Six months to come alive again

March 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm (general life, Mental illness)

When CJ and I married, it was like being Cinderella.

Before we married, I was living in a granny flat in which most of the appliances were broken (including the washing machine, oven and toilet), where there was a large area of fungus, and where the water was not safe to drink. It cost two-thirds of my income, and was my only real option of a place to live. I needed to live alone because my anxiety disorder didn’t let me live with anyone.

When CJ and I married*I had good company and massages permanently on tap, a nice house where everything worked, and I never had to decide whether to have meat or not based on the ebb and flow of my income. I also had the new brand-ability to plan my future with some degree of certainty, and for the first time I had a choice about whether or not to have children someday. Everything in every area got dramatically better on one day.

On the down side, if CJ dies I’ll lose everything. He has life insurance (I checked, believe me), but other than relative wealth I’d lose most of the goodness of my life.

The awareness of my dependence of CJ didn’t impair my ability to function and/or enjoy CJ – but it didn’t go away either. Which is why when I read this article – mainly about the five stages of grief, and how they’re overemphasised in modern counselling – it meant a lot to me.

The thing that really made me feel better is that, according to studies, most people are largely recovered from major life-changing grief in about. . . six months. They still miss whoever or whatever it was, but the human ability to revert to individual emotional averages is extremely effective.

As a writer, I’m constantly designing the other kind of grief – the rare kind that permanently damages the sufferer – because it makes interesting characters. It’s a huge relief to realise that the way I see grief is based on an entirely fictional world view.

If CJ dies, my life will never be the same – but the worst pain will be mostly done by six months. If I have to, I can survive that.

Morbid and optimistic is a lot better than just morbid.

*Evidently there is at least one person I can live with – and even share a room with.

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The secret of love

February 14, 2011 at 10:56 am (general life, Mental illness)

CJ and I have now been married over two years (the two that are meant to be the hardest – one of several reasons we haven’t tried for kids yet). Overall, it’s been a lot easier and nicer than I expected – and I know how unusual that is.

I think the secret to a happy home (other than picking someone kind) is knowing who should do what – and doing it (before the other person has to ask) plus a bit more for love (but not too much – the other person has to have a chance to show their love too).

CJ earns most of the money; I try my best. I do more chores than CJ, but when I’m freaking out I ask for help and he helps. I let CJ spend money on computer stuff and books; he lets me spend money on awesomenesses and writing things. I coordinate most things, especially money and running the household; CJ has less impact on day to day things but also less to remember and be responsible for. In all these areas, we’ve found what works best for both of us.

Chores are the most difficult thing. Before marriage, I expected chores to be the hardest thing (having seen CJ’s bedroom many a time), and they are (even now) – but they’re a million times better than I expected. We talked about chores plenty, both before and after the wedding. CJ lifted his standards, and I lowered mine.

A good marriage is built on mutual respect and love – which is exactly where chores come in.

I don’t think it’s possible for me as a woman to respect a man who is too immature to do the dishes without being told (that makes him a child, and I’m not attracted to children). I also don’t think it’s possible for me to feel loved if I’m constantly cleaning up after a man. I DO clean up after CJ, but I know he also cleans up after me.

We’ve now spend half our time together dating, and half married. The married half has been nicer, more peaceful, and has seen less disagreements (partly because we know each other better, and can predict the other person’s reactions with enormous accuracy).

The hardest part of being married is that I am forced to carry my mental illness with me. I hate feeling that CJ has only ever met the second-best version of me (not that that’s entirely true; I have plenty of good days). I often feel angry that he is so content and happy when I’m living in the dark. It’s pretty clear neither of those things are his fault – and if he wasn’t immune to my depression he would be pretty useless.

The nicest parts of marriage are being able to make plans together, knowing that we have each other to rely on and laugh with, and having a warm body next to me at night*.

*One that doesn’t only love me for my ability to open the cat food cans.

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The good side of a bad dad

January 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm (general life, Mental illness)

I sometimes wonder if I should have kids. I’m pretty nuts, and I don’t know how children will influence my mental illness – or how my mental illness will influence them. But my mum has an anxiety disorder too, which is oddly encouraging – because I inherited it from her, but my life is pretty good (which means that my kids may well have anxiety issues too, but that’s not the worst thing in the world).

Even better, I get to instantly know my kids are, in one way, much better off than I was.

My biological dad is a bit useless. He’s in and out of jail for fraud, and he left my mum before I was a year old.

I have a fantastic stepfather – in fact, my earliest memory is preparing for their wedding. But I feel like I have an advantage in the realm of parenthood when I realise that CJ will be the father of my children – from the first instant of their life. That’s pretty encouraging.

