Spiraling

Because it has been a chaotic few weeks (or months, let’s be real), I thought I’d blog about something a little different. Something that impacts my life as much as it impacts my writing.

Anxiety.

I’ve been pretty open in the past about having Tourette’s Syndrome, but I tend to push my anxiety disorder under the rug. That’s partly because I have GAD–generalized anxiety disorder–which is fairly standard as far as anxiety disorders go. I have no past trauma that’s weighing me down, a good therapist, and a medication regime that works. The ways in which I manage my TS can vary on a day-to-day basis, but I generally feel like I’ve got my anxiety under control. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on what it’s like to have anxiety, or how anxiety is impacting my life. And most of the time, that’s a good thing.

Then, there are the times when ignoring my anxiety keeps me from realizing just how anxious I am. When everything in my life feels like it’s spiraling out of control, and it takes me far longer than it should to figure out why. I know that anxiety looks and feels different for everyone, so let me start by explaining what a typical anxiety spiral looks and feels like for me.

Maybe I have a bad couple of days. Or a week that I know is going to be more hectic than usual. Maybe it’s that time of the month, and I’m not watching for the usual mood swings that accompany changes in hormone levels the way I ordinarily would be. Maybe I get busy and take on too much, or maybe I take on too much because I don’t feel busy enough. Whatever the reason, I usually spend my days racing from task to task, never giving myself adequate amounts of time to slow down and catch my breath. I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, despite the fact that I’ve been productive–or at least busy–from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I finally force myself to sleep. I fail to do the things that bring me peace of mind and make me happy, or I consciously choose not to do them because I convince myself that being happy isn’t as important as Getting Things Done. I’m wound too tight to sleep by the time my bedtime rolls around, so I skip bedtime and stay up too late doing nothing at all. Then I sleep in the next morning because I’m exhausted, panic because I haven’t had time to do things before work, and spend the rest of my day in hyper-drive, trying frantically to get caught up.

As you might imagine, this sort of thing is hell on my writing, on my relationships, on my sleep schedule, and on my sanity. When I’m acting this way, whether I consciously recognize it or not, all I can focus on are the things that I’m NOT doing. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been spending my time on useful, productive stuff, or if I’ve had to squeeze in my responsibilities between enjoyable social events. If I’ve managed to finish planning a trip–like I more or less have this week–I berate myself for not taking enough time to write. If I’ve spent a lot more time with friends than usual, I berate myself for disregarding my SO.

Those anxiety-induced thoughts and behavioral patterns are as unhelpful as they are unpleasant, and they can get out of hand in a hurry if I’m not paying at least SOME attention to where my anxiety levels are at during any given week. Which, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve been terrible at doing for the past month or so now.

So, what does it take to pull myself out of an anxiety spiral?

As cliche as this sounds, the first step to solving any problem is admitting that you have one. I always start by readjusting my own perspective–trying to examine my actions and behavior from a place somewhere outside myself. This has gotten much easier with time, practice, and introspection, but when I’m deep in those spirals I tend to ask myself whether I’d be worried about a friend who was acting like me. If the answer is a big, emphatic yes, then I know I’ve let my anxiety swallow me and I need to start taking the steps to get back on neutral ground.

The next thing I’ll do is take a look at my calendar and designate an upcoming day as a reset day. Reset days tend to be weekend days, when I have no external plans and no one depending on me. Once I’ve chosen my reset day, I’ll make a list of all the things I want to accomplish. Some of them can be productivity oriented, like mopping my floors or revising for a certain number of hours or writing a blog post. But most of them focus on self-care strategies that I’ve been neglecting in favor of productivity–like going to bed by a certain time, locking myself off the internet, or cooking a favorite meal.

My reset days give me the chance to slow down and breathe deep and re-evaluate my own priorities. I try not to make too many life changes at once, just so I don’t overwhelm my brain, but I will make a list of the good habits I want to re-implement and the order in which I want to implement them. Last week, for example, I began setting a second alarm for myself so that I’d have to get out of bed at a reasonable time. Next week, I’m going to try and get back in the habit of shutting my computer off at least half an hour before bed. Both of those things are steps toward rebuilding my schedule, and a schedule goes a long way toward keeping those anxiety spirals at bay.

And with any luck, all of these strategies will leave me feeling better and more stable next month than I have so far this month.

Good Things

I don’t know about you all right now, but with the political climate in the US being what it is, I’m finding it harder and harder to stay positive on a day-to-day basis. That’s not to say there aren’t good things happening to me, or to the world at large. But when your healthcare is in jeopardy and your state has just defunded Planned Parenthood, when your government is trying to roll back important environmental protections and you worry weekly about nuclear warfare, well . . . everything else kind of pales in comparison.

Although it’s important to prioritize and address the big, ugly problems facing this country and this planet at this point in history, I would argue that it’s equally important to take the time to appreciate the good things in our lives, no matter how small they seem.

