Mental Health Monday–To NaNo or Not To NaNo, That Is the Question

Okay, so last week I reviewed some NaNoWriMo prep tips because it’s important to be mentally prepared to tackle writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

This week, I wanted to check in with you guys regarding whether or not NaNo is for you.

Come on, admit it, if you haven’t done NaNo (and if you have), I’m sure you’ve had some fluctuating thoughts and feelings toward it.

(Talking about thoughts and feelings = Mental Health, just in case you were looking for the Mental Health Monday connection. 😉 )

It’s a BIG decision.

Here’s some reasons to DO NaNo:

  • You’re looking for a new writing challenge.
  • You’ve got an idea for a novel and wanna crank out that rough draft like nobody’s business.
  • You’re focusing on word counts and quantity rather than quality (I’m not dissing quality; quality can be developed during revising).
  • You need a reason to commit to putting down a certain number of words a day for a certain length of time.
  • You need the structure.
  • You thrive on that sense of accomplishment that NaNo gives.
  • Your friends have coerced you to…oh, wait, maybe that’s not a great reason.
  • You made a bet.   (You didn’t see that one, okay?)

Here’s some reasons to sit out and cheer on your NaNo’ing friends:

  • You’ve done NaNo before.
  • You know you can plop a bunch of words down on the page.
  • You want to work on quality rather than quantity.
  • You struggle with massive word counts and might get frustrated with the process to the point where it’s no longer enjoyable to write.
  • You hate revising and know that a NaNo project will need a couple years of smoothing…if it’s smoothable at all.
  • You’ve got a HECK of a lot of other things happening in November.
  • You’ve got a life. (Just kidding. NaNoers have lives, hehehe.)

What are some other reasons to NaNo or not to NaNo?

Bottom line: Listen to yourself. If you’re ready, you’ll know. If you’re not ready, you don’t have to push yourself to do it. Another November will come around next year. Just sayin’.

Check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah Fine’s blog, The Strangest Situation!

Mental Health Monday–NaNo Prep Tips; It All Starts with a Goal

I’m kicking off my new blog series where I focus on a different writerly topic every month with NaNoWriMo Prep!

How does this connect to Mental Health Monday?

Well, whenever a challenge presents itself, it is often helpful to tackle it strategically in order to keep stress and mental anguish as low as possible. 😉

Those of you who are familiar with NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) know that it’s a marathon for writers. Instead of pounding out miles with our sneakers, we pound out words with our fingers.

It’s important to remember that you’ve got to exercise your writing muscle before November 1. Here are some helpful tips that’ll get you warmed up and ready for the race.

1. Identify a goal.

The goal for NaNo is pretty simple, right? Write 50,000 words in 30 days. But how are you going to break down that hefty wordage into manageable chunks? If you divide 50,000 by 30, you get: 1667. That means you’ve got to write 1667 words a day to stay on track. Or 3333 every other day. Or 12,500 a weekend.

  • Take a look at your schedule. Do you have time to write every day, every other day, or weekends only?
  • Take a look at your writing preferences. Do you like to write here and there or in large chunks of time?
  • If you’re worried about letting time slide by, literally schedule writing time in your day planner.

2. Prepare a space. 

Do you have an office, a library, or a corner of your apartment that’s designated for writing? Or do you sit on the couch with your laptop and pound out words with your feet up and your back melded to a cushion?

  • Consider clearing off your writing space. Get rid of clutter. It’ll fill your mind and block your creativity–things you don’t want to happen while plopping out massive word counts on a daily basis.
  • Consider developing an inspiration wall. Collect things that spark your creativity or make you feel all energized and warm and fuzzy. Put it up on a cork board or poster board. If you’ve got a story idea in mind, print pictures of characters, settings, or clip magazine photos of the same. It’ll help you visualize the world you’re creating.
  • Consider adding a pleasant scent, either with fresh flowers, a scented candle, or sachet. Just like our writing, we need to engage all the senses, not just our eyes.
  • Don’t forget the tunes! Do you like Metallica or Vivaldi? Make sure your ipod, CD player, or Pandora station is ready for you.

3. Gather supplies.

  • Do you write in notebooks? Use post-its? What kind of pens, pencils, markers do you use?
  • Keep bottled water nearby. Set your favorite mug by the computer. Collect your favorite teas or coffees. Have them handy so you don’t have to waste time “getting ready.”
  • Writers need snacks. Salty, sweet, healthy, whatever floats your boat, get yourself a cute basket and fill it up so you’re ready to go the moment you sit down.

