Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A New School Year and Social Anxiety Disorder

Many kids have some anxiety about starting the school year and about being in school overall. That's fairly normal, and generally that dissipates as the year progresses, usually fairly quickly. For those of you struggling through that right now, take a deep breath, hold your head up, and know it will pass.

For a much smaller percentage, that anxiety goes well beyond the "norm" (norm can be hard to define) and the feeling doesn't pass. It's there all year. They must learn to handle it and continue going day after day after very long day until holiday breaks and summer vacation. They're anxious from the time they get up, with that anxiety increasing as they get ready to go, as they're on their way to school, when they get into the parking lot, and then it jumps into higher gear as they set foot in the door.

Every day. Without fail.

Until the final bell rings and they can walk through the halls, out the doors, back to the parking lot, and finally breath a sigh of relief when they get to their own yard/house and can actually breathe again without wanting to scream from the ridiculous amount of tension they hide inside while trying their best to act as normal as possible, to speak when spoken to, to not physically explode when called on to talk in front of the class while they stammer and feel their faces turn red and feel the stares because they're stammering and their faces are red and the room is suddenly a sauna with a loud thudding drum beating through their brains, even when seated at their desk and need only a few word reply. Let me tell you: they may be walking out those halls on the way home, but inside they're doing a sprint that would put most Olympic athletes to shame.

How do I know? I've been there. Every school year, all the way through two colleges. Every day.

It's torture. If you're rolling your eyes at the "torture" bit, then you don't have Social Anxiety Disorder and can't truly understand it. Please, try to understand. We are not simply shy. We are not simply nervous during public speaking (most people are). We are nervous when a friend speaks to us, even when a family member speaks to us, because we know they're expecting us to answer in some way and the thought of having to talk to someone, of saying something that we'll worry about how it sounded for days afterward is enough to freeze our otherwise very lucid thoughts and feel like complete morons, which we know is actually untrue, but many times, we're not sure it's untrue.

We're often thought of as much less intelligent than we are simply because we lack the ability to speak calmly and rationally out loud.

We know there's something very wrong with us. There is. Saying otherwise is a slap in the face. No one should have to feel that way every day of their life, day in and day out, other than when they're alone, and even then, they can be anxious when thinking over what they might have said and done during the day. We turn down invitations to things we would really love to do because we can't stand the thought of being around all of those people, even if they're people we know. We have trouble going grocery shopping because ... there are People there! Not because we're tired of putting up with some of the ridiculous or rude stuff some people do, but just because they are people. We can't even go sit around a campfire with a bunch of people we've know for years and relax and have fun. There is no such thing as relaxing if others are around. It doesn't happen.

That's not just regular social anxiety, which most people have to some extent. That's Social Anxiety Disorder, which used to be called Social Phobia, a term I still use. We all have traits of usually several disorders. There's nothing unusual about that. It becomes an actual disorder when it severely interferes with your life, such as someone with agoraphobia refusing to ever step out their door, or someone with mysophobia refusing to ever touch anything or anyone without sanitizing himself afterward.

We need others to understand a few things:
1- We are not being snobs. We are afraid to talk to you. It's really that simple, and that complicated.
2- We are not stupid. You can't imagine the stuff going on inside our heads.
3- If we walk past you while out and about and don't respond when you wave or try to speak to us, chances are very good that we did not see or hear you because we're intensely focused on not being overwhelmed by having so many people around us, and we have to block them out to survive the ordeal. Don't be insulted. It'll make things harder on us if we know we unintentionally insulted you.
4- We can't stand it when someone mentions how quiet or shy we are. Trust me, we know. Mentioning it only makes it worse and makes us want to dig faster through that hole in the floor we already want to crawl into. Please don't.
5- Teachers: Please, PLEASE understand what social phobia is and how much we're already struggling. Look it up. There are tons of posts on Pinterest that explain what we're feeling, and we'll never be able to tell you. Please, don't call on us unnecessarily. And above all, never make jokes about how quiet we are or how we have trouble making ourselves answer you.

