The anatomy of a symptom flare

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been active on this blog, or sent out my newsletter, or posted anything decent on social media. My amazing assistant, Esther Hadassah, had been doggedly continuing to post content on Facebook like a trouper. I appreciate her keeping it going even as I’ve given her nothing new to post about in well over a year.

I’ve discovered that when you get out of the habit of being present—not just online, but in your life—it’s extremely difficult to get back into it. But I am tired of being so disconnected, so here is my attempt to reconnect again.

So, where have I been since 2018? I know you all can guess that I’ve been sick. I also discussed in this post that Twitter-induced anxiety pushed me away from YA for a couple years, and I worked on some different writing projects under my other pen name in order to give myself some mental space from that. That’s the story from September 2018, when New World released, through early 2020. Here’s the rest of it.

In fall 2019, my dog died. She was elderly, but even so, this was very devastating to the family. We went through the grieving process for several months, and it was especially hard on my mom, who was very bonded to her. When enough time passed, we felt ready to get a new puppy, as we typically do in our lifelong dog household.

However, we didn’t anticipate that just about two months after we adopted the puppy, when she was right in the midst of her wild dinosaur period…

…the pandemic would start. And, in fact, within the first few weeks of the pandemic starting, just as lockdowns were starting to begin, my entire family got COVID.

That, uh, sucked.

The good news is that none of us had to be hospitalized. The less good news was that my mom was quite sick for a very long time, took forever to get over the symptoms, and from there developed chronic fatigue symptoms and other complications that indicate long COVID.

That meant that there are now two people in the household that have, essentially, chronic fatigue syndrome,  along with a puppy and a household full of people who are now working from home in a house that, while it does fit five people, doesn’t exactly have office space for five people.

Just as we were getting used to that new normal, fresh hits kept coming. A planned series I was working on for a traditional publisher wound up falling through, as did my relationship with a publisher that had already published a first-in-series book, meaning my book and series were now tied up in a contract that I was unhappy with but unable to do anything about. Somewhere in there I went to a new neurologist who misdiagnosed me and started me on a treatment plan that caused more harm than good. And, of course, along came every bad thing you saw in the news in 2020. Social media, and Twitter in particular, was becoming too much for me to handle.

I had intended to make 2020 my year to write One World and then alternate working on Lyssa projects and pen name projects every other year, but the extreme stress of the first half of the year made the weight of writing the last book in a dystopian trilogy too overwhelming for me.  I tried working on Alien Princess Sorority Girl instead, figuring it would be more lightweight, but as my stress levels grew worse, I started experiencing something I’d never had before—writer’s block. I’d previously had periods where I couldn’t concentrate to write due to brain fog, but I’d never had days where I felt fine, sat down to write a scene, and then just couldn’t get words to come.

I started frantically trying to work on any story I could just to get words flowing, switching between projects almost daily. Ultimately, I managed to complete a pen name book, Old Flames, in early summer. I had never had to wrench words out of myself so forcefully before. Ordinarily once I get going, I can get into a flow and start getting more excited about the book once the writing starts coming along. Instead, with this book, every single day was tortuous. When I finally got it in to my editor, I felt so relieved. Maybe I would be turning a corner now. We scheduled the release for mid-September.

And then a week to the day before the book’s release, this happened.

The stress of watching the canyon burn, the horror of watching a family I’m acquainted with lose a grandchild, and the fear of possibly losing my own home was bad enough. But as an author, I was supposed to be promoting a book about a wildfire during a wildfire. Just days before the book’s publication, it was too late to change the release date. I just had to deal with it.

It was the absolute grossest feeling in the world. I donated the proceeds from the book’s sale to fire relief. That didn’t make me feel better. Local friends read the book and told me that it helped them to read about characters going through what they went through in a story that was hopeful and magical. That didn’t make me feel better. My assistant posted her happy, cheerful marketing posts for me and I wanted to die. I felt like I was cashing in on my friends’ and neighbors’ misery. I had ultimately been able to drag this story out of myself because the events that inspired it—the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, CA and the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, OR, both occurring in 2017—were far enough removed that they didn’t feel as immediately stressful as a dystopian novel in 2020. And then the universe was like LOL.

There were other things, too. A bad health scare with one of my close relatives about a week after the fire, a historic ice storm in February 2021 that destroyed half the trees in the county and left us without power for over a week, the traumatic experience of attempting to deal with our broken disability system. Every single one of those a stress that piled up onto my immune system. In November 2020, my usual winter symptom flare kicked in on schedule. But this time, I didn’t start to feel better come spring. For the first time in six years, my seasonal symptom flare didn’t lift. It didn’t lift for the entire rest of 2021. Every single day for over a year, I felt like I had the flu: achy, exhausted, confused, disoriented, and hardly able to move.

In April of 2021, I finally saw a doctor who was able to pinpoint the causes of my chronic health conditions that I’ve been living with since 2014. (For those who are curious, it’s Epstein-Barr virus, the virus that causes mono.) He gave me some help for managing it, and a lot of his tips have been really helpful. But he warned me that the biggest trigger for symptom flares is stress, and he was concerned that the amount of stress that I’d gone through over the year prior might have worn down my immune system so much that it would take many months before I was able to get back to my baseline of being “sick, but at least able to occasionally function”. The only advice he could give me was to rest, cut back on stress as much as I could, and not try to push myself when going through stressful periods.

Now it’s February 2022 and I think I’m on the other side of it. I’ve been able to write again on days when I’m feeling okay, which has been a wonderful feeling after 18 months of silence. I’m hopeful that when the weather warms up a bit and the days start getting longer, I’ll feel a bit more my usual self. Wonderful opportunities have been rising up for my writing, and I really hope that I will be well enough to take advantage of them.

But at the same time, a year and a half of being disconnected from my life has made picking it back up again really difficult. I am struggling to get my brain back into the space of talking about my books, connecting with readers on social media, updating this blog and sending out my newsletter. I have at least been trying to post more frequently on Instagram (in the IG stories—I’m trying to leave my feed “curated” so it goes nicely with this website design, since it’s built into the theme 🤣), so if you’re on there I hope you’ll give me a follow. I’m happy with progress on One World and am hopeful that my health will stay relatively constant so that I can finally get it finished. I’m really hopeful 2022 will be a better year for me than the last two.

For those of you who are still here, I hope this was helpful in kind of giving you a picture of where the heck I’ve been and why, as well as the many moving parts that contribute to when I say I’m having a symptom flare. I will do my best to stay connected and I’m looking forward to bringing you books again!

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