2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.


Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!


The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Review

“This whole trip could have been set up to prove it to me once and for all. Life isn’t fair, and anything is possible.”

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a stunning book. It so fully captures the heartbreaking nature of living. The depth and warmth and aching beauty of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.

Ingrid grew up listening to her mother sing. They traveled throughout Europe and her mother always encouraged her to follow her dreams and believe in herself. Until that career came to an unexpected end, and they moved into a smaller, more normal life.

“We believed in hard work, but we also believed in magic.”

Somehow, years later, Ingrid finds herself thrown into a summertime wilderness survival trip, made in a strange negotiation with her mother in order to go to the school of her dreams. The magic her mother believed in, that she taught Ingrid to believe in, had disappeared. To have to prove her determination to follow her dreams, to her own mother, is unbelievable to Ingrid. She treks into the wilderness feeling alone but simmering with an anger that makes her more determined than ever.

I adored Ingrid. Adored her! If I had known her as a teenager, we probably would have been friends. She is smart, and funny, and quirky. But she also has had an artist for a mother. An artist who wasn’t always as stable and reliant and motherly as she needed. As a result, she is a very adult teenager. But still a teenager. She swings between emotions whiplash quick at times. She feels the magic of first love and finding her passion, but also feels the fear children feel when parents behave in odd and unpredictable ways.

It’s hard sometimes to capture the tumultuous nature of adolescence. Or, at least to capture an aspect of it that can be relatable to a wide audience. Not everyone lived an unstable life growing up. Or had emotional issues. Or problems with the law. And often, we find main characters struggling through some sort of extreme in many YA novels.

And don’t get me wrong. Ingrid is struggling through some heavy issues. But the way Young-Ullman draws us into the story, through a series of journal letters, flashes to the past and narration of the current story, we get to know Ingrid before we understand what happened. I really liked that, because especially in a situation like a wilderness survival trip, that is how we get to know people. True, this is more intimate, but it is still a relationship that develops slowly. With each letter, with each flash to the past, you can’t help but feel for Ingrid. She may have grown up in a glamorous setting, in a privileged way, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy for her.

I haven’t specifically been through a trip like Ingrid’s. But I have been through plenty of therapy, group included, and these often included group interaction in activities like ropes courses and problem solving and other similar activities that Pat and Bonnie lead this group through. If the author hadn’t been through some sort of similar experience, I would be shocked because she absolutely nailed it. The frustration, and embarrassment, and fear, and even the close friendships that can develop.

These types of therapies are popular for a variety of reasons. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I happen to agree with Ingrid in many of her assessments and reactions, but not everyone will. However, even if you don’t agree, or haven’t been through any similar activities, I think everyone will relate to Ingrid, on some level. The author did an excellent job of balancing this piece of the novel; however, and the result shows you the good and the bad.

I also loved how the author used Pat and Bonnie to demonstrate the fine line therapies like this can walk. They represent the different theories and approaches that these programs can take. I loved the other participants in these programs. They were all very vivd characters, full of refreshing depth. Writing a variety of at-risk youth in a way that makes them feel well-developed and real isn’t easy, and was done incredibly well. Honestly, everything was solid and realistic.

Everything Beautiful is such a beautiful book. We all struggle through heartbreak and grief in our lives. Sometimes we are young, sometimes we are old, and while each experience is unique to the circumstance, the raw power of those emotions are so similar in us all. We feel Ingrid’s pain, her anger, her stubbornness. We watch as the solitude of this experience forces her to face the things she doesn’t want to face.

Nature has always been a source of centering and a way to find yourself. Getting lost in the balance of nature forces us to face ourselves in the most raw way. I loved how this setting was used to peel away the layers of Ingrid and her own stubborn nature. Sometimes we need extreme measures to face extreme emotions, and this novel captured every detail of this extremeness perfectly.

“In your eyes you look better. Fast rivers and slow forests seem to agree with you.”

