Rollercoasters

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. I’ve been trying to write-by-speaking, and accordingly have been testing various set-ups in my car to take dictation. The phone with voice recorder app failed. Too much road noise. Mom, who I have offered to hire to transcribe, reported back that the recording was very difficult to understand. I’ll type that up myself, since I know more or less what I was thinking, and the dictation should prompt me enough to write it out. I haven’t had time during the week because… well, I’m not getting into details. Suffice it to say there was family stuff, which had priority, and work spilled past the usual boundaries and it got messy here at the Nut House.

On top of all of that, I’m dealing with some… huh. There’s not really a politely vague way to describe this, so I’m going to be blunt. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if it bothers you. While it might be polite to not talk about this in public, I feel moved to lay it out on the table, because I know one thing: I’m not unique. If I am not alone, then I also know by talking about stuff I struggle with, it might help someone else have that lightbulb moment and be better equipped to deal with it on their own. Plus, I don’t give a flying flip about the ‘stigma’ it may have. I’m talking about hormone-driven mental health issues. Cyclical, unpleasant, but part of being a female for me. I’ve dealt with this in the past, enough that I do, indeed, have diagnoses although they are more than a decade old because it was under control for a long time. What has this got to do with being a writer? You might be asking. Well, for this writer it’s a pain in the tuchis when it comes to creative efforts. When I feel like if I sit down and start to write it will be like slitting the casing on a sausage and all that pain and doubt and fear (which I am exquisitely, painfully, aware that is not logical but that doesn’t matter to my brain in that moment) will come squirting out and can’t be put back in again. So I don’t write. Unless I can channel it into a story, and then I do. Anyway. We have been monitoring this for several months, and after years of considering myself ‘cured’ it’s back again with a vengeance. Haha, sucker, you can’t escape your own endocrine system!

Rollercoasters are, after all, predictable. You can see the structure. You can feel the spine-tingling ratchet of the mechanism drawing you up, up, and you know that when it stops, you’ll be plummeting downward. Story plots can be like this, too. Here’s the thing – plots are invisible rides. With a ‘coaster you are using your eyes to look at the hills, that monster loop, you know what’s coming. With a book, you can see the climax is near, but you don’t know when, and sometimes the author takes you over some bunny-hop hills first, to build up the thrills. The other thing about a book plot is that you don’t, entirely, trust the author not to take you down that hill, screaming all the way, feeling the thrill of danger… with a ‘coaster you trust that the car is going to swoop safely up the next hill, until momentum pauses and the mechanism catches, to pull you up even further and then do it all again. Which is what a good plot ought to do. A bad plot? goes off the rails and suddenly you’re buried in the dirt with all the fun gone and the pain of disappointment.

I’m not suggesting we all write boring, predictable plots. That’s not fun at all. I am pointing out that sometimes the depths of despair are necessary to highlight the heights of ‘win!’ and that if we throw in unexpected twists and turns it is just as exciting as that ‘coaster taking a quick tilt and twist to the side as it crests the hill and you couldn’t see what was coming. As authors, we just need to avoid the rails just… ending. Leaving your readers crashed into the ground wondering ‘what just happened?’ isn’t any fun for either of you.

The really odd thing here? I hate amusement parks. I would rather have a kidney removed without anesthetic than go to one. My kids love them, of course. Fortunately they have friends with a mom who likes the whole thing, so I buy tickets, slip her some gas money, and stand on the porch smiling and waving while they head off to one of those hellish places. The only thing I’d actually go for? A rollercoaster. I really enjoyed the couple of rides I got back when I was their age. I don’t want to relive the experience enough to endure another park, though.

As for the other thing? I’m finding the predictable ups and downs make it endurable. I’ve been collecting data and using it to generate a calendar with alerts (there are apps for this) and that helps. I get a ping on my phone, evaluate my headspace and think “ooooh… yeah, no decisions for Cedar today that would affect life beyond what’s for lunch or dinner.” It helps, to be able to step out of my own head a little and realize that it’s all a sea of hormones I’m drowning in, not reality, and if I am patient the tide will turn and flow back out and I’ll feel much more myself again. It doesn’t help to wonder, even a little, if this is what I’m really like, this awash in endocrine-generated emo self who just wants to retreat into her shell. I find that talking to someone I trust, and who knows what’s going on, helps. They can give me the objectivity I need to get through a few days of mental struggles to pick apart what’s real and what’s just my worst-case scenarios.

Then the rollercoaster ramps up again, and within 24 hours I get to publicly announce that three of my ‘secret’ projects from last year are coming soon! I have stories in three anthologies that will be released in the next couple of months. I went from never having been invited to participate in an anthology, to getting an invitation at LibertyCon and it snowballed from there. Whee! I’m so excited to finally show off what I’ve been writing!

20 comments

  1. It is not hormones, but recently it was helpful for me to remember that, oh yeah, when my allergies are bad enough the pain means I can’t think worth much, and that it might be fixable instead of early onset senility.

