I’m Still Around!

Oh yeah, I have a blog!

I certainly didn’t forget about the blogging community, but I know I haven’t been around as much as I used to. I’ve been hyper-focused on one project as far as writing goes, and that is the rebuild of 95,000 word manuscript that I lost in the the great USB crash of 2020.

So far I’ve rewritten about 40,000 words in about 5 weeks, which is encouraging, but I still have a long way to go. Considering that I had just started querying agents a month before the crash, I’m eager to get this thing rebuilt ASAP. Then I’m going to try getting beta readers again, even though my last experience with them was more confusing than anything else. I’m hoping I can start querying again by summer — fingers & toes crossed.

crossed

This also means that I haven’t been submitting anything. It’s frustrating because I haven’t had an acceptance email in about 6 months and I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by rejection and the idea that maybe my short story work is simply not suitable for the “literary” community. Which brings me to the next item that has been keeping me out of the blogging loop — my writing class.

After attending the best conference EVA in October, I felt the need to seek out a community of writers, whether in the form of a workshop or a formal class, but was having trouble finding something that fit my budget and schedule and didn’t require a two-hour commute.

Then in December, I found something that worked for me, so I took some funds out of my savings and signed up. I was giddy with excitement for our first class at the beginning of January, but if I’m being 100% honest, the class has sort of fallen flat for me.

bored

The instructor that was listed in the brochure (who I researched and had some influence on my decision to sign up) was replaced at the last minute, and I’m not sure how I feel about the new guy. I found myself a bit bored halfway through the first class, and considered backing out. But I told myself to suck it up and give him and the class another chance.

The next two classes were better — my classmates and I got to know each other a little more, we did fun exercises, and critiqued four short stories submitted by the braver students who didn’t mind being the first to put themselves out there.

Then it was my turn. I struggled with which piece to submit, mainly because everyone in the class was submitting work written in a literary style — which we all know is my worse enemy. They were also submitting short stories, which I’ve always had a hard time with, hence my need for the class. I contemplated sending the first two chapters of my novel, but that seemed like a cop out. I considered submitting a 3800 word short story based on the house fire a friend of mine experienced last year, but although I love the story and am still looking to get it published, it didn’t seem “deep” enough for the people in this class. So I submitted a shorter story that I wrote on a whim based on my experience working for an elite non-profit in my hometown that turned out to be a total disaster of a hot mess.

It did not go well. I honestly don’t think anyone had anything good to say about the piece. No one was rude or condescending or discouraged me, but they all just seemed bored and confused by every aspect of the story. The conversation that followed my submission was the least engaging and least productive of all the other classes. It was really embarrassing. I have yet to salvage the printouts peppered with my classmates’ notes from the floor of my car.

crap-2127610_960_720

I know that part of being a writer is about having thick skin. And for someone like me who has always been pretty sensitive, I think that most of the time I cope pretty well with the rejection I face. But getting a form rejection email is entirely different than being in a room with seven people whose writing has blown yours out out of the water and they’re all looking at you wondering how you managed to graduate kindergarten.

Sigh.

The other part of this fiasco with my manuscript rebuild and the class that I wasted $300 on is the fact that I’ve had NO TIME whatsoever to focus on my “resolution” of devoting more time to freelance work. So — Stacy 0, Writing World 3.

While I don’t believe in “signs” as much as I used to, and certainly try not to base important life decisions on symbolism anymore, I can’t help but wonder if all of these obstacles are trying to point me back towards my original writing goals — to be a novelist.

In the five years since I’ve re-entered the writing world, I’ve tried my hand at all kinds of other things — flash fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, travel writing, and of course blogging. Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, some I could take or leave. But one thing I always come back to is writing novels. Once I finish the rebuild on my manuscript that was essentially completed, I’m actually looking forward to outlining and rewriting the two other novels I lost from the USB crash that were only about 25,000 words each. There’s just something about a novel that I can’t stay away from. And to be honest, I’m having just a touch of fun getting back to my manuscript, despite the fact that I lost 14 months of work.

I guess the biggest takeaway from these experiences is to remain true to yourself, even if that means abandoning what is normal or popular for other writers or other people. We shall see.

