Category Archives: about me

Squirrels Will Be Squirrels

…unless I can keep them in line.

Confession: I wrote the first four posts in this series on one of my fits of inspiration and hyper-focus. Just wrote ’em out while I had the interest. And now I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing here.

This is where notebooks come in handy, right? Looks like we were going to talk about habits/routines and how I use them to tame the squirrels… or rather, to get things done even when the thought-pigeons in my head are on a rampage.

Which is every day. Basically.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this one is that I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s a really interesting book, one of those that I picked up from the library on a whim because it seemed like a tame pigeon, something I could get interested in and focused on for a few days. Really cool stuff about how our brains form habits, WHY they do so, and how we can use them to our advantage.

I’ll confess that I’m not much good at forming or breaking good habits. I’ll get into one for a few weeks and think it’s stuck, and then it’s gone again. We could take meditation as a recent example. I was in the habit of doing it every morning for 5-10 minutes, either on my own or (far better for me) with a guided program like HeadSpace or Buddhify (both available in the apple app store and possibly elsewhere). It was good. I wasn’t good AT it, and never felt like I was making progress, but it was a good exercise.

And then I lost the thread. I gave into the temptation to pick up my phone and check Facebook before I meditated, and that threw everything off one day.

And the next.

I’m really good at bad habits.

But it’s something that I’m working on, and there are habits and routines that really work for me. The key seems to be having the right cue. One that I absolutely can’t miss.

Sometimes having the task written in my bullet journal is enough. I have a section every day dedicated to a whole bunch of habits that I’ll forget about otherwise. If I complete them, I get the satisfaction of checking them off. If I don’t, I get reminded every time I look at that page.

(I used to have these habits on the weekly spread, but didn’t look there enough. Daily is so much better for me. Trial and error.)

Does it always work? Nope. I might look at my page in the morning, see that the kids need their vitamins, and then totally blank on that until I see it again after they’ve left for school. But it is slowly becoming a habit.

And I do still put things off. I write the litter box down every day, but it probably gets done every other day.

Sorry, cats.

But still. It beats waiting for the stench to become unbearable.

This way, the only thing I really have to remember is to check my bullet journal several times a day. And I’ve accepted my scatterbrain tendencies enough that I’m willing to accept that I need to do that. So it works.

Other habits have outside cues, and I’m really trying to develop those more. For example: Every morning, I have to let Jack out to pee. It’s not always first thing in the morning, but it does happen some time between 6:30 when I get up and 8:30 when I take the kids to school. I let him out, turn around, see his dish, and feed him his breakfast.

That’s not a conscious decision. That’s a habit. If I don’t do it then, if I override the habit and move the laundry over instead, the poor guy will not eat until supper time.

…And we can’t have that.

So I stick with it no matter what.

I’d love to say that seeing clutter around is a trigger for me to clean up, or that feeding Jack is in turn a trigger to put that laundry in, but it isn’t yet. I’m trying to get into the “if it will take less than a minute, do it now” mindset, but there’s always something else to grab my attention that’s so much more interesting than carrying a sweater upstairs. And even if I do start to sweep up the dog hair from the floor, odds are I’ll get distracted half-way through by another small task and do that before I grab the dustpan. It becomes an endless chain of unfinished tasks.

Progress is so slow, guys. But it’s happening.

Other things I’m doing to try to help me through the day:

Routines. I’m really fighting to try to get my brain to accept a standard routine. Some weeks it goes well, and it really pays off in terms of later productivity and me feeling like I have a solid start on the day. But no matter how great the rewards, I seem to keep slipping out of it. So I fight on. And it is getting better. I haven’t left packing lunches to the very last second once yet this school year! I mean, it’s only September, but still.

I’m going to keep trying for up-meditate-tea-breakfast-read-get boys up-make lunches before I pick up my phone. It’s a solid routine. I just need to make it a habit.

Preparation. If I have everything I need for a task, I’m less likely to get sidetracked when I go searching for it. Cleaning the bathroom? I’d better have the toilet cleaner, wipes, Windex, paper towels, and mop handy before I begin. It’s one less chance for squirrels to sneak in.

