Sunday, February 26, 2023

When Will I Learn?

 I swear...I will never learn this very, very hard lesson: I need to pace myself.

I jumped on the treadmill yesterday afternoon and walked 40 minutes at a brisk pace (I could have gone longer) and then did my toning exercises on my yoga mat. Not content with this alone, I decided to do the dishes, vacuum, and oh yes, clean the blades on the two ceiling fans in our house.

After I finished with the second ceiling fan, I knew I'd made a serious error. My body had told me earlier to stop, but did I listen? No. I kept pushing. 

A few hours later, I was exhausted and in pain. I knew I'd wake up the same the next day, and you guessed it, that's what happened.

Today I had plans to go watch my nephew play basketball, take a walk with my boyfriend, and get some other things done. Instead, all I did was sit in my chair and watch tv. 

I could be mad at myself, but what would that accomplish? Absolutely nothing.

I almost, almost thought about getting on the treadmill and just doing a few minutes, but what would that have accomplished? Nothing. It would have made me feel worse. So instead, I found a new show to watch - the new Perry Mason series on HBO Max - and relaxed as much as possible.

When I have good days, I want to accomplish everything I can, but that is not what pacing is about. Pacing is about doing a little bit every day and most importantly, listening to my body. If my body has the red light flashing in my brain, I need to listen to it instead of ignoring it. 

How many times have I told myself this? Numerous. 

I need to start letting go of this mentality so prevalent in our society, that we must keep pushing, keep doing, keep achieving. If I want to achieve the goals that really matter to me, it means I must stop pushing and stop doing. 

Apparently easier said than done.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Nearly There

 February is almost over. My mood has started to lift though I still have some "meh" moments. Well, don't we all?

I've been trying to exercise regularly. That helps quite a bit. There's something about putting on your headphones, jamming out to some really great tunes, and walking. I know it's on a treadmill, but for some reason, I really enjoy it, and I think I get a better workout on the treadmill than I do just taking a walk outside. But once the weather cooperates, I'll continue taking walks on our city's trails.

I decided to start submitting my last novel to agents. That means writing the dreaded query letter. I think I came up with a pretty good one last night, but we'll see. I also have to finish writing a synopsis. Ugh. I hate them. I'd rather write an entire novel than one synopsis! After writing so many throughout the years, though, I've learned that you don't need to make them dazzling - you just need them to tell your story. I should be finished with the synopsis soon and then I'll go through my novel again to make sure that I've made all the little changes I notated. I often will put notes to myself - "check this" or "add detail here", etc., and I certainly don't want those things to squeak through to an agent's desk.

I've also been working on my jigsaw puzzle. I know I'm missing at least three pieces, so I'm going to do a thorough search of the house this week. I may have vacuumed up a few. But I love this puzzle so much (picture below) that I will probably buy another copy of it just to find the missing pieces. I always frame my puzzles, and I really want to frame this one. The calico cat reminds me of my beloved cat, Kathryn, and that's why I bought it in the first place. Plus, Mozart is my favorite composer. Win, win! Yes, it's going to be an absolute pain to go through the new puzzle for those three pieces, but it'll be worth it in the end. 

All in all...things are better. I'll take it.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Meandering My Way Through

 February is half over, thank goodness. Every day has brought something different. On Tuesday, I stayed in my recliner most of the day and watched a complete season of Shetland (six episodes) and didn't even care. Today, I managed to get on the treadmill and do some exercises, clean up the kitchen, and work on the synopsis for my last novel. 

Is this depression? I don't know. I've tried to just honor my impulses and not push myself to feel a certain way or do particular activities. If I feel like binge-watching an entire season of a show I love, I do it. If I want to get on the treadmill and rock out to some Depeche Mode, I do it.

This mood will lift. I trust that it will because that's what has happened in the past. That being said, it might be worth a visit with my therapist, a "check-in" to make sure I'm okay.

