Mental Muse: The Mental Health Advocacy Meme for Authors Welcomes AmyBeth Inverness

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This is a Mental Muse post. Mental Muse: The Mental Health Advocacy Meme for Authors invites writers who experience mental health issues to share their answers to five simple questions. Find them (along with more information on this meme) HERE. Once a month, every month. I went first in May, you could be next. But first…

Welcome Author AmyBeth Inverness

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A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing, she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home.

1.What is your mental health issue?

I have OCD, otherwise known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And no, it’s not CDO, it’s OCD. Not everyone compulsively alphabetizes things lol! It is defined by the Mayo Clinic Website as being “…characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). It’s also possible to have only obsessions or only compulsions and still have OCD.”

Underline the word unreasonable. This disorder does not refer to people who are genuinely concerned with real problems. Either the level of concern is greatly exaggerated, or there is a concern for some problem that does not actually exist. For example, I experience an influx of anxiety almost every morning. These mild panic attacks happen when my mind reaches a certain level of wakefulness. Just as upon waking my brain tells me I need to visit the bathroom, my brain also pours anxiety into my body. It is almost as if someone unscrews a lid at the crown of my head and pours the anxiety straight into my brain. I am usually aware when my OCD is overriding common sense. I have exercises and coping mechanisms that help me to put a stop to the obsessive thoughts. (That’s why I refer to the morning anxiety as “mild.” They used to cripple me, to the point that I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Now I have ways to get through it, namely staying in bed and allowing the feeling to come…and go.) There is no instant fix; the exercises take time, and they don’t always work.

Each person is different, too. Some must have everything perfectly neat and orderly. Others must check repeatedly that everything in their environment is safe. My biggest trigger is guilt. If I’m overwhelmed with commitments and tasks, I shut down. I was working a job once where I had a task as simple as “if the paper has a red check, put it in the pile on the left. If it has a blue check, put it in the pile on the right.” Something at that time triggered my OCD, and my brain shut down. I looked at the paper. It had a blue check. I had to look at the instructions. “Blue check goes in the right pile, red goes on the left.” Then I thought “Wait…what color was it again?” At that time, I didn’t having coping skills to deal with my OCD. When it continued to be a problem, I had to leave the job.

Many people laugh and say “Oh, I’m so OCD! I have to do things this way.” It’s true that people can be obsessive and/or compulsive without it being a problem. But there are many people who suffer the full force of the disorder, to the point that they can’t function in daily life. I function. But only as long as I have the accommodations I need in order to take care of myself.

2. How long have you been writing fiction? Tell us about your career so far.

Although I’ve been writing all my life, I didn’t get serious about writing until NaNoWriMo 2010. I asked my hubby “If I do this, will you support me?” His answer was “As long as you do something with it this time.” So I did. My NaNo novel still sits on a shelf—it wasn’t good enough to submit—but I have built a platform, honed my craft, established a website and had several short stories published. In early July my story The House on Paladin Court will appear in the urban fantasy anthology Theme-Thology: Real World Unreal. In mid July, my story The Remorse of the Incorporeum appeared in the weird-fic anthology Sulfurings: Tales from Soddom and Gomorrah. My urban fantasy is a story about immortal Paladins who have a dragon locked in their basement. My weird-fic story is…weird. Non-corporeal, time-shifting beings called “incorporeum” who exist symbiotically with humans.

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Last November and December I completed the rough drafts of two novels that will be the first works I query to an agent. I am editing them now, and then they’re off to beta readers for feedback. Jubilation of the Southern Cross and Hearthsong are set on Kingdom Come, a world I’ve built where the society is polyamorous. They are SciFi Romance (emphasis on the romance) and follow a young woman named Bethany as she moves from Earth to take a job on another planet. Writing a polyamorous romance can get rather complicated, which is why the story is split into two distinct books.

