Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Tortured Writer's Soul - My Path to becoming an Author

Stress has a way of creeping up and scaring the crap out of you when you least expect it.
Life had been good.

At least I thought so.

I was at the top of my career as a Documentation Manager/Technical Writer for a company that created computer programs that spoke for visually impaired users. I looked great. I felt great, even though I was closing in on forty. My fiancé and I married and we bought a house, although it needed some remodeling work.

That was the up side.

 The down side? My teenage daughter. My middle child. What a handful. Running away. Skipping school. You name it. On top of her issues, there were countless arguments and conflict with my ex husband and his then wife over the best way to handle my daughter’s behavior.

Lots of stress.

The pain came on suddenly; the other signs already significant. Rapid pulse. My chest hurt. Face reddened, flushed. Inability to concentrate.

‘Heart attack’ my mind screamed.

‘Get to the doctor’ I told myself. 

Ignoring offers for help and rides to the emergency room, I rushed from work and crossed the long and busy Howard Frankland Bridge from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa. All the while focused only on praying that I get to the doctor before I collapsed. In those moments of fear, my only goal was to reach my doctor, for in my mind, only he could help me because he knew my medical and personal history.

The crisis passed. What I thought was a heart attack turned out to be a Thyroid Storm determined only after months of a multitude of tests and examinations. My life as I knew it would never be the same again.

The diagnosis: Grave’s Disease. A thyroid disorder.

The treatment: medication and rest.

Weaker than a newborn kitten, on bed rest, and barely able to shuffle from bed to bathroom without exhausting myself, my life came to a screeching halt.

No deadlines.
No home repair issues.
No programs to document.
No arguments.
No stress.
Nothing mattered.

Only my heart, as it jumped to a rapid, irregular beat in my chest; the pain that accompanied it a constant reminder that I held on to my life by a delicate thread. The profound impact of my disease seeping into my consciousness; my mind trying to wrap itself around the immenseness of its affect.

My fragile life.

I grew protective of its vulnerability. Hyper aware of my own mortality, I examined my existence to that point in my life and found myself questioning my actions, motives, decision. All went under the microscope.

I could no longer bring myself to ride my motorcycle. The sheer danger overcoming my desire for adventure. I bid a reluctant goodbye to my beautiful red speed machine.

Once an avid inline skater, always willing to throw on a pair of roller blades and skate for miles, just the thought of skating exhausted me and made my heart race. I could no longer push my body so hard. My heart couldn’t take the physical stress.

I feared being alone.

What would happen if I had another episode?

In and out of the hospital emergency rooms with panic attacks, I struggled to get a grasp on what was happening to me. How my personal and social boundaries shrank to the physical limits of my bedroom. My safe haven. My very existence wrapped up in those four walls.

With months of recovery, I grew stronger, while my mind struggled to understand why I no longer could bring myself to leave my home for a job I used to love. I tried. I lasted half a day. I needed to be back home. My safe haven.

A new idea germinated in my mind. I could work as a technical writing consultant. My own company. I’d work from home. The idea took root. I found clients willing to work within my schedule and I soon found myself in great demand as a technical writer. Forty flew in and I rejoiced. The good life reigned.

Then it happened again.

This time the pain forced me to the emergency room. CAT scans revealed tumors on my ovaries.

‘Cancer’ my mind whispered with anxious trepidation.

The hospital staff kept their opinions to themselves, but I could see the sympathy in their faces as they attended to my medical needs. Was I to be another statistic? I prayed for a chance. A chance to live a life I hadn’t finished with yet. For a chance to see grandchildren not yet conceived.

For any chance.

Opportunity knocked. No cancer. Only surgery to remove the diseased ovaries. Menopause dropped into my life full on with its hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. I grew old before my time. I stopped coloring my hair and let the gray grow through. I embraced this new transformation of my life and what new changes it would bring for me personally.

Then a new thought snuck in and whispered ‘life is short, you’re running out of time.’

What hadn’t I completed yet in my life? What else did I still want to do before I grew too old to accomplish it? A new idea, an old dream, surfaced from far below my subconscious. I loved to write. I wanted to keep writing. But, my writing dreams turned to fiction. My dream of always becoming an author closed in. "If not now, When" was no longer my slogan. Now. Now. Now.

With a renewed reflection on my life, I sought to fulfill dreams once deemed by others as too unstable and not appropriate.


I wanted to write fiction. A dream I gave up on when I graduated high school and joined the U.S. Marines instead of attending business school as my family planned.

Stability no longer a problem, our financial situation accessed, my husband and I worked out a plan for me to steadily complete projects and drop clients until I could write fiction full time.

My heart soared. 

Naïve and inexperienced in the writing and publishing business I sought out other writers. I joined electronic mail groups and Internet forums, communicating with other people of various levels of knowledge and talent. I learned quickly and found others who had similar dreams to mine. We wanted to organize a group of writers where we could share information about writing and publishing. A new organization was formed. Florida Writers Association. Glenda Ivey, myself and five other women became the founding members of a group of writers helping writers.

