The Hardest Part of Leaving

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Almost every person that I’ve spoken to has asked me this question: “Is Thor moving with you?”

For those who don’t know, Thor is my border collie mix. He’s kind of my world- which may sound crazy but, hey, I think dog people will understand. He’s my everything. I adopted him from North Shore Animal League when he was eight weeks old, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. He sleeps in my bed, he goes on errands with me, I take him on hikes, I talk to him about everything- he’s my best friend, and even after just four years together, I truly can’t imagine my life without him.

And that’s why it breaks my heart that he can’t come with me to Tallahassee.

Don’t get me wrong: I want, more than anything, to take him with me. I want to let him hop in my Jeep and drive him all the way down to Florida. I want to take him to my apartment complex’s bark park, to bring him to student dog meet-ups, to walk him around the city. I want him to be a part of this journey so badly it hurts. But, ultimately, as his human mom, I have to do what’s best for him. That’s what I committed to when I brought him home four years ago. That’s the responsibility I took on. So, no matter how much it hurts me, I know I can’t take him with me. It wouldn’t be fair.

Thor is a border collie mix (the shelter said he was a lab, but isn’t that the default for any little short-haired, black-furred puppy? I see pit bull, his DNA test said bull terrier; he’s a mutt. But he’s definitely got collie). He’s super high-energy. He needs to run every single day, and he needs lots of walks. He’s also one of the most anxious little things I’ve ever met. It’s just his nature. He’s been that way since he was a puppy, and he never quite grew out of it. I joke a lot that I got him to be my emotional support animal, but wound being his emotional support human. He needs lots and lots of attention, and thrives when he’s around his people. He’s the kind of dog that follows you from room to room. He’s a herder who likes to round the household into the living room so that he can sleep comfortably in the middle of us all. And while I, with the help of my parents, am able to provide all of this for him in New York, I don’t see our routine being sustainable once I’m on my own, in law school, in a brand new city.

Thor needs a house. He needs a yard to run and play in. He would go stir crazy in my two-bedroom apartment. He needs more than a park bark. He deserves more than that. And I know that, even if I went to every length I could to set a routine for him in Tallahassee, even if I jetted home after classes every single day to make sure I was there for him, he wouldn’t have the quality of life he deserves.

I know that he’ll be in the best hands imaginable with my parents, who I sometimes think love him more than they love me (listen, I don’t blame them - he’s kind of the best). I’ll also be able to see him on my hopefully-frequent visits to Long Island. He will be okay, and I will be okay.

But the thing that, for lack of a better term, sucks the most is that I can’t explain to him what’s happening.

I can’t tell him why I’m leaving. I can’t make him understand why I’ve been packing up all of my things, or why I’ll be gone for month at a time. I can’t explain to him that I’ll be back, but that our time together will be short. He won’t know where I’m going or why I’m going there; he won’t get why I’m not snuggling up with him at night anymore, or why I can’t take him with me on this particular adventure.

It kills me. It absolutely guts me that he can’t understand me when I tell him that I love him and that I fully intend to come back for him when I have the means to.

Throughout this process, I’ve tried to remain as positive and upbeat as possible, but this particular aspect has been the toughest to find a silver lining for. It’s harder than leaving my job of six years, than leaving my hometown, than moving away from my family for the first time in my nearly twenty-six years. It’s harder because the people I’m leaving at least understand me when I say, “Goodbye for now. I love you, and I’ll be back soon.” He’s a dog, and we don’t share a verbal language, and I can’t tell him these things in a way that will get through to him.

This was never part of the plan. When I adopted Thor, he was meant to be fully and wholly mine. He was meant to go with me when I moved out of my parents’ house. We were supposed to go on a long life journey together, to share in everything, to be partners. He’s my little buddy, and the hardest choice I’ve ever made is the decision to leave him in New York.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve thought of throwing in the towel. I got good offers from schools closer to home, and I don’t know if I can make you understand how incredible tempting it was to ditch Florida in favor of a closer school solely because it would keep me with my dog. Ultimately, this wouldn’t be the right choice. More specifically, it wouldn't be a choice made with the right reasons. Logically, I have to think about my future career. I know that Tallahassee offers me a lot of opportunities that would be harder to come by here in New York. I also know that law school is a three year commitment, and that there’s nothing stopping me from coming back to Thor after those three years. I have to make the best choices for both of us, for the best reasons, and I truly believe that that’s what I’m doing.

And with that decision made, all that I can do nowis make the most of our time together. I can take him for walks and hikes, I can take him for rides in the car, I can shower him with all the love I have and then some. I can make memories with him. And I can promise myself to do the same whenever I do get to see him.

But it is difficult. It’s the hardest part of all of this, and I know that it will hurt. I know that the sting will last for a while. But I also know that it’s a choice made out of love, and that Thor and I will be okay. We’ll absolutely be okay.

I Climbed The Fire Island Lighthouse

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When I first thought that I might move away- before choosing a school or even applying to one, before the LSAT had been taken, back when everything was a question and I couldn’t seem to find the answers -I knew that I’d want to visit some of my favorite places in New York before heading off somewhere new.

The first such visit was the Fire Island Lighthouse.

My mom and I had been talking about making the mile-long hike from Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park to the lighthouse for a few summers now. We’ve talked and talked and talked. We’ve sat on the beach and looked at the shadow of the lighthouse in the distance and mentioned friends who’d walked on over to it. It’s remained a passing fancy for years now, and so, on May 19, we decided to finally do it.

It was a mild day- not too hot, not too cold, but there was a generous wind sweeping off the waves by the time we got down near the water. It had rained earlier in the morning, leaving huge puddles rippling across the parking lot (for the briefest of moments, we regretted our choice to wear flip flops). After carefully maneuvering the minefield of deceptively deep rainwater, we made it onto the boardwalk and began our hike toward the lighthouse.

As we walked, I was struck by a memory: me, somewhere between the ages of eight and ten, clinging to the steep stairwell toward the lighthouse observation deck. It was the day I discovered my fear of heights.

I thought of this as we approached the Fire Island Light Station, deciding to take a look inside at the historic Fresnel Lens. The lighthouse loomed out the window. I couldn’t look away, and as I studied it from the safety of the light station, I couldn’t shake that image of a little girl having what she didn’t know was her first-ever anxiety attack.

“I wonder if we can climb it,” my mom said.

“I did once,” I said, recalling the story.

“Do you want to do it today?”

The question hung there like an offering. I placated it with a maybe, and then an I think so, and inside I was screaming yes. I knew I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to make the trek up those 182 stairs to the very top of the lighthouse. I wanted to stand on the observation deck just to prove that I could. I wanted to a conquer a fear for my younger self, because my older self is about to tackle something much scarier than Long Island tallest lighthouse.

This whole process of moving has been a lot of things, but terrifying most of all. Terrifying because it’s new. Terrifying because I don’t know what to expect. Terrifying because everything could go wrong at the drop of the hat, and I don’t know if I’ll know how to handle it. But I’m doing it- despite mental illness, despite fear, despite everything. I’m doing it because I want to. I’m doing it because I’m ready. And if I’m ready to move to a brand new city in a brand new state all on my own, then I’m ready to climb to the top of the damn lighthouse.

We bought our tickets, I turned in my backpack, and off we went.

The climb up was not as scary as I remembered. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and, therefore, everything around me felt proportionate to my twenty-five year-old limbs. My heart still jumped right up into my throat every time one of the creaky old steps trembled beneath me (did I mention that there were signs throughout the museum downstairs urging patrons to donate to the restoration of the very stairs that I was walking on? comforting is a word that does not come to mind).

The thick rope banisters cut into my palms, but I still held fast. I dragged my hands along them to keep myself steady. I paused at each window, for breath and for bravery - and occasionally to question whether or not I wanted to turn around. I didn’t.

When we got to the homestretch- two steep, narrow staircases that look more like ladders -my mom climbed up ahead of me. I watched her go, holding onto the ropes for dear life. The last time I had held those ropes my hands had been much smaller, but I had been just as afraid.

I took a breath, and then a step. And then another step. And then another. I hauled myself up those two flights and stumbled, euphoric, onto the lighthouse deck.

I had done it. I had conquered my childhood fear.

As we made our way around the sweeping circle of the deck, looking out over both the ocean and the bay, I was elated. I was proud. I was ecstatic, and I was in awe. I felt unstoppable.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still scared of heights. They’re scary and I don’t like them. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is my perception of that fear. It’s not a barrier anymore - it’s a challenge. And isn’t that the way to look at fear? To let ourselves be challenged by it? Maybe. In this case, I think yes.

I walked away with a Fire Island Lighthouse tea towel for my kitchen and the knowledge that no matter what happens in Tallahassee, no matter how hard things get or how much I might want to come home, I can handle it. It’s a challenge, and I can conquer it, just like I conquered the lighthouse.

On another note, I felt new vigor for an old novel I wrote one National Novel Writing Month about an island-dwelling apocalypse survivor who lives in a lighthouse. So, two good things came out of one scary climb. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Empowerment Through Advocacy (Or, How I Became a Mental Health Advocate)

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DISCLAIMER NO. 1

This blog post touches on difficult topics including major depressive disorder, psychiatric medication, anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation, and death by suicide. If you are vulnerable to, triggered by, or are otherwise not in a mental space to safely read about these topics, please click away.

Your health and safety are of the utmost importance. Please take care of yourself.

DISCLAIMER NO. 2

This blog post explores my own thoughts, emotions, and experiences living with major depressive disorder and my personal choice to become an advocate for myself and others. I am extremely passionate about mental health education and its power to fight against stigma and to help others like me live without fear of judgement. However, just because I’m comfortable speaking about my experiences does not mean that other people living with mental illness are or should be comfortable doing the same.

In addition, mine is just one story of major depressive disorder. My experiences will be very different from many others living with the same illness. This does not make any one of us more or less sick than the others. Please do not judge others against my story, and please do not judge my story against others. We are all individuals. We all have our own stories. This is simply a piece of mine.


Empowerment Through Advocacy
or, how I became a mental health advocate

It was a cold morning in February.

(At least, I think it was February. Don’t hold me to that. I keep terrible track of time.)

