Breaking Stigmas

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“I like this restaurant,” my eight-year-old son politely explained as we ate dinner with friends. “The other one was loud. It didn’t help my anxiety.” He then went on to discuss how much more sense his thoughts make now that he’s on medication. When he left with my husband to use the bathroom, my friend took the opportunity to scoot a little closer to me and ask a question I could see rolling around in her head the minute my son started talking. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to speak so openly about what’s wrong with him?”

This isn’t usually the type of blog I write, but every now and then, I do journey into the personal instead of the professional, and I’ve decided this is a good time to do that.

There’s a lot of mental illness hanging around in my family. I suffer from depression and anxiety and ADHD, and I’m just discovering now, I may have some sensory processing issues. My son inherited pretty much all of this from me and my husband. I also suffer from scoliosis and migraines, and have mild asthma. And just like I wouldn’t hide that from people who know me, I don’t hide the other stuff either.

It’s odd how we seem to have no problem openly discussing physical issues. “I’m sorry, I can’t come out today. I have a migraine,” rolls off the tongue a lot easier than, “Sorry, I can’t come out today. My anxiety is on high and I don’t really think I could handle being around a lot of people.” People don’t accept both in the same way.

But truly, they are the same. There are some things we can’t control. Mental illnesses are caused by chemicals in our brains. So, while they don’t present themselves as physical illnesses, they are actually caused by traceable physical issues.

So, let’s talk about the question my friend asked. I get her asking it. Some people are just uninformed about this sort of thing, and I’m grateful she didn’t ask in front of my son. She seemed to truly understand when I explained it to her (or she humored me REALLY well), so this isn’t some kind of sub-blog hate post or anything. We’re cool.

What it is, however, is me realizing there may be a question worth answering, a question many people may also be asking.

I’m really straightforward with my son about what he’s going through. Not “wrong with” because that’s the wrong word. There’s nothing wrong with my son. But I explain to him the physical reasons he sometimes becomes overwhelmed, or has trouble dealing with his emotions. I’ll try to help give him the words to describe what he’s feeling, or what bothers him. I’ll help him narrow down the things he can tolerate or the things he struggles with.

I want him to accept that this is his reality, rather than trying to hide from it. I want him to learn to live with it, to cope with it. I don’t want him to be in his thirties and wondering why he sees the world differently from others.

It’s the fact that we feel like we can’t talk about these things that feeds the misinformation, the stigma, surrounding mental health. While other people have armchair psychology mental health reform debates from a safe and comfortable distance, my family struggles with such issues from our very living room.

If this country is determined to claim a need for mental health reform, frankly, something needs to be done about it. And that begins with the actual sufferers of mental illness being open about our needs, being open about how our illnesses make us feel and not being scared to discuss exactly who we are. If this is in some way unsafe or uncomfortable for the sufferer, of course they shouldn’t.

For my Logan, he is completely safe to be exactly who he is–that adorable and snarky 3rd grader who struggles with distress from loud noises, trouble focusing, a need to be perfect despite his relatively laidback parents, and a really weird vomit response to pickles. And we will do everything to help his lovable awesome self and keep him happy and safe to be exactly as he is.

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Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer

Hello everybody! Today I am guest blogging over on Jacy Sellers’ blog. She’s been hosting a new series called MOTHER WRITERS, where authors discuss their methods of managing their careers as Mamas, while simultaneously trying to further their careers as writers.

Check out my installment to this collection, called “Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer” where I discuss how to survive as a writer even when you can’t find your perfect writing situation. And while you’re there, check out the rest of Jacy’s blog.

On Staying in the Moment

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Captured a great candid moment between my husband and son. 

When you live a life that exists at least partially online, you find you run into a great deal of social media complaining. You say too much about your personal life, or you don’t say enough (more on that at another time, as I have plenty to say there). You take too many selfies or we never see your face! Are you always walking around with your phone in-hand, waiting to snap a picture? How do you ever enjoy your life? What is the proper balance of living in the moment and sharing the moment with others?

And more importantly, what business is it of anybody else’s? (Spoiler alert: It isn’t.)

