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An Empath’s Guide to Getting through Life When Hiding in the Closet’s Not an Option – a #HoldOnToTheLight post

October 14, 2017 Leave a comment


Shit is hard today, yo.

For everyone.

One of the most amazing things about empathy is that it allows us to feel the emotions and pain of others as if they are our own. It’s a gift that brings art to life and that allows writers to breathe life into each character and make our readers love and hate them as we see fit. We understand emotion because we feel it so deeply.

The torture of empathy is that it allows us to feel the emotions and pain of others as if they are our own.

As much as the world needs more empathy with each passing day, it’s hell out there for creative empaths.

No matter when you turn on your TV or pull up your social media accounts, there’s some new tragedy to process. Record-breaking hurricanes. Devastating wildfires. Mass shootings in the most unlikely places. And that’s before you dip a toe in the toxic soup that is the political climate, particularly in the United States.

Even if you make it through the national and international news without breaking into tears or lapsing into a nihilistic torpor, the year seems to have gone tits-up for everyone. Several months ago, I learned that <a href=>a writing friend has been all but incapacitated by ALS</a>. Last week, I held <a href=>a four-month old baby that needs a liver transplant </a> – which he can’t have until he goes through and heals from open heart surgery. Today, I read about an <a href=>11-year-old with autism that’s spent almost 10 days in the ER in horrific conditions to wait for a bed in the pediatric psychiatric ward</a>.

Yet, even when everything seems to be circling the drain, we are expected to function as if we weren’t completely overwhelmed. And as alluring as hiding in the closet might be, we are what the world needs most – the lights in the dark. The ones who can make the “other” relatable, to highlight what’s broken and connect our readers to it.

So how the hell do we survive to do that?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some tips to #HoldOnToTheLight in the middle of the chaos around us. Try one. Try them all. Use what works for you and alter or discard the rest. No one can give you the exact recipe to give you what you need, so tweak what’s there and make it work for you.

1 – Put on your own mask first

And by “mask,” I mean practice self-care. There’s nothing selfish about self-care, even if that means sitting through all eight Harry Potter movies and indulging in some guilty pleasure snacks.

In order to help others, you must be capable of providing health, and that means you need to address your immediate physical and emotional state. There’s a reason why those airline safety demonstrations emphasize that you should put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. There’s a reason the videos they show usually have an adult sitting next to a child. No matter who is relying on you and how vulnerable they are, you must care for yourself and your basic needs first. <a href=””>HALT</a> and evaluate your current situation – are you Hungry (and Hydrated)? Are you Angry? Lonely? Tired? Your physical and emotional needs are closely linked, so if you’re not taking care of yourself physically, your body won’t keep up for long.

If you’re Hungry – eat something, and not just easy-to-hand snacks or junk food. Get a real meal. Real food. Something hot and balanced (yes, with vegetables). Are you Hydrated? Your brain and your body rely on water and need it to function and thrive. While I know coffee is the nectar of the gods and even alcohol has a place in life, you need water. If you’re not a fan of the taste, throw some fruit in there.

Are you Angry? Lonely? Find someone you trust and talk it through, or just spend time with. Neither anger or loneliness are conducive to feeling well or optimum decision-making. Connecting with people can make all the difference in the world and help you redirect your focus to positive actions, emotions and experiences.

Everyone’s busy and cheating on their sleep schedule, but if you’re Tired, thinking, processing and functioning get progressively harder. Listen to your body. If you’re tired, get some rest. Even a short nap can improve cognitive functioning, memory and improve your sense of well-being. Think of it like a reset for your brain.

Got HALT covered? Do something you enjoy, something that feeds your soul. What’s the one escape you crave doing when things get stressful? Curling up in bed with a good book or your favorite movie? Sneaking out and treating yourself to a killer milkshake? Or laying on the lawn and staring up at the stars? Whatever it is, make time for those moments that feed your soul. You are just as important as the people you want to help. The best way you can help them is to make sure you’re healthy enough to do so, emotionally and physically.

2 – Give yourself permission to focus on something else for a while

When things get stressful, your adrenal system amps up giving you the physiological response we know as “fight or flight.” This stress response doesn’t recognize the difference between, say, fighting a wild badger, watching videos of the devastation in California, Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida or watching loved ones suffer from forces outside your control. Your adrenal system cannot withstand the constant stress of soaking up all the negative energy in the world. You cannot thrive if your every waking thought is consumed with the tragedies near and far. Give yourself permission to take time to focus on something else, no matter how trivial that is. Narrow your focus and ask yourself what would make the most difference to you right now? Maybe it’s doing the dishes and clearing the sink. Look at your to-do list. What can you complete that would give you the most peace of mind, or the most satisfaction? Keep an eye out for the small things that give you the biggest sense of accomplishment. Maybe take that donation to the charity like you’ve been meaning to do. Bonus, not only do you get back that space in your house, you help someone else at the same time.