There was snow half-melted on the concrete walk. The light inside was already glowing warm and yellow and the mounted heater rumbled loud against the exposed brick walls of our temporary office space. The time clock crunched and gurgled when I fed it my card, then spat it back with a fresh stamp. “Did you hear the news?” my coworker asked when the noise died down.

It was seven o’clock in the morning. I had just rolled out of bed a mere twenty minutes ago, my morning a flurry of coffee and broken car air vents and maybe (read: definitely) a little bit of swearing at the cold.

No. I hadn’t read the news.

“Some girls tried to jump off the roof at the Psych Center.”

I have to interject here to explain that I live and work near a small town notorious for its abandoned, asbestos filled, probably-but-like-for-sure haunted old psychiatric center. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s very American Horror Story: Asylum - minus the aliens (I think), and the serial killer in the basement (I think). We call it the Psych Center. Around Halloween- and, honestly, year-round -kids try to break inside. There’s probably some demons crouched in some corners from botched seances by teenagers with Ouija boards from the local Toys ‘R Us. The land around it was bought by the state park system, so now parts of it are something of a (moderately spooky) hiking trail. It is also, unfortunately, a notorious spot for suicide attempts.

I won’t go into detail about the attempt my coworker was talking about because A) I don’t know all of them, B) it wouldn’t be my story to tell even if I did, and C) I really want to talk about what happened after she shared this bit of local news.

“I just don’t get it,” are the words I remember. She was in her office, puttering to and fro with paperwork in her hands. She shook her head and repeated, “I just don’t get it. Nothing’s that bad! Nothing’s so bad that you have to die over it!”

“You’re lucky you can see it that way,” I told her.

“How else can you see it?” she asked me, and she looked at me as if new heads had started budding up on my neck. She was incredulous. Flabbergasted. She found the notion preposterous. How could somebody not want to live? How could somebody feel so badly about their lives that they think they only way out is to die? She went on and on about nothing is ever that bad, no one’s life is ever that horrible, no one should ever feel that badly. She sounded so sure of herself the more she went one, and I felt my guts twisting with every word she said.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“It’s not that simple,” I told her. She barely paused, but I kept going. I told her that I have depression and she stopped pacing. I told her that I’ve been suicidal and she looked at me like all the new heads on my neck from before started growing heads of their own.

“But you seem fine,” she said.

“Seem,” I pointed out, “is the operative word.”

At the time of that chilly February morning, I had been in treatment for major depressive disorder for just over two years. I had been on two different anti-depressants, two anti-anxiety medications, and one sleep aid. I’d been in the psychiatric emergency room. I’d cycled through two different therapists. I’d called my psychiatrist from the kitchen floor, crying, on more than one occasion. In the years leading up to my diagnosis, I contemplated suicide every morning. I’d missed classes because I didn’t have the energy to walk the extra few yards to the classroom and sat planted in the library instead, and felt sick from anxiety attacks after every exam I ever took that I wasn’t prepared for because I didn’t have the motivation to crack open the damn book. I’d watched my grades slip lower than they had since my brother was in the hospital when I was in the third grade.

So did I seem fine? Sure, probably. I held a steady job. I was in school. I had friends. I sometimes went out on the weekends. But seem really is the key word.

I seem fine because of all the work I did in therapy. I seem fine because I found a medication that keeps serotonin flowing to my brain. I seem fine because sometimes doing normal things like going to work distracted me from my symptoms long enough to feel like I wasn’t mentally ill.

As I explained all of this to my coworker, I watched her face contort- not in an ugly way, but in the sort of way that meant she was working things out. She was trying to marry this image of the person she knew- mostly happy, with the sweet customer service voice, who could be assertive and always on time and got their all of their tasks done every day -with someone who, at least at one point, wanted to die.

This was the first time I’d ever had this kind of conversation with someone.

Truth be told, the words came out of my mouth faster than I could comprehend them. I was sharing my story without being sure if I really wanted to, and maybe that’s not the best way to do it. I felt my heart in my throat as I watched my coworker watch me. Had I said too much? Was she judging me? Would this change the way she looked at me?

I can hardly explain the relief I felt when she simply said, “Thank you.”

Her voice got softer than I’d ever heard it and she thanked me for my honesty, for trusting her enough to share, and for teaching her something she didn’t know she needed to be taught. It was humbling to be thanked so sincerely.

That conversation changed everything. It gave me the confidence that I could speak up for myself, and that I could make a difference. Maybe the change would be small, but challenging one person’s stigma can go a long way. Who knows who else my coworker might meet in her life, and what challenges they may be facing? Maybe I did something to help make those potential future interactions a little bit better. And if I can do that once, I can do it over and over again.

Here’s the thing: I will never fault someone for choosing to keep their story private. We don’t all have to be open books. We don’t have to take responsibility for educating other people. Some people find more comfort and solace in keeping their stories close to their chests and moving on with their lives. That’s fine. Those people are strong and I admire their strength.

My choice to open up is my own, and I’ve found that doing so gives makes me feel really, really good. This often-debilitating mental illness is a part of me now, whether I like it or not, but I use it. I can own it. I can shed some light on it and help other people understand it better, and maybe that will scrub out some stigma around me, and maybe the people I teach can scrub out some stigma around them, and we can keep going on and on and on. We can work together and clear some branches off the trail, and maybe nudging those branches to the side will help make someone else’s journey a little less rough.

One thing that people will mental illnesses, and with depression in particular, are really good at it hiding. We hide our symptoms. We hide how we’re feeling. We hide our suicidal ideation and our darkest thoughts because we don’t want to be a burden, or to be looked at like we’re crazy, or to be told we’re dramatic or that we “don’t have it that bad”.

I’m sick of hiding, and I sure as hell don’t want other people to feel like they have to keep their masks on.

This is one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made.

I share a lot of Facebook posts about mental illness, and I write on my experiences often, and every time I do it is with a twinge of anxiety. Are people going to look at me differently? Is this going to change how people think of me? So far, the answer has been no, but the questions remain buzzing in my head and I’m not really sure if I’ll ever get them to stop.

I know how to quiet them, though.

I just think about that February morning, and of the Psych Center news, and of the way my coworkers voice changed when she thanked me. I remember what it felt like to teach someone something, to challenge someone’s ignorance, and to be so kindly received.

I feel empowered by my advocacy, and the longer I speak up and out about mental illnesses, and the more I learn about stigma and mental health care and help-seeking, the more I want to do to help others who are in that same dark place I was.

The #MakeYourLight Project is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but couldn’t quite figure out how. I’ve dabbled with the hashtag on Instagram once or twice, but never quite in a way that would make it take off or become something bigger than a simple Mental Health Month post.

Until now.

I know that others may not be comfortable going into detail about their stories. I know that some people like to keep their experiences close to the vest. But I also know that there are things we can do to support, uplift, and empower one another in the mental health/mental illness community. There are things we can do to feel less alone, to pull ourselves and others out of the shadows.

This week, I want you to do something for me: log in to your favorite social media account and I want you to tell your followers a little bit about how you make a tiny bit of light in your life. Is it by painting? By singing? By volunteering at an animal shelter? Maybe you like to write, or you draw stick figure cartoons, or you make YouTube videos. Maybe you make light for yourself by playing your favorite song as loud as you can, or treating yourself to a Lush bath bomb, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever it is, I want to hear about it! Use the hashtag #MakeYourLight and be sure to tag me (IG: @lexivranick, Twitter: @lexivranick, Facebook: Lexi Vranick) so that I can see and share your light.

You can learn more about the #MakeYourLight Project here.


Mental health and mental illness are serious matters. Our greatest tool against stigma is education. Some great educational resources can be found through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Mental Health America*.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. A list of international suicide hotlines can be found here*.

DISCLAIMER NO. 3

*I am not personally or professionally associated with any mental health organizations at this time. I merely offer these links in an attempt to spread information and education about mental health and mental illness.

Leaving Long Island: The First Visit

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As you know from last week’s blog, I’m leaving Long Island.

I’m also documenting the journey, and the first step of that journey is visiting my new home.

The process of being admitted to school / accepting the offer was a quick one. On Wednesday, May 1st, I got a call from the school informing me I'd been admitted to their J.D. program and that my admissions packet was in the mail. I had two weeks from that phone call to give the school an answer. I spent the remainder of the week on pro/con lists, research, offer comparisons, and anxiety. When my admissions packet arrived in the mail on Monday, I felt pretty damn confident as I checked Yes, I will accept on the decision statement. The next day, I had tickets booked to fly down for an admitted students event.

Whirlwind is a word that comes to mind.

My dad used his three days off to fly with me and explore the area, which I’m extremely grateful for. We had a quick trip planned- traveling on Sunday night, spending Monday and Tuesday exploring the area, and attending the event on Wednesday before heading back home.

— SUNDAY, MAY 12. —

I clocked out of work early on Sunday to do some last minute (read: all of my) packing.

After cramming way too many clothes for a three day trip into a carry on, downloading an audiobook and a movie for the plane (who knew what I’d be in the mood for?), and triple-checking that my plane ticket was in my Apple Wallet, off we drove to JFK.

We had an 8:30pm flight to Jacksonville, where we would then pick up a rental car and make the two hour drive to Tallahassee. We got to our hotel at the wee hour of 2am, and after a good 20 hours of being awake (minus some power-napping during our travels), I crash-landed on the bed. Lights out on a long and busy Mother’s Day.

— MONDAY, MAY 13. —

After a later-than-usual wake-up and some extremely hot McDonald’s coffee, we decided to jumpstart our search for Baby’s First Apartment (am I adult enough for this? I guess I have to be). We spoke with a local police officer, who gave us some great insight on neighborhoods and complexes that would be A) in my budget and B) close enough to commute to school but far enough to escape the rowdy undergrad vibes in “college town”.  From there, we went to a couple of leasing offices.

When I say “a couple”, I mean it.

We visited two apartment complexes because I got that this is my home feeling. Before I knew it, I was filling out a rental application and measuring the distance between my new front door and the nearest supermarket. 

Have I mentioned that this process has been a whirlwind? Because, seriously, it keeps on turning. 

A little shocked (but very relieved) that the biggest item of our three-day agenda had been checked off so quickly, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We stopped by the local mall, grabbed some lunch, and ending our day with a celebratory viewing of Avengers: Endgame and a couple of beers. I’m...honestly still shocked that this happened, and happened so quickly. Someone out there is looking out for me.  

