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  • Something new

    I'm trying this new thing where I actually leave the house (*gasp!*) and get some writing done. Maybe errands too. Definitely the gym - eventually. Step one is just getting out of the house, which is still weird for me.

    I had to run to the post office this morning, and I need to pick up a few groceries on my way home. I'm still fighting the urge to treat this like another errand and "hurry up and get home!"

    Having a routine that includes going out for writing is something I've wanted for years. Now I just have to make it happen. Knowing that, if I don't go out and write it is squarely on my shoulders is a big deal. Eeep.

  • You are my sunshine

    You are my sunshine

    Gwen really likes to play with me. She'll run into the bathroom, hide behind the door, and wait for me to drum my fingers along the space where the hinges are. Then she leaps forward and smacks at my hand with her paws. If I did this with Aeris, it would be a disaster, because Aeris has never learned that claws hurt. But Gwen is so gentle and playful that it's fun.

    She waits for me to fall asleep at night and then slips onto the pillow next to the bed. There she'll stay until I get up for the morning, and then she does too. She only sleeps on that pillow at night.

    When she's not feeling stressed out by Aeris (which we're working on), she is such a happy-go-lucky cat, but not obnoxious. She doesn't get in your face, but looks delighted and kitten-like if you initiate some play with her. Here and there, she decides that running is far superior to walking, and runs everywhere. I think she acts like a much younger cat than I've been told she is, without the behavior problems associated with young cats.

    Gwen makes me so happy. So much so, that I feel a little guilty sometimes, because I do have two other sweet, loving girls that I really do love just as much.

    There's just something special about Gwen. Maybe it's that infectious happiness, or that when she gives her love, she gives it so fully. (And in a uniquely Gwen way) I have this feeling about Gwen that she is the type of cat who would run after someone who was threatening me and tear them up if she had to. It's like she swore a wookiee life debt to me.

    I love that quirky little Koo, who snuggles with me so contently on the couch. I love Aery Bean, who will throw herself on my arms and expect that I'm going to let her cuddle me. (And I do) I don't like imagining us without any of these girls, as they are all my family.

    I think what it comes down to is that I'm in a better place emotionally with Gwen. When I got Mikenna, I was deep in grief for Max, and paralyzed with anxiety from day 1 that she would die. With Aeris, I was deep in the trenches of untreated anxiety about just about everything. I had forgotten what cats were like, and found this crazy little ball of fluff to be overwhelming.

    With Gwen, I understood (mostly!) what we were getting into. I expected the worst and have been pleasantly surprised with how she's blossomed and become so fun. I'm in a stable, supportive environment, and despite my qualms with my medication, it does keep my anxiety in check. I'm able to enjoy Gwen without worrying about her life span or what else may come. It's a new experience for both of us, and I'm immensely grateful.

    Gwen is my little sunshine.

  • What they see is what you get

    This week, I read "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. I saw the movie last year, and I enjoyed it. It was dark and twisty in a way that reminded me of one of my favorite novels - Wuthering Heights. (Not that the stories themselves have anything in common...Just that you go, "Wow, that's ... messed up.")

    As best as I can remember, the movie and book are very similar. I think there was at least one character omitted from the movie, and there were a few scenes in the book that I didn't recognize from the movie, but all the major points were the same.

    But I liked the book way better. Why is that? Surely, movies are a nice shortcut. Spend two to three hours on a movie, and call it good, or spend several days on the book. Plus, having seen the movie, that's pretty much what I pictured in my head, so my imagination wasn't unique. But what made it superior, and what I think might be the downfall of all movie adaptations, is that what the characters were thinking was spelled out.

    On screen, the character tilts their head and scrunches their nose. In the book, another character sees this and thinks, "they always scrunch their nose when they're about to tell a lie." There's so much more information that can be learned from the page because film doesn't have the time or perhaps the ability to convey it.

    I think it's easier to feel sorry for movie Nick Dunne than his book counterpart. Sure, he's confused as to what's happening in the first half of the book, but by the end, it's easier to come to the conclusion that he's brought this on himself and he and Amy really are two insane peas in a pod.

    Same goes for the Game of Thrones books versus their tv adaptation. While the first few seasons seem (to the best of my recollection) on point with the books, to me it's far more interesting to see their thoughts. There's only so much Tyrion Lannister can say out loud without being executed - but he can think a lot more.

    Of course, whether to let a reader into the character's head is a narrative choice. The author can leave the reader out as much as if they were watching a screen. But that's another discussion for another day.