3 – Do something concrete

Very little is worse than standing by and feeling helpless when friends, loved ones or even strangers suffer. The blessing and curse of empathy means not only do you feel your helplessness, you feel their pain and want to reach out and alleviate it. So, instead of standing by, look for ways to incorporate ways of helping into your normal routine.

Do you meal plan or meal prep? What about making an extra meal or two and share them with a family that’s going through some hard times. No time for that? What about picking up a gift certificate when you go grocery shopping?

Cleaning out your closets can mean a bounty of extra stuff that can benefit others in need. Clothes can be donated to charities, and even old towels are often accepted at animal shelters.

Homeless people asking for help can pull at the heartstrings, though giving money is sometimes questionable help at best. Put together “care packs” that include travel size toiletries, snack bars, dried fruits, nuts, bottled water and other care items that can be offered to people in need. You will offer care and support in a tangible way, guilt-free way.

If you’ve got the time, volunteer with local charities, or offer to support with your creative skills. You never know what they need until you ask.

A little extra cash can be transformed into donations to individuals (GoFundMe sites, for example). You can even drop a little at a time on gift cards to grocery stores, department stores, gas stations, or local restaurants when you go shopping (even $10 can be helpful). A purchase you might not miss every couple of weeks can make a huge difference over time. Keep them on hand for those times when you need to reach out and give a little extra to someone in need.

Offer support to a neighbor, friend or family member in need. Don’t wait to be asked – offer service and support you can provide. Love working in the yard or tackling those miscellaneous household fix-it jobs? Offer your skills for an afternoon. Got some muscle and transportation? Ask what they need moved out of the house or donated. Limited availability, but gregarious and nimble on social media? Offer to help wrangle support from friends and family through social media. Look at creating Facebook groups to get disparate people together, pages on to manage just about anything, or on to schedule meal delivery. You can even fundraise in a million different ways from yard sales, bake sales, raffles, partnering with local restaurants.

When large-scale (physical or political) tragedy strikes, even if you’re not close, you can still help by supporting charities, donating blood, contacting your Congressional representatives to communicate your position on how your tax dollars should be used (call or text via ResistBot) and raising awareness by rallying support on social media. With the latter, just be sure that you’re doing more than just sounding off. Have a point and a call to action for anyone who might be reading your posts.

4 – Acknowledge that you alone cannot fix the problem

With so much going on, and going wrong, the desire to do something is strong, and might push you to do more than you can responsibly handle. (That’s that blessing/curse of empathy biting you in the butt, in case you were wondering.) Remember that you can do amazing things, but you are only one person. No matter the problem, you alone cannot fix it, no matter how hard you push (see Tip 1).

Set boundaries and limits for yourself. If you’re making financial donations or donations-in-kind, honestly evaluate your budget and make sure you’re not giving more than you can afford. If money’s tight, look for those no- or low-cost options. Sometimes, just being there to sit with someone who’s sick or unable to care for themselves while their caregiver goes out for exercise or a break can be a huge help. If your schedule is already tight, evaluate your schedule and be honest about how much of your time is available. If you’ve got an hour, offer an hour. You don’t have to give up an entire weekend or even a whole day to make a difference. Be honest, communicate and support at levels you’re comfortable with to get as much out of the experience as you provide.

5 – Spread your energy around, not thin

There are so many deserving causes and people, it can be hard to forget Tip 4 and end up over-committing yourself or your resources. Setting boundaries can be as simple as picking a number of causes and championing them for a set period of time, then switching to another deserving set. For example, pick three causes and spend your energy on them for 90 days. After that period, re-evaluate your causes and change them as you see fit. Or re-evaluate as things come up. Be realistic with what you can reasonably do, and keep your focus as narrow as it needs to be so you can thrive while still supporting the causes closest to your heart.


6 – Make good art

Art teaches empathy and understanding in a way that little else can and restores us even as we create it. Art is as unique and enriching as its creator. We are the only ones that can create the art within us. Create. Indulge in your passion. Share it. Our great, wise uncle Neil Gaiman reminds us that no matter what happens, we must create good art. To be reminded,>give a listen</a>.


Now, empath, #HoldOnToTheLight and go create good art. Use your empathy effectively to give where and how you can without depleting yourself or your resources. Share your gift with the world, and help make it a better place.