— TUESDAY, MAY 14. —

With the bulk of our itinerary handled, we really weren’t sure what to do with Day Two.

We started out by taking to 15-minute drive from our hotel to my soon-to-be apartment. From there, we checked Google Maps to see what stores were around, locate the nearest church, the post office, a DMV and started driving. We did a lot of exploring, trying to get some legwork done to make my move a little easier. Then, as an islander does, we decided to find a beach.

Siri took us to a small beach in Wakulla County, where we hung out for a bit and chatting with some locals who named some waterside restaurants to check out. We wound up at a tiki hut cafe in St. Marks, where we enjoyed some lunch by the river before heading back to the city.

After some unwinding back at the hotel, we had diner at an Italian chain we were familiar with from back home (not the Olive Garden - although even my Italian American self wouldn’t say no to those breadsticks). Then it was back to the hotel where we grabbed a few beers from the lobby marketplace and caught the end of the hockey game (who was playing? what was happening? I don’t know. I don’t understand sports. I was in it for the beer).

— WEDNESDAY, MAY 15. —

 Wednesday was the Big Day for a lot of reasons.

It started with an email from the property manager at my soon-to-be apartment complex informing me that my application had been approved and that I would officially have a 2-bed, 2-bathroom apartment come June. After paying the lease fee, we dropped by the complex to take a second look at the model unit and go over the lease. Then, it was time for the main event: Admitted Students Day.

We arrived at the school early, and were soon joined by two other prospective students and a pair of student ambassadors who had just finished their first year at the law school. We spoke with the staff in admissions, then the ambassadors gave us a campus tour on which many questions were answered, tangents were gone on, and fears alleviated (or elevated - the jury’s still out). We ended the day with a Q&A session with the school’s mock trial coordinator (a local attorney and alumnus) and the admissions directors. With our welcome packets in hand (I’m nothing if not a sucker for a free t-shirt), we thanked everyone for their time and hit the road for the two hour drive back to Jacksonville International Airport for a flight that got us back in New York at 10:00pm.

And there you have it. That was my first trip to my new city. It was eventful, to say the least. Exciting, and overwhelming, and just…a lot to take in.

Each step forward further solidifies the fact that this is real. A lot of people have asked me how I feel about that, and I don’t know when my answer will stop being, “Weird”. That’s all I’ve got for you. Excited, yes. Nervous, sure. But ultimately, if you want to know how the move makes me feel, the answer is weird.

It's Official: I'm Leaving Long Island

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It’s official. Like, officially official.

If you follow me on social media, you might know my past year has been filled with test prep and exams and scores and essays and resumes and lots and lots and lots of waiting. And, if you follow me on social media, you might also know that all that work has finally come to a crux. I’ve been accepted to law school!

This news comes with a lot of emotions- excitement, of course, but also a bit of fear and uncertainty and more than a twinge of anxiety. The school that I’ve chosen, that I’m absolutely honored to have been admitted to, is…well, not on Long Island. It’s rather far from the island, in fact. It’s nestled in the panhandle of Florida. And so, for the first time in my twenty-five years, I’m leaving the comfortable nest of my parents’ home and venturing out on my own. Cue more emotions- excitement, fear, anxiety, repeat.

This kind of move is a change I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I’m ready for it, even if it scares me. But I still feel a little sad at the thought of leaving the place that raised me.

It’s not just the fear of losing familiarity with the land around me. It’s the knowledge that Long Island is a part of me. It’s in the way I speak, and the way I don’t. It’s in the way I carry myself. It’s inspired my work. It’s taught me to respect my environment and the creatures I share it with. It’s introduced me to people and places that have shaped and changed my life in countless ways. Long Island is my home, and I think that it always will be, no matter where I live.

I knew from the start that if I was going to move away, I wanted to document the process. I know that these next few months will be a frenzy. There’s packing to do, an apartment to lease, lots of back-and-forth traveling, goodbyes (rather, see-you-laters) to be said. In between all of that, there’s a lot of room to miss moments, and I don’t want to miss a single thing.

I suppose, then, that this is the start. I’ll be blogging about the move here, as well as doing a little photo diary on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #LexLeavesLongIsland.

I invite you come on this journey with me, if you’d like to. It’s probably going to be a little weird and quite emotional, but I’m excited to embark on this next chapter of my life and to bring you all along for the ride.

#ThankYouAvengers

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Content warning: this post deals with mental health, major depressive disorder, anxiety, psychiatric medication, and suicidal ideation. If you are triggered by or otherwise in an unsafe space to read about these topics, please click away. Your health and safety are more important than a blog post.

#ThankYouAvengers.

A hashtag that started circulated in the wake of the Endgame premiere, and I scrolled through for hours with the warmest and fullest heart as I read tweet after tweet of grateful fans shouting their love for the twenty-two film series that has carried us all through the last eleven years. When I started composing my own contribution, I found myself struggling. I couldn’t find words that adequately expressed everything that I wanted to say within Twitter’s restrictive 240-character limit.

So, naturally, here I am - taking the tag to blog-o-sphere.

Now, like the Avengers did in Endgame, let’s travel back in time.

It’s 2012. I’m a college freshman, rising sophomore, coming off one of the most challenging years of my life. Like most students, I’m struggling to balance schoolwork, a social life, and family commitments in a delicate and difficult juggling act.

I’m also suicidal.

In another two years, I would be formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and begin the long and arduous process of healing - through medication that helped to balance the chemicals in my brain and cognitive behavioral therapy that continues to teach me how to manage and live with my symptoms. But back then, in 2012, I was drifting in a sea of uncertainty. I was tired, and I was unmotivated, and I felt guilty for being both of those things when I had a good life and so many opportunities at my fingertips. Nothing really sparked my interest. I would cancel plans with friends because I didn’t see the point in going out, or didn’t think I deserved to. It took me hours to write papers that should’ve been finished in thirty minutes. I turned on the TV but couldn’t focus on the shows, cracked open books only to have to words go fuzzy. I wasn’t living so much as I was just….not quite surviving, but sort of floating through each day and waiting for it to be over.

Around came early May, the end of finals week, and a text from a friend-

Do you want to go see The Avengers?

She’d looked up movie times at the local cinema, a small little multiplex that showed four films at a time at $7 a pop. I read and re-read the text, debating. She’d recently gotten home from her college update, and I hadn’t seen her in a while. I’d just finished my finals, and though I was as exhausted as I had been for months, a movie didn’t really require much effort beyond buying a ticket and eating some popcorn. Why not go? I said yes, and a few hours later we were in a dark theater, The Avengers theme pouring through over sized speakers and a blue light flickering across the screen.

Something happened in that theater. For the first time in a long time, the emptiness inside me started to fill - not a lot, but enough that I felt something. For 143 minutes, I got to live somewhere else. I was a bystander in a world where superheroes were real and aliens invaded New York. I was excited. I was invested in the story, and as the credits started to roll, I felt the closest thing to happy as I had in a while.

I’d been a Marvel fan before, but that movie reminded me just how much how I loved that world - that far-away universe where Tony Stark builds high tech suits and Captain America is real, where SHIELD works behind the scenes to keep the public safe from monsters whose existence they doubt until they’re tearing down skyscrapers. My friend and I spent an hour after the film, talking about all the Easter eggs from older movies and about our favorite characters. We spent the summer re-watching Iron Man and Captain America and Thor. We looked up the next movies and made plans to see them together on school breaks.

I saw The Avengers six times in theaters, and watched it every night for two weeks straight after buying the DVD. You’d think I’d get sick of it, but no. Every re-watch took me back to that first time, in that first theater.

Ever since then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered me a safe space.

It’s been a constant, always giving me something to look forward to. It’s been an ally, giving me characters who struggle with their own mental health (for all the mess in Iron Man 3, I’ll always be grateful that it showed Tony Stark - my favorite hero - expressing and coping with genuine symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress; when JARVIS scanned his body and told him he was having a panic attack, I saw myself in him - I saw a character I loved going through what I went through nearly every day, and it made me feel validated. It also gave me something to point to when someone told me was “being dramatic” when my anxiety was high.)

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy on my 21st birthday, caught a last-minute screening of Thor: Ragnarok the day I graduated from college. I watched Infinity War after my first LSAT. In a lot of ways, I came of age with these movies. I still pull them out when I’m stressed or upset or just need an escape. They ground me, in a way. They remind me of where I was when I first fell in love with them, and how far I’ve come since then.

This post is partially adapted from my personal statement for my law school applications - a fact that is wild to me because, when I first saw The Avengers, I was about ready to drop out of college and give up on academics as a whole. These heroes got me here. Or, at least, they helped in a really huge way.

I don’t know where I’d be without Marvel.

I’m not trying to be dramatic. I mean this genuinely. The Avengers gave me that first spark of feelings I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I looked the plans for Phases 2-4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and knew I had to see each and every movie - which meant that even when I wanted nothing more than to just stop existing, I pushed through the feeling. Maybe superhero movies seem like something silly to stick around for, but hey, they kept me going - and there’s nothing silly about staying alive.

So, that’s my story.

A text. A movie. An era. A life that I’m not sure I’d have without it all.

Thank you to everyone who made these movies possible. Thank you to Stan Lee for building the groundwork, to Kevin Feige for taking the first gamble, to every actor and director and writer and set designer and costumer and crew member who worked their tails off to bring this universe to life.

You all gave me hope when I had none, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Thank you, Avengers.

#WriteAndWine Winter Recap

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From to #WritersPatch to #JustAddTea, #StoryCrafter and the currently-on-hiatus #TipsyChat, #StanzaSpeak to the National Novel Writing Month prep events, I’ve taken part in my fair share of Twitter chats. The thought of adding my own event to the mix had been a blip on my radar for quite some time, but it wasn’t a blip I paid particularly close attention to. It was something like a passing fancy. Like, the thought oh maybe I could do this? would float into my head and float right out.

I feel like I fell into chat hosting on accident. A typo (I may or may not have had wine on the brain and may or may not have tweeted NaNoWineO instead of NaNoWriMo - call it fate, or a Freudian slip, or both) lead to a conversation, which lead to an idea, which lead to a weekly chat during NaNoWriMo. I meant to send it off into the digital stratosphere after November 30. But that didn’t happen. Something changed. I loved hosting the chat. I loved talking to other writers, and I found that over the course of five Fridays we’d formed a little community.