True story: In college, I took a mandatory class called Senior Seminar. It was half graded on class participation. I could not get my degree without it. The professor, I was happy to find out, was a psychologist. As such, I expected he would understand when, during the mandatory "meet privately with the teacher" session, he explained that my written work was outstanding but my grade was suffering due to lack of participation. So, I told this college professor, a trained psychologist, about my social phobia and that I was trying very, very hard to make myself participate verbally and thought I was doing fairly well considering how hard it was. He told me I needed to try harder if I wanted a decent grade. I was literally shaking as I left his office: the meeting was so disturbing and uncomfortable and he was so condescending. And then he called me out in front of the class the rest of the year to push me to talk more, which had the opposite effect.
Result: a C in the class and a strengthening of the phobia due to being pushed and from, what I felt, was betrayal from someone in the field of my major I was supposed to be able to respect.
Teachers: Please, do not be this guy!

What you can do if you suspect a classmate/friend has social phobia:
1- Don't mention it unless you know her very well, and then ask how you can help. Never push.
2- Don't laugh at verbal mistakes or stammering.
3- Accept that she may want to just listen and include her in a conversation without pushing her to talk.
4- Invite her to low anxiety activities such as a movie or a walk around the park. That can expand to few-people activities later.
5- Realize although it may be uncomfortable for you, it's for worse for her and she's doing her best to not make you uncomfortable. Relax and accept the quiet.

If you're struggling with social phobia/social anxiety disorder:
1- Please know you're NOT ALONE. There are about 15 million of us in the United States, and that number is probably higher since we generally don't want to talk about it or admit it.
2- It is NOT a life sentence. At least it does not have to be. It may never fully go away, but there are things you can do to lesson the anxiety and live a more normal life. Yes, you can.
3- WRITE about it. Do it. Keep the journal or notebook where no one will find it and write about how you feel and how you'd like to feel, about bad days and good days and about your goals. On days you can't write about it but need release (what day don't you need release?), draw it out instead. Scribble. Doodle. Color. Whatever. Get it out. Or work with clay. Create what you're feeling. You can always smash it, if you'd like.
4- Hang in there. Things will get better.

As a recovering social phobic, my goal is to try to help others recover now that I can make myself talk about. I'll be posting more about my path to recovery, along with setbacks. It won't be easy to do this article series, since recovering is not cured, but recovering is far, far better than non-recovering and I want you to be on that path, as well. <3

Please, share this with anyone you think might need a hand in recovery or who is dealing with someone close to them who is social phobic. I know it's not always easy for them, either. It took a lot of years for my husband to understand my SAD and to learn how to help instead of making it worse because they don't understand.

These days, I seldom want to crawl into a hole just because I'm talking to someone. I do book signings with few nervous issues and without an all day migraine the next day due to the extreme stress it used to be. I go to events with my husband's friends and am able to talk to them like a real person. I'm even running a local book festival. It's taken a LOT of years and a lot of back and forth struggle to get this far, but if you want it enough, you can do it.

Stay tuned. And take a deep breath.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

WTLI - On We Go...After a (writing) Loss

Sunrise in Amarillo
I've often heard writers say their books are like their children, usually when asked to choose a favorite which is often impossible.

I always rebelled against that saying. Children are children. Nothing is like a child and nothing can stand up to comparison of beautiful little children in all of their innocent glory.

Don't get me wrong: my books are part of me, also, as my children are, and I get that. It's still not the same.

But I've finally come to understand why writers can say such a thing.

Two months ago, my computer crashed. Yes, I have most of my stuff pretty well backed up, and luckily I was able to do a restore and it pulled back all of my writing (and photos, files). What it didn't save was my OneNote contents. I love OneNote. It's the best writing tool I've found other than pencil and keyboard. I do not love that the contents are NOT saved during a restore.

In my OneNote, I had a folder for every book and within those folders I have outlines, research, notes, and even bits of dialogue I want to pull in at a later point in the story. Writers know that once you write those bits of dialogue, if you lose them, they're likely just gone. Vanished. I had a TON of them for my Rehearsal series, which is the closest book to being able to compare to a child I have -- I've been working on it since long before I ever thought about having children. It's a niche series, very long, very detailed, sometimes intense, and only a handful of readers will bother with it. I know this, but that doesn't matter. It's the story I most need to write for myself and my characters are truly a part of me. They are.

