A Story of Bunny Ends

11262017 - Vash Boxes Crop

I’ve been a bunny mom for more than half my life. Vash the Stampede, named by Scott for how noisy his thumps and binkies were as a baby, was the most recent. He and his brother, Cameron, who passed over three years ago, were the fourth and fifth bunnies I’ve had my life. As anyone who has pets as part of their family knows, every animal has its own personality. Each family pet weaves their own story into the family tapestry.

Vash and Cameron were part of a litter left at Whip-O-Will Stables, where Calico lives. Cameron was an orange bunny who I named after a character I played in an RPG and who was in the first short story I had published, co-written with my friend Christy Tohara, in the second Bad-Ass Faeries anthology. When I brought them home about six months after my Loki-bun passed (at the tenacious age of 13), Scott had just gotten back from Taiwan and wasn’t particularly thrilled about more rabbits. But I invited him to name the black one.

11262017 - Trish Cam Vash Closer

There was a fair amount of drama between the two boys loving and hating each other, getting neutered and having to get re-introduced and bonded. By the last year of Cameron’s life, they were bonded again and living as most of my rabbits did—wandering around the house free during the evening, living in a double-decker bunny condo full of hay and water and toys when we weren’t home to keep an eye on them. Nylis the Cat tolerated them, and they her.

I found Cameron dead in the litter box, curled up as if he’d just taken a nap, one evening after I’d gotten home from work. His eyes were closed and everything. Vash was sitting, hunched up, on the same floor. All the other orange bunnies from the litter had passed; they all had some heart issue.

Vash actually seemed to bloom more after Cameron died. He seemed to prefer being the only bunny. He loved attention. He loved pets. He loved stretching his whole body along the table legs, blocking the path from the den to the living room, next to the marble the wood stove is on. He would occasionally tease the cat by running at her and zooming under her or hopping over her with a proud thump—a thunderous affair that resonated his name. Occasionally, they would lay down near each other and play the “I’m comfier than you” game, where they luxuriously cleaned themselves to let each other know they felt the other posed no threat.

When Sue Lahna moved in for six months, he found an extra special friend. He’d run to her whenever she was downstairs and he was out. He’d demand more pets from her, grabbing at her pant legs and head-butting her ankles full force until she would pet him. Sue totally got him and would crouch on the floor and pet him for a long time.

11262017 - Vash

In the past few months, Vash started demanding even more pets—and actually being cool with getting picked up and snuggled on my chest. I remember Loki and Rhetta buns also began to want actual snuggles as they got older. And when I took him to the vet, the vet told me he was showing quite a bit of aging—which was normal. Most of the larger-breed bunnies live to only 5 or 6 years old. And we were pretty sure he was part “meat rabbit”, which also have shorter lifespans—they’re bred to be slaughtered; they’re bodies aren’t meant to sustain their size for a long time.

The thing with rabbits—and most pets—is they work very hard to hide illness. It’s part of their natural instincts. In the wild, they don’t want to draw prey to warrens, they don’t want to be driven out, either, until they are ready to die on their own.

When I put Vash to bed after my pre-Thanksgiving prep, I noticed his food bowl hidden under the hay, untouched from breakfast. That worried me, but he’d just snagged a bunch of craisins I’d dropped while making bread and stuffing, and he quickly took the treats I offered, so left him some broccoli, his favorite, and figured I’d see how he was doing in the morning. In the morning, the broccoli was untouched, as were the pellets and the rest of the hay. We took him out to check him over. His bum was clean, his stomach was soft (no impaction) and we couldn’t feel anything petting him. So, we put him on the ground and noticed he was hopping awkwardly. His head was at kind of an angle, but didn’t look like head tilt. It just looked…off. We picked him back up again and checked his face and neck and head even closer. We found a hard lump under his jaw.

Of course… it was Thanksgiving. No vet place was open and people were coming over. I gave him a head massage in case it was a sinus infection—Loki had a lot of sinus issues—and that seemed to help. He ate a bunch of craisins and a couple of treats. We took note of his water and more craisins in his food bowl, and figured we’d check him after people left. We even decided to let him wander around while people were here because the rug was comfy and under the kitchen table was his favorite place. He asked for pets a few times, then retreated back to the far side of the table. Normal behavior.

I left our vet a message that day, hoping they could squeeze him in the next.

After people left, we checked him again. He hadn’t had any water, and we knew that water was the most important thing, so we used a clean animal medicine syringe and gave him a few ounces of water. After I brought my mom back home, I picked up bananas—another favorite of his and something soft that we figured wouldn’t irritate that hard “whatever it is” in his mouth. He ate about half a banana that night, and we gave him more water via syringe.

