A Quick Update

Well life is pretty crazy for someone who just moved across the country. And I’ve been reflecting on that lately.

Recently, someone asked me – had I known the future, and known that a pandemic was going to trap me in my home in advance – if I would have made a different choice? The answer there is twofold:

One, I don’t play what-if games. It’s a personal policy I’ve had for years. Second-guessing your choices only makes you miserable – in my experience.

Two, no, I wouldn’t. And that’s what I told her. If I had known what was going to happen – the new friends I would make, the new job I’d take that I already love, the church family I’d find, the city I’d live in and love with all my heart – I wouldn’t have made another choice.

Still, I understand the root of the question. Another question I’ve been getting a lot lately is this: How are you doing? I can’t imagine living alone right now.

So here’s the honest truth: I’m doing okay. I’m not thriving, by any means. Some days are harder than others. I have days where all I want to do is curl up into a ball and sleep. I have other days where I have so much bursting creative energy from being repressed that I end up staying up half the night painting, drawing, or writing.

But I’m thankful for where I am right now. I’m thankful for the lessons I learned along the way that have made me better able to cope with this situation.

I’m thankful that last winter we had “snowmageddon” in Minnesota, because that taught me two important lessons. One, cabin fever wears off after a few weeks. And two, I’m better suited to living alone during times when I can’t leave my home.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my former roommates. They’re still some of my closest friends. But some of those weeks last year were tough.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family. My mom has sent me more care packages in recent weeks than ever before in my life. In college I had to beg her to send me a care package. And since this whole thing started she’s sent me several things: homemade treats, face masks (some of which I’ve passed off to friends since I didn’t need all of them), and a sweater for my cat (that didn’t quite fit, but I got a good laugh out of it. Picture at the top of this post).

I’m thankful for my new friends, who make it a point to check in on me. I’m thankful for those of you who came to my building to have a social-distancing chat, relieving me after weeks of isolation. I’m thankful for those who picked up or drove to get me food, since delivery is a bit of an issue for me right now. I’m thankful for those of you who text to check in, and send me things to brighten my day.

The reason I sat down to write this is because I was feeling lonely and isolated. I miss my friends – not just the ones here in Seattle, but my friends back in MN, many of whom I haven’t heard from in quite a while. I hope you’re all doing well.

I sat down, intending to write about my feelings. And instead of whining about how I feel lonely and sad, I started writing about what I’m thankful for… turns out there’s a lot, even when I’m sitting in my home, after watching hours of TV all day.

So to those of you who have done things that touched me, I thank you. To those of you who haven’t – that’s fine! Right now is a hard time. You don’t have to feel bad for not reaching out to other people. I’m not good at that myself. There are plenty of people I miss who I forget to reach out to.

What we’re living through right now is collective trauma. Which is why I’m not being hard on myself for not writing, or not doing my laundry on time. I think that right now, having some grace for yourself and others is more important than ever.

I originally wrote this as a diary entry, and didn’t intend to post it. I needed to get some thoughts in order. But… I thought some of you might appreciate hearing from me right now.

I hope you’re all happy and healthy. If you read this far, I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for during this time.

Wishing you peace,

Riley

Plague Diaries: Coronavirus in Seattle

Asian woman in a background with a blue coronavirus microbe in the foreground.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor am I trying to give anyone advice. This is purely my experience living here in Seattle in March 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s Sunday, March 8th, 2020, at 4:30 in the afternoon as I sit down to write this. We’re about two weeks into what I’m calling “The Panic.” I haven’t left my apartment since yesterday morning when I purposefully went to the grocery store at 7am in order to get there during restock, and before other people would be out. I’m trying to get rid of the last of a stubborn head cold with some mint tea and honey. 

I figured my friends and family across the country were probably wondering what’s going on here in Seattle. The media hasn’t done a good job of covering the Coronavirus outbreak, both here in the United States, and across the world. All the stories out there are sensationalized, because that’s what drives viewers and readers. So, as someone living in Seattle, it’s really hard to tell what’s an appropriate response to this disease and what isn’t.

Let me back up a step. The reason I sat down to write this post is because, over the course of the last week, I’ve touched base with many of my friends across the country. Some of them are worried sick about me and everyone else in Seattle. Some are completely unconcerned and think that the coronavirus is all hype. I wanted to set some things straight about what’s really happening here in Seattle. Because things are… tense, and confusing. An already isolated society is isolating ourselves further out of fear of sickness and of the unknown.

I can’t speak to what is an appropriate response to this disease. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before. So I’m just going to tell you what I’ve seen over the last few weeks, as well as what I’m currently doing to protect myself and, in my small way, stop the spread in our community.

And yes, even though the content of this blog is pretty serious – the title is a joke. 

So What’s Going On?

As I’m assuming everyone knows by now, at the end of 2019, China alerted the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a strain of coronavirus that has since been dubbed “COVID-19.” Since then (as of today) over 100 countries across the world have reported lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Over 3.000 people in China alone have died (Source: WHO).

As of the time that this post was written, the coronavirus has not officially been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. I’ve heard a myriad of reasons for this – but honestly, I don’t know why it hasn’t been labeled yet. What I do know is that there are over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with a death toll of 21 across the country – 18 in Washington, 2 in Florida, and 1 in California.

It’s also distinctly likely that in the coming days, the number of affected will rise. This will be due both to transmission and importantly, due to the fact that tests are becoming more widespread across the country. So just because the numbers start to jump, doesn’t mean things are actually getting worse.

When It First Started

I remember when I first heard of the coronavirus – it was shortly after New Years. I heard of it and immediately brushed it off – why should I freak out about a disease in China, after all? As the death toll rose and it started to spread across the country, I passively followed the news, but I remained unconcerned. I mean, I was concerned for the people affected – but I wasn’t concerned for myself, or really anyone in America. 

When the virus was first confirmed in Washington state, my first thought was, “Great, now my family is going to freak out.” To their credit, my family contained themselves admirably for quite a while after the virus spread here. 

As more and more cases across King County were confirmed, I grew wary, but not enough to change my patterns. No one has died yet in the U.S. I told myself. There’s no reason to fear.

Then, last weekend, I spoke to two friends of mine who work in healthcare. Both of them were taking the increasing risk of the virus very seriously. To the point that one has locked down her family and is trying to leave her home as little as possible, to try and slow the spread of the disease. At the time, that seemed extreme to me – but I respected her knowledge as a doctor enough to seriously reconsider my stance on the virus. 

Then, the next day, the news hit – the first confirmed death in the U.S. My tune changed. I was now taking the threat seriously. But with so few cases (at the time, there were roughly 50 cases confirmed in Kirkland, and 1 death) I didn’t see the need to panic. 

By this time, stores were already sold out of hand sanitizer. And they were running low on toilet paper as well – which I still don’t quite understand. Why stock up on toilet paper…? Are people that worried about a possible quarantine?

As this week progressed, my concern grew with the confirmed cases. Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency due to the rising number of cases. Health officials advised that people who could work from home should do so. The death toll rose, the amount of cases skyrocketed. I got nervous.

By the end of last week, I didn’t want to be out in public. Not because I was worried about dying – no. But seeing how empty the streets and buses were, I had a sinking feeling that I was the one who was reacting inappropriately, not everyone else.

What Am I Doing?

I’m not planning to totally quarantine myself (though after a bus ride with a guy who was coughing up his lungs on Friday, I’m not really feeling the whole “riding a bus” thing right now), but I’m going to limit my outside time. Most of my usual weekly activities are canceled for the foreseeable future. I usually go to church on Sundays, small group every other Wednesday, and do a dinner out with my friends on Friday nights. 

As of next week, my office has made coming in to work optional. The office itself isn’t closed. But I’ll be taking the opportunity to stay in, and off the bus. 

When I do go out in public (for example, the grocery store yesterday) I’m conscious of what I do. I try to touch as little as possible, keep my hands away from my face, and then wash my hands as soon as I get home/to the office/wherever I’m going. And yes, for the full 20 seconds with soap and warm water. 

I’m also trying to eat at home – though I will admit, this is more a budget issue than a safety issue at current. 

In staying in and off the streets, I’m hoping to slow the spread of the virus. Many of my friends and church family are doing the same thing. Some are trying to stay in as much as possible for fears of the virus spreading so quickly through the community that it overloads our already strained healthcare system. There are concerns across the world that our healthcare workers will run out of protective equipment due to limited supply (source: WHO).