Until next time, blogger friends!

seal-1347886_960_720

My Ten Year Challenge

clock

I realize I’m completely late with this, but I started working on the project before all hell broke loose, and even though it’s no longer 2019, I still thought my take on the “ten year challenge” was something that needed to be shared . . .

I wasn’t going to do the 10 year challenge because I think it’s kinda hokey, but when I decided to participate, it wasn’t for the reasons most people would think.

If you look at these photos, one from 2009 and the other two from more recently, it’s obvious you’ll see some differences — probably not what most people would call good differences.

 

I’m not only older, with tiny lines around my eyes and strands of gray in my hair, but I’ve gained a lot of weight.

Your first reaction may be something along the lines of, “Wow, she really let herself go” or “Damn, she blew up.”

But the biggest difference is what you don’t see.

leaves

In 2009, my anxiety was borderline paralyzing.  Now it is my companion, not my boss – most days.

In 2009, my writing dreams were shelved almost completely. Now I maintain a successful blog about mental health and I have writer friends from all over the world. I self-published two books and have had 5 articles published. I have three novels in progress and I’m not stopping.

In 2009, J and I lived with our parents and worked low paying jobs. We had no clue how we were ever going to afford our own place and a wedding. Now we have our own house and a fur baby, and have been married for 6 years.

In 2010, my mother spent 3 months in and out of hospitals thanks to a serious complication from kidney disease. She almost died. I was so sick with worry and grief that I dropped to my lowest weight ever as an adult. Now, I weigh significantly more, but I have peace of mind that her transplanted kidney is functioning normally.

In 2009, I was still reeling from the loss of my grandfather. Now I know how to celebrate my grandparents’ lives instead of constantly agonizing over their deaths.

At the beginning of the decade, I had a big group of friends who I saw all the time. But a lot of them abandoned me when I needed them most. Now I have a small group of friends I only see from time to time – but I know I can count on them.

The picture from April of 2019 shows me & J with two of our very best friends on their (surprise!) wedding day. The one of me with the parrot is at one of my best friend’s weddings. This is how I look now, happy to be surrounded by a small group of people who truly love me. Happy to be making progress with my life by staying true to who I am. Happy to no longer be obsessing about the way I look and the size I wear.

butterfly

So you see – back then, when I was skinny, when everyone told me how good I looked, most of the time I was emotionally rattled and mentally wracked. I had no idea who I was or where I was going.

And now, though I still have a long way to go and plenty to learn, I am comfortable with who I am, inside and out. I am more ambitious and confident than I’ve been in years, and I am proud of how I’ve grown – in every single way.

take up space

CNTRL + ALT + DELETE

Ah, January 2020. A new year, a fresh start to get back on track and hammer out those goals —

nope

 

Have you ever felt like you’re on one of those Japanese game shows? You know, the ones where contestants are trying to make it through an obstacle course of rapidly moving mechanical arms that are repeatedly punching them in the head and stomach and trying to push them into the water below?

The last few weeks have been like that for me. Only I wasn’t wearing a helmet and the mechanical arms weren’t covered in foam.

Now I’m not one of those people who fears Friday the 13th, but that was the day in December that this shit storm started.

First my coworkers and I were blindsided by an announcement that came down from corporate that none of us were too happy about. Feelings have only gotten more negative over the last few weeks and I have no idea what to do about it.
This was also the day that I began to feel sick — out of nowhere, it felt like razor blades were lining my throat, and things only got worse from there. I spent the entire weekend in bed, which is precisely where I was sitting when I found out my mom was being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.
Luckily, they caught it early, so she only had to spend a few days getting IV antibiotics, but with her complicated medical history, these things are always scary. Even once she was home, I wasn’t able to go and see her for a few days because I didn’t want to pass my cold onto her already compromised immune system. So, cue the guilt.

sick 1

I was feeling well enough a few days later to see Mom on her birthday, but since she was still a bit under the weather, my sister and I postponed our plans to take her on a girl’s night out. I managed to get everything checked off my Christmas list that weekend, and had a halfway decent holiday, but that following Friday, the razor blades were back in my throat again, and I spent yet another several days feeling like absolute crap. My husband also got sick at this point, which essentially ruined our New Year’s celebration.

