Ramblin’ roach

I’ve been back in Illinois a few days now. It’s hard being separated from my husband and son. I even miss the cats. It’s hard not having a place to call my own. It’s hard not knowing what the future holds.

But it isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Charlotte and I are staying with friends who are doing their all to make us welcome. I have people who love us sending messages of support hourly via social media, email and text. People are helping me research. People are lifting me up. And I have resources. The library is going to be my home base the next few weeks. It gives me access to the internet for communication, air conditioning and even a place to take step-by-step pictures.

Charlotte is being upbeat about all this. As long as she has access to the internet and time to draw she’s happy. She might not deal well with change same as me, but things are familiar enough to help her cope. It helps that season five of Voltron hit and so she has a whole world of Tumblr fandom to keep her busy.

I am focusing on pictures for the book. The house I’m staying in is lovely and quirky and perfect for indoor shots. For the outdoor ones there are plenty of parks around. People have given me lots of advice on taking the pictures. Their help is starting to show as the last batch I sent my editor got a big thumbs up.

As difficult as the next few weeks will be, I know that I will survive them thanks to the incredible support structure I have around me.

No Easy Beauty

Charlotte and I pulled into Bolingbrook just before midnight last night. It was the end of a 2,400 mile journey that took us to Wyoming and back again. With the exception of the 2 1/2 hours we sat in traffic due to construction and accidents it was a good trip.  We drove out to Laramie to drop off my husband, son and the cats.

My husband, Stephan, has a new job in Laramie and we’ve signed a lease on a house.  After a day of getting them settled, Charlotte and I loaded back into the Jeep and headed out on the road again.  We swung up through Worland to visit my grandmother.  That added half a day to our trip, but I hadn’t seen Grandma since 2008 and I wasn’t about to skip a chance to see her.

Charlotte and roach in Wyoming
Charlotte and I take a selfie in the Big Horn Basin.

Driving through Wyoming I got to show my daughter all the things I loved about my home state.  I wasn’t trying to convince her to want to move there, I just wanted to give her an insight into where her mother came from.  Charlotte kept pointing out places where we could set the castle I plan to build one day.

The drive also gave me a lot of time to process what’s been going on.  Where I grew up is not an easy place to love.  You have to look for its beauty and if you can’t find it, the land doesn’t care.  I watched the landscape roll past us, desolate but dotted with life determined to thrive.  I thought about how I had been raised to know that life isn’t easy and won’t hand anything to you.  With that in mind, I was taught, I was supposed to be grateful for anything life gave me and not complain.  Never ask for anything more, was the prevailing wisdom.  It took thirty plus years for me to unlearn that second lesson.  Life might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight for what I want.

Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter
Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter

I’ve got two more weeks before I get an idea of whether or not my relocation petition will be granted.  I’ve spent almost six thousand dollars on this fight, and I will spend thousands more to finish it.  I am not trying to take Charlotte from her dad, I’ve been adamant from the beginning of this legal battle.  I’ve stated that I would work with him to make sure they have time together.  But I can’t let him have full custody of her.

My ex-husband is a homophobe who has not supported our daughter since she came out as a lesbian last year.  He hasn’t taken her mental health issues seriously, ignoring and denying her repeated requests for help for months until I intervened and got her into therapy and on medication.  In the past he preyed on an underage girl, chatting with her about masturbation and being “friends with benefits”.  The list of reasons why he can’t have her full time goes on and on and on.  Charlotte needs to have a relationship with her father.  She also needs to be protected from him.

Life isn’t easy.  Neither are the decisions I have to make.  If the relocation isn’t approved I will remain in Illinois.  I’ll get a studio apartment for me and Charlotte.  My husband will remain in Laramie.  His new job pays more than his previous one.  There are opportunities for advancement there and he will be enrolling in the Masters program for Health and Kinesiology at the University of Wyoming.  My friends and family in Laramie have already set to making my guys feel welcome and loved.

Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.
Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.

This will be an extreme hardship on all of us.  I’m going to suffer financially.  Charlotte will still have to deal with a move as we won’t be able to stay in the surrounding area.  My son will not have his mother.  My husband will have to be a single father.  My daughter is worth fighting for, though.  She is worth suffering for.  I’ll be beside her, looking for the beauty in the bleak scenery for as long as she needs me.