4. What’s your story going to be about? 

Here may be the trickiest part. Are you a panster, thriving off the thrill of not knowing what’ll happen next? (Psst, that may be tricky during NaNo if you get stuck…just saying.) Maybe you’ve got an idea or an “old” manuscript you haven’t been able to develop.

  • Consider mapping out a loose plan. Draft an outline so you have something to follow while you’re whipping out the words.

5. Schedule time to relax.

NaNo can be a pretty nerve-wracking and brain-numbing month. Be sure to allow yourself time to chill out or you’ll get so stressed writer’s block just might get you.

  • Keep a novel near by to read a chapter here and there, the break will allow your brain to recharge so you can be fresh and alert to reach your goal.
  • Keep a sketch pad next to you if you draw.
  • Keep your walking shoes nearby. Exercise will help you stretch our your muscles and your mind. You just may figure out that sticky plot point while the wind whips through your hair.

All right, well that’s a good start, I think. Don’t want to overload y’all with too much information. We’ve got the whole month to prep, after all.

How about you? What tips do you use to prepare for NaNo?

Don’t forget to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah Fine’s blog for more writerly information!

Mental Health Monday–Under the Weather

I had to work unexpectedly this past weekend because the weekend doc wasn’t able to get here from NYC secondary to the trains not running.

As a result, I had limited time (what with working, preparing for the hurricane, and playing host for my grandma who stayed with us to ride out the storm) to put together blog posts for this week. I will still post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but my posts will be more lighthearted.

I hope you enjoy.

And I hope all of you in the path of Irene survived unscathed!

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation.

Mental Health Monday–Practicing Good Mental Health

So, I’ve worked 24 out of the past 26 days and let me tell you, I’m bushed!

Not only am I juggling multiple roles within my job, I’m also trying to juggle writing, querying, blogging, reading, and renovating my house. I can manage this burst of activity for a few weeks, sure, but after almost 2 months of this breakneck pace, I’m getting stressed out.

I’m not saying this to garner sympathy. I’m pointing out that it’s important to identify your limits and learn how to pace yourself so you don’t burn the candle at both ends and end up burned out.

In fact, I’ve had several lengthy discussions about this with my team (a psychologist, social worker, resident physician, and admin assistant–all people who I consider dear friends) this past week. We all came to the same conclusion:

Yeah, our job gets ridiculous at times, but thank goodness we have each other to get through it!

And:

Man, we need to figure out how to strike a balance so we don’t “lose it.” 

I’m sure we’re not the only ones experiencing this problem. So, what do we do about it? Well, for starters, we need to think of things to do to take care of ourselves.

Here’s some ideas:

  • Read
  • Write
  • Sleep
  • Take a walk
  • Play with the kitties
  • Exercise
  • Get therapy
  • Go shopping
  • Take a day off
  • Get a massage
  • Watch a movie
  • Laugh

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation. As always, these posts are for writing purposes only and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

Be sure to drop a note (comment) if you have a mental health question you’d like answered!

Before:

After:

Mental Health Monday–Left Handedness and Creativity

Writer (and soon to be pubbed author, yo!), blogging bud, and whale enthusiast Kendall Grey announced her interest and fascination with left-handed peeps (1 in 10 people are left-handed, BTW) on Twitter a couple days ago and lo and behold it prompted a Mental Health Monday post. Thanks, Kendall!

With a quick Google search, I found an article from 2000 on www.independent.co.uk summarizing a presentation by Dr. Alan Searleman to the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Searleman’s findings recapped:

  • Out of a sample of 1200 people surveyed, left-handers have higher “fluid” intelligence and better vocabulary, which lends them more talent in creative endeavors such as art, music, and writing
  • Left-handed people tend to have higher IQ’s

Interesting, right? (Well, it is for leftys like me, LOL!)

And don’t fear, right-handers, you’re creative and artistic, too, ‘kay? This is only one study. 😉

Now, sidedness can also be for sight and sound. For instance, Dr. Searleman also posited that people who use their left eyes and left ears dominantly are twice as good at problem solving and have larger vocabularies than their right-handed, eyed, and eared peers.

For those of you right-handers who are ready to ban my blog for forever more, here’s some info that’ll make you feel better.

  • Left-handed people tend to have worse memory (TRUE!!! I can attest to that.)
  • Left-handed people are more clumsy. (Again, true…much to my chagrin.)
  • Left-handed people have a shorter lifespan (son of a bitch!)
  • Left-handedness was once considered the sign of the devil. (rawr)
  • The latin word for left is sinister. (shifty-eyes)
  • Children who were naturally left-handed were forced to learn how to write with their right hands. (This actually happened; my grandmother went through it herself.)
  • And, let’s face it, it’s a right-handed world. (Need I mention anything about scissors? I didn’t think so.)

