A few minutes after noon I sat down with a sandwich and a new story, Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery, to enjoy. I read the first sentence and became the nosy neighbor peering out her window. The words on the page swirled and sucked me into the characters’ world, daring me to figure out who each character was on the inside and what they were hiding and why. I couldn’t get enough, I had to know everything about Michelle, Carly, and Jared. At three in the morning, I read the last page and turned off my bedside lamp and laid there in the dark, my senses trapped between Blackberry Island and real life.
Susan Mallery crafted a story about lost friendships, betrayal, physical and emotional injuries, people put in our life for a season and sometimes for a lifetime. The characters were as real as any person I’ve known in real life. I cheered for them, encouraged them, wanted to alternately shake them and protect them. This book is a powerful story about not giving up, pushing through the hard times even when you aren’t sure who is on your side. It shows how sometimes hard love is the only answer. Woven through the ups and downs of the story arc, Susan Mallery, reminds us how important forgiveness is in our lives. Especially when we need to forgive ourselves in order heal and move forward.
My mom read this book in two days. Be sure you have time to lose yourself in this phenomenal world before you open the book and read the first sentence. When you do, you’ll be glad you did.
I started writing this post by hand about six weeks ago. Sharing the things I’m struggling with as I recover from a serious concussion is difficult. My hope is that doing so will help someone else. – Jillian
I’m So Stupid!
Mac and cheese. Everyone loves it. Last night I was making my version from scratch. Elbow noodles bubbled and swirled in a large pot of boiling water. Cheese sauce simmered in a small pan next to the pasta pot. I’d already added shredded cheddar and cream cheese. Now, finished cubing the last kind, I slid the cheese off the cutting board into the pot. Then I helped my mom with the spinach salad. I added raisins and sunflower seeds to each bowl.
After putting them back in the cupboard and the extra tomatoes and celery back in the fridge I checked on the sauce. Where’s the cheese? I wondered. I stirred the sauce; there wasn’t a single remnant of the cheese cubes. This is a slow melting kind and there should have been fairly big pieces still. Weird.
I grabbed a spoon to stir the pasta and looked in. Cheese cubes floated in the boiling water! “I’m so stupid!” I muttered, tears blurring my eyes. How could I have done this? What was I thinking? “You weren’t,” a voice answered accusingly.
I got more cheese from the fridge and set it on the counter. Despite my efforts to hold myself together tears ran down my cheeks. I peered in the pot again and panicked. I don’t know how to fix it! I wrecked dinner! What’s wrong with me? I’m so dumb, so stupid! I ranted silently.
Embarrassed and upset, I put my hands on the counter, laid my head on my hands and bawled like a toddler. I hate crying and the weakness it shows, but this time I was helpless to stop the emotions rushing up from my soul. Feelings I hadn’t even known I’d been struggling with overwhelmed me.
My mom begged me not to cry. “It’s okay,” she said. “I should have helped you more. It’s okay.” She pulled me off the counter and wrapped me in her arms. I put my head on her shoulder and continued to cry. Tears, snot, choked sobs, the whole deal. She kept telling me it would be okay. Not to worry. We had more cheese. Dinner could be fixed.
After I’d calmed down a little she sent me to my room to lay down and went to get my dad to help her. Head hanging, still crying, I went downstairs, fell on my bed and hugged our dog, Molly. I couldn’t stop the tears. “What is wrong with me? Why is this happening? I’m so dumb! I can’t even do something so easy I used to be able to do it without thinking. I want to be me again! Where did I go? God, where did I go?” I asked Molly. She didn’t have an answer but she did kiss me and snuggle with me, offering comfort and love. I tried to concentrate on her and not on the fact that I no longer felt like myself.
It took me a long time to quit crying and calm down. As I did it became clear to me that embarrassment, frustration, and anger about my problems were controlling my emotions. I’d never known or understood that before, especially the embarrassment part of it.
My brain moves in slow motion. Things that should be easy are very hard. I don’t know how to be myself anymore. I’m lost.
I’m under the care of a doctor and a neurologist. I’ve been in physical therapy for my neck and shoulder and recently switched to treatment for balance problems. According to them, when I close my eyes, like when I wash my hair, or even with them open and turn my head, my brain loses track of where I am in space causing me to loose my balance or get dizzy or feel wobbly. This also happens when I’m in an enclosed space like a stairway.