When I went back to work on January 2nd,  I was feeling AWFUL. My manager sent me home around noon, and I headed straight to MedExpress — which was so packed with sick people that there was only one parking spot left in the lot and 2 or 3 chairs in the waiting room. Two and a half hours later, I emerged with a prescription for antibiotics along with a diagnosis of double ear infections PLUS a sinus infection. Lucky me!

I had to go to work the next day because a coworker was still on holiday vacation, and between my illness and the volume of work, I honestly thought I would collapse before 5:00.

The antibiotics were slow to kick in, and although I was feeling slightly human again by Sunday, I was still exhausted. I figured that I’d make the most of said exhaustion and spend all day in bed reading and getting back on track with my writing.

in bed

Since I hadn’t written a word since before the holiday craziness and the contraction of the plague, I couldn’t help but feel a little stir of excitement as I booted up my slow, old laptop. I plugged in my adorable penguin-shaped USB . . .

And an error message popped up on the screen. Something about the drive not being formatted.
I unplugged the USB, plugged it back in . . . and got the same message. Again, I took the USB out. I restarted the laptop. Reinserted USB. Same message.

At this point I started to panic. I sent a frantic Facebook message to my IT friend who now lives in Holland, and even from 3,900 miles away I could tell that he wasn’t optimistic.

My husband tried to help by plugging the USB into a Chromebook he got a few months ago. Same error message. He chatted a bit with IT friend in Holland and ran a few DIY programs with the help of YouTube. No luck.
I sat at the dining room table with my head in my hands, tears pouring down my cheeks and thinking about the three novels, multiple short stories, and countless ideas that were on that flash drive. I hadn’t backed up my files in ages — at least a year. The USB was relatively new and I figured I’d have some time before I had to worry about anything going wrong.

error

Three hours later, we had made no progress, and we had to go to a funeral for a friend’s father, so I dragged myself away from the wretched computer screen and showered and dressed feeling completely numb and even more exhausted than I had before the USB disaster.

By the time my husband and I got home from the funeral, we were both emotionally wracked. Attending a funeral is always difficult, and this one brought back painful memories for J & I about his father’s death. I had also entered the angry phase of grief over my USB, and spent the rest of the night hating myself and convincing myself that the universe was trying to tell me to quit writing because I was wasting mine and everyone else’s time.

The worst part of this whole USB disaster was how dismissive people were. When J wasn’t able to salvage the files with the programs he tried, I posted on Facebook asking if anyone knew of any local computer geek businesses that salvaged files. No one really provided any helpful information in that regard, but there were plenty of comments about how I could just “write everything again.”

Yeah, no shit. Except it took me YEARS to get to this point with those manuscripts. One of them had been rewritten four times over the last sixteen months, and I was almost ready to start querying agents.

I know that people who aren’t artists can’t understand a loss like this, so if any of you out there don’t “get it,” let me try to explain — think of your biggest accomplishment. Maybe it’s your degree, your house, a promotion, or a classic car you rebuilt with your son. Think about all the time, effort, heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, time, and energy spent on it. Then imagine it’s all gone in a second because of a stupid human error.

usb

I realize that this situation was preventable and it’s 100% my own dumb fault for not backing up my files. I do have “back ups” saved directly on the laptop, and and an old USB, but as I said above, I’d been procrastinating about updating those files because the USB was newer and I never in a million years thought something could go so catastrophically wrong all of a sudden (the thing was fine 24 hours prior).

Lesson learned — do not ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER buy a cheapy USB drive just because it’s a cute looking penguin. If it’s a no name brand for a fraction of the cost of something else, chances are something will go wrong sooner rather than later. I also learned, courtesy J’s IT guy at work, that different flash drives are better suited for different kinds of files. So while this has been incredibly painful to learn, at least it wasn’t a totally useless experience.

As I write this, my husband’s IT guy is running every program scan in the known universe on my precious USB to try to salvage something. If that doesn’t work, he gave us the name of a company that you can mail the USB to, and while they have an excellent reputation, it comes at a very high monetary cost. I figured that I’d have to fork over some dollars to try to remedy this, but the quote we got was about triple my budget.