My Moral and Sociological Struggles

The thing that alarms me about the coronavirus – and I’m sure others feel the same – is that those who have it can be contagious for up to 2 full weeks without showing any symptoms. That means that I could have caught it a week ago, exposed all of my friends at church and my entire office, and still not show symptoms myself for another 7 full days. 

This is why I’m glad I canceled my trip to Florida next week – I didn’t want to risk accidentally spreading the virus to my grandparents, who I would have been staying with on my trip.

And now that things have gotten worse around here, I’m really glad we made that choice.

There is one major thing I’m struggling with in regards to the coronavirus:

Staying In vs. Going Out

This may be a surprise, but I find the choice to stay in or leave to be a bit of a struggle. On the one hand, staying in (which is obviously my choice) means slowing the spread and potentially protecting myself from a serious illness. (DISCLAIMER: the mortality rate for healthy people my age is VERY low, so as I said above, I’m not worried about dying).

Sociological:

News outlets have reported that for some restaurants across Seattle, their sales have dropped up to 50% in recent weeks. This means that small businesses, hourly workers, waitstaff, entrepreneurs, delivery drivers, and many more people are short on their usual cash flow. Those people already don’t have the opportunity to stay at home and protect themselves – and if a quarantine happened, they would be the ones to suffer most. People like me with office jobs can work from home and continue getting paid regularly. But what happens to other people when those of us who usually eat out all stay in?

Moral:

On the other hand, say I continued my normal patterns and stayed out and about. I might, eventually, catch the virus, regardless of how carefully I wash my hands. 

What if I give it to one of my coworkers and they have someone at home with a compromised immune system? What if I give it to someone on the bus who works at a nursing home?

In other words, what happens if I unintentionally pass the virus on to someone, and because of that, people die. Where does that leave me? Obviously not consciously culpable. But morally, I’m not comfortable with that possibility.

The Result:

As I said, I’m trying to stay in as much as possible. I’ll periodically re-evaluate and see what other ways I can be of service to my community during what is admittedly a pretty scary and uncertain time. 

But I’m sure my mother, at least, is happy to hear I’m going to be staying in…

What Now?

If there’s one thing that bothers me about this entire situation, it’s the uncertainty. Say I start (as I have) trying to stay in. How long will I have to do so? How long before things go back to normal? Will things get significantly worse before they get better? It certainly seems so, with COVID-19 spreading to more and more states each day. So when does it end?

I don’t have answers to any of those questions. I’m simply living my life here in Seattle, trying to keep myself and my community safe, and make the best possible choices I can in a tense and confusing situation.

If there’s a moral to this story, I’m going to echo Doctor Mike, a Youtuber I follow: Be alert, not anxious. If you live in an area that doesn’t have confirmed community spread (or local transmission is another term), there’s no need to panic. Even if you do, there’s no need to panic! Be smart. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Keep a reasonable distance between yourself and other people. And for the love of God – someone tell me why the stores are out of toilet paper!

If you want to hear the opinion of a medical professional about the coronavirus, check out this video from Doctor Mike:

In addition, if you’ve heard a lot of different things about the coronavirus and aren’t sure what to believe, check out this list of myths that WHO has busted, or this list of Frequently Asked Questions.

I’d love to hear from other people in Seattle and across the U.S. How has the virus affected your community and state? Leave me a comment and tell me how you’ve been prepping – and if your stores are sold out of toilet paper!

Let’s Write a Novel: Creating Your Characters

Welcome to my first series! I’m excited to start sharing some of the tips, tricks, and systems I use when I’m designing a story, as well as my process for writing, editing, dealing with deadlines and writers, block, and anything else you could want to know.

I know many of you are probably thinking, “Why should we listen to you? You’ve never even been published!” You’re only partially correct. I have actually been published – a couple of times, in fact. I have stories and poems in various literary journals. And I have some self-published books laying around my apartment. That’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that I have written millions of words in the 13 years since I started writing. I have two separate degrees, one in creative writing, one in literature. I’ve spent the last 13 years dedicated to my writing. I never stopped – not even in university, when I really should have stopped. I spend nearly all of my free time daydreaming about the worlds that I’ve built. Creating lives for my characters, giving them depth.

My point being – people always say write about what you know. So I thought I’d write about what I know best – writing. You can feel free to ignore my advice. Hell, most of it might not even work for you. I’ve found in my life that writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of art.

Everyone will tell you the “right” way to write. Don’t read your work before you’ve finished. Always write in the same place, at the same time. Never write in the same place – write when inspiration strikes. Don’t edit as you write. Do edit as you write. Don’t write from beginning to end, start where you’re most interested. Do write from beginning to end, or you’ll lose interest in the boring parts and never finish. Don’t write in 1st person. Don’t write in 2nd person. Don’t write in 3rd person.

Guys, writing is an art. I think people forget that because it’s not as “obvious” as some other forms of art, like painting or pottery. Or even poetry. But it’s still an art, and writers are artists. We have to be inspired, have dedication, work, and hone our craft, just like any other artist. And just like any other artist – not every style of writing is going to be the same.

This is all to say – if you’re a writer – experiment! Do what works for you! Write weird stuff that you enjoy. Write boring stuff you don’t enjoy. Do what you need to do to discover your style and voice. Everyone will tell you what it should be – but only you can know what it is.

Finding Your Main Character

Writing about only designing and developing characters is a little tricky for me. I usually design characters at the same time I’m working on the plot of a new story – I find them to be linked in my mind. However, if I wrote about that whole process, this blog post would end up the length of a book, and I don’t think anyone wants to sit down and read all of that right now. So I’ve divided these up into several different blog posts. And since you can’t have a story without good characters, this seemed like the natural place to start!

Let’s start with the obvious question: who is your main character? Where do they come from? What’s their gender? Sexual orientation? Race? How do those things inform their personality?

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of advice when it comes to choosing the main character. Usually, when I come up with a story idea, the idea comes with a half-formed main character when it hits me. So I don’t normally have to do the work of designing a character from scratch to fit the story. But I can walk you through some of the questions I ask myself when I’m determining my Main Character’s (MC) personality.

  1. Where did MC grow up?
  2. Who are their parents? What is their relationship? How does the relationship with the MC’s parents affect their personality?
  3. Was their hometown big? Small?
  4. Who was MC’s best friend growing up? Are they still friends now? If not, what happened?
  5. Are they still in their hometown when the story starts? If not, why did they leave?
  6. What are the MC’s skills? How were they developed? Are they natural gifts, or did the MC have to work for them?
  7. How does the conflict of the story personally affect the MC? What’s at stake for them?
  8. What is the MC’s life goal? Where do the see themselves in the future? Not where do you see them, where do they want to be? Those aren’t always the same thing.
  9. How does the MC get wrapped into the conflict of the story?

Names are Hard

Admission time: I’m not good with names. Honestly – you would think someone with a creative mind like mine would do a better job naming their characters. But no I am somehow terrible at it.

But enough of my complaints! Clearly, if it was really that much of a problem, I would have stopped writing long ago. I’ve found solutions.

When I was younger, I used to just make up names – particularly when it came to fantasy worlds. That worked… some of the time. There are several names I designed that I still like to this day. But many of them haven’t made the revision cut as I’ve revisited old stories again.

These days, I tend to use name generators to give me ideas. Sometimes I pick a name and change it to something else. Sometimes I change letters around to create a more unique-sounding name. Sometimes I use exactly what is generated.  It really depends on the character.

On that note – there’s a reason this is the second point in this post. I always design some of the character’s background before I choose a name. I find that having some personality in my head makes it easier to decide on a name that really fits my character.

Sometimes the name comes with the character when I design them. Sometimes, those names are quite cliche. But in my experience, it’s pointless to try to fight those names – they stick, no matter how hard I try.

But anyway, here are the generators I use:

Behind the Name: I like this generator because you can select what nationalities you want to target, tell it to use common or uncommon names, or tell it to generator just a ridiculous number of names in a row.

2019-03-27

I usually choose all categories so I can get a lot of different names. I also use the ‘First name and 3 middle names’ category just so I can get a lot of names to choose from. Then I generate!

