CFS posts

Weight upon me

I haven’t posted here in a while. Here is why, what’s been going on with me, where I am, and what I’m doing about it.

Last year was mostly a struggle.

I don’t want to get into the particulars at this point; suffice to say that 2018 was hard, I survived, and I came out of it at the end… okay. Able to carry on. I guess that’s not saying much.

The worst and probably most illustrative part was when I wound up in hospital for 4 days with a massive infection – the medical staff were concerned and looked after me well, while I was calm and pretty philosophical about it all. It was more of the same kind of pressure that I’m used to; it just took a different form than usual. I narrowly avoided needing surgery and was eventually released to look after myself again.

It was all part of a downward spiral, though, and it became impossible to avoid recognising that. I’ve tried to deny it for so long, determined to believe that I can keep pushing on, that it’ll swing back up if I just hold on. I’ve been holding on so tight that my knuckles are white and my hands have been shaking for a while now, and I know I can’t maintain this grip for long.

Most importantly: it’s not getting better; it’s only getting worse. My health, the amount of stress I’m carrying, the financial burdens.

There are things that have slipped away from me that I didn’t truly notice for a while. Things I put down ‘for now’ to try to catch my breath or refocus or get back on my feet. Spoons I gathered in to use in other places. Spoons I had intended to only borrow, to eventually return to where they came from: things I meant to get back to. But didn’t.

In many cases, this was around my writing, and was visible in all the places I went quiet. This blog, Inkspired, publishing, my writing group (though there were many reasons I put that on hiatus), all of the in-progress projects I haven’t made any progress on in a while. Things I love and enjoy slipping through my fingers. For the record: it’s not because they’re unimportant or that I fell out of love. I’ve missed them and I want them back.

I’m tired of being strong.

I’m tired of many things. I’m tired of working every weekday. I’m tired of walling off Sundays to rest, so I can survive working every weekday.

I’m tired of trying to do the right thing for everyone else. I’m tired of carrying the weight of supporting my family. I’m tired of not complaining about it. I’m tired of being stressed about money and bills.

I’m tired of struggling with my health every day. I’m tired of trying to count and budget spoons. I’m tired of letting people down. I’m tired of not being able to do everything, not even everything I want to. I’m tired of having ideas I can’t follow through on. I’m tired of soldiering on anyway. I’m tired of trying to believe that what I can do is enough.

Most of all, I’m tired of being tired.

This year, I’m trying to make changes.

I’m working to pull out from under the strain before I buckle and fall and can’t get back up again.

Making changes is more energy, more spoons: more work. Different work than just keeping on where I am. It’s pulling yet more pressure onto myself, in the hopes of lessening it later. It’s borrowing spoons from next week, from six months from now, in the hopes that the lighter times will come before I have to pay them all back.

It’s the only way that things will change. It’s my only hope of climbing out of this hole I’m in and getting to someplace better. I’ve been scraping to make ends meet and put enough aside to be able to get out of the physical place I’m in (moving is expensive). My health is hanging by a thread, and I’m trying to push towards treatment while also balancing the cost of it all. I’m trying to manage how others are impacted by the changes I need to make, to be as kind to them as I can, while not sacrificing my own needs in the process.

It is hard. I’m struggling and I am so very, very tired.

I am blessed in many ways.

It’s important to remember those as well, especially now when everything feels so dark and heavy. It’s easy to lose sight of the good stuff and just see all the problems rising up around you.

I have wonderful people in my life, for whom I am eternally grateful. They support me, even if all they can do is listen to me when I need to talk or whine or complain or just shout into the void. They offer practical help too and I know I can call on them if I need to. They don’t make me feel bad for making the choices that I need to make. I hope they know how precious they are, to me and the other lives they touch.

I have a good job, and I work with great colleagues. My job provides me with some stability, and I work hard to make it a priority. It pays my bills and allows me to live fairly well and support my family. I get to explore things that interest me, I feel like I make a meaningful contribution, and it gives me some satisfaction. The security I have here is so very needed, particularly in the current political climate and job market. In this, I am very lucky. I work hard to try to keep hold of what I have and it means a lot to know that it’s worth the effort I put in.

A smaller thing to be grateful for is that I finished paying off my car last year, which means I’m back to being totally debt-free. That is one particular source of stress I am now free of. And no more payments means a little more money I can put aside this year – which is how I’m scraping together enough to make other, more impactful changes. It’s a slender chain of progress, moving so terribly slowly, but progress nonetheless.

It’s so easy to forget about these things, so I strive to keep them in mind. I am grateful and they make it easier to be hopeful for other parts of my life to get better, too. I would not be here without them.

So, looking forward.

There is a lot coming up for me over the next few months. I am preparing to move house: a long, hard job, because I am downsizing to relieve some of the financial burden, and we have way, way too much stuff. The next couple of months will be packing, sorting, selling, cleaning, and moving. It is daunting to contemplate but I’m keeping a balanced perspective; breaking it down and taking it one bite at a time. We’ve started and progress is being made.

It looks like I might have another business trip coming up, shortly after the house move is done. I got to visit one of our US offices last year and I’m joining a new project soon, so I might get to visit another of our US offices to kick that off. Which is great and exciting! But the thought of international travel makes me tired and I have to be careful with scheduling to manage my energy well enough to be useful while I’m there. I am looking forward to it, though.

And it looks like I have surgery coming up this year as well. Not related to the hospital stint I had last November, but they did spot an issue while I was there, and follow-up has shown that there’s something I need to have dealt with. It’s going to mean about a week in the hospital and at least another week before I’m fully mobile again.

I guess it counts as major surgery but honestly, I’m mostly looking forward to getting it done. I’m not worried about it. Those with chronic conditions will understand the relief of having a medical issue that they can do something about and might actually get solved. I made a surgeon laugh when he was surprised about how calm I was about it and I said, “Oh, I collect chronic conditions. It’s nice to have something I can give back for once.”

So all that takes me through to July, possibly August, depending on public hospital system waiting lists. It’s a lot, and I have to keep reminding myself to take it one step at a time so I don’t feel overwhelmed. But I know that, at the end of it all, things will be so much better for me. I just have to get through it.

