Jumping on the Ativan Train

The last thing I ever wanted to do was take a benzodiazepine. It’s not that I look down on people with anxiety who do take benzos like Xanax or Valium. My own Quinn started taking Xanax after forcibly committing her mother. Knowing how addictive they can be, though, really scared me. Substance abuse kind of runs rampant in my family. I have a hard enough time taking Tramadol for my joint pain. I didn’t want to add anything else to my regimen that I could potentially abuse.

I’ve had anxiety for a while, but in January, it got worse when I lost a close friend. Then, in February, I lost my day job. This kicked both my anxiety and depression into high gear. In March, it really slammed into me. I couldn’t concentrate enough to work. At night, I tossed and turned because I couldn’t shut my mind up enough to fall asleep. Even when I did finally fall asleep, I woke up over and over again, my heart racing and my brain fluttering in a panic.

I had asked my doctor for an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. I also started therapy. While I waited for the Prozac to kick in, I practiced meditation and mindfulness—being in the moment and accepting your feelings. Anti-depressants can take weeks to start working, though, especially if you have to tweak the dosage. When I went back to my doctor this past Monday, she asked how I was doing on my daily 10mg of Prozac. I told her I hadn’t really noticed a difference, and that I was still having a hard time getting things done and sleeping.

I’ll be honest: admitting those things made me feel like an incapable adult. I want so badly to have control of my life. Here I am, almost twenty-six and have this amazing opportunity to be a full-time writer, yet I’m struggling to get through every day. For the longest time, I just told myself I was being lazy. The truth is, though, that I have a mental illness—two, to be exact. Depression and anxiety on their own are enough. Put them together and it’s a miracle I was able to get out of bed in the morning.

My doctor had suggested Xanax before, but I turned her down. On Monday, she offered it again, as a way to get me through while we waited for my now 20mg of Prozac to set in. I told her exactly what I was worried about: becoming addicted to it. Instead of telling me that I was being silly, she nodded and came up with an alternative solution. She offered to give me Ativan, which is less strong than Xanax, and at a super low dose. She said she would only prescribe seven of them. I agreed to let her write out the prescription, but told myself I didn’t have to actually bring it to the pharmacy.

After spending another day paralyzed by my anxiety and another sleepless night, I decided to cash it in. I don’t have to take it, I told myself as I handed the pharmacist the prescription. I took home my new Ativan (0.5mg) and Prozac (20mg), and put them in the bathroom. I decided I wouldn’t take the Ativan at all. I moved through the rest of the day, practicing mindfulness when I started to feel overwhelmed. I actually got a lot done, for the first time in weeks. I shut down my computer at night, exhausted yet satisfied. Maybe, I mused, the Prozac and mindfulness together were enough.

Then, as I got ready for bed, worry after worry slammed into me. My mind fluttered, beating itself against a window the way a bird trapped inside will. I thought of all the things I still needed to do, and felt my shoulders and neck tense up. I knew I was in for another sleepless night.

Okay, I decided. I’ll go lay down, and if I start tossing and turning, I’ll take the Ativan. I stood in the bathroom as the words sank in. I would have to lay down, spend maybe an hour or more tossing and turning, and only then would I allow myself to try the medication. I realized that I was making myself suffer. Pausing, I asked myself what was the worst that could happen. If I tried the Ativan and didn’t like it, I never had to take it again. I could at least give it a shot, though.

Taking a deep breath, I tapped one of the tiny white pills into my hand. It was smaller than even a birth control pill. I snorted while looking at it. Maybe it wouldn’t even do anything. Maybe a half a milligram wasn’t enough to help. Shrugging, I swallowed the pill with water. Then I left the bathroom, got into bed, and got comfortable.

I can remember the exact instant that the Ativan kicked in.

The usual flurry of thoughts began. I worried about ridiculous things, mulled over my To Do list, and my mind repeated the same broken record thoughts. Once again, I was in for a sleepless night. Then, all of a sudden, this pure sense of calm just washed over me. My entire body relaxed, and my mind became like a still pool. The stillness moved through me.

Wow, I thought. This is what it’s like to tell my brain to shut the fuck up! I smiled, reveling in the moment. I had long wished for a switch, something to just turn all of my racing thoughts off. Then, I tried to remember what I had even been worrying about when the medication kicked in. I couldn’t. All I could feel was calm. I drifted off to sleep, sleeping through the night for the first time in months—maybe years. When I woke up, I desperately wanted to sleep more, but knew I had a lot to get done.

