Hold onto the light.

Sometimes, the light slips through your fingers.

Truth: When I received an email encouraging me to participate in #HoldOntotheLight, I immediately closed it. I didn't have enough spoons to read that much, to see so many actions I needed to take and hashtags I needed to use and social media badges that I had to spread around. Here it was, a great idea that would help people like me, maybe help people feel less alone, and it seemed like an impossible hill that I just couldn't climb.

That's the thing about depression and anxiety. It lies, and it can keep you from doing great things.

I've blogged on depression, on suicide, on my own origins story, which I also wrote about for my essay in Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life. At 38, I've accepted that I'm never going to be normal, that I'm going to spend every day fighting to stay afloat. I've learned the signs that predict when I'm headed down a dark path and the concrete steps I can take to get back on track-- exercise, yoga, meditation, medication, getting away from the computer. I know all this-- and yet it still gets me. I still fall into that deep, dark, cold hole where I feel helpless and worthless.

But I'm fighting.

The day I received that email, I closed it and walked away. And this morning, waking up to a sunny day that smells like fall, I had the energy and focus to open it and see the good it was doing. I knew what I needed to say, and I had the spoons to say it.

It got better. It always does.

The most important thing I can say on this topic is that whatever you're dealing with, whatever monsters you're fighting: You're not alone. You're not weird or terrible or crazy or sick. There is no normal, no perfect, no brain that's happy all the time. Especially if you're an artist or a writer, the flip side of creativity's coin is often a brain that has trouble calming down, quieting, regulating, sleeping, self-loving.

We're here, with you, fighting.

Look, I'm sometimes a mess. I wrote my first book in 2009 at the age of 31, and it sucked. By 32, I had an agent. By 33, I had a book deal. Writing has become my antidepressant, the obsession that pulls me through dark places and lets me dissect pain and rage on the page. But even having a successful career I'm passionate about isn't enough. There are some days I wake up and can't write a word and just flop around in bed and eat coconut milk ice cream, and there are days that I type 12,000 words and lie awake until 4am, pretty sure I'm having a heart attack and will somehow forget to breathe if I stop counting breaths. This is my reality. This is my cycle. I know that in February and June and August, I'll have a hard time. I know that sometimes I have to take Unisom to sleep. I know that I have to travel with my anxiety medication, just in case. But I know that I can succeed despite whatever my stupid brain throws at me. I know that what's to come is worth the fight.

I'm holding onto the light. Sometimes it's slippery and hard to grasp, but just reaching for it when things get hard feels like victory.

#HoldOntoTheLight

Furiously Happy or Fiercely Disturbed?

So I'm reading FURIOUSLY HAPPY by Jenny Lawson, aka The Blogess, and it's making me feel lots of things because her crazy and my crazy are kissing cousins. I've put off reading this book forever because she's funnier than me and her books sell better than mine and she has more taxidermied animals than me, and I consider all of that deeply insulting. Still, the book is resonating, and so I want to tell you a story that her book reminded me of.

A few months ago, I was in Denver, Colorado for Anachrocon. This is exciting because I've believed for many years that Colorado didn't exist. I mean, come on. A perfectly rectangular state full of huge mountains and elk? Impossible. I had daydreams of my plane landing on this big blank smudge, like, Whoops, it's not real. You were right! But instead, the plane landed in the weirdest airport in the world that's probably above a secret apocalypse bunker for the president and Beyonce and other national treasures. Seriously. Google “Denver airport conspiracy theories” and look at that mile-high, red-eyed, blue-skinned murderstallion standing proudly out front and tell me this place was not built by the Illuminati. Or, more likely, the Masons, because that is literally what masons do.

Anyway, I had an amazing week hanging out with my buddy Kevin Hearne and then I went to stay at the con hotel for Anachrocon, which is a great fan con run by fabulous people. It was a lovely hotel room, by which I mean there were no bedbugs (YES, I CHECK EVERY BED AND EVEN UNDER THE MATTRESS), and the pillows were nice and flat and the mirror made me feel pretty in part because it made my eyes look like the eyes of a goat on ecstasy. I was very fond of that hotel room and went there often to decompress, because like Jenny Lawson, these events use up a lot of my spoons and I eventually have to go take meds and drink vitamin powders and commune with my friends on Twitter without worrying about sucking in my stomach or having weird stuff in my teeth.