Packing Up

I’ve been reading blog posts the last couple months about packing up to move: tips on box size, labels, if you are using a moving company, if you aren’t, lists to make, things to do, ways to pickup your life in one place and shift it to another location.

Those posts don’t cover things like how to deal with the unexpected emotional fallout when you realize you have to leave your plants behind.  There’s no advice in how to fend off a feeling of panic when you have to break up the set of glassware you got from your great grandmother, packing the glasses in one box and the bottles in another.  I have yet to find any tips on how to decide what to pack and what to get rid of when you don’t know how long your belongings will be in storage.

The consent judgement will be entered into record on June 12.  That is our vacate date.  I learned it yesterday.  There was, not a sense of relief, but a recognition and determination that filled me when I read the e-mail.  After months of not knowing when I had to leave my house, now I had a date.  Now I can shut down utilities and start packing in earnest.  Now I have one less “I don’t know” hanging over my head.

Now I know when I become officially homeless.

It’s not that we don’t have a plan.  We will be driving out to Laramie, where I have family and my husband has a job offer.  He and our son and our cats will be staying with my cousin and his family until they can move into a house we’ll be leasing from a friend. After they’ve been dropped off, my daughter and I turn around and head back to Illinois.  That’s where it gets complicated.

My petition to relocate hasn’t been approved.  The pre-trial hearing is scheduled for the end of June, with the actual hearing following in mid-July.  And so I have to stay in Illinois with my daughter until I find out if I will be able to take her to Laramie with me.  The plan is for us to crash with friends, stay in hotels and camp.  It sounds all very adventurous, but I will admit to being anxious about the whole thing.

There is still the possibility that my relocation request will be denied.  In that case we have to head back to Wyoming to get my son and husband and cats and bring them back to Illinois and find a place to live.  Seeing how the idea is to move to a place where the cost of living is cheaper and there is a support structure, staying in Illinois sees me stuck in the same situation I have been over the past year.

There is no alternative, however.  I will not live someplace where I can’t have my daughter with me.

So I keep packing boxes, hoping to get everything packed up in time so I can finish the reshoot of pictures for Sew Witchy.  I will continue to run the 50% off sale over at my Etsy store until the 9th of June.  Then I’ll shut it all down.  I will try to stay so busy that my Jerk Brain doesn’t have time to work its way back into existence.

Making it Work: Marking it Alllll the Way Down

I’m getting accustomed to the unknown.  I have no idea when the bank will kick me out of my house.  I e-mail my contact there and don’t get any response.  My most conservative estimate is June 1.  But it may be a little later.  I don’t know when things will be settled between my ex-husband and myself.  We are arguing over where our daughter will live once I have to leave my house.  He’s also petitioned the court to throw me into jail and fine me for losing my home.  The legal wrangling has no end in sight.  I don’t know when I am going to be allowed to start the new chapter of my life, one where I am living back in the mountains, back on familiar territory, with my family.

With all that uncertainty around me, I am tackling the things I do have control over.  I’ve begun the process of packing up the house.  I am assigning my possessions to bins and boxes and piles labelled “Keep”, “Sell”, “Donate”.  I have gone back to the library for research material, this time on book promotion.  And I’ve spent the last two days listing every bit of inventory I have on Etsy and marking it down 50% in a sale that is meant to raise money for moving and legal fees as well as to help pare down what I will be taking with me.

So should you be in the market for a bag or skirt with pockets, some jewelry or a pencil roll, head to my Etsy store and you can find everything there 50%, no coupon necessary.

When the Deadlines Are Done

The first months of 2018 have been the busiest that I can remember.  January was taken up by finishing the Sew Witchy book manuscript for a February 1 deadline.  And then February and March saw me:

  • Sewing up a box of projects from the book to get out to my publisher for a cover photo shoot (deadline April 1)
  • Editing the manuscript per editorial input (deadline April 2)
  • Prepping to vend at C2E2 (deadline April 6)
  • Taking photos for the book (deadline April 16)

At one point I was awake and working for 48 hours to meet the photo deadline.  And in between my professional obligations I had to fit in being present for my family, dealing with the loss of my house, and defending myself in court (along with the custody issue, my ex is petitioning the court to punish me for losing the house, including asking for me to be incarcerated). Fun times.

