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Loving Someone with Chronic Illness

Having a partner or family member who is dealing with any type of chronic illness is difficult. Sometimes you wish you could make them better, so they wouldn’t have to struggle anymore. Sometimes you resent that they need so much care and time—and it’s okay to feel that way, by the way, as long as you aren’t taking it out on them or others.

When you have a loved one who deals with one of the so-called “invisible illnesses,” it can be even more difficult. How can they say they don’t have strength to help clean the house? They look perfectly fine, and they didn’t have any trouble going to the kitchen for a glass of water. How can they say being at a family gathering on a holiday is triggering? My family’s perfectly nice, nothing at all like the one that abused them. How can they spend the entire day in bed and not do anything? There’s so much that has to get done!

People with those illnesses, which include mental illnesses, chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and others, don’t “look sick.” And because of the nature of those illnesses, sometimes people who have them don’t *feel* sick either. Personally, I have a few “invisible illnesses.” Some days I get up, shower, get dressed, and I’m off to tackle the day, getting more done before bed than my husband says he would be able to do in a week. I walk fairly easily, and I appear, and sometimes even feel, happy.

But other days, the “demons” attack. I feel like the world’s going to end, and I can’t stop crying. I’m in so much pain and having so much trouble with coordination that walking from the bedroom to the bathroom—which is right beside the bedroom—is almost more than I can manage. I can’t leave the house. I force myself to at least be in the living room instead of the bedroom, but that takes so much out of me that I end up dozing on the couch most of the day.

My husband is wonderful on those days. He knows I’m not “faking it” or “lazy” when I ask him to go to the store because I can’t manage leaving the house, or when I ask him to finish mopping the kitchen because I’m too exhausted after only doing a third of it. But it took a while to get on the same page about him helping me with tasks. If I said, “I can’t handle going to the store, but we need things,” he sometimes said, “Then I guess you have to go to the store.” I had to learn to actually ask him to go instead of hinting.

It also took him a while to understand that if I say “I’m in so much pain right now, I hate this,” I’m not asking him to fix it. There isn’t anything he can do about the pain. I’m asking for comfort and for reassurance that I’m not burdening him by asking him to take over doing some of my usual tasks, and now that he realizes that, he’s great about giving me a hug, or walking me to the bedroom and bringing me a glass of water while I settle down to read or sleep.

It isn’t easy having an “invisible illness” (or more than one). It definitely isn’t easy being a loved one of someone who has “invisible illnesses,” something I also know from personal experience since I’m not the only one in my family who has them. But if you work together to figure out what the person with the illnesses needs, and how to meet those needs without sacrificing others’ needs, and if you recognize that at the base, the person with the illnesses most needs love and compassion, it can be managed.

Brushing Off the Dust

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I’ve been on indefinite hiatus from writing romance while I dealt with some personal stuff, including both my kids moving out of the house, one to college and the other to be a partner and stepparent.

It’s been a stressful few months, with occasional breaks of fun and entertainment.

Many of my books are now out of print. Those include the entire Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series and all associated books with MLR Press and Passion in Print Press, as well as all of my other titles with those two imprints. They also include all but three of my Ellora’s Cave titles, though I’ve heard rumblings around the internet that all Ellora’s Cave authors are having their rights returned in December. All of my Pink Petal Books/Jupiter Gardens books are off the market, since the publisher closed.

On the plus side, my Loose Id titles are still available, as are Love Like Vampires from Dreamspinner Press, and Dawn Over Dayfield from DSP Publications. Dawn Over Dayfield is now an award-winning book! In August, it took first place in the Mystery category of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards! That was hugely exciting. Now I’m waiting with bated breath to see what happens with the Edgar Awards, since Dawn Over Dayfield is also nominated for that.

My self-published novel Vengeance Is Sweet is also still available as an Amazon exclusive, e-book only.

I haven’t written any new romances. I don’t know whether I’m going to. I used to love writing them, but once I started writing for publication, and trying to get more and more books out there in the world, it became stressful and painful. Personal life circumstances didn’t help. I haven’t even been able to think of a romance *plot* in over a year, and I’m not sure whether that’s going to change.

