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Some of my short fiction can be found on Anthologybuilder.com

Recognizing Depression in Myself

“Are you okay?” My friend asked. “It feels like even when I see you, I don’t see you. I’m wondering if maybe you’re depressed.”

She used a lot more words than that and they were phrased carefully, but that was the core of what my friend said to me. Yes I’m depressed. I’ve been depressed off and on since the beginning of 2013. I figured it was situational. 2013 was a year of transition for our family. All four of my kids were struggling in various ways. I pulled in and held tight, figuring that when things settled out, my state would also settle out. And I wasn’t depressed all the time. There have been months where I was content or even happy. Sometimes more than one month in a row. I said all of that to my friend and asked her when she last felt like she had seen me. I thought maybe she was noticing the latest downturn. The one that started building about the same time that school started.

“I’m not sure, a couple of years maybe?”

There was something about the way she said it which triggered a connection in my head. Two years ago this month, November 2012, I was having troubles with anxiety. I discussed it with my doctor and we decided to reduce my thyroid medicine to see if that would help. It did help. It brought the anxiety down enough that I was able to find the anxiety triggers and deactivate them. Howard and I have worked together on that. He started his anti-depressants. We’ve restructured how we see and manage anxiety so that it simply is not the problem that it used to be.

But then I thought about what my friend said. She hasn’t felt like I’ve been me in about two years.

How long has it been since I did my hair fancy and dressed extra nice for church just because I felt like it? About two years.

How long since I did crafts just because and idea came to me and I wanted to see how it worked? About two years.

How long since I took on a sewing project because it interested me? About two years.

How long have I been slowly gaining weight that refuses to come off with diet and exercise adjustments? About two years.

How long have I felt just a little overwhelmed with my life? About two years.

I put in a call to my doctor. We agreed to increase my dosage of thyroid medicine. Maybe it will pull me out of this, maybe it won’t, but it is a logical first step. I started the new dosage about a week ago. So far the only difference I’ve noticed is that my resting state is no longer “I feel like crying.” If that is the only improvement I get, I’ll take it. The other thing I need to do is talk to some mental health professionals about my kids needs and about mine. That appointment is scheduled for next week. Hopefully by then I will have shipped the vast majority of the book release packages. That will help me clear my head. I need emotional space to figure out how much (if any) of this depression is chemical and how much is the natural result in all of the family shifts we’ve had in the past two years.

Doubling Down on Family Time

We are a family of introverts and we live in a house which has more options for screens than there are people in the house. This means that unless we exert ourselves, the pattern is for all of us to scatter in separate rooms of the house and focus on screens. This is fine as part of what we do, but when it becomes the majority of what we do, that leads to us all feeling disconnected from each other. In the past couple of months all the kids have noticed the pattern and expressed desire for more togetherness.

When Howard and I discussed our Christmas spending plans, we took this need for increased togetherness into account. We also realized that we needed to break one of the cardinal traditions of Christmas. Instead of saving up all the shiny things so they can be revealed on the big day, we needed to break them out at Thanksgiving so that we can spend the entire month of December using them to draw us together. It would be a shame to only have a week to enjoy them with Kiki before she heads back to school when we could have three weeks.

Considering the challenge I described earlier, it would seem that banishing electronics would be the call to make. Instead we bought more, a game system and an upgraded computer. But the important thing is that these new things draw us all into the same room. We’re interacting and talking with each other about the games we are playing. We’re all trying to be conscious about spending time together. To be honest, it is a little exhausting. None of us are used to it and there has been more than one squabble. Feelings have gotten bruised here and there. But I think the shifts will be good for us. We’ll find the right balance between doing our own things and coming together as a family.

