This is not for you: Productivity and Chronic Illness

This was originally posted on my Medium profile on February 7th, 2017.


I read a lot of articles on productivity and improving one’s creativity and making life better. How to do better, be better, accomplish more, feel satisfied with my life, not feel like such a fucking failure all the time. I read these articles because productivity and discipline are things I struggle with and I want to see if there’s anything out there that can give me a leg up in reaching my goals.

About 90% of them are explicitly not for me.

I struggle with discipline, but I’m also chronically ill. I have trouble being productive because I’m a procrastinator, but I’m also disabled. I struggle with gratitude because I haven’t developed a habit of it, but I also suffer from severe mental illness.

There are very few articles out there about productivity that write with any of these things in mind. Almost all of them talk about “willpower” and “making time” and “a morning routine is essential” and “you need to practice gratefulness” and “breakfast WILL give you energy!”

Willpower? Willpower means nothing when I sleep through the 10 alarms I set; it’s not about using my strength of will to not hit the snooze button, it’s about salvaging my wreckage of a day because my body refused to wake up, refused to even hear the alarms until it got 12 hours. Articles that write about “having the willpower to get up earlier” are telling me nothing new; they’re just telling me something useless, something I’ve heard time and time again that does nothing to help me with my issues.

Continue reading This is not for you: Productivity and Chronic Illness

Finding Back the Glue

This post was originally posted on my Medium profile on January 13, 2016.


Sometimes I imagine myself as a table, holding a mug. The mug is my sanity, and the table is my life, it’s me, it’s the sum total of experiences and memories and everything that makes me, me.

The table has three uneven legs; they are wobbly and patched in places. One might actually be a real, human leg, but we’re not asking where it came from. Glued together, stapled, hinged, whatever’s available has been used. In the center of the table, between the legs, is a creature. It’s not human, not animal, not plant. We don’t know what it is. All we know is that it has many limbs, shakes constantly, and has a psychic link with my mug.

My mug is cracked in so many places it’s more glue than ceramic at this point. Every time it breaks, my perception of reality shifts a little bit. Every time it breaks, I lose a little bit of my mind. Every time it breaks, I’m left to glue it back together again, even if I’m not the person who broke it. My hands are cut and scored from broken pottery, flesh lined in tiny scars, fingers covered in that awful glue that turns your skin into a scaly nightmare as soon as it touches you.

I’ve glued my mug back together so many times I could do it in my sleep.

Continue reading Finding Back the Glue

I’m failing Nanowrimo this year (and considering it a success)

I know what you’re about to say.

You can’t fail Nanowrimo, so long as you get some writing done!

If that’s the criterion, I have failed this year, because I have written 0 words. Zero. Look:

there's a kind of purity to this. it's so empty, so clean.
there’s a kind of purity to this. it’s so empty, so clean.

Nothing. No words on Anala, no words on From the Ashes; just a smattering of words on blogs and some rants on Facebook.

And yet I’m counting this month as a success. Why?

Simple. Even though I planned to write this month and failed, I managed to not beat myself up about it once. I managed to not feel shame. I managed to be okay with not writing for a month.

I didn’t write anything this month, but the fact that I didn’t rip myself apart for it means I can go into December with a clean slate, free of shame, and not let the failure of November weigh me down. If anything, the failure is lifting me up, because for the first time I’m okay with failing at writing.

(What helped was reading this blog post by Mary Robinette Kowal, which helped me realize my inability to write at the moment is depression, not lack of will. It made it okay for me to be gentle on myself, and to take steps towards digging myself out of the depression hole.)

So I am going to spend the rest of today getting ready for the new month and maybe cleaning my kitchen a bit, and letting the end of Nanowrimo pass me by without a word written. (Assuming the fumes from the renovations upstairs don’t suffocate me first.)

See you in December.

Letting Go of Shame

I just read this great piece by Daniel José Older called Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong. There’s a paragraph I really want to share with you, so I’m going to quote it here:

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

The whole article is great, though, and I urge you to take the time to read it.