The vet called at 7:30 AM and couldn’t fit Vash in until 5:00 PM. I took the appointment and spent the day trying to get him to eat soft foods and drink more water. He was rather feisty for getting into his crate, a good sign.

We were the last patients of the vet that night. Our vet, Dr. Trom said she could see puss in the back of his mouth, and it looked angry read, so it was most likely an infected abscess. With rabbits, the abscesses often also held Pasteurella, a virus that can kill in a very short time. Most rabbits are carriers of Pasteurella; it kills about 25% of bunnies right out (Lady Anne, my second bunny, died from it), about 50 % spend the later years of their lives with mild symptoms (both Rhetta and Loki were like that); and 25% never get it or never show any symptoms of being carriers of it. And they can be carriers of it for years, and then tiny cut or abscess or anything can cause it to flare up. We’d caught the abscess early, so the doctor scheduled surgery to remove it for the next Thursday.

Dr. Trom stayed late showing Scott and me how to feed Vash Critical Care formula for rabbits (a liquefied vitamin- and calorie-heavy mush) via syringe and how to administer water subcutaneously. She also gave us pain medicine to be fed via syringe. She said if he stopped eating or anything got worse, to call the office and insist we speak to her directly, and she’d fit us in for emergency surgery.

11262017 - Sick Vash

That night, Vash ate his entire serving and more with the syringe easily, and he was doing well. The next morning, he wasn’t as excited about the food…and with just the two of us, it took about an hour to coax him. (And here I give my thanks to all the Small Business Saturday folks and the bookstore for giving me some leeway as I was running super late.)

That evening, we gave him some food with his pain medicine. He didn’t eat much, but we figured it had been 24 hours since the vet had given it to him yesterday, so he was likely hurting. We let him rest and then later gave him his IV measure of water… a somewhat scary endeavor that requires a needle to be injected just right into the scruff. He was super patient for that and then hung out with Scott and I watching TV for about an hour. Then he started getting antsy, so we put him in front of his cage in case he needed to use the litter box. He hobbled slowly to the dining room, instead, and lay against the kitchen table leg, his favorite place. We figured the water was not comfortable, so we let him relax for a little over another hours before we tried to feed him.

When we went to feed him, we started getting more of an idea things were wrong. He really didn’t want to eat. He made soft little whines and kept spitting the food back out. When the vet had fed him, it had been before the IV, so we figured maybe he was still uncomfortable and sore from the water. So, we let him rest another hour.

He hadn’t moved from the spot we put him down. But we knew he needed food. Bunny digestive systems require food moving through them regularly; that’s why bunny families are told to always, always, always have hay available.

When I picked him up, his eye didn’t look very focused and he made more soft whining sounds. Bunnies, as a rule, don’t make vocalize. They grunt when they’re angry, occasionally chirp with the grunt if they’re particularly annoyed, but otherwise most of their communication is non-vocal. Thumps, ear position, posture are their main ways to “talk.” They also scream when they are terrified.

When we tried to feed him, he whined more and kept spitting out the food or letting it dribble. He swallowed a few times, which gave me some hope, but he didn’t come close to eating what he should. And he was clacking his teeth—another sign that bunnies are in pain or distressed.

By this time, it was a little after midnight. We put him on the floor and petted him, which seemed to calm him more.  Occasionally I’d try to offer the syringe, but he really didn’t want it. The vet’s office was long closed. And the nearest emergency options were each about an hour away—and one, Angel, had not been particularly great about dealing with my other rabbits. (In fact, we completely ignored the advice of one doctor for Miss Rhetta about surgery and she lived three years longer than he said she would.)

Of course, picking him up again, shoving him in a carrier or even carrying him would add stress and a lot more pain. Car rides are terrifying for all animals, and so is being restrained as you have to do for their protection. And it was cold outside.

It’s a tough choice. Do you take that chance of making their last hours even more miserable for the potential of saving their lives…or do you just wait and be with them to comfort? And I’d be lying if I said it was entirely a choice; part of the “decision” was also feeling paralyzed with the pain and fear that whatever we did, it could be the wrong choice.

When rabbits reach critical condition, there is little time for anything. If they’re going to die, it’s a matter of a few short hours…if even that…from the time they start showing signs of severe pain or lethargy.  For Lady Anne, the first rabbit who died, I didn’t know. We’d admitted her to the ER (also Angel), they’d sent us home, and we’d gotten the call that she had passed before we even got home. (We didn’t even get to claim her body…) For Miss Rhetta, she’d shown signs of lethargy that morning, I’d called the vet, brought her in immediately, Dr. Trom had taken her to weigh, and she’d died on the scale. Dr. Trom had handed her back to me and let me hold her quietly in a secluded corner, crying, till someone could bring us home.

