Recharging the brain batteries

Got home last night LATE after meeting tons of new readers at the incredibly awesome first-ever Michigan Comic Con. I had a blast.

Gratitude shout-outs to Alexi & Erika at Bard’s Tower for inviting me, and additional HUGE thanks to the generous and talented Jody Lynn Nye, who offered me a ride and who always has been everything any writer could ask for in a professional mentor.

And now I am Absolutely Worn Out.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the need to give myself recovery time & space after road trips. The post-exhilaration crash is inevitable. Every time a con ends, I think, “Hey, cool, I’m not so exhausted this time. I’m fine! Yay, growth!”  Then I get home a few hours later with a sore throat, achy eyes, and a bad case of twitchy nerves…

Adrenaline lies, I tell ya. And the rebound is a major PITA. Every single damned time, it happens. After two years of cons, I finally have the self-care down to a single-day recharge. (barring emergencies, crises, or other disruptions.) Today’s edition so far:

  • a round of proper tea, caffeinated and strong. (my favorite loose leaf blend steeped sufficiently in a TEAPOT, Ah, bliss. )
  • a satisfying workaday breakfast (fruit & greek yogurt w/ crunchies & honey)
  • much lounging about the house, spoiling the cat and catching up on reading.
  • a bout of cathartic weed-yanking that delivered immediately gratifying results.
  • harvesting a batch of tomatoes & basil to go w/some aged gouda my wonderful Spouseman picked up for me as a welcome-home gift. Look at this deliciousness:

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So. Good.

Being able to take a recovery day is no small blessing, and I appreciate how lucky I am to be in a position where I can do so. With no plans for the rainy afternoon–NONE–I can physically feel energy returning as the emotional surf settles.

I love travel, but returning to the nest is the best. Just ask the cat. He has opinions.img_3888.jpg

More blog…next week, probably? Or after Dragon Con, which is only 10 days away.

<gulp>

ONLY TEN DAYS ‘TIL DRAGON CON!

What I don’t talk about.

I don’t talk much about hurting myself by “walking too fast” or “picking up a pencil the wrong way”  because that’s my baseline, just as it’s my normal for unstructured social interaction to be a risky gamble. I might pay for attending a party  with hours to days of shaky mental exhaustion or emotional swan dives, I might sprain my wrists stirring a pot of soup, but there’s nothing unusual about either event. I don’t think twice about them. I don’t talk much about breathing or digesting either. Such things are not noteworthy.

The work I put into life  doesn’t feel remarkable either.  I like being active. I like people. I like to push myself. Those traits plus a damfine big box of coping mechanisms obscure how unusual my routines are. Lots of people are introverted, so  I don’t dwell on the enjoyments I ration because I don’t have emotional resilience to spare. Athletes equip themselves to avoid injuries, and daily life is a contact sport for me, so what’s the difference? Exercise is healthy. No big deal that I must do strength exercises and walk minimum 3 miles daily or pay for the deficit in cramps and impinged nerves.

So there are positive reasons I don’t talk about my assorted issues. I seriously don’t notice them unless someone compares my life to norms. (One particularly memorable adolescent conversation involved my disbelief in days without pain. “Like, not any pain?” I asked, wondering if I was being pranked.)  The last reason I keep this stuff to myself isn’t so good. Shame and fear of judgment.  

I work hard to walk in the wide world of normal. That shouldn’t mean forfeiting my right to say I’m only faking normal, but somehow it does. I can look like a duck and quack like one, so I am left feeling like a cheater for not being duckish. I am functional, more or less, as long as I do certain things.  So if I’m not better I’m not working hard enough. right? It’s my own fault. If I had a better attitude and put in more effort, I would be fine.

I know that’s an insidious lie, but it’s the kind that slips past defenses and eats away confidence like acid on a wooden building foundation. And here’s the kicker: buying into the lie leads to guilt. Wimp. Whiner. Quit-exaggerating-you-lying-attention-whore is the internal whisper I hear when I admit to injury or weakness. Always.

It would help if I had an official seal of medical diagnosis, but I don’t. I have plenty of treatment documentation, but there’s a chasm between fitting a condition profile and the legitimizing stamp of a doctor’s note. I have never leaped that gap. My physical condition was diagnosed off-hand by a college health clinic resident in the era before electronic records, and the mental stuff? Well. Let’s just say the cause & effect patterns are obvious but have never been severe enough to make me seek treatment.

Why not? The affirmation would be nice, I admit.  It’s my lazy streak at work. The  official process for pinning causes to intermittent symptoms is frustrating and exhausting even with supportive doctors. And support is mighty hard to find.  So that’s two strikes against putting myself through the wringer. The third strike? There are no cures for what ails me. There are specific management therapies and behaviors, but I already employ them all. Medication? The very idea of testing brands and dosages is too daunting to contemplate. Things will have to get much worse before I’m willing to play that horrible  whack-a-mole game.

Someday I’ll be forced to it. Right now I manage well enough, but my body ages and my brain will always find ways to surprise me. (First time I faced a social situation unarmored by a job title? Oh, hey, that’s what a panic attack feels like! Fun times! Not.)

As it stands now,  with no pill bottles or certification to wield, I never truly believe anyone else believes me when I claim injury or weakness.  Why should they believe in the rotted core when the disguise is effective? Hell, I have trouble accepting it, and I live it.