Who knows? Maybe my kids will even turn out non-crazy. That’d be nice.

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Viktor Frankl, Garth Nix, and Yours Truly

December 17, 2010 at 9:28 am (book reviews, Mental illness)

Here’s a quote from Don Miller talking about Viktor Frankl: “Tested in the concentration camps, Frankl realized no amount of torture could keep a person from living a fulfilling life, if only they had three elements working for them: a project in which they could contribute, a person to love, and a worthy explanation for their suffering.”

Living a meaningful life is far more important to me than anything else. The year I finally gave up my twelve-year plan to go to Indonesia as a full-time aid worker was also the year my chocolate habit suddenly went from a cute foible to something that controlled my life. I’d never been out of the healthy weight range before then, and I’ve never stopped struggling with my weight since.

I am as certain as it’s possible to be that God doesn’t want me in Indonesia – I’d feel like Jonah disobeying God if I went there now (and I hear that didn’t work out). The other two main reasons for giving up Indonesia were that I love my writing more (when I’m in Indonesia I find I write non-fiction, which isn’t what I most love), and it was pretty clear that the main reason I wanted to go to Indonesia in the first place was to suffer.

One sure-fire way to feel special and close to God is by sacrificing a lot in a great cause. But throwing myself into increasingly painful situations in order to feel okay about myself isn’t the right way to go about it.

But I gotta tell you, switching destinies from, “Helping poor third-world children” to “sitting in my room typing up books that no-one reads” is crushing. Every day.

Writing books sort of counts as a “project in which I can contribute” except that I’m not contributing anything of worth – in my opinion.

 If I suffer, it’s because I’m doing a whole lot of work that no-one cares about (which is where publishing comes in – and it’ll probably happen eventually, which’ll mean, since I definitely have someone to love, that I’ll be scoring at least 2 out of 3).

This interpretation of the meaningful life at least justifies how much lack of publication hurts. Writing meaningless books that are paid for (and read by the public) is obviously more life-affirming that writing meaningless books that I have to pay someone to read.

Which brings me to Garth Nix. You all know I adore “Sabriel” with a passion verging on that of an internet stalker. I’ve read it about four times this year alone. But in some ways I love “Lirael” and “Abhorsen” (books 2 and 3 in the trilogy, but they’re really one massive story) more.

I admire “Sabriel” because it’s brilliantly written, but my stalker-love stems from the fact that Sabriel is such a hero. She has a great cause, and she sacrifices everything for it. In short, she’s exactly who I’d like to be – and metaphorically, a close match to my Indonesia-travelling self. Too bad my Indonesia-travelling self is dead.

Lirael’s story is much closer to my own. Throughout the 600-word book, she wants one thing: The psychic gift that every single person in her community has. Without that gift, she can’t contribute to her society, and she is still considered a child. At the end of the book, she finds out that she has a different gift – a gift which was (in part) perfectly obvious, but which never seemed important to Lirael. She will never get the destiny she wanted – but she does have another that no-one else in any of the three books possesses.

It’s not a triumphant ending. In some ways, Lirael’s discovery comes as a relief. In other ways, it’s devastating – the final realisation that she will never be what she’s wanted to be all her life. (It parallels a discovery by the other main character, Sameth.)

In the final book, “Abhorsen”, both of the main characters go through all kinds of pain – except one: they know and accept their real destinies. The whole book is infused with a sense of purpose, and reading it (especially after the long pain of “Lirael”) fills me with hope.

Like Lirael, I have a longed-for destiny shut off from me, and another one waiting for me to fully embrace it. I hope that one day I can believe that my second destiny really does matter as much as the first.

In the meantime, stuck as an unpublished writer, I am still a child – dependent on others, and unable to contribute something of worth to the wider society. That’s never going to stop hurting – but one day it’ll stop.

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Why chocolate?

October 24, 2010 at 11:23 am (Mental illness)

A couple of weeks ago, I joined in a Bible Study discussion of anger, and the role it plays in forgiveness. People pointed out that anger shows us where we’re hurt and what we care about (especially righteous anger). Anger often indicates right from wrong – the yelled phrase, “You can’t treat me like that!” is really one way of saying, “I have worth as a human being.” Anger shows us something is wrong, and it gives us the energy to do something about it.

I have a friend who had a bad boss. A really bad one. He felt angry. He talked to his friends and wife about it, and made a complaint (which was ignored). He tried and tried to deal with the situation, and eventually he had a mental breakdown – it is years later, and he hasn’t recovered.

