Backyard Feeder

Backyard Feeder
photo taken through porch screen

Monday, May 06, 2013

A Year of Freedom, A Year of Confusion

It's been a little over a year since I quit the day job to be a full-time writer and self-publisher. I really didn't know what that meant at the time and I'm still not entirely sure. I've come a long way, though I still feel like I'm traveling mostly in circles. Ditching the day job has not been what I had expected.
For one thing, I had originally planned to have all of the bills paid by my husband's job. Even knowing that it might be too much to expect, I certainly didn't guess that he'd decide to leave his job for self-employment. For another, I expected to get a lot more work done with the hours of free time I imagined. Who knew that he could get a lease on a truck and lose money consistently for four months? That it would take another three months to find another paying job? Who knew that I'd have to spend everything I made and half of my retirement fund just to keep the bills paid?  Sadly, I didn't know. I would never have guessed. How could I be so blind?

Now that things are back to "normal" and I can afford to be home writing again, I feel guilty for not earning enough. I feel guilty for staying home on days when I might be able to get a teaching assignment and miserable on days when I teach all day and don't have any energy left to write. I am back doing the two job lifestyle that had me so burned out before. I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything anywhere.

Even on days when I don't teach, I have trouble getting much writing done. I sit by the phone in case my husband needs to talk--so I end up listening to stories about bad drivers and tourist traps that are part of his life, but not mine. And I feel guilty if I'm not paying attention and I feel guilty about not writing and  I feel guilty all the time.

OK, step one: I need to make a plan to do some writing on a scheduled basis and to let everyone know that during certain hours, I am available for emergency only.
Step two: I need to find ways to get the word out about my books to get more cash coming in to my account.
Step three: I need to separate out the money from books and keep that for my personal expenses so I don't feel guilty about spending money that isn't my own.







Saturday, April 28, 2012

I AM A WRITER

If I take nothing more away from the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop that I attended last week it is that I am a writer, a real writer, because I write. This is both thrilling and terrifying since it implies a level of responsibility for what I write. And yet, I write.

I quit my day job on March 16, 2012 and on March 17,2012 I became a professional writer--which really means that I am working without a net. Yikes. I am trusting my bipolar husband who has been working as a truck driver since September to provide for our family enough to pay the bills until I start making money on my writing.

Oh, I'm already making money on my writing. It just isn't enough money to pay even one of our bills. But I went to a real writers' workshop and had real writers tell me that I am a writer and I'm praying that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, it will somehow miraculously be true. It took me most of the next week to get back to reality and I am finally getting back to being able to work on my stuff and now I feel even more like a fraud.

Who am I trying to kid? I'm not a real writer. I'm a housewife who went through some interesting experiences and wrote down what I learned from them. A writer goes out and finds stuff to write about, right? Having an interesting life with lots of drama doesn't make you a writer. But maybe writing stuff that people actually want to read about it does. Maybe?

Sometimes I worry that bipolar is contagious. I seem to have higher highs and lower lows in fast succession these days. Maybe it's just the stress of suddenly being in a position where I don't have a regular paycheck and where I am fully responsible for everything. The writing life is a bit bipolar, unless you're JK Rowling or Stephen King and I'm sure it was the same when they were starting out.

So here I am, watching for the checks to roll in. Hoping that I'll get this all figured out before we starve to death or I give up and get a real job. I am a writer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Road to Happily Ever After?

If anyone thinks that this is going to be a story where the bipolar becomes just another pill to take and life will be normal, you're missing the point. This isn't about that kind of happily ever after,. This is about the struggle to live happily in spite of the obstacles by working together and making the best of things.

It's been three weeks since I quit my day job to write and I'm still working out the kinks. I know that this is stressful for Troy but I still believe that quitting the job was the right thing for me and for us and that I will be able to thrive whether my income increases or I learn to live on less.

Troy finally got in to the doctor about his heartburn and is going to be checked for ulcers next week. Getting in to see a doctor isn't hard, but the test he needs could not be scheduled immediately. Waiting isn't easy when you aren't feeling well.

Troy decided he'd like to train in someone new. Usually the company uses drivers who have been with the company for at least a year, but Troy is a quick learner and since he'd shown an interest he was assigned a trainee during the time he is waiting to take this test. I'm not sure that was a good idea, since the experience he had with this trainee was enough to cause ulcers.

He was assigned an older man who had some experience with other trucking companies, but who was having trouble keeping on schedule and using the equipment the company provides: a text tranceiver for communicating with dispatch, the forms used for keeping records, and the truck itself--which is a little different from what he'd driven in the past. Since the man came with the attitude that he knew what he was doing and wasn't going to learn anything from this young guy with less experience than he had--and since Troy is mostly stable, but not really capable of dealing with what he perceived as disrespect, things got interesting.

I got regular phone calls as Troy worked to keep himself calm and knew that he could count on me to help talk him down. I got a play-by-play of every behavior that seemed inappropriate--this man was nearly 20 years older than Troy, from New Jersey, and black. Troy is from German ancestry, grew up in Wisconsin and has lived in the midwest all his life. I try to explain that some of it might just be cultural differences and reminded him that this is a temporary situation.