Loki had been a somewhat exception to the rule. He’d given us a few scares with lethargy for months, and then would come back. He’d been “back” and at regular energy, eating, drinking, pooping, and peeing levels when I’d left for a very long convention trip. Morning after my arrival at the house of my friend, where I’d been staying, I’d gotten the call from my then-housemate that she’d found him dead that morning. That’s only somewhat of an exception because, as mentioned above, animals often wait till their alone to finally pass.

Vash, that last night, from 1:00 AM onward, would alternately snuggle next to my foot and writhe forward and backward, not quite in control of his body. He would cry, grind his teeth, and then settle as I stroked his face, his ears, and his side. He was a people bunny. He loved the carpet. He loved being touched. Scott was alternately stroking my head and back and looking things up as I would spit them out, searching for any straws we could find that might let us help him. Finally, a little after 2:00 AM, he had another set of the forward-backward spasms, then flopped, nose first (as rabbits would normally do when they are happy/relaxed) against my foot. He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t tooth-chattering, but he wasn’t well. I could tell. I knew. I knew that was it. So I just kept petting and petting and petting until I couldn’t feel him breathing any more. And then I probably petted him another good fifteen or twenty minutes because I didn’t know what else to do…

Rather, I knew, but I couldn’t do anything else. Back of my mind was bury him now or in the morning, if morning what to do with the body, remember a layer of stones to keep animals from digging him up, shroud him in the shirt in the cage… But that was a dull buzz. Forefront of my mind was the soft fur beneath my hand and how still he was.

Scott, earning his Husband-of-Awesome title for the millionth time over, actually dug the grave for me despite being exhausted and sore from fixing the water heater earlier in the day. I helped some, but he’s still far stronger than I am. We did bury Vash that night. I did wrap him in the shirt I’d put into the cage to perhaps make him more comfortable, and we did remember the layer of stones. Scott actually gathered some extras. While I was wrapping him, I tried to close his eyes—like you see people do to corpses on TV and in movies. Apparently that doesn’t work the same for animals, so he was “looking” at me while I wrapped him. I don’t know if it’s writers brain or just my own hyper-analytical means of dealing with grief that made me notice that.

I spent today…well, mostly sleeping. And then cleaning out the cage, the carriers, and whatnot. I’m not ready for another bunny, definitely not any time soon. I lit a stick of temple incense Scott brought back from Taiwan where his cage was. The cage will go in the shed or the attic. I’ll pick one of the carriers to keep handy for Nylis. I’ll ask around my other local bunny friends if they need pellets, toys, and wood pellets (for litter).

And I wrote this blog. I wanted to remember all the bits. I received so many kind words when I posted about Vash’s death on Facebook… and I know three other of my friends who lost pets this weekend.  Maybe it will help others. Maybe the information about the symptoms and bunny health will help others. Maybe I just want to make a record of it. Or all of that.

In any case, Scott and I love you, Vash the Stampede, Giant Bunny of Chill, and King of the Cardboard and Wood Pile. And everyone you met loved you. You touched a lot of hearts and are a special story strand in our family tapestry.

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“Controlling” Emotions

Maine Retreat Terri

I’m at a Broad Universe writers retreat this weekend with a bunch of friends, among them the fabulous Rona Gofstein, who also writes as Rachel Kenley. And in my all-important “procrastination before writing” time, where I was glancing through Facebook, I saw her recent blog post, “Emotions Don’t Need to Be Controlled.”

I gave a “quick” (i.e. 4 paragraphs long) response on the post here, but that only dealt with one aspect that I think is important in this discussion.

She said in the blog that it was probably an unpopular topic, but I don’t think it should be. It’s a many-faceted topic that I had about ten different replies to flying around in my head. In summary, I think our relationship with emotions needs to be more openly and readily discussed. Not just if we should and should not repress them or control them, but how they affect us, how we create emotions, the physiological and psychological importance of a good relationship with emotions…

Our relationship status with emotion, of course, is best filed under “it’s complicated,” but I also think all good relationships are. And as a writer, I love exploring those complicated relationships… and a good blog response should pick one particular aspect and discuss it. And perhaps save other aspects for future blogs.

Having had my surgery and a long history of period / hormone issues, though, what’s foremost in my mind and has been for the past year is physiological causes for uncontrollable emotions. (Basically, almost the opposite of what I ended up responding on Facebook.)

Our current culture in modern America, and many other places across the world, takes the stand that we should “control our emotions,” as Rona puts forward in her post.