So, without further ado, here’s a not-so-short list of the things making me happy right now:

1. Warmer weather
2. How freaking green it is where I live right now
3. How beautiful the neighborhoods surrounding my workplace look now that EVERYTHING is blooming
4. The fact that school’s out for the summer, most of the college kids have gone home, and I’ll be able to find parking downtown again
5. Sitting on the patio at my favorite summer coffee shop
6. Awesome-sounding frappuccino flavors at Starbucks
7. Coming home after work and being able to open my windows
8. Evening walks as the sun is setting
9. Looking at the clock around 8:30 and realizing that it isn’t fully dark yet
10. Having my car paid off
11. Being able to actually save money
12. Knowing that I have over half the PTO saved up that I’ll need for time off this summer
13. Fresh fruit galore at the grocery store
14. The return of the local farmer’s market
15. Driving with my windows down
16. All of the spring cleaning I’ve accomplished
17. This new dumpling place downtown that I’m obsessed with
18. The prospect of shopping for new summer dresses
19. My belly dancing classes (I’ve taken 3 sessions so far, and I love it!)
20. The fact that my favorite custard stand Dairy Queen is open
21. More excuses to go out for ice cream/frozen yogurt because it isn’t freaking cold anymore
22. Planning my trip to Bavaria (among other places)
23. The smell of freshly mowed grass
24. Lightning bugs
25. Waking up in the morning when it’s light and not needing to put on a sweatshirt or bathrobe to ward off the chill

I realize that the majority of this post is basically just a love letter to summer, but I find it a lot easier to be happy and positive around this time of year than I do in the dead of winter.

Let me know what good things you’ve got going on in your life right now, or link me to your own list in the comments.

Currently . . .

Because I’ve seen this particular format floating around the blogosphere for a couple of months now, because I’ve wanted to try it, and because I’ve got nothing more pertinent to post this month. Enjoy!

Loving 

Up until recently, I would’ve mentioned the warmer weather we’ve been having. But then it got rainy and cold and, you know, generally more like the Midwest in late April, which I’m not loving as much. But when it was sunny and warm and I could sit outside for lunch and soak up Vitamin D? That was pretty great.

I’m also really loving thredUP, which is a secondhand online clothing retailer that I signed up for based on recommendations from a couple different friends of mine. Their selection is huge and well-priced, they’ll do free return shipping in exchange for store credit within the first fourteen days, and they’re Eco-conscious when it comes to the clothes they can’t sell. What could be better?

Reading

I just started Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman because a friend of mine raved about it. (She was also kind enough to loan me her copy.) I haven’t read far enough to form solid opinions just yet, but the writing is gorgeous, and I love how this thrilling sense of danger pervades every page. It’s definitely one of those books where you know that the characters are going to blow up their lives in a monumental way, but you’re looking forward to the fireworks.

I’m also re-reading Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits, because I love that book and I finally own my own copy. Still enjoying it just as much as I did the first time, too.

Listening To

On the rare occasions when I get to choose the music at work, I’ve been really grooving on (pun intended) some of Spotify’s seasonal playlists. There’s a morning acoustic one that is a perfect blend of upbeat and quiet songs for starting my day, and a springtime acoustic one that goes hand-in-hand with this weather I’m loving.

Working On

I recently began the first round of revisions on my mystery WIP, which I’m super excited about. I finished this manuscript back in September, and the many months I’ve had to forget how much I struggled with it have done wonders for my motivation and my level of enjoyment for the story itself.

That said, this is the first time I’ve even attempted to revise one of my manuscripts with some sort of plan in mind, because I know how fast I’ll fail without one. Right now, I’m in the process of reverse outlining the whole story, using a combination of Susan Dennard’s revision workbook and Katherine Locke’s reverse outlining strategies. I don’t tend to think of myself as a tactile learner, but I have to admit that the note cards make my whole messy manuscript seem a lot more manageable.

My fiancee and I have also cleaned a bunch of crap out of our closets and desks in the past couple weeks, which feels good and productive. The next step will be to take a closer look at my bookshelves and see if there’s anything else I’d like to weed out and donate.

Thinking About

I’ve spent the last couple months mulling over my job situation. and turning over future job possibilities. There are lots of things I like about my current administrative position, including but not limited to the variety of work that I’m doing, the majority of my coworkers, and my boss. (Seriously, you guys, having a good boss is such a wonderful feeling.)

At the same time, I know this isn’t what I want to do forever, and I know the work isn’t intellectually stimulating enough to keep me entertained and invested for the rest of my career. The problem right now is that a bunch of real life circumstances make it easier and smarter to stay put than start searching. Not to mention that I’m still not 100% sure what it is I’d like to do next.