Making tasks appealing. Going back to my stationery snob tendencies here for a second, I’ll give you an example. For weeks I’ve been meaning to write down all of my notes on my new book series in one place, but kept putting it off. I had a notebook ready, but… well, it was fine, but not appealing. Not something that was a pleasure to write in. So yesterday I grabbed the Leuchtthurm1917 I won in an Instagram contest and started working. The paper is nice, and better yet, the pages lie flat so I don’t have to fight with them. I’m excited to use it. So I am. Same goes for buying laundry detergent I love the smell of (God bless Gain Apple Mango Tango) and making my office a place I want to spend time in. I reward myself with a wee spritz of a nice-yet-economical perfume when I’m focusing on work in my office.

So that’s kind of my take on routines and habits. My pigeons are still fluttering, but the more automatic I can make my actions, the less those foolish birds bother me while I’m making things happen.

Okay. I think next time we’re supposed to talk about my work time. That’s trickier. I’m struggling hard with that right now. But talking about it might help someone, so off we’ll go next week.

If I remember to draft it.😉

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Are You Gonna Be My Squirrel?

Yeah. I’m just gonna throw “squirrel” into song titles for this series. I know I said my brain was all full of pigeons in the intro post, but… SQUIRREL.

For anyone jumping in here, I recommend reading that post. But if you don’t have the attention span for that (I hear you), here’s the gist: I have a hard time focusing, but I’ve found some ways of coping with HEY-LOOK-AT-THE-SHINY-THING brain that have allowed me to write and edit books and basically get my life together.

…at least, more than it’s ever been together before. Things like focusing on learning how to put an outfit together or do my makeup properly have never held my attention, and I’m not likely to ever have the extra mental energy I’d need to force it. But basically, I’m cool with where my introverted little life is right now, so I’m sharing.

First thing: Energy and physical health.

UGH, I know, right? Nobody wants to talk about this, but it’s been hugely important to me, and taking care of my physical health has been the foundation of everything else.

And I’m really just talking about one thing: exercise.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, I know. Hear me out.

I was fairly sedentary for a while. I had two little kids and never found time to get out of the house on my own, and didn’t have a particularly good walking stroller (and we lived on a hill, and whine whine whine). My depression and headaches were bad enough that as soon as my husband was available to watch the kids, I wanted to go to bed, not hit the pavement. I had no energy, so how was I going to spend it on exercise?

I don’t know what made me try. Maybe it was wanting to get down to a lower dose of one of my antidepressants. Maybe it was getting a dog–and not just any dog, but a Boxer. A well-behaved one, but they’re so bouncy and really need daily walks to help them behave (a lesson that relates to me, actually). Maybe I just wanted a better view of the ocean.

In any case, I started walking. When we lived in Nova Scotia, it was down a trail that ran beside the ocean. Sometimes with the family, sometimes with the dog, but I did what I could. When we moved to Newfoundland it was up and down the road. Short walks at first, but the more I moved, the more energy I had to do more. Eventually we were going from one end of town to the other.

Not that impressive if you know how small that town was. But it was progress.

And I started feeling better. Not bouncy energetic. Ever. And even when we briefly took up jogging last fall (doing the C25K program), I never once got that endorphin rush that so many fitness types blather on about all the time. Exercise as its own reward has never made sense to me.

But overall, I felt better. We had to stop running over the summer when it got too hot, and I kind of almost missed it.

Walking gives me mental space to let my thoughts wander. It feels good, even if they never go where I want them to (I’m so jealous of those writers who can work out story problems while they’re walking!). And when we were running and reaching goals, it felt good. It gave me a boost that lasted all day. A gold star in the morning that made me feel capable of MORE all day.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-5-27-11-pm

So happy togetherrrrrr… (and he’s the one who gets distracted by squirrels on walks. Okay, we both do. So cute!)

And I think it does help my mental focus. It’s not perfect. If you want to talk brains, I’d say exercise has done far more for my depression than it has directly for attention issues. Now, that’s nothing to shake a stick at. Motivation and attention seem like abstract concepts when you’re severely depressed, and these things all play off each other.

Baby steps turned into giant steps. A near-crawling pace turned into running (slowish) sprints. One victory led to another. I gained confidence, even if I didn’t lose weight or get an athlete’s physique. I felt stronger. More capable.

More in control.

So exercise is a daily habit for me now, barring heavy rain or blizzards. My mind feels calmer after I’ve expended some physical energy… kind of the same benefit my walking buddy gets from it, I suppose. If we’re walking we’ll do about 4 km, maybe a little less. Running about the same, but obviously it’s a little quicker.

And I’ve kind of promised my husband I’ll go to the gym with him for weights this winter.

WOOOOOO DATE NIGHT! Er, morning.