My last OneNote backup onto a jump drive was in 2013. Losing every bit of research and notes, and especially that precious dialogue was devastating. It was devastating to the point I nearly stopped writing altogether. I just couldn't face it.

It came to me yesterday that I was in mourning. My energy is gone. My impetus for jumping up in the morning to get to work is gone, other than my family, which yes, does matter more. My passion for writing is gone.

I'm still doing short stories, on paper with pencil, for my own challenge of a story a week, although I'm far behind on it. But it feels like routine, a must-do, more than a passion.

Trust me, I tried everything to get those notes back. I even went to an expert. He couldn't do it, either. For the past two months, I had a glimmering hope that there was one more way I could do it, but I couldn't make myself try because I wanted at least that glimmer of hope. Two days ago I made myself try. It didn't work.

So, I took a deep breath and uploaded the saved files from 2013 and I'm in the process of trying to rearrange them the way I had a couple of years ago that made it all easier to work with. In the meantime, I'm working at overcoming that hole in my gut that makes me want to throw my hands up and walk away, and I'm starting again. (I've also started printing out my notes!)

I've now and then tried to help console authors who lost chapters or such of their books by saying the next draft of it will be better and stronger, so I'm trying to take my own advice and believe what's really lost I didn't really need because something better will come. Sigh. I hope that's true. I have lost chapters before. I know that's tough. But this... losing dialogue and story pieces that help define characters and story, especially in a complex series that will end up around a million and a half words, is truly like losing part of someone you love. At least it is to me. I suppose that means the passion is still down within somewhere just smoldering and waiting through this necessary mourning period.

Next month marks 20 years since I seriously started work on Rehearsal. I first started it about 35 years ago and had a couple of scenes on paper when all of my files were lost(?) -- paper files this time -- and I went back to just thinking about it without writing it anywhere it could be taken away. It's been a heck of a journey with this series. But you know, it matters enough to keep going. I have to believe there's a reason I've been obsessed with the story and characters most of my nearly 50 years of life. So on we go...

As the photo above shows, the sun does rise again. You just have to let yourself see it.

Current link to the series (may change after a complete web redo mandated by also losing my very old web program I can't replace): -- you can always find it through

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

WTLI-Author Andra Marquardt

AndraMarquardt“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

"The words and I will be locked in mortal combat until one of us surrenders.” ~ G-Kar, Babylon 5 - Season 5, Episode 1

LK asks the question: How did (does) writing save me? The question brought up so many memories, it's difficult to pin down just one. I will give it a go, however.

As a young teenager, writing meant little to me. I wrote only during school assignments such as essays, or the occasional letter to a family member. When I was in junior high, I had to write an essay about a famous person (I don't remember who). Uncertain how well I did, I asked my mom to read it.

Her response, “This was very well written.” I could tell by her expression that she was actually impressed, an emotion she didn't show often (her standards for her two daughters were quite high; but she also knew we were capable of it. Thanks, Mom).

I reread my essay with more objective eyes and had to agree.

Fast forward a year or two.

I hated my teenage years. For one, I was far from popular, often teased and called names. One friend even went so far to tell another friend that she didn't want to hang around me anymore because, “I would keep her from being popular.” Add to that the normal confusion that comes with being a teen – neither child nor adult, wanting more responsibility, but not, aching to be an individual yet pressured to be like everyone else, and all the physical changes that goes with it.

Communicating with speech was never my strong suit. Still isn't, which is why I avoid confrontation at almost all costs. I like to say God didn't attach my mouth to my brain properly. The thoughts in my head never come out of my mouth the same way, and as such I am often misunderstood. Frustrating to say the least. Lonely at worst, because no one knew or understood what I was going through. Not their fault; I simply had no means of expressing it well enough. Heck, I myself didn't know what I was going through. My thoughts and emotions were so jumbled and intense that I coudn't make sense of any of it.

I don't know what started it, but I began writing a journal when I was about 13 or 14. What I found after reading what I wrote, it all made sense! Especially during those highly emotion-charged moments when I couldn't give voice to why I wanted to scream, lash out or cry. Once I saw it on paper, however, I understood the why. And in understanding the why, I could push through all that icky angst, and better, know I was going to survive. How's that for an epiphany?