Anticipating

Have I mentioned summer enough for you all yet? 😉 All kidding aside, I’m also incredibly excited for summer vacation . . . in four months. And on a much shorter timeline, I’m really looking forward to taking the gift card I received to a local bookstore and blowing a whole bunch of money on new books.

Wishing

One of the things I don’t love so much about my current job is the hours, which fit my natural sleep schedule quite nicely but don’t leave me any time to volunteer. I miss the animal shelter where I spent 6 or 7 months walking dogs one day a week. I miss the endorphin boost I got from spending time with all those puppies, and the self-confidence that came from knowing I’d played some part in getting them adopted.

More than that, I wish certain real life stuff–two international trips in two years, a wedding to plan, the whole money thing–wasn’t interfering with my ability to adopt a new pet. Sigh . . .

Winter Re-cap, or Battling the Blahs

I have two posts-to-be-written in my blogging queue right now, and instead I’m starting a new post from scratch. If that isn’t an analogy of my year to date, I don’t know what is.

Although we haven’t had much of a winter in the Midwest, my brain has still been behaving in the same way it does when there’s six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures haven’t crawled above forty in weeks. I’ve been lethargic, unfocused, and mostly unproductive. I haven’t made much progress on any of my various writing projects, because I’ve spent more of my energy trying to motivate myself to create than actually creating.

The only thing that’s kept me from freaking out or berating myself over my lack of forward momentum is reminding myself that I struggled with the exact same issues last year. Now that we’ve started Daylight Savings Time, I’m hopeful that an additional hour of light every evening might shake me out of my slump.

In the meantime, though, here’s a short list of things that I have been working on this winter:

1. Wedding planning.

I am super excited about being engaged, you guys, and even more excited to get married. What I’m not excited about is having to wrestle with all the logistical nightmares that arise when you’re trying to throw what’s essentially a giant party for your closest family and friends. My fiancee and I have our guest list made, our photographer selected, numerous offers of help from our loved ones, and a whole bunch of ideas that may not survive the planning process. What we don’t have is a date or a venue.

We did visit a couple of venues last weekend while we were visiting my parents, and we’re certain that one of those two will be suitable for our wedding and reception. Just don’t ask us to decide which one (yet).

2. Summer vacation planning.

Speaking of weddings, my fiancee and I are also in the process of planning a huge trip abroad this August for the purposes of attending his cousin’s wedding. We’ve got our plane tickets purchased, and our pre-flight arrangements made. What we don’t have is a rough itinerary, hotel/hostel reservations, or visas, which the current political climate mandates that we need. Which brings me to . . .

3. Being a general pain in the collective ass of our current administration.

One thing I am proud of myself for more or less staying on top of is regularly contacting my senators and representative. (Seriously, they’ve got to be sick of hearing my voice on their answering machines by now.) I’ve also been signing a bunch of petitions, writing letters, and attending a few protests/rallies as my schedule allows. I do have to take plenty of breaks from social media and the news, but I’ve been pretty relentless in my activism otherwise.

4. Not panicking over the work that I haven’t yet managed to accomplish as far as writing/revising goes.

It’s hard for me not to get frustrated with myself for not having finished my revisions, or not having written anything new. Taming my high expectations for myself and my creative output will always be a struggle for me, and I know that. However, I’ve done a much better job this year at separating my own worth as a writer from the work that I’ve done (or haven’t managed to do) on a day-to-day basis.

That said, I’m still chipping away at the first draft of my YA romance WIP, and I’m hopeful that Camp NaNoWriMo will give me the push I need to increase my word counts next month. We shall see . . .

How have you spent your winter so far? What are you hoping to accomplish in the upcoming months?  

Romance is Hard

I love reading love stories. There’s something captivating about watching two people fall for each other and fight to be together, even if it means battling their own insecurities in the meantime. A good love story can improve my opinion of a mediocre book if it’s handled the right way, and a great love story can make me a lifelong fan of an author or their work. (Here’s looking at you, Rainbow Rowell.)

That said, I have to confess that I’ve avoided writing love stories for years. Not because I hate them, or because my novels haven’t needed them. In fact, I’d planned to include major romantic subplots in both the series I’d begun with The Recruited and my first stab at a new adult novel. But neither of those subplots were ever fully developed, or integrated effectively into the over-arching plot, which is why I ended up scrapping them. The subplots and the stories, that is.

I know there are plenty of writers out there who excel at writing romance, but I am not one of them. It’s HARD for me, in a way that writing fight scenes and angst and good narration never has been. And I think the reason it’s hard is because of how well you have to know both halves of your character couples before you can accurately portray them falling in love with each other. You have to go deep–not just into the bright, beautiful parts of their personalities, but their ugly, jealous, resentful sides as well.