So there was a little tweaking, a little talking among chat regulars, and come January #WriteAndWine was born.

It’s grown into something I can hardly describe. We’re a community, of course. A community of writers from different backgrounds, who work in different genres, and who support each other so wholly and sincerely that my heart feels like it might burst just thinking about it. Each week at least one new writer stumbles on our hashtag and spend an hour chatting with us, and whether or not they return next week it feels a bit special to be a small part of their week - to ask them questions and read their answers and have a chance to learn from someone new.

Over the winter months (for our purposes, that’s January-March), I had the pleasure of hosting eleven chats. We talked about everything from our New Year’s writing goals to how we handle rejection, we chatting about our favorite books and debated what makes a good story.

One of the things I’m most proud of in this chat, though, is that every third Friday of the month is set aside for a mental health check-in. This started when we were still #NaNoWineO. Because the third week of National Novel Writing Month is notoriously the toughest, I decided we should dedicate some time to discussing self care and checking in with one another. Reading what other writers had to say about mental health and self care, such as struggling with finding time for everything or experiencing writer burnout and not knowing how to beat it, solidified for me just how important the mental health component of the chat could be. Therefore, when I changed the hashtag, I promised myself I’d find a way to keep the mental health check-ins a regular part of the chat.

To be told that people look forward to third Fridays, or that they look forward to my little Twitter chat at all, is a feeling akin to being told that people enjoyed my books. I promise that’s not exaggeration. I feel like I’ve built something, with the help of my new #WriteAndWine friends. We’ve dressed up a little corner of the internet all for ourselves, and opened the door to invite others inside. It’s…honestly, amazing.

I wanted to find a way to work #WriteAndWine into my blog, and I’d like to test drive some seasonal recaps of our chat. I’ll talk a little bit about the chats went that month, maybe shout out some cool stuff from our participants, and give a list of freewrite prompts used during the chat (another rollover from our NaNo days is the dedication of the last ten minutes of the chat to writing sprints).

WINTER DISCUSSION TOPICS & FREEWRITE PROMPTS

Over the last three months, #WriteAndWine gathered virtually 11 times. We had 3 mental health check-ins in which we played Peak & Pit (not sure what that is? I wasn’t either, until a coworker started shouting it at the end of every closing shift. Essentially, you reflect on your day and share the best thing that happened [that’s your “peak”] and the worst thing that happened [the “pit”]. Equal parts ice breaker and legitimate conversation starter, it’s been a cool way to reflect on our mental health for the week/month and a great opportunity to celebrate one another’s “peaks” and help each other out of our respective “pits”.) and talked self care and mental health in writing.

We also 8 themed discussions, in which our four questions and our freewriting prompts centered on a particular topic voted on by chat participants. This winter, we talked about:

  • Writing Goals in 2019

  • Work/Writing Balance

  • Handling Rejection

  • Character Development

  • Non-Writing Hobbies

  • What We Read in February

  • Writing Rituals

  • Camp NaNoWriMo (April Prep!)

And we wrote about:

  • Beginnings

  • Times we’ve felt rejected

  • Improving our characters

  • Trying new hobbies

  • Trying new writing rituals

  • Our goals for the spring

We also threw it back to elementary school and had a little bit of “Drop Everything And Read” time after our bookish chat in February and practiced self care and shouted out some of our favorite fellow chatters during our mental health chats every few weeks.

#WRITEANDWINE “CHEERS-ING” SECTION

Our participants did some pretty cool stuff this winter, too!

Take #WriteAndWine regular Robert Relyea (@robertjrelyea), who has been chatting with us since the very beginning. In January, he completed Balance & Ruin, a dramatic retelling of the popular sci-fi/fantasy game Final Fantasy VI. And you can read it for free! Get eBook and Kindle files of the book on Robert’s blog. He will also have hard copies printed on request if you’re more of an ink-and-paper type of reader. Robert also recently shared some insight on his biggest creative influence in a blog post that is, in my opinion, well worth the read.

Another one of our from-the-start participants, Mykki (@OnThe3Cusp), has been blogging up a storm lately! You can check out Mykki’s latest post on the ins and outs of teaching yourself Japanese here. There’s even a list of study materials, with links on where to get them, if you want to give the language a try, too!

Also on the blogging train is Alex (@AlleyArticle), who has also been with #WriteAndWine from its NaNoWriMo days. Her latest post gets pretty real as she discusses mental health, planning for the future, and her goals for the year ahead. It’s always humbling when bloggers are honest and open with their audiences, and that’s exactly Alex’s style.

WHAT’S COMING UP?

This April, we’ve partnered up with Fly on the Wall Poetry Press to celebrate National Poetry Month in our first ever #WriteAndWine book club event! We’ll be discussing Digging Holes to Another Continent by Isabelle Kenyon, the founder of Fly on the Wall, on our last chat of the month. The book discussion chat will be on Friday, April 26. Then, we’ll be ringing in May with a chat centered on the trials of self publishing on May 3, 2019.


Want to join us? #WriteAndWine meets every Friday at 8:30pm EST! If you’re having trouble finding us, visit @lexivranick or search the hashtag on Twitter.

A Note on Digital Burnout

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Hey.

It’s your friendly neighborhood blogger/indie author/book reviewer who sometimes disappears from the digital sphere for months at a time, leaving only a smattering of tweets and the occasional Instagram photo letting you know they’re still around.

It’s been a while.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been working with a new(er?) therapist for the past year or so, and with her have been making some long and much needed strides in managing my depression and anxiety. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been draining. It’s required me to be extraordinarily in tune with myself- with my emotions, with my habits, with my symptoms. We’ve made a lot of connections I was not yet in a position to make with previous therapists earlier in my mental health journey. It’s great! And it’s helping me realize…well, a lot.

One of the things I’ve realized is how affected I am by social media.

This has become increasingly apparent to me over the last year.

Back in 2017, I decided on whim that I would delete all social media apps from my phone. I don’t know what it was that made me do this, but one day I just said, “What the hell?” and got rid of them all. I kept only the most mobile heavy- aka: Instagram -and Facebook Messenger, which is really just an alternate to texting rather than an actual social platform. While it took some getting used to, and while I occasionally cheated by using Safari to access my accounts, it really helped me balance my time spent online.

Then we renovated our house in April of 2018, which meant losing access to our home WiFi for a few days. I re-downloaded my social media apps so that I could use data to access them in the interim. I justified by telling myself that I would A) only use them to keep my business accounts active and B) delete them again once our router was up and running again.

I kept promise A, but promise B fell by the wayside as I got sucked into the convenience of the apps. Then I started using my personal accounts on my phone. Things snowballed. I got frustrated, took some time away from social media for the holidays, then got back on again in January. Things snowballed again.

I made a post on Twitter last week about taking some time away from social media. I’m sticking to that. I deleted Twitter from my phone right after making that post, and deleted Facebook today. I’m stepping back again, because I’m recognizing a need for some distance.

I’ve always struggled with both wanting to limit social media use and needing to stay active for work. Not just for my writing, although social media has become a major part of self-marketing my work, but for my freelance work and day jobs as well. I can’t get away from social media. It’s part of how I earn a living, at least for now. It’s also introduced me to and helped me create wonderful communities with like-minded people I never would have known without the magic of the world wide web. All of this is contributing to a bit of digital burnout that’s wearing on me more and more each day.

Lately, all I’ve wanted to do was log out of every account I have- social media and email accounts and everything in between -and get away. Because for all the gratitude I have for growing up in the digital era, especially as a writer and freelancer whose work thrives on visibility and connectedness, I’m just…tired. I want to escape, and not in the digital sense. I want to leave my phone on the kitchen counter and wander off somewhere where no one can reach me. I want to remember who I am without the constant pressure to perform in some way, or to be available to people constantly.

I’ve always said that I don’t believe that human beings were made to be plugged in 24/7. We were not made to be “on call”, to be present in some way at all hours of the day.

I’ve known people who got pissed if I didn’t answer a text quickly enough, or who thought I was mad at them because I didn’t “like” a Facebook photo they posted. Things like this create stress that I don’t need, and that I shouldn’t have to tote around.

I’m seeking balance.

One thing that my therapist and I have been working on is the recognition that I have far more control over things than I think. Sure, I can’t change the fact that my job requires some level of digital commitment, but I can control how much time I devote to that commitment. I can make small changes to make a healthier environment for myself to both live and create in.

I’ve already started purging my phone again, and I intend to keep it that way.

I’ve set time limits for the few apps that I’m keeping (Apple’s decision to include a “Screen Time” function in Settings is a godsend, by the way) and am using Hootsuite to keep my accounts from going radio silent while I take time for myself. It’s been a week so far, and while the changes I’m making are little, I can already see them making a big difference.

So…that’s where I’ve been. Taking care of myself. Managing my digital burnout. Learning coping skills.

It’s all positive, friends. I thank you all for your patience with me, and hope that even a small piece of this resonates with someone who may be feeling similar signs of burnout. Please know that it's always okay to take time for yourself, to make changes that will make you happier, and to log out once in a while.

The digital world keeps turning, but the real one does, too. It’s all about finding a balance between them.

A Time for Change

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Resolutions. Endings and beginnings. Doors opening while others close. These are the things that make up winters: this feeling of new things blossoming up from the frost, and new dreams rising out of the cold. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as the year’s end draws closer and closer.

Back in September, I spoke a bit about wanting change. In fact, I anticipated it, and urged you to do the same. I’ve taken the last few months to step back and to think quite seriously about what I want to do next. The truth is, I’ve been feeling uneasy for a while now. The past year has been long, yes, but it has also. been full of lessons. I don’t know if I understand them all yet, but I do think I’m ready to listen to the bits and pieces I’ve been able to fit together.

This is all to say that I am changing my self-publishing methods in 2019.

As of January, I will be pulling my books from Amazon and stepping away from print-on-demand production. I will instead be printing books in small batches and selling directly from my online shop. I have thought long and hard about this, and had even considered these options prior to the CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing merger that ultimately pushed me to take this leap of faith. These changes will put me back in the driver’s seat. It will put me in control of my own prices, of my own content, and of my own earnings.

