It’s Hard to Stay Happy

I’m doing good. I’m doing fantastic, actually. I would be willing to say I have been feeling the best I have ever felt these last few weeks. I finally got a new medicine regimen that seems to be working wonders for me. I’m writing more passionately, I’ve just launched a new podcast and taken on speaking engagements. I’m coaching youth sports again and fulfilling my passion for helping kids because I don’t have any of my own.

I’ve been growing as a person and developing into a better version of myself. I learned, with the help of my wife, that you have to find the positives in the negatives. For example, I bought a new car a few weeks ago. I felt great. About five days later, the check engine light comes on. Normally, I would have spiraled and regretted the decision of ever getting a new car. I would have gone through a million scenarios that could have been causing it. This time, though, I thought “At least it happened now rather than after the warranty expires.”

I’ve even been going and doing more. I have spent more time with my friends and family, wanting to get out of the house. I’ve learned that I had missed hanging out with people, partly a toll from the COVID lockdowns, I suppose. I sheltered myself and forgot what real, genuine human interaction was like. Now, I crave it and want to be around people.

All is well, right? Well, not exactly. There’s this lingering thought in the back of my head that tells me, “When is it going to happen again? When will you fall again?” That nagging voice in the back of my head haunts me every day and every night.

I forget about it when I’m doing the things I love and the things I enjoy. I stay so happy now. I’m motivated to do the things I love and spend time with the people who are always by my side. But when I finally get laid down for the night and try to go to sleep, it sneaks back up on me.

It attacks me when my mind is most vulnerable. “It’ll happen again. It’s coming soon. You’re going to fall back in the darkness. Will you make it out this time?” I lay there staring into the darkness of my bedroom or hiding behind the shield of my eyelids.

It’s always there. Sometimes it’s just easier to forget that it’s there. Other times it is louder. I won’t lose, though. Even if I fall back into the darkness, I’ll come back out into the light like I always do.

Stay strong.

We’ve got this.

Writing Mental Illness

I often hear about writers struggling to write characters with mental illness, because they want to accurately portray mental illness without it being offensive. I believe that there should be more mental illness in literature and the arts because it helps to raise awareness. So, I have put together the following list as a beginner’s guide to writing characters with mental illness.

Do Your Research

Give Your Character a Life Outside of Mental Illness

Make sure your character isn’t there simply as the token mentally ill person. Even if your book focuses on mental illness, your characters need a life. They need friends and family. They need hobbies and activities to do. The goal is always to make our characters authentic. Making a character one-dimensional where the only thing they add to the story is being someone with mental illness is a dangerous practice.

Use It As a Source of Pride

While having a mental illness may not necessarily be something somebody is proud of, overcoming that mental illness to become successful is something to be proud of. In (Not) Alone, there was a major theme of pride throughout the book. Every time Henry overcame his latest struggle with mental illness, you could feel and see his sense of pride and self-confidence increased every chapter.

Show, Don’t Tell

As writers, we hear this every time we send a manuscript to our editor. No matter how many times we hear it, we inevitably have places in our writing where someone can say “I wish they would have shown that instead of telling it.” The same is true for mental illness. Don’t tell the reader someone has anxiety, show them. Allow the reader to experience the fine details of the story through the character’s actions, details that rely on the reader’s senses, intentionally using words, or the expression of characters’ emotions. Some examples:

  • Instead of “I was starting to have an anxiety attack,” use something like “The closer I got, the more my heart beat against my chest. It felt like I was having a heart attack. The anxiety flooded my mind again, making me question everything.
  • Instead of “He was having an anxiety attack,” use something like “He felt like his breath was escaping him and every time he tried to catch it, more got away from him. Henry couldn’t talk anymore. He was afraid that his next breath would be his last. He just focused on moving his legs. The ground felt like it was slowly giving way beneath him. His chest was slowly tightening its grip, causing an unbearable pain. His stomach was in a thousand knots as he struggled to breathe.
  • Instead of “He was experiencing bipolar rage,” use something like “He couldn’t make out the sound of his engine roaring through the sound of his heart pounding within his chest. All he knew was that he wanted to get away from his current surroundings. He wanted the Earth to stop spinning. He slammed his car into reverse as he backed out of his grandparent’s driveway.

Hire a Sensitivity Reader

I got lucky with my latest book and my editor also served as a sensitivity reader. You can find tons of resources for quality sensitivity readers online, or reach out to your fellow writers or social media followers to get recommendations. Sensitivity readers give you a better understanding of how readers will react to your writing. It gives you the opportunity to fix the mistakes that may not be quite correct or maybe unintentionally offensive before it goes out to the masses.