Shipment Delivery: Complete

It was all lined up. Delivery of books and slipcases on Monday. I had a crew to help. Tuesday I’d help Howard sign book covers and then fetch Kiki home for Thanksgiving in the afternoon. Wednesday would be shipping prep and Thanksgiving prep. I’d done my necessary advance preparation. I’d done some preliminary sorting of invoices. Our cat “helped.”
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I also ordered shipping supplies so I could begin mailing as soon as my delivery arrived.
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It went sideways on Monday morning at 9am, when the trucking company called to tell me that their lift gate truck was broken. They were hoping to borrow one for the afternoon. This sent me scrambling to reschedule my volunteers. The company wasn’t able to borrow a truck, so Monday was spent waiting for a truck that did not come. This meant Tuesday was delivery day and fetch Kiki from college day. I was told the truck would be there around 11:30. I pulled up to the warehouse a comfortable 45 minutes early, just as the truck also pulled up. So I had to ping my helpers saying “Truck is here!” Fortunately some of them were able to jump and come right away. The truck had 22 pallets, double stacked.
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As the stacks came off the truck, we organized and put things where they went. Books in one place, slipcases sorted according to type. Fortunately the slipcases are very light. This meant that four people could easily lift and entire pallet.
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Stacking was important because there wasn’t enough floor space for everything side by side. I’m very grateful to my helpers who willingly stacked slipcases three pallets high.
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They also hefted a load of books over to my house where Howard could sign and sketch them. Once the truck was unloaded it headed out to go and fetch the remaining twelve pallets. We were told it would be back in about 90 minutes. I was glad. It meant we could be done unloading by about 2, which would give me comfortable driving hours to go fetch Kiki. (Three hours there, three hours back. She doesn’t have a car and the bus schedule is really inconvenient.) So my crew waited with me for 90 minutes, which is when we got a call letting us know the truck would be another hour. So we went out to lunch, came back and waited some more. The truck finally arrived at 3:30. We were done unloading in about 30 minutes. I finally had all of my shipment.

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I went home to take care of some family things. Because family things do not always wait conveniently for business things. Link had had a rough day. I took him with me for the six hour trek to Cedar City and back. We stopped at the warehouse so that Kiki could see the things she will be helping me ship.
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We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next few days. I still haven’t had a chance to form a new schedule. We need to get shipments to customers as quickly as we can. But first, Thanksgiving.

The Stories of Today

Today’s story could be about shipping. That was certainly my first focus for the day. Howard rallied the kids to help me prep the house. Some neighbor kids came and put calendars in packages. I ran errands, bought a ladder and other shipping supplies. The shipping schedule in the next two weeks is complex and wraps around the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully it does so in ways that will not impinge on the family celebrations.

I could also write a story about how I really wanted to get out of the house, so I packed up the kids at a moment’s notice and took them to see a movie. Being out was good for all of us.

Today also had the sadness of an important event for Patch which was missed, not because we were busy, but because we were distracted. I sat with him and shared in his sadness, because there wasn’t anything I could do to fix it. I couldn’t even suggest a substitute, because there really isn’t one.

Then there are the dozens of smaller stories. How the kids reacted when we told them the plan Howard and I have for some of our Christmas celebrations. The funny thing the cat did which made me laugh. The potted flowers I bought so that I’ll have flowers in the next couple of months.

One day. So many stories. And a brain too tired to tell any of them properly.

Call for Strong Volunteers

UPDATE: Delivery will be happening on Monday during business hours. We appear to have the crew we need. Thank you!

We need heavy lifting help on either Friday (Nov 21) or Monday (Nov 24) to do some box shifting in the Hypernode Media warehouse in Orem UT. We need 4-6 people who are strong enough to lift and stack boxes. 500 of the boxes will be light (slipcases) 200 of the boxes will be heavy (books). We do not have exact hours until the trucking company provides us with a delivery window.

We reward volunteers with food, free merchandise, and gift cards.

If you want to be on the list, email schlockmercenary@gmail.com and tell us what times you are available. Sandra will correspond with you to pin down exact times.

We’re expecting a delivery of 32 pallets. Our warehouse has floor space for 15 pallets. This means that as the trucking company offloads the pallets, Sandra needs a crew to be tearing into the pallets and stacking boxes into towers thus making space for more pallets. We’ll be stacking the slipcases up to twelve feet high (we’ll have a nice ladder and, yes, we have pallet wrap to keep the towers stable.) The books will stack about five or six feet high.