But I still have books out there in the world, and I want to make sure people find them. I want to make sure people know *I* still exist. And someday in the future, I might self-publish some of my previously-published books even if I don’t write anything new. It remains to be seen.

I’m still writing young adult fiction under my Jo Ramsey pen name, though. I’m working on some nonfiction projects about healing, trauma recovery, and magic. (The witchcraft/spiritual version, not the up on stage with a top hat kind.) I’m starting a business related to those topics as well. I’m getting used to being an “empty nester,” and spending time with my partners and friends.

I’ll be blogging here twice a week. Mondays will be posts on a variety of topics; Thursdays will be short excerpts from my books, including some of the off-the-market ones. So I hope you’ll tune in, same Karenna time, same Karenna channel. (Wow… I hope I’m not the only one old enough to know that reference…)

Pushing Too Far

In my opinion, trying new things is good. Making changes that benefit you and improve your life is good. Pushing your comfort zones is good.

But there is such a thing as pushing too far, or trying to go too fast, and that can cause problems. Change, even when it’s positive, can be scary and painful, and sometimes if you try to change too much at once, it can backfire on you. Especially if you’re making any of those changes because someone else told you to, and not because you actually see a need to. It’s usually easier to do something of our own volition than because someone else says we have to.

Life is not a stationary thing. From the moment we’re born, we’re learning, growing, and changing. And a lot of us have times in our lives when there are a number of things that all seem to need to change at once. That can be overwhelming, and sometimes it makes us shut down or withdraw from people we care about.

When you have something in your life that’s changing, whether it’s something you’ve chosen to learn, or something about yourself that you want to alter, or something that isn’t entirely within your control but you have to get used to (like a breakup, losing a job, having a child, etc.), if you can take your time, do so. Go as slowly as you’re able to give yourself time to adjust. Be kind to yourself if it takes longer than you’d like. Ask for support from people you trust, even if all they can give you for support is “You can do it.”

Change is difficult, no matter how positive it ultimately turns out to be, and it’s important not to push yourself too far too fast. You can do it, even if it takes longer than you’d like.

Being Overwhelmed

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many things to do and not enough time to do all of them. Or any of them, once in a while.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of times like that. I had two books release within less than a week, one under each of my two pen names, and that led to trying to scramble to promote both of them. I’ve been trying to help my 17-year-old with college applications and the dreaded financial aid applications, as well as trying to give her moral support about her classwork. I have a couple of writing projects I’m working on, and was just given another by a friend.

And then there’s housework. And appointments. And errands. And… auuughhh!

Fortunately, I have a group of really good friends who’ve had their own “auuughhh!” moments from time to time, and who understand having too much to do. Over the weekend, I reached out to them and asked for whatever help, support, and encouragement they could give. And all of them agreed to help in one way or another, whether it’s helping me break down some large tasks into smaller bits (which is always difficult for me), or being a “brainstorm buddy” for the stories I’m working on, or just reminding me I’m capable of getting these things done and telling me to stop procrastinating.

It isn’t always easy to reach out and ask for help, especially knowing that you aren’t the only one who gets overwhelmed and has a lot to do. But it’s always good to have support, and the people in your life don’t know you need support if you don’t ask.

“I’m Not Going Anywhere”

In a relationship, one of the scariest possibilities is that of your partner leaving. For some of us with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, that fear can be particularly huge. Depression tells us we aren’t worth being with or don’t deserve our partner. Anxiety magnifies every small concern into a major fear. And some of us may have had previous partners say they couldn’t handle our “issues” and walk away.

Personally, I know I’m not the easiest partner to have. Sometimes I wouldn’t want to be around me, so I can’t understand why anyone else would. And I have had partners break up with me in part or in whole because they couldn’t deal with the depressive episodes, anxiety attacks, and/or PTSD meltdowns. (That isn’t something I suspect. It’s something those partners told me.) But I also have a husband who’s stuck it out for seven and a half years. And I have another partner who just last week, seeing me having an anxiety attack, said, “I’m going to tell you this right now. I know you’re afraid I’ll leave, because you’ve told me others have left you because of your anxiety. But I am not going anywhere.”