Troy finally blew up, told the guy that he had been assigned to train him and that if he wanted to work with the company he'd have to pay attention and learn the ways this company works and that he could screw up as much as he wanted when he gets his own truck, but he's going to do things right during this training session or he'd just report to human resources that he wasn't co-operating. Funny how a guy doesn't just quit on the spot when you're out in the middle of nowhere with no way home but the one truck. When the air cleared the trainee had decided to play along--good choice.

Troy goes in for his medical testing next week Monday and is already looking into getting a new trainee. The man in charge of assigning trainers agrees that this was not an easy situation and that the next trainee should be more open to instruction, so Troy is looking forward to an easier situation.
I am happy to see that he is dealing with his own issues and finding ways to make things work. I am glad the company can see that he knows what he is doing and trusts him to train others. It makes me a little less nervous about his ability to keep this job.

This past week Troy was given a stop inside a cave. These are huge caves, but for someone with claustrophobia the fact that you are driving under tons of mountain can be more than a little difficult. The loading docks were built when smaller trucks were running and between the tight space and the claustrophobia, Troy had a hard time getting his truck exactly where it needed to be. I'm sure he was stressed out, but he managed to get the trailer lined up in the loading dock and get in and out of there.
That was Thursday.

He got home Friday evening and slept all day Saturday. I was a bit nervous that he might be sinking into depression, but he got up Saturday evening with a list of things he wanted to accomplish before leaving Sunday night. We managed to get everyone to church--it was Easter Sunday so our son came from across town--and we did a bit of shopping before our family dinner. We didn't get everything done that he had hoped, but we did get the stuff we'll need to do things and I can do some of it myself.

Sometimes I wonder why we set ourselves up for so much stress when we know what it does to us, but I think we need to stretch a little just to feel alive. So far he has pushed through every obstacle. I know that no matter what happens, we can survive and we will get through it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Launching my business

My husband overspent on what he got me for Christmas and I’m totally excited. It’s a workshop. My husband asked if it was alright to spend the $375 to sign me up for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and while we agree that it is a lot of money for someone planning to quit their day job, it could also be invaluable for someone launching a writing career.  I’m going to Ohio in April! Alone! To meet with other writers and the people who work with writers! It’s an opportunity I hadn’t really dared to dream of!

We have just learned that Social Security Disability has a “back-to-work” plan that includes 9 months of checks after a job has started. We notified them when Troy started truck driving and we were worried because we were getting checks, so he called the number for “back-to-work” information and learned that it was not a mistake and we will not be paying any of that money back, so we are using it to help launch my business. We used one check for the workshop and we will pay for a room reservation with the next month’s check. We do have to bring in the check stubs for these nine months as soon as they are over to verify everything, but with full-disclosure, we shouldn’t have any problems.

I’m a little nervous about this workshop. I’ve never been to any sort of writers’ workshop and I don’t even know what to wear, much less what to say or do. I’m pretty sure there will be other mere mortals at this event and there’s time enough that I can do some research before I get there.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Is it really ever right for a religious person to divorce?

Question: I am struggling with the possibility of divorcing my husband. He has been violent during his recent episodes and I currently have an order of protection keeping him away from me. I still love him and we don't believe in divorce. I know God doesn't want us to live like this, but what can I do?

My response: Maybe I’m the one who’s supposed to chime in with the Biblical references to support you in protecting yourself. As was already mentioned, your father God would never wish abuse on any of his children and would want and expect you to protect your child as well as yourself. You can’t help your husband unless you are safe and sound.

People who are in the throes of a bipolar episode, whether it’s manic, depressive or mixed, are capable of doing serious physical and mental harm to the people who are trying to help them. When lifeguards are trained, they are taught to use special tools and techniques because a person who is drowning tends to thrash about and can easily pull their rescuer down with them if that rescuer is not fully prepared and trained. People with mental illness often behave in a similar way and may do damage that they don’t intend in an attempt to keep their own heads above water. The order for protection is one tool that you can use to keep from getting pulled under. Don’t throw it away until he has made some serious steps toward wellness.

An appointment with a psychiatrist should be mandatory before you cancel the order. It would be great if he could start on medication before you start to drop your guard. You aren’t refusing to help, you are refusing to be pulled under with him.

Now to the religious stuff. In the Bible it says that “God hates divorce” which seems pretty straight-forward, but the meaning of those words has changed over time and in different cultures. What God hates is the breakdown of the loving relationship which pulls marriages apart. Divorce is not a legal term here, it is talking about the human relationship.

Sometimes it is necessary to put a little space in a relationship when someone is unstable to avoid allowing that person to do irreparable damage. If you drop the order and allow things to return to “normal” your husband may feel that he can go back to the way things were, go to one therapy session, put off seeing a psychiatrist indefinitely, and eventually lash out at you in episode because he hasn’t done anything to manage the illness. THAT COULD FORCE AN END TO THE MARRIAGE. You could be physically harmed. Your child could be physically and emotionally damaged. Occasionally someone is actually killed in a psychotic episode.

