A Disturbing Prospect is the darkest book I’ve ever written. Not only is there a body count, but the book also deals with some real-life nightmares that I’ve longed to fight back against. Some of these themes may trigger personal trauma.
I needed to tell the story in my heart and right some wrongs, but I’d also never want anyone to suffer because of my words. None of these themes are gratuitously presented in the book, and my vigilante bikers always prevail. Still, I want my readers to be safe, so here is a list of potential triggers.
Animals: There’s no pet death in A Disturbing Prospect, but an animal is harmed.
Biker Culture: Let’s be real—biker culture is misogynistic as fuck. I wanted to portray that realistically, while also incorporating some changes. There’s some biker slang and characters who treat women as property in this book.
Childhood Sexual Abuse: Some of the characters have a history of being sexually abused as children. None of their memories are described, but there is mention of it having happened.
Drugs: There is brief mention of selling and use of drugs.
Self-Injury: A character catches a glimpse of another character’s self-mutilated arms.
Sexual Assault: One of the recurring themes in this series is violence against women and children. (One of the other recurring themes, however, is justice for that violence.) There are some hints of past sexual assault throughout A Disturbing Prospect.
Stalking: A character mercilessly stalks and taunts another character throughout A Disturbing Prospect.
Violence: All of the good guys in this series are vigilantes—antiheroes who take justice into their own hands. There is blood, fighting, gun violence, and a villain body count.
If you feel that you won’t be safe reading A Disturbing Prospect, please don’t risk your health. As a sexual assault survivor and someone with PTSD, I wish every book came with a list of trigger warnings. No book is worth risking your safety.
Please also note that I don’t necessarily condone or endorse the themes contained in this book.
If you’ve read A Disturbing Prospect and feel that I may have missed something, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2016, I finally got my anxiety and depression under control by participating in trauma therapy for my PTSD. In November, that all went away. Every day brings a new lineup of surreal, horrific headlines. New policies take aim at me, people I love, and people I’ve never met but feel for nonetheless. Hate crimes are on the rise and I worry constantly for friends and strangers alike. I’ve been having panic attacks, nightmares, and just feel horribly anxious in general.
It’s trauma all over again.
I’ve been saying for weeks that I might need to have my prescription for Ativan refilled. Over a year ago, I said goodbye to all psychiatric medication because antidepressants don’t play well with my system. I also stopped taking Ativan because I didn’t need it; meditation, self-care, and getting enough sleep were working for me.
Yesterday I decided I was finally going to ask for an Ativan refill. I have a lot of anxiety surrounding asking for medicines because it’s been harder and harder to get refills for my pain medicine. The war on prescription drugs has made casualties out of patients who rely on them—people who follow the rules and safety guidelines.
It took a lot for me to ask. I felt a panic attack coming on from the second I left my house. It didn’t help that I finally lost my ongoing battle with the narrow walls in my driveway and gouged my car on my way out. Sigh. Then I drove right past my doctor’s office and had to turn around, which made me a few minutes late. My anxiety ramped up with each passing second. I decided not to ask.
After discussing my IBS and UCTD, though, my doctor asked if there was anything else he could do for me. He’s new to the practice and I switched to him from the APRN I’d been seeing. I really liked him after my first appointment; he’d been attentive and kind. Taking a deep breath, I told myself to just do it. It was okay to ask, I told myself. There’s no shame in asking for something I need.
“Okay. Um. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with anxiety lately, and I was wondering if I could refill my Ativan.”
There. I’d done it. I felt immensely proud of myself. Even if I didn’t need it, at least I could keep it in my purse. It was there just for reassurance. I could make it through any panic attacks while continuing my regimen of meditation, relaxation, and regular unplugging from social media.
“Ativan isn’t a good anti-anxiety medication to start off with,” my doctor said.
I nodded; I was completely open to trying something else if necessary, though I’d thought Ativan was the lightest of its kind. (Turns out Ativan is somewhere in the middle.) But then my doctor switched gears entirely, urging me to check with my rheumatologist about Tramadol and whether it’s the best pain treatment for me.