There are other things. Nutrition would help, but I’m behind there. Cooking isn’t something that holds my interest. My lack of attention means I burn things at least once a week (sometimes myself). And my family… well, they’re picky, and I don’t like cooking multiple meals, so we stick with what works while offering new (healthy) stuff when we can.

And as for supplements: my multivitamin might work, but nothing else has made an appreciable difference in my focus or energy levels. Not expensive combinations of supplements from GNC. Not ginseng or gingko or fish oil (though I still take that last one for other health reasons). But hey, these things are worth trying if you have a deficiency. Maybe just get a second opinion from a doctor or someone else who doesn’t stand to profit from what they sell you.

And meditation. Hmm. I struggle with this. Right now I struggle with it every day, which is an improvement over my previous “eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Not once have I reached a mental state I’d call “calm.” My pigeons never stop flapping. But I’m trying to learn to observe them without chasing them, and maybe to choose my focus for a few minutes at a time.

But really, exercise is my big offering here. If I miss that, I get antsy and scattered and even weirder than normal.

As for how I work exercise into my schedule and remember to do it… we’ll get to that on Monday. 🙂

PLEASE COMMENT and let me know whether you’ve found that exercise has made a difference in your energy/focus/whatever, or if you have questions. I’m not an expert in ANYTHING, but I’m pretty familiar with my own experiences. Sort of. Mostly. And I’d love to hear your advice!

 

 


SQIRREL!

It’s been more than a year and a half since I did a few posts about trying to get my easily-distracted mind under control. I’ve fallen off the wagon and climbed back on more times than I can count, struggled with my overactive imagination (not in a way that’s good for a writer, unfortunately), and fought to hold onto focus while I’m working.

This summer I gave up the fight for a while, acknowledging that having the kids home is just too much of a distraction for me, and the stress of trying to work when my brain doesn’t want to co-operate was only compounding my frustration and distraction.

But overall, I’ve been making progress. And I thought that over the next few weeks I’d offer some of the tips and tricks that have helped me get a little more organized.

I’m not completely organized. And I’m anything but optimally productive. But the fact is that my brain throws up a lot of obstacles, and I’ve had to learn how to deal with them. I mean, in spite of my inability to focus much of the time (or my brain’s stubborn determination to focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time), I’ve published three massive books and a few smaller ones in a little over two years. Good ones, too.

That’s not nothing.

And if my experiences can help any of you, I want to put the information out there.

For today, we’ll kick things off with a quick description of what it’s like in my head. Because for some of you, this is all going to seem really basic or totally unnecessary. Maybe you can remember what you need to get done in a day without writing everything down and strictly prioritizing tasks so you won’t get distracted by shiny things. Maybe you don’t naturally forget minor things like picking your kids up from school because you FINALLY got in a writing groove. Maybe you don’t forget what you went upstairs for ten times a day, and you’re totally capable of organizing a three year-old’s birthday party without becoming overwhelmed and wanting to cancel.

If this is the case, congratulations. You’re definitely not me.*

If you were me, here’s how it would be:

Let’s imagine that every one of your thoughts is a pigeon. Every item on your mental to-do list, every upcoming event and thing you need to do to get ready for it, every memory and anxiety and interest and idea… all pigeons. Many people’s pigeons seem fairly well-behaved. Trained pigeons, maybe. Easy to catch when you need them, not too hard to hold onto. Pretty tame. If a pigeon needs attention, these people can grab them, do what needs to be done, and release the bird back into the room where the others are contentedly roosting and cooing, waiting their turns.

My pigeons… they’re not so tame. My pigeons are flying everywhere. Inconsequential pigeons flap around demanding attention. I’ll grab one and start working with it, and suddenly another one will be flapping around my head. The pigeons I know I should be catching stubbornly refuse to let me get close to them. Their feathers are getting ratty, my hair is full of pigeon poop, and we’re all exhausted. But they won’t give in. Between their wily ways and all of the other pigeons who are begging for me to catch them instead, it’s a real battle to grab onto that pigeon that I HAVE to catch.

Maybe that pigeon is the story I’m supposed to be writing. Maybe she’s planning suppers for the week. Maybe she’s something as small as finishing one bit of housework before moving on to another.

It’s usually easier to jump from demanding pigeon to demanding pigeon than to keep fighting for the flighty-yet-important ones, but I can win the battle sometimes. And if I can catch the right bird, things can go well. I might be able to hang on.

I might be able to get into the story and get some good work in.