But this thing, this shame…it hangs over my head every day I don’t write. Every day I don’t put in the time on my writing, or my author career — every day I don’t blog, I don’t edit, I don’t proof, I don’t put new words on paper — every day I focus on something else, I feel shame.

And I need to let go of that.

Right now I’m not writing as much as I’d like to. I’ve been putting in some work on a small project, but it’s slow going and like pulling teeth to be honest. I would like to have been finished with it in August but at this rate, I’ll be lucky to write “the end” in October. And as for the big project, Anala, book 3 in The Third Age, I’ve had to promise myself that on day 1 of my honeymoon I’ll sit down and do more work on it, but that I can’t try to get to before then.

I still have a bunch of stuff to do before then anyway — I just finished proofing The Jade Star of Athering, finally, and now I’ll be sending off the edited files so I can get the final paperback proof, and maybe there will be a paperback available by November. (Let’s not get hasty here; there have been so many issues with getting that book out.) I have that small project to get out, which I’ll talk more about when it’s launched, but suffice it to say it consists of 5 short pieces — a story, a myth, and 3 character backstories — that are proving difficult to get done.

These things I have to find room for in between the day job, the other publishing work I do, keeping house, wedding planning, and keeping my health up. To be honest I’m kinda crap at all of these things, except the day job, where the requirement is I show up, smile, and do the same thing for 8 hours. The fact is I just don’t have time to focus on writing all that much right now, and I have to let myself be okay with that.

It’s a struggle. I already shame myself for not being productive enough on whatever I’m doing; writing is no exception there. It’s supposed to be my greatest joy, but I also want it to be my career — to provide for me on some level. Is it any surprise I am too hard on myself for not doing enough of it?

I’ve been writing for most of my life and I’ve yet to really find my process. It’s changed and fluctuated so much over the years, I’m honestly not sure what really works for me. I’m sure I’ll figure it out someday — if I can let go, and trust myself, and actually have the time to do so.

So I’m letting go of the shame. I’m not letting myself feel crappy for not writing (aside from, you know, the crap feeling I get when I’m not writing just because I’m not writing — I’m not giving myself extra crap feeling, is what I’m saying). Shame does nothing productive; it drags us down; it makes us despair; it constricts whatever creativity we might have had. Shame is the mind-killer, for it is rooted in fear.

I’m going to start with self-forgiveness instead. Then, when I have the time to sit down and write, I can truly let what’s in my heart sing on the page.

~Katje

An Open Letter to the Man Who Called Me A “Retard” Today

Dear Sir, whomever you may be,

I hope you feel good. I hope that you are sitting in satisfaction at never having made a mistake in your entire human life. I hope that you know that you must be perfect, that the gods shine love down upon you and bless you in ways they do not bless other mortals.

This must be the case. I can’t fathom any other reason you would feel it necessary to scream “Nice fucking parking job, retard. Next time stay in your own fucking lane!” at me for a parking job that, yes, while not perfect, wasn’t as bad as you describe.

I’m tired, you see. It exhausts me to leave the house. But I did so with some excitement today, heading to the post office to pick up what I hoped was my wedding dress (it was). I parked in the only spot available — one between a tiny red sports car (yours) and an empty handicap spot.

The parking lot of this particular post office, located in a Pharmasave, is kind of shitty. It’s rather hard to do a good parking job there, and to be honest I’m still getting used to my minivan. It doesn’t handle the way my old car used to and it’s much bigger. So I parked, and got out, and saw that it wasn’t the best parking job. My rear right tire was on the line, yes. But there was still plenty of room between my car and the little red sports car — perhaps not enough room for someone sized like my fiance, Mr. Katje, but then he wouldn’t be able to fit in a car that size anyway. So I felt safe assuming that whoever was driving that car had enough room to get into it. And I was so tired. So, so tired I didn’t get back into my car and spend several minutes reparking, trying to get it perfect.