Right now, I’m doing okay. I’m still so terribly tired and I’m still struggling. But I’m making progress and I have some positive goals to aim for. I have support I am so terribly grateful for. I’ll make it through. I’ll get back to the things I let slip and pick them up again.

Like this blog: I’m aiming to start posting here again more regularly, though perhaps not frequently to start with. I’m kick-starting a few other parts of my life as well, getting more balls rolling, because I’m sick of waiting. I want to live my life.

I am tired and I’m lucky and I love all of you, even if we haven’t talked in a while. I hope we’ll talk soon.

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The state of ME

(Picture by JD Hancock, via Flickr)

(Picture by JD Hancock, via Flickr)

I’ve been quiet for a little while now. Here, on the Starwalker website, pretty much all over my writing spaces online.

Last year, I took a hiatus from Starwalker. I wanted to have a break, a little holiday from the writing, and to catch up on some of the other stuff on my plate. I wanted to come back refreshed and rejuvenated, and dive back into my textual adventures.

That was the plan. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I thought it would.

As much as I hate to admit it (and as much as I dislike going on about it), my health is mostly to blame. The exhaustion is worse than usual, and worse than ever before. I’m lining things up to investigate medical treatments/investigations (and the money to pay for it, hopefully). Getting back on my feet – literally and figuratively – is a work in progress.

That aside, I think I was also burnt out on writing. I was mentally and creatively exhausted. I very much needed a break to address that, to clear out the clutter and stress, and clear the mental decks a bit.

I didn’t realise just how much I needed the hiatus until I was trying to get back into writing. Then I was looking at the blank page and it all seemed so hard. I was lacking my usual creative spark, the inspiration that makes words itch on my fingertips until I let them out. It wasn’t just Starwalker: writing anything (creative) was hard work.

I know better than to try to force it. That leads to bad writing and frustration, and I know myself well enough to know that what I needed was a longer, more thorough break. Not just a short recharge with writing on the horizon: a chance to breathe without a deadline coming at me.

I’m not complaining about the deadlines of serial writing in any way. Usually, that kind of pressure works for me: it’s one of the reasons I like writing web serials, because it pushes me in ways that are good for my writing. Usually. There are times that it doesn’t work, though. Like now.

It took me a while to come around to the realisation that I was burnt out. I don’t like to give up easily, but I realised that that’s what I needed to do. Give myself a break. Be okay with taking more time than I’d said.

At the same time, I’m apologetic towards my readers. I hate to break promises and shift expectations, and I’m sorry for doing that. I’m immensely grateful for my readers’ understanding: their messages have been nothing but supportive, and I can’t thank them enough for that.

Please know that I haven’t forgotten you. I haven’t been distracted by something shiny, or grown bored with the story. I guess five years was longer than I realised to be doing something as involved as writing the same story, week to week (with some breaks between books). It was more intensive than I truly recognised, until I lifted my head to catch my breath.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been burnt out with my writing. The other time was after my uni degree: three years doing nothing but reading and writing left me drained of almost all creativity and desire to write. (My degree was English Literature with Creative Writing.) I learned a lot of useful stuff – much of which I still use to this day, both in my day job and in my creative writing pursuits – but I needed a break from the intensity and pressure of it afterwards. I wound up not writing anything original or independent for several years.

It was during this period that I did a lot of freeform, text-based roleplaying, which scratched the creative itch without the weight of being truly my own writing. I had a ball with the RP and don’t regret it in the least. I learned a great deal about characterisation, development, and storytelling in those years, and picked up many tools that have helped me write my own work in the years that came after. I met many wonderful people, was exposed to many different writing styles, and I cherish the things I learned and gained in those circles.

At that point in my life, it was what I needed. Not just a break from original writing, but also a chance to explore and develop myself (on reflection, I came out of uni without a good idea of what my voice really was, in terms of writing; I didn’t find it until some time later).

Now, my needs are different, though a break is ultimately what I need. It has stretched out far longer than I had intended, and I am determined not to let it drag on any longer than necessary. It certainly won’t be the roughly 7 years’ break that I took before – nothing like that.

Some of you may be aware that I’ve been turning my creative energies to another outlet lately: namely, crocheting blankets and hats and little stuffed toys. I want to state clearly here: this is not a distraction from my writing. It’s scratching the creative itch for me right now (and I’m developing a good range of items in my Etsy store, just for the hell of it), but it isn’t taking up time when I could be writing. The truth is, if I tried to write right now, it wouldn’t work.

The crocheting fills in other gaps for me. I do it largely during times I wouldn’t normally write anyway: for example, when I’m resting on the couch in front of the TV. It’s mostly a reaction to feeling unproductive and useless: with as sick as I’ve been lately, I’ve been forced to spend more time resting, and I’ve been less able to do useful things like cleaning and cooking. I despise feeling useless. And while resting might seem like a good time to sit and type, writing is beyond what my brain is capable of at that point. I simply don’t have the mental energy for it (this has, sadly, been a large part of the problem when trying to get back to writing), and trying can be really counterproductive when I’m trying to get some energy back.

So, something I can quietly work away at while I’m sitting down, something that doesn’t require a huge amount of brain involvement (though deciphering some of the patterns can be a trick, and occasionally maths is hard), is roughly perfect.

The fact that I’m making geeky things, and making geeky gifts for friends, is a bonus. Selling them is even better! (It isn’t a free hobby, sadly.)

Also, shh, don’t tell anyone, but I might be working my way towards creating a certain toy soon. I’ll have to make up the pattern myself, and I’ve got a few materials to work out, but I’m slowly making my way towards a starting point.

What does it all mean? When will I be writing again? Those are hard questions. It’s a work in progress and I’m pushing it forward. I think I’ve turned a corner, because I’m feeling more able to consider getting back to writing now; it feels less like an energy drain that I can’t handle. I’m not ready to jump into writing just yet but I am feeling like I can get on the road to get there.

Right now, I’m clawing back to a point where I can get back into the rhythm of writing (anything) again. The stories still itch, quieter than usual, but they’re there. There are characters I want to put through the wringer so I can see them come out the other side; there are tales I want to share.