Again: if you have time and are interested, please email schlockmercenary@gmail.com with the hours that you are available.

Seeking Happiness

A few days ago I wrote a post about finding ways to be happy while still being busy. Yesterday Gleek showed me this TED talk which both backs up my assertion that becoming less busy is not the secret to happiness. Nor is it something we achieve after we’ve accomplished our goals. Instead it is being happy that will help us achieve things. The talk is only twelve minutes, laugh-out-loud funny, and well worth your time.

The Happy Secret to Better Work

Signs of Stress

I was sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the heating vent by the kitchen sink. My back was to the cupboards with additional cupboards on all three sides. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, aware that this sitting-on-the-floor behavior is only something I do when I’m stressed. I don’t know why sitting in that particular spot is comforting when I’m upset, but it is. At least in the winter when the vent blows warm. I sat there, eyes closed, sorting my thoughts. One of the thoughts was to review in my mind the various signs of stress that are typical for the other members of my household. Howard gets irritable, particularly about food things. Kiki fixates on small problems and sleeps more than usual. Gleek gets angry and defensive, she also accumulates things. Patch fidgets and gets indecisive. So I review, the girls are both doing well right now. Howard is under work stress, but in normal quantities. The boys are both struggling. They are stressed.

In that list of signs of stress, I didn’t mention Link. That’s because I made a very saddening realization. If I made a list of “Things Link usually does daily” that list will match up one-to-one with the list of “signs that Link is stressed or depressed.” The stress has been so pervasive for so long that none of us recognized it as anything outside of normal. Mental illness is so sneaky. It doesn’t show up with a dramatic change the way that a cold or the flu does. There is no quick comparison yesterday to today. Instead you have a child who is changing and growing all the time. So you assume that everything is just part of their evolving personality. Except there is this creeping, niggling thought which grows stronger. Maybe this isn’t normal. Everyone says the teenage years are hard, but maybe they shouldn’t be quite this hard. I owe huge debts of gratitude to my parenting community. There were people who listened to me and said “no, that’s outside of normal.” I feel like I should have been strong enough to seek help without needing that decision validated.

The good news is that the school administrative staff have bent over backwards to be helpful. I don’t know if everyone has that experience with them. It probably helps that I was able to say that I’ve already scheduled doctor’s appointments. It was obvious that I’m taking all the “right” steps. And yet this still is not easy. There are also teachers in the mix. Some of them understand and work with me. Others, not so much. Which is why I end up sitting on the floor of my kitchen, rehearsing parts of difficult conversations I need to have in the next few days. And I think about how difficult it is to stand strong and say “Yes I know that thing should be simple, but for my child it is not.” And then to have to say it over and over again in different contexts, working to give my child the space he needs to heal and grow strong. My job seems clear when I type it out like that, yet I constantly second guess myself about whether I’m choosing correctly. And once I have the conversations, I’ll probably spend hours rehashing them in my head, thinking of different things I should have said. It is all so exhausting.

Filtering the Voices

I believe in being open minded. I try to look at multiple sides of an issue. I try to withhold judgement. Unfortunately this has the side effect of making my brain a very noisy place. Other people’s opinions echo in my head and they continue arguing with each other inside my head. I slowly become overwhelmed with the chaos of voices because I can see at least some validity in all the opposing arguments. At some point I have to quell the pandemonium. I have to decide which voices to listen to and which to reject. I have to make judgements about what I believe and what I don’t. This is hard, because it means not being completely open minded. It means that someday someone may accuse me of being narrow, and they will be correct. That will sting. But I can’t function as a human being if I consider all sources of input to be equally valid. I have to filter or I will go crazy with stress.