Before I could get too dejected, though, J surprised me by offering to pay for a good portion of the professional attempted recovery as an early birthday gift. I never in a million years expected him to say this, and I immediately burst into tears. The fact that he is willing to spend so much money to salvage my writing means the world to me. Even though he is not a reader or a writer by any stretch of the imagination, he understands how important this is to me and acknowledges how hard I’ve worked. As any struggling writer knows, having someone that believes in you so wholeheartedly is a rare and invaluable thing. Even if we have to make use of his grand gesture and the recovery company isn’t able to restore any of my files, J’s faith in me makes it that much easier to go back to square one and start all over again.

hug

In the mean time, I’m trying to regroup with all the other things in my life that have fallen by the wayside — my eyebrows look like two obese caterpillars, there are dust bunnies in my house the size of beach balls, it still looks like Christmas threw up in my living and dining room, I haven’t renewed my pool membership or had any physical activity in a month other than coughing and crying, we still have to reschedule Mom’s birthday outing, both of our cars need oil changes and inspections, and at some point I should probably reschedule the multiple therapist appointments I cancelled thanks to the plague.

Not to mention that I’m turning thirty-five at the end of the month and I’m really having struggles with it.

But that’s a whole other blog post . . .

follow me on Twitter!

and on Facebook

mess

Farewell, 2nd Job

nye

Greetings, blogging friends, and Happy New Year.

I’m starting off 2020 with a small bit of news that is sort of writing related — as of December 17th, 2019, I no longer have a second job that provides supplemental income to my full-time job.

I’ve written about my part-time gig several times in this blog, mainly complaining about how it cuts into my writing/swimming/relaxing/socializing/hockey watching time, but it’s been a necessary evil. Having an extra few hundred bucks in cash helped me buy a new car and allowed me plenty of wiggle room when it came to things like paying for clothes, hair cuts, gifts, and other extracurriculars.

While I’m not raking in piles of money from my full-time job, and still have yet to make a cent writing, things are okay financially (knock on wood, pet rabbit’s foot, rub four-leaf clover), so I’m planning on using these newly free evenings during the week to focus more on my writing, specifically getting serious about freelancing and hopefully finalizing my manuscript so I can query agents more consistently.

I’m still incredibly intimidated and confused by the freelance market, and I suspect it’s going to be months before I actually feel comfortable putting my hat into the ring on job boards and such, but I’m going to start off by dedicating at least one night a week to uninterrupted freelance research. Even if I can make a hundred bucks a month writing something — anything — I’d be happy. Baby steps, right?

step

I admit it feels a bit weird not having a second job to rush to after 9 hours in my cubicle. Almost as soon as I started my current FT position in 2014, I went out and got a second job. Considering my full-time gig is only 12 minutes from home, it was almost stupid of me NOT to have a second job. J & I needed the money, especially during that first year of marriage and home ownership.

For about a year, I worked at Office Depot in a giant shopping plaza 10 minutes from my house. I’m still amazed that I had the balls to return to working retail, something I hadn’t done since I was in my early twenties, but it helped keep our heads above water, and despite the inevitable aching feet, condescending customers, and humbling experience of serving rude people, I emerged relatively unscathed.

Once my memory was fully refreshed with the horror that is retail, I snagged a job cleaning an office one night a week for a friend of my mom’s. The pay at this gig more than doubled that of the Office Depot wage, and I was able to enjoy peace and quiet while I worked instead of listening to people complain about the price of ink cartridges and not being able to use a coupon that expired 7 months ago.

