor to another, but with long periods of good health - even years long with a few interruptions here and there. Now, it's constant. Now, my daughter asks me every day, "How are you feeling?" Now, I wake up every morning and think, "What hurts today?"

There are times in life when we must go through the wilderness, when we must fight the brambles slashing our cheeks and the sharp rocks piercing our feet, where we must push through despite the blinding sand in our eyes, despite the thirst that can never be quenched. That is where I am. I am in the wilderness, trying to find my way, step by step, battling, praying, fighting.

God is my constant companion, though sometimes I forget He is there. I forget to pray, to cry out to him, to let Him embrace me when I simply can't go on. There are days He carries me, days He watches me take steps on my own, but is always there in case I fall.

I only know this: hope keeps me going. My family and my faith keep me going. The sweet sound of my daughter's laughter keeps me going. My husband's kiss on my forhead keeps me going. The books I read, the words I write, keep me going.

And one day, I shall emerge from this wilderness into the land of plenty, where at last I can see the path ahead, where I can accept and embrace what life has in store for me. I am not there yet; but I will be.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Missing Me

I have a confession.

I miss the old me. The old writing me, that is. (Well, I also miss the old size 7 me, but that ship has sailed long ago! Hahaha!)

This is for a few reasons.

One, I truly think I was much more into my writing and the writing life before the emergence of social media. Before Facebook and Twitter, I blogged a great deal, connected with other writers on a deeper level, read blog posts on the writing craft, read books on the writing craft, and spent more time immersed in the writing world.

But then I made the decision to join Facebook and then later, Twitter. And something changed.

I've written on here before about how social media is a double-edged sword. I love all the connections I've made on it - with writers and historians and readers and friends and family - but I've noticed that my ability to focus has dropped. Let's face it: It is easier to digest a soundbite of 140 characters than it is to read a long blog post. It's easier to respond in short statements than it is to write a very long response - even though long responses are much more conducive to good conversation and are more intellectually stimulating.  

And it's very easy to get sucked into a debate about politics or anything else, which can further deplete my already low energy resources.

What is most disturbing, though, is that I find it difficult to read a long article. I tend to skim through it instead of taking my time. It's hard for me to buckle down and really focus because my attention span has grown short. I keep thinking, Hurry and read this so you can hurry and go read that and then check this out and then go and check that out! It's bizarre and frightening and I don't like it one bit. 

And apparently I'm not alone in noticing this change. In fact, there is scientific proof to show that how we use the Internet is actually rewiring how our brain works. Some studies even show that too much screen time can damage our brains. That's a bit scary. Of course, limiting your time spent on the computer is one way to combt that. So for me, that's step one in regaining the "old me."

But the other reason I feel like I've "lost touch" with my writing has nothing to do with social media: it's called life.

When big upheavals come - and they usually come to all of us at one point or another - it changes us. This isn't necessarily bad, of course. For example, my latest upheaval was buying a house - and this was definitely a good change because we moved out of a rental house with mold problems and a landlady who simply didn't care. I'm much, much happier in my new home and am thrilled to have a  place that is mine. The downside, of course, was that it interrupted my normal schedule for a long time and I was unable to spend a lot of time focusing on my writing. But it was a temporary condition since I'm now settled and have all the boxes unpacked, the new curtains hung, and my furniture arranged exactly as I want it to be.

But the not-so-good upheaval that has impacted me the most is, of course my health. Having a chronic health condition changes your life in nearly every way possible. It's changed my work habits, my social habits, my eating habits, my sleeping habits. In short: it's changed everything. I never know how I'm going to feel from day to day, and that makes it very hard to plan things. For example, I had plans to write this weekend -but I woke up this morning feeling quite horrible. I was up for a few hours before I had to take a nap that was almost four hours long. I'm hoping that I will be able to get more writing done this evening and tomorrow.

I'm learning how to adapt to this new life as I've written here before, but it's a continuous learning process. I was feeling terrific last week and was able to take lots of walks and go shopping and work in my yard. I had energy! But then this week has been almost exactly the opposite. I've struggled to just make it work (and I didn't two days out of the four scheduled) and when I did go to work, I had zero energy when I got home.

Herein lies step two to rediscovering the "old me": learning new strategies to deal with the uncertainty of my health. Keeping to those strategies is the tough part. When I don't feel good, I tend to fall into bad habits - like eating too much chocolate and spending hours on social media. It becomes a vicious cycle. 

And the third reason I miss the old writing me? Well, the old writing me was completely connected to writing. I loved writing. I loved immersing myself in my characters and my stories. And I feel that has been missing lately. I attribute this to the first two reasons, yes. But on Friday, after having become heartsick with all of the awful news coming out of the US lately, I had to put my foot down. Enough is enough. I want that old me back. I want that old me who immersed herself so fully in the writing world that it wasn't a hardship to open the laptop and start working on the novel. Lately, I've been procrastinating with the best of them. I'm gripped with anxiety and struggling to find the thread of my story. It's not like this hasn't happened before, of course, but I've noticed that my resistance to working on the novel has become much, much stronger.