  • Put it down

    I'm a planner. Here I am, with a notebook of story, world, and character notes, a matching folder with printed out character sheets - and the digital versions here on my laptop.

    I wasn't always a planner. Once upon a time, I had a loosely planned out story and characters, and I flew by the seat of my pants. Somewhere along the line, I decided that my work wasn't high quality enough this way and that I needed to do more thinking before I started on a draft.

    But here's what I managed to forget: First drafts are supposed to be messy. You may think that you're going to cut down on your revision work by doing more upfront, but the truth is ... you probably won't. Even in the best case scenario, you're probably going to discover along the way that this character would be much cooler with a different personality trait, or that you (gasp!) left a plot hole wide open. You're not going to re-write a page or two. Chapters are going to fall, characters are going to come and go, and that's just something you're going to have to accept.

    I say this as much to myself as any of you. Because knowing and accepting are two different things. And trying to get things "perfect" up front has just made me more reluctant to start that first draft. The idea is perfect in my notebook and my little scrivener file - I can't muck it up if I never go any further!

    But that's not how it works. You may think something is perfect now, but it's probably not. The only way to find out, to make it even better than you imagine now, is to get down in the muck. Find out first hand where your flaws are, and then go back to the drawing board.

    Is it tedious? Yes.

    Heartbreaking? Yes.

    Time consuming? Yes.

    Worth it?

    Well, that's up to you. But an idea never realized for fear of getting dirty with it is an idea that will never live, and I think that's more sad and painful than working through the kinks. Now, to put that into practice.

    :Goes back to Zoe:Red file:

  • Sweetie Pie

    Sweetie Pie

    Gwen is by far the most playful cat I've ever had, and she's pretty happy to play by herself. She will stare down a toy, tackle it, flip it in the air, catch it, chew on it, and then repeat until the toy gets too far out of reach or she's otherwise satisfied that the toy has been maimed. Her favorite is this little crinkly butterfly. I think it's the easiest to throw because it's crinkly and not plush, and it probably feels funny in her mouth.

    She still likes to be around us most of the time - as I write this, she's been walking back and forth on my desk, taking turns sitting at each end. She does, however, enjoy a little bit of solitude. This privacy usually involves her curling up on a sweater of ours, so even when she's not near us, she apparently likes our scent. Cute little weirdo.

    She still doesn't really ask for things - not like her sisters. If she happens to catch your eye while you're feeding the other two, she'll give you this inquisitive look, "Me too?" but that's it. In my opinion, she seems more grateful for any bit of attention or special food you're willing to give her. The other two expect it, she still seems pleasantly surprised. In a way, it's kind of nice.

    Quirky is one word that would definitely describe her. When she's feeling playful, she's happy to grab your hand, nom it, and then jump away. She also enjoys running after you and tapping the back of your legs in an infinite game of tag. She doesn't always do that, but probably once or twice a day. But she really loves hanging out in the bathtub lately. Part of it, I think, is that she seems to enjoy the 'fresh' water that drips occasionally out of the faucet. But I've also seen her wrangle a bug or two and shove them down the drain. I do appreciate that - she's a better hunter than the other two, and she cleans up. It's not uncommon to think you've gotten to the bathroom by yourself, and then a little Gwen head pops up from inside the tub.

    Gwen is also starting to dabble with the idea of sitting with us - sometimes even on our laps for little bits of time. It's not something I find that we can coax her into. We can make the invitation, but it's all up to her. However, whereas last month she was pretty sore with me when I'd pick her up, she seems to be okay with it now. She just doesn't want you to pick her up because you feel like cuddling her - it has to be because you're putting her somewhere. But one night I carried her from the back room into the living room, and she didn't seem fazed at all by it. So she's either understanding that we have her best interests at heart, or she likes us enough to put up with us.

    She really is such a sweetheart, and every day I feel lucky that she's ours.

  • On Citalopram

    I've been on some dosage of Citalopram, otherwise known as Celexa, since November 2013. At the time, it, or some kind of medication was absolutely, positively necessary. To some degree, I've struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time, and my brain needed a break.

    What's great about citalopram, at least in my experience, is that it cuts off the emotional highs and lows - at first, it feels like this blissful cone of silence. You don't feel the awful depressive lows, nor do you feel the heart pounding anxious highs. It's so nice just to go about your life with that filter, you can just do things without all the noise and draining emotions.

    It's a very nice vacation for the brain, and one I desperately needed at that time.