retail-workers

But cleaning that office had its challenges, too. Despite the owners and employees being part of a successful, professional business in a wealthy part of town, they were absolute slobs. To this day I have no idea how half a dozen people created enough trash to fill three or four industrial-sized bags every single week. The worst part of emptying said trash had to be the small can at the receptionist’s desk, a woman who insisted on shoving an entire week’s worth of garbage and mail into a 3 gallon receptacle. Every time I emptied her trash, it was absolutely JAMMED, mainly with junk mail, including multiple 500-page catalogs. The sheer weight of the discarded paper made the bag split nearly every single night, and most of the time it was so tightly wedged into the plastic can that I could barely get it out. I’m also pretty sure she spent her days crumbling an entire package of cookies or crackers on top of her keyboard. The amount of crumbs I wiped away every week was enough to feed a small country. This is to say nothing of the crowded dishwasher, disgusting sponges in the sink, and the overflowing, impossible-to-organize cupboard that housed no less than four hundred coffee mugs. And don’t even get me started on the unmentionables I found in the bathrooms. Really, guys, how hard is it to AIM?

Getting fired from this place was a relief, but three years later I’m still insulted that they accused me of “not cleaning.” Excuse me?!?!?!? Who do you think lugged your two tons of trash down three flights of stairs and wiped up your disturbing amount of pee and pubic hair?

garbage-413757_1920

Anyway, that cleaning fiasco led me to another job that I got through J’s friend, and since early 2017, I’ve spent 1-3 nights a week dusting, vacuuming, and mopping two banks. The banks were thankfully easier (and way less disgusting) than the independently-owned office building, but it was still a grind that became an unnecessary pain in the ass.

I’m thankful for the extra income and flexibility that cleaning the banks offered, and I even managed to use the time to find a way to “write” by using the voice recording app on my phone to record thoughts about my manuscript, blog posts, or other works in progress. This job also helped me blast through some anxiety that nearly crippled me —  at first I was so petrified of setting off the alarm or being robbed while taking out the trash that I nearly backed out of the gig altogether. Powering through that anxiety was a big step in the progress I’ve made with my mental health over the last few years. I even had a few enlightening moments, like this one where I unexpectedly bonded with another woman in the fight to resist trump.

I’m looking forward to having every night of the week to myself moving forward, and I’m optimistic about staying the course when it comes to freelance. Hopefully I can not only add more to my publishing credits, but maybe get paid for my work as well.

Here’s looking at you, 2020!

2020

 

 

Finally, a Christmas Blog

grinch
courtesy Google Images

In my last two blog posts, I spent a lot of time complaining about Christmas and the holiday season in general.

But alas, here it is, three days before Christmas, and my Grinch-y heart has now grown three sizes and I’m finally in the spirit.

I’m still not shitting tinsel or anything, but I have had time to enjoy a few festivities over the last couple of weeks and am looking forward to having consecutive 4-day work weeks.

In honor of my Grinch-y exterior melting away at the last minute, I wanted to share some Christmas memories with all my blogger friends.

This first memory is probably from when I was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old . . .

xmas tree

My family prefers to honor the tradition of cutting down a live Christmas tree every year. It’s always been a big “to do,” with all of us piling in the car, driving to the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold, trekking up a snowy muddy mountain, and sawing down a fresh spruce or fir to display in our living room.

This one particular year, my dad had to work on the day we planned to visit the tree farm. My mom didn’t bat an eye at the prospect of missing his brawn, so me and my younger sister proceeded to carry out the tradition without him. We found our tree, chopped it down, and secured it to the roof of the car with no issues. The three of us were proud that we wrangled the heavy, cumbersome tree without my dad’s muscles, and headed home eager to show him our handy work.

We were so excited to brag about the tree in fact, that none of us thought about the thing strapped to the roof of our car as Mom turned into the driveway . . . and pulled into the garage as if we didn’t have an extra few feet of bulk with us. The tree caught the tail end of the garage door as it was going up, and the next thing we knew, we were sitting in the garage with the heavy mechanical door and two panes of glass lying on top of us.

Luckily, no one was hurt, and the Christmas tree came through relatively unscathed. My parents did have to replace the garage door, but luckily their homeowner’s insurance covered the cost. To this day, we still laugh about the time Mom hauled down the garage door with a tree strapped on top of the car.

This second memory is from when I was probably around 14 or 15 . . .

santa

My grandmother’s house was always the gathering place for holiday dinners. Every year, dozens of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would jam into the living room and dining room to eat, open gifts, play games, and create memories.

