Day 2’s writing session is about to begin. Today I’ll be writing about how two of my planned three main characters first meet.
(Procrastinates on WordPress.Com first.)
I am trying (again) to take half-decent care of my health during NaNoWriMo. Otherwise, based on past experience, I get to the end of consistently stressful Novembers having gained unwanted weight, with sore wrists and a sore back and sore eyes from too much computer time, and I have to attend family Christmases feeling like I’m more a hideous potato goblin than a human. So I took half an hour to tidy up and get some washing done (reduces mess-induced stress) and another half hour to do some exercise before taking a seat in front of the computer. I’m still recovering from a couple of hours walking through steep mountainside bushland at the National Rhododendron Gardens on the weekend so the exercise was a chance to stretch out my sore legs and wake up my posture before writing for the day while the kids are at school.
I’m at the optimistic stage of NaNo where the 1667 daily word count is so easy to attain that it can lull me into a false sense of security that will no doubt be shattered by the third week. So I’m trying to get ahead on my word count in this first week. Between daily life’s normal commitments as a busy mother trying to take her hobby art as a more serious business, not to mention November’s extra stress (Child No. 2’s annual ballet concerts, plus dress rehearsals and make up trials and costume check and photo portrait days; Child No. 2’s upcoming primary school graduation; school camps; school end of year events; plus all the
pointless drama negotiations as our various extended families demand our presence at eight separate Christmas events mostly held over three days over a 200 km/ 124 miles radius try to organise times and dates for family events; not to mention this year to add to the pressure, The Husband has to work interstate every 2-3 weeks leaving me to juggle everything) – well, I need to take advantage of the relatively quiet first week of NaNoWriMo in order to get my word count up to speed.
It’s my fourth NaNoWriMo so here’s what I’m doing to try to help myself succeed:
- scheduling weekly coffee dates with close friends. The sort of friends who leave me feeling like life is actually worth living, that people can be good and kind, and that as hard as it is for this introvert to socialise, I know that healthy socialising makes me happier and more creative.
- exercising. Using exercise videos, walking, cycling, shooting hoops with the kids and kicking the soccer ball around with them on weekends.
- going full vegan/plant based. I’ve teetered on the edge of veganism and strict vegetarianism for years now, but a combination of food allergies, unwanted weight gain and health issues has forced a recent ultimatum. When I live off healthy, diverse, whole foods/plant-based meals, I feel better, my skin clears up, my allergies settle down, I have more energy and less caffeine, plus reducing a whole lot less stress caused by the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing what I ought to do versus going with the crowd because it’s easier – after all, it’s tiring going through the predictable arguments when people somehow manage to take personal offense at the fact I am choosing to do my own thing in order to look after my own health and follow my own ethical praxis. If I were running into their parties and wildly tossing over their barbecues while shouting “Meat is murder!” then I would understand their annoyance – but I never actually do that, nor anything like it. And while, if asked, I would quite frankly tell them about how I got my honours by research degree studying political discourse surrounding animal agriculture and why a lot of environmental problems can be linked in part to Western society’s addiction to devouring the mass-produced charred corpses of animals, I tend to not force that conversation with people unless they ask about it in a spirit of genuine interest.
- deactivating Facebook up-front rather than waiting for the mid-NaNo panic to force me into it. Facebook is my worst enemy as far as it not only serves to fuel my procrastination, it also exposes me to a cesspool of the worst of the toxic, dysfunctional relationships in my life. When I interact too much with people like that, it triggers my anxiety disorder symptoms and can leave me sick and unwell for prolonged amounts of time.
- making sure I attend my psychologist appointments. Because they’re important, even on days when I feel like they’re not important.
MENTAL HEALTH STUFF THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ BECAUSE IT’S NOT SPECIFICALLY ABOUT NANO…
And after all that, I’m giving myself permission to possibly avoid Christmas this year to reduce my mental stress (nothing set in stone, but I’m at least telling myself I don’t have to participate if I decide not to because I’m an autonomous adult capable of making my own decisions). My creativity flows a lot better when I’m not caught up in anxious cycles of negative rumination about this once-enjoyable annual festival, after having the literal same conversations I’ve had every year since 2001.
