Tag Archives: mental-health

How I Saved My Own Future


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2015

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In 1987 I was in a car accident that left me for dead on Interstate 5 in the middle of the night.  I spent a week in the hospital, then months recovering.

Two months after the accident, my boyfriend asked me to marry him.  I agreed, and worked three different jobs to help pay for our wedding.  This meant driving, something I had no desire to do ever again.  I stayed off the freeways, but I did it.

A few years after we got married, we donated my old used car to charity.  That meant our only vehicle was the one my husband drove to work every day.  If I wanted to go anywhere while he was at work, I walked or took public transportation (the bus).

For years now I have resisted the idea of getting another car.  At times it’s been a financial issue.  We did have to invest in a van equipped with a lift so we could transport Michael to his various medical appointments.  At other times, it’s just been a matter of my bone deep reluctance to get behind the wheel again.  There are a lot of crazy people on the roads these days.

This forced me to rely on my husband, my mother, my sister, or a friend when I needed a ride somewhere.  I felt like I was in high school again.  People kept telling me I needed to get over this fear of driving and just do it.  It’s so easy for people to say something like that when they’re not living inside the anxiety, especially anticipatory anxiety.  That kind of fear puts a real dent in rational thinking.

My husband and I have had more than one loud, hurtful argument about what a “burden” I’ve been to everyone around me because of my “selfishness” about driving myself around.  This resulted in me not going out at all except when I absolutely had to, or when a friend and I spent time together.   My depression got worse.

It’s horrible to be caught between relentless fear and the ongoing hostility and judgment from the people I look to for support.  With family or total strangers, the bottom line remains the same: I can’t change them.  The only person I can change is myself.

Today is a day of celebration.  Today I got angry enough to shove my fears aside, go to a used car dealer, and find a car we could afford, one that suits my needs and makes me feel both comfortable and happy.

Today I crossed a big bridge in my life, a bridge that leads to freedom, to independence, and to better mental health.

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This is my car, the Dodge Neon.

 

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Filed under Depression, dreams, Family, frustration, Halloween, marriage, mother, perspective, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

The Voice of Inspiration — Special Bonus!


by Lillian Csernica on January 11, 2016

One of the most common pieces of editing advice is to read your manuscript out loud.  Hearing the narrative and the dialogue outside of your own mind will show you wear it’s rough or awkward.

The reverse of this technique is to improvise a scene by acting out the dialogue (and the narrative as well, if you like) in one or more character voices.  If sitting there staring at the blank page is inhibiting your flow of inspiration, get up and start moving around while you tell the story aloud.  It helps to have a recording device or a program such as Dragonspeak to capture all those off the cuff gems.

Writers often talk to themselves.  I do it when I’m grocery shopping, debating the selection of various items on my list.  I also do it when I’m watching TV by myself.  A few days ago this led to the beginning of my latest short story.

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So there I was, watching another one of those movies where the team of paranormal investigators seriously regrets hanging out in the haunted insane asylum overnight.  Me, I’d call this a bad idea on paper, never mind actually going inside the building.

It got to the point where I started yelling advice and criticism at the actors.  Having watched far too many of these movies, I can tell from the music and the timing when the next Scary Thing is about to happen.

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I was sitting there, being sarcastic at the characters onscreen, when it suddenly hit me:  This is great dialogue.  A few minutes’ thought gave me the basics I needed to set up a team of wannabe ghost hunters talking to an older relative of one of them who had some actual experience with the paranormal.  The older relative tries to make the kids see how little they really know about the risks involved in stirring up paranormal entities.

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Does it stop them?  It does not.

I’m having a lot of fun shaping the main character by using all of my own objections, all of my knowledge of folklore and superstitions, and what little experience I do have with the paranormal.  A few of my most successful stories have come from using my own voice for a character that I design to suit the needs of the story.  I’m thinking of “Fallen Idol,” “Music Lover,” and “The Family Spirit” in particular.

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Humor in paranormal writing is a happy thing.  Humor in most writing is a happy thing.

Do you find reading your work aloud helps the editing process?  Does acting out a scene just make you feel silly?  Let me know what works for you.

BONUS:  Since my new short story will fit the horror genre, the first three people to respond in the Comments section will receive a copy of my ebook The Fright Factory: Building Better Horror.