So the thing about me and hotel rooms is that when I have one to myself, I keep it pristine. I put everything exactly where I want it, and I fold myself into the bed like it's a crisp new Trapper Keeper folder, and when I get up in the morning, I fold that little triangle of the bed back and POOF! The bed is made. The first thing I do (after checking for bedbugs and goat eyes) is to put their Do Not Disturb sign up because I'm terrified of people knocking on the door. The hotel room becomes my fortress of solitude, and I don't want strange people coming in and rearranging my earrings and touching my shoes. Or, even worse, I don't want them to bang on the door so that I'm forced to explain why they can't come in. The hotel staff doesn't seem to understand the word NO, or the words NO THANK YOU, or even NOT NOW PLEASE; I'M NAKED; YOU CAN GO AWAY.

On my second day, I got dressed and double checked my schedule and the con map and my outfit and my bag of swag and all the various things that make me feel like I have my shit together, and I made sure the DO NOT DISTURB sign was up. Unfortunately, the housekeeper was right outside my door. I noticed this when I looked out the peephole to make sure the hall was empty, and I timed my exit for when she was in another room so I wouldn't have to speak to her because I am terrified by speaking to people in this dance of WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE WHAT DO YOU WANT EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME. So she goes into another room, and I dart out the door, and she must hear the teeny tiny click my door makes as I gently shut it because she lunges out of the other door as I hightail it down the hall and says, “I can clean?”

So I turn around like a deer in headlights and say, “No, thank you.”

And that should be great. She should be able to mark that down on her log in the “Freaky weirdos” category and take ten minutes to play with someone else's jewelry. But that is not what she does.

SHE PURSUES ME.

AFTER I SAID NO THANK YOU.

“I can go clean now you are gone?” she asks, and she looks very forbidding, like a teacher who doesn't like me very much and wants to double check my backpack for a jar of spiders. And I wish I had a jar of spiders to throw, because she is now Terminator-walking down the hall toward me, and I can't figure out if she's going to tackle me until I promise to remove the DO NOT DISTURB sign or if she wants to clean out my ears for me or something.

And I realize that if I don't put a stop to this insistence on invading my personal space, she's going to wait until I'm in the elevator and go in there and probably put on my earrings and use my perfume, and that thought makes me want to burn everything I own, because DON'T TOUCH MY STUFF, so I turn around, fidgeting my fingers like a nervous hamster, and I don't know what to say, and she's still stalking toward me, and I'm afraid she's going to touch me or yell at me or something, and I'm a grown-ass woman of 38 quaking because a housekeeper is frowning at me, and what comes out of my mouth is the honest-to-God truth.

I shouted, “PLEASE DON'T GO IN MY ROOM BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE TOUCH MY STUFF AND MATCH UP MY EARRINGS AND YOU'RE MAKING ME REALLY, REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE RIGHT NOW.”

And before I could see how she reacted to that for-shrinks-only confession, I ran into the fire stairway and down three flights of stairs because I didn't want to stand in front of the elevator pushing the button repeatedly like some dumbo in a horror movie as she continued to T2 toward me with increasing rancor.

My heart was racing, and I was filled with panic, and all the while, I was very aware that this was in no way an actual big deal or a problem. Like, a woman who wanted to do her job asked if she could just go and do her job like she was supposed to do, but it just so happened to be the straw on this introverted camel's back, and she was probably just standing in the hall trying to figure out where my nurse was and when I would be given my proper medicine, because it's not normal to shout at people not to match up your earrings.

A housekeeper did that once, and I still have nightmares. I had them all in a jumble in the little cardboard box I travel with, and she TOOK THEM OUT and LINED THEM UP on a HAND TOWEL, and I felt like I was in Sleeping with the Enemy. So you can see why this is one of my fears.

That's what anxiety does to you. It can take some perfectly normal situation and ratchet it up to an 11 on the scale of Normal Things That Are Okay, and suddenly it's not okay. I doubt this woman had any idea that I had to huddle down in that emergency stairwell and dig in my purse and take anxiety meds because of a simple question. When I mentioned the interaction on Twitter, I got several responses along the lines of, “Wow. Yelling at housekeepers. Privileged much?” And I just want to shout back, DID YOU JUST START FOLLOWING ME BECAUSE I AM A SMORGASBORD OF WRONG REACTIONS TO NORMAL SHIT. I can give myself a panic attack by hearing the wrong Pink Floyd song or deciding that an ingrown hair is cancer. Being verbally confronted in a strange place is bound to mess me up.

The takeaway here is that FURIOUSLY HAPPY is making me feel better about being a cornucopia of neuroses and ailments, and that it's normal to be slightly crazy. We all have something that pushes our buttons, and we all do our best to stay functional. I went down those three flights of stairs, put on my Public Extrovert Happy Face, and did my best to be a great con guest. My hope is that no one who talked to me or came to my panels knew that I'd had an anxiety crisis in the hallway and was secretly terrified to return to my supposed fortress of solitude and find a death threat written on the goat-eye mirror in someone else's blue sparkle toothpaste above a skull made of my own jewelry.