Blackberry whiskey and ginger ale
Blackberry flavored whiskey and ginger ale tastes like freedom after months of work.

Now, after meeting my last deadline, I have found myself suffering from temporal whiplash.  As soon as I uploaded the photos we climbed into the Jeep and headed to a camper owned by friends for a weekend of campfires and whiskey.  I spent a lot of time Saturday and Sunday just sleeping.

Come Monday morning, after I had gotten Charlotte off to school, I found myself at sort of a loss of what to do.  I cleaned the kitchen and family room.  I did the dishes and made dinner.  I spent a lot of time thinking about all the stuff I had to do and realizing that I had plenty of time to do it in.  The rest of the week has been the same.  I have stuff to do.  But there is no urgency.

It’s a strange position to be in.  In fact it weirds me out not to have a deadline constantly pushing at me.  I don’t have to rush my kids through bedtime so that I can get back to work.  I’m not staying up until three in the morning sewing.  Right now my To Do list is full of items like “make dinner” and “pack up one shelf of books”.

A friend posted a link to the article “This is the Reason So Many Unbound Women Fear They’re Lazy” on Facebook the other day.  Reading through it, I found myself nodding in agreement.  I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fill my every waking hour to justify my existence, especially once I stopped working outside of the house.  Shifting to a focus more on what I and my family need done to serve our lives is a big, scary step.  Many times throughout these first few days I have found myself sitting down with nothing that needs my immediate attention.  My busy brain would kick into gear those times, trying to kickstart anxiety over the fact that I was just sitting there.

I am working to reconcile my busyness with this lack of deadlines.  I am trying to actively enjoy, rather than making a show of tolerating, this less frantic pace.  I still have a move thousands of miles away to arrange.  I still have legal wrangling to deal with.  I still have a book and family that needs my attention.  That is more than enough right now.

Making it Work: Updates

I can’t believe it is April already.  January seemed to drag on forever, and now it is Spring (well, in theory, it’s still occasionally snowing and cold here).  I spent much of the last three months waiting on one thing or another, working towards deadline after deadline.  Now, with the last deadline almost here, I have a moment to catch my breath.

My house is still working through foreclosure.  I’ve made plans to move in June, presuming I can get things settled on the custody of my daughter.  By the time of my hearing later this month I’ll have spent nearly $4000 on legal fees to sort things out.  It might end up costing me even more and drag on past June.  I’ve contingency plans for housing in case that happens.

The housing and custody issues have only occupied 3/4 of my time.  The rest has been spent on my book.  The publisher, Llewellyn, has given it a new name: Sew Witchy.  I spent most of February and March making edits.  I added a whole new section on sewing basics, including descriptions of various stitches use throughout the book.  My editor also requested that I add a few more projects so I spent several weeks buried in mountains of muslin to make a robe and hooded cape pattern.

It’s eye-opening to write about basic sewing stuff when I’ve been sewing for so long.  Stopping and having to describe things that I do automatically now required a lot of effort on my part.  Fortunately, my editor is a self-proclaimed sewing newbie, so she pointed out all the spots that needed expansion.  Even so, I spent a lot of time second-guessing my writing, wondering if I was explaining things adequately.

This week I’m busy taking the last of the photos for the book.  I understand now why so many sewing books rely on illustrations rather than photos for step-by-step instructions.  You don’t have to deal with lighting or fabric that won’t lie flat or wrinkles that won’t release no matter how much you press them.  I have an even greater respect for people who can work a camera now.

I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks about the book.  I figured people might be interested in reading the proposal I sent out when I was looking for a publisher, and how I got my agent.  There will also be more customer profiles and book reviews and sewing weirdness.

Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.

The Idiorhythmic River

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to work with my depression instead of against it.  To me this means going with the flow: working on those tasks that I feel up to, and not forcing myself to slog through tasks.  Do this goes against my upbringing.  It goes against some of the underlying belief in hard work that is so prevalent in American society.

We “tough it out” and “work through the pain.”  We never take sick days.  We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and soldier on.  We put in 110% and go big or go home.  We fake it till we make it.  What we never, ever do is stop to question who is the taskmaster that set this schedule, let alone why we should follow it.