So, what have you heard about left-handed peeps?

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s psychologically related post. Remember, the information in this blog series is for writing purposes only and is NOT meant to be medical advice or treatment.

Mental Health Monday–Running Amok

*****Don’t forget to enter my 300/500 followers contest to win a crit and book of your choice! The deadline is July 31, 2011 Midnight EST, so please spread the word!*****

Amok is a culture-bound syndrome (defined as a constellation of psychiatric symptoms found only in a specific culture) that originated in Malaysia. It means the sufferer goes on a rageful killing spree because of some resentment or perceived mistreatment. Malaysians believe it is caused by “hantu belian,” an evil tiger spirit that possesses a person and makes them perform extremely violent acts.

The usual scenario includes a man with no history of violence or assaultive behavior who suddenly secures a weapon and attempts to kill anyone he encounters. This “running amok” generally occurs in crowded areas and generally ends with his death. Some feel it is a way of committing suicide because intentional suicide is heavily stigmatized in Malaysian culture.

Running amok can also refer to less severe forms of acting out and variations on this theme are found in other cultures. So whether you call it “going postal” or performing “suicide by cop,” amok is a highly volatile syndrome that doesn’t typically end well for those involved.

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s post! Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY and are NOT to be construed asa medical treatment or advice.

Moving Day!!!!!

For those of you who’ve been following along, I’ve been renovating my fixer upper mansion for the past month or so.

Well, today is moving day, so I’m taking a break from Mental Health Monday, but I will leave you with this:

In 1967, two psychiatrists (Holmes and Rahe) reviewed the charts of about 5,000 patients to determine if (and what type of) stress might cause illness. They developed a list–called the “Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale”–which still exists in various forms today. Many websites display the list, ask you to simply check off your stressors in the past 12 months, then clickety-click, your “risk” of illness is calculated for you.

Life event↓ Life change units↓
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only have a slight risk of illness.

(As borrowed from Wikipedia)

Gee, I thought moving would be higher up on the list, LOL!

Be sure to check out Lydia’s and Sarah’s blogs for more medical and psychological posts!

Oh, and wish me luck! 😉

Mental Health Monday–Juggling

For the past several months, I’ve been stressed out (more than usual) with the house, various work projects, and writing. “Only” three arenas, but each one is mushrooming like a nuclear blast cloud blossoming with activity and responsibilities. The deeper I delve into each “project,” the more work there is to be done. As soon as one deadline is met, sixteen others pop up behind it.

I’m never “caught up.”

I never get to let out the relaxing sigh of, “Ah, I did it. Now it’s time to kick back and slack off.”

How did this happen? When did I get *this* busy?

I don’t know.

A theory: I’ve been *this* busy all along, but my mind has never been this divided between equally important things. For instance, when I was in med school, my primary focus was, well, med school. Yeah, I studied for 12-16 hours a day, but I didn’t have other things demanding just as much time, so it worked pretty well. Same for residency.

Then the writing bug hit (2+ years ago now). But I could handle it. The day job was more reasonable (9-10 hours M-F, with some evenings and weekend call days, but not as bad as residency), so I could write in the evenings and/or on weekends.

Add blogging to that. And other forms of social media. Critiquing. Beta reading.

Then, nine months ago, I found The House. Even if I wasn’t physically involved in something house related, my mind certainly was occupied with it and the catastrophes issues involved with purchasing a foreclosed fixer-upper.

I. Ran. Out. Of. Time.

No matter how I figured it, there wasn’t enough hours in the day to fit it all in.

I had to let something go.

My life is still a WIP, but here’s some thoughts/tips I considered useful in juggling things around to maintain some sort of sanity:

  • Take it one day at a time.
  • Realize I can’t get everything done and that’s okay.
  • Prioritize based on which deadlines are most pressing.
  • Tackle tasks in manageable pieces.
  • Accept the fact that it’s okay to let something go for a while with the understanding that I can (AND WILL!) get back to it later.
  • Stop fighting the clock (because it will win).
  • Despite the rush and amount of work, I take breaks.
  • Remember to laugh (humor is a mature defense mechanism–yes, that’s the technical term–and it is FANTASTIC!).

So, dear friends, what’s your strategy when you’ve juggling too many balls?

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post as well as Sarah’s psychology related post!

