Thursday, 20 August 2020

I'm Not Okay (And That's Okay)

As may be guessed from the extended silence on this blog since March, things haven't been going well.  I'm giving myself permission to admit that I'm not okay and I haven't been okay for awhile.

My life was difficult even before the COVID pandemic hit.  I often felt as if I were standing on a slowly submerging platform, holding heavy weights of responsibilities.  There were many times when the best I felt I could hope for was that I could keep my children afloat while I slowly drowned.  I was dealing with depression, engaged in a war of attrition with my local school board to give my 16yo the supports he needed (a battle that had already lasted 5 years as of September 2019), watching my 20 year marriage dissolve and facing financial and personal insecurity, and also deal with the usual challenges of raising teenagers, paying bills, and, oh yeah, writing books.

With COVID, I suddenly found myself unemployed and trying to manage four people sharing a house (including my ex-husband, which is a whole other area of stress and challenge).  I became a teacher, a peacekeeper (in the military sense, guarding borders to keep my two kids from launching attacks on one another), a therapist, and an activities coordinator.  Almost everything that we relied on for engagement for my older son was suddenly off-limits (no bus rides, no trips to ride cool elevators, and no swimming in public pools).  My youngest was worried about the world in general and needed reassurance that this was not the beginning of the End Times while also getting recognition that his feelings were important and shouldn't be denied (my parental attempt to assure I don't pass on the requirement for a Pollyanna mask that I was required to wear as a child).

Like many people, I also found myself responsible for managing my parents.  I recently saw a meme which introduced a child as the "emotional support daughter" and that was the role I found myself in, listening to frustrations from both of them.  (I have at least learned not to attempt to provide solutions or suggestions for the most part, which often created greater conflict in the past.)  They were intensely social before the pandemic and while they recognized the seriousness of what happened, they were lonely and needed social support.

As "March Break" stretched from one week to three to the rest of the school year, I found myself becoming physically and emotionally exhausted.  My creativity crashed and I was so tired that I was often sleeping more than 14 hours a day.  I couldn't watch television or movies.  I couldn't read books.  Everything seemed impossibly difficult.

I reached out for help and began working with my doctor and a therapist to adjust my medications and thinking.  I began rewatching and rereading old favourites and discovered that much of my anxiety around consuming stories was centered around **new** stories where I didn't know what was going to happen.  With stuff I'd already seen and read, I could get the necessary mental escape but didn't have the underlying anxiety of wondering if I was going to hit something that would plunge me into a bad mental space.

I tried different creative outlets, painting and sewing.  I changed my daily meditation from sitting quietly to listening to music and letting my thoughts wander.  I wrote fan fiction, bringing me back to the fandoms and universes that I've always loved and found inspiring.

Those things all helped.  But I'm still in a fragile place and one of the biggest things I need to be careful of is my twin lifelong tendencies to refuse to admit that anything is wrong and to push ahead beyond my limits.  (Yay, history of Perfectionism!)  This post is my way of not falling into that trap.

There are a lot of things that are still wrong.  There are many days when I feel completely invisible, like a machine that runs the household rather than a person.  I desperately miss having a sense of romantic and emotional attachment with another person, of being important to someone else.  (Not to dash the hopes of any second-chance-romance fans out there, but that connection died a long time ago with me and my ex-husband.)  I am faced with the reality that I will be caring for my oldest child for the rest of my life, and given how the autism support structure has been gutted in Ontario, there is little to no chance of ever being able to live solely for myself at any time in the future.  I'm worried about money and being able support myself and my children.  I'm terrified about the state of the world and the ugliness that seems to be swallowing our hopes faster than we can ignite them.

In being open about the challenges I'm facing, I'm hoping that my readers will understand and be patient with the fact that for the foreseeable future, I will be quieter and less productive than I have been in the past.  It isn't because I don't want to share the stories which still linger in my head, because I do.  I still love my characters and their adventures.  I want them all to have their happily ever afters.

I know many of you are facing similar (and sometimes worse) challenges and are looking for your own mental escape into a world where we know that no matter how bad things seem at the moment, our dreams will always win.  I don't have the same faith that we live in that world anymore, but I do still believe in creating a world where that happens.  If it needs to be fiction for now, so be it.  Maybe we'll find our way into making it real eventually.

Meanwhile, it's okay to not be okay.  It's okay to admit it.  It's okay to ask for help.  We don't need to be strong and risk breaking.  Individual strands can carry more when they're braided together.  We can all be not okay together, giving ourselves room to be angry, upset, and all the other feelings that we should feel when things aren't okay.

I'm not okay.  And if you're not okay, either, then that's okay.  Okay?

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