Life is about growth and change and adapting. But sometimes, we have to be really serious about making those changes and growing, or we can end up in a very bad place. I don't want to end up there. I want to rediscover the joy of writing again, not just fleeting glimpses of what it used to be. 

So I've resolved to do just that. It's going to take discipline and strength to keep from slipping back into old habits, and I'm sure I'll fall down a time or two, but the important thing is that I keep going and keep trying. 

So tell me. Have you noticed a change in your writing and in yourself since the advent of social media? If so, how have you tried to combat it?


Friday, June 24, 2016

Always Keep Fighting!

One of the more delightful aspects of rheumatoid arthritis (yes, I'm being sarcastic) is the very real issue of brain fog. What is brain fog? It's when you feel confused, forgetful, lack mental clarity, and in all seriousness, feel like you are in the early stages of dementia.

Unfortunately, many of those with chronic illness suffer from brain fog, and I'm no exception. I used to pride myself on my memory. I could have a list of things to do in my mind and never forget a single one. Words came to me easily. Focus wasn't hard. Conversations were easy since I hardly ever lost my train of thought. And now? I'll be writing and can't for the life of me think of a simple word I need to use. This happens in conversations, too. And many times, I'll be talking and struggle to find my words, which results in me feeling quite embarassed  since I flounder around like a beached whale. I am forgetful, make mistakes at work that I never did before, and can't find the focus I need unless I literally close my eyes and force myself to.

It's not fun. But it's something I have to deal with, and I'm learning to find ways to work around it. For example, I make lists. It's a must. And at work, I have to force myself to slow down and double check my work. Zipping around on social media, flitting from Twitter to FB to Pinterest doesn't help, so if I really want to focus, I need to have all those tabs closed. Finding my words is harder to fix, but slowing down when I talk to people or pausing to collect my thoughts is about the best I can do.

And writing? Oftentimes, I'll rely on my thesauraus to help me out - the word I want is often listed amongst the synonyms of a related word.

Brain fog isn't fun to deal with. It's frustrating and at times, scary. But having a plan of action to combat it is vital.

Lately, I've had to really force myself to look at my illness in a different light. Yes, I have a chronic illness. But it doesn't have me. I am more than my illness. It is not my identity. That's hard to remember when my joints are aching so bad that I'm in tears, or when I'm so exhausted all I can do is sleep. However, it's necessary for good mental health. I'm not going to lose who I am  - and I am many things: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a niece, a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a writer, a creative person, a historian, a fighter - to this disease. I am far, far more than my illness!

If you're suffering with a chronic illness or condition, please know that your illness does not define you. It is a part of you, yes, but you are made up of many, many parts!

I always like to turn to Jared Padalecki (of the TV show Supernatural) and his wise words of wisdom: Always keep fighting!



Monday, June 13, 2016

Random Thoughts Edition #2698

Ok. So I haven't really had over 2,000 "Random Thoughts" post. Instead, I just picked a random number out of a hat. Because that's what these random posts are all about!

Onward...

1) Rheumatoid arthritis? Inflammatory polyarthritis? Inflammatory polyarthropathy? Ah, the medical world. I've had two rheumatologists diagnose me with the last two, but they have not yet pulled the trigger on an official "rheumatoid arthritis" diagnosis even though these three things essentially mean the same thing. Oh, there are different types of inflammatory polyarthrisi/arthropathy, and RA is just one of them - but it is the one that my symptoms most closely match. Why won't they give me an official RA diagnosis? That is a darn good question. One is that my bloodwork doesn't show certain results associated with RA. Except...a large chunk of those with RA don't have those markers. The whole thing is driving me crazy. I'm going to my rheumy tomorrow (this is my second rheumy after I had to let the other one go because he was NOT helping me) to talk about all of this mumbo jumbo.

2) Depression. When you have a chronic illness (see above) and can go for a few weeks without having a good day, depression becomes a very real problem. Yesterday, I managed to do some housework and get groceries with my husband, but that was it. I ended up on the couch, watching episodes of Supernatural all afternoon (because Sam and Dean are so hot that it takes your mind off of almost, well, everything). I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to do anything else. It really stunk. I'm feeling better - emotionally - today, and as far as the chronic pain? All I can say is thank you, God, for meds that help make that pain manageable.

3) Oh summer, how you vex me. That's probably one reason I was depressed yesterday. It was 100 degrees Saturday and Sunday and that just made me mad. I cannot enjoy summer when the heat takes your breath away the moment you step outside! Again, I think an isolated place in England or Scotland would do just fine.

4) And speaking of isolated, a lone cottage in the middle of the Highlands would get me away from crazy people. This world is going bonkers. Okay, it's always been bonkers, but social media has highlighted the bonkerness (is that a word?) so much more.