Hard work, after all, is it’s own reward.

This last week I’ve been plagued with insomnia … again.  I can’t fall asleep until four or five or six in the morning.  And then, when I do, I sleep away half the day.  If it weren’t for the fact that Stephan is at home and responsible for the kids in the morning, the house would be miserable.

Part of this is a physical cycle: sleep away the day and of course I won’t be able to sleep at night.  Part of it is my depression: meds help, but the American Horror Show: White House that is playing out is making it worse.

I’ve tried to work with this: breaking down work into simple tasks and tackling them as I feel able.  I spent Monday baking and prepping meals.  Tuesday was running errands.  Yesterday I started seeds for the garden, and registered for some events later this year.  Very little time was spent in the workshop.  And it’s that which Jerk Brain latches onto.  I have deadlines!  I am not depressed, I’m lazy!  Going with the flow is just an excuse for not having dedication and follow through!

And, despite having years of practice dealing with Jerk Brain, it can still be hard to ignore.  Especially when one or two bad days drags out into four or five.  I begin to second-guess this plan of giving myself permission to do work that isn’t tied to a paycheck.  I start to look at my output, at my hours worked, and scattered as they are across the days and week it is hard not to see them as inferior to a solid forty hour work week.  When I have to budget and scrimp and save, when I look at my dwindling bank account, it is hard not to believe Jerk Brain when it insists that I am a failure.

One of my weapons against all this is Stephan.  I tell him that I feel like I am being a bad partner and mom.  That I worry I am not contributing enough to our family’s stability.  I tell him that I’m worried my insomnia is responsible for his own sleeplessness.

He responds that I am doing fine.  He says Jerk Brain is an asshole liar.  He promises that if he had an issue with anything he would say so.  And he cracks jokes to make me smile and laugh.  He gives me permission to keep going with the flow, not because he thinks I need it, but because he knows I want it as a shield against my doubts.  I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to rely on him so much.  I am also okay with the knowledge that that day may never come.

More than that I will try to take it a day at a time.  Despite the insomnia and sleeping in today I managed to tidy up the house, help Benjamin with his homework, and take some measurements for projects.  And I wrote this post.  Little tasks.  Little check marks on the to do list.  And one by one I will get things done.

Down in the Hole

Almost three years ago I started to realize that I wasn’t okay.  Stephan was the first to notice it and suggest that I needed help.  That kicked off a period of introspection on my part where I started to recognize what I was going through and drawing parallels to a period in my life, almost twenty years earlier, where I had dealt with the same issues.  At that time I ended up trying to kill myself, dropped out of college and moved 2,000 miles from my home state of Wyoming to start over in Chicago.

Even though I recognized the signs and had a supportive husband, I still could have ended up in a very bad place.  We didn’t have health insurance at that point so I couldn’t get professional help.  In fact it would take about eight months after deciding I needed help before I could see someone.  And when everyday you alternate between feeling like you are being buried alive or that your head is going to explode from all the anxiety, it’s hard to function, let alone jump through all the hoops of finding the help you need.

Much like with my move to Chicago in 1996, I started cataloging my struggles with depression and anxiety out of desperation.  I made posts to my Facebook page about what I was dealing with, what it felt like, what I was going through to find help.  I needed to express what was going on in a place that was safe for me.  And even though I have a tightly locked down Facebook page, with a highly curated friends’ list, I still spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not to post.

What helped was another friend posting first about going to therapy and then later about taking medication.  It was just two little posts, snuggled in between stuff about politics and books and life.  But it made a huge difference.  Here was someone I looked up to, someone who, to my eyes, had their shit together.  And they were seeing a therapist for anxiety.  They were taking medication for their mental health.  Holy shit!  Maybe I wasn’t the only one!

I come from Wyoming, a state that has a high suicide rate for its population size, and where the most distinct cause of death in the state is the flu.  It is a place where you suck it up and work through the pain, no matter what.  It’s no wonder that we don’t talk about things as uncomfortable as mental health.  My own mother, when I had brought up depression and therapy in the past, cautioned that I had to be careful because therapists would “just want to blame all your problems on your parents.”  The concern with image trumps any pain or suffering you are feeling.  Add to that the belief that mental illness is more about personal failings and irresponsibility than an actual medical condition and you can see why it’s hard to talk openly about depression and anxiety, let alone other mental health issues.