For his sake, I wish he’d followed the anger and quit – don’t we all fantasise about quitting sometimes? A lot of our angry fantasies are actually telling us something useful – generally, that things are not okay. But we (especially women and/or Christians) are taught to treat others better than ourselves. We’re taught that anger is impolite, and we shouldn’t indulge it. And sometimes that’s not the right thing to do. We either end up broken and/or bitter, or we leach away our entire personality and become Flanders. Ugh!

Anyway. . . that was a long introduction to my point: most of the time, my anxiety disorder manifests as anger (I’ve often said I prefer anger to depression, because anger is proactive). I think that anger is the main reason I feel the daily need to binge on chocolate. It’s pretty much the only way I feel able to express myself. (I sometimes express anger with crying, but I’m so sick of crying! And blogging, of course – but that is limited too.)

There’s other factors at play in my chocolate obsession. Our society is built on self-indulgence, particularly via chocolate. Social occasions run on wheels of either chocolate or alcohol (among my friends, it’s more often chocolate).

For me, chocolate fills in the gap between how much I should be enjoying myself and how much I am enjoying myself. For example, if I go to a party I feel pressured and threatened. If I eat a whole lot of chocolate, it feels like. . . well, like a party. I don’t seem able to process positive stimulus without chocolate. I often sit in a conversation with people I genuinely like, and start having a panic attack as I feel pressured to be pleasant and happy – that is, to pretend to be myself. Chocolate fixes it, and I’m myself.

It’s the one good thing I feel able to rely on – because it’s simple. CJ is a predominantly positive stimulus (yeah, I know, I’m a romantic), but he’s complicated, like all humans. He relieves a lot of my stress, but he also causes some. Chocolate makes me nauseous and then overweight, but that just makes it a more effective way of expressing anger. Because the expression of anger is meant to be unpleasant somehow.

I think if I was medicated for the anxiety, my anger would be cut by about two-thirds, and I’d have less of a need to express it via chocolate binges. But I plan to start a family in the next few years, and medication is a no-no during that time (and I know from experience it takes a long time to stop the meds).

Maybe in the future I’ll be able to use anti-depressants, and then chocolate won’t be such an issue.

We’ll see I guess.

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Crushed Easter Eggs and my Crushed Soul

August 31, 2010 at 4:55 pm (Mental illness, Writing Ranting)

I’m sitting alone in my friend Celia’s house eating a large amount of crushed Easter Eggs (Celia works as a food tester, and brings home peculiar leftovers).

Does anyone else ever wish they had a terminal illness, just so they had someplace better to be?

Note to self: In future, do not travel farther than Sydney unless it is for something genuinely enjoyable. You are no longer well enough to handle the stress and/or despair.

Publisher B still hasn’t responded to my gentle I-still-exist email of four weeks ago. Other than the zombie apocalypse theory, the most likely  explanation is they are simply too lazy to actually reject my books. I didn’t think  anyone in publishing (especially Australian publishing) was that evil, but I heard on Friday a story about exactly that real-life scenario, so now I know it can happen.


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Fantasy of the Day

August 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm (Mental illness)

So here’s the thing.

Publisher B has had one of my books for fifteen months (the one that keeps getting nearly published), and another book for nine months.

Every three months I send them a gentle reminder of my existence via email, and they’ve always been prompt in getting back to me with a vague, “We’re REALLY sorry and we’ll get onto that, honest.” Generally within 24 hours.

I sent them the usual email (complexified by the July conference, by my plan to pitch it elsewhere on 4 September, and by some editing I’ve done) on Wednesday 11th of this month – cunningly timing my email to fall immediately after a Tuesday (they have acquisitions meetings every second Tuesday, so in theory they could look at the email and say, “Oh my! That certainly has been a long wait. We could prep that book for next acquisitions meeting, since this is exactly the right time for making such decisions.”)

There’s a fifty-fifty chance that today is that next acquisitions meeting. And they haven’t replied to the email. At all. In 13 days.

Reasons for not replying to the email:

1. A crippling attack of severe deja vu, causing them to think they’ve already replied to the email (over and over again).

2. They swore a collective vow not to reply until they’ve made a decision (my personal favourite) – which will happen today!

3. Publisher B has been overrun by zombies.

It’s also possible my primary contact is sick (possibly due to all the zombies around) and hasn’t read the email yet.

So, in conclusion, my cunning plan to suck them into actually replying is clearly doomed. Cunning plans never work. So it’s time to sharpen the old axe and stock up on canned food.

The zombies. They are here.