    In the time since going on citalopram, I've learned a bit about making decisions that I want to make, versus making them out of anxiety. I've learned that anxiety is so very uncomfortable, but it's not the end of the world - or at least it hasn't been so far.

    I even made my first road trip to Virginia and back, all by myself, last September. It took me years to venture out on any major highways in Michigan - a road trip like this would have been unfathomable. It's no big deal to me now, and I love that. In some ways, being medicated has allowed me to think for myself without the anxiety and depression demons lurking over my shoulder.

    But there are downsides to just about any medication, and citalopram is no exception. For me, the big one has always been drowsiness. On 20mg, for me, it's the feeling of constantly being an hour short on sleep. A little tired, a nap always sounds good, but isn't necessary.

    However, once my brain settled, I also noticed that cutting off the emotional highs and lows began to feel restrictive at times. I still had (and have) all my normal human emotions, I just feel like I have to work a lot harder. I still enjoy things, but I don't enjoy them as voraciously as I know I could. When something is funny, I chuckle. Things don't make me laugh so hard I cry. Speaking of crying, I find it extremely hard to do that. It's not for lack of desire - on the occasion that I'm in a lot of pain or very frustrated, I find that I can't vent out my feelings in the form of tears. As a person who occasionally needs that "good cry", not being able to get there is really annoying!

    So I think, when I had my physical back in January, and they asked me questions regarding my emotional state, I sounded like my medicine wasn't working very well. Not enjoying things, sleeping too much ... Let's up the dosage!

    As I've mentioned in a few other posts, increasing the dosage has been a nightmare for me. If 20mg made naps sound like a good idea, 40mg makes sleep inevitable. I've told Matt that if I'm not moving, I'm sleeping. I can, at times, outrun the constant need for sleep - but not always. The increase in medicine has made me feel even more "blunted" emotionally, and it's made me feel like a very boring person. I hate it.

    I want off this ride. I can't say for certain that I don't need medicine at all right now, but I know that I don't need this.

    For full disclosure, I'm being thwarted in my attempts to get off this medicine. A recent change in policy at the doctor we chose meant that they insist on having my medical records in hand before they'll even make an appointment for me.
    So they sent away to our doctor in Michigan for them.
    I got a bill in the mail, saying that when they received a check, they'd send over the records. All that paper correspondence takes time, which is especially annoying when my records with this doctor are so short that I could have told them almost virbatim what's there.
    I'm still in the process of waiting for our new doctor to receive the records, at which point they said they'd call me to make an appointment. I don't know if they'll remember.

    When you've reached the point where you realize that the medicine and the dosage of said medicine are completely wrong for you, and are harmful, it thoroughly stinks to be bound to that medicine because of paperwork. I don't recommend this course of action, but this is the extent to my desperation - I've started tapering myself off the citalopram because I can't stand it anymore.

    You really shouldn't do it without talking to a doctor, and I know that, and I wouldn't tell anyone to wean themselves off of medicine like this. The withdrawal side effects are kind of nasty, and I've gotten away rather easily so far.

    But that's my story, for better or worse. I haven't decided yet whether I want to ask a doctor to switch my medicine, as they did with Matt, or try life without an SSRI for a while. Right now, I kind of want to try living on my own again, and trust that Matt will help me see if I'm wrong once everything is out of my system. At least by then, the paperwork will all be straightened out.

  • Anti-progress

    Autumn told me that I should write more about exercise - so, here you go.

    Up until a couple of years ago, I avoided the doctor because, and I quote, "I don't want to step on the scale." I realize how bad that sounds, how trivial in the scheme of things. But, that's crippling anxiety for you.

    I'd placed so much of my value in that number that the fear of deflating my self worth further by seeing that number was unfathomable. But I told you this was about exercise, didn't I?

    The gym we go to has a scale by the front door. Periodically, I'll step on it, for kicks. I like that I've gotten to a point where it doesn't really matter what it says.*

    *Except that it kinda does matter. Much as I tell myself that my worth is not wrapped up in what the scale says, it would be nice if the scale could humor me and not remain in the same 3lb range. I mean, really. It's nice that I can flex my calves and feel like I magically turned them into stone, but I don't feel any different in my day to day life.

    I'm still fat flabby Sarah. I'm hyper aware of my stomach rolls in all shirts, and I go through my day wishing that said shirts were just a little bit baggier because I feel so self conscious.

    I'm willing to take ownership of this problem. Matt and I haven't been as regular at the gym as we'd like the last few weeks because things have been so chaotic. (For the record, I don't recommend taking two whirlwind trips to Michigan in less than a month's time.) We need routine and are having a difficult time carving it out - even more so when the side effects of our medications feel so awful.