Ingrid isn’t cured, or fixed, or healed by the end. Nothing about this novel was cliche or predictable or boring. I felt the entire time that I was experiencing the life of a teenage girl, struggling through a difficult time, and finding some understanding but no real answers. Which I absolutely loved.

By the end, my heart ached for Ingrid. Not in a heartbreaking way, although there is heartbreak on many levels in this book. But heartbreaking in the way growing up always is. Our hearts break a million different tiny ways in our lives, and a handful of big ways. They break and they heal and we are stronger for it.

“Instead I stand under the giant sky counting stars, feeling scared and raw, but at the same time full, fierce, open.”

I highly, highly recommend this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began, and flew through it. Ingrid found her way into my heart. Danielle Young-Ullman is an author I will definitely be reading more of!

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for sending me this book to read and review in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

A review: Me Before You

Typical romance novels are not my jam. I can do without heaving bosoms and deep, meaningful stares. Bleh. And after falling for the 50 shades hype, I am highly skeptical of all hyped romance novels.

Part of my issue with the genre is all the sex. Not that I care about sex in a book. I don’t. I can get hot and bothered over a well placed sex scene like anyone. But, I don’t need half the book to be sex scenes. They get boring. I mean, let’s get real. There’s only so much heavy breathing and passionate throws a girl can take without massive eye rolling.

Romance also typically means: happily ever after.

I am a sucker for a tragic ending. Throw star-crossed in there, and I’m done for. Blame Shakespeare. I don’t crave happily ever after. Maybe it makes me an evil reader, but I like my fictional characters to earn their happy. Like the rest of us.

So I was wary to read Me Before You. To be fair, I did not learn much about the story. The only two plot points I knew were this: he is in a wheelchair and bumblebee tights.

This book probably would never have even crossed my radar if the movie didn’t come out. Finnick Odair and Daenerys Targaryen?! Falling in love?! Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Ever wondered how TBR piles get out of control? This is how.

Skepticism in hand, I sat down to read. Words of warning trickled through my brain. Words like predictable and typical. But I needed to watch the movie! Finnick and Khaleesi people!!! So, like the dedicated book nerd I am, I opened the book.

Can I just say, wow?!

I mean, yes there certainly is an air of predictability to the book. To a point. If you haven’t read this book – STOP HERE!!! YE BE WARNED!!!

Okay – we are entering the spoiler zone.

First, I really liked Louisa Clark. I will accept and fully admit my bias since I couldn’t get Khaleesi out of my head, but whatever. I still really liked her character. She was funny and adorable and real. I could picture being friends with her. And then there’s Finnick, I mean, Will. *sigh*

I expected to see the relationship between them develop. It’s hard to see the movie poster of them smiling at each other and NOT piece that together. How they ended in that relationship was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a cutesy, easy relationship. She did win him over, but not in the easy predictable way I expected.

This book tore my heart out. Which, as I said before, I love. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed by the ending. I fully expected the author to take the easy road. For him to declare that Clark had, in fact, given him the will to live. I would have rolled my eyes at that ending, and thrown the book down, disappointed at the fluff I had just read.

I know that there is a point of view that this book is terrible because a man who is severely disabled chooses not to live. They are upset at the connotations this brings, and perhaps about the negative message it gives to those who live disabled lives. I disagree.

Full disclaimer: I do not have a debilitating disability. I do get severe migraines along with a myriad of other health issues that often make me feel as if my body has taken me hostage. It does not compare to a spinal cord injury. But I do understand what it might mean to be this man.

My husband is a lot like Will. He loves doing dangerous, exotic things. He has jumped out of a helicopter in Poland (he doesn’t speak Polish), and swam with sharks. He snowboards and hikes and rides a motorcycle. We don’t live quite the adventurous life as Will, but if he could, he would.

He has struggled with his own health issues, that have put a damper on his outdoor life. And the depression that follows is no joke. It is real. Luckily, his issues have an answer. They have treatments that work. But I won’t lie. As I was reading the end, all I could think was what if.