I have some wonderful things to look forward to. I booked a trip to Scotland in October for my daughter and me. It's been several years since I've been on an overseas trip, and since airline tickets were so cheap, I decided to go ahead and purchase them. I worry that my health will prevent me from going on future trips, so I wanted to do this now instead of later. I've never been to Scotland so this will definitely be an adventure!

Meanwhile, I'll keep living one day at a time because this, too, shall pass.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

February Blues

 February is the hardest month of the year for me. It's not because it's the month for Valentine's Day (though in the past, this was certainly a reason) but because for the past several years, I've had traumatic events happen during this month.

Sometimes when this month rolls around, I don't realize why I start to feel depressed and want to go into full-on hermit mode until I remember: this is February. It amazes me how trauma sticks with you, even years after the event has occurred.

Three events in particular contributed to February being the month of crap. The first, and probably the worst, was finding out my husband of 18 years was cheating on me. I do not want to relive the pain of those first few days. The second was the passing of my beloved grandmother. Though she'd been ill for some time and her death was not a surprise, it still hurt, especially considering her funeral angered me in that the pastor spent perhaps five minutes talking about my grandmother and the rest preaching (this particular denomination is known for doing this). To say I was upset is an understatement. And then the third was the passing of my beloved cat. She'd developed hypothyroidism, one thing led to another, and she had surgery for a feeding tube. She was so very sick, and she had a seizure and died in my arms. 

Trauma, trauma, trauma. Therapy taught me it doesn't just disappear. It lingers in our memory, even changes our brain chemistry. When trauma anniversaries roll around, we may not remember them, but our bodies and our brains sure do.

So I've decided to practice radical self care this month. I've allowed myself to feel the way I feel. I haven't pushed myself to do things I don't feel like doing (though yeah, I do have to do day job stuff). I've been binge-watching British murder mysteries and not feeling one bit guilty about it. 

I've still been writing on my novel and enjoying it - it's now become a habit to work on it nearly every evening. 

So. February is the time for me to just "be."

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Making the Tough Decision

 A few years ago, when I decided to pursue my PhD in history, I quieted my inner voice whispering to me, "But what about your fiction writing?" I'd always wanted to earn my PhD, and I figured I'd have time to work full time, write my novels, and go to class part-time. 

Oh poor, sweet Melissa.

I've always tended to bite off more than I can chew, and as a result, that's one of the reasons I developed the chronic illnesses that I have by putting myself through far more stress than necessary (of course, an abusive marriage and 18 yrs of trauma had more to do with it than anything). 

With time, perhaps I'm finally getting wiser (and older, of course).

The first year of grad school went fairly well. I took one class a semester, continued to work full time, and even managed to finally, finally finish a novel I'd been working on since my divorce five years before. But my health continued to decline. I figured I could still keep up the pace.

The class I took for the fall 2022 semester challenged me in ways I hadn't bargained on, and it took up much of my time. I was so focused on writing a paper for this course that I had no time to devote to my novel. And boy, did I miss it.

About a month before the end of the semester, I began having serious doubts about my ability to continue in the program. I had to have a hard conversation with myself. With the limited energy you have due to your chronic health problems, how do you want to spend your time?

I took my question to Twitter, and one person's response really jumped out at me. They said, "In ten years, would you rather see your diploma on the wall with those three letters - PhD - behind your name, or a shelf full of your published novels?"

Put that way, there was no question about it. I wanted that shelf of published novels. 

Fiction has always been my first love. But I also love history. That's why I write historical fiction. Studying history and being an academic historian is another kettle of fish altogether. It's a different type of writing, a different way of thinking. Because of the cognitive issues associated with ME/CFS, it took an immense amount of concentration and brain power to focus on my classwork, leaving no time for fiction.