Be Kind.

Everyone around you is fighting a battle. We all have some kind of inner turmoil going, pretty much all the time.

It’s a scary thought that the sweet cafeteria lady from your high school days had some inner turmoil because she was so sweet and never showed it. But one day her husband passed away and she still had to go to work the next day to pay the bills. She didn’t make it known, though. She smiled and said ‘hey sweetie, extra dumplin’s today?’

We all are going through some shit, the least we can do is be kind to one another. There are rare occasions when I get angry, and I lash out at people. Whether it be a random customer service rep that had the misfortune of talking to me that day, or someone close to me that just so happened to be around at my breaking point. I hate that I do it, but I’m human.

I make it a point to apologize to those people. To call the company back and speak to the rep. Or maybe to call that family member I snapped at for trying to help. Because that customer service rep’s brother could be in the hospital with COVID, fighting for his life. My family member could be going through a rocky time in their relationship. We never know.

We just never know, and most of the time we never will. That’s why we have to be kind to one another. Sometimes it even helps to just have someone listening to you yell. We have our limits and we know what we’re comfortable with, so set your boundaries.

Be kind. Love other people because they’re going through some hard times too. I live life and try to make people laugh or smile. I show them compassion because sometimes that’s what we need. Being shown compassion is a healing tool. It feels good to be understood.

It isn’t easy or even realistic to be kind and happy all the time, but even making the effort to be more kind to people is a good thing. Showing the willingness to be more conscious of how you treat someone shows true growth. It helps you to achieve your best self.

Stunt Driver

Being bipolar is kind of like being a stunt driver. It’s a daring ride. Both dangerous and exhilarating, you can’t help but to want more. So how exactly is being bipolar like being a stunt driver? Well, I’m glad you asked.

When mania hits, it’s like a stunt driver hitting the ramp to jump over the canyon. The car leaves the ground and it’s exhilarating. It’s a freeing feeling fleecing your body. I smile because everything feels good.

Then I get to the peak. I start to think about how I have to come down. Like the stunt car driver in the air, eventually I will get pulled back to the ground. The exhilarating feeling quickly takes a turn and becomes a constant panic.

Two things can happen from here. I either land on the ground on the other side, or crash into the canyon. The thoughts of both scenarios flood my mind, growing louder and more vivid. My heart beats faster as I start to fall.

I grip onto the steering wheel and soar, feeling that sinking feeling in my stomach as gravity pulls me down. I close my eyes and…

I’ve always landed on the ground on the other side. But every time I land, there’s a thought in the back of my head that nags at me. When will I finally crash? It plays through my head over and over again.

I build up for the next big jump, the next big manic stage. The cycle repeats, over and over again. Like a terrifying job that I can’t retire from, being bipolar is like being a stunt driver. Scary and dangerous, but also exciting and exhilarating.

It’s Been a While

“Everything was going great there for a while, but then the depression took hold and choked the motivation out of me. I felt defeated, like a failure. I didn’t think I could ever reach my goal.”

So my last post detailed how I had gone on a spiral these last few weeks. I was having panic attacks two or three times a day. Panic attacks where I would stiffen and couldn’t breathe. I gasped for air and clenched my fist tight, digging my nails into my palms.

Things were getting bad and everything was slipping away. I had to start making changes to help get myself better. So, I went on hiatus a bit, disappearing effectively from social media and leaving my site in the rearview.

I had a goal when I first started this site to deliver three posts a week: One mental health, one book review, and one author interview. Everything was going great there for a while, but then the depression took hold and choked the motivation out of me. I felt defeated, like a failure. I didn’t think I could ever reach my goal.

After my medicine kicked in and things equalized in this bizarre mind of mine, I saw clearer. Then I realized, who reaches their goal on the first try? Maybe I can’t post three posts a week right now because, let’s face it, life is busy. But that’s okay. I can do one post a week. One mental health post a week to keep on helping people. I want to help people.

I had to get better before I could keep helping other people who were fighting similar battles to mine. I want to give people hope and help them see that everything will be okay. Especially in the moments when they feel alone, I want to help people realize they aren’t alone.

Every time I visit the darkness, I try to learn a lesson from the trip. Even though it’s a shitty thing to go through, I can always learn something from it. There has to be a reason we’re put through these trials and tribulations, right?

What I learned in the darkness this time was that they loved me. People I once feared were tired of me or trying to get rid of me were the ones I turned to for help. But the darkness can be scary when your entire world feels like it’s crashing.