I agree with her that we shouldn’t control our emotions and that it is a problematic, if not dangerous, thing to do so. (She has a great example of following her instinctual emotions on her blog.)

Emotions cause physiological effects in the body that we cannot control—blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, tears or laughter are some examples. (Breathing, too,  but we have some control over that, at least.) These are part of your autonomic nervous system—the things your body does that you don’t have to think about, and in essence, can only marginally affect even when you do think about them.

Because emotions have such a major physiological component attached to the autonomic nervous system, as well as the endocrine system (your hormones) and neurotransmitters, that means you can have physical triggers for emotions that you also cannot control. The science of psychiatry and psychology deal with those quite a bit. But consider when you have a health problem that affects your body’s chemistry—you’re not able to control your body chemistry, so you simply cannot control the emotions caused by these symptoms.

Many women suffer this dissociation with regular PMS—the butt of far too many jokes. However, consider how society pressures people (particularly women) to “get it together” and “control your emotions,” when she literally, physically CANNOT DO SO. Not only is there this awful feeling of intense anger, sadness, happiness, or what not because estrogen or progestin is doing its thing, but there is this logical awareness that the emotion being felt is not associated with any actions or events currently happening around us. And we’re regularly told that THIS IS WRONG; YOU ARE WRONG.

And it’s not wrong. And it’s not controllable. And no one should be punished for going through this.

It’s bad enough to be standing in the kitchen, filled with rage and a physical illness of dissociation because there is no good reason for there to be rage. Thought processes and thinking about the situation aren’t going to un-flush our system with the chemicals causing rage (or grief, or elation). In fact, the discomfort or panic of that dissociation can enhance and exacerbate the unwanted emotion. Add in feeling like a failure or like you ought to be able to control this emotion, and you’ve added even more chemicals interacting in the body.

What to do?

Change starts within us. Within individuals. I’d love to magically change society and society’s dangerious and poisonous views, but that isn’t something any individual can do. But we can learn to create a better relationship with our own emotions—and to forge more healthy relationships with the emotions of others by our own reactions.

For each individual, admit and surrender to the idea that emotions are not a thing to be controlled.

That’s a lot of work on its own.

Next, each of us should pay attention to your body during emotions. How do I feel? What is my natural inclination for action while experiencing those emotions? Is there a situational cause for the emotion? If so, what? If not, that’s okay too; I  notice and appreciate your body is going through something physical and physiological that creates this emotion.

This is also a lot of work. We need to give ourselves permission to take our time with this.

Then, then, after we’ve acknowledged these things, we can look for the things we can control.

For me, the first thing is to learn how to communicate about emotions. Let the ones I love know when I’m angry, that I need to do something physical—walk, yell, punch or throw inanimate objects. Anyone I’m in a relationship with—my hubby, my friends, my family—are people I could potentially act out upon due to emotions, and none of us have psychic powers, so it’s important to tell them why I’m acting out—what I’m feeling, what I need, and so on. Of course, it’s important that if the emotion was caused by an action that, once the uncontrollable need is met (time alone, being hugged, pillows beaten up), the cause needs to be addressed.  I’ve seen people (and it’s often shown in literature, television, movies, etc) take care of the emotional need, but then never address the issue—so it continues to fester and cause the uncomfortable emotion—and that discomfort will grow, requiring the physical response to be stronger and stronger. Communication is the most important thing in any healthy relationship. Communicating with ourselves and others is key when it comes to our shared relation with emotions.

Once we get communication moving, we can look at other things that are within our control. Especially when emotions come at inconvenient times. Rather than try to control the emotion, however, we can control how we handle the symptoms of emotions. Rather than saying, “I can’t be angry right now,” we can think, “I can’t tell so-and-so to self-copulate painfully right now.” We can take time to pay attention to breathing and work at controlling that to an extent. We can take time with responses, crafting them so as not to damage other relationships. We can remove ourselves from situations when we realize we are at a place where the physiology of the emotions is not appropriate.

I don’t think I can say enough times that this is not easy, and I, for one, am far from perfection in this practice.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And try again. And try again. (And apologize, communicate, and try again.)

The last thing regarding “control” over emotions is how we respect and appreciate others’ physiological-emotional needs. Telling someone to “get control” is, as mentioned above, not only likely impossible but damaging, potentially making the situation worse. Find out what they need in the moment to deal with the emotion, and later discuss the situation. Be forgiving when someone lashes out; it may be a thing they physically can’t control at the moment…

That said, suffering regular abuse from someone who “can’t control their emotions” is a relationship not worth keeping. That is an entirely different—but still very important—conversation that needs to be had. Physical attacks, deep emotional attacks, any abuse is wrong.