Depression lies, and anxiety is an asshole, but you should never shout at someone who uses a Do Not Disturb sign. They've made it pretty fucking clear what they need to be okay: Do not disturb them.

Some personal news, and why I'm not doing a launch party for STRIKE

 

So I often get personal on here, but not about this topic. I've had a lot of questions about the STRIKE launch this Tuesday and why I'm not doing the usual launch party or any sort of tour. So here goes.

My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, and after surgery and a few years of remission, it came back with a fury. He's been fighting hard, but as of last Friday, his oncologist has given him weeks to live, and he's starting hospice care tomorrow. I will be spending more time with my parents to help out. This is why I'm not able to do a launch party for Strike and have not planned any travel this summer. As of right now, I am planning on fulfilling my obligations at RT Vegas and ConStellation in April, but if that changes suddenly, you'll know why.

Know that I have great support and will not want to talk about this via PM, email, or phone, but I really appreciate everyone's kind words and good thoughts. If you want to do something nice for me, please go get a colonoscopy. It's not as bad as it sounds, and I know, because I had one in November. You'll be glad to know my colon is totally clean.

If you're hoping to get a signed copy of STRIKE, I will be stopping by FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA to sign stock, and I'd be happy to personalize any of my books for you. Just call, email, or order online, and they're happy to ship. Strike will also be available at the Big Book Fair at RT Vegas. And you can always email your mailing address to whimsydark (at) gmail (dot) com for a signed bookplate, although that might take me longer than usual.

And I guess now you know where I got that bitter line in HIT about how fucked up our medical system is, that it takes more money to die slowly from cancer than it does to become a doctor. 

Hug your loved ones, y'all, because cancer sucks.

Dear Writer: WELCOME TO JELLYTOWN

Here is the painful truth:

Now matter what you have, you will always want more.

jealousy.jpg

I used to think writing a book would be enough.

Then I thought getting an agent would be enough.

Then I thought selling a book to a traditional publisher would be enough.

Then I thought seeing my books in the bookstore would be enough.

Then I thought selling more books and getting into anthologies would be enough.

These days, I tell myself that if I hit the bestseller list or see a movie or TV show of my book, that will be enough.

But I know well enough that it won't be.

Bad news, kids. Nothing is ever enough. You will always want more. And even if you got to a place where you had all the success, fame, and money you think you want, you would be utterly miserable. Why? Because then you have more to lose, and because there's nothing worse than getting everything you ever dreamed of and having nothing left to strive toward. 

When you're first beginning your publishing journey, it's very easy to spend your days seething with jealousy and feeling like time is against you. Every sale or offer of agency announced is one chance you've already missed. If you'd just finished that mermaid book in time, it would've been on trend and sold for mad bank. If you could only get to that con, you'd meet the right person and get your foot in the door. You feel impatient and hungry and like you deserve your shot, too. But this time crunch? Is a lie.

If you're not getting what you want, it's not because of time. It's because you haven't written enough yet, you haven't failed enough yet, or you aren't ready to level up.

From this side of the process, having been there myself, I see it clearly.

And yet.

When I see other authors announcing a new book sale, that they've hit list, that they've sold foreign or movie rights, that they're being shipped off to standing-room-only book tours, I get jealous. Sooooo painfully jealous. Enraged, self-critical, self-pitying jealous. And I feel that old time crunch again. I feel like these successes are something I deserve, too, and that it should be happening right goddamn now.

I suspect that, a few years from now, I'll see it for what it is:

I haven't written enough yet, I haven't failed enough yet, and I'm not ready to level up.

So here's what I do when that green-eyed bitch Jealousy breathes down my neck:

  1. Get off social media, where we only see the high points of someone's career and life.

  2. Rekindle my own creative passion and find a way to fall in love with the work again.

  3. Take in more media—more books, more non-fiction, more comics, more TV and movies.

  4. Get out of the house and reconnect with nature and other people.

  5. Remember that there are people who are desperate to be where I am and be supremely grateful for my friends, my art, and all that I have accomplished.

  6. Help lift other people up.

It can sometimes feel like publishing is a fancy, exclusive room where people hang out without you. That there is a secret handshake or code word that will get you past the doorman, and everything will be Easy Street forever after that. It's not until you're sitting face to face at the bar with other professional writers that you realize that WE ALL FEEL THIS WAY ALL THE TIME. We all feel like loners trying to claw our way past that velvet rope, and everyone who actually gets in that room suspects they are an imposter who will soon be discovered and kicked out.