2019-03-27 (1)

As you can see, you can get some pretty unique names using this generator – which is my goal. I don’t want to get the same names over and over again. Plus, it even works for fantasy lands. If I were looking for a fantasy name, I would take the first name that generated and adapt it.

Teimurazi = Temuiraz

Sounds like a villain to me. See how easy that was? Plus, I could use any of the other names generated for other characters, or even the same one if I was looking for a first or last name. Plus, as you can see in the upper corner – if I didn’t like any of those names, I can simply hit “regenerate” and continue my search.

Another good generator I use is Fantasy Name Generator. I love this one because – unlike the last one – it generates just a ton of options. Not only does it have sub-categories for every type of fantasy, sci-fi, etc kind of story you could possibly want to write – it also generates 10 names at a time when you use it. I’m not going to include screencaps because there’s just so much information on the website – you should just go check it out yourself!

The Supporting Cast

I would argue that your supporting characters are just as important to design as your MC. If you have a great MC and boring SCs, people aren’t going to want to read your story. Sorry, that’s the honest truth. So make sure you put in the work when you’re creating your supporting cast! Here are some archetypes to think about when you’re designing your story:

The Antagonist

This is always my first stop after I’ve created my main character. Who is the villain of the story? What drives them? What’s their story – how did they become evil? Are they unapologetically evil, or do they believe themselves to be doing good? Does their evilness come from their ambition, or from a desire to do good (and a belief that the only way to do good is through evil means?). These are all important questions.

I tend to design my antagonists just as thoroughly as I design my main characters, and apply the same set of rigorous questions to them. I encourage you to do this – no one wants a flat antagonist. Readers want to know what makes them tick, and why they do what they do. They want to know what threat they pose to the MC, and why.

Note: The villain is so important to the story that I’m going to dedicate a future article to designing your villain. Stay tuned!

The Love Interest

I don’t always have a love interest for my MC – sometimes my MC is a strong independent woman who don’t need no man. BUT I’m also a hopeless romantic, and I love a good slow-burn romance. So I do often find myself designing the perfect love interest for my MC. Here are the questions I typically ask about my Love Interests:

  1. Where did they meet the MC?
  2. Who fell for who first?
  3. When was/will be their first fight?
  4. Why is the LI in love with the MC?
  5. Why is the MC in love with the LI?
  6. What makes them a good couple?
  7. Is their relationship healthy?
  8. Who confessed their feelings first?
  9. What does their love story have to do with the main conflict of the story?
  10. Does their relationship last, or is it doomed to fail?

I also spend time on the questions I also ask of the MC – where did they grow up? Who was their best friend? How does the conflict of the story affect them? Etc.

The Partner in Crime

This is my favorite archetype of Supporting Character. You can also call this one the “Best Friend” or “Sidekick” but I like this name better. This is the ride-or-die character. The one that’s inseparable from the MC. These are often some of my favorite characters in stories – think Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings, or Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. You get the idea.

I love these characters because they’re often loyal to a fault – which is awesome in a friend. When I’m designing this kind of character, I usually ask myself these questions:

  1. When and where did they meet the MC?
  2. Did they become friends immediately, or was there a time when they didn’t like each other?
  3. Do they ever fight? If so, about what?
  4. What do they do for fun?
  5. How do they bond?
  6. How did the friend get wrapped into the MC’s conflict?
  7. How do they affect the plot? Are they a catalyst? Do they betray the MC? If so, do they come back? When?

It’s important to figure out how your characters affect the plot of the story – or the character development of the MC. If they do neither, readers will wonder why they’re in the story at all.

Other Types

This is by no means an exhaustive list of character types – just the ones I find myself using often, or that I consider the most important. But there are dozens of other character archetypes you can pull from when you’re designing your characters. Or just skim it for inspiration – that’s what I do!

Riley-Style Writing Tip!

Here’s a trick I use when designing my characters:

Before I design the full plot of the story, I sit down with a pen and notebook and write down all the information I know about my characters. I start from the beginning – where they grew up, then I write down everything I know happened to them up until the story begins. That way I feel as though I really know my characters before I start to write. Plus, it helps me weave their backstory into the narrative in a more meaningful way.

20190328_113721

Above is an example. I chose a two-page spread in my notebook – which is pretty rare, usually, my character backgrounds stretch 4+ pages once I finish them. The only ones that end up this short are the backgrounds of my MCs – as so much of their story is told in the actual plot. So this is just the background of what happens to get them to the main plot of the story.

Character Design

I’m not going to lie – character design is actually one of my favorite parts of creating a new story. To actually nail down what my characters look like really brings them alive.

I also find it to be one of the most challenging aspects of character creation – because if I’m not careful, my characters all end up looking the same. Even in my head – I’m not sure why, but sometimes when I describe my characters, they just end up looking the same when I picture them. Which is why I usually take the time to sit down and draw my characters when I’m designing them.

It doesn’t have to be a fancy drawing by any means – just a sketch to give me an idea of what they look like, what they wear, what their expressions are… something tangible.

20190328_120503Sometimes I can sketch my characters right the first time – take this sketch for example. This moody boy came out in one sketch, and I knew immediately that I’d done him justice. From his brooding to the jewelry he wears, to the cigarette he smokes – his personality and his features were perfect.

Now, I don’t always have such luck. Sometimes I fill my notebooks with sketch upon sketch of the same character, unable to quite capture them.

Anymore, I took a good long look at my internal image of the character at that point – because I often find, when I can’t picture my character correctly, it means that I’m not picturing the correct race for the character.

Take for example this guy over here. Forgive my messy sketching – I don’t usually plan to show these to people, but I wanted to use some examples.20190328_113818

I thought sketching someone with blue hair would make him super recognizable, no matter how I drew him. But, to my frustration, I filled up page after page of sketches of him that just weren’t… quite right. I tried different styles of art – more cartoony, less cartoony, anime, and more. Nothing worked.

So finally I complain to my roommate, showing her my sketches of him. And she says, “You know, I always picture him as Asian.”

And there it was – the missing piece. I immediately sketched this – and though the sketch itself is messy, I could tell I’d done him justice this time. Finally.

I have no idea how long it would have taken me to figure that out if I hadn’t disliked my sketches so much – I may have written the entire book without figuring it out. I wouldn’t have liked that at all – especially since the book in question is a romance, which requires a fair amount of character description throughout.

20190328_120526Another good example of this is this character: it took me several rounds of sketching to realize that I wasn’t getting her race right. This one came after the boy above, so I was more aware of it this time. I had an idea that I had her race wrong when I was describing her in the text of the book – I just couldn’t nail down the words. So I returned to my sketchbook. It took me a while to get to this.

You have to understand, it’s not that I didn’t like the other sketches. Take a look at the one below:

20190328_120539 (2)

 

 

That was supposed to be the same character, and I liked the sketch itself a lot. But the way she looked just… wasn’t right.

The point of all of this being, spend time getting to know your characters as you’re designing them. If you’re not an artist, you probably won’t want to sit down and try to draw them. But spend some time describing them through text – I think it can have the same effect. How do you describe them? Does that description sound right? What does their hair look like? Skin tone? Height? Weight? Complexion? Build? What are their favorite clothes to wear?

The more time you spend getting to know your character, the better they’ll turn out. I promise.

And Have Fun!

I know I just gave you a lot of information to process – as well as some new tools and some awkward-looking pictures of my characters. I just want to take a moment to reiterate – no one writes like this if they don’t find it fun. So make sure you have fun! That’s why I spend so much time designing and drawing my characters. I love to do it.

The tricks I use may not work for you. As I said at the beginning of this post – writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of art. You have to experiment and find out what systems work best for you.

On that note – please share them! I’m always looking for new ways to play with my characters and plots. How do you design your characters? What questions do you ask about them? Do you use character creation sheets? Do you draw your characters? I’d love to hear more about your systems as well, so please leave a comment and share!

So How Are Those Goals Going, Anyway?

Despite the radio silence here on my website, my progress toward my goals this year has actually been quite steady. I told myself that this was my year to really buckle down and do the work – and that’s what I’ve been doing. Keeping my nose to the grindstone, filling my spare time, and trying to also maintain a social life.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. In many ways, I feel busier than I’ve ever been. I have that feeling I had in college. Whenever I have free time, I feel as if I should be doing something else. Writing. Art. Reading. Working out.