And there are posts that I want to get up on this blog. This one is the first thing I’ve written on the train for a while. My daily commute is my usual writing time, and it’s nice to have the mental energy and focus after a day at work to write something up, even if it’s a blog post.

So, I’m going to spend a bit of time getting back into the rhythm of writing every day. Start small, and with non-fiction (for example, with these posts), as that’s usually less taxing than something creative. I need to get my discipline back in order. I need to get back into the habit of expressing myself, here on this blog and out in the world.

Watch this space. I’m still here. I’m on my way back.

I miss you, too.

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2015 in retrospect

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking (Picture: credit unknown)

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking
(Picture: credit unknown)

2015 was, in all, a pretty low year for me. It involved a lot of struggling, fighting with my health, stress with the day job, and trying to get back to a project that wasn’t playing ball.

But is that all that is worth talking about?

Thinking back over what I had hoped to achieve this year, let’s see how the tally really goes.

Life Stuff

I had aimed to mostly stay in my job and keep my head above water. I wound up changing my job, but I’m in the lucky position of still having one, and continuing to be able to support me and my family. While it’s a struggle and a source of stress (though less now than it was in the middle of the year), I am immensely grateful for it.

I didn’t get to all of the house reorganisation that I wanted to, but I have some plans around that, which I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post.

My health continues to suck, much of which is related to the aforementioned work stress. I also wound up having to have a root canal this year (yay!), which sucked up much of my medical needs budget. More saving (and dental work) required. Joy.


The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

So, with all that going on, how did the writing thing go?

First of all, and most importantly, Starwalker Book 4 is complete. This, of everything, was the biggest achievement of 2015, and I can’t be delighted enough with it.

Book 4 was a rocky ride, took a wrong turn or two, but I got it back on track and to the end I wanted it to have. It is the culmination of 5 years of work, which produced over 400,000 words that I shared with the world. I have a wonderful readership, for whom I am eternally grateful. Even now, months into a hiatus that I hadn’t intended to take this long, they offer me support. I am a lucky writer.

I’ve talked at length on this blog about my struggles and ponderings around Starwalker, so I won’t go over it again. Let’s just say that the hiatus lasted longer than expected and didn’t quite go to plan. That’s okay. Plans must change when they meet reality.

As for other projects, there has been limited movement:

  • Vampire Electric was put on the back burner this year when I decided to dedicate this year’s NaNoWriMo to Starwalker instead.
  • Work has started on the new editions of the Apocalypse Blog ebooks. I’m about a third of the way through.
  • Vampire Victim Support Group got a short boost when I was investigating Inkspired, a serial-friendly publishing forum. It languished a bit in the latter part of the year.
  • Boomflowers is a new project, also on Inkspired, which suffered the same languishing fate.
  • Splinter Soul poked its head up during NaNoWriMo and is starting to take shape in the shadows.
  • I experimented with writing and releasing a comedy erotica story. It isn’t selling great yet, but I’m working towards the next installment and hope to bulk up the numbers once I can call it a series. This was great fun to write and something of a departure for me. Always nice to try something different!
  • Other projects fell by the wayside and remain on my list.

In less fictional realms, I’ve been better with updating this blog and keeping it going. I’ve been expanding the scope by adding author interviews and book reviews, and I hope to do more of the same going forward.

The other big thing I did in 2015 was to get an anthology project in motion (with some friends and colleagues; it wasn’t all me). We’re in the depths of editing at the moment, after stalling over the NaNoWriMo/holiday period.

Writing Events and Community

Look! It's a tiny writing dragon! (Picture by jrrhack)

Look! It’s a tiny writing dragon!
(Picture by jrrhack)

In 2015, I organised and ran the usual events. The Creative Writing Group is still going strong, and recently I have started to record our meetings (these will go up online as soon as I figure out how and where). Attendance continues to be healthy to all of the events, with the usual tides of newcomers joining and others drifting away.

I am ever grateful for the lack of drama in my writing community.

I spread my monthly events out in 2015, instead of having them on the same weekend, and that is working well. It spreads the cost and effort, which helps everyone out, I think.

The Writers’ Asylum went well and I tried a slightly different format that turned out to work well. Learnings will be carried forward to this year’s, which is mostly written already (I’m so organised! Hey, it happens sometimes.).

We tried some new stuff with the NaNoWriMo events this year, with some mixed results. They all went well on the whole, though, and I’m happy that we’re continuing to head in the right direction. I have awesome people around me, so it’s all worth it.

So, all in all, it wasn’t a terrible year. Things were achieved. Other things weren’t. It’s hard to see the positive when the fatigue is heavy (like it is right now), but laying it all out like this helps.

I have some ideas for 2016 and how to make it better than what has come before. More on that coming soon. In the meantime, hope your reflections and resolutions are going well.

Goodbye, 2015. I don’t think I’ll miss you!

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Editing frenzy

Considerate dinosaurs are important (Picture by P. Byrnes for Reader's Digest)

Considerate dinosaurs are important
(Picture by P. Byrnes for Reader’s Digest)

‘Frenzy’ might be overselling this a little, but the creative work has restarted! After struggling with writing and life and everything, and an only partially useful attempt to get back on top of things, I have finally started working on a creative project again. Not writing this time, but editing the submissions for the Everyday Heroes anthology.

It has taken a while to get to this point, and some coordination with the rest of the anthology team. We recently managed to get together, compare some notes, and make a plan of attack. We have split up the submissions and will work with the writers to get them to a publishable state. This week, we are starting our initial edits of the pieces and are getting together the first set of feedback.

It’s exciting, and I’m enjoying the pieces. I can’t wait until they’re ready to share with everyone!

For a few weeks now, I have been feeling overwhelmed and burnt out when it comes to my writing, mostly due to the other stuff going on in my life. Creative energy is hard to summon up on demand, particularly with my energy-related issues. I have been reading a lot more than usual instead, and that has helped keep the embers glowing.