What does this mean for my current books? A lot, actually.

Ready Aim Fire, Basket Case, and Exit Ghost will be leaving Amazon, but I assure you that they will not be gone for good. Instead, I have been working on extended editions of each of these titles. So, yes, they’ll be gone for a time. But then they’ll come back! And they’ll be even better!

(Also, the ebook version of Ready Aim Fire will remain available through Kindle while I figure out ebook options moving forward. So I’m not stepping too far away from Amazon just yet.)

And what does this mean for all of you? Will this change pricing? Shipping?

The short answer is: Yes. Because this new method of publishing will be more costly on my end, it may result in a slight increase in cost on yours. I am doing my best not to hike up prices, and I can promise there will be no astronomical changes. But there will be changes. I can’t avoid that. Which is a good segue into the thing I always feel awkward promoting…

PATREON! Here’s the sales pitch: Teirs are currently set at $1, $2, and $3 levels with rewards including early access to blog posts and book reviews, monthly discounts to my shop, and exclusive poems and stories that are only shared on Patreon. Funds from Patreon will help me cover production costs, which will help me produce more content at a quicker pace, and will also help keep book prices lower for everyone. Okay? Okay.

And, finally, I want to touch a little something that’s been dragged out for far too long.

What does this all mean for Fictitious?

I have not forgotten about this book. I could never forget about this book. It has not been scrapped. This book is my heart and soul and I’m so frustrated that it is not yet in your hands. One of the reasons I postponed the book even further was the changes Amazon chose to spring in its independent authors. Now that I’m taking steps away from Amazon, I’m excited to finally - finally, finally, finally, finally - release Fictitious.

I don’t feel comfortable announcing a release date just yet. I have a date in mind, but as I’m navigating this new process, I anticipate some bumpy roads and don’t want to make another promise I cannot keep regarding this book. But I do feel comfortable announcing that Fictitious will be part of a poetry duology called POP POETRY. And if that’s not exciting enough for you, the two full-length POP POETRY collections will be accompanied by two limited edition chapbooks!

The series will be laid out as such:

  • Fictitious (POP POETRY NO. 1)

    • Director’s Cut (LIMITED CHAPBOOK)

  • Rhapsody (POP POETRY NO. 2)

    • B-Side (LIMITED CHAPBOOK)

I’ll be laying out more information regarding how this will all work shortly, along with announcing official release dates. For now, just know that these books are all slated for 2019/2020 releases, that this series is essentially my heart on a platter, and that I am so overwhelmingly excited to share them with you.

I have learned so much over the past year alone, and even more in the three years I have been in this self-publishing game. I am anxious about these changes, of course. But I’m also excited, and I think that excitement is occupying the majority of my nerve-endings.

Thank you all for being on this journey with me. Thank you all for your support, for your kindness, for your patience. You are the reason I am able to do all of this, and you are the reason I will always press forward.

Be brave and take risks. You don't have to have it all figured out to move forward.
- Roy T. Bennett -

NaNoWriMo 2018: Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts

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As I write this, we are a week removed from the madness of National Novel Writing Month 2018. Over the past week, I’ve found myself at a loss for breath as I slink back into some kind of normalcy (which, admittedly, not very normal.)

During November, I found myself the proud owner of a brand new job - in the publishing industry, no less! Which is exciting, but also scary, and landed me in marketing assistant boot camp just days after I crawled over that 50,000 word finish line. I’m also still in the throes of law school prep, which is now back in full swing as I’ve doubled down on my LSAT preparation and picked up my program research. Also, the holidays are a think. There are cards to be sent and gifts to be bought and dishes to bake for the parties that need attending (and sometimes planning, too, if you decide to offer up your house for ugly sweater festivities - guilty!). So. There’s all of that.

I’ll spare you my anxious, frenzied thoughts about all that.

Instead, let’s talk about NaNoWriMo, as long as you’re not too bored with that topic by now.

2018 was my eleventh year participating in National Novel Writing Month, and on November 30th it became my tenth win. I had set out a goal of over 50,000 words and did reach it. While I’m disappointed about this, a conversation with my mother offered some perspective, as mothers are apt to lend. She said it as simply as anyone could: “You had a lot going on this month.”

And she’s right, as mothers often are. This November I traveled, I went on interviews, I got a new job; I went to weddings, I babysat some dogs, I reconnected with old friends. I studied for the LSAT, and I stressed about studying for the LSAT, and I got so stressed that I had to put the LSAT books away and deal with the anxiety they caused. I set up the foundations for Little Lion Literary, the literary & arts journal of my dreams. So, yeah, NaNoWriMo was not the only thing on my plate. And with all that considered, I’m damn proud of myself for crossing the finish line.

I began the month with four potential story ideas to entertain. I wound up working on two of those: a superhero epic, and a slasher story that was a little bit Halloween and a little bit Dexter. A few years ago, I worked on multiple stories for the first time, and I’ve found that this kind of split attention actually helps me keep my focus. One thing that plagues me around week two or three of every National Novel Writing Month is the inevitable burn-out - that tired, beaten down feeling that makes you look at your work with a hyper-critical eye and makes you feel trapped in quicksand, sinking deeper with every word you struggle to write. By giving myself multiple options, I’m able to bounce back and forth depending on which story speaks to me that day, and this year I’ve come away with workable drafts for both projects.

Another thing I’m proud of is my dedication to writing every single day of the month.

Sure, I didn’t always cross that 1,667 threshold. Some days I managed to spit about hundred words onto the page before throwing in the towel, but each of those hundred words got me closer and closer to my goal.

Over the past year, I’ve drifted in and out of depressive episodes. This isn’t exactly uncommon. I’ve spoken about my mental health issues before, and these diagnoses are an every day kind of thing. They don’t go away; I’ve just learned to manage them. However, quite a few times this year I’ve found that managing them took time away from my work, which only deepened the depressive feelings I was battling. Therefore, I was determined to use NaNoWriMo to break the on again/off again writing cycle I’ve developed and begin writing every day again.

It worked. I wrote every day, even if it was just a little bit, and I came away with two pieces that I’m proud of and excited to work into something publishable.

And on top of all of that, I’m glad for the new friends I’ve made. In hosting #NaNoWineO chats on Twitter this year, I’ve found a small circle of incredibly encouraging, kind, and compassionate fellow writers who I am glad to now consider friends. We may only meet once a week over social media, but those connections are invaluable as an artist. They kept me motivated and confident, even when I wasn’t sure I would make it to the finish line, and reporting word counts to them each week kept me accountable for my work. I can’t thank them enough.

So, to wrap things up, this National Novel Writing Month, with all its ups and downs, was one of my favorites. It was certainly one for the books, full of new friendships and lessons that needed learning, and I believe its helped me create some books that I hope to one day share with you.

And isn’t that what NaNoWriMo is all about?

NaNoWriMo 2018: Self-Care During NaNo

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Week two of National Novel Writing Month 2018 is drawing to a close and I, for one, am beat.

Over the years, I’ve found that NaNoWriMo exhaustion exists in a league all its own. It’s not like normal writing exhaustion, where you take a breather for a few days, put down the pen for a week, or bounce around with some other ideas while you let your current work-in-progress finished. It’s not that you can’t do these things during NaNoWriMo, of course. But there is a lot of pressure not to, because the whole point of National Novel Writing Month is to get down a 50,000 word first draft of one single novel in one month’s time. That kind of goal requires at least a little bit of writing every day, and leaves little to no room to play around with other projects simultaneously.

With a challenge as intense as NaNoWriMo, it becomes all the more important for participants to heed their mental health and practice self care. It’s easy to get caught-up in the chaos of writing 1,667 words every day, jumping into word sprints and word wars to push the daily quota, but the mania of it can leave one feeling drained at the end of the day - or even the hour, if that’s all the time one has to cram in their writing for the day. NaNoWriMo isn’t exempt from the pitfalls of regular, day-to-day writing, either. You can still get stuck in your story. You can still plateau. And this becomes all the more frustrating when your goal was to push through an extra thousand words, or when you feel you’re falling behind in the challenge.

Basically, as fun as NaNoWriMo is (and I swear it is!), there’s a lot of potential stress that comes with it. It’s a lot to deal with, and all the more reason to find ways to unwind, let go, and let your mind rest in the midst of such a literary frenzy.

GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT.

Even the smallest accomplishment, like getting one hundred words on paper or sitting down to write for five or ten minutes, is still an accomplishment. In a challenge where the end goal is a lofty 50K, it can be easy to overlook the baby steps we take along the way.

A little tip? Take a moment each day to look at your manuscript, look at word count, and congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. Only wrote fifty words today? Great! That’s fifty more than you had yesterday, and those fifty words are nudging you closer to the finish line. Be proud of them.

And a little bonus tip: stop using the words only or just when you talk about your daily word counts. “I only got 200 words.”; “I just have 10,000.” No, no, no. “I wrote 200 words!”; “I’m have 10,000 words!” Change your language, change your perspective, and give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve taken on a pretty hefty challenge, and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate your progress. You’re doing this. It’s hard, but you’re doing it, and that’s pretty exceptional no matter what your word count looks like.

TAKE BREAKS.

We’ve all been there: we sit down to write with a big cup of coffee in the morning, and by the time we go to take a sip we discover that five hours have gone by and the coffee’s gone cold. And sure, these marathon sessions can really help boost our word counts and get us that much closer to hitting 50,000 words. But they shouldn’t be the norm, and we certainly shouldn’t buckle down for another three hours once we’ve figured out how much time has passed.

You and your novel will need to take breaks from one another. It’s important for your relationship. Trust me. Set a timer, write until it goes off, and then get away from the computer. Go take a walk, or go to a fitness class, or meet up with a friend. Watch a movie, catch up on some Netflix, take a nap. Whatever it is that will let you untangle yourself from the fictional world you’re building? Do that. I promise you, it works wonders, because when you sit back down you’ll be refreshed and probably a bit more inspired than you felt when you left.

Your novel will still be there when you get back. Your characters aren’t going anywhere. They’ll probably thank you for the breather, and you’ll definitely feel less drained at the end of the day.

DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS.

We’re halfway through the month. Some people have already hit their 50,000; some people have gone beyond that goal; some people are right on track; some people are stuck at 10,000 with no idea where to go from here. Some people feel great, others are struggling.