This confused me, because I’d thought all of my doctors were in agreement that I’d stick to Tramadol as needed because it’s working for me. My rheumatologist had told me that in bad weather, I’d still have flareups, so Tramadol and Advil on those days were okay. But my doctor was talking as if he wanted me to stop Tramadol completely.
I also felt like he was brushing off my anxiety, because he suddenly said he’d be back in a few minutes. I started to panic, because not only was I not getting an Ativan refill, but it also looked like I was losing Tramadol. Again.
Plaquenil, Prednisone, Tramadol, and Advil are the medicines that give me quality of life. They’re the difference between being bedridden, wracked with pain, and actually getting out and living. When it’s a constant fight to keep the medications you need in order to have a good life, it can be emotionally crippling when someone threatens to take them away. There is nothing I fear more than my pain forcing me back into bed. I don’t want to go back to needing my husband to dress me every day. I would prefer to have Tramadol on hand when the weather gets nasty and my joint pain flares so that I can continue living.
I’m tired of being brushed off or treated as if I’m doing something wrong when I ask for medicine—especially when I hadn’t even asked him for Tramadol. He’d refilled my prescription the last time I saw him and I still have plenty left because I’m not taking it every day anymore.
I pulled myself together, hoping that he’d come back soon so I could just get the hell out of there and do my cry thing. When he came back, he brought samples of an IBS medication. He also told me that he would refill the Ativan but he was also prescribing me an anxiety medication called Buspirone that I had to take twice a day.
“What is that?” I asked warily.
If you’re new to my blog, you might not know that before I got treatment from a trauma-certified therapist, my previous mental healthcare practitioners had loaded me up with various psychiatric medications over the years. Every single time, I had awful side effects from them. It didn’t matter which class they were from, how “tried and true” they were, or how low the dosage. These medications simply make my anxiety and depression worse. I avoid them like the damned plague. (However, they do help lots of people. They just don’t work for my particular condition or body chemistry.)
“It’s an anxiety medication,” he said.
“Yes, but…” I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to get into my history—my anxiety was already through the roof—but I needed to explain. “Okay. Look. I was sexually assaulted. But I didn’t get the right kind of help at first. I saw lots of different practitioners whose solutions involved just piling antidepressants on me. And I always get very bad side effects from them.”
My hands shook and tears rolled down my cheeks.
“And then I started seeing a trauma-certified therapist, who helped me so much. I got off all the meds and I even stopped taking Ativan. It’s just…” I swallowed hard. “This is going to sound silly, but my anxiety now is coming from everything going on. With the healthcare act…”
He nodded. “Definitely. I understand.”
I exhaled. “Maybe I should just avoid both of these medicines altogether. I’m just very, very wary of them—though I never had any trouble with Ativan.”
“Here’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ll take off the Buspirone and refill the Ativan, but I don’t want you taking it all the time.”
I shook my head. “Oh, no—I understand.” Benzodiazepenes can be highly addictive, and can even be fatal. It’s super important to follow dosage exactly. (Not that it’s never important to follow dosage, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)
“I’m also going to refill your Tramadol, but you need to talk to your rheumatologist and see if he thinks it’s best. I’ll see you in June and we can stop the Tramadol.”
My head spinning, I held up a finger. “I don’t need the Tramadol refill yet,” I said. “If I were to take one every day, I still have about two weeks’ worth left. Can I just call you when I’m ready?”
“Yes,” he said. “I will refill it once more, but you need to talk to your rheumatologist.”
He offered me water and told me I could stay in the exam room for a few minutes to collect myself. He was very kind, but I felt mortified. The panic attack I’d been avoiding all day had basically sideswiped me in front of my doctor—which made me worry that I looked like a hot mess. Anxiety is a liar, so of course I started worrying that it looked like I’d just faked the crying so I could get the medicine. I didn’t want to blubber, dammit. I wanted to be able to calmly discuss my needs. I wanted to be able to discuss my history of trauma and bad experiences with psych meds without panicking, without tears and numb hands.
I scheduled my followup, then went to pick up my prescriptions. Amongst the Ativan and other things was the Buspirone that I’d thought we’d agreed to leave for now. I realize I don’t have to take it, but now I’m worrying that if I don’t, he’ll think I’m just making stuff up.