I know that sounds stressful and depressing – but honestly, I actually prefer that kind of feeling as opposed to

Writing

writing

I’ve really been trying to buckle down and write as close to every day as I can. There are some screenshots below of my progress so far. I’m using a tracker called Write Track, which is completely free.

As you can see from my screenshots – I definitely don’t manage to actually sit down and write every day. Since I work on the same laptopeeeeee that I write on, sometimes after I do a full day of work, I just don’t want to sit down at my desk again and write.

Those days, I give myself a bit of a pass. One of the things I’ve been working on teaching myself this year is the art of self-love and self-forgiveness. I miss a day of writing? That’s okay, I can make up some words another day. Miss a day at the gym? It’s all right, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up on fitness. Eat unhealthily? That’s okay, tomorrow you’ll do better. I find that if I give myself some grace and kindness, I’m less likely to quit. Whereas if I’m hard on myself for missing a day, I want to stop almost immediately. Not to mention, it’s just better for my mental health to have a loving edge toward myself, rather than a hard one.

But, anyway! Let’s check on my goal progress.

My overall word count is going well. Though I don’t write every day, I do tend to write more than my daily count when I sit down to write. I usually average around 1,000 words or more a day when I actually write, as you can see from my February word count.

2019-03-24 (1)

Clearly, I had problems writing every day. Well, I should say – I had issues recording my writing every day. Sometimes I just forget to mark where I started writing, or I just forget to update my count. I don’t think that was the case here – I honestly think that the 17th – 24th I just didn’t write. It happens. I don’t lose sleep over it. The point is that I’m still working on developing the habit. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

But let’s take a look at the days that I did write. Almost every day I wrote in February I wrote 2,000+ words in the day. There was one day I wrote over 7,000 words. Those days really help make up for the ones that I don’t get to my laptop. The point of setting my goal of 200,000 words in a year was to learn to do the work. If that means I don’t write every single day, but I still reach the goal in my timeframe, so be it.

So now let’s take a look at my overall word count so far this year:

2019-03-24 (2)

NOTE: This doesn’t include today’s writing since I haven’t updated my count for today yet. Okay, let’s take a look.

As you can see, I’m pretty far ahead of my goal progress. This was my plan. I know I can write a lot in a short period of time, so I buckled down in January and cranked out as many words as I possibly could to get ahead of the game. In the month of January, I wrote 30,949 words (which, fun fact, is my average for each NaNoWriMo except for the time I wrote 90,000 words – that was an outlier and should not be counted).

If you can do math (and you can) you’re probably saying, “But wait a minute there Miss Writes-A-Lot, that means you’ve only written another 30,000 words since January!” You’re right, That’s why I worked so hard in January, because I knew I would start to slow down. (Full disclosure – I wrote this article before the end of April as I was trying to get ahead on my blogging. So who knows how many words I will have actually written by April 1st? Just kidding, I know, its 69,278).

I’m still pretty far ahead of the Expected Progress Bar. For those curious, as of today, March 24th, 2019, in order to reach my goal by December 31st, my expected progress is 43,333 words. I’m trying to still stay ahead of the bar in case I run into any more dry spells.

All in All: Am I Satisfied?

I absolutely am satisfied with my progress. It’s nice to have a measure of just how many words I’ve written this year. I find it motivating to be so far ahead of my goal. I want to see how quickly I can reach my goal, and how much I can surpass it by the end of the year.

I’m still working on building the habits, but I’m doing the work. That’s all I can really ask for.

Health

I feel good about the stride s I’ve made toward prioritizing my health. I got a gym membership at Xperience Fitness which is a cheap-but-good gym near me. I go three times a week in the morning and work out for 30 minutes to an hour those days.

I’ve made some discoveries. I’d made a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t join a gym before. A lot of them revolved around my asthma – I was embarrassed to work out when I knew I would have an asthma attack. I thought people would judge me for being out of shape when in reality I just couldn’t breathe.

But the more I’ve gone to the gym, the less I’ve had problems with my asthma. I thought it was going to take a lot of doing to get to the point where I could do a set of weights, or run for 30 minutes without having an asthma attack. Turns out I was wrong.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that people who have asthma are whiners, or that asthma can’t be a legitimate worry when working out. This is purely my experience.

After one week at the gym, I stopped having problems with my asthma. I have no idea what sparked that change, but I’m glad it happened. Now, I can push myself as hard as I need to in the gym without feeling like I’m drowning.

Of course, this doesn’t mean working out is easy for me now. It’s not by any means. But it’s less terrible than it was before.

As far as goals – I don’t actually own a scale. So I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost so far on my health journey. But I also know that I have lost weight. The reason I know? I had to replace all of my pants because they were suddenly too loose. That’s right, I’ve dropped a pants size so far this year.

In the interest of being transparent – which is what I’m trying to do here – I’ll give you a rundown of what I’ve done to achieve my health goal. My roommate and I attempted Whole30 and stopped after 17 days, when she realized that a health condition of hers was being aggravated by the restrictive diet. I could have continued on my own, but quite honestly – I didn’t want to. I am very much a foodie, and while I did find some recipes that were tasty, most I found to be bland and boring. Because they were bland, I didn’t want to eat, and then I got grouchy and tired because I wasn’t eating enough.

That’s all to say, I’ve figured out how to adjust my diet to be more healthy. Have I been doing it well since I stopped Whole30? No, but I’m going to start again. I’m cutting back on sugary foods – soda, coffee, sweets – and eating out less. This is partially for my health and partially for my wallet.

All in All: Am I Satisfied?

Absolutely. I’m proud of myself for the progress I’ve made. It may not be perfect, but I’m still working hard and I think I can give myself credit for it. I’m still developing all the habits – there are occasionally still mornings where I choose to sleep instead of work out. But those will come with time an dedication.

I also intend to buy a scale soon so I can actually find out how much I’ve lost.

Books

All right, admission:

I haven’t finished a book yet this year. It’s now April, I should be starting my fourth book in-keeping with my goal. And I haven’t. Finished. One.

I also figured out why I didn’t finish any books last year, either. I read a LOT of my own writing.

Does that sound vain? Probably. But I’ve been writing for 13 years. I have quite a library built up. I read my own work for inspiration, reflection, and editorial purposes. I also read because… well, no one knows my tastes like I do.

So I’ve read thousands of words this year. It’s just that I haven’t read much that I haven’t written myself (and articles online, of course).

All and All: Am I Satisfied?

No, not really… I don’t really know what to change when it comes to my reading habits. I always intend to sit down and read but in reality, I have so many other things to do, I just forget. And then suddenly it’s April and I should have read 3 whole books and I haven’t read any.

I don’t really have a plan for what to do to achieve my goal… I’ll keep you guys updated if I come up with a plan. I’m just going to try to read some short books to catch up whenever I have the time (which is never).

Coming Soon!

Good news for those of you who actually enjoy reading my blog. There’s more coming!

Newsletter

That’s right, I’m hoping to roll out a newsletter in the next several months! You can look to find updates on my story, personal anecdotes, pictures, hints, and hacks. This will still be a little while coming as I want to get into the habit of regularly publishing articles before I roll it out. Still, I’m excited to share more of my life with you all!

New Series!

I’ve brainstormed enough blog topics to publish one article a week for the rest of this year. Actually, well into next year as well.

I took away my best excuse. “I don’t have any ideas for blog posts!” Not anymore. I have over 50 blog ideas, with titles and details, written in a spreadsheet. I have publishing dates assigned, and several series planned. Here’s a sneak peek!

Adulting is Hard: a crash course on how to be a real adult from one who learned the hard way. I’ll be talking about budgeting when you have no money, how to grocery shop on a tight budget, what to do when your car breaks down for the first time, keeping your place clean, how to find your first apartment, tips on living with roommates, a simple checklist of essential furniture and household supplies for your first home, the best way to do laundry, and learning how to be healthy when you’re broke.

Creating a Story: I figured if you’re always told to “write what you know,” then I’d better start writing about what I know best: writing! This series will touch on the basics of developing a good story. How to design a compelling character, creating character development, finding a good antagonist and conflict for your story, designing a full plot arc, then, finally, actually sitting down to write the story. And, of course, the all-important editing.

Writing Fantasy: There’s a lot that goes into creating a compelling fantasy world that people don’t really think about. In this series I’m going to touch on building a believable fantasy world, creating new fantasy races and their rules, dealing with creatures and magic, as well as the basics of language and spells.