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Filed under bad movies, classics, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, hospital, Humor, research, Writing

A Special Needs Christmas Carol


by Lillian Csernica on December 15th, 2015

The holiday season has come round again.  It’s a stressful time for any family.  In a household where we already have all the demands of the special needs lifestyle, the additional claims on our time and sanity increase exponentially.

To show my support for all the caregivers who come under the heading of Family, I’ve rewritten The Twelve Days of Christmas to reflect the holiday season from our point of view.

The 12 Days of Christmas

as sung in an ASD household.

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On the first day of Christmas,

the spectrum gave to me

My child having a hissy.

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On the second day of Christmas,

the spectrum gave to me

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the third day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the fourth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the fifth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the sixth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the seventh day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

And my child having a hissy.

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On the eighth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the ninth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the tenth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the eleventh day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Eleven wants repeated

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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On the twelfth day of Christmas

the spectrum gave to me

Twelve migraines drumming

Eleven wants repeated

Ten goldfish crackers

Nine classmates fussing

Eight aides a-coughing

Seven calls a-waiting

Six different meetings

Five bus breakdowns

Four IEPs

Three lost toys

Two late refills

and my child having a hissy.

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Filed under autism, Christmas, Depression, doctors, Family, family tradition, frustration, Goals, hospital, housework, Humor, love, marriage, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, Special needs, therapy, worry, Writing

Could Sugar Make Depression Worse? | World of Psychology


by Lillian Csernica on September 29, 2015

I just read this article.  Makes a whole lot of sense.  I think it’s time for me to really commit to giving up my primary addiction.

Source: Could Sugar Make Depression Worse? | World of Psychology

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Filed under Depression, doctors, Family, Food, frustration, Goals, therapy, Writing

Family Matters: Explaining Why I Have “Bad Days”


by Lillian Csernica on June 28, 2015

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I don’t like to think of myself as having a mental illness.  For me, that conjures up images of people wearing straightjackets while they huddle inside padded rooms.  Such images are inaccurate but all too common, thanks to horror movies and other sources that prefer shock value to realistic compassion.  The fact is I do have a mental illness: Major Depressive Disorder.  Most days I get up, get dressed, and go about my day in a fairly stable mood, laughing with my kids and taking care of business.  Other days I shuffle around in my bathrobe, dragging myself through the essential tasks when all I want to do is hide under my blankets.

Yes, I talk about this a lot.  It’s important to do so.  Depression is hard enough to deal with when you have what most people would consider a “normal” life.   I have two special needs children.  I’ve met several of the parents of my sons’ classmates as the boys have gone from elementary school through junior high and high school.  One of the things special needs parents most often have in common is depression.  We struggle to keep it from affecting our children.  That’s difficult, because special needs children and adults can be very sensitive to the emotional climate around them.  They tune into their primary caregivers because those are the people they depend on to help them get through each day.

Let me share with you this article with its ten suggestions.  I found it to be useful, reassuring, and proof that I have been doing some things right.  There are days when that kind of validation is very precious.

How To Support Your Kids Through A Parent’s Mental Illness | Dr. Leslie CAPEHART | YourTango.

http://www.clipartpanda.com

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Filed under autism, Depression, Family, frustration, Goals, marriage, mother, Self-image, Special needs, therapy, Writing

Please Fence Me In


by Lillian Csernica on January 20, 2015

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My adventures in mental health care have taught me the importance of having boundaries and maintaining them.  Some people have a hard time establishing their own boundaries for themselves, the limits they place on their own behavior toward other people.  Some people know what their own boundaries are and where they lie.  The trouble they have comes in maintaining those boundaries in the face of behavior from people who can’t recognize and/or do not respect those boundaries.  A tall redwood fence standing on the property line establishes a very definite boundary.  When it comes to the more intangible or figurative boundaries of etiquette, personal space, trigger subjects, and more serious issues, it can be much more difficult to make that fence line clear.  Some boundary issues fall under the heading of “unwritten rules.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to find a copy of The Book of Unwritten Rules ever since I started kindergarten.

The Japanese have two concepts that are very useful in establishing boundaries between people. These concepts are uchi and soto.

Uchi means inside.  Uchi means Us.  Our family, our house, our team, our business, our class, our club, our circle of friends.

Soto means outside.  Soto means Them.  Anybody and everybody who is not part of uchi is by definition soto.  Outside.  Outsiders.  Not us.  This does not mean such people are enemies.  It just means they are not part of the intimate grouping of relationships that make up the family, team, class, etc.