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July 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm (Mental illness)

This is part of an interview of a pibolar sufferer on Yes and Yes:

How old were you when you realized that you experienced life and emotions different than other people? When I was diagnosed and looking back at my life. For instance, when I was in kindergarten, my teacher had two favorite students, and would always tell them how sweet and smart they were. I remember consciously thinking, “Those kids think they’re so smart, but the things they know aren’t important things. The things I know are important, and I’ll show them when I grow up.” I was delusional. Sadly, I continued to feel this way until I was diagnosed. I really thought I was destined for amazing things, even after being a teenage mom, having 3 kids with 3 different dads, not continuing my education, working at Wal-Mart, and making all kinds of bad choices (I have some horrible tattoos).

This is a section of an application I (Felicity) wrote not so long ago:

My earliest memory as a writer is sitting in a Year Two classroom hearing the teacher praise two of the icky boys for writing their first punctuated stories. I scowled and said to myself, “I KNOW I’m better at writing than they are.”


I don’t think I’m bipolar, but there’s a certain amount of evidence suggesting I’m inclined toward delusions (there’s one school of thought that says creative types need delusions or they’ll never get anywhere – which obviously has truth in it). I recently decided to reevaluate my life into something that doesn’t cause crushing disappointment quite as often. According to Ian Irvine, a writer needs to write for 10,000 hours before they’re good at writing. According to my own records, I’m halfway, and need to continue writing at my current rate for another five years before I get to 10K.

So I wrote a five-year plan, painting a picture for myself that might make the next few years bearable. The basic summary is:

Save money, have a kid, buy a house, have another kid, get published.

In that order.

So if I focus more on the non-writing aspects of my life (which I have considerably more control over – and which are easier in terms of making progress) then maybe I won’t need delusions as much. Maybe.

I won’t stop sending books to publishers, but I might slow down, and take longer on making improvements.

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Hope is the hardest drug to kick

June 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm (Mental illness)

Scientists have pointed out that emotions and brain chemicals are so closely linked that one can lead to another – eg taking a pill in the morning can cause you to yell at your dad that night (you honestly believe it’s because he burnt dinner, but it’s really because of the pill).

A mental disorder means the chemicals are screwed up. So I work really hard not to yell at people when I’m sure they deserve it – because they’re not the real reason I feel bad (almost always).

But when I get incorrect positive emotions, it really sucks.

Last night I was so sure Publisher B would call today that I found it hard to sleep. I was aware it was irrational, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

And so here we are, at 6pm. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened.


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How to not be manic

May 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm (Mental illness, Writing Ranting)

I handled yesterday’s workload quite well, although I’m exhausted from not sleeping right (this morning I woke almost two hours early and couldn’t get back to sleep). I feel cold (the heater is on) and hungry (despite eating plenty) and my eye is twitching at a rate of about once an hour (yesterday it was twitching every fifteen minutes while I was at work).

Today I don’t have students at all, so it’s a great opportunity to stop being manic. I’m tempted to do heaps of stuff – write, do something big from the awesomeness list, swim a kilometre, or clean the house – but instead I’m going to do nothing.

No washing. No dishes. No cooking. No exercise (I have one day off a week – may as well make it today). No writing. No new awesomeness (unless I really feel like it, and it doesn’t involve leaving the house).

I’m going to watch no-brainer TV, tease my cats, and take photos of my fish. And probably have a nap. Hopefully after this I’ll be safe to drive again (I tend to crash – literally – when I work too much).

As of this morning, I’m allowed to eat chocolate again. But I’m going to try not to binge again until I’m well inside the healthy weight range. My rule now is to stick to 50 grams of chocolate, plus whatever I’m offered (so I can eat at parties, etc). That’s a maximum, of course 🙂 (Or 100 grams lollies, because they don’t metabolise into fat as quickly as. . . well, fat.)

After three days with absolutely no chocolate or junk food, I now weigh 80.5. It could be a lot worse. I’m waiting for Auntie Flo to visit, then after that I’ll launch a major offensive. I stumbled across a patently incorrect BMI calculator that said I only need to weigh 78 kilos to be in the healthy weight range, so that’s what I’ll go for in this offensive. Two and a half (or three) kilos in three weeks should be achievable.

Oh! And I’m getting a new student in about a fortnight (which is great timing, because I’m about to lose three-quarters of my income due to my two adult students finishing their courses).

I’ll post fish photos over at as soon as this entry is done.


I just (after writing the above, then falling asleep) heard back from Publisher A (who I thought might be sick of me now, but who I emailed to ask if I could send them “Farting My ABCs”). They said,

We’d be happy to have a look at your pungent new offering!
Please email direct to me and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
So I guess I’ll break my own rules and do that right now 🙂 After another hasty edit to celebrate, of course!
They usually take five months to reply, which means that if I get into the editing week thing, October will be all about this publisher (which is nice, since they’ve helped me SO MUCH in the past).

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