Misc. Lifestyle and Religion: The rest of my planned posts for this year are mostly miscellaneous, and branch across several topics, but I still think they’re going to be fun to write, and hopefully fun to read. Here are SOME of the posts I have planned:

  • What Queer Eye has Taught me About Self Care and Confidence
  • I Walked Away From Christianity for Two Years. Here’s Why I Came Back
  • Brainstorming Tips and Tricks From Your Local Creative Mind
  • Why Christian Lonely-Shame, and Why We Should Stop
  • What Happened When I Konmari’d All My Belongings

Those are the first series I have planned! I’m excited to get started. I feel like I finally know what I want to say and how to say it, so now I just have to sit down and do the work. And that’s what this year is all about, anyway!

Leave a comment down below with what series or post you’re most excited to read! I’d love to hear from you!

Let’s Talk About 2019: New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year!

If you’ve ever talked to me around this time of year, you’ll know that I don’t really like the celebration of New Year’s Eve/Day. I find it to be somewhat arbitrary and get tired of people always saying they’re going to “reinvent” themselves every time a new year starts. Though I don’t really mind having an excuse to get together with friends and have some fun.

So, needless to say, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. However, I do find it to be a good time to set some new goals and make sure my life is heading in the direction I want. If you would like to argue with me that setting goals are the same thing as setting a resolution, feel free. Whatever you call it, I have things that I want to accomplish in the next 365 days and sharing them seems like a good place to start.

Writing

The obvious place to start: my passion. 2018 was a good year in many respects – but I will say that I stagnated creatively. Quite significantly, actually. I had a fairly successful NaNoWriMo in 2018, ending at 30,000 words for the month, but I don’t think I wrote much more than that in the rest of the year put together.

I spent some time developing my other creative skills – I started painting again, and spent some time drawing. I picked back up my guitar after a 4-year hiatus and after redeveloping my calluses and having to re-teach myself everything I knew before, I can play again. I even brought a piano into my apartment, and found – to my chagrin – that I’m just as clumsy on it as I always have been. I’m working on that.

But I made little-to-no progress on any of my (several) Works In Progress. So that’s the basis of my goal this year.

My goal is a bit lofty:

I would like to end 2019 having written at least 200,000 words. That’s roughly 550 words per day.

Will I make it? We’ll see. I’m pretty optimistic about it, all told – I’ve been known to write 10,000 or more words in one day, so I could get a nice head start right off the bat if I can manage my time correctly. And even if I don’t reach that goal – well, I’ll still write plenty of words.

Now, I know from past experience that a manuscript of mine averages out to be between 150,000 and 200,000 words. So I’m basically aiming to complete at least one manuscript before the end of the year.

I already have 3 I’m splitting my time between, so maybe I can finish more than one (lol @ my ambition).

I’m using WriteTrack to keep up with my goal – it’ll be easier than tallying on my own time.

Note: I’m uploading writing excerpts to Wattpad so I can share them with you. Each will be linked to this post below with a small synopsis of my story.

Health

Now we get into the more personal goals – and also the goals that more closely resemble a classic New Year’s Resolution.

There’s not as much to say here, honestly. I don’t like talking about my health or my weight, but this is on my goals and I want to be transparent. So here are some of my health goals:

Lose roughly 50 pounds. To be honest, this is less about the actual number on the scale than it is about just being healthier. I know that 50 pounds ago is when I felt my best, so that’s what I’m aiming for. But my steps are much more about maintaining my health than they are about reaching a weight or measurement.

Join a gym and go consistently. Shout out to my workout buddies. I actually already started working out several times a week a couple of months ago, so this is more of an obligatory inclusion than anything else.

Maintain a healthy diet. I ate a lot of crap last year. A lot. But I’ve been making strides toward being healthier in the last several months, and I’ve been feeling better than I have in a long time. I ended out 2018 by quitting caffeine, and now that I’ve gotten it completely out of my system, I feel so much better than before. I don’t intend to never drink caffeine again, but I’m certainly intending to have it in moderation from now on.

Add to that, one of my roommates and I are going to attempt the Whole30 diet next month (we were going to do this month along with every other person in the entire world, but there were some circumstances that made it more difficult, so next month it is).

I’m bad at sticking to diets. I like food a lot. But I’ve been spending a lot more time cooking fresh food for myself in the last few months, and I think I’m finally finding a balance between healthy and delicious. And we can only go up from here!

I like using the app Mealime to help with my meal planning, check it out!

Books

Here’s a fun admission that may get my writer card revoked:

I didn’t read a book from cover to cover last year. Not even one.

I’m not exactly sure how that happened? I know I spent a lot of time reading articles online and reading excerpts of books on my phone, or from the library. But I didn’t finish any of them.

So I’m aiming for a reasonable goal of 12 books this year. I would like to fully ready 12 books this year. A book a month. I was going to aim for something higher, like 24 or 36, but – I thought something more reasonable would be in order considering my other goals are also going to eat up a lot of my time.

I’ve already started January’s book – The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. I’ve read the first Shannara book before, but not the rest. I also just finished watching The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix (it’s good, I recommend it) so it seemed like a good place to start.

Feel free to follow this progress on GoodReads!

And that’s about it! As lofty as some of those goals seem, I think they’re completely doable based on my personality and my skills. And though I haven’t gotten as good a start as I would have liked – 2019 has already hit me with a head cold – I believe I’ll make it happen.

I’m also going to attempt to post more on my blog here – that was a side effect of my creativity stagnating. I ran out of ideas for blog posts. But I have some more now! So hopefully all of you haven’t gotten bored of reading about my life just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read a book, write a novel, and eat a salad.

happy new year

What I Wish Other Christians Understood About My Depression

Writing this piece makes me tense. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fairly private person, and I particularly don’t like talking about my faith online. This is a combination of the fact that – to me – faith is very personal, and because in the past, no matter what I’ve said about my faith, I’ve been “wrong.”

This isn’t meant as a call-out to anyone. If you recognize some behaviors you’ve done in the past – even to me – don’t worry. I don’t hold it against you, nor do I think you’re a bad person for it. I don’t. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about mental illness – and Christians can be accepting, but they can also be condemning and judging. So I’ve created a list of misconceptions I’ve heard around depression.

If you find yourself agreeing with some of the things I’m arguing against, I encourage you to take a moment and open your mind to the possibility that you don’t have all the facts.

Depression is a Medical Condition

There’s debate around this – what a shock – but a lot of scientists have tested and believe that Major Depression and Clinical Depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s not a “disease” in the normal sense of the word. But it is still a condition that is commonly treated by medication. And a lot of people – myself included – can’t function properly without the medication. It not only gives me energy and helps me care about my emotions, family, friends, and work – it also keeps me balanced and cuts my depressive episodes – and suicidal thoughts – down by a considerable margin.

Is depression always a chemical imbalance? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But I do know that even if it is triggered by something – lifestyle changes, problems, death, illness, etc – that doesn’t mean that it is a person who is just feeling down. Depression is serious, debilitating, and needs to be taken seriously.

I know there are some religious fundamentalists out there who disagree with seeking treatment for any medical condition or disease – but most are not like that. If you have the flu? Seek treatment. Cold? Take some cough syrup. Cancer? Do radiation. But mental illness? “Pray and it’ll go away, you’ll see.”

Just because it’s “in my head” – literally – doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Depression Doesn’t Mean My Faith is Weak

I’ve heard many Christians shame each other – and me – for being on antidepressants. Because they view depression as a weakness in one’s faith, or a struggle with sin, or a refusal to deal with personal problems. And – forgive my language – that’s absolute bullshit.

Some Christians I respect beyond others struggle thoroughly with mental illness. They have faith. They’re strong in their walk, unwavering. And yet they still struggle with thoughts of worthlessness, pain, helplessness, and that they’d be better off dead.

These Christians have more faith than many others I know. Because they struggle, every day, with thoughts that they’d be better off dead, or people would be better off without them. But they choose to move forward anyway, because they have hope in a better tomorrow. They know God has a plan for them, and their faith leads them to believe their stories aren’t over yet. How many normal Christians here in the US can claim that kind of daily struggle?