Those words meant everything. Once I got to a point where I was able to believe them.

When you’re in a relationship with someone who has mental health issues, it isn’t always smooth sailing. No matter how well-managed the illnesses are–and please keep in mind, these are ILLNESSES, not choices–by either medication, therapy, or both, there will be times when something flares up and things get rough. Those are the times when it’s most important to assure your partner that you’re there for them, that you aren’t going anywhere. And they’re the times when it will be the hardest for your partner to believe you. But they will try to believe, and hopefully you won’t go anywhere.

 

Musings About Writing

I started writing stories when I was five. Writing became my escape, and sometimes my salvation. At times during junior high and high school, writing was the only thing that kept me going; if I hadn’t been able to create worlds where I didn’t have to deal with bullying and a difficult family life, I might not be around today. The same was true when I was married to my ex-husband. During all that time, nearly everything I wrote was for kids or teens. I wrote one novel for adults, which I don’t even have anymore and wasn’t all that good, and that was a completely G-rated thing.

When my friend in 2006 challenged me to write something erotic to help me overcome my belief that sex was a pretty crappy thing in general and especially in my life, everything started to change. A guy I dated a year later challenged me to write more, and to post on Literotica. And I kept writing, and kept posting.

And then I got published.

Being published isn’t a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong. But unfortunately, it added stress and pressure to something that up to that point had been relaxing and soothing. I wasn’t able anymore to just create things and abandon them at will, or write something no one would ever want to see without caring whether anyone saw it. I had to please editors, publishers, and readers.

Apparently I didn’t do such a great job at that. A number of my books barely sold, and if I remember right, two or three didn’t sell a single copy. Even though I was backed by publishers who were, in theory, pushing the books right along with me. That added to the stress and pressure. I had to write more and better so I would earn money and not piss off my publishers.

Then September 20, 2014 happened. I won’t go into details about it, though I think I have done elsewhere. Suffice it to say someone I trusted and was in a relationship with did something unforgivable that both triggered and added to my PTSD…and suddenly I was almost back to where I was in 2006 before that friend challenged me to write that first erotic story. And I’ve been there ever since. My two attempts after that at writing a new erotic romance resulted in panic attacks, worsened depression, and a decision that I had to step back whether I wanted to or not, for the sake of my mental health.

One piece of wisdom about writing and publishing is that in order to have consistent sales, you have to have consistent releases. I haven’t. My last release under this pen name was in March of this year, though it was written two years earlier, and that, judging from my royalty statements, has barely sold a double-digit number of copies. Meanwhile, nearly half the books that I’d had published in the past have been taken out of publication over the past year, either by me or by the publisher, all due to lack of sales.

I’m not posting this to whine or look for sympathy. My books are good, or so I’m told. Some of them have interesting plots and characters. They simply aren’t being bought and read for whatever reason. It’s discouraging. Seriously discouraging. I wish I understood what magical ingredients I’m missing that have brought me to this point, but I don’t, and no one I’ve discussed it with seems able to enlighten me.

As I announced recently, over the next two years I’ll be self-publishing some of those reverted titles, and I have a novel releasing from DSP Publications in March 2016. Last week, I finished writing my first erotica story in over a year, so apparently I can still write it… but I’m feeling so down about how things have been going that I’m not sure there’s much point. And most of the publishers that have accepted my books in the past either wouldn’t be willing to work with me now, or I wouldn’t be willing to work with them, or both, so even if I wrote something I wouldn’t have anywhere to send it.

Every career has its ups and downs. I think creative careers hit harder on the downs because we put so much of ourselves into the work. I know that’s been true for me with writing.

The Holiday Season

For those who observe certain holidays, we’re heading into that season. The US Thanksgiving holiday is toward the end of this month, and Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa, among others, occur in December.

Some of us grew up celebrating one or more of these holidays, and for some, it wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Family conflicts often become worse and/or more frequent around this time of year, partly because of the stress of large gatherings and large expenses, and, in the northern hemisphere, partly because daylight hours are shorter and the darkness can affect moods.