What if he had no hope of recovery? What if he had to accept living a life he didn’t plan, or want? What if things got worse? What if?

I completely understand the argument, that being disabled does not mean a lesser life. I fully agree. But, I also agree that no one has a right to tell you what a lesser life is. One way or the other.

Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve struggled with this dark thing that no one else seems to understand. It isn’t a matter of going outside and realizing life is beautiful. Or appreciating the people who love you. It is bleak and heavy and overwhelming.

So it felt real to me that even this bright, bubbly woman, who he clearly loved, wouldn’t change his mind. I understood when he told her, loving her was a constant reminder of who he couldn’t be, what he couldn’t have. Sometimes accepting a life as is, just isn’t enough. Maybe that doesn’t make people happy. It doesn’t make it less true.

We are constantly told to live up to our potential. To reach for the stars. Yet, when it suits us, the message changes. Accept life as it is. Be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t. For someone who knows themselves, or who has lived to their potential and had it taken away, perhaps they know the path to their own happiness best.

As a society, I think we are afraid to have difficult conversations. The message wasn’t kill yourself if you have a disability. In fact, the author highlighted the chat rooms and people who were able to accept their changed lives and make the best of them. But even they understood when someone couldn’t.

So yes. This book had an air of predictability to it. They fell in love. She won him over. But, as in life, it was a touch more complicated than that.

Sometimes we don’t get the ending we want. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who isn’t meant to stay in our life. But sometimes, we get to open our eyes, push through the pain, and really learn how to live.

How To Murder Your Life

Some books take us into a deep exploration of our inner selves. Especially memoirs. The battle between good and evil. Our struggle between virtue and vice. A good memoir can take us deep into the mind of someone else. Give us a glimpse at their internal struggles. They can help us see ourselves, see our own struggles mirrored on the written page. They can help us see a different path.

Seven deadly sins. Seven heavenly virtues. We can list the sins: Lust. Greed. Envy. Gluttony. Pride. Wrath. Sloth. Can anyone list the virtues? It seems virtue just isn’t quite as fun as sin. Virtue takes work, while vice is simply to be human.

I’ve always been fond of wrath. And guilty of envy. But, if I had to choose one that seems to be my achilles heel, I have to admit it’s pride.

As with all deadly sins, pride can be deceiving. If you do something well, should you not be proud? Where does the line cross from acceptable to sinful? Because, make no doubt, there is always a line.

For me, pride is my vice because it boils down to vanity. Vanity gets me every time.

Vanity is superficial. I was raised in a society that values beauty in women above most everything else. Sure, we make strides to encourage empowerment, to strive for education and learning, but let’s face it, we aren’t quite there yet. Almost any magazine geared towards women has photoshopped versions of already stunning women on their covers. They are filled with ads to sell us product to slow aging, help with weight loss, whiten teeth, dye our hair, reduce wrinkles. I mean, do I really need to go on here?

And the articles themselves are more of the same. How to lose ten pounds in thirty days. How to please your man in bed. There is little in there about how to word an email more effectively. Or how to fight in your year end performance to maximize your full raise potential. Or how about an article simply on how to ask for a raise? Or to negotiate your salary? No, those have no place in the multi-billion dollar beauty world. Feminism is more a catch phrase than an ideology.

Even in the business world, women struggle with how to be perceived as authoritative without being a bitch. Or how to be more helpful towards the team versus focused on her own career. Things few men ever consider.

Yet, the industry is only a symptom. And here is where this book struck a chord with me.

Cat Marnell grew up in the beauty world too. She devoted her young life to wanting to be in this world. To write and live and breathe magazines. She worked her way into the glamorous jobs interning for these magazines, and eventually writing for them. And through it all she was highly addicted to prescription pills.

This was a fascinating book. Rather than cover her discomfort at feeling so out of place in a room she worked tirelessly to be in, she dives into the pain head first. The result is spectacular. Marnell doesn’t focus on the glitz and glamour of an exotic life lived, rather she gives us a glimpse of the broken woman underneath.