I’m not saying that I’ll use Ativan every night—or that I’ll ever even use it again—but I learned something really important last night: I don’t have to be afraid of medication. I do need to be smart about it, given my family history, but I can also let it do its job and help me. I’ve decided to use the Ativan and Prozac as part of a bigger plan. I will continue my biweekly therapy sessions, using the Prozac daily to help me. I will also continue to listen to meditation podcasts at night. During the day, when I start to feel overwhelmed, I’ll use mindfulness to scan my body and mind and sit with how I feel, rather than trying to bury it or push it away. I will create a better work schedule, allowing me to calm down before bed, so that I’m worrying less as I try to fall asleep. If I’m having a really hard time calming my mind, I may use the Ativan.

I’m proud of myself, for accepting the help and also learning to get over my fear of addiction. I love my life so much, and need to remember that I deserve to feel better. It’s okay to accept that hand up. The rest of the work, though, is up to me.

Do you struggle with anxiety or depression? How do you manage it? Leave a comment and share your tips and tricks.

Hello Spring, Hello Ambition

March was a weird month. I started off strong, then lost my rhythm in the last week or so. I wrote Raising Dad and the fourth ESX novelette, Pitch. I also plotted out two more ESX books. On a whim, I wrote a short story, “The Demise of Bobby Binkins,” about a guy who gets more than he asked for when he and his friends visit an abandoned asylum.

Then, it was time to start writing the next Comes in Threes book, and I sort of fell apart—both figuratively and literally. There’s been so much going on in my personal life that I haven’t really been able to process all that’s happened. Everything sort of hit me at once, and I kind of shut down for a few days. Instead of writing, I stared at my computer screen. Those days were definitely not the most productive, but I did work through some things, and I’m feeling better.

Mental health is like asthma; if you don’t stay on top of it, you have an attack.

Several mental health days later, I am back in the swing of things. I wrote 2,000 words for the sequel to Crazy Comes in Threes today (currently titled Trouble Comes in Threes, but that may change). There is a lot going on this week, but I plan on writing every day through April. Which brings me to…

My Goals for April

  • Write every day. My deadline for Trouble Comes in Threes is April 30th! This book is going to be longer than the first, probably around 75,000 words or so. Finishing it in a month is ambitious, but I’ve got a schedule to stick to (next in my production schedule is the fifth ESX book). There’s a lot going on this week, but I plan on camping out at a coffee shop while I get the words in the bank. A change of scenery is always helpful when I’m coming out of a writing rut! Plus, coffee is always helpful. ;)
  • Sell out my April 16th signing. That’s right—I’m doing a signing on the 16th in support of Crazy Comes in Threes! Robin at Barnes & Noble has once again been kind enough to invite me. She and the rest of the BN staff have been some of my loudest cheerleaders. If you live in the Waterbury area, stop on by! I’ll be hanging out with some other local authors, and I’ll have chocolate. (RSVP on Facebook and invite your friends!)
  • Pay student loan with royalties. March brought in the best sales across the board—not counting the paperbacks I sold “out of my car.” I’m super excited to say that last month was my best month of all time. It’s proof that this is really possible—I can really make a living doing what I love! I’m still making monthly payments on my student loan, so I’d love to support my education with my writing this month. This means that I have to sell almost twice as much as I did in March… but I think that’s totally possible.
  • Make one crayon art piece every day. I’ve been drawing with crayons lately. It’s nothing special, but it’s fun and relaxing for me. Follow me on Instagram to see what I come up with.

What are your goals for April? Tell me in the comments!

Another question: Do you think it’s tacky for me to post financial goals? Is not talking about money still a thing? I’d never gloat or rub it in anyone’s face. I post my goals to show others that it’s possible to achieve your dreams. Still, I don’t want to offend anyone, so please let me know what you think!

My Writing Process

I’ve been wanting to write a process post for a while, but wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested. Plus, it’s never easy to talk about yourself—at least not for me! Then Alexis Anne tagged me in the writing process blog hop, forcing me to just do it. Alexis co-hosts First Draught, writes steamy romance, and is a fellow Grey’s Anatomy junkie. I couldn’t not like her!

The blog hop is simple: you answer four questions, then tag at least one other writer to take up the challenge.

What am I working on right now?

Right next to me is the first draft of Secondhand Mom. I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how to recover after cutting 31,000 words off its original 72,000. Alcohol helps. ;) So does listening to the Eagles.

The first drafts of Raising Dad and Pitch (ESX #4) are stewing, and I’m working on the outline for the second book in the Comes in Threes series.

Juggling multiple projects helps me with work flow and productivity, but also sometimes leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. It also gives me the freedom to leave certain projects stewing while working on others that are flowing a bit better. Now that this is my full-time gig, I have to constantly be working on something, but enjoy the freedom to rearrange my production schedule as necessary.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I get a lot of shit for being so vocal about what I want for the New Adult genre. My books stick out like a sore thumb because they feature diverse characters who are struggling through their twenties. I explore the gritty side of being eighteen and older, the challenges you go through as you try to figure out who you are and how to be an adult at the same time.