So, because I’ve been working on sharing my random thoughts more on this blog, let’s have a little chatty chat about your life vs. your life online.

For some people, pictures are important. I’m one of those people. I try to document as much as I can. I want to remember things vividly. I don’t want to look back and see those memories fade. Pictures, to me, help keep memories sharper for longer. And so, I do try to take pictures whenever I can, if there is an event to remember, and sometimes just because I admire an aesthetic. I long to capture a moment in time, and some of those moments in time may seem silly, but I enjoy it.

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Thanksgiving Day – Wine time!

Candid moments are best, but I also love to take group pictures, selfies, and whatever pops in my head. Still, there’s one thing, however, that no event needs. Intrusiveness.

If you’re running around with a camera when they are prohibited, put the camera down. If your picture taking is disruptive or making others feel uncomfortable, put it down. If the event or your behavior therein is something you are going to cringe at later, when you look through the pictures, maybe don’t document it. Otherwise…snap away!

People will try to tell you it’s cheesy to take pictures of food, or to take selfies, or that you take too many pictures of your baby. Whatever. What they don’t want to see is not your problem. What you want to take pictures of is your business. If you want to post those pictures online, sure, they become other people’s business, but it’s still your choice what you post. If people don’t want to look at it, they can see themselves off of your social media pages.

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Group shot of me, my sister-in-law Megan(it was her birthday), her boyfriend Julian, and my husband

In the end, the most important thing is to find a balance–to document life happening without intruding on your ability to live it. So go out, take some pictures, show people something different on social media, and most importantly live your life. Memories can’t get fuzzy if you never really make them to begin with.

 

What’s In My Bag?

img_8014Every now and then, when the brain machine is not turning out blog ideas, and I’m stuck in one of the inevitable holding patterns that is the writer’s life, I find myself looking for ideas for blog posts. Of the lists of blog writing prompts I have read through, I rarely find ones I actually want to pursue–after all, the problem with prompts is that they often force a story or a message where there is none. That’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes it can be hell on natural inspiration.

Still, this was one of the fun ones. Here’s a list of what you can find in my bag, my essentials for a day out of the house, and why.

  1. My headphones. I’d like to share a truth with you that is somewhat personal. I don’t like to be alone in my own head. When I’m spinning out threads of a story, or thinking about a pointed topic, the space in my head isn’t all that bad. However, when my thoughts are roaming without direction, and anything can come to the forefront, it often turns out to be something I do not want there. Because of this, I like to keep music around at all times–because, if my brain is focused on music, at least it’s focused on something. Plus, music has the bonus of helping me brainstorm. So it all comes back around.
  2. A cleansing towelette, hand sanitizer, band aids. I have a hyperactive eight-year-old son. I think that more than explains that, although those things would be good to possess for just me, as well. But I can’t claim to have been that responsible pre-Logan.
  3. My migraine pills. I’ve been suffering from migraines for as long as I can remember. At their worst, I would get three crushing headaches a week. Though preventative medication, taken daily, has mostly kept this issue under control and brought the average number of migraines I have down from 3/week to 3/month, I still keep my breakthrough/rescue medication with me daily. As a matter of fact, I just took one now, since today’s rain has my head misbehaving. Taking one of these as soon as I start feeling pain is the difference between an hour of discomfort, and a full day under the covers avoiding the light. They are a necessity.
  4. My phone. I grew up in an age where payphones were on every other block, and if you needed to reach someone who wasn’t home, you either called and left a message, or you beeped them. Even so, I have definitely become that person who is hyper-attached to my phone, and I’m on it all day. I rarely, if ever, use it for its actual phone function. Mostly I text and email. My handy little gadget provides me with a way to reach others and to be reachable, so I can always be working, since a person who divides her time the way I do needs that. It also provides me with games so I can relax and be silly, and access to social media so I can market and connect. All necessary gadgets for any working woman these days, but especially for a writer.
  5. My iPad. While the iPad serves somewhat as a backup to my phone functions, it also has one thing my phone doesn’t–ample screen space for reading. So, that’s what I mostly use it for, which means I need it at all times, because I’m always reading. Also, in times of long car rides or long restaurant waits, it’s nice to have a few games to fall back on.
  6. A Magazine. In case of long stretches without a recharging station for my electronics, I always try to have something manual with me to read.
  7. A snack. I always have something with me, in case I get super hungry. Sometimes all that’s around are unhealthy options. Sometimes there’s nowhere to buy anything. It’s good to have a quick, easy, neat, and healthy snack with you, so I’ll usual pack a granola bar.
  8. Pepper Spray. Because I live in Bronx, NY and nobody better f*&$% with me.
  9. 3 different pens. You never know when you’ll need to write something down…and you never know when your pen will run out of ink.
  10. A small notebook. Same.
  11. Wallet and Keys. Because duh.
  12. Work ID on its awesome retractable belt clip.
  13. My special necklace. This year, on the first day of summer camp, Logan made me a beaded necklace. Our previous school year was spectacularly explosive, and we discovered that our son’s questionable behavior did not involve a need for discipline, but was actually because he was suffering from a combination of ADHD, anxiety, and depression. A large trigger for his anxiety involved any situation where either me or Ismael weren’t around. After a year like that, when your son makes you a necklace and says it’s a way to communicate with you and to know you are always connected, you keep it with you. Everywhere you go. I like to think it helps out some.img_8015-1