Uchi People are treated with a degree of familiarity and intimacy shown to no one else.  In Japan, everyone in the same household refers to each other by the form of address used by the youngest member of the household.  Mom is called “Okaa-san” by everybody, even Dad.  Dad is referred to as “Oto-san,” even by Grandma.  The culture of Japan is very good as an example of why boundaries are so essential.  Even among Uchi People, in fact especially among Uchi People, there are important limits.  For centuries the houses in Japan have been built of wood and paper.  When Oto-san and Okaa-san are sleeping the room right next to the room where their eldest son and his wife sleep, people get very good at not hearing what they’re not supposed to hear.

Soto People can ignore each other on the crowded train, for example, and remain isolated in their individual walls of privacy.  Common courtesy does come into play, because the Japanese are nothing if not polite.

Boundaries give rise to expectations about other people’s behavior.  Little kids are taught the basic rule of polite social interaction: Keep Your Hands To Yourself.  At least one hopes they’re taught that by responsible parents who want to pass on their own good manners.  We all know children and indeed adults who can’t seem to get the hang of keeping their hands to themselves.  They have to be reminded again and again.  In the case of some adults, if those reminders don’t work, it’s time to call the law enforcement officials.

Another basic lesson is Clean Up After Yourself.  I have a bad habit of putting my hand wash in to soak and then forgetting it’s there.  I use a plastic wash tub that I set in the bath tub.  There have been times when my sister has wanted to take a shower and my wash is still sitting there.  That’s just thoughtless on my part, so I try harder to make myself use a timer.  The idea of taking care of one’s own mess may begin with something as simple as the dinner dishes, but it can extend to something as complicated as one’s own emotional problems.  A friend of mine has gotten herself roped into being used as a cheap therapist by someone we both know.  Me, I think that someone just wants to be a Drama Queen and needs an audience.  Maybe I’m wrong.  My friend is a grown-up, so if she chooses to put up with this, that’s her privilege.  If she doesn’t want to go on putting up with it, she’s going to have a hard time establishing the boundary and making the Drama Queen respect it.  The bottom line here is simple: don’t expect other people to clean up your mess.  You made it, you deal with it.  (When it comes to people who do need professional medical or therapeutic assistance with their psychological difficulties, I fully support that.  I should.  I’m one of them.)

Boundaries are tricky because they can be flexible depending on the person and the circumstance.  I hate being interrupted while I’m writing.  The adults in the house know this.  At the same time, if Michael or John needs me for any reason, I will stop what I’m doing and go see what’s needed.  I’m not at all interested in hearing some personal saga from a sales clerk, but I will put up with listening to my mother tell me the ongoing plot of her favorite TV show.  Context is everything.  Personal context, social context, family context.  Age, gender, race, educational, and financial contexts.  They are all part of the warp and weft of the social fabric.  We make intuitive choices moment by moment, adjusting up and down the scale of intimacy and formality.

The expression “mending fences” means to repair a friendship.  To me this indicates the fences were broken somehow.  The boundaries were crossed.  By re-establishing those boundaries and rebuilding those fences, the relationship is put back on course in a healthy, clear, and respectful direction.  Sounds like a good policy to me!

 

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Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, Japan, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

Autism + Adolescence


by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2013

I love my son John so much.  He’s come so far from the days when we had to have a behavioral specialist and a one to one aide come to our home and “play” kindergarten with him until he got the hang of his first icon-based schedule.  He’s become popular at his middle school for his participation in dress-up days.  On one Superhero Day, he was the only person in the entire school who dressed up!  He went as “John-zuka,” with a costume he and my sister had put together.  (She sews, I don’t.)  Thanks to him, his grade won five spirit points.  John was the Man of the Hour, much like Harry Potter winning points for Gryffindor.

Now John is fourteen.  Oh Lord, is he fourteen.  

Because of John’s anxiety issues, he bites his fingernails.  We got him to stop doing that by convincing him if he kept biting his nails he couldn’t paint his nails black this Halloween as part of his planned Frankenstein costume.  So now he’s chewing on his cuticles to the point of drawing blood.  It took three of us to get the Band-Aids on his fingers last night.  Two to hold his arms and one to actually apply the Band-Aids.  The boy is six feet tall, built like a wrestler, strong as an ox, and very very stubborn.  He almost lifted me off my feet, and I’m no petite little china doll.