Thinking critically about fiction always inspires me in some way, and there’s always something new to learn: a particular technique, or turn of phrase, or an example of boldness in the writing that is refreshing.  It’s important to understand what you don’t like and shouldn’t do, as well as the opposite, too. My recent forays into my bookshelves have shown me lots of both sides of the coin, and some will turn up in reviews just as soon as I can coherently commit my thoughts into words.

Reviewing a piece and editing it are similar exercises, and the progression from passively reacting as a reader to proactively examining as an editor, has been a good one. I can feel the creative juices fermenting, ideas starting to nose out of the mirk, the itch to write fluttering just below the skin. It’s like old friend waving from down the street, not quite close enough to grab and hug yet, but getting closer.

So, right now, I am throwing myself and my focus into editing some of the wonderful pieces submitted to the anthology project. I am deeply grateful to my anthology team’s input, understanding, and energy. Despite being an introvert, I do love collaborative projects, and in this one I get to work alongside other editors and with writers. So much fun!

After the first round of editing is done, the next step is getting back into the swing of putting pen to paper (figuratively speaking). I’m looking forward to that so much, and getting my writing back on track.

Onwards and upwards, my friends. Onwards and upwards.

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Best laid plans

Here's how my plans ended up (Picture via Pixabay)

Here’s how my plans ended up
(Picture via Pixabay)

So, I wrote recently about how stressed I’ve been lately, and how I was taking a week off work to rest and get some things sorted out.

I’m back at work now, so I figured I should consider how my week off went.

It started out well enough. I made myself a to-do list. I made some inroads into the sorting and tidying I wanted to do at home (minor stuff, but I was also collecting visiting family from the airport, with the usual related hugging and chatting). I had appointments lined up to look into my health and get that ball rolling.

The appointments happened at the beginning of the week. An attempt at a root canal was aborted and I now have to spend a small fortune to go to a specialist, because the tooth in question is in a challenging location. As a result of the attempt, I spent a couple of days feeling like I’d been punched in the mouth, without anything like the progress I was hoping for and with another scary appointment to look forward to (this is now next week).

The visit to my doctor started with a problem I’ve been having with my knee, and stayed focussed on that. I was sent off to get tests done, including an ultrasound. Every time someone poked me in the knee, I was limping for a day; after the ultrasound, I was limping for the weekend. I get the results of those tests back in a few days. There’s definitely something wrong in there (the ultrasound showed up a Baker’s cyst); the question now is what’s causing it and what I need to do to deal with it.

If I wasn’t out having someone poke, prod, or otherwise pain me, I was getting my car serviced (it’s that time of year) or trying to spend time with visiting family (another time-limited opportunity!). One way and another, I wound up being out every day of my holiday, in pain to varying degrees and in varying locations. My well-meaning to-do list didn’t get much of a look-in – because when I was home, I had to rest – and pretty much all of it is still outstanding.

I’ve had better holidays.

It’s frustrating. I’ve got some busy weekends coming up and not that much time before this year’s NaNoWriMo rolls around. I don’t have any more vacation time I can take off work. My available time and energy to get stuff done is pretty limited for the foreseeable future.

But there is progress. I’m getting important stuff sorted out, and it’s crucial to remember that. I haven’t wasted the time – I was busy the whole week, and some of it was fun stuff! Being with family and catching up with friends were welcome distractions from the cost and discomfort of everything else that was happening. Now I need to reorganise myself, redo the old to-do list, and figure out how to get the most important stuff done with what time I have available.

The good news is that the work situation is settling down and the stress is lifting. I’m struggling with my health and the painful hangover of last week, but there’s progress being made there and I have to keep that in mind. Overall, I’m already feeling better and more positive. I’m getting into the groove of being a full-time technical writer again and I’m enjoying the shift of focus.

So, here’s to making progress and the long upward climb. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and plot a new path.

Still moving, though, still pushing onwards. I’m a long way from giving up.

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The weight of stress

Stress: it squishes your fun (Picture by bottled_void)

Stress: it squishes your fun
(Picture by bottled_void)

I’ve been carrying a burden for some time now. Lately, I’ve been struggling to stand up under it. Over the past couple of weeks, it finally got to a point when I couldn’t ignore it any more: it was too much and something had to be done.

I don’t talk about my day job much here, and that’s because I don’t like to cross my personal and professional lives over. It tends to be unprofessional, easily becomes immature, and can be career-limiting if you’re not careful. Besides, this is a writing blog, not a ‘whine about the day job’ blog.

But the day job does impact my writing, (particularly when it impacts my health) and that’s part of what I want to chronicle here. Some cross-over is inevitable. My day job is an essential part of my life: it pays my bills, including the hosting for this blog (and all of my serials), and it’s the single biggest drain on my time and energy.

So here we are, talking about the day job. I’ve mentioned it in bits and pieces: how I was moved into a challenging team situation last November, with issues to resolve and a delivery to salvage (let’s call it project 1). I worked my ass off to pull that together and it paid off: we made our delivery and everyone was very pleased.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I had to keep the team running, move up a notch to high-priority and high-scrutiny work, and hit a pretty ambitious target. There was no time to pause and catch my breath; we finish one project and move right into the next in my line of work (which is software development). The ends of projects overlap so we’re always moving forwards. It’s a system that works.

It’s not a system that is kind to chronic fatigue. In hindsight, that first delivery took more out of me than I realised and I had no real opportunity to recover. It was right on into another, high-pressure project with a longer timescale and even more stress (project 2). The stress began to tell, and it didn’t go well.

That finished three months ago. We delivered what we needed to, by the skin of our teeth, but I’ve been catching flak for it ever since.

Three months ago, at the end of project 2, I was moved onto a different team and into another way of working (for those familiar with these things, I went from SCRUM to kanban). Changes of focus and challenge tend to be pretty good for me, and it was nice to do something different.

I tried to shuck off the stress and sour taste of the previous project, and immerse myself in this new team. Once again, it was high-priority work, with ambitious targets and a lot of management focus (project 3). It was an area that had been compromised previously to get other stuff done, and we were tasked with getting it back on track.

We smashed our targets. If I list out everything we achieved (which I’m not going to do here; you’ll have to take my word for it), we did pretty well.