You know how the Hulk's secret is that he's angry all the time? The secret of most pro writers is that we're jealous. All. The. Time. When we actually get what we want, we have a few brief, shining moments of celebration—carefully presented with beautiful filters and appropriate levels of surprise and modesty via social media—before we're back to worrying and wanting. And working even harder to stay where we are.

I'd like to say that I have an easy solution for you, but there isn't one. In order to be a writer, you must be consumed and obsessed and driven by the work, and that compulsion doesn't typically come from a place of comfort and zen. Great art comes from discomfort and disequilibrium and daring. Leveling up comes through hard work. And all of that takes time.

How long does it take to write a book? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to get published? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to be satisfied with your art, your career, and your success?

It takes forever, broken up by small moments of mercy.

Savor them. Savor that partial request. Enjoy The Call. Take lots of pics signing your first contract. But never forget that none of it will ever feel as good as opening a document and starting a new book, your heart full of hope and your eyes sparkling with the thrill of adventure. That's what you need to live for. Not the money, not the fame, not the success. It all comes down to who you are when you sit down to write and if you're willing to keep doing it, even when you feel like you're not enough.

 

15 New Tricks to Stab Depression and Anxiety in the Butt

Post subtitle: How a $5 Wal-Mart bra can change your life

 

For you and for me, here's a list of the new things I'm doing to keep depression and anxiety at bay. First, though, let's all acknowledge that bodies and minds and times are different, and what's currently working for me might not work for you, and it might not work for me in the future. There's no magic bullet here. If meds work for you, keep it up. Do not quit meds and hope that yoga and tea will fix that shit. Still, maybe you'll find something that helps. If I'm missing something that works for you, please share it in the comments.

1. Yoga

First off: I'm not getting into any talks of cultural appropriation. I refuse to debate anyone who doesn't like yoga. I am telling you, quite honestly, that yoga is making the biggest difference in my life right now. It connects my body and mind and relaxes me better than two drinks ever did. I look forward to it. It gets me out of the house. I talk to people. I sleep better. My body feels stronger. My digestion works better. I bought a travel mat and do it at home and on the road. I read about the history and philosphy behind it. I love my studio and found a teacher I believe in. It's not bullshit. This feeling is real. If yoga isn't your thing, you might try Zumba, Jazzercize, a personal trainer, a barre class, Pilates, kickboxing. Something that forces your brain and body to move and keep you grounded.

2. Probiotics and digestive enzymes

Whether you're considering the ongoing science behind the brain-gut connection or you just get an upset tummy when you're anxious, I can assure you that life is always better when your digestion is regular. You might have to play around with brands and strains that work for you. I've found probiotics that make me feel wretched, and I've tossed them in the trash. But when you find the combination that works, it's awesome. I'm currently using HyperBiotics Pro-15 and DigestMore, an enzyme blend especially helpful for people without gallbladders. It's so important that I don't travel without those bottles. Get thee a good quality probiotic, stat.

3. Natural Calm

This powdered magnesium supplement by Natural Vitality is everything. I have it in cherry flavor and in a formulation balanced with calcium and zinc. Magnesium is freaking awesome-- it helps with digestion, with mood, and with the thyroid, especially Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which I have. I drink 1.5t mixed with water morning and night. It's amazing.

4. No gluten

Yep, I'm one of those gluten free assholes who has tested negative for celiac disease and wheat allergies but nevertheless sees a 180 degree difference in my body when I avoid wheat. When I quit, I dropped 7 pounds immediately and saw huge changes in my entire body, from a lack of sugar cravings to less indigestion to better skin. Not eating wheat means I make better nutritional choices all around. Mind you, I didn't replace wheat products with a barrage of GF snacks; I don't replace bread or buy $5 bags of pretzels, and if I did, I doubt I'd see the weight loss. But I eat a hell of a lot more salad now, and that's pretty cool.

5. Lots of sleep, no matter what it takes.

When I get anxious and depressed, I dread going to bed. I love sleep, but I hate feeling like I can't get the sleep I need. That means that I might have to take a Lorazepam before bed. Or I take Melatonin when I'm traveling or Unisom tablets when it's really bad. Point being that I'd rather take half a Unisom and get ten hours of sleep than proudly toss and turn all night and get four hours of crappy sleep. Find what works for you and use whatever crutch you can until you're on the other side of your mental health issues. Your brain can't heal if it can't sleep.

6. SAD light in the morning

Sunlight can be hard to come by in the winter. I have my SAD light ($80 on Amazon) programmed for 45 minutes. I sit in front of it as I check social media and email in the morning and drink my Crio Bru. The only bad thing about it is the frown I get when the damn thing turns off. And whenever it's sunny, I'm outside, trying to soak that shit up. Vitamin D is your friend.