Depression is a Trial, not a Failing

My depression is my cross. It’s my struggle, my trial, my whatever-Biblical-terminology-you-want. My depression is not caused by a lack of faith. It’s my burden. I have to struggle with it every day, not because my faith is weak – but because it’s making me a better person.

Yeah, you heard that right. In some ways, I’m thankful for my depression. I try to live as James says in chapter one.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

I try to mold myself in the footsteps of this verse. Depression is my trial – and it has already taught me perseverance. I wanted to die, friends. Is that blunt? Yeah. That’s the point. I wanted to end my own life, and I didn’t. I took another step forward in faith – when I really didn’t want to – praying that life would get better. And it did.

You can Still have the Fruits of the Spirit if You have Depression

I can see myself becoming a better person through this trial. I know that the fruits of the spirit are growing through my life.

Love? I love deeply and unconditionally, because I know what it is like to feel totally alone and unloved. And I never, ever, want anyone around me to feel like no one loves them.

Joy? When I’m at my high points, they’re higher than ever before. I feel joy in every minute that I have when I don’t feel depressed. Moments of happiness feel like blessings. A lot of people can take happiness for granted – but I don’t think I ever will. I think that my experiences have taught me what true, unconditional joy is – the joy of knowing that you’re alive.

Peace? Yes. I feel peaceful. When I’m not depressed, I feel at peace, because I know what true inner turmoil feels like. I can feel at peace with my life and my surroundings because I’ve experienced those low points.

Those are the strongest ones I’ve noticed. I definitely know that I’m growing in the rest of the fruits of the spirit. I can feel it and see it in my life every day.

I know I said at the beginning of this post that this isn’t a call out post. And it’s really not. But, Christians, we need to do better. We need to stop judging mentally ill people for something that’s out of their control. We need to stop shaming each other. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for mental illness, and we shouldn’t be treated that way.

Psalms 34:11 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s exactly how I feel when I’m in the midst of depression. I feel broken. I feel crushed. I feel heavy. And I know that God is near me in those times, even if I don’t always feel like it. I have faith. But my faith doesn’t eliminate my struggle. Just as faith doesn’t eliminate temptation, or grief, pain, anger, fear, or anything else. It simply gives us something to cling onto, and the hope that the future holds better.

 

Together In Solitude: 6 Ways Mentally Ill People Experience Loneliness

Most of my friends who struggle with depression (which is a lot of them) all confide in me the same exact thing. Even though we all know each other, and know that we all have mental illness – we all feel incredibly lonely. At the best of times, we feel like a community. At the worst – we feel like no one understands us – or cares to.

I often feel loneliest when I’m with the people I love. I’m by nature a very private person – most people who meet me don’t get to know the real me until years after we first meet. This is nothing personal – it’s just a reflex. But the hazard of this reflex is that I often even shut out the people who care about me. I’ve talked about this in another post, What I Mean When I Say “I’m Tired” so I won’t go into it in as much detail here.

What is Loneliness?

When I first started to struggle with this post, I thought I would start with a basis in fact. So I looked up the definition of loneliness.

Loneliness, adjective

“Affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone.”

That definition seemed a little simple to me – which is fine. But I ran across another definition in the course of my week while I was working on this piece. I found it in the book When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected which I picked up by accident at the library, but has given me so much insight while I’ve been reading it. The definition in this book is:

“Loneliness is a state of lacking intimacy with the people around us.”

That definition really struck me – it’s not that you are alone, it’s that you feel alone because you can’t – or, in my case, won’t – be open with the people around you. This leads to self-isolation, which I am horribly guilty of in general.

My Struggle

When I’m having a bad day, I feel trapped inside my own head. I withdraw from the people around me – not physically, but emotionally and mentally. I shut them out, and they don’t know what to do with me in those circumstances – so they let me. Which leads me to hit my toughest moment – feeling like none of my friends care about me while I’m still with them.

This is, of course, incredibly perverse, considering it’s my own fault that I’m shutting them out. And my friends have proven time, and time again that if I just reach out to them when they need me, they’ll be there to help me in a flash. But despite knowing this – I still find myself trapped by crushing loneliness when my depression flares.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this – in fact, I know that all of my friends with depression experience the same thing, as well as many, many more people across the world. So, I reached out to my friends and asked them to describe to me what their loneliest moments felt like – and what triggered them. I’ve decided to keep all of these anonymous since they’re so personal.

“I feel lonely, and then isolate myself…”

Yeah. Loneliness is my biggest problem with depression. Especially because it spirals. I feel lonely and then isolate myself. Which obviously doesn’t help with the loneliness.

I have a problem with crowds too. If I’m in a large crowd and not having a meaningful connection or conversation with someone – I can start feeling really lonely. In a full room. Which is dumb.

I also get a lot of my validation from verbal reassurance and love. That’s my main form of expressing and receiving love. So if I don’t have verbal affirmations from those around me that they want me around – I’ll feel like I shouldn’t be around and then again isolate myself and lead to that.

It’s frustrating because I have a strong support system of friends and family who know I struggle with mental health. But I tend to just not see it when I need it.

To help myself – I straight up ask my friends if they still like me a lot. Like, “Hey. I need affirmation we are friends and you want me around.”

They are understanding and provide that. Which is really stellar.

I also have a set schedule for how often I see friends every week to avoid mass amounts of isolation and loneliness. And I call my mom daily. And she’s just a bundle of support.

It’s all about finding your triggers and working with your team to support you. I can’t avoid crowds. So I cope instead. I’m single. So I can’t avoid being alone and feeling lonely. But I have positive affirmations of love and affection to prevent a full blown spiral.

I have people who specifically say – have you been social three times this week? And if I haven’t they show up at my place. It prevents isolation really well for me.

“All of a sudden I disappear, and no one asks where I’ve gone…”

When people don’t love me in the way that I love them, and they make no effort to try and learn how I need to be loved. It makes me feel like I’m the only one with my eyes open and what’s the point of that? I feel most lonely when I feel like people are inviting me out of obligation. I feel lonely when people hide things from me. I feel lonely when I put in 100% of the effort in a relationship. I feel lonely when depression is suffocating me and no one notices. Because all of the sudden I disappear and no one asks where I’ve gone.

“Waiting it out seems to be the only solution…”

My loneliness creeps up on me. Often when I’ve had a tough day or haven’t had a deep connection with anyone for a while. The only remedy I have is time—waiting it out seems to be the only solution. It’s just an overwhelming feeling that not only haven’t I built deep relationships but that I may never get to. It’s like floating in the deep space of your consciousness, being only too aware of how alone that makes you.

“At night… it can sometimes feel unbearable…”

It seems to happen sometimes at random, usually after I’m depressed and angry… Even when I’m with my husband. I’m usually thinking about other people and being a disappointment. Weirdly, when I’m at home alone during the day, I’m fine. But at night – when my husband is home and asleep next to me – it can sometimes feel unbearable.

“The look…”

Yes, having depression can make me feel personally isolated, i.e. caught up in an intense fear of socializing and small talk. Yet, I feel most alone and alien when I get “the look” from an acquaintance. The conversation typically goes the same way: I share that I have clinical depression, and in response I receive a momentary wide-eyed expression of fear. I imagine that they are internally picturing me like a radioactive bomb about to explode. As if having depression equates suicidal and a lack of control over my emotions. Usually, after the pause, they reply with a surface-level response of sympathy, as if I need to be “cured” of my illness of clinical depressed before I can live a happy and fulfilled life again.

But honestly, through the counseling and introspection necessary after my mental health diagnosis, I have come the closest to self-actualization and personal understanding. Yes, it is true that I have a chemical imbalance that predisposes me toward symptoms of depression, and I will never be able to “take a break” from my pharmacological and emotional therapy. But, I also am able to understand my limitations and then take the necessary efforts to function optimally.

Maybe the next time that I get “the look,” I will be brave enough to educate that depression isn’t an illness to fear, but instead one that society needs to understand better.

Let’s Talk About Suicide

If you have ever thought about suicide or attempted suicide, this article could potentially be triggering for you. If you ever need help, please reach out to those around you, or use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get help.

What a topic to choose, right? Who wants to talk about suicide? Those of us who haven’t lost someone or haven’t thought about suicide would rather not talk about it – it’s an uncomfortable topic. Talking about suicide forces everyone – mentally ill or neurotypical – to struggle with the thought of someone choosing to take their own life. That’s not a comfortable topic.