I’m not saying that all NA books are worthless, but I am saying that NA as a whole is failing miserably at what it promises its readers. I have a pact with my readers: I’ll write about the conflicts twenty-somethings deal with, without empty characters or sex scenes that do nothing to drive the story forward.

I write New Adult for people with real problems.

Why do I write what I do?

I started writing New Adult because I’m pissed. The majority of NA books don’t feel like books for twenty-somethings at all, and have perpetuated the stigma of trashy romance for college students. I enjoy romance and even erotica now and then, but the NA genre struggles to be taken seriously. After purchasing and reading multiple books that promised the inner turmoil of being in your twenties but turned out to be smut, I got mad.

So, I sat down, made a list of things that sucked about my life when I was eighteen, and went from there. All of the jobs I had and hated turned into the ESX series. My struggle with depression and love for my younger sister turned into the Comes in Threes series. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my life became the On the Edge series, formerly known as Sandpaper Fidelity. I want my readers to know they’re not alone, and that these things are totally normal. Life in your twenties is not all steamy sex and hot rich boys (though those things are pretty nice to escape into once in a while).

How does my writing process work?

First, I have to get out of my own way. Writing—and any other creative endeavor—is a head game. This is why I outline. My “outlines” are more like first drafts that I vomit onto paper. I know it sounds gross, but when I look at it that way, I feel less pressure. Each chapter is about a page or less long, in present tense. I try to write this pre-draft as quickly as possible. I also create a budget for the number of words the project will be, then break it down by chapter.

Here’s a look at part of the original outline for Amplified, the first book in the ESX series.

Koty appears on a late-night talk show, where he meets Jett Costa, the female lead singer of Perpetual Smile. During her interview, she mentions that the band is looking for a guitarist who doubles as a second vocalist.

After her interview, Koty tries to talk to Jett. She thinks he’s an idiot—a cute idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. He tries to impress her by singing, but she tells him to go fuck himself.

He talks to his agent about joining, who tells him that no one will take him seriously if he decides to switch music genres. People will laugh at him. Against his agent’s advice, Koty decides he must join Perpetual Smile, so he sends them his demo tape, unsolicited.

Once that terrible pre-draft is done, I use it as an outline and create a solid first draft. This usually goes quickly, too. I can write a novelette in a week or two, and a novel in a month or two—as long as I stay out of my own way. ;) When it’s done, I move on to the next project. After some time has passed, I’ll go over it with a fine toothed comb with the help of dedicated beta readers.

So, in a way, I kind of pants and plot.

Check Out Some Other Authors’ Writing Processes

Audra North
A L Parks
Alexandra Haughton
Petra Grayson
Jenne Hardt
Madi Merek
Rebecca Grace Allen
Amy Jo Cousins
Lore Ree
Julia Kelly
Alexis Anne
Mary Chris Escobar
Lashell Collins
Tracie Puckett
J.C. Hannigan
Sarah Fader

I’m passing the torch to the lovely Liz Long and Kristen Strassel, so keep an eye out for their posts.

What’s your writing process like? Tell me all about it in the comments!

The Purpose of Life

In the dimly lit street of a crumbling neighborhood, a young man hardly more than a boy opens the car door for his girlfriend. The action catches my eye as I pass the window, coffee filter full of the morning’s grinds in one hand. My heart swells with pride and hope. Bowing my head, I continue into the pantry, leaving the couple to their moment.

Life is ugly; I can see it in the broken glass on the sidewalk and the syringe near the tire of my car. As I struggle with loss and watching the people I love suffer, I wonder again and again what the point is. It’s not hard for me to go down that path—the one that ends with crippling sadness and walls slamming down in my mind to keep the painful thoughts out. 

Why? I wonder, groping for the answers. I don’t want to die, not when there is so much to live for—like writing stories and spending time with the loved ones I do still have. Yet I circle around and around this question, desperate for explanation. There are whole religions designed to answer this riddle, yet no matter how many of them I’ve explored, I’ve come no closer to my answer. One thing is certain: suffering is endless. I’m beginning to realize that what we do in the face of that suffering is what matters. Without the lows, you can’t truly appreciate life’s highs.

We’re here to love each other, to carry each other through the hard times. Alone, we can’t make it. Together, we are strong.

Live together, die alone.

-Lost

Those words may sound dark at first glance, but Jack, Kate, and the others understood that in order to survive, they needed to take care of each other. I’m starting to think that the whole point in human struggle is being able to empathize with and love each other.

What do you think is the purpose of life? Please comment with your thoughts!