It can be easy to look at someone else’s word count and think, “Wow! They’re doing so great! I should be there, too. Why am I not doing as well as they are?” Get this out of your head. You don’t know what other WriMos are going through or what their circumstances are, and other WriMos don’t know what you’re going through or what your circumstances are. No two writers’ experiences are going to be the same - so why would you compare your journey to someone else’s?

It’s okay to feel a little jealous. We’d all love to be crossing the finish line sooner rather than later! But it’s important not to let that jealousy eat us up so much that it distracts us from our novels. And while the NaNoWriMo community is great and supportive and tons of fun to be in, don’t be afraid to take a little step back if you find yourself getting hung up on other people’s word counts.

A little internet break can do a ton for both you and your novel. It’ll give you the chance of focusing solely on your work while preventing you from holding your book up to someone else’s. Take some time away from word count reporting and just focus on you. When you come back, shout what you’ve accomplished to the rooftops - be proud! - and take the time to congratulate your friends on their word counts, too.

Ultimately, when you’re feeling stressed and bogged down and like NaNoWriMo has entirely devoured your soul, the most important question to ask yourself is: What do I need right now?

Take a few minutes out of each day to seriously consider this question. The answer will probably vary from day to day. Maybe you need to get away from your novel and get coffee with a friend. Maybe you need to go for a run to clear your head. Maybe you need a short internet hiatus to refocus yourself. Maybe you need to work on a different project for an hour or so, or to take a day off all together. Whatever it is, honor your mind and body’s needs, because the better you feel each day, the better your NaNoWriMo experience will be.

A Letter to Stan Lee

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A letter to Stan Lee:

You don’t know me, but I know you. Not in the sense that we’ve met. We’ve never shook hands or sat opposite each other at a dinner table. We’ve never chatted over coffee. We’ve never even been in the same room on the same day at the same time. I know you in a difference sense - in the sense that you spilled your heart across comic panel pages for me, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of others, to pick up.

You built safe places to run to and heroes who hurt and bled and cried and who I could, without even having to squint, see myself in. You fought for these make believe people and their make believe worlds, pushed and pushed against all the stubborn boulders in your way. You said yes when an entire industry told you no, and then you held that industry in the palm of your hand and said, “I told you so”.

You worked endlessly, tirelessly, relentlessly to give breath and voice and life to little paper people on glossy comic book spreads and you stood beside them when they leapt up onto the big screen. And you never stopped. Not once. You kept creating, kept building, kept making people out of paper and ink and gifting them to a world they could belong to. You never put the pen down, and because of you, I’ll never let go of mine.

You don’t know me, but you saved me. Over and over again, you saved me. You saved me, and you inspired me, and you taught me. To tell the truth, you saved and inspired and taught so many people, and I think if we all tried to thank you at once the sound of our gratitude would ring so loud that they would hear it in the space station. And you know what? I think that they when they heard us, they’d join in and thank you, too.

You have changed and shaped the lives of so many people. You have spread so much light in the world that you could be your own sun - and maybe that’s what you are now: one great big star warming some far away planet. Maybe you are out there somewhere shedding golden light over a land your own creations might inhabit, and maybe they’re all cheering and basking in your glow, all of them so incredibly grateful to see you again and to welcome you home.

I will never get to thank you in person. I will always regret never having that chance (no matter how far fetched it might have been even before you left). But I’d like to thank you now. So, thank you. Thank you for showing this weird little big-dreaming writer that the underdog can win, and that if you believe in something, the whole world might start to believe in it, too.

Rest easy. You will be missed.

Excelsior.

NaNoWriMo 2018: Noveling Survival Kit

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Well, friends, November is finally here. Week one has already come and gone and with it pages and pages of frantic prose have been scrambled through, coffee-stained, and cried over. As of writing this I’m sitting at a grand total of 11,543 words at the dawn of day eight.

While this isn’t exactly where I wanted to be, I’m proud. I’m proud because I’ve had one of the most hectic beginning weeks to NaNoWriMo in my eleven-year participation streak (and that includes senior year of high school and all my years NaNo-ing in college - combined!). So, sure, I’m not quite where I want to be, and I’m still a little disappointed about that. But I’m still on track. I’m writing every day, and I’m meeting minimum word counts, and I’m inching my way towards 50,000 words (and, hopefully, beyond!). That’s a victory.

And it hasn’t been accomplished alone!

Every writer has their own tools of the trade - the things we can’t live without, the things that make our craft possible. They might be little motivators, they might be the rewards we use, they might consist of towers of coffee beans and a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. It’s all fair game! Personally, I have a mixture things that seem to rotate in and out of vogue every year. For 2018, I’ve found that these five things are my Top Five Most Important Most Inspirational Most Necessary Survival Kit Must-Haves to get through this wild month of non-stop noveling:

1. COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE. (& SOMETIMES WINE).

You know those signs you see in home-goods stores and souvenir shops? “Coffee keeps me busy until it’s time to drink wine”; “AM: Coffee / PM: Wine”. Well, that’s literally my life. My hot drink of choice seems to change year by year. Sometimes I’m a tea all day, every day girl. Some years I just want endless supplies of hot cocoa. This year, I’m all about the coffee. I can’t start writing without at least one cup in my system and one on deck (aka: on my desk getting cold and subjected to multiple trips to the microwave to keep it drinkable).

A few evenings a week, I’ve also found that indulging in a glass of wine is a nice way to both unwind and inspire a more laid-back writing style in order to meet my daily goals. I joined Winc (not sponsored! I just found them through Wine & Crime and really love their selection. but if they want to partner up, I won’t say no!) and ordered a few reds to try. I also started hosting #NaNoWineO chats on Twitter this year, mostly to increase my community participation, but also as an excuse to pop open my Winc bottles with some other writers.

2. THRIFTBOOKS. ABEBOOKS. BOOKOUTLET.

I tend to change up what my writing rewards are each year, if only to keep myself motivated. Sometimes it’s getting to go to movies every 10K words, sometimes it’s watching an episode of Netflix & Marvel’s Daredevil after 5K, sometimes it’s getting to go to a pop culture convention. This year, I’ve decided to reward myself with books! Cheap books, yes. Discounted used books, to be exact. But books nonetheless!

I’ve been using online discount book services since a college professor had mercy on her English majors and told us to order our texts from AbeBooks. Another professor was kind enough to grant us the gift of Thriftbooks, and BookOutlet and I found each other during a Shakespeare stint at the end of last year. Now all three show up on my Google homepage because I stalk them to intensely. Which is a good thing! Because for every 10K words I write, I’m allowing myself to order one book. My first 10,000 words earned me a UK edition of Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, and I’ve got my sights set on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson when I hit the 20K mark.

Do I really need to be adding to my overstuffed bookshelves? Probably not. But is it keeping me motivated? Absolutely! And having so many deals available on thrift sites virtually erases the guilt at buying a new book every few thousand words.

3. A LITTLE BOOK OF BIG POEMS.

While we’re on the topic of books, let’s talk about how hard it can be to keep up with reading while NaNoWriMo is in session. The answer: it sometimes feels impossible.

I tend to stick with poetry during November. I find that reading poems can both inspire my work and serve as a reprise from my frantic, rambling, scrambling prose. It also allows me to keep reading without getting overly influenced by another writer’s style, structure or voice while I’m in the heat of a first draft. I’ve found that reading fiction can push me so far into another book’s world that sometimes my own work slips inside, so poetry is a great way to keep my reading goals in play while avoiding this realm-hopping phenomenon.

This year, I opted for Cheyenne Raine’s bilingual collection Lemon Acuarelas. It’s a beautiful book, and reading in two languages is keeping me in the head space to write the bilingual dialogue of some of the central characters in my main NaNo project. It’s a lot easier to make their speech fluid when I’m filling my spare time with their second language!

4. PODCASTS, PLAYLISTS, & STREAMING - OH MY!

Spotify is my best friend during November.

Usually, I’m a strictly music-only kind of writer. I’ll shove a whole bunch of songs into a playlist for my novel and listen to the whole thing non-stop throughout NaNoWriMo (or whatever I’m working on, really; this process isn’t NaNo-exclusive). This year, I’ve found myself further intrigued by podcasts and the odd documentary as well. I have two primary plots that I’m working on for NaNoWriMo, and both of them are heavily crime-based. They include criminals, vigilantes, crime journalists, police officers and government agents, so on and so forth, and I’ve found myself getting in the mindset of these characters with true crime podcasts and documentaries. Even if all the cases don’t quite line up with what I’m writing, hearing the terminology and getting a taste for the cases covers helps me set the tone for my work.

My current favorite is And That’s Why We Drink! The paranormal element ties in with the second half of one of my plots, so this show is the perfect mix to set the stage for particular story. I’ve also been into Wine & Crime, and I’ve just started dabbling in hits like My Favorite Murder. For documentaries, I’ve been focusing heavily on HBO specials including Beware the Slenderman, Mommy Dead and Dearest, and There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane as well as Netflix hits like The Staircase and season two of Making a Murderer.

5. THE NANOWRIMO COMMUNITY

This one is a little abstract.

It’s not an object. It’s not something tangible. It’s not something you can pull out at a moment’s notice, when you’re strapped for inspiration or you’re feeling drained or you just need a pick-me-up. It’s something that’s around you - something that you feel rather than touch, but this technicality doesn’t make it any less important.

One of the things that has kept me coming back to NaNoWriMo, one of things that has pulled me through almost eleven years of this madness, has been the community. These incredible writers are the backbone of the challenge. The word sprints, the forums, the Twitter chats, the postcard swaps - everything! WriMos are a unique breed of people, let me tell you. They are kind and encouraging and supportive even when they themselves are feeling frazzled and unsure. You can’t get through a challenge like this without people like them, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this crazy, wild, worldwide community!

NaNoWriMo 2018: Prepping, Plantsing, & Pre-November Projects

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A comprehensive list of reasons to love fall:

  • Halloween

  • everything smells like cinnamon

  • everything tastes like apples & pumpkins

  • NaNoWriMo

As October raises sleepy eyelids, November lies in wait, and hundreds of thousands of writers around the world sharpen their pencils and prime their word processors for the thrill ride of the year. For the past ten years, I’ve tackled National Novel Month along with them, and you’re damn right I’m ready to dive back in.