It can happen randomly as well. I was outside trying to potty Molly. Golden colored leaves had been falling for a couple of days. She stomped happily through them, enjoying the crinkly fun. As I turned to follow her–my eyes were focused on the ground because Molly is tiny–the leaves swirled against the dark ground. Dizziness swamped me, I started to fall, stumbled and grabbed the picnic table. If not for it, I would have fallen again.
The end of July, I was in the kitchen helping make dinner when the vision in the outside corner of my right eye went dark and blurry and in the center of my vision I saw bright white explosions. I immediately felt sick and dizzy. My dad took me to the E.R. Thank God it wasn’t a stroke. Just post-concussion syndrome stuff is what the ER doctor told me after a specialist studied my cat scan to confirm what had caused the episode. I get how lucky I was not to have had a stroke. On the other hand, this was just one more, new, not fun problem caused by my fall.
I’m also seeing a speech therapist. She’s helping me with short-term memory, word retrieval, and problem-solving skills. I’m a writer who can’t think of words and when I am able to write, can’t remember what I wrote twenty minutes ago.
What Happened To Me
A week after the cheese incident I began working with a neuropsychologist. I had no idea what to expect, I was nervous and scared. I still am.
Will I ever be me again?!
It’s been nine months since I got tangled in our dog Meg’s lead, got pulled off my feet, and landed with my full body weight on the back right side of my head–on concrete.
I barely remember the incident. I have a clear memory of right up to looking down at my feet and thinking I needed to get untangled. Then I woke up on the cement looking at a dark and starry sky. My mom is adamant this happened in the afternoon. Because of the Looney Toons cartoons I always thought seeing stars meant three of them circling your head. It’s so bizarre that the entire sky was star filled. I only know what day it happened because I was super excited about the Super Bowl in two days, my favorite team was playing. The rest of February and half of March are a vague blur. Right after–excuse me.
I’m back now. The phone rang–a wrong number. And now I’ve forgotten what I was going to say and where I was going with this post.
This really happened. I was on the phone for at most two minutes. Unable to remember what I wanted to say, I didn’t write anymore that day. Or for the next several, even though I tried. – Jillian
It’s been almost a week. I still can’t remember what I’d been planning on telling you. I have no clue how I’d planned to finish that sentence. 🙁 It’s things like this that have delayed my book publishing schedule by several months. My original plan had been to publish it in June and get a second book ready for Christmas.
I did a lot of thinking while I tried to figure out how to finish this post. As summer turned into fall, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with my lack of progress back toward normal. More and more often, I would say, “I’m so dumb” or “I’m so stupid” or “What’s wrong with me?” or “I’m never going to be normal again” and several other variations. The more impatient and annoyed I got with myself, the more I said those awful things about myself–out loud and in my thoughts.
I’m A Bully!
Talk about a shocking revelation, I mean, I hate bullies! They build themselves up by making others feel small, vulnerable, and unworthy of acceptance and respect. And yet, looking at how I’ve treated myself over the last few months, I know it’s true. I’m guilty of bullying myself.
It’s sad that instead of loving, encouraging, and being patient with myself, I tore myself down. I’d so beaten myself up that the best days I ever had, only made it to the level of blah. I should have been accepting of where I currently am and of the journey I’m on to get well. I should be able to count on myself to believe in me!
And yet, I’d failed myself and sabotaged my ability to recover. I don’t know why I started tearing myself down. I’ve never been a bully. It makes no sense that I would become one now. The scary part is, now that I know I’m doing it, can I stop?
Gut Check Time
Life is complicated. When I made goals for the year I didn’t make them knowing I would fall and end up with a severe concussion that would affect almost every part of my life. I made them based on the normal amount of work I usually complete. For months I kept trying to go on like normal. I thought that if I kept trying to do what I did prior to the concussion things would fall back into place.
For a few weeks I did feel better. But I still struggled to write and do normal everyday things. I knew I was making progress but I was impatient. I wanted to be normal–now!
Not accepting my new limitations is most likely what caused me to start bullying myself. I kept comparing my broken self to who I’d been before the fall. Even when I tried to ease up it didn’t help. Cutting my goals by more than half hurt. Especially when I had to acknowledge I still might not be able to finish what little was left. I felt like all the nay-sayers in life were right and I began pushing myself to do better.