The group grew quickly. Word spread about our accomplishment. I poured myself into the development of the organization and put my writing second to the success of FWA. Within a few years, FWA became its own entity. A life onto itself. Self-sufficient, the group no longer needed my continual support. An organization now strong with over a thousand members.

Once again, my dream of writing novels pushed its way to the forefront of my life. This time there was nothing to get in my way. It became NOW again.

Or so I thought.

I started down a new path toward an uncertain future.

I wrote Not Without Anna and began a new novel, Trust in the Wind.  In the meantime, ideas flowed faster than I could write them down. I filled several four inch binders with newspaper clippings, scraps of paper, and the beginnings of stories. Short stories poured from my fingers like flowers bursting forth in springtime. Catch of the Season was born. Eager to come into the world, March Madness soon followed. Ideas tumbled from my mind at all hours of the day and night. More short stories trailed along. Each bloomed from the fruits of my writing fervor. 

Writing became my passion. And my passion soon consumed me. Once again, life was good. With my Grave’s Disease in remission, my energy burned brightly.  

Then blackness submerged my life.


Bleak and without hope, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. My fruitful blooms dried up and withered away. I struggled to find words to complete sentences to complete stories that no longer held any meaning for me. I foundered without direction. I no longer slept. Dangerous thoughts invaded my psyche. My once fragile life became an indirect target for my dark musings. Scared and uncertain, I begged my doctor to help me. The diagnosis: Bipolar I. Undiagnosed for most of my life, I had a name for what tortured me my entire life.

Once again, my life was turned upside down by an illness. This time, it was one I wasn’t sure I could handle as well as the others. I burrowed deeper into my safe haven - my home. I ate to appease my anxiety. I ate to satisfy my emotional needs. I ate. My weight ballooned.

No longer able to write, I sunk deeper into the blackness while I spent hours researching everything I could find on Bipolar Disorder. I joined online therapy groups. I read books. I asked questions. All the while, my body rejecting various medications the doctor prescribed to stabilize my illness. It took more than a year to find the right combination of drugs that helped. All the while my soul suffered. My passion lay dead. I could not write.

Finally, a pinprick of light in the far off distance. Was there a chance for me and my writing after all?
Two years into my illness, I found the courage to start writing again. Slowly at first. Nothing more than a few sentences. Random thoughts written in my journal.

I also found the strength to face the fact that I weighed too much. I started walking with my dog. Every day. My life brightened. I could leave the house for a few moments every day and the world didn’t end. 

Hope flickered.

I crawled my way through my binders full of ideas, looking for a connection. A spark. A long dried up seed of an idea that with tender treatment would bloom once again. 

I found it. A story born from a vivid dream I’d written down long ago, stepped forward, willing to be the first. Tentatively, hope flickered. The flame grew more.

My writing technique changed. No longer struck by inspiration and writing until my back and fingers were numb, I scheduled writing time with myself. I started small. A page. Two hundred and fifty words. Then five hundred. I worked my way up to two thousand words a day. I kept the pace steady. I was writing again.

That spark was now a brilliant fire. It wasn’t so far away anymore. A slow, low-key birth, Out for Justice joined my collection of beautiful blooms.

My weight dropped slowly. As each passing year added another number to my age, more weight fell. Little by little, pound by pound. I grew proud of my appearance, coloring and cutting my hair. 

My struggle with Bipolar and Depression constantly draws energy from my soul. I’m able to function again with minimal adjustments to my medication and minor cycles of mania and depression.

Although, not without sacrifices.

Gone is the burning obsession that spilled idea after idea. The all consuming fire now more like a bed of coals needing constant attending in fear the fire might go out.

I’m grateful for the binders of story ideas I’d gathered. They’ll feed my writing garden for longer than I could dream possible. My pace has slowed. My words more deliberate. But, the passion still burns in my heart. Best of all, I’m fulfilling my dream. I’m writing novels.

So, now there is everything you could possibly want to know about me and more, any questions?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Afraid

This is my first attempt at the "Five Minute Friday" blogging post. The inspiration comes from Lisa Jo Baker

What you do is set your timer for five minutes and write whatever you want according to the prompt Lisa places on her blog every Friday. Then you go back, link your blog and give support to those who posted before you. And, we connect on Twitter with #FiveMinuteFriday

So, today's prompt word was "AFRAID". 

I am naturally afraid of everything. I take that back, I worry about being afraid of everything. I am afraid my husband will get in an accident while commuting to work. I’m afraid my children will lose their jobs or have some terrible illness befall them. I’m afraid that my grandchildren won’t know love or happiness or the beautiful innocence of just being a child.

I’m afraid that some kind of illness will take over my parrot, Bailey, or my dog, Jack. I love them so much and they are so much of a support system for my Bipolar Disorder therapy and me that I don’t know if I could handle having something happen to them. I take anti-anxiety medication all day long, just to keep a tamper on my run away anxiety and worry and fear. It helps. It gives me hope that my fears are unfounded and just nasty voices in my head whispering my deepest fears to me when I least expect it.

I haven’t always been afraid. I used to ride sport motorcycles and ride on the back of my husband’s sport bike going 140 miles per hour. I loved the way I could stare fear down and have it back down, not me.  Those days are gone. Are you afraid of something in your life? How do you handle it?