Your best chance at saving your relationship, something that God and the Church value greatly, may be by making sure that he is serious about getting help for himself before you let him off the hook. If it gets to the point of actually filing for a divorce, that isn't the worst thing that could happen. You can always get back together and even remarry if he gets stable enough to be a partner again. That gets harder if you allow him to do too much damage before you take a stand.

Maybe you are confident that he will follow through. You know him better than we do. But we have seen these patterns before and people do get hurt.

God loves you and so do I. I don’t want to hear that you have been harmed. I never left my husband against all sorts of advice, so I can’t really fault you if you drop the order and work things out on your own. That’s what I did and I’m here to tell of it, but please be careful. No one will fault you if you protect yourself and your child. Not even God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life on the Home Front

This is the second day that my husband is at his orientation for his new job as a truck driver. I'm pretty proud and happy that he is doing this, not least because it takes some of the stress of supporting the family off my shoulders. He calls each evening and we talk about our day. He's doing fine. I'm NOT doing drugs...though sometimes it sounds tempting.

Being home alone sounds wonderful. Until I realize that I'm not alone. I'm with a roommate/friend who might also have a mental disorder. She is a bit paranoid--hey, maybe they are out to get her, what do I know? And she thinks that she has the only valid point of view. I can live with that because I'm used to irrational thought and being able to not take it personally or seriously. Unfortunately...

I also live with my son and his fiancee. I love this girl, but she takes everything personally and tries to argue with insanity. YOU CAN'T WIN! Yes, I yell it in hopes that she'll actually hear me and let it sink in. Nope. Two mildly irrational women arguing about nothing until everybody's mad and...get this...it's all MY fault. I even get a call from my son (he's at work) telling me that I need to apologize because I made his fiancee cry and she called him to tell him. WHAT THE....

I'm on vacation from my day job, so I guess I've become the de facto referee. Thanks, but I don't want that job. I want to retire and be a professional writer and publisher and spend my spare time marketing the books that I've written. I don't want to spend forever in the middle of crazy. I've been there and I didn't like it and MY crazy got himself help and takes pills to ward off crazy so I can live in peace. I think dropping lithium in the water supply to this house might be beneficial.

I read something today about addictions and abuses of prescription drugs and I heard about someone, husband of a friend, who can't get in to see a psychiatrist without a therapist's referal because they are afraid patients are just trying to get drugs. Huh? There's a black market for lithium? They hand out Ritalin like candy and lock up the mood stabilizers and wonder why the world's gone mad? Start handing out mood stabilizers like candy and keep your amphetamines under lock and key and see what happens. It would have to improve things.

So, my bipolar husband is stable, working, and living a normal healthy life while I am still home living with crazy. Sometimes I think it's not him, but me with the problem. Any other crazy magnets out there?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Stone Soup--or how to eat better with less

I'm not really ready to tackle this topic yet, but it came up in a conversation that it is too expensive and too much work to eat healthy. I just don't buy into that way of thinking. Yes, there is a lot of cheap and easy junk food out there, but there is also a lot of cheap and easy healthy food. How hard is it to bite into an apple? ...drop a chicken in the crock pot?...toss together a salad? ...make a sandwich from leftover sliced meat?

OK, I admit I'm a gadget girl--I actually HAVE a crock pot and a bread maker and a pasta machine and a twisty cutter and... so maybe those things are a little easier for me, but come on, there's so much more to food than Big Macs.

And while it is cheaper to eat nothing but Ramen Noodles or generic macaroni and cheese, unless you are a college student you're not going to convince me that you are doing that on a regular basis. Most of us aren't just buying cheap food, we are also buying overpriced and overprocessed foods as well because we think that they provide a convenience. Maybe they do, but at what cost?

One thing people seem to miss is that you don't have to put a lot of time and effort into cooking vegetables. Most of them can be eaten raw if you rinse them thoroughly and cut them into bite sized pieces. Use them to make a salad or serve them as finger food. Buy whatever is in season and cheap in your area and incorporate that into your diet. If you can't use it all, learn ways to preserve it--canning is work, but freezing can be as simple as putting it in an airtight bag. Some vegetables do better when partially boiled before freezing, but that's usually worth the trouble.

Another thing that seems to be common knowldge but we ignore it is that we really don't need as much meat. Did you know the most expensive part of your food budget could be cut in half just by eating half as much? The average fast food meal provides meat for three days, lots of white bread and starch and almost nothing else. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Sure those cost money but compared to the meat you are replacing they are an excellent value.

One of the books that I have in very rough draft form is a description of how we did, and how you can, create simple and healthy meals that satisfy your family, your budget and your schedule. Watch for Stone Soup to be released around Christmas 2011 as an eBook and later in paperback. The book makes this all much more concrete with meal plans and recipes that make food pyramid cooking simple.