But that one sour project (2) wouldn’t leave me alone. There was analysis done, so it wouldn’t happen again, and patterns identified, and things to work on (though I wasn’t able to work on those things at that time). It was high-pressure again, and I was one again under intense scrutiny, this time from several directions.

Finally, project 3 drew to an end and I was moved to another team. Once again, I was given challenging personalities that I would have to make work together in a team, and high-priority, high-scrutiny work. It was, I thought, my chance to prove that that one project that didn’t go well (project 2) was an anomaly; I had learned from it and could make a similar situation work, even under those conditions.

That’s when management decided to add more to my burdens: yes, I’d have a chance to prove myself, but as part of the official performance review process. Basically, it was sink or swim, and doing anything other than swimming like an olympian would mean I was only a step away from getting fired. It’s the highwire without a safety net; the tiniest slip meant I would fall, and fall, and fall.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that one of the worst elements for my CFS is stress. It’s this fun domino effect where it messes with my ability to rest or sleep, so I wind up more tired, and the symptoms get worse, and then I get more stressed because I can’t catch up with myself or do as well at work as I should.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m currently supporting my family, which means that I cannot afford to lose my job. I literally have no safety net at the moment, not even to cover a gap while I look for another job. Me and the family that relies on me would be out on the street. So putting my job under threat is a sure way to stress me all out.

So I wound up with a choice: push forward where I was, and try to both deliver what the project demanded and meet all management’s requirements for ‘improvement’, or step sideways out of that role, and become a full-time technical writer again.

This choice was put before me at the end of our project kick-off week (for project 4 in this particular chronology), which is an intensive three days of meetings and planning, with loads to set up and sort out, particularly for those of us managing the teams. After those three days were over, I was already run down, and when I get really weary, I lose my resiliency and become brittle. Part of it is that the emotions are way closer to the surface than usual (for me). So the ‘we’re putting you on performance review’ news and ‘you need to make a choice about your role’ both came when I was already exhausted and running on empty, and the added stress and upset of it all only made it worse.

I kept my mouth closed and asked for the weekend to think about what I wanted to do. On the plus side, I know that I tend to get emotional when I’m exhausted, so I can try to manage it by not making rash decisions, taking my time, and nursing myself to a healthier state of mind. On the other hand, I really despise getting emotional, shaky, and on the edge of crying when I’m at work. I refuse to be That Girl.

I thought about a lot over that weekend. My chances of pulling off everything they were asking me to, if I stayed where I was. The impacts that it was having on my health. The impacts it was having on my writing. It all ripples through.

My health has been spiralling downwards for some time now, and in hindsight, I think the stress of those situations had a lot to do with it. I’ve been trying to find a time to go back to my doctor (and the money to do it) to see if there’s anything new we can investigate or try to help manage it better. (I’m currently dealing with an infected jaw that needs a root canal, and my finances will only support solving one problem at a time right now. At least there’s a solution for the infection and bad tooth!)

It has been getting harder and harder to write. I haven’t done anywhere near as much as I wanted to on my hiatus from Starwalker. Over the last couple of months, my writing has dried up altogether.

(One of the first signs that I’m getting tired is that I stop posting on this blog so much. When the gap between posts yawn wide, I’m probably struggling with writing anything else, too.)

You can probably see where this is going. I had to be brutally honest with myself about where I was and what I was likely to be capable of. I had to figure out how I was going to get to a better place.

At the start of the new week, I went back to work and told them that I’d like to move into a technical writer role again and away from the stress that was making me so sick. They supported my decision fully, and by the end of the day, there was a plan to get another team leader in my team to take over.

It was the right decision for me and my health. It’s the right decision for my writing, though I’m still building that back up again (step one is writing more often here, while I rekindle the creative drive).

I am immensely grateful for my work and how understanding the management has been about all of this. Sure, I could go get another job; that’s always an option, but is also somewhat stressful in itself. I’m lucky that I had the option to move to a role that suits me better right now.

And, in a way, I’m lucky that things came to a head now and not when my health was even worse. It has forced me to look at a few things in my life and make choices. I’m glad I made it now. I wish I’d made it three months ago when it was clear something was really very wrong with how I was handling things.

Since making the decision, I’ve been handing my team leader role off to my replacement, and getting back into the swing of full-time writing. I pushed through to the last of the meetings that I was leading, the last of the items to hand off, and then I wound up taking a day off sick. Sometimes, you push so hard for so long that it has to snap back, and I needed to take some time to look after me.

That was last Friday. I have the next week off work (a week of holiday time I had booked months ago). Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my doctor. The day after that, I have a root canal booked in (I’m not looking forward to that, but it has to be done). Today, I’m making a to-do list, because there are things I want to do while I have this time off. Sure, some of them are ‘clean up my bedroom’ style chores, but every little helps.

I want to take this time to rest, catch up, readjust my focus, and refresh myself. I want to get back on top of my writing again.

Wish me luck; it’s a long road and I’m going to need it.

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Retrospective: the year that was 2014

The awesome writing balcony! Magic happens here. And cats.

The awesome writing balcony! Magic happens here. And cats.

Hard to believe that it’s already 2015. Sheesh! So much has happened, and yet, not anywhere as much as I had hoped.

2014 was a frustrating year for me. Struggles with my health meant struggles with everything else… but let’s take an honest look at what I accomplished last year, compared to what I set out to do.

I have been so grateful for the support and help of my family, friends, and readers this year. They have helped me achieve the house stuff, sent me well-wishes, and supported me when I was flagging. I don’t ask for help often or easily – I’m a very independent person – and I’ve needed a lot of it over the past year. Thanks to everyone who has been there, including those of you who I only talk to through a screen. Your words, your time, and your attention are always appreciated.