It usually flows a bit like this:
“Did you see so-and-so recently?”
“Yeah, gee they’re fat, aren’t they? They wear such unflattering clothes too. I hate how fat they’ve become. They look awful. They should really do something about their appearance.” *muffled noises as person proceeds to shovel desserts into their mouth*
“Ew, how can you eat that vegetarian crap?” *laughs at their own sparkling wit and cleverness at making a vegetarianism joke* “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat real food. Meat. Because I’m not a stupid vegetarian.” *everyone – except for my uptight humourless self – laughs appreciatively at such an original and succinct and cleverly worded soliloquy on the relative merits of different food consumption preferences*
“Ugh, by the way, did you see that whatshisname we knew from our old church is gay? Like, ew! How disgusting! I was so repulsed when I saw his photo of him standing next to his boyfriend!”
“Boyfriend? I thought they were just housemates!”
“Oh no, he finally admitted it. Said he wouldn’t even try ex-gay therapy. Yuck. I hate them. They’re so gross. I used to think he was such a good preacher. I feel sorry for him, he’s going to hell and then he’ll be sorry he didn’t try harder to get rid of his homosexuality.” *proceeds to describe how they imagine LGBTQI+ people have sex in more graphic detail than any gay person I’ve ever met*
Honestly, I love the spiritual and traditional aspects of the Christmas season. I don’t want to deprive my kids of time with their extended families, either. But Christmas has developed a way of making things far worse in my headspace, by forcing me to spend time with some of the people who caused my depression & anxiety to reach the level of debilitating severity that first sent me running to the doctor to find out why my body had basically stopped working. The older I get, and the more I ponder it, the more I realise that it’s analogous to a setting where if someone was abused or maltreated, I could not imagine demanding that they spend time with their abuser just to “keep the peace.”
On a far less severe, though still profoundly harmful level, why then should I comply with demands to “keep the peace” knowing that every single Christmas for the last several years I have had the worst panic attacks of my life after spending time with the people who made my mild pre-existing anxiety so bad that I essentially ceased to function? Months of crippling anxiety and thousands of dollars on medical and psychological treatment and for what? To have the healing erased and set back to square one every time I spend time with those who contributed to making me this sick through their words, actions, and treatment of me?
To add to the complexity of my particular situation, 2016 was the year I formally quit the church that some of these people also attend with an intense fundamentalist piety. I do not want to sit there, at the Christmas dinner table, listening to them talk about how people like me and my friends will go to their version of Hell because I decided to move on from their type of theology. (Oh, the irony – “You’re going to Hell because you don’t believe in Hell!”) It’s not enough to them that I still personally identify as a believer in Christ, still study the Bible and theology and pray and connect with a variety of wonderful followers of Jesus from different churches and attend inter-denominational prayer and contemplation services on a regular basis and even often have civil discussions about faith with Christians whose theology and politics are markedly different from my own. If I’m not the same type of Christian as them, I am eternally condemned. Now, while I disagree with their assessment of my eternal salvation, the fact is that healing from cults and cult-like religions is easier said than done. It’s not healthy to jump straight back into the the fray when you’re still healing from old wounds. It takes time to become confident in one’s own spiritual journey when for so many years you’ve sat under teachings designed to strip you of your reason and personal autonomy.
To make it worse, as I try to come to terms with what mostly feels like a spectacular waste of my mortal existence from the ages of 20 to 34 inclusive, in which I feel like I psychologically annihilated myself in order to please some of the most dysfunctional humans I have ever met, and for all the difficulties that particular situation has caused for me, it would appear to be the case that a number of people around me have recently decided on my behalf that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I have tried to express since developing the language to do so. I can’t be certain that this is what’s going on, though some of their words and actions would strongly suggest it to be the case.