I’ve been there. I’ve been there as recently as a month ago. But I survived. I came out the other side with my vision cleared. I feel better because I reached out to my support system, who guided me in the right direction when I got lost. They helped me come out of the darkness and I want to be there for everyone else when they get to that moment because it isn’t easy. It isn’t something we can do alone. We aren’t alone. None of us are.

You will always have me, friend.

Having So Much to Do, but No Motivation to Do It.

A few weeks ago, I was on top of the world. I built this site, was writing every day, reading two to three books a week, and just being productive. My first newsletter was written, and I started tracking social media metrics. I was just having fun and loving being alive.

Now, I find myself with so much to do, but no motivation to do it. I need to write, read, plan out social media. I need to promote my books. No matter how hard I try to reach deep within me to pull out some semblance of motivation, nothing ever comes up. I find myself with a blog and no content planned for the next month. My mind is racing as I begin to hear the familiar voices telling me I’m a failure.

So what happened? What brought me from the top of the world to rock bottom in a matter of weeks?

Bipolar.

See, in periods of mania, I feel like I’m unstoppable. Motivation aplenty graces my life. I spend money like it is a bottomless pit. Most of the time, it isn’t things that I need or things that I really want. It’s more spur-of-the-moment purchases that add up over time. I get so much accomplished during these periods, some of my best work comes out of it. I could take on the world.

But then a switch gets flipped. Suddenly, the motivation is gone and my anxieties are more relevant. My anxiety leads me on a journey every single day of what needs to be done, what I need to accomplish to be successful. The motivation just isn’t there. At the end of the day, I berate myself for being a failure. “That’s all I’ll ever be,” I tell myself over and over again.

The sad realization of overspending hits me as I struggle to put together a plan to bring myself out of a financial pit I drove myself into. The anxiety creeps up and plays me every possible scenario of money woes. I lose my car; I lose my job; I lose my house; I lose my family. I always lose.

It’s a relentless cycle that always haunts me. I’m constantly worried that a slew of depression will follow my good mood. I’m looking over my shoulder and watching the wake of my destruction, but I can’t stop my feet from moving forward. Time after time, I overanalyze what I’ve done. I hate myself for it.

Time after time, I’ve held in these feelings and thoughts. I kept them to myself. I didn’t want to feel like a burden or a stressor to any of my friends and family who were dealing with their own stress. I felt like I was bothersome with my worries and my pain, that they were all irrational thoughts and people would dismiss me as crazy or attention-seeking.

Finally, I had to realize that I couldn’t do this myself. Every time I fell into the darkness, it wasn’t until I reached my hand out for help that I was pulled out. Still, I ignored what helped me the most time after time. Until this time. I reached out for help as soon as the feelings of dread came back. I got a doctor’s appointment sooner than I had any of the times trying to fight it myself.

Author Interview: Neha Gopal

Tell me about yourself

Howdy! My name is Neha Gopal and I am the author of the coming-of-age epistolary novel, 10. I am a twenty-year-old journalism student at Texas A&M University (whoop!). During my senior year of high school, I published this book when I was 18 years old. Aside from my passion for journalism, I’m also interested in neuroscience as well as psychology, and I am pursuing a minor in each. I am an avid soccer player and tennis player as well.

What inspired you to write?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have written my entire life. The penmanship of most writers is influenced by strong memories. I wrote the book when I was a high school student. As a senior, I published the book I started as a freshman. As it is with countless others, high school was a difficult time for me. My teenage years were filled with highs and lows, from depression to friendship issues to gaining weight because of my obsession with cheetos. My writing gave me the chance to express feelings I may not have otherwise been able to voice (both positive and negative). 

What is your favorite genre to read?

I enjoy reading contemporary fiction the most, especially the kinds of books that are as finely written as they are revolutionary. The books I enjoy most have an authentic voice and a message that resonates with me.

To write?

I love writing young adult stories, especially coming-of-age stories. The reason I enjoy writing these types of books so much is that they allow me to explore the issues and explore the messages that resonate most with young readers as well as myself. 

What is your favorite piece of work you’ve written?

My favorite piece of work was actually something I wrote in fourth grade. This piece of work was by no means a masterpiece; in fact, it was a very melodramatic story that barely respected grammar rules. What made this piece my favorite was the reaction I got from it, a reaction I did not expect. It was a great experience to present my story to the school and to see my English teacher react with such positive emotion. I was told by my teacher that I have a lot of talent and skill after I stepped off the podium. Even though teachers tell all their students that they are one in a million (what are the chances of that?), I held on to that praise. Although I would not want to see my story reach the day of light ever again, I loved the feeling I got when that story reached the light, and that made that sappy story my favorite. 