In some places, people are expected to be all about family and celebrations at this time of year, but for some of us, that isn’t always possible or beneficial. Personally, I deal each year with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression caused by the lack of daylight, along with my usual mental health issues. In addition, when I was a child and teen, as well as during my first marriage, the holidays were a very stressful time of year in my home. It’s difficult for me to feel joyful about the holidays, though for the past several years my kids have helped by taking over the decorating and sharing their excitement.

If you have a tough time with holidays, be gentle with yourself. Try to minimize your responsibilities as far as shopping and hosting. Lean on friends and family, or if possible and necessary seek professional help. Everyone needs a boost sometimes, and this time of year can definitely require a boost.

Meeting New People

With my usual lack of grace at thinking up blog post titles, I realize this one might be a bit ambiguous. So to clarify, I’m talking about the ways people might meet other people. I’m not giving advice; I’m definitely not qualified for that, seeing how difficult it is for me to meet people.

Actually, that’s kind of what this post is about. I realized over the weekend, as I settled in for two days of not seeing anyone besides my family, that I don’t actually know many people. I don’t have an outside-the-house job, so I have no coworkers to interact with. Hubby’s parents only live a couple of blocks away, but I don’t see them much. I’ve lived in this town for over six years, and still don’t know many people because…

I don’t know how to meet them. That’s my confession for the day. I have no clue how people meet other people and move from “Hi” to hanging out and having coffee and chatting on the phone.

I have less grace with social skills than with blog post titles.

I’ve never really had an easy time with meeting people and making friends. When I was growing up, it was easier because I was in school, so I had plenty of other people around. But even then, sometimes I would find a friend who after a week or two decided friendship wasn’t going to work out with me. Once I was out of college, I had jobs, but socializing with my coworkers didn’t happen. At my last teaching job, it was particularly painful; the other two women who worked in the classroom I worked in often made plans right in front of me, knowing I was listening. It was junior high and high school all over again.

Obviously I do meet people occasionally, but it’s rare and they don’t usually stick around in my life very long.

I know how whiny this post sounds, and I don’t mean it that way. I’m an introvert, I have social anxiety, and I seriously don’t have good social skills. Social stuff is like a foreign language to me. But at the same time, sitting at home all day knowing that even if I wanted to have coffee with a friend, I don’t have a friend to have coffee with… it’s kind of lonely. And the last time I tried asking a professional for solutions, her answer was, “Just meet people. It isn’t that hard.”

Um… maybe not for her…

So how do you meet people and make friends?

Hang In There

Life is stressful. No question about that.

I have depression and anxiety disorder, which I don’t make a secret about because I’m sick of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. A stigma I’ve engaged in myself, mostly aimed at me. I can accept someone else having a mental illness, but when I get depressed or anxious, I start wondering why I can’t “just get over it.” And why I’m so weak, and whiny, and whatever.

Of course, those thoughts are a component of the illnesses. Vicious circle.

The problem is that when my life hits a stressful patch, whether it’s family-related, or financial, or whatever, those illnesses sometimes impact how I handle things. Mostly, I do handle them. My past has taught me that it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling, I have to put on the face and do what everyone else needs me to do, and screw whether I’m okay.

My past–or the people in it–also taught me that if there’s stress, it’s because I’ve done something wrong and deserve the bad stuff.

This is kind of a dark, sad post, and I’m not sorry about that. Because the thing is, this is how having a mental illness works sometimes. Sometimes you get stuck in the dark, sad mire of your illness, and the only way to claw yourself out of it is to let others know where you are. Even if they don’t care. Even if they insult you for it. Just bringing those thoughts, stresses, fears, etc. out of the darkness sometimes helps.

I know I’m far from the only person who deals with stress, or who has mental illness, or who gets stuck in the mire.

Just remember when you hit those times… you’ve been there before. And every single time, you’ve survived it, and things have improved.

You’ll survive this time too. And things will improve this time. Because even if you can’t tell the future, you can see the past, and the fact that every single time before has ended and things have gotten better means that odds are pretty damn good that will be the case this time as well.

So hang in there, and remember you aren’t alone. There’s a light. (“Over at the Frankenstein place”, maybe? Sorry, had to make a bad joke to lighten the mood.)