This year, though, we were one short. My oldest cousin R had recently moved from Pittsburgh to Georgia for a job, and wouldn’t be able to make it home for Christmas.

His younger sister T, who was still living in Pittsburgh, arrived at my grandparents’ shortly after me, my sister, and my parents. When we entered through the kitchen, we were greeted by a man dressed in a Santa suit who was sitting at the kitchen table sipping a mug of coffee.

“This is a friend of mine from work,” my Pap said casually.

Santa gave a wave from his seat, and we replied with absent-minded hello’s as we all greeted each other, discarded our coats, and juggled gifts.

T volunteered to take everyone’s coats into the next room, and as soon as she was out of sight, Santa pulled off his hat and beard to reveal that R had made it home for Christmas after all.

Before any of us could react, T returned to the kitchen and the first thing she saw was her brother seated at the kitchen table. She immediately broke into tears and rushed over to him, where they shared a happy reunion for the first time in months.

Hope you enjoyed these quick little stories, and hope your holidays are spent making simply, happy memories of your own.

 

 

Is There Something Fundamentally Wrong with Me?

silhouette-3576109_960_720

I’ve known for a long time that I’m not exactly normal. It’s not just my anxiety and my tendency to overthink situations to an absurd degree. It’s not even the little things like the fact that I physically cannot snap my fingers or have never owned a video game in my life.

Everyone has their quirks, their flaws, their issues. For the most part, I’ve accepted and even embraced most of mine.

But there are some things that I still don’t “get” about life in general, and many of them make me feel like not only am I weird or “quirky,” but that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. Like I’m put together wrong because I don’t enjoy or fawn over things or activities most people do. For the sake of today’s post, I’m going to focus on two that are pretty much unavoidable this time of year — cooking and the holidays.

I’ve briefly discussed my contempt for cooking in this blog, and I know that not everyone out there is a chef. But as a woman, and a woman who comes from a family of awesome cooks, it feels downright shameful that I don’t even know how to make mashed potatoes and gravy. I put every intention out there to learn this Thanksgiving when my sister came over to help cook everything. But I couldn’t even get past the obnoxious, tedious task of peeling the stupid, uneven spuds to observe how much milk and butter to add. Then there’s the mind blowing fact that she doesn’t use measuring cups or spoons, a la my grandmother, who had the same miraculous ability that I still can’t wrap my head around.

There are rare occasions where I throw together an impressive soup or lasagna on a chilly, relaxing Sunday when I’ve got nothing else to do.  I’ve had a handful of moments where I take a bite of something and feel a little beam of pride knowing that I actually cooked something that didn’t end up in the trash or taste like cardboard. But 90% of the time, I loathe every aspect of cooking – meal planning, grocery shopping, prep work, monitoring multiple pots or pans on the stove at once, cleaning up, and packaging leftovers. I know that some people bask in the feeling of preparing something delicious for themselves or loved ones. I know that it’s even calming for some people. But for me, every aspect of cooking drives my anxiety – there’s the potential to burn or cut myself, and the possibility of scorching dinner or otherwise ruining the food to the point that we have nothing to eat, even after all my hard work. There’s the over stimulation of chopping vegetables while keeping an eye on a boiling pot of pasta and a simmering pan of ground turkey, and the fact that I feel like it all has to be done NOW NOW NOW. Who wants to wait to eat after working all day? From start to finish, cooking is something that makes me shudder. And people look at me strangely when I express this contempt.

 

pepper-2613528_960_720

My aversion to cooking goes hand in hand with my not so cheery feelings about the holidays.

I spewed a lot of bullshit in my last blog about how to get through the holidays, but the fact of the matter is that I haven’t fully enjoyed them in a while. I survive them obviously, but I no longer shit tinsel during the months of November and December, and that just seems fundamentally wrong according to, well, almost everyone.

While I don’t go as far as to completely ignore Christmas altogether, I don’t spend six straight weeks belting out carols and shoving my nose up Rudolph’ ass. And if someone gets privy to this fact, they act like I’m some ungrateful, cynical weirdo. For some reason people see an indifference towards the holidays as selfish and unappreciative. Well, news flash – just because I’m not wearing a Mrs. Claus outfit and baking ninety dozen cookies doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person.