It’s funny. When I started this challenge, I thought it was a fun, silly little exercise, but it’s amazing how much you can tell about me from the contents of my purse. Almost all of the pieces of the puzzle are represented here in one form or another.

Now it’s your turn. Come on, play along with me. What do you carry along with you that tells us the most about you? Let me know in the comments.

40 Reasons Why I Write

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Relatively recently, Bryan Hutchinson issued a challenge on his blog, Positive Writer – list 40 reasons why you write. You can see his answers here. When it came about, I was in the throws of Camp NaNoWriMo. As that is now complete, and I’m taking a small break from the novel so I can attack it again in July’s edition of Nano, I needed this challenge. It’s been difficult to stay motivated, because the hits just keep coming in both my personal and professional life. So, I’m going to take some time to remind myself why I write. I hope you find my answers either interesting or inspirational. Also, I am so incredibly late to this challenge.

  1. Writing keeps my brain busy. With my ADHD, my brain is always spinning anyway, so this gives it something to work on in the background.
  2. Stories haunt me, and I have to get them out.
  3. I have had a lot of trauma and strange events in my life, and I need an outlet.
  4. Sometimes, I like to live vicariously through my characters.
  5. Sometimes, I like to bury myself in my characters so I can forget life.
  6. My son looks up to me for creating whole stories all by myself, and there’s no beating that.
  7. Writing is a strong bond I share with my husband, as he is also an author.
  8. Writing is a strong bond I share with my sister-in-law. She is also an author.
  9. Writing has helped me make amazing friendships, some that are sure to be lifelong.
  10. I like how writing makes me feel, like I am weaving worlds from my imagination.
  11. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I finally get something right is amazing.
  12. Rewriting has taught me all about perseverance. Frustration, but perseverance.
  13. I like to read things I love over and over again, so this was probably a fitting career choice.
  14. I love to paint with words.
  15. I love to listen to music, and music always inspires me to paint with my words.
  16. Clever dialogue is all around me. What would I do if I didn’t jot some of it down and use it for my own benefit?
  17. My best friend has yoga. I have writing.
  18. The creative people on my journey with me are the best people.
  19. My characters tend to be stronger than I am. Or at least, than I was. These days, I seem to be taking a page from my own book. Writing has encouraged me to be stronger.
  20. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I won’t get anywhere in this business, or something is wrong with the core of a particular story, etc. I intend to prove them very wrong.
  21. When my anxiety disorder, my depression, my PTSD rears up, writing helps me cope.
  22. Because, as a woman, and as a woman with physical and mental health issues, my voice and my individual experiences deserve to be heard.
  23. I love reading so much, and I know how it feels to really connect with a character. I would love to be able to provide that for someone else.
  24. I’ve always loved playing with voice and word choice, seeing how different an outcome I can create just by finding a more exact bit of syntax.
  25. Writing often helps me to put feelings I’m dealing with into words, to tell truths through my characters that I can’t articulate properly in reality.
  26. I honestly don’t know what I would do with all the spare time I’d get if I didn’t write or plan to write.
  27. When I’m writing I can temporarily put off other, more important chores. But not the most important ones, of course. 😉
  28. I still believe in magic, and sometimes, writing feels like magic. Like when something inexplicably comes together, and it feels like destiny, that feels like magic. That is the rare moment where I become a believer.