(Sometimes I’ll even be surprised by an easy pigeon I can hang onto and pay attention to for hours or days. Not usually a USEFUL pigeon… but I’m sure my extensive knowledge of medical oddities and homesteading will come in useful some day, right?)

In any case, at some point another pigeon will need my attention. The kids will need to be picked up from school, even if I’ve only been in my writing groove for 20 minutes after struggling three hours to get there. Maybe I have to make supper after I’ve FINALLY tuned the world out and got into reading a book.

At those times it’s hard to change gears. To catch another pigeon. And it hurts, because my pigeons are so frigging NUTS that I know that as soon as I release one it will flutter off, and it won’t return willingly when I need it again.

Does that make sense? Can you see why I’m mentally exhausted by 4:00 every day? I mean, they’re only pigeons, but chasing them down is hard work, and breathing in feather dust is hard on the lungs.

There was a time when all of this meant I let things go when they were too hard. I didn’t finish stories because they were too squirmy and got away. My house was a certifiable disaster area because the little tasks of housework were too much to keep up with. I missed meetings and appointments and shifts because I wasn’t paying attention and I FORGOT. We were eating out too much because planning a meal AND having all of the ingredients on hand was completely beyond my mental capabilities.

Between depression and my focus issues, my life looked pretty screwed up. And the worst part of it was that I thought I was just scatterbrained and lazy, and no one knew how hard I was trying to be NOT LIKE THAT. How it hurt to feel doomed to failure.

Things are better now. Over the past few years I’ve learned to get into a routine, organize my day, and use tools that guide me through it. Basically, I’ve equipped myself with gadgets to help me manage my pigeons. Thick gloves to protect me from the scratchers, maybe, or a stepladder to help me reach the ones in the rafters. Binoculars to help me spot the ones I should be catching.

My pigeons are still frigging NUTS. But as I learn to deal with them more efficiently, they’re at least looking a little cleaner, and I have less poop in my hair.

My house isn’t perfect, but it’s getting cleaned regularly. My family almost always has clean clothes when they need them. A year after we moved into this house, we’re actually unpacked. I’ve learned to save money. And yeah, I’ve got a few books out, though turning my creative outlet into a career has brought a whole new set of problem pigeons.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at the following areas:

*Physical changes I’ve made that are helping me focus better (exercise and nutrition… kind of)

*planning (what I’ve tried and finding my planner peace)

*using cues and habits to keep me from forgetting things when I get hyper-focused on what’s going on in my head

*specific techniques that help me get work done when I sit at my desk

*…and something that I’m not able to discuss yet, but we’ll get there.

I hope you’ll join me, and that you’ll find a few shiny things to help you in your own organizational or creative life. These posts will have pictures, too, and

HAHAHA THERE’S A SQUIRREL** OUTSIDE AND HE’S…

*ahem*

Anyway. I’ll see you on Friday when we kick things off… unless that pigeon escapes and I can’t catch him in time.

*Though I should point out that being me is quite fun, in spite of everything.

**Not an exaggeration. I’ve actually had conversations derailed when I saw shiny things. It’s not good.

 


First Draft Hell

It’s Camp NaNoWriMo time, and oodles of writers all over the world are in a special kind of first draft hell. As we approach the midpoints of our stories, plotters and pantsers alike might be feeling tempted to throw in the towel.

So that’s what this week’s video is about. A look at the things I tend to struggle with as I fight my way through first drafts (and it usually is a fight–none of this comes easy to me) and how I try to change my perspective so I’ll keep fighting.

Enjoy!


My Writing Routine

…such as it is.

I got a question from Charlotte on Facebook about my writing routines (do I have one, do I write every day, etc.) and answered in video form.

Can’t watch? Long story short, I have one… and it doesn’t always work out so well. 🙂


This is so awkward…

I did a thing.

You guys know how I’m trying to stretch myself a bit. Not just in my work, though I am taking on new challenges there, but in my attitudes, my lifestyle, and my actions. I’m trying to push myself out of my comfort zone so I can learn to be more at home in the world outside of my house and maybe add more to it.

Well, one of the things that’s way outside of my comfort zone is any form of public speaking. Or any speaking, unless I’m with people I’m comfortable with. Writing is just easier, so I like to talk through my fingers. It works most of the time, but my discomfort with speaking is likely a huge part of my social awkwardness and desire to never have to go out and talk to anyone in person.

And my anxiety over making phone calls, actually.