Besides, I figured, I’d only be a few minutes inside picking up my dress and then I’d be gone. Probably before you even came back to your car.

Obviously I was wrong on that count. Dress in hand, allowing myself to feel happy today despite the crushing weight of depression an anxiety on me, I headed back to my car and saw the space beside me empty once again. I hope they didn’t have any trouble getting back into their car, I thought, and yes, I felt a little guilty for not fixing the parking. It was a mistake on my part.

I make lots of mistakes, being human. I guess you don’t have that trouble. You must not.

It wasn’t until I got back into my car and, sitting still with the door open, arranged my things on the seat next to me that I realized you hadn’t left at all. I guess you had circled in your little red sports car, waiting for me to come back so you could shout obscenities at me.

Don’t mistake my slack-jawed face as I stared at you for a lack of thought (though I’m sure you did, considering the slur you flung at me). I was simply in shock.

I get road rage. I do. I understand feeling that people in other cars are idiots. I understand rage over shitty parking.

I do not understand what would drive someone to lie in wait, hidden, just so they could scream at another human being and call them a “retard”.

I guess I don’t understand because I’m human, with human empathy, and you’re obviously so much higher above me, on your cloud of never making mistakes, not fettered by annoying things like caring about other people.

So, Mr. Red Sports Car, I hope that you felt better after calling me a retard. I hope that, if you have kids, they never get put into Special Education for having learning disabilities and spend their school years being called a retard not only by their fellow classmates but by their teachers as well. Trust me, that sucks. I know from personal experience.

I hope you had a better day than I did, as I got to drive home holding back tears and thinking that I was so worthless I should just go kill myself. I hope you didn’t have to feel terror that an angry stranger might follow you home and attack you for one mistake that you made — as I did, because I honestly never know what angry men will do to me. I hope you find joy in berating a stranger for one mistake that they made. I hope that ruining my day made yours a little better.

I hope you’re still able to leave the house for reasons other than necessity, because after today I don’t think I can even make it to the library to pick up that book I wanted to read. After today, it will take all my strength to go to work, and come home. I don’t know how I’ll complete any wedding-related errands this week, seeing as the first one was such a fiasco. I can’t even open the package my dress is in to look at it. I feel too awful. I feel sick to my stomach.

Mostly, I hope that red sports car does its job of bolstering your self-confidence, so that maybe you don’t also feel the need to scream obscenities at strangers to prop up your manhood.

And I hope that this letter reaches you, so you know exactly what kind of impact you had on this stranger’s day. You’ll know it’s about you when you see it — after all, you saw my face, which is all over this blog.

Cordially,

-Katje

PS: Comments are disabled for this post because I don’t have the spoons necessary to moderate them.

Day 3

Content warning: emetophobia, depression, thoughts of self-harm/suicide

A week ago I had the flu. I call it the “Angry Badger Flu” because it felt like two angry badgers were fighting in my stomach and ripping up my insides and punching my gag reflex like it was a button that would give them kibble. Luckily, that portion only lasted one night, but the terrible nausea continued for a week.

Consequently I went without meds for a week. Taking pills of any sort often triggers my gag reflex and I always have to be super careful when swallowing pills to make sure they stay down. So when I’m suffering from things like the flu, I often have to stop taking any meds I’m on completely, at least for a few days. Otherwise it’s The Exorcist all over again.

Today is day 3 of being back on my anti-depressants. There’s kind of a night and day difference. It takes about 3 days for the anti-depressants to kick in, and today I am much different than I was this weekend.

This weekend I picked fights with Mr. Katje. I was surly and weepy and angry, so angry I wanted to hurt someone, preferably me. I thought a lot about killing myself, or just driving off a bridge. I had a lot of “What the fuck is the point of anything?” thoughts.

Today, I’m still stressed by the various stressors that didn’t help with my shitty mood last week, but I’m not thinking about suicide anymore. I’m not picking fights with Mr. Katje. I’m not surly, I’m not weepy. I’m even doing housework. (Is it possible to drown in laundry? I think it is. If you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, assume that’s what happened. Or that I forgot to update my blog in forever, as usual.)