3. How has mental ill health helped your writing? 

Although OCD can be a pain to deal with, it does have its advantages. Unfortunately, they are not always advantages I can control. Although most writers plug away at daily or weekly word counts, I work best when I can obsess on just one project for a short time. I love NaNoWriMo because writing furiously every day for a month to produce a novel-length manuscript in thirty days works well for me. I’ve even done the 3-Day-Novel Contest twice, producing a complete 20,000 word novella.

No spreadsheet, no set of notes can completely cover every detail and nuance of a story. It must live in the author’s head. Every story is so much more that what ends up between the front and back covers. As an Obsessive-Compulsive, my worlds and stories can take over my brain. For Kingdom Come, I’ve even painted a globe of the continents so I can easily visualize where each city is. When I’m obsessing on a story, as long as I have made the time available, I can be very productive in a short time.

4. How has it not?

I wish I could control what my brain latches onto. I do not switch gears easily. Many writers feel that while their brain is “in” one story, they find it difficult to switch to another. I work very hard to be able to keep my brain in whatever story is my current WIP. Fortunately, so far, without real deadlines from a publisher regarding edits or contracts, I can work on whatever my brain wants. However, this is a worry I have about when I do eventually have contracts and deadlines…forcing myself to work on one thing while my brain wants to work on another.

Most writers do not quit their day jobs. Although I’ll always be a Mom, I’m seriously considering giving up the class (Spreadsheets and Databases) I usually teach in the spring. It’s difficult enough to keep my brain on the right story. Making my brain switch from creative story-mode to teaching-mode is very difficult.

I’ve heard the advice from writers I look up to as mentors that a writer should be able to write anywhere, anytime. I’ve struggled with this, because I can’t get the words out unless I have a chunk of guaranteed uninterrupted time. This is why I write at night; I can be fairly certain I will not be interrupted, and I can write for one hour or six and then crash into bed. I may be able to work on this skill and work in smaller chunks throughout the day, but for now, this is one of those “accommodations” I wrote of earlier.

5. What advice do you have for other writers with mental health issues. 

Figure out what you need, what accommodations you need to make in your life, and get them. This isn’t easy. I’ve considered applying for disability, but the process is long, difficult, and almost impossible to fulfill. Mental illness is usually invisible, meaning that other people will not realize that you have a problem and special needs that must be addressed. My teenage daughter has special needs stemming from the abuse and neglect she suffered with her birth parents in the first few years of her life. The school system is very good about providing accommodations for her. Real life, however, is not so kind, especially for conditions that develop slowly as an adult. I can honestly say I’ve struggled with OCD my entire adult life, but it didn’t rise to the level of disability until I was in my late twenties.

Be honest with yourself and with those you work with about your limitations. Unfortunately, there will be some people who view mental illness as fake or inconsequential. Stand up for yourself. Don’t ask for favors or special treatment; do ask for reasonable accommodation


Contact AmyBeth

Website

AMAZON Author Page


If you are an author/writer who experiences mental health issues who would like to share how this impacts you professionally/personally, then please click the following link to download The Mental Muse questions and instructions. Then, get them back to me using MENTAL MUSE ANSWERS as the email subject header. I’ll be in touch.

* This meme will continue monthly so long as I get enough participants, so please help me to spread the word, and please support this meme by taking the button to your sidebar! Here’s the smaller version:
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Many thanks AmyBeth! And thanks to all readers, for your incredible support!

 

What do you think?

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  1. Thanks to Amybeth for being honest and forthright. Understanding inner problems and learning coping mechanisms is hard but so important. Wishing her the very best!

  2. Write anywhere or anytime? Crap, coming up on my fourth published book and I still can’t do that. Don’t worry, AmyBeth. Write wherever is best for you.
    Will have to track you down since we write similar genres.

  3. Man! What a fun *cough, cough* struggle to work with. I have OCD tendencies, but they apply to details–making sure every square corner of my bathroom floor has been scrubbed, obsessing over the fine details of an art piece, demanding perfection from myself and kids… I’ve been years, mentally focusing on loosening up about those things. Still…

  4. What a great concept – to share with each other about mental health issues! Often times mental health issues can make a person feel so isolated, and you’re providing an avenue to overcome that! Thank you, so much! 🙂