Today I looked it up. It acts on neurons and serotonin the same way antidepressants do. It’s clear that it’s not a good fit for me. I really don’t want to even try it, because other than the world being on fire, I’m actually in a really good place. Once again, my problem isn’t chemical—it’s trauma.
Last night I had another panic attack. I took an Ativan and, 20 or so minutes later, was calm. I watched The Shining. The tension in my neck was gone. I slept without nightmares.
Of course I still have to practice self-care. I still need to unplug, keep firm work hours, treat myself to good sleep hygiene, etc. I may even need to schedule an appointment with my therapist, although last I knew she was only working one day a week at the practice and that was difficult to coordinate because we only have one car (which Mike primarily uses because he works full-time outside of the home).
You can do everything right and still need help, and that’s totally okay.
Even though asking for Ativan was one of the harder things I’ve done, I’m really glad I did.
Over a decade ago, a guy I was dating raped me. I feel dirty just typing that, but there it is. For the longest time, I didn’t even remember the event, but it kept assaulting me from the depths of subconsciousness. It wasn’t until November 2015 that I finally started dealing with this and other traumas in both therapy and writing.
It was harder than I’d even imagined it would be. Basically, I spent months reliving every trauma I’d experienced—all at once. It was hell. While awake, I’d combat flashback after flashback. At night, I had disturbing nightmares.
But I got through it.
Then, several months ago, the piece of shit who raped me friend requested me on Facebook. After years of neither seeing nor speaking to this person, he suddenly thought it was appropriate to contact me. Never mind that he’d raped me or that we had a slew of other issues in our trainwreck of a relationship; the damage he’d done was extensive, the list exhausting. This person had been warned repeatedly years ago by myself and others to stay the fuck away from me, yet keeps trying to force his way back into my life every so often.
When I saw the friend request, I panicked. Full anxiety attack with hyperventilation and flashbacks and everything. I also went a little berserk.
Facebook and other social media are a digital part of my business and life, but they’re also a safe space. They’re the places with which my voice is amplified, places where I share my writings and feel strong, secure, and safe. In that moment, though, I no longer felt safe or in control. If he’d been able to find me on Facebook—when I’d made my privacy settings more secure than Fort Knox—he could find me anywhere.
Even at my home.
It all had to go, I realized. I had to scrub myself from the internet. Before I could fully think through what I was doing, I started deleting Facebook friends. There was no rhyme or reason to it; I just went into my friends list and started manually deleting people, one by one—people I’ve known for years, family members, readers. As I scrolled through my friends, mindlessly going through the “remove friend” process over and over, I started thinking about how to go about getting rid of Instagram, Twitter, my blog, my website.
And then it dawned on me: Was I really going to upend my entire career over this person? Yes, he’d hurt me—hurt me in so many more ways than I can ever express to anyone, taken from me not only my sense of safety but also three years of my life that I could have spent much happier. But I’d been healing. I’d grown strong. I’d found my voice and faced all of that pain head on. Was I going to let him undo all of that progress and send me burrowing deep down into myself again? Was I going to let him hurt me once more?
I stepped away from the computer.
Months later, I’m still dealing with the consequences of that day. Since then, I blocked him from my personal profile and business page, and opened up my personal profile to be public. Where I previously refused to add people I didn’t know well, my profile is as open as it can possibly be to my readers and colleagues. Still, I deleted a lot of people.
I tried re-adding as many people as possible, but 1) I had a lot of friends before my little spree and 2) the weird behavior confused a lot of people. One day we were friends, then we weren’t, and then they got a new request from me. There are a lot of scammers out there, so I totally understand people’s wariness, and I feel bad for confusing anyone.
Mostly, though, I’m proud of the progress I made after my initial panic. While I blocked this scumbag, I searched for and blocked the other guy who’d raped me a year later. In a way, it was sort of like typing the final sentence in a chapter.
I’m no longer afraid of these men. When I used to imagine running into them, I saw myself running away or freezing completely. Now I see these scenarios ending in one of two ways: me punching the shit out of someone, or me telling them to fuck off and stay away, and them walking away.