I still have the journals I filled up from the age of about 15-17. They're simple spiral notebooks that barely held together by the time I was done with them. I also have a notebook filled with miscellaneous sheets of paper, some torn from other sheets of tiny poems, thoughts or story ideas.

No matter where I was, even during a concert at church with no lighting, I would put pen to paper and let my hands fly. Oddly enough, some of my best poems came from writing in the dark when I had no idea what I was writing at the time.

I often miss those days.

Now as an adult with a full-time job and taking care of my family, finding time to sit and write has become more of a challenge. I don't keep a spiral notepad on hand, but I do have my iPad mini with a ZAGG keyboard. I've been caught by my boss several times furiously writing a thought on said iPad. I know. My bad.

Part of the reason writing can be torture as the quotes above say is because writers pore out everything they are into them. That includes the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Scary stuff. But as the quote by Maya said above, keeping it in is worse than letting it out.

Writing can be hell, but it can also be our salvation, often at the same time. It has for me.

All I can say at the end is thank you, God, for the gift of language. It has saved me in more ways, and more times than I can count.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Andra Marquardt works as a Land Surveyor in North Dakota, is happily married and has a young son. She writes Christian science fiction and likes to throw her opinions around on her blog at

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Saturday, June 20, 2015

WTLI-Poet Catherine Moore–One Healing Center

CatherineMooreThey are asked to paint the cancer. Most reach for the ochre, the black, the red, and their paper becomes hideous, jagged, ferocious, infernal, howling, and torched. An enemy drawn in its vilest forms. The tall woman does none of this; she proceeds to paint a beautiful garden, a bright sun, a lady sleeping on the cool patch of grass. The tall woman, is always quiet and composed; as a painter this manner intensifies. Her flower blooms are gifted with bees and butterflies. The following week they add narrative to the paintings. Most are stories of the grotesque, some stay in the darkness, some stories move to the light. The tall woman went last, after a stretched sigh, she holds up her painting of the wonderful summer scene. She points to the small area in gray, in the stone path, there hidden, a shadowed face, its cloak, and its sliver-like sickle. She reads, “Once upon a fine day it emerged from its silent tomb to slay the woman.” The horror in the room is palpable, this tall woman is 32 years without cancer, if she’s still hostage when will they ever feel free?

He declines the magnetic poetry board. Many do. Composing a “poem” is unnecessary stress in a room of the necessary. Forty-five minutes into the first hour he wanders around the art corner like a caged panther. He briefly picks up the mallet and taps a few notes on the Chakra chimes. The next day, about an hour after he returned from lunch he asks about the paper cranes hanging in a mobile made from wire clothes hangers. He expresses an interest— in seeing it done. And watches the slow careful creases become a bird of flight. Then silently nods and returns to his usual bench to stare out the window in concentration, as if folding it all over and over again in his mind. Weeks later, at four and a half hours into confinement he picks up an errant magnetic board that someone placed in front of him when leaving the waiting room. He flicks at the words in the determined way of working an abacus. Then he begins to move the words pushing left to right, up and down, like a slide across puzzle. When he scrambles for the car in his routine gallant way of whisking his wife away, we see the intimacy of the words he left behind. Some random. Some in margins. Some grouped naturally in a haiku-ish formation— one clearly intact.

s urge blood shot
in whisper watch goddess
boil scream

These stories are from my experience as a volunteer with an art therapy initiative at an oncology center. When people are going through illness or any stressful time, creating art, or more specifically journaling, is a very powerful tool to help cope. It can open a portal for reflection, growth, and healing by forcing us to think more clearly, giving a sense of purpose, being visual proof of having accomplished something, survived. Just seeing your thoughts and feelings written down somehow validates them, even if you are the only one seeing them. Don’t judge what you write, just write.

After my own cancer diagnosis, I often wrote as a way to expel the darkness and anxiety I naturally carried about my prognosis. Sometimes it was the only ventilation for my most distressing emotions. A journal is a place where the writer does not have to put up a brave face. Its primary purpose, like any art therapy, is catharsis.
~~~ ~~~

Catherine’s work appears in Ars Medica Journal, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, and an upcoming anthology with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. She is an eight-year cancer survivor.