Home/life stuff:

  • Day job – it continues, it’s going well, and I’m still utterly grateful for it. 🙂
  • Big house change-around – not complete yet, but I’ve got the main parts tidied up and working. In 2014, I finally got a whole bunch of my comic book art framed and up on the walls, and I set up an awesome writing balcony for myself. Love that balcony, it’s wonderful. Still a bunch of work to go to ‘finish’ the change-around, though.
  • Beating my health with a stick – it has been more like the other way around. Bah. 🙁

Writing stuff:

  • Starwalker Book 4 didn’t quite go to plan. Due to health stuff, there were more delays and interruptions than I like, enough that I was frustrating myself. Late in the year, thanks to a few factors (I haven’t written a post about this yet, have I? I should do that), the fourth chapter took a bit of a turn down a dark alley, and proceeded to drag its feet, sucking and slurping along until I put a pin in it. I took a break from it for about six weeks, and I really needed that time to get my head straight and come back to the story fresh. The fourth book has had a little bit of retconning done and is now back on track, humming along on a much better path.
  • Other Starwalker stuff – hasn’t really happened, mostly because Book 4 took much longer than expected, especially with the break and reset of a section. Nope, haven’t edited any of it, or done any more shorts yet.
  • Vampire Electric – the second draft is coming along nicely! It was my NaNo project for 2014, and it is currently sitting at about 100,000 words. Disturbingly, I’m only about halfway through the story. It’s going to be a long one! I’m pleased with how it’s going, though, and looking forward to getting back to it at some point.
  • Other projects – all pretty much on hold. With my health as it is, I just haven’t had the mental bandwidth to deal with multiple projects at the same time. Writing a web serial means that I have to have my attention pretty much glued to Starwalker the whole time. I don’t consider this a bad thing – I still love to write Starwalker – but it is a restriction. I did a little poking around on the edges of a couple of projects, planning a few things out, but nothing substantial. Yet.
  • This blog – I didn’t have any particular goals around this, but updates have been spotty at best. I really should do better. I have a whole list of things I want to write about but just didn’t get to.

Writing community stuff:

  • My Creative Writing Group is still going strong! We had a lot of fun over the last year, and the turnout continues to be strong. They’re a wonderful bunch of people and I learn a lot with them.
  • I tried something a little different with the Writers’ Asylum this year. It went well! Some changes were made due to feedback from the previous year and they seemed to work well. I got some more feedback and I have a plan to try for the next one. Ideas are in motion.
  • NaNoWriMo went well. I wrote loads, and events were big and crazy, and we spent a weekend on an island again. There were a couple of things that didn’t go so well – a couple of issues with people, which is always a danger when dealing with a big, diverse group, and our TGIO party got rained off – but nothing we couldn’t work around or get past. We tried a couple of new things, and learned some stuff we’ll put into practice next year. On the whole, a successful month.

2014 was pretty hard on me, but looking at it this way, I think I achieved more than I give myself credit for. I think it’s because I had to fight harder than usual to get things done, and I champ at my own restrictions because I demand more from myself than what I’m currently capable of.

I think the most disappointing thing in the whole year was having Starwalker wander off-track and having to retcon to pull it back into line. That upset me, because I try to be better than that. I try not to let the pressures in the rest of my life bleed into my writing, and I failed.

On the other hand, the thing I am most grateful for is the support I got when I took that hiatus and took the time to get my head straight. I often say how wonderful my readership is, and this is just another example of how much they do for me, and how much they mean to me. There was not a single complaint, even when they admitted that they weren’t enjoying the story so much since it started to slide. There was support and encouragement, and understanding. They are what I like to call ‘awesome humans’, and I’m proud to have them as my readers.

I’m also proud that I stood up and took action when the story was going wrong. It took a while for me to admit to myself that I was in a place I couldn’t write my way out of, but once I had, I didn’t hide it. It’s not easy to put your hand up and admit you made a mistake, especially to the people you want to have adore and trust you. So, yes, it sucks that I got into that position and I’ll be doing my damnedest to never be there again. But I think I handled it well – or at least I didn’t suck at it – and it came good in the end.

Perhaps that’s the best thing I can take away from 2014: there were many battles in it, but I got through them and out the other side. I have learned things, and grown, and I’m still pleased to be who I am. Onwards! Into a shiny new year and all the promise that it holds.

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Time pressure

It feels a lot like this. (Picture by Lisa Brewster)

It feels a lot like this.
(Picture by Lisa Brewster)

So many projects, so little time. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how much I struggle with my health and fatigue (or at least, it seems that way to me). I work full time to support myself, too, so my available time to write is pretty restricted.

My project list is so long these days. I put the Works in Progress page up recently, and I’m still thinking of things that I should put on there. It’s a page that will be updated pretty frequently, I think.

It’s natural that I get frustrated by the restrictions in my life. I am brimful of stories and struggling to be able to get them down and share them. I have pieces of my heart I’m ready to give away but no hands to hold them in. Not enough spoons to carve them out with.

Okay, that metaphor might have got away from me there. But you get what I mean.

There’s something that happens to me when I feel this way for a length of time. The things I really want to do pile up and up, and I’m constantly tipping them back against the wall: not yet, not yet, wait your turn. I’ll get to you. Just hold on there.

At some point, that pile gets too high. The sheer volume of things I want to do but can’t becomes too much, and it topples. I’m right in there, standing underneath, and I give up and join in, tearing chunks out of the middle and strewing them around. Fine. Fine.

In my head, something shifts. In my chest, something gives way. I say ‘yes, I feel crappy all the time, and I have all these restrictions on me, and it sucks. And you know what? It’s not good enough. I’m sick of missing out on my own life. I want to do *this* and *this* and this other thing over here. And I’m damned well going to do them anyway.’ My brain is suddenly active, alive with urgency and ideas that are usually so far out of my reach.

Outwardly, I have a productive spurt. I write on this blog again, blurt out a stream of things that have been backing up for some time, and wind up scheduling them over days or weeks to spread them out. I clean my house. I sort papers that have been sitting in a messy pile for months. I throw stuff out that I’ve been meaning to get to. I plan out a chunk of a new project. I write shorts. I do some of those things that have been towering over me, blotting out sight of what progress I might be making with everything I’m missing out on.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky thing. Sometimes this is enough to pull me up for some time – weeks, months maybe. Sometimes it only lasts a short time before my energy dwindles again, maybe a weekend if I’m lucky.