    Ideally, I would like to continue our current theoretical routine - 45-60 minutes of weight machines, 3x per week. I would also like to add 30-60 minutes of cardio 2-3x per week. I don't think that's unreasonable, and I'd like to think that if I could just get there, that would help move things along.

    But, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, the dog gone medicine. Yeah, I still haven't had that adjusted yet. Part of my reason for delaying, I'll admit, is that I'm debating whether I want to ask for the secondary medicine that should take away the constant fatigue, or ask to be weaned off the celexa.

    On the one hand, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" - I'm at a point now where my anxiety is pretty minimal. Things still bother me here and there, but I can recognize the discomfort and move on. I'm not crippled by it. My depression is also largely under control. I can honestly say that being tired all the time is a much larger factor in feeling hopeless than the actual depression.

    So if I wanted to try and wean off of the medicine, I think I'm in a good place for it. However, the fact that I am doing so well probably means that the medicine is working.

    I don't know what unmedicated Sarah is like these days. In addition to the fatigue, sometimes I lament what feels like a 'blunting' of my emotions. I don't notice it too often, mostly when I'm very upset. I get to a point where I need to cry, to release the steam and feel better, but the medicine blunts me just enough that I can't. Those moments make me hate the medicine.

    But what does the medicine discussion have to do with exercise? Well, one of the side effects of celexa is weight gain. Because I haven't yet gotten to a place where I've exercised consistently enough, I don't know that the celexa is keeping the scale stubborn, but I feel like it is.

    I suppose the 'right' answer is to get the medicine adjusted, which will help me get into a good routine all around, and then see where I'm at.

    It's just frustrating, not being where I want to be. As far as I've come, I have so far to go.

  • On Character Deaths

    (SPOILER WARNING: This post contains references to a recent Grey's Anatomy episode. I didn't see it, but I'm aware of what happened. If you would like to avoid this topic, avert your eyes now!)

    One of my biggest writer peeves are the character deaths that clearly happened just to antagonize the reader/viewer.

    Look, I won't even play innocent - I've done it too! In writer speak, an idea that you're super duper attached to even when it's no longer sensible for the story is called a "darling". I've had character deaths that were darlings to me. They absolutely had to happen, because I wanted to punch my readers right in the feels.

    It worked in high school, but I'll let you in on a little secret - that's something you really have to grow out of.

    This is where you would expect me to rag on George R.R. Martin. But, without analyzing every character he's killed off in the Game of Thrones series, I'll say that a lot of death makes sense in his setting. His world is one of war and betrayal. Life is cruel, and the killing of characters, even beloved ones, backs that up.

    Now, let's contrast this with the world of Grey's Anatomy. Offhand, I can think of four high profile doctors who have been killed off in the series' ten year run. (Admittedly, I largely walked away after season five) This doesn't take into account other minor characters, doctors and family, who've also suffered the proverbial axe. If you're a doctor at Seattle Grace (or Grey-Sloan Memorial or whatever it is they're calling it now), you're almost as likely to die or be horribly maimed as you are to walk away from the job. At this point, the hospital should have a difficult time hiring people, because no one in their right mind should want to work there.

    Not to mention poor Meredith Grey. She's been through almost every trauma a human can imagine and lost every support system she's had on the show. At this point, I'm not sure it's remotely realistic for Meredith to be functioning, let alone working in the same hospital where all this trauma has taken place.

    The setting is not one where it makes sense for all this death and horror to happen - not on the staff end of things, anyway.

    Character death is not the 'go to' answer for how to remove a character. It's lazy writing. Killing off a character should make sense in the context of the world, and it should have consequences for the story and the surviving characters. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong.

    I realize that there are differences with writing for television versus the page. Contracts come up, sweeps weeks happen, and audiences are generally less tolerant of slow paced stories on the screen. But that's still no excuse for killing off characters like the writers of Grey's Anatomy do.

    Drama can still happen, characters can make their exits without waving the death wand. If you need to kill off beloved characters for ratings, to keep the story moving again and again, or freshen things up, it's past time for the story to end.

    It's an unfortunate trend in American television that we get so attached to our shows that we want them to run indefinitely. I desperately wish we would honor the art of a good story that ends. Too many shows right now feel like they're under the control of a grade school child who keeps their story rambling past the point where it makes any sense, just for the attention.