Outside of abusive behaviors, however, it’s worth being flexible, honoring the physiological aspects of emotion, and opening a channel of communication. For ourselves, and for the ones we care about.

I hope this isn’t an unpopular topic, and that more of us do start healthy discussions about what emotions are and what makes for good emotional relationships.

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Surgery Prep

It’s been over a year since my last blog post that was part of #HoldOntoTheLight…

This one probably could be too, but I just want to get it out there because I’m going into surgery tomorrow and I’ve been procrastinating on writing it for a while.

The surgery is fairly minor, though I do get anesthesia.

The short, less-icky version:

I’ve got a good-sized fibroid in my uterus that’s also on my cervix that’s been making my life miserable for a while now. They’re going to remove it via hysteriscopic surgery (i.e. no incision, using my own openings). And then they’re going to put in a IUD that’s supposed to help out with the other misery-causing issues that led to the fibroid being there in the first place.

Most urgent information… I’m going to be mostly offline / resting for the next week. I expect the procedure to be fairly easy.

The long and icky version of this is part of an ongoing medical condition that I only had doctors take seriously in 2014, though it has likely been an issue since I started having periods.

Yes, we’re getting into periods. Turn back if you’re scared; here there be woman dragons.

(I say that dripping with sarcasm, because I think everyone really ought to be educated about how half our population’s bodies work… and because I think this “ew” factor and ignorance that comes up with women’s health is a part of why I suffered as I have for over 20 some odd years…)

It took me having to go to the ER and nearly getting admitted due to a kidney infection that developed due to a bladder infection due to a uterine track infection that I neglected symptoms to because I couldn’t differentiate them from the symptoms I was already suffering due to a 6-week long period.

Short version of THAT: About six months’ worth of tests from a specialist OB-GYN and a urinary gynecologist, and I learn I produce too much estrogen, likely have produced too much estrogen my whole adolescent and adult life, because of that likely couldn’t have kids if I wanted, oh and my uterus is actually tilted and twisted (also affecting the “kid breeding potential”) and THAT contributed to my life-long war with my bladder that has led me to more embarrassment and pain than I want to get into with this blog post.

Yeah. All that.

After a few failed procedures (posted on FB and maybe I’ll do a blog post on them later… it’s almost time for The Walking Dead)… my OB-GYN gave me an arm implant that was supposed to even out my hormones and potentially make my periods go a way for almost three blessed years!

Less than a year and a half after said implant… I’m bleeding again. I was bleeding and in pain at…

Every. Single. Convention. I attended in 2017. All of them. Every month.

And it was going from five days to six days, to seven days…

And the time between periods was getting less and less and less…

It wasn’t until I spent more than half of Necon in July in my hotel room, in bed, puking and bleeding and exhausted, that I demanded another appointment with the OB-GYN.

I then had to go home and record three more months of my cycles for something to be done. (Despite the fact I had very clearly recorded the prior six months in red marker on my calendar for her to see already.)

I cheated and called her in two and a half months because I was on my third bleeding cycle. It fucked with my DragonCon.

More tests, more visits, and A REASON!

I had a fibroid.  A big one. Oh, and it was also on top of my cervix.

If you didn’t follow the link above for what a fibroid is, here is another one to the Mayo Clinic. I include that one because it has a handy list of symptoms, which I’ll copy here:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Menstrual periods lasting more than a week
  • Pelvic pressure or pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Constipation
  • Backache or leg pains

I have Every. Single. One. Oh, and also anemia. I need to sleep all the time, and I have no energy. Everything, everything I do and have been doing takes two to three times the effort.

So, add in depression, feeling like a failure, and all the emotional baggage that goes with that.

Thing is, I get most of those symptoms with my messed-up estrogen and twisty-tilty uterus anyway…  This fibroid was just exacerbating a regular level of misery I live with each month. Hopefully, this IUD will help with the hormones.

But seeing as the arm implant failed after a little over a year, I’m not all that hopeful.  I’m just glad to get the fibroid that’s making things worse out…

What I want is a full hysterectomy. Kids aren’t in the planning, and there’s always adoption and fostering if we do change our minds.  I have no need for these parts.

But I got a hard “no” on that from the doc. That’s its own blog post.

I plan on returning to blogging. I’ll talk about that as things continue.

But, for now, I’m going into surgery.

And I have a medical affirmation for at least part of my suffering, for many of the failures I’ve felt over the past year, for not being as productive and being more “flaky,” for the exhaustion and the anger and uncontrolled emotions, for the pain…

Having a name for it, having a cause does matter. Having a plan and having power over it… that’s in progress.

 

For now, I will take well wishes, hope, prayers, and whatever anyone wants to send.