Mental Health Monday–Domestic Violence

Imagine this scenario…

Okay, so you meet the cutest guy at the mall while shopping with friends. After a flirtatious exchange of batting eyelashes and shy smiles, Cutie asks you out. You accept. He has dimples, how can you say no?

The next week, during a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant, Co-worker greets you. He asks if you’re going to the company picnic next week. You agree to bring your famous cupcakes (cuz it’s a potluck picnic).

On the way to the car, Cutie flips out on you and backhands you for “flirting” with another guy.

Do you go out with Cutie again?

Probably not.

Now, what if this didn’t happen on the first date, but it happened on the 100th. After you’d gotten to know him. After you were aware of the job stress that’s been making him tense. After you KNOW how “protective” of you he is. Besides, you DID smile a lot at Co-worker and Cutie had a couple drinks. Maybe he misread the whole situation. You shouldn’t have primed the whole situation by being overly friendly.

If you think it’s your fault, can you really end your relationship (something you’ve invested months or even years in) with Cutie?

By now, you must be wondering why someone would accept such treatment. Any rational person wouldn’t, right?

Problem is, Domestic Violence strips someone of their confidence, their ability to think independently, and, in extreme cases, even their humanity.

When boiled down to its essence, Domestic Violence is about dominance and power. Not every case involves physical abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse can be enough to degrade the victim and rob them of their ability to fight back. Perpetrators rely on belittling and humiliating their partner. They make the victim feel guilty, they use the children as leverage, and they isolate their partner from other people so that their partner has no one for a soundingboard or support.

There’s so much more to say about the subject, but I think this covers the gist of things. I hope this post provides some insight into what victims of Domestic Violence go through and why “getting out” is a lot harder than one would think.

Be sure to check out Sensational Sarah’s post on psychology.

As always, Lovely Lydia posts medical writing tips on Medical Monday.

If you have a psych related writing question, post a comment, find me on Twitter or Facebook, and ask away!!!

These posts are for writing purposes only and not to be construed for medical treatment or advice.

Mental Health Monday–Hearing Voices and Losing Time

Rachel Firasek, blogger and soon to be published author of, Passion of the Soul, asks:

My character thinks she’s suffering from mental illness. How would she be evaluated and diagnosed?

Based on symptoms Rachel detailed upon further discussion, it sounds like her character could have Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).

I blogged about dissociative disorders some time ago and here’s a link to review that post. Classic symptoms of DID include: losing time (because other personalities (called alters) take over and direct behavior which is generally quite different from the primary personality), finding objects missing or misplaced, feeling like other personalities are inside you, and hearing voices (usually inside your head).

Another disorder with similar symptoms would be Schizophrenia. Symptoms include: delusions (fixed, false beliefs that cannot be “talked out” of the person), hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing things, feeling things, smelling things that aren’t there), disorganized speech and behavior, and something called negative symptoms (lack of emotional response or facial expressions, lack of speaking, lack of motivation).

Significant decrease in functioning must be noted in both illnesses.

Other illnesses cause psychosis as well, such as Bipolar Disorder or Major Depression with psychotic features, substance use, Borderline Personality Disorder, and delirium (which is caused by various medical conditions, sleep deprivation, medications, and/or drugs, to name a few).

Diagnosis is usually made by a clinician (either a psychiatrist or psychologist) conducting a thorough interview (detailing current symptoms and past symptoms/episodes) as well as obtaining collateral information (from friends, family, other clinicians). Psychological testing (which can take hours to weeks of time, depending on the setting) can clarify diagnosis. So can structured interviews with specific questions targeting the various diagnostic symptoms.

People experiencing the above symptoms often are unaware that anything is wrong (in other words, they lack “insight” into their own illness) and can be paranoid, angry, mistrustful, and even hostile. As a result, one cannot simply “talk them out of it.” It is a delicate balance of offering empathy, reassurance, and education regarding their illness and the appropriate treatment.

Treatment often includes anti-psychotic medications (with the use of anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medications depending on co-occurring symptoms/disorders)–which can improve symptoms within a few days in some cases–therapy, rehabilitation (to regain lifeskills), as well as hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs if symptoms compromise safety and ability to manage self-care.

Check out Sarah’s take on creativity as a “cover” for mental illness. Sarah Fine is a licensed psychologist. She  also writes YA and is repped by Kathleen Ortiz. Her blog is The Strangest Situation. We met over the interwebz and are collaborating on writerly mental health questions! Send us your questions and we’ll answer ’em for ya! Remember this is for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and is NOT intended to be medical treatment or advice!

Don’t forget to read Lydia’s post on Medical Monday!