    End your story while it still matters. Only kill off characters when it is absolutely needed, and when it serves the story and other characters to do so.

    In the words of Meredith Grey, 2005: Seriously.

  • When side effects stink

    Back in January, my doctor decided that the medicine I take for my anxiety/depression wasn't doing quite as well as I thought it was, so she upped the dosage.

    Things have been great since. Sort of. When I'm actually awake and not groggy enough to do things, that is.

    Medicines come with side effects. Who hasn't heard the myriad of potential side effects in the background of a pastel cartoon commercial with a butterfly floating through the air?
    "Side effects may include heart attack, heartburn, fainting, dizziness or even death. Please consult your doctor before starting ...."

    For me, it's sleepiness, or, more accurately, "I cannot possibly sleep enough at night and I think I need a second nap today." It was annoying on the lower dosage, but it's downright bad on the increased dosage. Late last week, Matt asked, "How have you put up with this for so long? Why haven't you made an appointment by now?"

    It sounds obvious, doesn't it? Why would someone in their right mind put up with feeling like a zombie for three months when it can, and should, be corrected by a doctor?

    The truth is a little more benign than you might think.

    Until this month, our insurance was a local Michigan company. So, since Matt hadn't moved yet and I was already going to be in town for a convention, I scheduled a physical with my Michigan primary care doctor, which is when they changed my dosage. When I got home from the trip, I figured that I was exhausted because train travel is, in fact, exhausting.

    I then figured that I was so tired because it was winter. Then I figured it was because I took another train to go fetch Matt and bring him back to Virginia.

    While it popped up as a possibility in the back of my mind, I shrugged off my sleepiness as one big life event after another, with no time to recover in between. It's only been fairly recently that I've fully realized that no, it's not because I stayed up too late last night - I can usually bounce back from a sleepless night pretty quickly - I'm tired all. the. time.

    Now that we've secured new insurance, a new doctor, and figured out our travel plans for the near future, I can deal with this responsibly.

    The problem with side effects is that they're not always glaring red flags. Unless they're very sudden and dramatic, it's not always easy to pinpoint. Be aware of what you're taking and what it could cause. Play detective with your health and be vigilant. You're worth it.

  • Breathe Deeply

    I assumed that everyone's chest burns and clamps down like a lead weight when they run. As a child, I had no reason to believe differently. It wasn't that I didn't like to run around with the other kids - but I got winded quickly, I couldn't keep up, and so it just wasn't worth it.

    As I learned about weight and fitness, I came to believe that my problem was just that I was out of shape. Feeling ashamed of myself made my desire to participate in sports-like activities even less. It became part of my identity - fat girl who was unathletic. In a way, I owned it. With a wry smile and a shrug, I'd explain that I didn't get my dad's athletic genes, and that was the end of it.

    But I've come to realize that most of this self talk has been just that - excuses. I can be athletic. I can run. I may not have gotten my dad's ability to run fast, but frankly, I've never tried, so I don't know.

    Just when I was starting to feel pretty good about myself, learning to run on a regular basis, my breathing problems got a lot worse. I gagged and wheezed and had a barking cough, all in addition to the burning and the brick on my chest.

    I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, and that was a bit of a blow to my ego. On the one hand, I was relieved for a name to the feeling. However, it's not like I wanted some reason for exercising to be more difficult. I was really trying - couldn't the world just cut me a break for once?

    No, there is no break. See, I also have mitral valve prolapse - a benign but mildly annoying heart condition. In addition to a tendency to feel the effects of caffeine, medicine, and sugar rather potently, MVP carries with it fatigue and breathlessness while exercising.

    On the character sheet of life, I have a -2 penalty to my constitution.

    It's nice to know, at least to some degree, that not everybody has to struggle with the same problems I do. Running and exercise isn't this intrinsically awful thing - it's just more difficult and irritating for me. It's some consolation anyway, even if it means that I might never be able to enjoy cardio activities the way other people do.

    An inhaler helps. That helps take care of some of the asthma problems, but doesn't do much for the MVP. The best I can do for that is to build my exercise tolerance, keep hydrated, and just understand that some days, my body is just going to struggle more.

    To be honest? It's frustrating. I want to run and take deep breaths and enjoy the process - or at least not feel like keeling over on the elliptical. But, I've been enjoying weights quite a bit, and being able to do that proves to me that not all exercise needs to be agonizing. I may just have to focus on what I can do well, and try my best to make up where I struggle. I may never actually run a marathon - but if I'm diligent, maybe I can huff my way through a 5k. It just won't come easily.