Remember when you were a teenager?  Not a child, but not an adult?  Caught between all the things you had to leave behind, confused about everything that was coming at you?  And then there’s the whole issue of hormones and a new awareness of the opposite sex and learning all the social rules that go along with being just classmates or friends or boy/girl-friends or what we used to call “going steady.”  So  much to learn, so many opportunities for confusion, for mixed signals, for embarrassment and humiliation.

Now add to all that the symptoms and processing disorders of autism.

This fall John will enter high school.  It’s a whole new stage of life.  He already has a lot going for him, and he will have a good team of teachers, therapists, and caseworkers to back him up.  There will be the hard days, the days when frustration and anxiety get the best of him.  There will be days when I’m so exasperated I think my head will explode.

I love John.  On the hard days, I’ll try to make sure I give him extra hugs or praise or whatever it takes.

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Filed under Family, Special needs

Five Ways to Make Life Easier for Special Needs People


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2013

While I’ve been occupied with the A to Z Challenge I haven’t said much about Michael and John. Michael is sensitive to loud noises, certain types of music, and some pitches of voice. We believe minor key music causes him physical pain. John has sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, speech delay, and some of the other symptoms that are part of being autistic.

I want to share with you this important article written by Aiyana Bailin, a lady who understands what life is like for Michael and John. She understands what they have to endure minute to minute just getting through the day. What’s more, she can explain why some adults make life really hard for special needs people like Michael and John because of the “challenging behaviors” those adults inflict on them.

Managing Challenging Behaviors in Neurotypicals

By Aiyana Bailin

Many neurotypical adults have behaviors that the rest of us find difficult to handle.  These people are generally unaware of the stress their challenging behaviors cause for autistic friends and family members.  Even the most patient autistic people whose loved ones have challenging behaviors may become frustrated and find their time and energy greatly taxed by the demands of dealing with these behaviors regularly.

Challenging behaviors in adults include insistence that others make eye contact or physical contact with them frequently, difficulty understanding non-speech communication beyond certain stereotyped facial expressions, difficulty tolerating stimming and echolalia, narrow perceptions of what constitutes “learning,” “empathy,” and “age-appropriate behavior,” inability to recognize the sensory needs of others, and obsession with social rituals.

How to positively address challenging behaviors in your friends and family members:

1) Gently remind them that their ways of communicating, learning, succeeding, and socializing are not the only ones.

2) Regularly let them know (preferably in carefully chosen verbal or written words—remember, they respond best to “polite” requests) when their behaviors are impeding your sensory processing, communication, de-stressing, executive functioning, and other important aspects of your life.

3) Be willing to repeat this information for them as needed. Remember, very few neurotypicals have the precise memories many of us take for granted.

4) Be patient and understanding. It can be hard for neurotypicals to grasp the importance of special interests, the joys of sensory play, or the irrelevance of their social games and hierarchies.

5) Remember to love your neurotypicals, and focus on their good points. At the same time, practice self-care. While your loved ones never mean to be a burden, dealing with them alone for long periods of time can be exhausting and stressful. Remember to take time for yourself, be firm about your own needs, and recruit a good support network to help you manage the challenges that neurotypicals bring into your life.

It’s up to the parents, teachers, and caregivers of autistic and other special needs people to see to it their own challenging behaviors are corrected, and to protect the special needs people in their care from suffering at the hands of people who don’t realize they have challenging behaviors and how much distress they cause.

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Filed under Family, Special needs

F is for Flashback


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2013

F is for Flashback

Dictionary.com says:

Noun

  1. A scene in a movie, novel, etc., set in a time earlier than the main story.
  2. A sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma or taking LSD.

The purpose of the flashback is to provide the reader with information about that character’s past. In the novel I’m working on right now, the heroine has good reason to keep who and what she is a secret from the hero. He’s no fool, so he figures out a few things about her on his own. My challenge lies in showing the reader the traumatic events that led up to the opening scene of the novel where the heroine runs away from her guards, get lost, and ends up where the hero finds her.

I can’t just plunge my heroine and the reader into a flashback. Or can I? My heroine is suffering from what amounts to PTSD. Instead of just mooning over her tragic memories, she might very well have a flashback as per the #2 definition above, the kind brought on by psychological trauma. The right trigger in the physical or emotional environment could set her off. Dialogue is a great place to plant triggers. The hero asks what he thinks is a reasonable question and suddenly the heroine bursts into tears, curls up into a ball, and won’t say another word.

