Month: August 2019

Hope and Being Better

About two years ago I stopped participating in mental health themed panels at conventions. The last one I was on, was focused on helping writers understand details of what it is like to live with depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc so that they could portray the conditions well in their writing. The audience was great, my co-panelists were great, I was just so raw and worn out from living with the difficulties that the conversation sent me sideways. I was sitting in front of a room of people, filled with anxiety. Every time I spoke up, I was flooded with doubt that my contribution was useful and a simultaneous fear that I’d said too much, that I’d exposed my life and my loved ones to scrutiny in ways I should not have. And then, from the shape of the conversations it was clear that some of the audience was also seeking affirmation, validation, or hope along with writerly education. That was what stabbed me to my core, because I wanted to say “yes this is hard, but it gets better.” Only I couldn’t. Me and my family were still in the middle of hard and better wasn’t even a glimpse on the horizon. It was too hard to sit there describing the hard without having hope. So I stopped volunteering for those panels.

Today I had a contrasting experience. A friend of a friend called me because they are seeking help for their son and they wondered about a program that my son has participated in. As I listened to her, I knew exactly the emotional path she is traveling. I was able to validate and sympathize. And as I spoke describing where my son is now in comparison to where he was, I saw so clearly that “better” is all around me.

I’m still not certain I’m ready to start volunteering to talk about mental health on panels again. In part that is because I’m going through a period of self doubt in relation to teaching at conventions and events. But it is also because I’m braced for “better” to vanish again. It was so hard for so long. And every advance seemed to be followed by a disastrous crash. So part of me expects everything to fall apart again, reverting to what the emotional / mental health chaos that was our normal for six years.

Except I don’t think things can revert. We’ve all changed shape so that we can’t fit back into the old patterns. Things could fall apart in new and exciting ways, but I don’t think we get to go back. For which I am exceedingly grateful. I’m also truly grateful that this time when I was giving someone useful information, I was also able to heap on a serving of hope to go along with it.

Befores and Afters

We had some forced renovation this summer because of water damage. Here is our progress thus far.

Bathroom before:

Bathroom Deconstructed:

Bathroom restored:

Studio before:

Studio deconstructed:

Studio restored:

I remember on the day that we realized the scope of what needed to be done that one of the workers tried to cheer me up by pointing out that I’d be getting new flooring for free (because insurance would pay for it.) I politely didn’t respond, because these newly restored rooms are anything but free. We were (and still are) out of pocket for portions of the work since it wasn’t covered under insurance. I’m out hours of physical labor because the economics of insurance, my skill set, and our calendar dictated that the best way to get things done was for me to do them. Our entire household experienced major disruption across the largest part of the summer.

In the end, we like the new flooring better. It is more durable and has a better feel under our feet. We still need to extend it across the family room where we’ll have to tear out twenty year old carpet. We still need to put Howard’s painting table back into place. But these two rooms are fully functional again, for which I am quite grateful.


Yesterday a friend stopped by with a head full of thoughts. After a few minutes of visiting, she apologized for jumping from topic to topic somewhat at random. I told her not to worry about it, she just had a lot of thoughts jumbled up in her head and I was there to help her sort. Sorting often begins with just pulling things out so you can see what you have. I know exactly how she feels. I’ve been packing thoughts, experiences, and emotions into my head for two months now. At this point it is all jumbled up rather like a bin full of multi-part toys or 3D puzzles. Emotions are separate from the experiences that triggered them. Thoughts are scattered so that I can barely tell what they are let alone how they fit together. It means that every shift in my life brings new things to the top of the heap, but no sense of order.

It all accumulated because there was no time to sort or assemble. No physical spaces in my house because offices resided in my front room and kitchen while I was making walls and floors in the places where they belonged. Every room was over full, while extra belongings overflowed into a storage pod occupying most of my driveway. No time to pause because the sooner I got physical spaces organized, the sooner offices could return to where they belonged. No time because several high-stakes tasks had very short deadlines to make sure that my two neurodivergent college freshman were set to start school. No space in my brain because every day I was slotting physical tasks like plastering walls in between administrative tasks like talking to the insurance company and in between emotional tasks like helping my loved ones sort all their emotions about the life disruption and the impending onset of school. Sometimes all the spare thoughts and emotions just have to be tossed into a bin to be sorted later.

Now I’ve reached a point where I’ve begun to have time and space. Yet I stare at that bin and wonder if I really want to dig into it all. Sorting can be so messy just when I got things cleared up. Except the bin will linger, shifting randomly, spilling, and making me unbalance until I take time to sort.

So then the question becomes how do I sort? I frequently sort by person putting all the thoughts and experiences relating to that person together. Yet it might also make sense to sort by category: Thoughts and experiences related to kids going back to school, or emotions about the ways life got expensive, or Thoughts and emotions about things which are finally happening that I waited a long time to see. It is very much like sorting puzzle pieces. I could sort by shape or color or texture. Except there is more than one puzzle, and the pieces are mixed together. So I make guesses about which pieces go where, knowing that I’ve almost certainly sorted some things into the piles where they won’t actually fit.

Sorting can be tiresome, but the results are good.