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Coffee Shop Office Hours; #WriterWednesday, #coffee, #amwriting, #wheretowrite, #writinglife, #NaNoWriMo, #WW

Coffee and chocolate drinksToday, I had a coupon for an oil change at one particular place, but as they were being difficult to schedule, I spent $5 more to hit the Monroe I normally go to. I was perfectly fine with that, as it’s closer to my local Starbucks.

Mind you, hands down, I prefer and go out of my way to patronize local coffee shops and small businesses. (Hello, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters!) That said, there is a lot of good to be said about Starbucks – particularly my local one, which has excellent customer service and baristas who know my name.

But, back to my oil change and why that inspired my #WriterWednesday post…

I have yet to get an oil change anywhere that is done in the 15-20 minutes they promise. That’s why I prefer the one by Starbucks; I pack my computer and I know I can get work done in a fairly comfortable setting with readily available caffeine and at least semi-healthy snacks – depending on my resistance level to not-in-the-least-bit-healthy for you snacks. (Salted caramel fudge block and s’mores squares, I’m looking at you!)

When I’ve interviewed writers for my non-fiction articles, or when I get interviewed as a writer, there is almost always a question about rituals and what one does to “get in the zone” to write. I laugh at that. My requirements: somewhere to sit semi-comfortably and either a functioning machine with a word-processing program or just plain paper with pen or pencil.

And that’s all you should need, too.

Life is hectic. Writing time needs to be fought for and protected fiercely. That’s why writers should get into the habit of writing anywhere, anytime. Always have pen and paper, and whenever possible, bring a netbook, tablet, or something like that (because it’s way easier to transfer work via email or thumbdrive than actual transcription, IMHO).

Now, when it comes to coffee shops in particular, if you haven’t ever explored that old cliché of a writer in a coffeehouse, you’re missing out.

(There’s also the cliché of writers in bars; I have tried it with varying success. But that will be another post.)

The coffee-shop-as-office is becoming a ubiquitous trend. I see people with their laptops all the time – and not just writers. There’s a unique vibe to the indie and Starbucks-esque coffee shops that I haven’t found elsewhere. These havens work as both a place to be alone in a crowd or part of a community – sometimes both in the same visit.

When someone’s looking at their computer intently, usually, they don’t get bothered. (Usually: YMMV). But if you’re stuck and looking around, sometimes you’ll meet eyes with someone and strike up a short conversation. Or, someone you know might be eating, relaxing, reading,.. or staring into space rather than their computer screen (especially if you frequent this spot a lot). Sometimes just that brief conversation will reinvigorate you about your topic; sometimes that person might have useful information for you.

Today, for example, I was pushing through email when two local police officers walked in and were chatting at the table next to me. My current short WIP includes some things that police officers would be uniquely qualified to advise me on.  I kept smiling and trying to catch their eye during lulls in conversation, and finally, one of them addressed me.

With a shy smile, I started, “This is really weird, but I’m a writer and I’m working on a piece that I want to get right in how the police might handle a situation…”

“What do you write?”

“Science fiction, fantasy…”

“My favorites! What do you need…?”

I asked about a particular plot point, got useful information, and we bid each other good days. It was great!

In my coffee shop office hours, I’ve met pastors, teachers, lawyers, other police officers, mechanics, and all sorts of folk from whom I’ve had the pleasure of learning. I’ve ended up getting speaking and book signing gigs based on our conversations. At the very least, my writing time has included delicious beverages and food.

Most importantly, having “office hours,” even if they’re at someplace public, in and of itself, can be a tool to help productivity. A change of environment, the white noise of conversation, the general “coffee shop” style music can push your brain out of a stuck mode. Or, if you are set on having rituals and practices to help you write, setting aside a place and limited time might be just enough to get you started.

Have you tried coffee shop office hours? How did it work for you?

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I’ve never wanted to end my life… #holdontothelight, #alwayskeepfighting, #akf, #mentalwellness

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I’ve never wanted to end my life.

I’ve been sad, angry, lethargic, overwhelmed to the point of being unable to get out of bed. I would never use “depressed,” though, to describe how I felt. Part of it, I’m sure, is stigma. Another part, however, is knowing my friends who have been depressed – clinically or situationally – and who at one point really did want to end their lives.

I was bullied through a good part of school. In first grade, my best friend told me she was leaving me to hang out with the cooler kids. In fifth and sixth grade, my best friend and I were belittled by teachers and physically threatened by classmates for being different. I became the lead drummer in junior high because I spent every lunch hiding in the band room, practicing so I could avoid the lunchroom where no one would sit with me and I’d gotten shoved and told “Stop following us! We don’t want you around us!” by a group of girls I’d thought were friends. In high school, things changed because there were over 2000 kids, so enough of us outcasts and geeks found each other and made our own group – but we all knew we should never travel alone. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or if we were Magic the Gathering people or Dungeons and Dragons players, we employed the buddy system and made friends with the librarians who let us stay there rather than the more dangerous realms of lunch rooms and study halls.