~~~ ~~~

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

WTLI–Author Malla Duncan-Writing the Journey Within


I was very kindly invited by accomplished writer, LK Hunsaker, to guest post for “Write the Light in” – so thank you LK for the honor of being allowed to contribute here.

The question she raised was: what is the emotional effect that writing has had on my life. I believe that writing has a profoundly emotional effect on anyone who engages in it – whether you just enjoy letter writing, journal keeping, or simply like to clarify problems by writing them down – we create on paper the mood, the moment, the meaningfulness of our inner thoughts. We make our minds visible and intelligible through the act of describing our feelings on paper.

For me, writing is about discovering my own power. I say power and not talent because writing is fundamentally for everyone. We can all engage in its journey of discovery in our own private ways. Writing is the most individual imprint we can make on our daily experience; it is the closest, most intimate connection we can make between our world within and the world without.

My discovery of the power of writing (aged 7 when I penned my first poem) has driven me emotionally all my life: when I can write; what I can write; what will connect with the reader; what can I say that is fresh and different.

I can honestly say, that I have no idea what my life would have been like without writing – I cannot imagine a life where there is not something interesting going on in my head, or where there is only daily work in the week and empty spaces to fill at the weekend with general family and friends – and the same the next week and the week after that. While for some this is life – and a perfect life – for me it presents a quiet fear. What if I am wasting time on other things when I could be writing?

Emotionally, writing has made my life purposeful above all other things. It has been the subconscious force in all my life choices: to settle, to be quiet, to be alone and enjoy that aloneness, to continually organize my life with time for writing in between the daily busyness. Writing gave me my dream when there were both good and unhappy times. Writing has moved me from inner dwelling to an inner journey. It has developed my mind, my way of thinking, my insight and capacity for emotional intelligence. Without it, I believe, I would be half the person, half the intellect I have made myself.

I am a poor cook, a rotten gardener, a scrappy housekeeper. But I can write a credible thriller or two – and I sometimes wonder how well I might have excelled in these other areas had I not let my fascination for the written word supersede everything else. Writing has made me a dreamer, a bit of a loner, but definitely a happier, more positive person. I am driven by the passion of new ideas wrapped in the passions of imaginary people.

When I see unhappy people or discord in relationships, I want to reach out to those people and say, write! Start a journal, write what you feel, put your mind where you can see it and it will speak to you. Writing is a mirror of the mind, it shows us all the shadows and the light. Writing gives us the brushstrokes for the bigger picture.

Whether you write a journal, poetry or embark on the great journey of a novel, writing allows you a very individual key to personal freedom and power. It shows you the inner map of who you are – and astounding potential for new journeys.
~~~ ~~~

Malla Duncan writes psychological suspense thrillers, cozy mysteries, and children’s fantasy. She hales from South Africa. Visit her at

~~~ ~~~

Monday, January 5, 2015

Words Are Powerful

MaryCassatt-ThePensiveReaderIt was 1996, 20 years ago next year, and I was living in a place I didn’t like. Okay, let’s be fully honest. I detested the place. It was the antithesis of everything I wanted in a place I had to live.

I couldn’t just move. My life then was Army. An Army spouse, subject to the whims of wherever they decided to send us.

At the time, my husband had been sent to Korea for a year, with only three weeks at home in between. I was an 18 hour drive away from my family. I knew two of my neighbors and talked with them at times, and my husband’s good friend was down a couple of streets, but due to protocol, he came into the house only when my husband was home. By all rights, I was on my own most of the time. With two young children. In a place I hated. Doing a seasonal job to help pay bills that caused anxiety attacks, along with family issues back home I couldn’t be there for.

Let’s just say that when you’re prone to depressive episodes, this is a situation you strongly want to avoid.

Back in high school, I started creating a story in my head based on a “okay, but what’s behind the scenes that we don’t hear” continually burning question in my mind. The characters became very real to me. I’d been writing or creating since I was able, so it was second nature already. I only wrote one scene of it, but a whole long, involved story had formed.

