Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Heartbreak of...Chronic Hives

I just have to vent about this. You can read it, or not.

I always wondered what the heck people meant when they referred to "the heartbreak of psoriasis." Now that I know what it's like to have a mysteriously recurring autoimmune skin condition that is essentially an enigma to modern medicine, and apparently continues to be so in the 13 years I've had to live with it off and on, it IS a little heartbreaking.

Okay, I'll correct myself: there have been two new things since the last time I obsessively researched this online (during my last bout, maybe three years ago). Firstly, some people respond to the asthma medication Xolair, although so far in the small number of studies conducted, the hives slowly return after medication is stopped, so...yeah. Secondly, there's been a name change! Oh, yay. Now "chronic idiopathic urticaria" is "chronic spontaneous urticaria."

It still means the same thing, though: recurring mystery hives, cause unknown.

And it's more than just hives, at least in my experience. The hives might itch furiously, or a little, or not at all. They might go away throughout the day. Or not. Antihistamines might help, or not. A course of steroids usually ultimately kicks it in the butt, except when it doesn't, like this time. (A new and unwelcome development.) My personal least favorite is getting a hive on my lip or eyelid so it looks like I got smacked in a barfight, although having welts up and down my legs is no picnic either.

And then there are the vague non-hive symptoms. Feeling like I've swallowed air and it's causing pressure in my chest, like heartburn or gas pain, moving around in there for hours, sometimes during the night so it's hard to sleep deeply for long periods of time. Zantac: it might help, or it might not. (Bet you didn't know it was a histamine blocker. The things you find out when you have hives.) The fatigue and general malaise that make me feel just kind of tired and yucky. The anxiety that some unlucky day I might get swelling in my tongue or throat and have to get rushed to the hospital, though that hasn't happened yet, knock on wood.

Exercise is always supposed to be a cure-all. Exercise helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol, etc. etc. If I'm feeling okay enough to exercise, it might help--sometimes it seems to help me metabolize whatever medication I've taken, and the hives will start to go down. Sometimes my own sweat seems to irritate my skin and bring out new hives. Sometimes I just don't feel well enough to exercise, or I have hives on my feet that make it really uncomfortable to wear running shoes. Or run.

This might be the worst, though: knowing that stress and anxiety is a major component, perhaps even the long-term ultimate cause--and still being unable to control the fact that the condition itself causes me additional stress.

Like anxiety and depression, issues I'm also far too familiar with, it isn't something that will "just go away." Seems like there's about a five-month minimum, in fact. So...it's been almost a month now. Four more to go? We'll see.

Monday, June 22, 2015

On Plot Structuring

Cross-posted to Finding Wonderland.

I'm finally back to having time to devote to my WIP--or I should perhaps say, I have seized time back from the ravening bitch-goddess that is unexpected work. Not to mention the slightly less ravening bitch-goddess that is EXPECTED work. And what I realized was that my WIP has the extreme need for some attention devoted to structure. (And also that I wanted to change the title again.)

I've been spending a lot of productive time lately looking at screenwriting books, or at least books written with screenwriters in mind but which are also quite helpful for us novel writers. I've gotten a huge amount of thoughtful and practical advice from Story by Robert McKee and The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, even though I haven't finished reading them yet. But possibly the most directly useful book has been Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which was recommended by fellow author and member of our writing group Sara Lewis Holmes (of the lovely and poetic blog Read Write Believe). Snyder uses a method called the "beat sheet" to lay out plot structure in chunks--or maybe a better word than structure is "dynamics," because it isn't so much a matter of specific THINGS that have to happen at certain times, it's the rhythm of the thing.

I had done a beat sheet for this project last year, but that was before I decided to split it into two books, so it was long overdue for me to try to revisit my "outline" (or what passes for one) instead of just working on individual chapters and going into denial about major stuff like the book as a whole. I kind of like the beat sheet because it gives some structure to the story beyond just outlining the scenes or chapters. But I was starting to feel overwhelmed because what I have is this old, bloated beat sheet from before; a partially-rewritten manuscript with a bunch of scenes and changes not included in the old beat sheet; and a stack of index cards with plot points on them that I'd been attempting to shuffle around. What I decided to do, with the help of the Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels Spreadsheet that I found on Jami Gold's website, was create a set of Beat Sheet Cards, one for each beat listing the name of the beat and a short description (cut and pasted from the spreadsheet) and an approximate page count goal.


I did this by printing them onto big Avery shipping labels and slapping those onto the index cards. (I love office supplies.) Then I spread those out on my living room floor and aligned my plot points underneath them--reshuffling in a couple of cases, and inserting a couple of new ones as I found out there was kind of a gaping hole in the plot. Once I had it all laid out, I then went in and rewrote the beat sheet.

And changed the title again. *Shakes fist* TITLES!!!

Anyway, this was a helpful exercise. I was having trouble visualizing everything because of the fact that there are two POV characters that alternate, and because a third character is taking on a bit more of a role in this rewrite. This made it easy for me to pinpoint where I still needed to add in that third character's arc. It also made me realize I really need to do something about the ending....

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Three Breaths

I've spent more time than I care to admit reading inspirational articles on sites like Zen Habits and Tiny Buddha; neurotically perusing stress reduction techniques and "how to know if you're burned out" checklists on WebMD and HelpGuide and Psychology Today. I've read books on mindfulness and wistfully wished I could go to UMass for the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. I've read and re-read books by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I haven't always been great at implementing the techniques in any sort of regular fashion, though I know I would be healthier if I did. The excuses are increasingly ridiculous: "Who has time to lie down for a 30-minute body scan?" turns into the ludicrous "Who's got time for the Three-Minute Breathing Space?"

Evidently there is a very persuasive part of me that thinks I can't simply sit there for three minutes, never mind the fact that I may spend thirty or forty minutes reading internet articles about sitting meditation or stress or whatever. This makes no sense.

BUT. I came up with a nearly foolproof (the fool being me) method of centering myself and slowing myself down, of stopping the mean mental voice that likes to castigate me for every little thing. I can't really take credit for this, since it's basically distilled from all that reading I just talked about. But here it is.

Three breaths.

You really can't rationalize away the time it takes to breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out. Because look! It's already done. Sometimes it actually IS challenging to sit in mindfulness and serenity for three minutes. Or there's some external situational reason that makes it difficult to do. But surely I can do it for three breaths. Surely I can stop that inner mean voice for the space of three breaths. Surely I can follow my breath in and out, slowly, without criticism, three measly times.

Sometimes that's enough.