Through all that, I never came close to wanting to end my life.

My emotions didn’t go to the dark level I saw in others, so I didn’t want to take that term “depression” from them. I was worried about appropriation before I’d even heard the word “appropriation.” I loved these people, and I respected what they were going through – even when it made me feel helpless. It wasn’t about me feeling helpless; it was about them. People who were hurting the way I’d hurt – only much, much worse.

I’m going to get into a confessional that some people might just consider “woo-woo” or “New Agey” or some other diminutive term that downplays the intense levels humans can connect. This is a #sorrynotsorry moment where I think such people are wrong.

A friend of mine, also a writer – keeping names confidential – and I regularly share how we both are deeply affected by others’ emotion, and how that affects each of us in our writing  and working lives. We remind each other to protect our energies – because if someone is very excited, we get that way. And if someone was hurting, we take on that pain in hopes that it made them hurt less. Often unconsciously. Often to a level where we need time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover from a particular conversation.

When I started learning about energy work in my adulthood, I’d been told by more than a few people I needed to protect myself better when it came to energy. I did. Somewhat.

Until I didn’t.

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I was visiting another dear friend of mine who was going through an especially difficult time in her life. She was successful, happily married, brilliant in literary gifts as well as science… And for the first time, she was actively thinking of ways she might end her life. She was even planning ways she might do so with as little impact to others as possible – because she didn’t want to hurt anyone. I listened, we held each other, and I just wanted to do something to help.

Perhaps I did. I don’t know. I know she is still alive and at least posting happy things on social media.

I also know that I was more drained than I’d ever been. And a few days later, I was feeling things I’d never felt before.

I didn’t want to kill myself.

But I didn’t want to do anything. I hurt. Everywhere. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt utterly and completely empty, like there was nothing inside and nothing good would ever happen again. My brain was spinning its logic wheels; there was no reason for me to have these emotions. My work and money issues were actually doing well, I was writing a story I really enjoyed, no one I knew was terminally sick or dying or dead…

I was sitting in the car while my husband had run into the store and I was just sobbing uncontrollably.

Not only were there all those negative feelings, but the fact there was no logical reason for me to have those feelings, feelings I’d never felt before, was utterly terrifying.

Fortunately, I do have a wonderfully supportive husband who took how I was feeling very seriously and spent the day doing things with me. He looked online for ways to help “reset the brain” while I napped. Then we went walking in the woods. After that, we visited our long-time friend, apothecary, and “kitchen witch,” who smudged me and suggested foods with garlic, tumeric, and chocolate. My husband drove to all this so I wouldn’t have to, and he listened to me going on and on while he drove.  Then we went home and I took the “day off” and snuggled with him as we binge watched Supernatural.*

The feelings alleviated as the day passed, but not entirely. It was not an immediate fix. Not for a week, maybe two, did I feel even close to my usual self. And the memory still chills my stomach and grips my lungs so I feel I need my asthma inhaler.

Those feelings – the combination of them all at once – that is how I understand depression.  It’s not just one thing. It’s everything all at once at the loudest volume and THE HIGHEST PRESSURE. And no strength to handle it.

I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed. In fact, I even got turned down for a weight study because, during the interview, I had no signs of depression whatsoever.

But it happened to me.

It happened to me, and it can happen to anyone. It could happen to everyone; you don’t need a diagnosis.

Do I know what my other friends with depression know? Certainly not. I know enough about emotions that they are not the same for any two people. And everyone has a different pain threshold. Can I speak for people who suffer clinical depression or any other type of depression? Absolutely not.

But I can say how I felt. And I can share the stories I’m permitted to share. For those who are suffering, you aren’t alone – even if someone might only share a moment or a piece of that pain – someone has felt desperation and depression.  Someone believes what you say you feel. Someone wants to help.

For those who don’t understand, can’t imagine…perhaps my short moment will give you pause, will describe it in a way you can understand and help you empathize. It happened to me; it can happen to anyone; so everyone needs to be aware and everyone should be more compassionate. I hope that adding to this conversation, we can build a better support system and a kinder, more aware culture.

If you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some resources for you. Remember, you’re not alone and people care about you:

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#  – 1-800-273-8255

http://suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html – has a list of numbers for specific states and regions.

http://www.nami.org/ – The National Alliance on Mental Health has a lot of resources you can call for emergency help, to educate yourself,  to find community support, and more.