  29. How else can I justify talking to the people who live in my brain?
  30. I’m stubborn and I’ve said I’m going to do it, so damn it, I’m going to do it.
  31. Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met write, so I hope some of that rubs off on me.
  32. Sometimes, I’m not all that adventurous, so I need an excuse to try new and interesting things. Research gives me that excuse.
  33. I was already a fact hoarder. This gives me a reason to hoard facts.
  34. I hate waste, and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and random experiences that just kind of sit around in my brain and go to waste. I want to give them some use. Like my two years working at an ice cream shop. I’m using that in my latest book.
  35. There are tons of stories that I want to read, that I don’t find out there. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. They say, if you want something done, do it yourself, right?
  36. I’m getting to a point where rejections mean almost nothing to me. I’m numb to rejection.
  37. Unless, they come with constructive criticism, at which point I am disappointed, but I have learned to love constructive criticism and view it as encouragement and help, rather than an insult. I think writing has helped to improve my personality in that way.
  38. I have also become able to tell the difference between constructive knowledgeable criticism and insults, being led astray, and jealous attacks designed to keep a person below them. That lesson has helped me in all areas of my life.
  39. I have a side gig as an editor, and I’ve always believed that, if you are going to manage people, you should be willing to get your hands dirty. If I won’t get my hands dirty with words, why should I tell other people to do so?
  40. I love to geek out. It’s my life’s mission to make other people geek out as much as I do.

So, there are my 40 reasons! Do you need to remind yourself why you love something? Share your reasons in the comments, and thank you for being one of the people I’ve encountered on this journey, the people I write for. Thank you for being one of my reasons. ❤

2015 Year in Review, Dancing into 2016

Hi all!

So I know I’ve been kind of absent this month, and mostly that was just me being the usual speed-of-light blur that I’m known for. Post NaNoWriMo, I had a ton of work to make up for in daily life, so I ran through that and have just now come down from the big spin. But, now that Christmas is done (Happy Holidays!), my 33rd birthday is here (Happy Birthday to me!) and 2016 is on the horizon (Happy New Year!), I always like to take a minute and look at how much things have changed in a year.

Highlights of 2015

  • IMG_2318I signed a contract for my series! So, things may be a bit delayed from my original August release, but that’s because I switched publishing companies in the middle of the process. It was a difficult but necessary decision to make, and while it set things back a little, The Order of the Key is still going strong and will be on bookshelves and hopefully chilling in your e-reader in 2016. So, stick with me. 2016 is going to be a banner year! I am also over halfway through writing Book 2, so things for the Keys and Guardians series are going well and moving right along.
  • Speaking of which, if we’re going with firsts, this is the first time I’ve ever edited a manuscript for a publisher, and it has been insane. Bang your head into the wall, pull your hair out of your head, angst-ridden crazy, but we’re about halfway through the muck, and the product has been incredible. I’m in love with what we’ve done so far, and damn…my editor is right when she’s right, you know?
  • lastcover1My husband, Ismael, signed his book series! Fans of the blog know just how invested I am in my husband’s work (we work as a team, are each other’s first editors, and brainstorm out most of our work together). Obviously, he is more excited than I am, but I am still over the moon! Soulless, Book 1 of the Soul Broker series, is in final edits and due out early in 2016. Life just got very different for both of us, as I’m sure you know.