However, as someone who has struggled with thoughts of suicide, and who has lost someone, it’s a topic that I no longer want to avoid.

So if you’ve never had the desire to kill yourself, awesome! If you’ve never lost someone to suicide, that’s great. But I encourage you to read this article anyway, and maybe walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be suicidal.

If you have lost someone, let me say from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. Losing someone is never easy, but having to grapple with the reality that someone you knew was so miserable that they chose to die is even harder. It’s hard not to feel guilty and play the what-if game. “What if I had reached out to them? What if I had been a better listener? What if I had asked more questions?”

Take it from me. The what-if game will bring you nothing but misery.

Being Suicidal v. Suicidal Ideation

I’m sure at this point, most people now know that there is a difference between having suicidal thoughts and being suicidal. I’ve been in both places. So, I’m going to take a moment to try and explain the difference between them. It’s a bit of a blurry line, so hopefully I can clear it up for people who don’t quite understand it.

Suicidal Ideation

This is where I most often am when I talk about having ‘suicidal thoughts’. Suicidal ideation is a weird place to be. Imagine you’re just living your life, doing what you love to do, hanging out with your friends, and suddenly someone screams in your ear why don’t you just die?

For me, it’s often like that. Some days, if I’m having bad suicidal ideation, the smallest thing can bring on the thoughts. My debit card is declined. Well, you could always just die! My car won’t start. Death would be easier than this. I try to sort out my budget after over-spending. If you can’t pay that bill you can always die.

That’s what suicidal ideation feels like for me. Sometimes it can get a little more serious, though. Some days, it feels as if nothing is going right. We all have those days. And on those days – when I begin to feel that I am worthless, or that I can’t do anything right, or that all I can do is mess things up – it’s easy to see the appeal of death.

Death would be easier than having to fight on day after day.

Being Suicidal

There’s a huge difference between suicidal ideation and being suicidal. Because one is thoughts that float in and out of your head. And while one can lead to the other, the second is much worse.

Being suicidal is actively wanting to die. This happens when people start to write a suicide note. Sever ties from people they care about. Decide what way they’d most like to die – and then start to gather the things they will need.

People who are suicidal stop caring about themselves. When I was I didn’t eat for two days, because I simply didn’t care about my body. I wanted to die anyway, so why not just starve?

Sometimes they’ll take stupid risks, like driving without a seatbelt, crossing the street without looking both ways, or stopping in places they know they’ll be in danger. Because the risk doesn’t matter anymore when you’re suicidal.

If something else kills me now, it’ll save me the trouble – and my family the pain – of doing it myself.

Wait, What’s the Difference?

The main difference between suicidal ideation and actually being suicidal is that I don’t want to die.

Let me say that again, because it’s important.

I don’t want to die.

These thoughts pop into my head not because I actually want to be dead, but because life is hard, and sometimes the fight to keep living is just exhausting. But I don’t want to die. I’ve made no plans. I have nothing I could use. That is the main difference.

This can vary from person to person. Some people with suicidal ideation do want to die, but won’t make plans because they value people in their lives. Some people who don’t want to die can still be suicidal. This is just my experience, and my limited view. But hopefully my perspective will help some of you understand what I – and others in similar positions – go through.

Real Life Experience

This is going to be an unpleasant topic. Let me just warn you in advance.

Some of you may already know this – but I lost a friend of mine to suicide in October of last year.

He, like many people who suffer so profoundly, was loving, kind, generous, warm – and left a lasting impact on everyone who met him. I knew that he suffered from depression – I’d been his friend for his first suicide scare in 2013. I remember that heart-pounding day as we waited for news after he disappeared, and I remember the relief when I heard he’d come back alive.

I wasn’t prepared for his loss. Who is, really? I wasn’t prepared to attend his funeral – it’s hard to see someone so young (23) in a casket. I wasn’t prepared to see so many of my friends – all of us so grief-stricken – absolutely shattered by this sudden loss.

But most of all, I wasn’t prepared to see the reality of what suicide does to the people it leaves behind.

Barely a month before my friend passed away, I was suicidal myself. I wanted to end it – stop having to struggle. Stop stressing. Stop existing. It was so hard.

I’d always told my friends that if I ever thought I was a danger to myself, I’d seek treatment. So that’s what I did.

I found a therapist. After a couple weeks, my therapist recommended I seek psychiatric help and referred me to a psychiatrist.

Four days before my friend committed suicide, I started my first day on antidepressants. I don’t know how I would have handled the loss without them.

I mentioned before that I refuse to play the what-if game because it brings nothing but pain – there’s a reason for that. The last time I saw my friend alive was six days after I hit rock bottom – three weeks before he ended his life.

He was in a wedding and I attended. We got to chat and he hugged me, a huge, dimpled grin on his face. “I’m so glad you made it! It’s so nice to see you!”

We chatted for a while, and both expressed interest in hanging out soon – hopefully once our lives got in order once again.

I left the reception early, citing that I had a long drive to get home. But the truth was that I was exhausted. It had taken nearly all of my energy to just to come to the ceremony, and I needed to go home and collapse. I remember giving him another quick hug and a grin, and promising to text him soon to make plans.

Three weeks later, I’m attending his funeral.

It’s so easy to think of what-ifs, and blame yourself for things you didn’t know. I did it for a while.

What if I’d reached out sooner?

What if I’d stayed longer at the wedding?

What if I’d checked in with him?

What if we’d stayed in touch better?

I shy away from those thoughts now. I can’t change what’s happened, and thinking like this only makes me more miserable.

Facing Reality

By far the worst thing about this experience is that it forced me to take a good, hard look at what happens when someone commits suicide.

I got to see – up close and personal – what friends and family go through with this kind of loss. I saw how it destroyed everyone around me. I saw people who’d barely known him cry when they heard the truth.

I saw his family struggle with questions and howl at the sky, asking why this had happened – why was he gone?

I saw friends who I thought were strong shattered into tiny pieces at the sight of his body in that casket.

I lived with the reality that someone I knew – someone I loved as a friend, and in some ways like family – was in so much pain that he chose to take his own life, rather than reach out for help. I’m not, and have never been angry about all of this. I’ve been too close myself to be angry at my friend. But I am still sad, and grief-stricken.

In that time of grieving, I lived with a paradox in my head. The sadness and pain at my friend choosing to end his life, and struggling with my own not-so-distant desire to do the same. I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite. How could I mourn my friend while still feeling the same as him? How could I grieve his loss and feel the pain of his choice while still feeling the same way myself?

I’ve given myself permission to feel both of those things, and through that made my way toward healing. One doesn’t cancel out the other. In fact, those feelings – the depth of them – are what help me know that I’m alive.

It’s not easy to understand, but I am not my mental illness. I am the one who mourns the loss of my friend, my mental illness is the thing that makes me want to die. This dichotomy that I struggle with is making me a better person, a better friend, and has taught me to love deeply, tell people how I feel, protect what I love fiercely, and not be afraid to talk about my struggle.

To end on a positive note – have a nerdy quote that always brings me hope, even in a dark time.

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad thing, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them less important.” – The Doctor, Doctor Who

I know I said this at the beginning, but if you’ve ever felt suicidal, please get help. Your family and friends don’t want to live life without you. If you don’t like to talk on the phone, use the Crisis Text Line (if you’re in the USA) to talk to a counselor. Text HOME to 741741 to talk with a counselor now.

What I Mean When I Say, “I’m Tired.”

If any of you know me personally, you’ll know that I often respond to inquiries of “How are you?” in the same way.

I’ll pause, introspect for a moment, then with a wry smile – and maybe a yawn – I’ll answer, “I’m tired.”

Oftentimes whoever asked that question will respond with a laugh and echo my sentiment, and then the conversation moves on as normal, completely overlooking the fact that I haven’t said anything about how I actually am.

Those of you who know me know that I struggle with depression, and that sometimes it gets the better of me. On those days, “tired” takes on a completely different meaning.

“I’m tired…” of having to peel myself out of bed in the morning.

“I’m tired…” of using dry shampoo since I haven’t had the energy to shower in several days.

“I’m tired…” of plastering a smile on my face whenever I see someone so they don’t see the crushing emptiness that threatens to consume me.

Yeah. I am tired. And sometimes it just means I didn’t get enough sleep. But all too often, it can mean that I feel as if I’m losing my fight.