I’m posting about this because I wanted to illustrate a very important fact: I am a better person when I’m on my meds. They are not a crutch, or a problem. I believe in better living through chemistry and that means finding the chemistry that works for me. My anti-depressants do a hell of a lot more for me than Vitamin D (seriously, shut up) or St. John’s Wort (though it does have a small effect, so I’ll give it two points for trying) or medical-or-otherwise marijuana (just makes me stupid and really hungry) or any of the amazing new miracle cures people are pushing these days.

Three days. That’s all it takes for me to go from “being suffocated by my own illness” to “functioning as normally as I possibly can.”

And yes, while I did survive years and years and years of having this illness without any sort of medication, so therefore it is possible for me to live without it…the key word there is survive. I did not thrive. I scratched my way through the dirt and broke a lot of nails to get here, to live enough days to get to this one.

I’m tired of breaking nails. I want a shovel. I want to see the light again in more than brief snatches. I want to thrive.

My meds are that shovel. Let me dig my way out.

Perfectly Broken

Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression, anxiety, and self-loathing, and I figured I’d talk about it here, because chances are other folks go through this too and it’s always helpful to know one is not alone. General content warning for the post.

So, first: I want to say that objectively, my life is pretty great. And subjectively, too. I’m engaged to a really awesome person who respects me and my career. We live together in a nice place, in a nice neighborhood. I’ve started a new business and my career as an author is going pretty well. Overall our life is a nice thing.

But of course this does not preclude shitty things happening to us, and of course our lives are not 100% great. There are definitely areas that are causing some long-term stress and, for me at least, depression, anxiety, and all those other fun things I get to deal with already for no particular reason. Except now they’re being given a reason, and I’m finding my already fragile mental state being poked at constantly.

The main thing that’s poking the bear of mental illness for me right now is my physical state. Some of you know that almost 3 years ago I suffered a spinal injury. That’s actually not entirely accurate; the injury itself happened in 2009. It didn’t flare up like a fireworks show, however, until 2012, leaving me bedridden and unable to walk for weeks. After a lot of hard work in physiotherapy, I slowly was able to walk with a walker for short bursts, and then longer bursts, and then finally upgraded to a cane. I’ve been walking with a cane since 2012, though there have been times when I’ve been able to go without for a short period of time.

Likely, had I continued with the physio after getting to that state of wellness, I would eventually have gotten to a point where I could walk without a cane, and probably get somewhere near the state of health I was at before the injury knocked me down. Even in the years I had the injury but it hadn’t flared up I was doing pretty well, despite the new, sharp, knife-twisting pain in my lower spine that I had chalked up to “Another weird permutation of the chronic back pain I’ve had my entire life because genetics is a shitty lottery.”

But I didn’t continue with the physio. I quit in 2012. This wasn’t because I wanted to, or because I thought I was done: I wanted to continue and knew I needed more. But I could not find a new physiotherapist when I went back to Nanaimo after staying in Coquitlam for several weeks, and not only that — the price went up. You only get a few visits at the reduced rate with a doctor’s prescription, you see, and I would need to continue to go every week to see progress.

Fifty dollars a week is too steep for me. Then, and now.

So for 2 years I have lived no where near what “normal” is for me, just dealing with the pain, taking a strong painkiller on the days when I can’t move without it, and continuing to do things that are probably contraindicated for my spine’s condition but hey, what else am I going to do? My social life has dropped off considerably and my ability to do a lot of things in a short period of time has gone to zilch, approximately. I now need a few days to recover after an event that wouldn’t have left me winded 3 years ago.

It has been an adjustment, to say the least. I still overextend myself because I am used to a body that can handle more than it can. And though mentally I have gotten better since it first happened, I still have dark nights of the soul.

So when I broke my leg this summer — 3 months exactly as of this coming Saturday — I slipped into depression again.

Continue reading Perfectly Broken