I’ve been completely honest with myself and others about why I no longer get the warm fuzzies when it comes to holidays. The perfection of my past Christmases, Thanksgiving, and even Easters set the standard incredibly high. Nothing will ever live up to my childhood memories. But beyond that, my anxiety plays a huge role too. While I know it’s unreasonable that things be flawless, my overactive mind still obsesses about perfection, and sometimes I can only focus on the negative. For example, one of the old-fashioned traditions I stand by resolutely is having a real Christmas tree every year – chopping one down in the wilderness, hauling it home, and sniffing the piney scent while sipping cocoa. But J and I have had two trees fall over in the six years we’ve been living in our house, so now I feel like I can’t even enjoy that.  Instead I have to worry about it toppling over and my ornaments breaking and my living room being destroyed. So how the fuck am I supposed to enjoy something so simple when there’s always a problem?

xmas lights
courtesy Google Images

On a larger scale, the state of the world (namely the US) throws a wrench into the holiday spirit too. When you have a president (and at least one family member) who believes that Jesus was a white man who spoke English and that the Native Americans and Christopher Columbus actually sat down at a table together to enjoy a meal, it’s hard to feel at peace and keep that peace at get togethers.

It’s also an incredibly difficult line to walk when you’re agnostic like me who doesn’t necessarily believe in the Christian “reason for the season,” but does believe in peace, harmony, and good will towards (wo)men. And it makes it even harder to dance this dance when the same people who are fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas” are simultaneously participating in the atrocities of the season – namely Black Friday shopping  violence and degrading anyone who celebrates Hannukah, Kwanza, or the Solstice.

Sigh.

I was hoping to come up with some sort of lighthearted conclusion to this post, but that’s proving quite difficult. Every year I try really hard to get into the holiday spirit and not let the reasons listed above get to me, but I haven’t exactly succeeded anytime in the recent past. I guess at this point all I can do is bury my head in the snow mud and ask someone to wake me up on New Year’s Eve.

winter-3097645_960_720

Tips for Getting Through the Holidays (a collaborative post with Millennial Life Crisis)

christmas-15651_960_720

As many of you know, this Thursday is Thanksgiving in the US. Even if you’re not one to kick off the holiday season as soon as Trick-or-Treating is over, there’s no denying that the month of December and all its holiday insanity is upon us. If you’re like me, this can push your anxiety into overdrive.
I’ve teamed up with V at Millennial Life Crisis to share some of our personal advice for making it through the holiday season relatively unscathed. Check out her blog for plenty of insight into mental health struggles and the unjust grind of unemployment. She also occasionally posts helpful instructions about marketing & SEO that’s in plain English.

 

 

xmas anxiety
courtesy Google Images

 

Here’s V’s tips:

  1. Holidays aren’t about you, they’re about your family. It might sound shitty, but it’s true. Don’t worry about your own happiness, make sure that your mom is happy, make sure that your siblings are happy, and make sure that grandma and grandpa and the neighbours and your friends are all happy. Whomever is coming over, show off your biggest smile and your heartiest laugh. If someone says something racist, change the subject. Kill them with your kindness and let them remember the good moments. Because, at the end of the day, as a human race we’re very quick to forget the bad and remember the good. If you focus on ensuring that your family has good memories of the holiday, if your family and friends have the good moments to look back on, then it was a successful holiday and you can go back to being yourself immediately after.
  1. Remember that these days are only a handful of days per year. Something that I often struggle with is feeling like the holidays are never going to end. Truth be told, in the grand scheme of things, the holidays are just a few short days out of the entire year. The dinners, the mingling, the ugly sweaters, you can make it through, and you will. Though the odds may be forever in your family’s favour, you can and will get through this. Think of the upcoming holiday season like the big meals you’re about to eat. You get through them slowly, little by little, bite by bite. Make each Christmas party, gift exchange, festive activity a small bite for you to take out of the holiday season. Looking at these things through the view of a small, completely conquerable event, will make it easier for you to do.