I asked myself some other questions. Did I really need the PhD to be a historian? No. I've already published two history books and given talks. Did I need the PhD to advance my career? Well, that depends on what career I want - and what career I can have with my limitations. Short answer? No, I don't. I never had any plans to teach or go into academia. And another important question: if I didn't have free tuition through my employment with the university, would I have taken out student loans or applied for funding for the program? Again, no.

But the real question I had to ask myself, the most important question, was this: what brings you the most joy? Writing fiction or studying history?

The answer, of course, was writing fiction. That is where my passion lies.

I decided to give myself some more time to ponder my decision before notifying my advisor, and so I took dissertation hours this semester. But really, I was only prolonging the inevitable. 

Last week, I told my advisor that I was withdrawing from the PhD program effective at the end of May.

I am at peace with my decision. While I enjoyed going to class, it put an additional strain on my body, as did the classwork, readings, and deadlines. 

These past two months, I've been focusing on my new novel, and it's been a relief not to have to worry about going to class, or having to worry about finishing an assignment. Sure, I miss classroom discussions and my fellow students. But in the end, this was the best choice for me.

I need to put my health first, and make myself a priority. That's hard for me to do. I spent years putting others ahead of me: my now-ex-husband, my kids, my job, etc. And I paid for it. 

Now? I'm taking care of me. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Unorthodox Schedules

 When you're chronically ill, sticking to a strict schedule is impossible. 

I go to bed every night not knowing how I'll feel in the morning. Will I be in pain? Exhausted? Or will I feel okay? This determines the schedule for my day.

On the good days, I do work, take a walk, maybe run to the store, and do some chores. In the evenings, I'll watch a movie or television show, then work on my novel, read, and go to bed.

On bad days, I usually watch television all day to keep my mind occupied and focused on anything but the pain and fatigue. Reading a novel is hard. Writing is harder. But I still try to at least look at my novel every day, even if I'm only doing a bit of light editing.

They, i.e. usually meaning people who don't know any better, say people with chronic illnesses should stick to a schedule. Well, that simply doesn't work for me. This morning, I woke up in severe pain. I only wanted to escape from that pain. Thus, I took a four-hour nap, sleeping away the afternoon. I woke up at 5 p.m. That means my sleep schedule is screwed up. Some people who think they know better would have told me not to take the nap because adhering to that sleep schedule is important! Well. Screw that. Writhing in pain all day is not my idea of a good time, sleep schedule or not.

I'm just a grumpy gus today.

Pain does that to a person. I feel like I lost an entire day. Yet here I am, writing this blog post. That's something, right? I managed to take a shower and wash my hair. Another victory! 

I decided this year that I'm no longer going to feel guilty for staying in bed all day and doing "nothing" if I'm having a flare. I've learned from past experience that pushing myself will only result in more days in bed, not less. ME/CFS is such a strange disease. Exercise can actually set us back in our health journey and make us worse. 

But oh am I ever glad I decided not to take any classes this semester. There's no way I would have been able to keep up. 

In fact, I'm focusing my spare mental energy on my novel. That is how I want it right now.

Well this blog post is all over the place. That's okay. That's how I feel today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Midweek Update

Though the week started out a bit slow for me health-wise, I finally felt well enough today to jump on the treadmill. As long as I have my music and I don't push myself too hard, I try and walk for 30-45 minutes or more. Some days are less, but that's the way it goes.

We bought a new puzzle board for our jigsaw puzzles. Previously I used a bulletin board to assemble the puzzle and plastic bowls or boxes to sort the pieces. I always had to put a blanket over it and store it under my bed to keep the cats (okay, ONE cat, Slick) off. This was an unruly set up as I would lose puzzle pieces and always end up with messes.

The new puzzle board is perfect. It comes with four drawers and a plastic cover to put over the work-in-progress puzzle. The only drawback is that it's pretty heavy, so I can't put it on my lap. Instead, it's now taken up permanent residence on the coffee table in the living room. Slick can lay on it to his heart's content (which he does) and not disturb the puzzle.