Good intentions aside, the pushing quickly became bullying. I made it clear how disappointed in myself I was with each belittling comment. I believed the bully and things got significantly worse.
According to the neuropsychologist, I had made things more difficult emotionally and set myself back physically and mentally. I can’t even describe how the doctor’s words made me feel, my emotions swirled like a storm.
Looking back I know she was right. I’d become afraid.
Nothing has been easy. Every day I work at being nicer and accepting myself the way I am. I try to write. I try to do my normal chores. I try to move in a positive direction. It’s slow. It’s hard. It’s happening though and for that I’m thankful.
If you are going through big life changes please be patient with yourself. Love yourself and don’t give up. Stay positive. Don’t fall down the rabbit hole of fear and depression. If you’ve gone through something similar I’d love to hear any advice you have. Please take a minute to share your thoughts in the comments.
Several long-term goals were within my grasp. I had a plan. My confidence was high, twenty-sixteen was the year I’d been dreaming of.
On an overcast night in early February when we took our dogs out to potty before bed. Our big dog, Meg, was already outside on her lead when Molly and I arrived. Meg was so excited to see us that she did three joyous laps around us in a couple of seconds. Before I could step out of the loops made from her lead, a strange sound in the neighbor’s yard distracted Meg and she ran to investigate.
I woke up laying on the concrete patio looking up at the stars and worried about Molly.
I’d gotten a concussion when I landed on my head on the concrete. Nausea and headaches became normal. When we went to the doctor, my mom told her I’d been speaking a lot of gibberish since it happened. I’d known I’d been struggling with my words but I’d had no clue that I wasn’t making any sense.
I lost six weeks of writing time because I couldn’t focus on anything. Stupidly, I assumed I could just work extra hard for a month or two and my amazing year would continue as planned with only this hiccup to make things interesting.
Before falling I’d planned to finish rewriting Valentine’s Catastrophe before Camp NaNoWriMo started on April first. Then I’d write the rough draft of UnScrooged, a full-length Christmas romance novel, during camp. And after that complete rewrites of my first book, The Fire-Pit, followed by another rough draft of a brand new story.
It quickly became clear this schedule was never going to happen. I couldn’t work for more than a couple of hours a day and barely made any progress. Halfway through camp, I officially changed my goals so I wouldn’t beat myself up for being so far behind schedule.
The last week of Camp NaNoWriMo I reached an intense and emotional scene. No matter what I did it wouldn’t come together. Desperate to finish the story, I took a pen and paper outside in the hope that inspiration would strike. Molly came with me. We enjoyed the sunny spring day and while she did fun dog things, I wrote.
By the time Molly wanted to go inside I’d written more than I had in over a week. Excitement and relief surged through me. I was back to my old self!
I woke up early the next day eager to get to work. Two cups of coffee later, I’d only written a couple of sentences and didn’t like either one. By lunch I was blinking back the tears gathering in my eyes.
A few months ago, I met Nadia King (memopipwrites) on Instagram. She and I became friends. I love the creative things she posts and how encouraging and funny she is.
I visited MemoPip’s blog back in January. Her most recent post (at that time) What Now? resonated with things I’ve caught myself worrying about. I asked her if I could reblog her post and she said yes. Thank you, Nadia.
Way To Go!
Congratulations, friend, on publishing your first short story in the U.S. That’s an awesome accomplishment. I’m proud of you.
In typical writer-fashion, after Nadia shared her good news with her readers she worried about what was next and if she would successfully publish anything else.
. . . I can’t help asking myself, what next? . . .
I’ve entered a few Australian short story competitions and cross everything, with beginners luck, maybe I’ll be shortlisted for one, or dare I hope for more? My stories have been submitted to literary magazines and I try to sit tight and not chew on my nails too often.
But the most overwhelming question in my mind – what if Disappointment was the only thing I’ve written or will ever write, that will make it? This is the thought that disturbs my nightly sleep.
I believe such worries plague all creatives. Are we good enough? Is what we do of any worth? Will this next piece be bought and sold? What if, (and I say this with all of my heart in my mouth) what if none of this is any good?