So I’ve started a vlog. It’s not a big thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but it’s a huge step for me. It’s another way I can connect with you guys, too, and that’s important when I have no idea how many people actually read posts here. It’s a little more interactive, a little more challenging for me, and hopefully a little more fun for you. Videos will be short. The first one is 11 minutes, but I’m going to try to keep them under eight. I know you’ve got things to do.

Know what I’ve got? A Canadian accent, apparently. That’s been the big comment so far. At least people seem to enjoy it…

Anyway, here you go. Please enjoy my fumbling first attempt at letting the world see what I’m actually like when I’m not hiding behind my keyboard. Some day I’ll release the outtakes so we can all laugh. O.o

I’ve got a page of ideas for things to talk about (mostly non-writing), but if you have questions or ideas for topics, I’d be happy to fit them in. If I know what you want, I can give it to you. 🙂


Victory (again… for now)

I posted this photo on Facebook a few days ago with the caption below, and enough people found it helpful/motivating that I thought I’d share it with you guys.

Screenshot 2016-05-06 09.24.05

I cried a little at the end of our run today. Not because it was hard, but because I realized that I had won again. A lot of you know that I went through another bad round with depression back in the fall/winter, and I’ve been fighting to get out of it using exercise, reading and taking action on self-help stuff (even the silly crap), and weekly self-therapy sessions (don’t laugh). It’s hard work, like dragging my reluctant ass up a steep and muddy slope. But as I collapse here with my running buddy/motivational canine, I feel like I’ve made it back to what passes for normal for me. I broke my reading slump. I have an amazing book coming out in less than 2 months. And I feel good.

Next challenge to add to this one: getting the headaches and brain fog sorted out. I can do this. Baby steps.

So there’s the update for people who have been following along since I started talking about pulling myself out of this pit (here and here). I’m still doing weekly question-and-answer therapy sessions with myself to dig down to the roots of things that are holding me down and trying to drag me back into the pit. Through that I’ve broken my reading slump, changed some of my beliefs, and found a bit of the balance I’m looking for in my life (still a long way to go there). I’m on week four of Couch to 5K (C25K) training, and having that challenge to look forward to/achievement under my belt in the morning/extra exercise is helping a lot with my motivation.

This doesn’t mean my depression is cured. It means that for now, I’m finding ways to change my brain chemistry and thought patterns in ways that allow me to be less anxious, less hopeless, more motivated, and on an upward spiral. Most days are still challenges. There are still triggers that can snap me back into a low mood/closed-off state, but I’m learning to identify and deal with them through changing my perceptions and reactions. (And THAT, my friends, is slow going. But I’ll get there.)

It’s hard work, and I know how fortunate I am to have the time to do it. I’ve been in a lot of different places with my mental health. I’ve been crushed under panic attacks. I’ve been depressed enough that I lacked the motivation to kill myself, but passively wished I was dead. I’ve survived times when none of that responded to medications until I was on high doses of antidepressants that turned me into an emotionless, anhedonic zombie (but hey, they helped me survive). I’ve suffered withdrawal symptoms from coming off of those drugs that were worse than the side-effects. I’ve wanted to exercise and eat better and lacked the time, energy, and resources to do either.

This post isn’t to say “LOOK WHAT I DID, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT TOO,” because screw that. This isn’t advice or a how-to, but an encouragement. My path to feeling better is the one that’s working for me right now, and if sharing my journey helps one person decide that it is possible to feel better, that the fight is worth fighting, or that they’re going to speak up about the shit that they’re going through and seek help, my mission will be accomplished. Maybe for you that means speaking to your doctor. Maybe it means admitting to your family that you need help to find time to get ten minutes of walking in. Maybe it means opening up to a friend who’s been there who can tell you that it can and does get better.

If you’re fighting depression (or not fighting it… I’ve been there, too) or any other mental illness, you are not alone. You are not a weirdo. You’re not defective. You are amazingly strong, and the proof of that is the fact that you’re still here. You are not your illness, and YOU are still there under it.

And if you don’t believe that right now, that’s okay, too. I believe it for you.

It’s Mental Health Week. I’m getting loud.

(As for the end of that facebook status, about the headaches and brain fog… CT scan results are in and my doctor asked to see me next week. Fingers crossed.)

*Though it is a cycle. When I took the baby step of walking for 20 minutes a day, I gained the energy to walk for 30. And my mood lifted a little. And I found motivation to make other changes.

 


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