Which is why I related so much to her. I know what it’s like to feel lost when sitting in a room full of people. To feel out of place in a crowd you fought to be included in. I know what it’s like to watch yourself make decisions you know, you know, are bad. And make them anyway.

I am guilty of superficiality. Yes, I want to look good. I would rather not eat than gain weight. Most often, I choose fashion over comfort. I dye my hair and whiten my teeth. If I could afford it, I would probably partake in plastic surgery. I wear makeup whenever I leave the house. I am jealous of beautiful women, even though I try not to be.

The secret hiding underneath vanity is low self-esteem. And Marnell exposes that hidden facet, bringing it into the sunlight for all to see.

This book takes you on a journey through Cat’s life. And even though she is darkly funny, she eviscerates her life. She cuts raw and deep, exposing her inner demons for all to see. She doesn’t hold back on how drugs gave her focus and then took it away. On how she spiraled completely out of control not once, not even twice but time and time and time again. And how, even then, she always went back.

She sucker punches you with the ugly truth of addiction. The things you allow to be done to you. The things you do to yourself. The things you do to others. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t apologize. She doesn’t excuse.

It takes a bravery I deeply admire to show the world your scars. To lay bare your shame and misery and mistakes. While I have never lived the life she lives, I can imagine making similar mistakes had circumstances been different.

This book is not for the faint of heart. It will make you, at best, uncomfortable; at worst, disgusted.

Addiction is not pretty. Addicts do not make sympathetic characters. They are devious and selfish and woeful creatures. Marnell does not sugar coat this part of herself, even though she could. She seems very aware of the person she was (is). This can make her seem spoiled and ungrateful. She pokes at her own privileged life and doesn’t deny it. To some it may read as cocky or arrogant.

Maybe it’s because I am also a self-sabatouer, a hider behind a hard exterior and a wicked bite. I didn’t read her memoir as cocky or arrogant. I could see the pain she worked so hard to numb. In my own ways, I have done the same for so many years.

There is something else hidden in this book. Marnell finds her voice by simply being her authentic self. Even if that person was a self-destructive drug addict. She spent years hiding her addiction and being ashamed of the person she was. So much so, that the one person she admires most, she won’t reach out to until she is rid of her demons. As of publication, that has not happened.

She doesn’t say it, but perhaps being able to express herself without shame and ridicule allowed her to purge enough of the self-loathing to seek help.

It isn’t just the beauty world where women struggle to create an ironclad facade in fear that we will be ridiculed and rejected. I believe this happens in nearly every industry to some degree. It was fascinating to read how she reacted to that freedom and where it led.

Like Marnell, even though I work to be a more authentic me, it is hard to let go of the safety net. Of the coping mechanisms that kept me safe for so long. We can only try to be better each day, and not beat ourselves up for the mistakes of the past.

I went into this book not sure where it would lead. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It is not entertainment, but rather a reminder that I am not alone. There are other women out there, living their lives the best they can. It is a glimpse into the pain someone else felt. It is an opportunity for self-reflection. And in the end, that’s all any good book truly is.



Hello, stranger

Somehow the month of February passed and it feels like a day. Depression is weird like that.

I don’t mean to imply that I spent the entire month lying on the floor of my closet with a blanket clutched around me. I didn’t. Although, some days felt like it. In reality, most of the days, just passed.

Even that seems more depressing than I intend. I did have some really great days in there. Not every day is depressing when you’re depressed. At least, not for me.

The most memorable weekend of my month, was watching my littlest brother get married in a beautiful ceremony in Austin. (#whitewedding2017 ❤️) It was a weekend full of family. Lots of laughter and lots of love. I played with my nieces and nephews. I hugged my dad, and laughed with my brothers and sisters, and saw family I haven’t seen in years. I spent the weekend with my son. It was a very enjoyable weekend.