How do you handle good and bad reviews of your work?

I definitely developed a tough skin through reading book reviews. I try to see bad reviews as constructive criticism, rather than bad reviews per se. It is still early in my career as a writer so I have much to learn. But I must admit, getting good reviews feels good. It gives me the motivation and passion to continue writing.

What is your favorite part about writing?

My favorite part about writing is creating a storyline that is simple to follow as well as different. It is a joy to bounce off ideas with my friends as well as my father to make the story more resonating and interesting.

Least favorite?

The beginning of the writing process is my least favorite part. For me, starting to write is the most challenging part, because at the moment, watching YouTube videos or watching Netflix feels more rewarding than doing the work itself. I also hate getting stuck in a writer’s block, which is almost every writer’s biggest challenge. I find it difficult to overcome, but after I get out of my writer’s funk, it is much easier to write. 

What social media site has been the most beneficial for your writing?

YouTube is the social media site I use most when I write. YouTube is a fantastic source of inspiration for me. From music, videos, and the background noise, I am able to get inspired while I am writing. Many people have trouble focusing when they hear music, but for me it is the opposite. I tune everything out and concentrate only on the writing when YouTube videos or music is playing in the background. 

What does the future hold for you?

My hopes are high for the future. I’m young and I’m eager to improve as a writer. One day, as a journalism major, I hope to work for a large, influential newspaper company, such as the Boston Globe. In addition, I hope to remain involved in the book publishing industry and to publish another book that will be better than my last.

Any advice you would like to give other authors?

Look at the big picture, but don’t let it intimidate you. It was helpful for me to look at each page by itself. Also, if you really want to write a book, you need to adequately budget your resources. I’m not going to tell you you need to only take cold showers, get up at 4:30am each day, and work a 12 A number of aspiring authors tell me they are working towards publishing a book, or intend to. In 9 out of 10 cases, the idea is abandoned or the paper is never completed. Publishing a book is a time-consuming and difficult process. Nonetheless, keep going until you’ve created a product that you’re proud of. It will be worth it in the end. 

Anything you would like to add?

I would like to thank you for inviting me on your blog. It is wonderful you are giving indie and self-published authors a medium to shine!

Social media, website, etc. links

Book Review: 10

I received a free copy of this book for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Summary

10 unfolds the story of the troubled and impulsive Simone struggling to navigate through the tumultuous years of adolescence. She finds support and guidance through an exchange of letters with the enigmatic Joy, a beautiful and affluent globe-trotter, helpful and wise far beyond her teenage years. As Simone’s life gradually descends into chaos, Joy strives to rescue her, drawing from her life experiences.

10 is a coming-of-age story about friendship, love, depression, and the virtues of life. Simone and Joy build a strong bond through letters as they both, in their own unique and surprising ways, grapple to come to terms with the significance and challenges of living a fulfilling life.

Review

This book both warmed and moved me. The story of two young girls who become pen pals after meeting one another in the hospital. Simone, the troubled teen at the hospital for a concussion, starts off as a rebellious teenager. We watch her character develop and struggle with her mental health, battling it, seemingly alone.

On the other hand, you have the seemingly put-together Joy. Her name spells out what she radiates. She spends most of the story being what appears to be Simone’s one and only loyal friend. You see how she grows to care for Simone and how protective she becomes of her.

It was interesting to watch the two talk about their individual experiences. These two characters were vastly different in their life experiences, yet they helped each other journey through the pains of being a teenager.

There were points in this story where I felt my heart rate quicken in anticipation. Times where I couldn’t help but to smile at myself because of the friendship they forge. Then there were the tears that come throughout the book as it emotionally grabs a hold of you.

What makes this book even more impressive is the fact that the author wrote it while they were in high school. That brought an additional layer of authenticity to the story as the author is living the real-life experiences and is in the mind of her characters.

Rating

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

It’s Okay to be ‘Soft’

I hear it a lot.

“You’re so soft.”

And maybe they’re right, maybe I am ‘soft’. But I’m okay with that because I’m human. I have emotions. Hell, we all have emotions. Do I choose to be open about mine? Yeah, I do. I learned a long time ago that holding in your emotions to protect your image is useless. What is the point in appearing happy on the outside if you’re miserable on the inside?

We have to take steps to better understand ourselves and increase our emotional awareness. Emotional awareness helps us build relationships. When we are who we are with someone, they learn to love the real you. We all want to be loved for who we are, so we have to be honest with ourselves first about who we are.