I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.
I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.
If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.
I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.
I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.
Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.
Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.
Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.
My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.
My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.
It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.
A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.
It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.
With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.
Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.
A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.
Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.
Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.
With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.
My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.
Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.
Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.
When that happened, I had to practice self-care.
When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.
For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.
I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.
Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.
My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.
The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.
So I took my time.
I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.
I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.
I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.
I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.
I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.
When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.
I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.
For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.
What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!
Up until November 2015, I had no idea that the events I’d experienced were considered traumas. In fact, I was so determined to believe that they were no big deal, I’d repressed them almost completely. Any time you bottle something up, though, it almost always explodes on you.
And explode it did.
It wasn’t until I started seeing Dina*—a trauma-certified therapist—in November 2015 that I realized the things I’d experienced were not only traumatic, but also the root of the depression and anxiety that I’d been fighting for the past 15 years.
Trauma is any event that shatters your sense of safety and what you thought you knew about the world. Trauma is subjective, meaning that what might be traumatic for me may not affect you the same way, and vice versa. Examples of trauma include:
being bullied as a child
becoming sick with chronic illness and/or pain
getting into a car accident
having your area hit by a severe storm
being sexually or physically assaulted
serving in a war
having a miscarriage
the death of a loved one
None of these examples are more or less traumatic. Everyone responds to stress in different ways.
For example, if you’re driving during a snowstorm and slide on ice, doing a complete 360° turn and nearly hitting a wall, you feel afraid. Your hands shake, your breathing and heart rate speed up, and your brain kickstarts the fight/flight/freeze response to help you get through the incident.
If you’re able to process the event—driving, snowstorm, icy roads under snow, spun, stopped before hitting the wall—you’ll realize you’re safe and your brain will shut off the fight/flight/freeze response.
If you’re not able to process our example event, though, you may start having nightmares about the incident (re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks). You refrain from driving yourself anywhere whenever it snows (avoidance symptoms). You snap at the people around you for seemingly no reason and have a hard time sleeping (arousal and reactivity symptoms). You may even completely forget that you nearly hit a wall while driving in the snow, but still believe that you’re a terrible driver when it snows (cognition and mood symptoms).
For years, all of these things were happening to me, and I had no idea why. I experienced recurring episodes of severe depression and anxiety. I saw nearly a dozen mental health professionals, who repeatedly misdiagnosed me. Many of them asked questions about my past, such as “Have you ever been raped?” But none of them ever mentioned that my past traumas could be causing my present symptoms.
I tried medication after medication—all of which affected me adversely, either intensifying my depression and anxiety or causing unusual side effects. One antidepressant, Viibryd, caused waking dreams, extremely vivid nightmares, and severe anxiety and depression. Still neither my therapist at the time nor the APRN who was prescribing me the medication ever realized that my problem was not chemical, which explained why antidepressants were not helping.
I hit my lowest point in October 2015 when, against my will, I was hospitalized under a physician’s certificate.
My APRN had recently taken me off one of my antidepressants, Wellbutrin, without weaning me, and I had a really hard time coming off them due to rapid withdrawal. Within days, I become barely recognizable.
I’d walk into a room and, unable to move, burst into uncontrollable tears.
I kept having weird thoughts that were not my own, like “I wonder what would happen if I filled the tub, got in, and then threw a toaster in with me? Wait. Where the hell did that come from?!” The thoughts freaked me out, because I did not want to die.
I wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or shower and I spent every day on the couch watching TV shows and movies that I later wouldn’t remember.
It was absolutely terrifying, because I knew this wasn’t like my usual depression and anxiety.
I told Grace* (the therapist I was seeing at the time), and she told me there was nothing more she could do for me. I also told the APRN who prescribed the medication, and he decided I should also come off Abilify, the other antidepressant I was taking. When I asked if I should wean off, he insisted that I should be fine.
If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.
Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.
Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.
A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.
I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.
My Goals for 2017
Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!
Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.
There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:
An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.
I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:
I think this design is the one I’ll go with.
I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.
I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.
Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.
I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.
Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.
Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.
My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.
They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.
Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.
Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.