5) My husband is awesome. Some men would have turned tail and ran the moment they found out their wife had a lifelong, debilitating chronic illness. Not mine. It's frustrating for him, yes, but he sticks by me. And he also makes sure I have plenty of chocolate.

6) The new novel is going splendidly - or it was until yesterday when the depression climbed into my head and refused to let me work on it. I mean, I didn't even want to be on the computer at all yesterday. That's pretty unusual for me. But I remain confident that this will be temporary and I'll get back to tormenting my characters. And believe me, these two are tormented.

7) I miss going to Curves. I miss feeling my body grow stronger and leaner. I haven't been physically able to go for several months now, and I actually dropped my membership since I wasn't using it. Maybe I'll get to go back someday...

8) Oooh! It's my birthday Wednesday! And my husband will be home and so will my daughter. We are going to have lunch together at a local Italian restaraunt resteraunt restaurant (I misspelled restaurant at my junior high spelling bee, and it was the word that got me kicked out of the finals! GAH!). Maybe we'll catch an afternoon matinee. Bottom line is: I WON'T BE AT WORK.

9) Through my cousin, I learned about a man from my hometown who served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA) during World War II. He went on missions behind enemy lines. I found his OSS file in the National Archives and I'm ordering it pronto. I cannot wait to see what that file reveals. WW2 espionage and secret missions are my sweet spots when it comes to WW2 history. I love those kinds of stories! Research, here I come!

10) I want a cookie. Like right now. But I don't need a cookie. Lack of exercise due to chronic pain/illness + comfort food to get me through the pain + menopause = weight gain. I'm trying to adjust to this, but if I could lose some weight again, that would be fantastic. And eating cookies doesn't help with that (especially since I had some cookies last night). I need to get back to my "one dessert a week" rule. But chocolate doesn't count in that rule. Ha!

So. Those are my random thoughts for the day.

I'll leave you with this:

I have done this multiple times!

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Longest Day

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion. As a World War 2 historian, it's always a day of special significance for me. This invasion brought about the eventual liberation of Europe. But the cost was heavy, most notably on Omaha beach where the Americans suffered horrific casualties.

There have been many movies documenting this invasion. Saving Private Ryan is probably the most recent, as is the highly-acclaimed HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, though BoB shows the airborne invasion.

My go-to movie for D-Day, however, is 1962's The Longest Day. The all-star cast, directed by noted director Daryl F. Zanuck, includes actors from the UK, America, France, and Germany: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, a young Sean Connery (before he was Bond), Richard Burton, Eddy Albert, Peter Lawford, Robert Mitchum, Wolfgang Preiss, and others. Why do I turn to this movie in particular? Because it shows the invasion from every side: the French Resistance, the German Armed Forces, the US Armed Forces, the Free French, and the British Armed Forces. And it shows the perspectives of regular soldiers, generals, and civilians - actual men and women who were involved in the D-Day invasion.


If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. It doesn't show the horrors of battle nearly as well as newer movies - i.e. you won't have to worry about seeing blood and guts. But that doesn't diminish it's power.

I can only imagine what it was like to be a part of this day. What a mammoth, incredible undertaking it was, an invasion that liberated the people of Europe enslaved to Hitler's fanaticism. Thank God they succeeded.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Getting There

For the past three months, I've felt like I've been climbing a mountain and instead of getting closer to the top, I've actually slid downhill. With buying a house, my health, my husband's stint in the hospital, my dad's stroke, moving, work, a history conference, and then the latest - jury duty! - I've been swamped. Life usually isn't this busy for me.

But things changed today. Jury duty is over (and that is a whole 'nother post for another time), school will be out soon for my daughter (which means I won't have to do the school drop off and pick up ever again since she will be driving next year!), and the busy season at work is winding down, as well. May is always a busy month no matter how you slice it and this one was no exception.

Yesterday, after an early morning meeting, I came home and took a nap, then took the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. I read, I surfed the internet, I watched some movies with my family, took a walk, and I relaxed.

Today I took my mother out for lunch for Mother's Day, and when I got home, I was seized with a sort of motivation I haven't had in a long time. There were several projects around the house that had fallen by the wayside for too long, and I felt it was high time they were addressed. I vacuumed the stairs, cleaned the washer and dryer, did laundry, went through the stack of paperwork that had accumulated on my desk, finally found a place for those books that had been sitting on my floor for forever, and found a spot for some of those items floating from one place to the next because I couldn't decide where they needed to go.

Best of all? I finally unpacked the last box sitting in my room, clearing a large amount of space in my already snug bedroom. That simple act unleashed a flood of relief within me. Who knew unpacking a box could be so freeing?

When I finished all my tasks today, I sat on the couch and at last felt as though I'd reached the top of the mountain. My soul is settled and at peace with my home and my life. For the past few months, I felt like a boxer on the ropes, taking the punches life kept doling out and trying desperately not to go down for the count. Now, I'm on my feet, standing my ground with my fists up, ready and alert.

I'd say that's a pretty good place to be.