 

  • Logan is kicking butt at First Grade and has decided he wants to be a writer too. We’re not expecting anything, but he’s pretty angry he can’t publish a book now, because Mommy and Daddy are, so why not? One day, kid. Or maybe not. You decide.
  • Once we both got picked up for series with Fantasy Works Publishing, I also took a job with them, and I’ve been having a grand time with my newfound duties. I’ve been working in acquisitions, as a content editor, and I’m about to strike out in a new branch – I will be running the soon-to-open audiobook branch of the company. So keep an eye open for that. You can get an idea of all of the wonderful things FWP has to offer at http://www.fantasyworkspublishing.com
  • Lastcover I mentioned my content editing above, and I’d like to introduce you to the book I’ve been editing. If you like horror and dark fantasy, you will love following the twists and turns of Gage Greenwood’s first novel, In the Eyes, In the Shadows. We’ve been having a great time working on his novel, he is extremely talented, and a breeze to work with. I know you all will fall in love with his book just like I did, so follow him for news on its release. You’ll be seeing it in 2016 as well.

What’s New in 2016

  • Aside from all the release dates and pending projects? Well, I’m still writing Book 2 of the Keys and Guardians series, The Lost Key, and I’m also going to try to shop out my last remaining short story, One Headlight. It’s been a busy year, and I let that one fall by the wayside. Either way, with book signings and marketing on the horizon, I have a good feeling that 2016 will have a crazier and much longer list of highlights than this year.

Alright guys, that’s what’s up with me! How is everything with you? Post below so I can get a look at what everyone has been up to and what is to come!

Thankful

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I know I’m a bit late, but I hope all of my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I figured I’d write a little something about the things I’m thankful for this year. It’s been such a strange year. Sad in some places, but incredibly happy in others.

We lost my Grandmother this year, in April. But I’m thankful because I spent 32 years of my life with her in it. She was an incredibly strong woman, and she was very funny, and she is the matriarch of the Minners (my maiden name) family. She had three sons, two daughters, and a collection of zany grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in-laws from all over that map that she was very, very proud of.

I am thankful for the way our family bands together in times of sadness and I am thankful for a re-established relationship with some of my cousins, who I’d spoken to on Facebook, but I hadn’t spoken to in real life in years. I’m thankful for the way two cousins who live across the country from each other can discover all kinds of similarities and form a unique and close bond. I am thankful for positive family connections of all kinds.

I am thankful for new traditions and extra time spent with my parents and my in-laws. I’ve loved getting to know each of you better and better.

I am thankful for blood siblings, siblings through marriage, adopted siblings, all of whom are my best friends. I couldn’t get by without them. Melissa, Jon, Megan, Dorothy, Kristy, Julian, Joy, Allegra, Fruhmann, Frank, Jennine, Anthony, and Marissa.

I am thankful for nieces and nephews, both real and adopted – Genaro, Kaitlyn, and Angelica – every accomplishment is a joy to watch, even when it must sometimes be from afar.

I am thankful for the ability to move away from toxicity in my life, and for the opportunity to find myself and pull myself free from many of the doubts and fears holding me back in life.

I am thankful for the career success that Ismael, Megan, and I have all enjoyed in 2015.

I am thankful for the Fantasy Works Publishing team, who are working so hard to give birth to my first novel, Ismael’s first novel, and a host of others. I am so grateful to be a part of this team and to count them as my friends. I am thankful for the FWP writers as well. I can’t wait to help them all share their stories with the world.

To my day job and all of my bosses and friends there, who make my day-to-day bearable.

I’m thankful for an amazing set of really great friends. I have been very lucky.

I am thankful for good food, a roof over my head, for good jobs, for a good life.

And, most of all, obviously, I am thankful for my guys, Ismael and Logan, who deal with my general insanity on a regular basis and love me despite it. They keep me in check and remind me regularly why I do all of this, and what kind of person I want to be. Seriously, the best husband and child I could ever ask for – perfect for me in every way.

And I am thankful daily for all of you. Everyone who reads my blog, all of the writing contacts I have made, and for the great online friends I have made in this way. Thank you all for being incredible.

I hope you had a wonderful day, and I hope you have a great holiday season.

Love to you all,
Justine