  2. Hang in there, Cedar. $SPOUSE$ had much the same problem – which also increased with age, until she aged out of it. Which at least had different issues…

    Much more even keel now, except that we are in sync – whenever a strong weather front comes through, we both have to practice our deep breathing.

    Humans. Obviously designed by a committee. One selected by Human Resources.

      1. Tried to think of myself as more of a life preserver, to prevent sinking all the way down.

        I wish they would do more research on this stuff – the daughters are probably going to have the same problems (it seems to be passed down, from what I have seen); it would be nice if they have better solutions when they do.

        1. I’ve had conversations with my daughters about my issues, to let them know what they might/are dealing with. It’s rough, but it’s a little easier when you know it’s not ‘all in your head’ and that gives you a tiny bit of perspective.

  3. Last ear was a bad one for low mood induced by illness, and what I suspect was extra-pyramidal side-effects from the medication treating my rheumatoid arthritis. So bad in fact that I ended up at my doctor for medication to counter the effects of the medication I was on.

    It sucks, but hopefully, you like me, will surface from the depths in due course. Remember to be kind to yourself.

  4. “When I feel like if I sit down and start to write it will be like slitting the casing on a sausage and all that pain and doubt and fear (which I am exquisitely, painfully, aware that is not logical but that doesn’t matter to my brain in that moment) will come squirting out and can’t be put back in again.”

    I’ve seldom seen a better description of the feeling. I happen to be there too at the moment, so I can’t even say for sure that it will get better – but at least I can say that your descriptive skills are those of a very talented writer.

  5. Wish you the best. I’ve also been struggling with mental illness (in my case, depression) for about three years now off and on. In some ways, it makes it easier to write (running away to my imaginary worlds seems like a good way to avoid my own troubles), but it makes it harder to do things like edit, make a blurb, and publish.

    Regarding the “rollercoaster” metaphor, my mind took it in a different direction: yes, you can see what’s coming, the drops and the curves and the loops…and that doesn’t make a bit of difference when it comes to riding it. Your stomach still drops, you still feel the thrill of fear as you fall, and the adrenaline rush as you zoom around corners. If we apply this to novels, what it says is that it doesn’t really matter if your writing is predictable. All you have to do is make sure that the reader enjoys going along for the ride.

  6. As authors, we just need to avoid the rails just… ending.

    I’m of two minds about this. There are tales I dearly love in which the hero dies. (I’ve even written a novel that ends that way. Mind you, he did succeed in his heroic endeavor; it just cost him his life.) One of the most popular novels in all of SF, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, concludes that way…and a case can be made that Mike failed his heroic task.

    On the other hand, readers’ preference is generally for a happy ending. Mine too, most of the time. And readers of the speculative genres have a stronger preference that way than most others.

    But there are stories which must end with a tragedy. Some must end with the hero’s failure and his death. Julius Caesar is a case in point. In some cases the hero must not be permitted to survive long enough to get to the climax of the tale — and yet be, unquestionably, the hero of the story. Consider Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes’s The Legacy of Heorot.

    It’s been said many times that fiction differs most sharply from reality in that fiction has to make sense. Yet fiction must resemble reality in one way above all others: the centrality of limited, fallible characters. Some exceedingly interesting problems one can pose to a protagonist are neither soluble nor survivable. And despite the implausibility of a happy ending for such stories and their heroes, they can make compelling, memorable reading.

    1. Oh, the hero can die without the rails ending. It’s when the plot folds up like a cheap bed that it’s akin to being pile-driven into the dirt. I’d argue that the best way to handle the death of the hero – a true tragedy – is to have the rails there guiding the reader while he’s blind with tears, so to speak.

  7. Understand about hormonal issues. As I was going into perimenopause, I’d have what I called “hormone storms,” when my emotions were all over the place, around That Time of the Month. Since the change completed, things have been on a more even keel, but then my thyroid gland started acting up on me, and it pretty much screwed me up until I could finally get to the endocrinologist and get treated.

    1. I’ve definitely been calling my times of the month storms. I wonder if that’s what is going on? Huh. One more thing to put on my list of ‘talk to the doc’ about.

  8. It might be worth it to visit a good endocrinologist, too see if something could be done. Our not-very-local-one helped me a lot.

    1. It may, although as far as thyroid goes I have had more than ordinary testing/scanning after a health scare last year. Turned out my thyroid is fine. *shrugs* this is more of what I’ve been dealing with since I hit puberty. I’m on meds for it, they just don’t always do more than level the peaks and valleys a bit, as it were.

  9. Don’t forget to see if vitamins, diet, and how/when you eat can help. For example, some people, like my mom, do better if they eat more, smaller meals. IIRC, during periomenopause hormone production shifts to the thyroid.

    BTW, I have to deal with two roller coasters, the big roller coaster in periomenopause (but since she knows everything, even what she doesn’t know, it’s impossible to help her) and the smaller one in puberty (and she doesn’t listen much better)

    Final note, I’ve started reading Pixie Noir, and really like it so far 🙂

Comments are closed.