Then I gave all that stuff up for college, marriage, babies, and moving.

At some point, you have to return to who you truly are inside.

So, on a very low point on a day I finally got my rambunctious, stubborn 4-year-old to take a rare nap that I needed far more than he did, I knew something had to change. That one scene I’d written was long gone – disappeared somewhere along with a bunch of other starts and letters and such in my file box.

It came back to me that day. I could see the dock in that scene I’d written years ago. I could see the couple. I knew them inside-out already. I knew their story mattered, at least to me. So I wrote the scene again.

That simple act of writing on a piece of lined notebook paper with a well-sharpened pencil snapped me back to who I was.

I didn’t stop. I filled page after page with any spare moment I had. My fingers cramped. Then my wrist got sore. The pain started to creep from my wrist up my arm into my shoulder and I finally had to stop using it for some time while my wrist was in a brace to let it rest. So I learned to write again with my left hand, as I had to do once when the same thing happened during a 20 page term paper in high school, and I kept going.

A funny thing happened. That “I can’t take this anymore” depression lifted with each page. It was a badly written story since I had no actual novel writing instruction, but at the time, that didn’t matter. It was for me. It kept me sane through very long days and nights of wondering how I’d get through the next one, through not wanting to be out among the place where I was stuck for over five years. The place that took my social phobia and exasperated it to my wits’ ends.

The act of writing that story (and it could have been any story) returned my wits.

Writing is a powerful thing. It’s soul-searching. It’s problem-solving. It’s awareness-raising. Most of all, it’s healing.

I encourage everyone to write something regularly. If you want to burn it afterward, do that. If you want to share it or lock it in a fire safe, do that. If you want to put it in an elegant journal or plain lined or unlined notebook, do that. But write. Anything. Just start with a simple thought and let it go from there.

Today I thought I would … but…
I wonder why it is that …
… made me so angry today because …
I feel so guilty that …
What I love about this season is …

Just write it. And keep going.

You’ll be fully amazed at what you discover.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Indie Review: Bluegrass State of Mind by Kathleeen Brooks

BluegrassStateofMind-KathleenBrooksI picked up Bluegrass State of Mind by Kathleen Brooks as a free read from Smashwords. The first of a new series, it looked like a fun escape into Kentucky and its cowboys. It was a fun escape and a fairly quick read. Part of that was from skimming through all of the designer fashion descriptions of which I’ve never had any interest. I wouldn’t know Prada from Versace and it’s one thing I’m not interested in learning.

There are several things that stand out to mark this as “needs better editing,” which I try not to say. However:

1) Keeneston, Kentucky had a tricky way of switching now and then to Keenesland, Kentucky. I had to wonder for a while if they were adjoining towns since the author jumped back and forth between the two, and then there were instances I thought they were IN Keeneston and she mentioned going “back to” Keeneston (or Keenesland, take your pick). I’m still confused on that point.

2) I’m sorry, but McKenna in no way came off as a NYC attorney who had worked with the big boys club and got as high as she did. She comes off as a little princess the whole town of Keeneston/Keenesland swarms over and adores instantly, for no reason I could ascertain. A woman who has had so much loss so early (with no explanation as to how she was raised afterward) and works her way up to a big NYC corporate law firm would be far tougher and far more intelligent than Kenna comes off.

3) One week of early teen acquaintance didn’t do it for me to believe her instant “in love” with Will and vice versa. They hardly spoke to each other before they were both hooked. I can’t buy it.

Yes, I’m a tough critic, but even in a quick, fun read, believability is a must. As far as typos, I’m pretty lenient with indie works because I know it’s hard to catch them all and even big pubs don’t. But this one needed a bit more time from the author before it was released, even as a free read. Some smoothing over of sentences would be nice, as well, to get rid of the choppiness. And the dialogue… Well, not much about it was very believable.

Overall, yes, it was a fun story, although cliché here and there, and a few hours of escape where men are still gentleman. I can imagine that’s highly appealing to many female readers, as is Will, the hero, who does of course turn out to be a hero of sorts.

If you’d like to check it out yourself, click on the book cover to go to the book download.