7. Meditation

I suck at meditating on my own, so I use the Headspace app. While traveling, I use earbuds and meditate to go to sleep; I rarely finish the 10 minute session. If Headspace doesn't work for you, there are tons of free apps and sessions online and on YouTube. Hell, even Jeff Bridges does an amazing series of psychedelic meditation trips. Find someone you can listen to and try to make time to clear out your brain.

8. Daily journaling and listmaking

I bought The Artist's Way Morning Pages Journal, a big, hardcover beast. I don't use it the way I'm supposed to. I make a list each day of things that I do that are good for me, or moments I want to remember, or things that made me feel wonderful. I plan books and write quotes that strike me. It's great to look back and see how much I accomplish and how many moments of mercy I tend to forget when times get dark. And when I can't get to sleep at night, I make a list of all the shit I'm worried about or need to do and set it aside until morning, when it feels negligible. Just push that to-do list to Future You and go to sleep.

9. Reading out of my comfort zone

When I was younger and friendless and had acres of time, I loved sweeping fantasy tales that drew me into a new world. But now, with two kids and a husband and a career, I've leaned toward fast, immediately compelling reads, especially YA. I basically untrained my brain to commit to big, fat books. Now I spend my daily bath reading a big ol' fantasy, and I'm remembering how pleasant it is to be immersed in something heavy and long-term. I'm also reading more non-fiction. The idea here is to force your brain to slow down and work in a different way. We get caught in our loops, and it's valuable to do the unexpected.

10. No more underwire

So I've spent most of my adult life wearing lightly padded underwire bras to make my bazooms look bazoomtacular. But once the indigestion and anxiety and gallbladder issues started, I one day realized that I looked forward to taking off my bra every night and never put one on unless I was going out in public. I came to dread the bra. And then I realized that... well, I never promised anyone a fantastic rack. I don't owe the world Victoria Secret boobs. So I started wearing these $4.96 bras from Wal-Mart (pictured above) and never looked back. No confusing straps. No underwire. No tight band. I feel more comfortable all the time, I can do yoga or ride my horse in them, and no one yet has complained about any lack of boob lift. So there. If this doesn't apply to you or you require more support than I do, the take home lesson is this: If you dread a particular item of clothing or part of your beauty routine, see if you can change it or give it up. If your jeans are too tight or you hate tying sneakers or heels hurt your feet or mascara makes your eyelashes fall out, fuck that.

11. Nightly epsom salt bath that is sacrofuckingsanct

I blogged at length about this, and I stand behind it. Epsom salts, dead sea salts, essential oils, Lush bath bombs. Get that hour of relaxation and enjoy the hell out of it.

12. Forgiving myself

Every Thursday at yoga, we each draw a card from deck. My card last week, which I drew on Wednesday because I knew I couldn't make Thursday, said, “I forgive myself. As I forgive myself, I leave behind all feelings of not being good enough, and I am free to love myself.” Goddamn, that's powerful. I hold myself to very high standards, and when I mess up, I chew on it and nurse it until I feel like shit. No more. Let it go.

13. Eating well

Fruits, vegetables, cheese, nuts, quality meats. The more I rely on prepackaged food, the worse I feel. I've even upgraded the protein bars I take when I travel to make them less candy bar and more rectangular whole foods. I'll bake a pan of chicken breasts and use them to make turmeric chicken salad or toss the into a bed of spring mix or stir fry with frozen broccoli. Just making them ahead of time suddenly makes every meal easier.

14. Lots of tea

Seriously. I've learned to love tea. I love Jasmine White Pearl tea and Candy Cane Lane tea and Caramel Yerba Mate tea and Decaf Coconut Chai tea. A lovely fan sent me a fancy batch of Russian Caravan tea. Tea is good for you and warms you up and hydrates you. Buy good tea and stop your crazy life and relish it for ten minutes.

15. Recognizing signs of anxiety and shutting them down

If someone is posting tons of good news on Facebook and I feel myself getting jealous? I unfollow them. If everyone on Twitter seems to have great announcements? I don't read my feed. Googling symptoms or illnesses makes me crazy? I don't do it. Talking to someone ratchets up my blood pressure? I don't take the call. Stuck in a real life convo that makes me feel like shit? Bye, Felicia-- albeit politely. Basically, when you feel your body start to freak, you slam down the NOPE and stop whatever it is. Get up, go do something else. Turn on music and dance around. Whatever it takes, don't let that shit in. You're worth it.

What's working for you?