Posting, first only about the arduous process of finding doctors that took my health insurance, but later on my medications and my reactions, had an effect that I had expected.  I started getting private messages from people who I had always seen as, again, having their shit together: people who were working, paying their bills, engaging in life.  These people told me about the medications they were on.  They told me what worked or didn’t work for them.  They wrote to me with support and encouragement.  It was so damned important for me, because I got to see that it wasn’t abnormal to take medication, that there was still life beyond depression.

As I kept writing, people started commenting openly.  Again, all these friends who I thought of as awesome, put together adults, were sharing their own struggles and stories.

And something else happened.  Friends started telling me about how my posts helped them with their own mental health issues.  They recognized their symptoms in my writings.  They went and sought help because they read about me taking medication.  They were feeling better, more hopeful about their own lives because they saw someone else going through the same things.

That realization suddenly made it so much easier to write the posts about what I was feeling.  To mention when I felt I was backsliding, or my worries that my medication isn’t helping.  I was doing the same thing I have been doing when I post about whether or not I am making money in this whole living a creative life endeavor: I am standing in the dark, holding up a light for those who might be otherwise lost.  And that’s a kind of healing as well.

 

 

Going with the Flow

Yesterday was Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, a time of contemplation and thanksgiving.  I was going to walk to the library and work on a project for a client.  I was going to do all the dishes that have piled up and tackle the to do list that had grown longer every day.  I was going to have a bonfire to celebrate the sabbat.  Instead I slept.

I didn’t intend to sleep.  Not at first.  The past week I’ve been spectacularly busy.  My done list has been filled will several entries each day.  I’ve managed to keep the house clean.  At night I would climb into bed and fall asleep excited about what I was going to be working on the next day.  I’d wake up, sleepy, but able to get Ben’s lunch packed and walk him to school.  It was proof, I was sure, that this whole four month plan was the right one.

Wednesday, though, saw an interruption to that productive flow.  I was worn down.  I decided to keep things low-key, to keep working but not push myself.  A reading and writing day would be just what I needed to keep moving forward, if at a slower pace than I was accustomed.

I polished a short story, ready now for feedback.  I finished up a blog post for next week and got started on another.  I even fit in reading, making some headway into a book that is proving a challenge to get through.  The entire day was a struggle.  I downed copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake.  By the end of the day, despite the work I had done, I was exhausted and cranky and not satisfied.  There were dishes in the sink.  There were items on my to do list that hadn’t been checked off.

My anxiety went into frantic hamster mode.  Doing things my own way is all good and fine, but I have to actually do things.  I have to work!  I have to justify this experiment!  I had to shake off this low energy and get back to productivity!  It went on and on, flagellating me with the determination to get! things! done!

Instead, I slept.  I thought about how I had traded the anxiety of churning out inventory for conventions for that of marking off a to do list.  I’m supposed to be living by my own life patterns, and yet, within the first week I’ve fallen into another trap of “going with the flow”.  This emphasis on making every moment count monetarily is so ingrained in my psyche that it is near impossible to root out.

So I slept.  I sat in the same chair I had occupied the day before, reading and writing and struggling against somnolence.  I pulled several throws over my body, and I slept.  I knew I’d lose the whole day.  I’m not a thirty minute napper.  I’m the kind of napper who sleeps for hours and wakes up questioning what just happened.  I slept from 10 am to 3 pm, waking up a half an hour before the kids got home from school.

nap meme
Me in meme form.

I can’t say that I had some magical epiphany and now everything is all better.  I can’t even say that I felt completely rested.  I ended up going to bed that night earlier than usual.  But what I can say is that the world didn’t end just because I decided to sleep instead of work.  I can say that I gave myself permission to explore a different flow: one without judgement that allows me to find my own rhythm.

Today I am still tired.  The exhaustion lurks behind my eyelids.  It is a companion that has been with me most of my life.  I acknowledge its presence.  I acknowledge that it is a tool I can use to shape a flow of loving kindness.  And I tell it, “Not today.”  Then I make myself another bottle of caffeine and get to work.