Flashbacks are tricky. If you’re not careful, they can turn into the worst combinations of the Back Story and the Expository Lump. Use the flashback to advance the story by providing what the reader needs to know in a vivid, dramatic scene. Make sure your transition into the flashback is clear. The use of the # symbol is a common method. Use it again to signal the end of the flashback, then keep on moving forward!

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Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

No Pain, No Gain


by Lillian Csernica on March 21, 2013

For a long time I had a wrong equation in my head.  I thought my time was very limited.  I’m so busy with all the tasks involved in taking care of both my sons that it’s very difficult to find the time to write.  Writing a novel is a serious commitment.  I’ve heard it compared to marriage.  Once you set out to write a novel, you’d better go into it realizing you’re going to be living with this project day in and day out for months, possibly years.  I’m here to tell you that’s absolutely true.  What’s painful is watching the days slip by one by one without any writing getting done.  Days filled up with doctor appointments or IEP meetings or meetings with the caseworker or filling prescriptions or all the ordinary household errands that can add up into hours away from my keyboard and my writing.  See, the equation I had made was very simple.  I could be a mother or I could be a writer.  I couldn’t do both, at least not at the same time.  If I was spending time on mothering, that meant I couldn’t spend it on writing.  If I was busy writing, that meant time taken away from my sons.  Either way, what came out on the other side of the equals sign was guilt and frustration.  No matter what I did, how hard I tried, I couldn’t win.

This was not good for my mental or physical health.  In fact, it was very very bad for me.  In addition to all the other difficult factors in my life, I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder.  Now let me be clear: I am low serotonin.  I’ve had a problem in my brain chemistry since long before my sons came along, so I don’t want anybody to think I’m drawing any kind of link between the boys and their problems and me being depressed.  I could go down the whole list of my symptoms of clinical depression and how I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  Yes, I was in pain.  A lot of pain, and that pain kept sucking up all the energy I had for any creative efforts.

And then a very wise LCSW I know gave me the new equation that set me free: “If your pain is stopping you from writing, maybe you need to make room in your writing for your pain.”

Wow.  Scary thought!  Writers are often told, “Write what you know!”  I write fantasy, horror, historical romance, some science fiction.  I write ESCAPIST literature.  I write to get away from the pain I live with, just like I read to get away from the pain I live with.  Makes sense, right?  So why in the name of all that’s logical would I want to start writing about my pain?  If I combine a quick list of What I Know with a quick list of What Really Hurts  this is what I’d get:

1) Every day both of my sons struggle through their hours at school.

2) From 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. my house is full of noise and people and more activity than I can tolerate, even though I’m grateful for Michael‘s R.N.s and John’s aides.

3) My father died a month before Michael was born, and a year after I had a miscarriage and lost my first son James, so Daddy never got to see any of his grandsons.

4) I’ve reached the age where I don’t go to weddings and baby showers anymore.  I treasure my friends’ birthdays because I’ve already been to too many funerals.

5) I think about all the other things I could be doing, traveling and teaching and going on writers’ retreats and meeting all kinds of fascinating people.  Having conversations that don’t center around medications and diagnoses and problems with the Special Education Department and how many diapers my 16 year old son has had changed that day.

Henry James said fiction is about “The human heart in conflict with itself.”  As a writer it is my business to create people on paper and give them both internal and external conflicts.  The idea of giving my fictional people my own pain to cope with in the course of the story is a frightening and intimidating thought.  Dorothy Parker said, “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.”  I’ve begun a story about a woman living with the agonies of PTSD in the wake of losing her first baby to miscarriage.  I’ve been crying when I’ve been writing it and I’ve been crying when I’ve read parts of it to my writing class.  It hurts like hell, but it’s real and it’s believable and it’s some of the most honest writing I’ve ever done.  I want to keep improving my work, to polish my writing style and create better plots and make my characters live and breathe.  If tapping into the vast reservoir of pain inside me can help me do that, then it’s time to commit the emotional alchemy that will turn this poisonous lead into curative gold.

Other writers have been where I’m going.  Historian and author Anita Brookner said, “You never know what you will learn until you start writing.  Then you discover truths you never knew existed. ”  According to Francis Bacon, my bags are already packed:  “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

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Filed under Family, Fiction, Special needs, Writing