* When I had my writing colleague who has confided about me about her depression beta read this article, she gave me a lot of great feedback, but one thing she told me was that I needed to detail what I did to get through my depressive episode. I was reticent to do so because I get infuriated at all the “inspirational” posters, memes, messages, etc. that say “You don’t need pills; you just need to walk in the woods.” I want to slap the people who post them because it’s insulting and outright deadly. Period. Long explanation short: Sometimes natural, herbal, cognitive-behavior methods work; sometimes they don’t and medicine does. There are good reasons to take medication and there are good reasons to not take medication. Respect what works for each individual, share information and techniques, but NEVER shame someone or belittle their choices or needs.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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Round Up Time #authorevents #outandabout #blogging #holdontothelight

trish-with-mister-fuzzypantsWhile October is usually extremely busy for me, being that I tend to write dark fantasy, dark SF, and horror, October 2016 is especially so! I’m back in my blogging saddle, so let me give you a quick round-up of things to expect (some of which do make blogging challenging because I’m not at home much). Here you go:

This week, I had a most wonderful time being on The Taco Society Presents television show!  You can see the whole thing here.

I also had a great dinner/marketing/shop-talking evening yesterday with the Massachusetts SciFi & Fantasy Authors.

TOMORROW, October 22: I’ll be at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival! I’m super excited about that, AND I will have a limited (only 18 copies) run of a glossy softcover edition of “Tea with Mr. Fuzzypants” for sale. They’ll be numbered and with some surprise original drawings inside by me! Besides myself, there are about 35 other amazing horror authors who will be signing, a great set of panels, and all sorts of Halloween surprises, so do come and check it out.

On Monday, October 24, I will have a special blog post as part of the #HoldOntoTheLight movement, where over 100 authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror talk about their experiences with bullying, mental illness, and more. Find out more about this important movement on their website, and check out my Monday blog for my experience.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

On Wednesday October 26, I’ll work out another #WriterlyWednesday post about…National Novel Writing Month and be at The Children’s Friend with the Worcester Writers Collaborative, getting in some fiction or poetry words before the big push of NaNoWriMo.

On Thursday, October 27, I’ll be running my Group Tarot Workshop at Generations in Oxford, MA. If you are interested in learning Tarot for divination or writing or your own personal interest, come join us! I’ll be looking at the “scariest” cards in the deck, and sharing a little surprise.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, October 29-30, I’ll be in the Salem Open Market festival with the New England Horror Writers, where we’ll be having a launch party for our latest anthology, Wicked Witches!

And then, Monday, October 31, it’s Halloween, and I plan on snuggling up to the hubby and watching scary movies and getting cheap take-out. Because that’s how you romance this girl, right here. ❤  (Also, due to our location, we don’t actually get trick-or-treaters… which is sad.)

What are you folks up to? Hopefully the rest of your Halloween Month is as full of treats as mine has been so far!

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Back in the Saddle #WriterlyWednesday #BabySteps

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I’m Blogging Again…

I’ve written and re-written my “Hey, look, my blog is alive again” post so many times it’s sickening.  I’ve revised some of my published short stories fewer times.

Why is this post so hard? It’s not more personal than what I pour into my fiction nor what I give to the authors I edit.

If I’m to guess, it’s because I’m afraid I won’t keep up a schedule, that I’ll fail. I’ve dropped blogging so many times – though I do enjoy it – to make time for paying projects and such. And when you drop or fail something…and take a long time to get back into it, it’s So. Much. Harder.

That’s why, in horseback riding, when you fall off, you should always get back on right away. The longer you wait when it’s been a failure, a hurt, a fall, the more difficult it is to get back into the saddle.

Well, this is hardly the first, nor will it be the last blog post where I intersperse some riding wisdom with writing wisdom.

Here’s another piece, just for today:

Even a short ride or short interaction is worth it.

In writing, once you’ve been away from a project, you lose passion. It’s easy to forget it and keep putting it off. Same lesson…

Sometimes just making yourself write one sentence, edit one paragraph, re-read one page is a good start. Just keep at it.

I had one author friend who could only squeeze in one sentence a day. That’s all. Then she finished the story.

If you want to write, if you want to market, if you want to accomplish anything… baby steps are okay. Just keep making them.

My awesome/torturous/awesome-because-she-is-torturous riding instructor once had me dedicate an entire class to mounting/dismounting. Calico and I were having issues…and that was the baby step we needed.

So, here is my short #WriterlyWednesday blog post. To get me back in the saddle.

It’s okay to take baby steps; it’s okay to only write a little.

Just keep going.

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