Or at least…mostly ready. Which is like being ready, with a dash of apprehension and a pinch of uncertainty. What I mean by that is as I’ve started to pick through the plots I’ve been stashing away for the annual literary mad-dash, I’ve found that I can’t choose just one.

I’m a plantser, and always have been. Non-NaNoWriMo speakers probably think I just spelled “planter” wrong. I didn’t, I promise. A plantser, you see, is a mixture of a “planner”, or one who carefully plots out and plans their novel before November first, and a “pantser”, which is not a misspelling of “panther” (thanks for trying, autocorrect) but instead a novelist who chooses to forgo planning and fly by the seat of their pants for thirty wild days. Plantsers like myself sit somewhere in the middle. We don’t live by our outlines, but we’re going to do some molding of our ideas before we jump into the fray. For me, this normally means going in with what I call mystory skeleton. This is a set of ideas that outlines the basic structure of my plot. Once I have the bones set up, I can layer on top of them throughout November until I have my finished draft.

In the past, when I’ve had trouble choosing a plot, I try to make skeletons for all my ideas and pick a winner based on what skeleton feels the most solid or which one intrigues me the most. The problem this year? I have two skeletons, both anatomy-class-quality, and both equally interesting to me. So…I’m stuck. And I’ll be spending October trying to get un-stuck, or else going into November with a plan to write two stories - a NaNo first for me. (Well, kind of a second? In 2016 I wound up finishing my planned story early, and used the rest of the month to work on another, less developed plot. But this was a fluke occurrence, and I had no intention to write two stories. It just happened. This year, however, would be the first time I went in with a plan to work on two stories.)

That’s what my prep will consist of for 2018. I’ve got one plot that I’m leaning towards, so I’m using that for the plot-related prompts in the Preptober Instagram Challenge, but I’m truly confused about what story to actually write. Ah, indecision. A phenomenon I’ll never escape.

In the meantime, I’m also working on an excited project for Halloween!

THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN will be a 13-night short fiction event. Each day will find a new flash fiction story featuring a classic Halloween monster. I’m incredibly excited about this series! Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, and I’m a long-time fan of spooky stories and the creatures that inspire them - contributing my part to the lore of these incredible beings is something I’ve always wanted to do. So grab your wooden stakes and silver bullets and mark your calendars for October 19th! And keep an eye on my Twitter for updates on the series. I’ll be posting some hints soon!

If you would like to be a part of the series, you can become a story sponsor by donating on Patreon! My first thirteen Patreon supporters will be listed as sponsors in a special “brought to you by” section of the thirteen spooky shorts. Tiers are currently set up at $1, $2, and $3 levels. Join my Patreon family today to support Thirteen Haunts of Halloween and so many more stories to come!

Let's Talk (Again)

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I’ve been in the self publishing world for two years now.

In that time, I’ve put out a poetry collection unveiling my battle with depression, a short fiction collection not-so-subtly inspired by own anxiety, and a novella born from experiences with loss and the grief that always follows. I have also had the pleasure of being interviewed for wonderful blogs and lit magazines, had my work published in an anthology dedicated to mental health awareness, and been featured in an online journal. I’ve hosted two events at a local indie bookstore and have been able to raise funds for National Novel Writing Month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and for a family affected by the rare genetic disorder SMARD.

I’m grateful. I’m elated. I’m blessed. Self publishing has gifted me the freedom and power to create on my own terms. It has helped to amplify my voice, build my confidence, and put me on a path I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.

However, I still live with the depression whose first assault inspired my first book. I still struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. I’m still mentally ill, and this year has done a great deal to remind me of that.

I’ve felt bogged down. I’ve felt pulled back. I’ve felt small, and weak, and frustrated because I know I am neither but the imbalance of my brain makes me doubt what I know. I’ve discussed this before, and I’ll likely discuss it again. It is part of the reason why Fictitious - my fourth book, my fourth venture, has yet to greet the world.

Another part is the changes being made to my current means of publication. Ever since November of 2016, I’ve published via Amazon’s independent publishing platform CreateSpace. As I was gearing up to finally (finally, finally, finally!) putting the finishing touches on my sophomore poetry collection, I got an email from the company. The email was lengthy, but the gist was this: Amazon is changing it’s self publishing . It is, for all intents and purposes, ditching CreateSpace in favor of its newer platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

I’m no stranger to KDP. My very first book, Ready Aim Fire, exists in Kindle edition through this service. I have not, however, used its print-on-demand services. In the early stages of my journey, I made a conscious choice not to publish with KDP given its lower royalties and higher printing costs when compared to CreateSpace. While Amazon is currently encouraging authors to move their titles and proceed with business as usual with Kindle Direct, I’m left anxious and unsure.

I’ve had a difficult time putting into words exactly what I’m feeling. As an author, that’s mildly embarrassing. As an anxiety sufferer, it’s commonplace. And so, I’ve been doing what years of therapy have taught me to do: I’m taking deep breaths, stepping back, and analyzing with some distance between myself and everyone’s favorite corporate giant. I’ve been taking some time to research KDP, as well as other avenues of self- and traditional publishing.

Does this mean I’ll stop self-publishing? No. It just means I’m weighing my options.

I’m doing my best to take in the whole picture and make the best decision for both myself and my work. Unfortunately, and frustratingly for myself, this does leave Fictitious and other works-in-progress in a state of limbo. I feel badly about posting yet another apology blog about yet another publication delay. I’m frustrated by it, anxious about it, and generally feeling down. But I’m not going to let these feelings stop me from putting my work into the world. I’m going to do my best to use them to get my work to you in the best way possible.

I want to thank you all for your continued patience and support. I’ve met such wonderful people in my two years of self-publishing, and I could not be more thankful for the kindness I’ve received from fellow authors and readers alike.

This has been a difficult year for me mental health-wise, and the ups and downs have left me exhausted. The Fictitious situation has fluctuated between a source of comfort (through working on the book) and a source of stress (through delays, delays, delays). While Amazon’s change feels like yet another wrench in my plans, I’m glad to say I feel ready to take it on.

I’m not quite sure what’s next for me and my books, but I’m so grateful to have you all along for the ride. I hope to share more with you soon. Until then, thank you - for your patience and understanding, for your love and support, for your kindness, for everything. Living with depression often makes me feel isolated and alone, but the swell of support I receive from this community is a pretty strong weapon against that. You’re all amazing, and I’m truly lucky to have you.

The Importance of Being Authentic

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A few years ago, I signed up for a college creative writing course.

I didn't know what to expect. I had been out of school for a year, having taken time off to manage my mental health. When I considered returning to the classroom it was my mom who suggested that I take something I was genuinely interested in- forget the gen eds, forget the major courses. Just dip a toe into something familiar. I browsed the course catalog and found a Sunday morning creative writing class. I registered. 

On the first day of class, the professor handed out a list of writing prompts.

These prompts weren't like any I'd been given before. They weren't first lines, or settings for stories, or a challenge to write a poem with five obscure words that should never fit together. These were deeper. They were more intimate. They were letters to people who hurt us and admissions of high school embarrassments; they were designed to dredge up the darkest things inside of us and make us splatter-paint them on the page.

Each week, the professor would assign one of the prompts, and we would spend an hour  responding to it. Then, it would be time to share.

Now, this professor didn't put anybody on the spot. All sharing was done voluntarily. If you didn't want to read aloud, you didn't have to. But he did want someone to read. And in that first class, no one seemed to want to. The personal nature of the topics didn't  help anyone's first-class, public speaking jitters. We sat in silence after the professor's invitation to share. Everyone stared at their desks, fidgeted with their pens. We all avoided the professor's gaze.

And that's when he said something that's stuck with me ever since. He folded his hands on his desk and he said, "What you write doesn't have to be great."

That got everyone's attention.

We looked up, wary of what would come next, and the professor went on to tell us that we weren't here to write the next great American classic. We weren't here to turn ourselves into NYT Bestsellers.

We were here to hone our craft. We were here to practice, and to learn, and to grow. He told us that he understood that we were nervous to share, and that those nerves were good. It meant that we had created something real. We had written something authentic, and if our writing should be anything, it should be authentic. Our writing should be our blood, our tears, our breath. It should be us.

I went home with those words ringing in my head. The next week, when I went to class, I volunteered to read. And I volunteered every week after that. My classmates did, too, to the point were class would run an extra ten minutes just to squeeze everyone in. We spilled our hearts to each other, reliving our best and worst moments with a room full of strangers. From the trans girl who wrote stand-up routines about coming out to her family, to the girl who grew up in foster care and the boy who was kicked out of his house at seventeen; the eighteen year old who hadn't picked their major yet, thirty year old who was still finding herself, the girl who was abused by her mother, and everyone in between. We talked about the crushes we had in second grade and the scariest moments of our lives. We weren't trying to impress each other. We didn't need to. We were being authentic, being ourselves, and it was incredible. It was liberating.

I've kept that thought in the back of my head. It fueled my first book, and then my second. 

This isn't to say that authenticity was ever missing from my writing. This has been my outlet for such a long time, my means of release, that it wouldn't be possible not to let my own thoughts and feelings spill through the cracks. But after that class, I broke those cracks wide open. I poured everything I am and everything that I had into them. I made art out of them.

Because I'm not here to impress anyone. I don't exist to wow other people. 

I exist to be myself. I exist to share myself. And ever since I embraced that - ever since this professor encouraged an entire room of young writers to embrace that - I've felt myself improve. Not in drastic leaps, but in small ways. In my manipulation of language and use of symbols. Everything has more meaning, because every last thing is rooted to something inside of me.

I have been trying to bring this into other areas of my life. Into my conversations. Into my actions. I am trying to break out of the shell I've crafted bit by bit. To be true to myself. To honor myself. Because authenticity is the most powerful thing I have to offer.

I am the most powerful thing I have to give.

National Poetry Month

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It feels like April has barely begun, but just like that National Poetry Month 2018 is over.

The month did not turn out exactly the way I expected. Between mental health and home renovations, I've hardly found a place to plant my feet on the ground. I feel like all I've been doing is going through the motions - constantly, endlessly, in looping repetition. And while the month didn't go quite as I had hoped, it was still a great one. Exciting things happened, and mundane things happened, and inspiring things happened. All in all, while I might not have written as much poetry throughout the month as I had wanted to, I feel like I'm walking away from this celebratory month refreshed and truly ready to take on whatever might come next.