I recognize that you can make this exact same argument about writing long-term friendships, or close sibling relationships, or relationships between kids and their parents, but there’s something about romance that’s different. Maybe it’s that love stories are still so incredibly idealized, or that romance outsells every other major genre in book publishing. Maybe it’s that most of us are desperate to believe in the notion of happily-ever-after, and we all want to get invested in characters seeking their own fairy tale endings. I have no real way to know, and I could write another three blog posts theorizing if I had more time.

Instead, I’ll be sitting back down at my computer, trying to strengthen my drafting muscles on a new WIP that is–you guessed it–a love story. Wish me luck!

Starting Over

I always get a fresh burst of motivation at the start of the New Year. It’s like the minute that date on my calendar changes, my brain decides that I’m capable of changing other things about my life as well. I buy a new planner and set new goals, make resolutions and become more mindful. Some of my grand plans stick and some of them don’t, but the one thing that never sticks is my readiness to make changes.

I wouldn’t describe myself as change-resistant, per se. I accept, on a rational level, that one of the only constants in life is that nothing stays the same for long. At the same time, I still prefer the comfort of my routines to any kind of upheaval, even when that upheaval is positive. When it isn’t the start of a new year, I generally hate starting over.

And throughout 2016, for whatever reason, I found myself starting over a lot.

I started a new job back in January, and then I started another new job at the end of October. I threw out the entire draft of the mystery MS that I’d written during National Novel Writing Month in 2015, and re-wrote it from scratch over the course of the following spring and summer. I started drafting another new MS, not long after I’d finally finished my mystery, and I remembered how scary it is to begin something new.

Ever since I graduated college, I’ve lived more or less in the same city where I went to school. I’ve been in the same relationship for a long time, and lived in the same apartment for the last three years. I had the same job for two and a half years before I found something else, and I’ve done the same administrative work at both of the jobs I’ve had since.

None of these things are negative, and I definitely don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I like where I live and I like what I do–for the most part, anyway. I’m incredibly happy with the relationship I have, and with the life that I’ve built for myself. At the same time, I feel as though I’ve grown complacent in the last year or two, more content to accept how things are than attempt to improve them.

Part of that complacency stems from the time it has taken me to get back on my feet, in my professional life and my personal life and my writing life. For the first time in years, I feel like myself again–or like a better, wiser, tougher version of the self I was before the 2013 crapshoot occurred. I’ve been too busy trying to rebuild to break ground on anything terribly new.

But, if 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that I can tackle change year round with the same determination and ability that is usually reserved for the new year. I can start fresh without succumbing to stress or insecurity, and be a lot better for it.

In my last post, I talked at length about my New Year’s Resolutions, but my one big resolution for 2017 is this: I will not be afraid to take risks, if I think there’s a chance that those risks might lead to something good. When the time is right, I won’t be afraid to start over.

2016 Wrap-Up and Resolutions for 2017

I like talking about my New Years Resolutions almost as much as I like making them. In fact, it’s often a struggle for me to avoid getting over-enthusiastic and making a bunch of super ambitious plans for the year ahead that I know I won’t be able to keep.

In 2016, I managed to keep my list of resolutions simple and short, which is probably why I had so much success with them. Here’s a quick rundown of my 2016 resolutions, as well as a list of new resolutions for 2017:

Once again, I failed to reach my goal of querying Facing the Music by year’s end. However, I am 2/3 of the way through my final revision pass prior to querying, which is almost enough to make up for the fact that I didn’t actually send out any queries. I know I’ve been saying this for a while now, but next year is my year. I’m sure of it.

That said, I did complete a (very) rough first draft of my mystery WIP, which has been one of my biggest creative hurdles to date. I also prepped, outlined, and started drafting another WIP that I’m eager to dive back into once I’ve gotten my revisions out of the way.

I had some success cutting unnecessary negativity out of my life and reducing my stress levels, but this particular resolution is one I will always have to work to stay on top of. Whether it’s my own over-achiever tendencies or my anxiety disorder, or something else entirely, I tend to invite stress and stressful situations into my life without even realizing it. I have begun learning to say no to extra work or extra responsibilities if I’m not 100% committed to them, which feels like major progress.

Last but not least, I crossed another state off my list when my boyfriend and I took a vacation to Colorado this summer. I’ve never been to the American Rockies before, and I absolutely fell in love with the mountains and the huge, blue sky. Also with Boulder, where I will be making a return trip at some point. Here’s to more travel in 2017!

My 2017 Resolutions are:

1. Begin querying Facing the Music. No really. It’s happening.

2. Finish drafting a new WIP.

3. Complete one round of revisions on my mystery and get CP feedback on it.

4. Practice being a good ally and learn to be a better one. Stay politically informed and politically active.

5. Donate to at least one charity every month.

6. Focus on being more present and spending less time with technology.

If you’re making resolutions for 2017, I’d love to hear them! Send me a link or drop me a comment and let me know what new challenges you’re planning to take on next year.