About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook


Music and Writing

November 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Music is something I need like air. It feeds my soul. I was never without a book and some kind of portable music player (Walkman, Discman, and once I could afford it, the original iPod shuffle). I developed some mad mix-tape skills. Even through college, I struggled to fall asleep without something playing in the background, something that drove my roommate nuts. Well, nuttier. I used music to create a soundtrack to my life, to orchestrate my moods and to manipulate emotions. I learned to do it so well, I had my own little “therapy” sessions with one friend conducted through the intense power of music. With history like that, it’s not surprising that music is a part of my writing process. Sometimes, it’s the inspiration for an idea, sometimes it’s fuel for creativity while working, but most often, it’s both.

Everyone’s process is different, of course, but what I’ve discovered works for me lately is keeping a playlist of songs for each story I’m working on. Sometimes, I slap it together quickly with the story dictating exactly what it needs, and other times it’s as much a work in progress as the story it’s attached to.

But why is this a valuable use of my time?

  • Inspiration: Songs come to me for a reason. Either it’s the tone or mood of the song, the lyrics, or something about the story the song tells. When I’m not sure where the story needs to go, these songs tap into the lizard brain and help me pull forth that core of the story that might be hard to express in rational thought. Music helps the words flow.
  • Continuity: I write slow and I write in bursts because life. Keeping a playlist is a way of preserving a headspace for the story. I listen to it even while doing other tasks (working, shopping, driving, laundry) because it keeps the creative world churning and fresh. It helps me prime my creativity so that when ass meets chair, words happen efficiently.
  • Focus: I suck at focus almost as much as I suck at discipline. The meme about having 2,857 browser tabs open in my brain is a pretty accurate description. Add to it, though that they alternately demand attention by playing some kind of audio that makes me click over to them. It adds up to getting next to nothing done in one sitting. For me, music distracts the noisy parts of my brain. Song lyrics give the chatty, interrupt-y part of my brain something to gnaw on while the rest of me can work on writing and creating worlds with words.
  • Portability: I don’t always write at home, and I don’t always write on my computer or laptop. Having a palylist of songs, especially a private playlist saved on the internet somewhere means that even if I don’t have the physical elements that tell my brain it’s time to write, I can use the auditory clues of a playlist to make the shift. (Behavioral psychology FTW, yo.)
  • Enjoyment: My musical memory associations are as strong as scent associations. Maybe stronger. I have music that reminds me of people, of events. I have bought albums not because the music is particularly good, but because it connects me to someone or some time. The summer I painted my bedroom walls a beautiful shade of red, “Inside Out” by Eve6 was my jam and I danced almost as much as I painted. The Moody Blues make me think about my dad. There are about 4 albums that define my college experience, and one that introduced me to a part of myself I never knew existed. After writing the story, those songs are the soundtrack to that story, and it makes me smile. And I want to share that with you.

Recently, in response to the heinous HB2 legislation in North Carolina, Falstaff Books published We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality, a charity anthology benefiting Time Out Youth, Equality NC and the Queen City Theater Company. My story “Trapped” is included, and I want to share the playlist for that story with you. I have engineered the list a bit to make it flow. I cut a few songs (because they didn’t have a logical place in the playlist and because I recognize that most people can only handle so much Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls.)

So, talk a walk through the weirdness of my brain. Download We Are Not This and read “Trapped.” Use this as a soundtrack as you listen, or just a companion piece to enjoy:

“Trapped” playlist – YouTube

And, if you’re interested in seeing a sliver of what I cut, here are a few bonus tracks I just couldn’t let go:

“Trapped” Bonus Tracks playlist – YouTube

Let me know what you think!

Be sure to leave a review of We Are Not This on Amazon or Goodreads, or on your own blog. Reviews help authors!

Being the Light – A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

November 1, 2016 Leave a comment


Depression has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t know if I’d recognize life without its shadow. It’s affected so many people I’ve been close to, and sometimes shaped the relationship I’ve had with them. Including myself. While I’ve never been diagnosed, I recognize myself in articles about functional depression. But this post isn’t about that. There are other people braver than I writing about their personal experiences and I’m going to let them carry that part of the conversation for now. Instead, I want to talk about it from another perspective.

I’ve watched the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign grow and expand to encompass many aspects of depression, bullying prevention, mental health-related issues and more. From the beginning, I knew I had plenty to say, but I avoided writing about my experiences. Familiarity, you see, doesn’t make this an easier topic. It’s hard to talk about from every angle, though we can all agree it’s imperative we talk about it.