When we can openly and honestly communicate our emotions, we can live a happier life. Sometimes you need to scream into the sky out of frustration or lean against the wall of your shower and cry. It’s okay to do that. It’s okay to have emotions. The relief that you feel after you scream or after you cry outweighs whatever social stigma may be plaguing your mind.

In fact, studies have shown that crying is actually good for you for a variety of reasons. Besides actually making you feel better by giving you a release for your pent up emotions, it can help to detoxify your body. When you cry your body releases stress related hormones and other toxins that flushes out your system.

Researchers have actually found that when you cry, your body activates the parasympathetic nervous system to help your body relax and you begin to soothe your pain. In addition to that, crying releases endorphins to the brain which helps to soothe physical pain, even numbing you in some cases.

If you choose to belittle someone because of their emotions, then maybe you need to open up your emotions. Learn to trust and understand yourself, get in tune with your emotions. We can’t hold everything in. Sometimes we have to express how we are feeling.

Author Interview: Kyle Bernier

Tell me about yourself

I am an advisor, art therapist, artist, researcher, and author who has spent years living and making creatively. I have a Master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I am currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I work and create. On top of that, I’m also a printmaker who enjoys experimenting with different printing techniques and styles.

What inspired you to write?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have written my entire life. At some point it dawned on me that three big interests of mine – creativity, research, and writing could all be combined into a book where I could expand on creativity. In my work I’ve received many questions about how to be a more creative person. I decided to put down a lot of my advice, experiences, and (learnable) failures together in Lazy Creativity.

What is your favorite genre to read?

I read a lot of self-help books. I’m always motivated after reading them, which leads me to be more productive and think about the ways I do things. However, I also enjoy reading horror stories. Self-help and horror seem like pretty opposite genres, but I think a lot of the themes are similar (overcoming fear, learning from mistakes, etc.)

To write?

Most of my recent work has focused on self-help and creativity, but I really do enjoy writing horror pieces as well. I’m in the early stages of creating a self-help resource with horror and creative elements.

What is your favorite piece of work you’ve written?

I’m most proud of Lazy Creativity. It was a true labor of love. I’ve also written hundred-page research articles before, horror short-stories, and countless articles. However LC is such a reflection of who I am as a person, it’d feel like a disservice to not list it as my favorite. Plus, it was a ton of fun to write!

How do you handle good and bad reviews of your work?

I handle good reviews with a grain of salt, and I handle bad reviews with a grain of salt. This may sound cliche, but all reviews are useful (mostly). Both good and bad reviews tell you what people want more and less of. You’re not going to please everyone with your work, and that’s okay. If I took every bad review personally, I’m not sure I’d publish my work. Fortunately, I’ve gotten good at reading the feedback, acknowledging it, and moving on from it.

What is your favorite part about writing?

My favorite part of writing is how personal it can be. Nobody gets to read your words until you’re ready for it, and then once you’re ready, you get to choose who reads it, when, and how. Some of my writing never sees the public eye, but stays as a draft in my journals, on my computer, or as notes on my phone forever. 

Least favorite?

My least favorite part of writing is the cleanup. I love word and idea vomiting onto the page when my ideas are fresh and exciting. It’s the refinement process that involves tossing out ideas, words, and sentences that I dislike. It’s a very necessary part of the process, but one I don’t relish. 

What social media site has been the most beneficial for your writing?

I follow many writers, bookstores, and literary accounts on Instagram. It’s motivating and intimidating being on social media of any form, so I have to limit myself on those sites so I see enough to be inspired, but not too much to where I’m discouraged or distracted.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m currently working on my second formal book, which is also about the creative process. It will be called Ugly Creativity. Additionally, I’m writing a blog about my own writing process, keeping up with my other mediums, such as printmaking, and playing around with some other potentially smaller-scale projects. 

Any advice you would like to give other authors?

Look at the big picture, but don’t let it intimidate you. It was helpful for me to look at each page by itself. Also, if you really want to write a book, you need to adequately budget your resources. I’m not going to tell you you need to only take cold showers, get up at 4:30am each day, and work a 12 hour day. You don’t. I certainly didn’t. I wrote a book on laziness because, well, I can be very lazy. That’s okay if you are too. But, you do need to keep at it. Show up consistently and write even on days you don’t feel like it. 

Anything you would like to add?

Feel free to connect in any way that works for you. I’m very open to offering anything I’ve learned along the way.

Social media, website, etc. links