I’m tired of having to fight my own brain every single day. I’m tired of people belittling my mental illness by saying “Oh yeah, I get sad too.” Or, “You shouldn’t be on meds – you can do something more natural. Like yoga! Or meditation! Or exercise! Or deep breathing or regulating your sleep schedule or thinking good thoughts or refusing to think negatively or eating more fruit or or or or or OR.”

I’m tired of crying myself to sleep at night. I’m tired of sleeping for ten hours and still not feeling rested. I’m tired of thinking that death would be easier than having to wake up the next morning and continue on.

I’m tired of my brain trying to kill me.

I hide behind a laugh and the words “I’m tired” because I don’t want to tell people the truth. People don’t want to hear responses like “I’ve felt numb for a week”, “It took me three hours to get out of bed this morning”, “I can’t shake a crushing sadness that has no cause.” Or at least, I don’t want to give them, because I don’t like people to see me suffering.

But that’s become a problem for me. I’ve realized that in my quest to keep up the illusion of strength, I’ve locked knowledge of myself away from the people who care about me. By hiding behind a quick smile, sharp tongue, and ready laugh – I’ve concealed myself from people who care about me. My own best friend, just last week, found out what my favorite flavor of ice cream is. And something that insignificant isn’t even worth hiding – so why did it take me three years to tell her?

I’m trying to challenge myself to be more open, and let people in. Because shutting myself off from other people may protect me from harm – but it also leaves me feeling more alone than ever.

I won’t change overnight. So next time you hear me say, “I’m tired” now at least you know why.

Note: my favorite flavor of ice cream is Raspberry Sorbet.

Fare Finders: Best Sites for Cheap Travel

From the moment that I first told people that I was going to start traveling all the time, I got one question from everyone:

“How are you going to pay for it?”

That’s a good question. Logically, a 21-year-old writer a year and a half out of college shouldn’t be able to afford traveling the way that I do.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m lucky – since I can work from anywhere traveling around isn’t a challenge for me. But the answer that all I need to work is my laptop and an internet connection didn’t seem to placate the people who kept asking this question.

There’s a perception out there that traveling is expensive. That you need to have some money saved up to travel at all. And while it’s true that traveling can be pricy – that assumption is simply incorrect.

There are a ton of ways to save money while you’re traveling – even traveling in a group. Of course, as someone who always travels alone, it’s far cheaper for me than for people paying for an entire family. But there are still ways to keep things cheap.

The problem is, people are used to luxury travel. Well, if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s not always luxurious. In fact, it’s very rarely luxurious.

But I’m not traveling for the luxury. I’m traveling for the experience. As long as I can afford it, I don’t need to be comfortable to travel.

Deciding where I travel is a process for me – because when I decide where I’m going, I have to compare the prices of transportation. How much does it cost to stay? Then I create a budget with whatever is left over for my bills and – of course – food and activities.

So, I have a myriad of websites and apps that I use to help me plan my trips. Without these, I wouldn’t be able to manage my finances nearly as well – and certainly less efficiently.

Transportation:

The one that people are more curious about is transportation. How can I afford to pay for transportation from place to place? Flying is expensive, after all.

Yeah, that’s true. But I very rarely fly. It’s usually only if I’m traveling a long distance all at once, or all of my other options turned out to be the same price – which has happened before, but rarely.

Mostly, I take buses. There are several bus services that run really cheaply – even if you buy last minute. Of course, it pays to know where to look for deals.

Ground Transport

I normally use a website called Wanderu to book my bus trips. It’s my choice because it lists prices across several different bus companies – and trains, so you’ll know that you’re getting the best deal for where you’re going.

I also use another site called Go To Bus if I suspect that there’s a better deal – or if I can’t find a direct bus from one destination to another. Since they use different services, they sometimes have different lines. So, I make sure to do some double-checking before I make my final purchase.

For trains, I mostly just stick to Amtrak.com and just play around with the dates and times until I find a good deal. This can be annoying and time-consuming. But since traveling on a train is generally more comfortable – in my opinion – than most other forms of long-distance travel, it’s generally worth the hassle.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, some of the bus sites that I use will compare rates with Amtrak, so you can use those to ensure you’re getting a good deal as well.

Air Transport

When it comes to flying – as I said – I don’t often fly because it’s just not cost effective unless you’re hopping coasts, islands, or countries. And I try not to do that, because it’s much cheaper – and it’s also more fun, in my opinion.

It’s more of a challenge to plan bus rides across the country, seeing what the cheapest possibilities are. Planning it this way makes me add places I may not have even considered before to my itinerary – and sometimes unplanned stops are the best stops.

But, when I do fly, I usually check my fares on Kayak. I like using it because – as someone who rarely travels with exact dates – I like that they have flexible departure options.

And, like the other websites I use, it checks fare prices across different airlines. Not to mention it gives you information on legroom, baggage, layover, airports, etc.

Honorable Mention:

I also follow a blog called the Thrifty Traveler – which is always promoting flight deals. I keep an eye on their blog so that if a really good deal pops up (and it does, from time to time) I’m ready to pounce on it and change my plans if necessary.

Lodging:

The most important part of planning where to go is to find where you’re going to stay. I may be adventurous – but if I have my way, I won’t ever sleep on the street. That’s a no-go for me. So usually when I start deciding where to go, I start looking at hostels.

Hostels are my favorite part of traveling, hands down. That may surprise my friends who know me – but I really enjoy brushing elbows with other travelers the way that you can in a hostel.

It’s a unique experience – and I deeply enjoy it. It’s not really comfortable – in fact, it’s very rarely comfortable.

I’m not a picky person. I can put in earplugs or headphones, pull a hood over my eyes, and fall asleep. And once I’m asleep, I stay that way. So staying in a dorm-style room like in a hostel doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But I’ve heard that it can be annoying.

Sidenote: You also see some really… unique things when you stay in a hostel. I spent a fair amount of time trading weird stories with some of my friends I made while staying in Philadelphia. So be aware that sometimes, you may see things that you weren’t expecting…

I normally use hostelworld.com to find places to stay, as you can search by place to find good prices, as well as see the location of each hostel on a map. I’ll also use hostels.com to cross check prices.

If you can’t find hostels in your destination on those sites, you can do a quick Google search. Sometimes cities don’t have hostels. Sometimes they’re just not listed on the other websites. It doesn’t hurt to check.

Now, if you’re really on a tight budget, there are some cities that can be unmanageable. For example, in America: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many others, hostels can be an upwards of 40 USD a night.

For people who aren’t familiar with hostels – in other countries, hostels are closer to 10 USD per night – or less. Some countries it can be less than 5 USD.

Other Options:

I’m a stubborn person. So, looking at cities that are pricy like that doesn’t stop me from planning to go. Step number one is usually to figure out if I have friends in the area that might let me crash with them.

I’m lucky – I have friends and family all over the country, so usually, I can find someone to stay with if I look hard enough.

But I know not everyone has the same network as I do – and I don’t have connections everywhere. So if I’m looking at a tight budget, I often check up on Couch Surfing.

Couch Surfing can be a little weird at times. You are, quite literally, sleeping in a stranger’s house, after all.

But as long as you know what you’re doing, it can be just as safe as staying in a hostel. And it’s free! Yep, that’s the best part about it. Couch Surfing isn’t an exchange of money – it’s an exchange of knowledge.

You can update your profile with things you know how to do and are willing to teach, and you and your hosts teach each other things while you’re there.

You can also offer to help with chores, cook meals, or whatever else. It’s completely up to you. I highly recommend it for the traveler on a tight budget.

Be careful, but as long as you take precautions, you’ll do just fine.

Wait, That’s It?

That’s the secret, friends. I’m very careful with my budget and look for the best possible deals. I’m not picky about where I stay (though I’m careful), and I’m willing to make sacrifices to achieve what I want.

That’s how I make it work. It’s not easy – nor should it be. I wake up every day to a new adventure and I love every minute of it.

If any of you are thinking about taking a trip in the near future, I encourage you to bookmark those websites to help you find the best deals you possibly can.

In a future post, I’ll talk about how exactly I manage my budget each month to ensure that I can afford everything, on top of saving. But for now, I think that’s enough.

I always welcome comments and suggestions if you know of some travel sites that I don’t! ***Header image credit: Shutterstock***