The best I can do is lay out information up-front, then let it drop. Full disclosure doesn’t stamp out my internal critic, but it does cut down on vocal judgments like, “It must be so nice to be able to eat anything you want and stay skinny,” “Just go to the party for a little while, what can it hurt?” or “But you look perfectly fine.”  (That’s my favorite: when people tell me to my face that I’m not unhealthy enough to satisfy them.)

I know I’m being silently judged even when people don’t say thoughtless, vicious things. But when I lay the groundwork early I don’t have to hear it as often.

So when you notice I sprained my finger, and I say I did it tying my shoe? When I’m incapacitated by a headache before a big to-do? Go ahead and laugh. I do.  Sympathy is okay too. But please don’t say it’s unbelievable.

Because it’s my reality. I just don’t talk much about it.

This article by someone with much worse problems than mine expresses all these feels better than I ever could.  I’ll wrap with that.

 

Writing Emotionally Pt 1: About the Feels

This blog is my space for exploring random ideas with words. I blog about writing and life, and the way one interacts with the other. It isn’t advice. It’s how I roll, and you’re welcome to come along for the ride. Today’s topic: emotions.

Emotions are essential creative tools. A successful writer can communicate the feel of feelings and craft behaviors that ring true for readers, and the key to writing characters with depth is understanding what lurks beneath the surface. Writers have to feel and feel hard, and that isn’t easy to do.

Know yourself: that’s the first step. Feelings are private. We all have faces we show the world, and faces we show no one else. (Billy Joel wrote a whole song about it.)  Know your own emotions. Accept them. Feel them. It looks so simple, right? Following those little two-word directives can be the most difficult trial any creator ever faces, but it’s necessary. Until you can peel back the layers of rationalization we all use to hide ourselves from ourselves and face your own motives head on, your characters will have the emotional depth of dolls. They’ll do stuff. They’ll go places. Things will happen. Yawn.

Self-awareness and acceptance don’t mean “love yourself.” Not in the typical sense. My soul is rooted in anger and dark things. Cuddly, lovable and warm are words that do not describe me. Sure, I wish I was the kind of person who inspired hugs and back pats and warm fuzzies, but I never will be. I wouldn’t change even if I could. My bitterness, resentment, anger,  even the ingratitude–they make me who I am, and I like myself.  Getting wistful, when I see affection showered freely upon those who have the ineffable qualities I lack–that’s just another human emotion that I have in surplus. That’s self-awareness.

Empathy is step two.  Observe, absorb, and learn to respect and anticipate all the myriad ways other human beings respond to the world and the people in it. Ponder their motivations. Dig into their whys. As much as possible, look for resonance within your own emotions. You won’t get it until you get them.

True self-awareness came late for me. I remember to the second the moment when I first recognized, at the level of gut-punch revelation, that the way I thought of myself differed from the way others saw me, and I was eighteen. When it arrived, it came in strong, and I’ve always had a firm sense of self. Empathy remains more difficult for me.

One barrier is that personality I listed earlier. I know how to be courteous, and I play as nice as I can, but it’s work. It’s exhausting. (I sometimes dream of tracking down and pie-facing all the people who blithely insist that “Just be yourself” is great advice.  It’s shitty advice. Dangerous. Honestly, I wouldn’t like me, if I wasn’t me. But that’s another post.)

ANYway. socializing is hard work, which limits chances for, you know, observing people. It’s also terrifying. That’s a bit of a barrier. Most people have no idea how shy I am, because I also inherited thrill-seeker genes. I’ve worked with the public for decades. I despise many of the things I do well professionally with a deep abiding hatred that never, ever dwindles. Unexpected conversation never fail to make me jumpy. My hands sweat when I use the PA. My heart rate still soars, making phone calls. After decades.

(I do not react politely to being pushed towards new activities with the any variation on the theme, “If you want to grow as a person, do things that scare you.”  I do things that scare me every single day. On purpose. Seriously. Endorphin rush.)

Last, everything I know about the way others think comes from rational, conscious analysis. Yes, everyone learns by observation, but most have a stronger instinctive foundation than I do. I can’t pick my own baby picture out of a lineup. I routinely flunk, “What expression is this?” image tests. I do not recognize people out of context. Everything I know about recognizing emotion, I learned by trial and error, guessing wrong and building on my mistakes. Constantly analyzing tone and and unspoken messages, reading postures and glances…these are the only means I have. 

Getting a feel for what other people are feeling is a survival skill. I’m a survivor. I’ve become an expert, over the years. It isn’t natural, but I make it work, and I put it in my writing.

When empathy and self-awareness meet inside your skull, their magic will infuse your work. Your characters will do things because reasons, and that makes all the difference. They’ll go places out of duty, or for love or in desperation. The what happens of the plot will grow thick and strong, tied together by motives and driven by choices that make sense. People are story, no matter what happens.

Mastering the art of expression and motivation isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor. There’s no wrong way to know yourself, and no point when we can stop observing and say, “Done!” It’s a lifelong challenge as we grow and change. Everything we learn about our hearts, the more we watch and struggle to understand others — it all improves our stories as well as our lives.

This comic is here because it speaks to me.  It illustrates excellent self-awareness and zero empathic understanding. Like Calvin, my coping mechanism is a sharp, prickly shell of defensiveness. Unlike Calvin, I understand exactly why no one recognizes my hints. That’s why I don’t expect hugs, support or warm fuzzies, and mostly fear them being offered, because responding “properly” to unasked peppy cheer-up advice is a grueling exercise in restraint.