Last night, I didn't feel like writing on the novel. But I decided to open the Word doc and make a few small changes before I forgot about them, and then, voila! I ended up writing nearly 800 new words. Love it when that happens.

We had a storm today - lots of ice, rain, and a bit of snow - so it's been a good day to stay inside and work on the puzzle, watch a few movies, and yes, get some writing done.

Friday, January 13, 2023

In the Mood for...Murder Mysteries!

 It has been an excruciatingly long week full of pain and fatigue and the sense that I will never, ever feel better again.

"Crashes" are one of the hallmarks of ME/CFS. If we do too many activities, both mentally and physically, and we don't pace ourselves, we will crash, and crash hard. Sometimes the flare will last a day or two, and other times it will stretch on for weeks.

This one is going on a week now and I'm heartily sick of it. Although it's not as bad as some other flares, I feel completely worn out. After my stressful trip home, I knew this would happen, yet nothing really prepares you for how awful you feel.

So I have turned to my toolbox. If you are a person with a chronic illness, you have a toolbox to get you through the day! In my toolbox are "tools" to help me deal with my flares. Though medication is part of it, the pain meds I have do not do much to quell the vibrating feeling in my body. I've likened it to this: my body feels like it is made up of guitar strings that someone is constantly playing. This thrumming goes through my whole body, and it is very painful. Sometimes my joints will hurt; sometimes the fatigue is impossible to deal with. And meds do the bare minimum.

Therefore, I have other tools. I put together jigsaw puzzles (we are getting an awesome new puzzle board in the mail this weekend! I can't wait!), read, write in my journal, chat with friends on social media, and watch classic movies. I also love British television, and lately I've been binge-watching British murder mysteries.

Vera is one of my favorites, as are Endeavor, Father Brown,  and Miss Scarlet and the Duke. I also love all of the Agatha Christie adaptations. But this week, I decided to try a new series: Midsomer Murders. Considering there are 23 seasons - it's the longest running British mystery tv show! - I have plenty of episodes to keep me busy!

Even though the early seasons were filmed in the late 1990s, they still hold up well. I'm actually quite surprised at how progressive the episodes are as they deal very openly with quite controversial topics at that time (some are still controversial today!). I enjoy the banter between Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy, especially about Troy's driving. 

I enjoy immersing myself in these shows because I'm engaging my brain in trying to figure out the clues and how it all fits together. This takes my mind off of how my body feels, and it's like I give myself a little vacation from the pain.

I have to laugh, though, that so many of these murder mysteries are set in small English villages. Who said they were quiet? Coming from a small town, I know all too well the mischief people can get up to...

Sunday, January 08, 2023

The Pursuit of Joy


Vacation is officially over. I took two weeks off during the holidays, and I relished every minute of it. My trip home to see family afforded me so many wonderful moments with my Dad, my Mom, my brothers, and even my cousins.

I needed that time with them, to bond, to reconnect. Relationships must be nurtured, and if we leave them too long, they begin to show signs of neglect. Now, though, I feel as though I watered those relationships, gave them nutrients, and they're flourishing again in so many ways.

Normally I'd be gearing up for another semester of grad school, but not this semester. I decided to only take dissertation hours and not a class because I must think long and hard about my future in the PhD program. It's not that I don't want to earn my PhD - I do. But at this point in my life, with my limited energy due to chronic health issues (that are not improving), I must do the activities most important to me, the ones that bring me the most joy. 

History brings me joy, yes, but I've had to ask myself, do I really need a PhD? Will it help me accomplish my goals? Not necessarily. Since I'm only a part-time student, it will take me much longer to finish. And what am I giving up by pursuing that path? Last semester, I gave up writing my fiction. 

That didn't sit well with me. At all. 

Thus, I began to think about my future with the program and so, instead of making a hasty decision, I decided to give myself plenty of time to think it through.