To touch on the exciting things that happened this month: on April 5, I was interviewed by the always lovely Amber of YA Indulgences as part of her month-long Poetic Justice series and on April 15, my poem "White Knuckles and Broken Cars" was published in Issue 2 of Cagibi Lit. This marks both my first interview, and my first piece published in a literary journal!

Moving forward, I've mapped out a plan to catch up on and continue the Year in Poetry series. You will be seeing frequent poetry posts over the next couple of weeks until we find ourselves all caught up and back in the groove. I'm very excited to get back on this particular horse, as the project is something I'm very determined to completed and absolutely thrilled to share with you.

I've also pushed back the release date of Fictitious to allow more time to work out a few technical kinks and to ensure that this little book is the absolutely best in can be. I touched on this in a bit more depth in the latest Power of Fiction guest post, so be sure to check that out! The new release date for Fictitious will be May 15, 2018.

Over the past month, I have reached from a deep emotional low into something of a creative revival. Seeing other poets posting content throughout the month, being able to read and absorbed their words, has invigorated me. I have a lot of plans for the rest of this year, and some exciting announcements to throw at you over the next couple of weeks. 

One last thing: Ready Aim Fire is currently on sale in honor of National Poetry Month, and today is the LAST DAY to get it at this special reduced price!

I hope this month and the poetry it birthed as sparked in you hope, and courage, and empowerment - I hope that it has shown you the world through a new lens, and that you walk away from it feeling greater, and bigger, and stronger. Wishing you all the best on this last day of National Poetry Month 2018! I'm so very grateful to be on this ride with you.

Let's Talk

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I've been absent lately. Absent from this blog, from social media; absent from this whole writer's networking game. And while I have touched on the reason why in a recent Twitter thread, I wanted to talk a moment to talk about it here as well. 

From previous posts, many of you may already know that I've struggled with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder since 2011. I was formally diagnosed in 2014, when I was prescribed medication and began talk therapy. I have continued to manage my symptoms through these means, and began to feel stable around 2016. In 2017, I cut my therapy sessions down to every other week, then as-needed, then stopped all together. I was doing well. Really, really well. And then...I wasn't.

We often expect mental illness recovery to be linear. We want it to be linear. And why wouldn't we? A straight shot from the worst feeling you can imagine to being happier than you've ever felt is ideal, no matter how long it takes to draw that line. When you start to feel like yourself again, when you have the energy to do the things you love again after months or years in a fog, you think you're in the clear. You should be out of the woods, right? You feel better, so you should be better.

Mental illness doesn't work like that. Recovery looks more like rolling hills than one straight line. You hit some peaks, and you slide down into some valleys. And over the last couple of months, I've been deep in one of those valleys. 

What started as a couple of bad days turned into a few bad weeks, and now it's been over a month and I feel like I'm stuck on a plateau. Nothing in front. Nothing behind. Just flat, and empty, and endless. I've had to force myself to do the most basic of tasks. I've felt overwhelmed by things that usually excite me. I've been irritable and exhausted. It's frustrating on a lot of levels. I was so proud of myself, and I felt like people around me were proud, for doing well for such a long time. I graduated college in December, I'm preparing for the LSAT in June, I've published three books with a forth on the way. Everything is going well! So why am I suddenly so unhappy again? Why do I suddenly feel something so akin to what was my lowest low? It makes me want to burrow into the ground and never come back out. But I won't. 

Recovery may not be linear, but the rolling hills it makes get smaller as you go. That's something I've learned over the five years I've been in treatment. It doesn't get easier, per say, but it does get more manageable. You learn coping mechanisms, and you figure out what to do. I've taken steps to get out of this rut that would have been impossible for me to take or even think about five years ago, or four years ago, or even just two years ago. 

I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started going volunteer work. I tried out a new gym. I've started going to more formal yoga classes, and I scheduled an appointment with a brand new therapist. These things aren't easy to do by any means, and I've had more anxiety attacks than I can count over each and every one, but I know that they'll be worth it in the long haul. They'll help get me where I need to be. They'll help get me up to the next peak, and when I get there I'll have even more experience and skills to tackle the next valley with, too. 

That's the reality of recovery. Absolutely none of it is easy. Absolutely none of it is simple. It's hard work, and it's every day, and it's draining and frustrating and full of twists and turns you never asked to take. But each time you push through something hard, you're equipped to handle the next step. The valleys get shorter, and the peaks last longer. You get stronger. It may not feel like it - I certainly don't feel strong right now - but it happens with time, and with patience, and with perseverance. 

As part of it all, I'm working to get back on track with this blog and with my social media. Networking with the writing and reading community is something I genuinely enjoy, and something I'm eager to take back after spending this time feeling bogged down and scared. I want to thank you all for your patience with me. I'm eager and excited to create some fresh new content for you. 

If you have any questions about my experience with mental illness and recovery, please feel free to reach out at lexivranick.com/contact. I'm happy to chat with you. Please note that I am not a mental health professional and can only speak from my personal experiences. If you are struggling with mental illness, please know that you are not alone. If you do not feel that you can speak to someone close to you, know that there are hotlines available by phone, text, and online. 

Flash Fiction Friday: Five 55-Word Stories

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STARS

With his head turned toward the sky he asks, “Do you think it’s real?” Silence follows. He looks to her. When she does not answer, he says, “Heaven. Do you think it’s real? Do you think we really go there? Our spirits, I mean. When we die.”

She says, “I think we turn into stars.”

PAPER

Balls of paper stained with ink and coffee rings are heaped high in a pile. Steam has quit his lukewarm mug. He scratches another two words onto clean paper (my love—no, that’s not right; dear—no, he’s tried that already).

A heavy sigh. He rips out the sheet and crushes it between his hands.

MORNING COFFEE

Two cups of coffee sit upon the table. Steam rises in slow, lazy swirls. The clock on the wall ticks away seconds and every turn of its hands echoes down the hall. She paces up, down; up, down.

The door at the end of the hall is closed.

She sits and drinks one cup alone.

UNCERTAINTY

“Do you mean it?” The voice is small. A timid whisper. A strong hand closes around a small one. Fingers lace together. The wind toys with their hair as the two inch closer beneath the moonlight.

“I love you.” A sigh escapes. A head rests upon a shoulder. Muscles tense.

“But do you mean it?”

SKIPPING STONES

She runs her thumb over the smooth stone. The sand crunches beneath her boots as she walks along the shore. Water and seafoam lap at her feet. She breathes a sigh, hitch in her throat. She brushes her bangs off her face, winds up her arm and chucks the little stone across the glassy surface.

Mental Health & The Mind Poetry Project

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Once upon a time, my mental illnesses were thought personality flaws.

Depression was sadness, and sometimes laziness, and sometimes lack of sleep. Anxiety was a combination of student stress and an overactive imagination. They were fleeting feelings that would pass. They were emotions in my control, emotions that could be managed by deep breathing and time management skills. I didn’t have to worry, I just needed to get my act together.

I started experiencing mental illness symptoms in 2012. At that time, I thought I had enough to reason to brush off the feelings with a simple, “This, too, shall pass”. I was eighteen years old and bridging the cultural gap between high school and college. I was balancing a seventeen-credit schedule with a part time job and commuting forty-five minutes each way to my university four days a week. I was more stressed than I’d ever been, so why shouldn’t I feel sad and nervous and tired and overwhelmed?

One question I got this week was: When did you know that something was wrong?

It wasn’t until 2014, when these feelings had yet to go away and became increasingly coupled with a lack of interest in essentially anything I previously enjoyed (and a lack of energy and motivation to do those things, anyway) that my mom asked: “Are you depressed?”

I hadn’t thought about mental illness before that moment. I hadn’t considered that maybe what was happening to me wasn’t my fault, but was instead the result of something chemically wrong inside of me. I went to the doctor, an appointment which me forced me to face the reality of my suicidal ideation, a symptom which I had been nervously pushing aside since the thoughts first crept into my head, a symptom which made me terrified of myself.

My primary care physician provided me with a prescription to act as a fire extinguisher for my anxiety and negative thoughts and referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, who he felt would be able to give me more adequate care considering the severity of my symptoms at that point and who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I still see her to this day, and she has been incredible in working with me to find the proper medications to alleviate my symptoms.

This brings me to a second question: Did you experience side effects with any medications?

Side effects are truly difficult to escape from. When I began my first anti-depressant, I had to take at night to try to sleep through the nausea it caused for the first few weeks of taking it. I also had a sleep aid which worked so well the drowsiness it caused stretched far into my mornings, which made me often skip taking it on nights when I had to work early just to be sure I wouldn’t sleep through my alarm. About a year into being on these medications, I mentioned a return of negative thinking to my nurse practitioner. She added an anti-anxiety medication to my regimen to help counteract these affects, and although this helped for a few months, I found myself in the emergency room with suicidal ideation in 2015.

After this, I was switched to another anti-depressant. Although I experienced the same nausea that I did on my first medication, this one has made an incredible difference in alleviating my symptoms, decreasing negative thinking, and overall improving my quality of life. I remain on this medication to this day, though in the last six to twelve months I’ve began decreasing my doses in the hopes to eventually wean off it entirely.

I can go more in-depth into my experiences. I can talk for hours about how isolated I felt living with, or who high my anxiety got when I realized my initial therapist wasn’t helping and that I would have to start all over again with someone new. I could tell you about the days I spent fighting to get out of bed, or how it every step forward felt like trudging through molasses. In fact, I’ve written about all of these things in poetry and prose.

But for the PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING anthology, I wanted to offer hope. I wanted to peel back the shadows and show the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to share how opening up about my struggles made me feel empowered, and I hope that this might help others who are suffering feel a little empowered, too.

“Concept” is a piece that reflects back on my thoughts during my first turn-around during therapy, the first time in my treatment that I felt like I could get better, and that I felt like this illness could somehow make me a stronger person. First published to my Tumblr page last year, I’m both honored and delighted to have it included in this anthology to benefit the UK-based mental health charity, Mind.

PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING is set to release on February 8, 2018.