One extra piece of advice that I have is to control what you can, accept what you can’t and stop freaking out about your life. The calmer you can keep yourself, the better your holiday season will be. So remember your peaceful thoughts, your calming gestures and to note bite at an argument, no matter how enticing it might be.

Holidays aren’t always perfect. But I’ve learned that if you focus more on others than you do on yourself, it very much helps you get through without the debilitating anxiety that so frequently comes with.

P.S. I’m Canadian, and Thanksgiving has already past here. I can attest that if you’re an anxious soul, sticking to these tips will help A LOT. Also, as a Canadian the extra ‘u’ in a few words are, in fact, meant to be there.

hand-2597795_960_720

And mine:

  • Everything does NOT have to be perfect:
    When I was growing up, the holidays were absolute magic. The real spruce tree in my grandparents’ picture window was decorated to perfection, the china plates made their annual appearance on a table fit for a Martha Stewart catalog thanks to my crafty aunts, and dozens of relatives interacted harmoniously and somehow always gave everyone the perfect gifts.
    After my Pap died and most of my family moved away, I was devastated by our suddenly tiny holiday gatherings with paper plates and rounds of gift cards instead of personalized gifts. It took a long time for me to realize that our different holidays didn’t mean everything sucked – it just meant that things were different. Everyone in my family is an adult now. There are no children to maintain the “magic” of the holidays, so things are simpler, and yes, sometimes a little underwhelming or even boring. But it’s still a day to spend with people you love, relaxing and eating good food and maybe graciously receiving a simple gift to make you smile. It’s good to have picturesque memories, but it’s also okay to realize that different traditions aren’t necessarily negative.
  • Don’t compare this holiday to anyone else’s – including your own
    When I look back on my childhood holidays as an adult, I can’t imagine how my grandmother managed. Decorating to perfection, making the house spotless, and cooking for dozens of people had to have been a massive undertaking, especially once she had her knee replaced and started suffering from arthritis. But back then I wasn’t aware of the struggle. I didn’t see her spending hours making pie crust from scratch or popping pain pills. I wasn’t there when she was dusting and vacuuming and setting out candles and fancy place settings. I give my grandmother a ton of credit for pulling off perfect holidays, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to go to the same lengths, especially if you’re struggling – mentally or otherwise.
    Remind yourself of this when you see those perfect, filtered images posted on social media. Sure, the kids look angelic situated fireside in their matching PJs, but no one sees the financial strain those high-tech gifts cost, or the pile of dog vomit on the couch. Anyone can post a carefully posed family portrait of everyone enjoying turkey and stuffing, but no one on Facebook knows that Uncle Bill had six beers before dinner and Aunt Donna has spent the afternoon using racial slurs.
    On the flip side, it’s perfectly possible that you can have an awesome holiday while wearing your pajamas and eating tacos off of disposal plates instead of a consuming meal that took three days to prepare from hand wash only china. The holidays do not have to be all about appearances or grand gestures.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them
    Setting boundaries isn’t just about the amount you spend on gifts, decorations, and food, but that’s a good place to start. It’s easy to throw financial caution to the wind when your mom deserves a ticket to a luxury all-inclusive resort, but if you can’t afford it, try to find something that fits your budget. I’ve recently been trying to focus on buying “experience” gifts rather than material ones, and it seems to be helpful. Activities like concerts, musicals, painting classes, escape rooms, or even axe-throwing are great ideas for nearly everyone on your list, especially if most people you’re buying for are adults you don’t spend much time with, like your parents.
    That being said, don’t make the mistake of feeling obligated to “match” anyone’s gift. If someone who makes double your salary buys you front row concert tickets or a cashmere sweater, try not to feel pressure to spend the same amount of money. It’s okay if your budget is smaller than people who are buying gifts for you.
    It’s also important to set mental health boundaries. Don’t feel obligated to spend time with family or friends who are toxic or abusive – it’s not worth sacrificing your well-being. And if your cousin starts ranting about entitled millennials and how he hopes trump wins a second term, have a neutral response or escape plan ready so that you can distance yourself from the conversation without causing an argument.

I hope these help give you some perspective on getting through the next two months of  craziness, no matter what holiday you celebrate in your corner of the world.

dove-220178_960_720