But that’s exactly what’s funny about depression.

I can have a moment with one of my brothers, where we realize we have the same background on our watch. A moment of laughter when we agonize that we truly are related (and there’s nothing we can do about it). I can have another moment where I realize what a smart, funny, amazing man my son has grown to be. A moment filled with pride and love and adoration. I can have a moment with another brother when we fall into the rhythms of teasing and joking so easily. A moment full of happiness and laughter.

I can have all these moments, and still feel alone and unseen. Feel broken and unworthy. Feel isolated and lost.

I once read that depression is the absence of emotion and anxiety is the onslaught of emotion. I also read it described as depression being stuck in the past and anxiety being stuck in the future. This push-pull dynamic is what makes the two go hand in hand.

Depression is weird because most days I feel okay. Some days are great, and others not so great, but in general, there is a haze surrounding me. Like, there’s a piece of gauze wrapped around my head. It makes everything a little distorted, everything a little fuzzy. It’s a push-pull battle between the ups and downs, the past and the future, the emptiness and the worry. It takes a lot of focus to stay in the present.

Isn’t it funny, that I worry about writing about myself and my feelings too much? I started this blog to help me focus on my writing. I knew I would write about books, and fandoms, and writing, but I also knew I would inevitably wander down some emotional paths. I’ve been diagnosed with depression since my early teen years, but the feelings have been around as long as I can remember. They are as much a part of me and my laugh, or my eyes, or my dark sense of humor. It’s crazy to worry about writing or thinking or talking about this side of me too much. But, I find I often worry about things that I find crazy.

One of the reasons for writing is to help me focus. Focus is also a way to stay in the present. It also helps me more than I ever thought. Writing about characters I make up helps me look at the world differently. And for me, when I always feel unsure of my thoughts, or second guess myself, focusing on something else is life saving.

My writing can be tied to my state of mind. Different emotions help me write in different ways. The key, I find is just starting.

This is, I find, the most difficult thing to understand. If the hardest part is getting started, it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Oh, so wrong. Opening my laptop can feel like a trek to the summit of Everest. Even if it’s sitting on the coffee table in front of me. This little Mac and I have many a staring contest (don’t ask who wins).

Why? I don’t know. I’m sure someone has an explanation, or a reason, or a rationale. The best I can describe it? It’s like someone has covered you in thick, wet clothing and stuck you in a giant bowl of mush and then added a weighted blanket to your ensemble and turned off the lights.

Everything is heavy. Everything takes effort. Everything is in my head.

It’s a mental battle of will. Against myself. Which I can’t win or lose. Like I said, it’s weird.

So, this month was busy. I wrote 10,000 words and edited 8 chapters and went to a wedding in Austin and paid all my bills on time. I managed to do half a month’s worth of bookstagram pictures before getting derailed! I read 5 books. I didn’t do any blog posts. The weird part of my brain wants me to feel guilty for not doing any posts. The sane part of my brain pats myself on the back for a productive month.

Writing is helping me see the fog. It’s helping me get through it. When I began my journey, all I could see was fog. I woke up lost and tired. Slowly, I’m finding my way out.

The month of February was filled with moments of not wanting to get out of bed. Of feeling so overwhelmed I wanted to scream. Of pushing down the panic and fear and stress. It was also filled with laughing until I cried. Of happiness and jokes and kisses and cuddles.

I’m putting reminders in my planner and calendar to write here more. I had planned on a January reading wrap up, which I obviously didn’t do. I might do it anyway. And a February. Because I can. Hopefully I’ll even get them done before March ends. I may even do a 30-day blog challenge to get in the habit of writing. My own March madness. It is the perfect time to try something crazy, after all.

The point is, I hope to stop being such a stranger. I hide when I am uncomfortable. Which means, I’ve been hiding in some way most of my life. Hiding is avoidance. Hiding is procrastination. Hiding is not writing.

So, here’s to writing. And not hiding. And to stop being a stranger. Even to myself.