That’s sort of where I am right now, on the up-kick of a productive spurt. I’m not sure how long it will last. It feels more forced than usual, driven by more determination than it has been in the past. I’ve been lower for longer lately, and I’m trying to pull myself up out of it.

Part of it is most likely prompted by some help I’m getting at home, and right now, I’ll eke the most out of every opportunity that I can get. If a door is open an inch, I’ll do my damnedest to kick it wide, or even a foot wider. Every little helps.

Right now, I’m feeling really positive. My day job is going well. Starwalker is a bit of a challenge (which I might talk about in another blog post), but I got last week’s post out on time and that’s a victory in my book. My writing group is going well. I spent last weekend hanging out with writer friends, writing. The Writer’s Retreat is coming along nicely. Now the pressure is off at home, I can spare the mental energy for looking into health options.

And I’m getting lots of ideas for stories. Some existing projects, as well as a whole new one.

I have figured out why Vampire Electric wasn’t gelling as smoothly as it should be for me: the villain is too off-screen and away from the action for too much of the story. I need to go back and rethink how he weaves in with the rest of the story and drives it forward. I’m planning to continue work on the second draft of the novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, and now I’m in a good position to fix it up when I do that.

I’m getting more clarity on some of the shorts I have on my list for Starwalker. I know roughly what I want to do for each character, but some are clearer than others.

I have an idea for a second VVSG vignette. It niggles at me.

The assassin-centric novel I wrote a few years ago is starting to itch again, too. I have a fairly good idea about how I want the rewrite to go, and how I might start to shift it into the Starwalker universe. With some more background work, I might even be able to work in the Fall of Earth, but that would be a sequel (or even two or three books down the track in that particular series).
More and more often, I’m finding that my stories come out as a series. Not serials, necessarily, but standalone novels seem to get bored in my brain and start breeding. Like dustbunnies (or plotbunnies). If I keep turning the idea over in my hands, I seem to realise there are three or four plots in there, not just one. So many books to write!

For example, Tales from the Screw Loose is now probably a trilogy, and much bigger than just a robot brothel (once I get down into the depths of the second, and definitely in the third, book). Again, the events in Starwalker are pushing this into a larger story (and I think it’s a lot better for it, mostly because straight erotica really isn’t my thing). Sexual politics, the automation of industry, the impact of refugees, entitlement, rebellion…

And then there’s the new story. It’s shiny and novel, and the more my brain picks at it, the more interesting stuff falls out. It’s called Splinter Soul, and the basic premise is that, some time ago, someone broke the world in a fundamental way. Souls are infinite and managed to survive being split when the planet fractured, and now people walk around with only splinters of the souls they should have. There’s magic involved, based around how much of their soul a person has managed to rejoin and what form they are most powerful in, so it’s in a person’s interest to try to find all the splinters of who they really are. The splinters are other creatures, some of them mundane, some of them fantastical. They might also be other people, and there might be dragons. There’s a role for reincarnation to play here, but I’m still figuring out the mechanics of that.

It’s still mostly a world right now, a setting with lots of fun pieces to play with. I’m having fun working it all out, and the mists of a story are forming in the background. I think, for once, I’ll have the antagonist before I have the protagonist nailed down. Maybe I’ll wind up making the villain the protagonist… now, there’s an idea. Ooo.

Just writing out those two paragraphs has given me two or three new ideas I can work in. It is unfolding.

This is how the mind of a writer goes. Right now, mine is firing on… maybe not all cylinders, but let’s call it five out of six (instead of the usual two or three).

I have to be careful not to push too hard. Not to throw too many balls into the air, lest they all fall down. I have to pace myself, at least a little, try to keep things reasonable. I don’t want to push myself into some kind of collapse.
But I do want to push. I want to enjoy this. I have so many toys and I mean to play with them. I want to make the most of this up-swing in productivity while it lasts.

There’ll be a price at some point. I’m borrowing spoons. But hell, I’m going to make it worth it.

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Narrowing focus

Sometimes all you want is more spoons... (Picture by Harlwim Keese)

Sometimes all you want is more spoons…
(Picture by Harlwim Keese)

So, I’m not dead. I know it might have seemed that way from this blog, and for that I apologise.

The truth is, this year has been kinda hard on me. My health continues to struggle along and my ability to juggle multiple distractions has shrunk drastically.

For those familiar with the spoon theory, I’ve had fewer spoons to spend lately and I’ve had to manage them ruthlessly. (For those unfamiliar with the spoons theory, go take a look! It explains so much.)

When I get challenged for time or energy (or as things have been lately, for both), my focus narrows down. I cold-bloodedly prioritise the moving parts in my life. It’s the only way I can cope.

The truth is, this blog isn’t at the top of my list. Not even close. It’s pretty well up there, but I have several more important things. Work, paying my bills. Writing and posting Starwalker. Keeping my house in a liveable state. Making food. Taking care of the family cats while my folks are away. Running the local writing events I’m responsible for. Getting organisation started for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Over the past year, I have stumbled with all of those things. I have taken days off work to rest and try to recuperate. I have used holidays from the day job to catch up on cleaning my house and other various things that have fallen by the wayside. I’ve missed Starwalker posts. I haven’t missed any events yet, but they are a lot more last-minute than they usually are. Organisation is a long, slow process, where it used to be quick and relatively easy.

I have been trying to get myself into a more stable position. That, in itself, takes time and energy away from something else. It’s all about prioritising those spoons and off-setting current stress and effort with future benefits.

Some of those things have been worth it, from something as simple as replacing a failing laptop to avoid having to work around unreliable technology to reorganising whole sections of my house to condense the mess (and required cleaning) into smaller areas. Having a dishwasher installed has helped immensely (and I’m aware of how ‘first world problem’ that sounds, but it’s a godsend to me!).

Some of the things I’ve tried haven’t worked out. A recent disaster has been hiring a cleaning agency to take care of the heavy lifting involved in keeping the house clean. Four visits, three different cleaners, varying levels of competency, culminating in a lovely incident where the cleaner managed to lock me out of my own house entirely. That endeavour probably wound up costing me more stress and sickness than doing the damned work myself would have been.