Thus, this semester, I'm focusing not on school, but on my novel. And oh am I ever enjoying it. I have other writing-related events this year including two writing conferences (one is virtual which is wonderful for my health and my bank account!). I'm not leaving history behind, however, as I am attending two history conferences this year and I'm looking forward to those, as well.

You see, I was already "doing history" before I started my PhD program, and I know I can continue to do it without having those initials after my name. I already learned a lot in the four classes I've taken. Sure, I could learn much more in future classes, but honestly, I feel as though I have a solid foundation under my feet now that I didn't have before.

If I had lots of time and lots of energy (chronic illness robs me of both so often!), this wouldn't be an issue. But alas, I don't. So. 2023 will be the year of focusing on what I love.

I am pursuing joy.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

At Home

What to write here?

The last few days have been wonderful, difficult, emotional, and tiring. 

Coming home will do that to a person. 

Dealing with medical issues with an aging parent will do that to a person.

I write this from my mom's cozy living room on New Year's Eve. We're listening to music, having eaten our pizza and junk food for the night. An hour remains before it officially turns 2023 in this time zone. We've been talking all night about this and that - Christmases past, family memories, our jobs, our lives, and everything in between. I needed it.

I haven't worked on my novel, but I may in a few minutes. A nice way to ring in the New Year, eh?

Thursday and Friday I spent time with my brothers and my father as we dealt with a health setback for him. Decisions need to be made, and they're hard ones (he's okay, but things are different now for a variety of reasons), and I'm not ready to make them. I don't like being at the age where I'm concerned about my parents' health and financial situations, and they need my help and input. I'm very glad my two brothers and I get along well and we can have discussions about hard topics without stepping on toes. Many families don't have such an experience.

My hometown has changed a lot since I left 25 years ago. Some families from my childhood still live here, others have moved on, and new ones have moved in. I've recognized several people in my forays into the small grocery store, hardware store, and restaurants, but many others remain strangers to me. I almost feel like a stranger, unable to see myself as part of this community any longer. I've officially lived most of my life in the city I currently reside in now. 

But it will always be home.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Christmas Eve in My Hometown" by Kate Smith. It's a 1940s song, which is fitting, and whenever I listen to it, I think about my childhood Christmases in this, my hometown. Those will forever be the best Christmases ever. 

This is a rambling post. That's okay. I'm in a rambling mood. Lots of emotions to process. I've felt particularly nostalgic this Christmas. Getting older does that to a person, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

2023's Motto

 I'm not one to really make New Year's resolutions any longer. I figure every day is a day to start over or renew your goals. It's too hard to just say, "I'm making ALL THE CHANGES this year." Human beings don't work like that.

What I hope to do this year is be more intentional with what I do with my time. I do not mean that every spare minute must be spent doing something I love because that's simply not realistic. The day job often brings tasks I don't particularly enjoy - and so does daily living. Dishes, laundry, etc. I also do not mean that every minute I spend has to be productive, either. Rest is something I need to learn how to do - really rest, not just take a ten minute break. Those of us with ME/CFS need to pace ourselves or else we risk crashing and putting ourselves into terrible flares. Therefore, if I feel the need to sit in front of the TV and watch classic movies all day, I'm going to do it and not feel guilty. 

But, when I take the time for my own activities, I want my time to matter. It needs to bring me joy. Whether that's reading, doing a puzzle, or working on my novel, if it doesn't bring me joy, then I'm not going to do it. I want that specific time to have a purpose, because that purpose will fuel my passion and my joy.

Therefore, this is my new mantra for 2023:

I will be cutting some activities out of my life to make way for those things that bring me joy. I no longer want to spend my precious spare time (which is further limited by my chronic health issues) doing things that bring me stress and do not fulfill me.

This may be a tall order. Or maybe it's exactly the kind of goal I need for this new year. 

Here's to 2023!

When Will I Learn?

 I swear...I will never learn this very, very hard lesson: I need to pace myself. I jumped on the treadmill yesterday afternoon and walked 4...