I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!
Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!
Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.
Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.
Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.
Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.
My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.
Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.
But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.
I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.
I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.
Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.
I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.
I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.
Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.
What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!
Despite this year being a hard year, I can’t exactly say it was a bad year. 2016 was full of growth, grief, and guidance for me, and though I suffered some major losses, I’m very happy with where I am right now.
I started off the year recovering from fresh trauma and working to overcome multiple traumas from my past. I was in a fog of PTSD-driven depression and anxiety, as well as medication withdrawal, and it felt like I’d never be myself again, never mind recover. But my therapist Erica believed in me. She insisted I’d experience something called “post-traumatic growth phenomenon.” She encouraged me to keep facing my demons and to write my story. With her cheering me on and with the support of my family and friends, I did. I’m still trying to find the words to tell that particular story, but after about six months of hard work, I started to feel whole again. And, even better, I started to feel like myself—but even stronger.
I got my voice back in 2016, and no one will ever take it from me again.
I lost my great-grandmother, though—my Biz Noni. In October, she passed away after battling dementia. It still hurts so much, especially because I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I wanted.
A couple weeks later, my great-aunt Gayle had a severe stroke. Thankfully, she survived and has been making fantastic progress. She’s always been strong, but watching her recover has been truly inspiring. She still has a long way to go, and many things will never be the same for her. But I’m grateful that she’s doing as well as she is, because we almost lost her.
I also really struggled with my autoimmune disease. My rheumatologist, who’d diagnosed me with Reactive Arthritis, suddenly left the practice. The rheumatologist who replaced her decided that I couldn’t possibly have any kind of autoimmune disease, and took me off all my meds. Just like every year, I went into a flareup as the weather got colder. It got so bad, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or dress myself. After a phone conversation with my rheumatologist where I asked him to please give me a hand up, he took a closer look at me. I’m now taking Prednisone and Plaquenil, and able to get up in the morning, care for myself, and do normal things like dishes. However, I’ve really had to learn to pace myself and be more forgiving of and gentle with myself; I quickly get frustrated with my limitations and lack of mobility.
Meanwhile, the publisher I was with suddenly closed its doors and, as a result, I became an indie author again. At first it seemed like the absolute worst timing; because of my health, my husband and I have been struggling financially. I suddenly had to self-publish four novels, which meant spending money that I didn’t exactly have. Due to a contract snafu, I also became financially responsible for my publishing team. This was all right before I was supposed to be releasing the third book in the South of Forever series. Thankfully, my team was super understanding and we came to an agreement. Through crowdfunding, I was able to release What Happens on Tour.
I desperately needed to catch up on bills but still couldn’t return to work, so I launched a GoFundMe to get some freelance work. The response was overwhelmingly lovely; not only did I get some work, but many people donated and told me they wanted nothing in return. I hadn’t expected anything, so it was a huge surprise. I can’t even begin to express how grateful Mike and I are.
Toward the end of the year, I decided to cut back on social media. I needed to limit my use of the computer, and through time tracking tools, I realized I was spending hours every day responding to DMs, tweets, Facebook comments and messages, and other social media comments. It was a difficult decision but I had to make room for self-care—and to catch up on work.
I came down with the damn flu, which knocked me on my ass (even though I got my damn flu shot). I nearly missed the Christmas festivities, but thankfully recovered just in time to spend the holidays with some of my family. I’m still dealing with a bit of fatigue, which I think has more to do with my autoimmune disease; I picked up some D3 and B12 this week just in case I’m deficient again. It’s also been pretty cold here in Connecticut, which is wreaking havoc on my joints. I’m snap, crackle, popping away (and it really hurts)!
Still… I feel content. Happy, even. I’m more me than I’ve ever been. Like the Alanis Morrissette song, “I’m broke but I’m happy,” and “everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine.” I feel strong, and I’m getting better at coping with my chronic illness. With the holidays over, Mike and I are spending more time together. I’ve been slowly connecting with friends and family who I haven’t seen in a long time. Even though I have some concerns about what 2017 will bring, and I don’t know what the future holds for my personal life, health, or career, I do know that 2016 was the year I grew strong.