I live and learn. I push on, because forward is the only way to go. I try to keep picking my feet up, day after day, week after week, fighting for each and every damned spoon in my arsenal. I fall, I fail. I get angry with myself and try to do better. I wrack my brain for better options. And I just keep pushing onwards.

It’s an ongoing struggle. Are things better yet? Maybe a little. I’ve got some more help at home again (and I can’t say how grateful I am to have my dad back), and that’s helping to take the weight off. With his help, I might have a chance to catch up. Overall, I’m not really feeling any better, not yet. I might not be slipping behind a little more every day, but I’m still barely treading water.

So why am I writing in this blog again? Because I’m not done. I have more options to try and I’m sick of missing things. I’m trying to do better, even if I don’t feel it.

Every now and then, I stop and think about how lucky I am. It’s easy to feel worn thin by everything I’m trying to deal with right now, but perspective is important. On a scale of CFS, I can still function from day to day. I can get up and leave the house when I need to (and occasionally when I just want to). I am holding down a (pretty demanding) full-time job. I’m still a mainstay and a driver of my local writing community. I’m bringing in enough money to support myself and pay all my bills, and to treat myself to the stuff that matters to me. I have awesome readers who are understanding of my occasional flakiness.

There are some people who aren’t sick and aren’t that lucky. Who struggle to find a job; any job, let alone one they kinda enjoy or feel valuable in. Who can’t imagine driving community stuff the way I do. Who can’t see themselves committing to writing a web serial post every single week of the year. There are some people who are so sick that they can’t dream of doing any of those things, who struggle to make it out of bed at all, who have hurdles far over and above anything I have to deal with.

A friend of mine wrote a touching piece about her situation with her health recently. I’m in a similar place emotionally, though my condition isn’t as serious or life-altering as hers. Perspective matters.

I’m doing okay. I’m coping. Sometimes all I’m doing is coping, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. As hard as it all feels, I am pretty lucky. I’m trying to remember that.

I can’t promise this will be the first of a stream of new posts. I can’t promise anything at this point except that I’m still here. I’m still pushing. I frustrate myself, I try different things, and I keep trying to be better. Maybe one day I’ll get there.

In the meantime, the world moves around me and I hate feeling like I’m being left behind. Starwalker rolls on towards the end of its fourth book. The publishing industry is flexing and shifting. This world of writing that I love and life for is changing and I have things to say. I mean to say them, when I can.

Please forgive my silences. Understand that sometimes it’s all I can do to get each week’s serial post up, and sometimes that’s too much. Know that I mean to speak more.

I dream of taking a sabbatical from work: taking a year off to write. I dream of everything I’d be able to do. I know I’d sleep for the first three months, and after that… watch out. There’d be no stopping me, and you don’t want to know how long my to-do list is. But oh, the stories I’d tell…

Sadly, reality intervenes, but dreams are nice. They keep us going. For now, reality.

One thing at a time. One spoon after another. Such is the life with chronic illness. Such is a busy, modern life.

I am here. I am, I breathe, I write.

I write.

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The Asylum’s New Home

This is the new Asylum! Isn't it awesome? And not at all creepy?  Okay, I'm kidding.  (Photo: New York Asylum by Jeremy Seto)

This is the new Asylum! Isn’t it awesome? And not at all creepy?
Okay, I’m kidding. We’re not really going here.
(Photo: New York Asylum by Jeremy Seto)

I got a message about a month ago telling me that the location we’ve been using for our write-ins for six years has closed down. Abruptly and without warning. It was three days before our monthly write-in. I was in the middle of the craziest period at work. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As I madly juggled about seven critical issues at work and attempted to find a place to take our write-in people to, I couldn’t help but think: what about next month? It’s the Writers’ Asylum and I have to find someplace to hold it. It’s bigger than our write-ins, I’ve got to read stuff out to people, and it’s all a bit special.

I couldn’t worry about it just then; there were far more pressing issues. I already had Starwalker on hiatus due to all the shenanigans at work. I threw together some emergency plans with my fellow MLs, and one of my awesome co-MLs took the write-in off my hands. She sorted it out and ran it, and I’m immensely grateful.

By last weekend, the write-in was done and the worst of the work stuff was sorted. So I took my other co-ML and a good friend off on a scouting mission to check out potential replacement venues for our write-ins and the Asylum. We visited a couple of restaurants I had heard would welcome a group like ours (we’re a bit special needs, what with needing to camp out for the whole day, take up a load of space, and plug in laptops). Both of the places we visited welcomed the idea of our group visiting and were very accommodating. No doubt knowing that we’ll all be ordering drinks and meals helped!

Last weekend, I came home with three bits of good news. First, the Asylum has a new home: La Dolche Vita (almost next door to where we were supposed to be!). We’re booked in and good to go. Second, we have a new Coffee Club to try out, which we’ll be doing at our May write-in. And third, our favourite Coffee Club hasn’t closed forever: we saw signs on it that said it was undergoing refurbishment and would reopen ‘soon’. I have no idea when ‘soon’ is but it’s still a huge relief.

So, the first quarter of 2014 has been crazy for me. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of changes. None of it has been easy. But things are falling into place. Despite the stress of the past month, I’ve managed not to get really sick, which feels like something of a miracle. I’m coping – barely, sometimes, but still clinging on by my fingernails. Still here and kicking.

Yesterday morning, I woke up from a dream in which I had gone to the Asylum and realised I had completely forgotten to bring the challenges with me. Nothing was ready, nothing was set up; there were a lot of people sitting and looking at me expectantly, and my brain was empty and… then I woke up. Last night, I went through the challenges (I wrote them up a couple of months ago) and they’re fine. They’re actually less sucky than I remember. Just a few tweaks and they’re good to go. It’s going to be fine.

Like I said: it’s a lot of ups and downs, but I’m doing okay. Things are falling into place. The Asylum has a new home. It has couches. The challenges are written. Today, I’m going to schedule all the Asylum posts on this blog, so they’ll pop up on the day in tandem with me reading stuff out to my people in real life. My plans will work out.

And it will all be awesome.

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