Accepting the need to filter, I then have the challenge of figuring out what and how. Some choices are obvious. I don’t want to listen to hate-filled voices. They do not make my life, or the world a better place. I don’t really want to listen to fear-driven opinions, but there are a lot more of those than it seems at first glance. I hold a slew of them myself. I try to root them out, but they’re sneaky. Ill-informed opinions can be eliminated, but I have to take the time to become informed enough to recognize them. The hardest part is when I have to filter out loving, well-intentioned opinions. There are so many of them on just about any topic that exists. I wish just being loving and well-intentioned automatically made everyone agree. But it doesn’t. And I have to choose who to listen to.

I wish I could conclude with a paragraph about how I’ve solved this problem. Unfortunately I haven’t solved it yet. I keep finding myself in a state where contrary voices are howling around me. Instead this post just needs to sit here as a marker pointing up a life thing that is difficult. You don’t have to listen to everybody. You can’t listen to everybody. There simply isn’t enough time and energy. You have to choose and that’s okay. It also means that sometimes someone will choose not to listen to you and you have to accept that as well. I do have a means by which I feel my way out of the chaos. I use prayer and inspiration to help me find my core voice. I listen to that voice first and it helps me make the hard choices about what else I should listen to. I suppose that is a solution after all, though I honestly believed I didn’t have one when I began this paragraph. Finding that calm inner voice is difficult when the world is noisy, but the effort is worthwhile.

Drafting the Ending of a Book

I’m nearing the end of drafting a novel. Most of the time I haven’t had much trouble figuring out what needs to come next in the book. Lately though I felt like I’m floundering. I’m supposed to be grabbing the loose ends and tying them all together in a satisfactory conclusion. The trouble is that some of the loose ends I’ve got flopping around are not the right ones. Also I’m lacking a lot of threads that I need. This means that I’m writing myself a lot of notes about what I need to go back and put into earlier scenes and chapters. I’ve been tempted to go back and make all of these adjustments before forging onward to the ending. I’ve decided to plow through and write the ending anyway, even though I know it is the wrong one. So much about this book needs to shift around before it is ready for anyone to read it. I’ll have a clearer picture of what needs to shift once I have a completed draft. At least that’s what I’m telling myself in order to plow through to the end of the drafting.

For a while I was wondering if I was struggling with the novel because I have more personal familiarity with emotional struggle instead of emotional resolution. Life has not provided me with any “Happily Ever After” endings. Because I always have to get up the next morning and deal with the next day. Life is messy. Many problems come back again and again instead of being resolved permanently. Most of the things in my life which cause me stress are not new things. They’re just new iterations of old things. This means writing emotionally difficult scenes flows naturally. What is more difficult is trying to find an ending that feels true, gives hope, and doesn’t feel too neat. I don’t want to betray a complicated emotional story by tying all the loose ends into an unbelievably pretty bow. Yet I also want to express what I’ve found true in my own life, that repeated iterations of troubles can gradually provide permanent resolution. People can transform themselves and their lives, but it is not done easily or quickly.

I guess the best way to make sure that is in my book is to finish this draft and then rewrite it over and over again until I get it right.

Work Day

I keep paging ahead on my calendar. I’m looking ahead to the next few weeks. Sometimes I’m leaping ahead months to see the shape of things to come. I have to refresh the calendar information that I’m storing in my brain, because in order for all the pieces to fit, I have to know the shapes of the holes. It is an endlessly shifting puzzle.

Today I pulled out the invoices and began sorting them. Every time we do a complex shipping, I think that everything afterward will be easy. Then we think up new and exciting ways to make shipping even more complicated. This time we’ve got two sketched editions and two slipcases. I’m doing my best to take one step at a time. I’ve shifted things around at the warehouse to maximize floor space for the delivery. I haven’t yet begun to line up help, because I don’t have a defined schedule. It would be nicer if I did, but everything always shifts around. The calendars were supposed to arrive next Monday, but the printer mis-printed their hardcopy proof. I declined to accept it and they’re sending a new one. Not a big deal, except it delays the delivery. Instead of having calendars the week before we expect books, I suspect that both will hit at about the same time. Not what I’d hoped for, but I’ll deal with it.

I was glad to have a work day that was not impacted by urgent parenting tasks. It’s been a couple of weeks since that happened. I’m behind on most of my scheduled work.