Holding on to the light is a theme of this campaign, but “the light” can be different for each person. Sometimes, it’s the magic in another day, or hope for the future, or simply the intellectual understanding that no matter how grim things seem, life will rebound and it will get better. For some people, “the light” might be another person. Sometimes, there’s that one person that stands by their side and helps them through the dark parts. Ideally, there’s more than one, but for some people, reaching out is hard, and that one light is hard won.

These are the people I want to talk to today.

You. Yes, you. The one that knows they’re the rock for a person who’s struggling. The one who’s lost sleep to shepherd a loved one through to the next day. The one who’s raced home mid-shift at work, who’s made random check-ins throughout the day, the one who’s stashed all the sharps and meds in the house in the trunk of your car to keep someone else safe. You’re the one who might be making the household run on one paycheck, preventing it all from falling apart in a spectacular mess.

You’re amazing. Being the light is a big deal, even if all you can do is sit in silence at their side to show support. You’re the beacon they can aim for when all else is dark.

You’re a guardian angel. Your consciousness expands to almost parental awareness and sensitivity. Few are so truly loyal as to persevere through the nasty stew depression brews for your loved one, whether that includes suicidal thoughts or actions, negative self-talk, tears, rages or just silence. And that’s all before you start on the med-go-round and side effects roller coaster until the doctor lands on the right cocktail.You’re the protector, the safe haven.

You’re their defender. Whether it’s late night talks, taking care of household chores or stepping up to take action on their behalf, you fight for them and keep them safe, even when you’re protecting them from themselves.  You’re the keeper of and chaperone for doctor’s appointments, dispensers of meds, and observer of progress, and that is an act of valor and courage.

You’re a rock. You’re steadfast in the midst of that person’s whirlwind just to keep them anchored to this world when their tether might be fraying. You’re the lifeline in deep water and that is powerful.

But you’re not made of stone and no matter how strong you are, you cannot go through this alone.

When you are a support system for someone who’s struggling with mental illness, you need a support system of your own and you need to practice self-care. Strength does not mean shouldering the stress, the anxiety and the worry in silence. Bravery is not fighting alone or secretly soldiering on in the face of the adversity these illnesses bring. Courage does not mean making excuses to hide their condition or avoiding asking for help from friends, medical professionals or other support systems to protect their secret struggle.

In order to burn bright and be the light, you need support.

Remember that even superheroes ask for help. Reach out to friends and loved ones you trust to bolster your strength and help manage responsibilities. Grab coffee with a good friend or family member who will listen to your story and offer the kind of support you need (whether that’s just a shoulder, an ear, or some advice). Share as much as you feel comfortable with, or ask for help without sharing details. If you’ve always taken on the family Christmas party, ask someone else to take a turn. If you need some help around the house, ask a close friend to come over and give you a hand. Reach out, share and connect with people who bolster and renew you. You cannot give of yourself if you don’t take time to replenish your well.

Remember that depression lies. Loved ones who fear others being involved are speaking out of an illness that thrives and self-perpetuates in isolation. Reach out to medical professionals on behalf of your loved ones when you know they are not themselves. You are a key perspective that can help a doctor make the right diagnosis, monitor treatment progress and effectiveness of medicines. Speak out when something isn’t right, when something isn’t working and advocate for your loved one. Your support can help them return to themselves.

Remember that the stigma of mental illness exists because we don’t talk about it. You can respect a family member’s privacy while still establishing a support network for yourself. If you don’t have a close friend or family member you want to get involved, look for online support groups of people going through the same things with loved ones. The internet can be a fantastic resource when you need discrete support. Monitor your own mental well-being and ask for help. You might need to talk to a therapist to help you develop coping strategies, and learn how to effectively help your loved one. There are innovative new ways of getting that support, including online counseling and text chat support.

You are amazing. Never forget that. You are making the difference in the life of someone who doesn’t have the resources to fight for themselves.

Thank you.

They will thank you, too, when they can. But, on their behalf, let me remind you that you are human. You can’t sacrifice yourself to help them, so please practice self care as you do battle. When they return to themselves, they will want you to be here, too.

Carry on being their light, but make sure you’ve got the fuel to keep burning even after they come home.



About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook

Another One Away!

March 2, 2011 2 comments

Just sent off the most recent(ly edited) story and I’m pretty excited about it. I think it’s that innate masochism that’s getting some kind of sick thrill out of it. I know it’s very likely that I’m going to get a “thanks, but no” response back on each of them, but some part of me is insufferably optimistic and keeps whispering that maybe, just maybe, it’s going to be a yes.

Time will tell, I suppose. It’s hitting the right slush pile for the right editor at the right market at the right time. Let’s roll the dice and see what happens, shall we?

Categories: Uncategorized
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