They look at the people I claim have steamrolled my life and say, “But they seem so nice!” – and on surface level, yes, they do seem nice, that’s probably why I first made the mistake of letting those “nice” people so far into my life that eventually they were controlling every conceivable aspect of my life from my parenting choices and styles, to finances, to religion, to clothing, to music, to educational and career choices, to my social circles, and to the types of work I undertook. And yes, the world is full of normal, complex people that are a mix of sunshine and shade, who can admit their own mistakes and make necessary changes and possess enough empathy to know when they’ve hurt sometime and try to not do it again. But there are people who are so “nice” that it’s impossible to imagine that given enough time to lower their defenses, they will turn out to be malevolent or sociopathic or narcissistic or some other variant on antisocial and dangerous. And sometimes our lives unwittingly cross paths with such people, and we get hurt through no choice of our own, and it is doubly painful to realise that when we finally reach a point of being able to express what happened, no one wants to believe that it’s true.
So when these same people look at me, feeling like they have to choose between their relationship with the people that hurt me versus me (not that I asked them to make that choice), I as the “cold” ISTP, that peculiar personality type in the Myers-Briggs universe that gets branded as a jerk probably more than we deserve, to them I evidently come across as just an angry so-and-so who is overstating how bad things have been. It’s entirely possible my anxiety makes me oversensitive to certain types of negative interactions that other people might brush off; however, anxiety disorder is not the same as being irrational or unreasonable. It’s basically just an overactive flight-or-fight mechanism that makes your heart race and a few other occasionally debilitating symptoms that can be managed thanks to the progress of medical science. Anxiety disorder is not a delusional hallucinogenic recasting of one’s reality into an alternate universe. I’m not making up stories – but these people, when I’ve tried in recent months to honestly express what I’ve gone through, have responded by minimising my own pain. And after a while you realise that people who once seemed so trustworthy don’t actually believe you’re telling the truth as you experienced it. They don’t want to believe you. They want to hold onto the illusion that everything is calm and good and peaceful and conflict-free.
Supposedly I’m just pretending it was traumatising to be a keen amateur musician for years, only to have my music collection forcibly thrown out by people who claimed Satan himself used my music to keep me possessed (why are some types of Christians so afraid of the creative arts?! No wonder I didn’t fit in!).
It was actually really distressing the many times things would happen like the time they laid hands on me – without my consenting to them touching me – in a busy public cafe and prayed that I would be a nicer person because they were upset when I said I didn’t want them sidling up to me and eating food off my plate (who even does that?!) – but because they only ever did these things when they knew The Husband wasn’t watching, he never intervened.
And because I actually find it genuinely disgusting when they talk about how the world would be better if Muslims or gays or Greens voters or whoever they don’t like this week were all rounded up and a nuclear bomb dropped on them – in Jesus’s name, of course, you know, the Prince of Peace (?!).
And how upsetting it would be when they would get new pets, and as soon as the novelty wore off they would come up with bizarre and convoluted reasons to euthanise them (I’m pregnant and cats might kill my baby! Your kids have allergies so we’ll get rid of the pets!) or, best case scenario, rehome the hapless little creatures who deserved to find families that would genuinely be forever homes.
And when I look back on it, it was miserable being bullied to participate in political rallies with which I disagreed (if you don’t vote for the church-approved candidates you’re not a real Christian and gays and atheists will force us to employ them in our Christian school!).
Or reluctantly sending my children to a religious school they hated that cost tens of thousands of dollars for the sole purpose of appeasing certain family members (if you send them to government schools they’ll be taught evolution and satanism!).
All while being forced to tithe to the church even though we couldn’t afford to pay the bills and put food on the table, with the oft-broken promise that if you bring a minimum of ten percent of your gross income into the church God Himself ensures you never go without what you need! Well, “God” sat back and watched us going hungry while the church built bigger buildings.
But the moment I started to talk about how traumatising, distressing, damaging, financially abusive, manipulative and hurtful the experience was, I was labelled as the bad person for speaking out.
So, as I start a fresh NaNoWriMo I’ve got all these competing cycles of thought whirling in my head and spirit. Some positive, some distressing, some draining, some anxious, some depressed. My creative self loves the NaNo season, but it’s dampened by the stresses of my real life. This year has been a difficult transitional year for me, too, as I was forced to move house, quit church, lost a lot of friends as a direct result, and watched aghast as a few people I thought I could trust decided to take sides and befriend the individuals who’ve hurt me the most… So, writing a story in the midst of this is going to be hard. It’s hard to do something “frivolous” like write, read, paint, draw or listen to music, when in my life and relationships, things aren’t going so well.