23 November 2015

Losing Sight of the Shore: Kayaking Lake Michigan

A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
~ William G.T. Shedd

he kayak leaned drunkenly to the right. I braced my legs against the sides as a small swell raced towards the hull.  My paddling grew fast and sloppy, as if I could hear the sound of banjos and I angled the kayak to avoid getting side-swiped.  The small swell rose up and lifted me about two feet above the shoreline before dropping me like a roller coaster. 

My mouth became a desert and my muscles ached with near panic.  Those two exhilarating hours spent with Johnny Wolfe on the glassy Rappahannock a couple of weeks ago seemed a lifetime ago; as the next wave battered my boat, I wished that I’d asked him to teach me how to roll back upright. But I’d sworn to everyone that it was a skill I wouldn’t need -- river paddling didn’t seem to call for it, I’d never seek out white water and I assumed this trip would be along the same lines. 

Now I was being bested by a lake.  A lake!

Granted, a lake that is 118 miles across and 307 miles long and with riptides strong enough to pull ships down 923 feet to its murky bottom.  6,000 ships to be exact – many of them the tall, masted ships of the 18th century and 19th century. Superior’s got nothing on this freshwater sister. 

Lake Michigan never gives up her dead either.

I wasn’t stupid – I had watched the ocean-like waves pound the beach all week, stood knee deep in the shallows every other day for the sheer thrill of feeling the frigidity, and listened to my Wisconsin hostess and friend tell tales of tourists whose kayaks had been swept out far from shore, their bodies resting undiscovered hundreds of feet below the surface.  I had the utmost respect and awe for Lady Lake Michigan and treated her like the siren of the deep she is.

But even crashing waves and angry, rainy skies couldn’t dampen the hunger to get out on the water.

My friend Diane was with me at the writers’ retreat by the lake and had river kayaked as well.  Although not quite as keen as I was, she was game to go out on the water once the waves died down to a whisper.  And at first, it looked like it would be a good trip for both of us. 

Diane’s kayak was a sit-on-top that lay flat on the water and had self-bailing scupper holes in the top to aid in stability.  Mine was a long, sleek sit-inside ocean craft, designed to cut through waves and go a long distance on the open water.  Usually, one would wear an attachable skirt in this type of kayak. I did not.  So it was my own miscalculation that kept filling it up with lake water every time a wave hit it.  As it continued to rock from side to side and the swells got higher and stronger, my shocked brain could only repeat two mantras:

I don’t know how to roll back up and I cannot lose sight of the shore.

Being denied air as I panic and hyperventilate is one of my greatest fears.  Now I could add drowning in the middle of a gigantic body of water surrounded by a blank horizon to that list.  But panicking would only increase my chances of rolling. So I forced myself to breathe deep.  In. Out.  In. Out.  And I began talking myself off the ledge.

Hey, a year ago, you swore you would never ride in a plane smaller than a 737, and you rode in two bush planes and a float plane.  And you never pictured yourself walking in hip waders through shallow rivers to stand six and half feet from a several pound grizzly bear yet you did just that.  And then just a few months ago, you swore you would never kayak and then you swore you would never kayak alone, but you’ve done all of that. You can do this.  You have on your life jacket.  You know the basics. You aren’t going to drown.

The wind.  The waves.  The adrenaline.  It all faded as I concentrated on using the skills Johnny had taught me.  But learning to angle over waves caused by the wake of a speedboat are a far cry from waves caused by fierce north winds sweeping across the lake face and building riptides.

But I was not about to become a jewel in Davy Jones’ locker.

There are so many stories of whales and sharks getting stranded on beaches, unable to get back in the water; trust me, they would have no trouble getting off the beaches of Lake Michigan.  I paddled my way up on to the sand, began to climb out and another strong wave crashed into me, soaking me and sucking me back in to the lake.  Maybe the Lady of the Lake just really liked me and didn’t want me to leave.  Diane finally had to come over and hold the kayak on the beach so I could get out without risking a runaway boat.

It was the shortest kayak trip ever and a part of me regrets not having the courage to lose sight of the shore. 

As we walked both kayaks back to the cottage, I realized my error.  By staying so close to the beach, I trapped myself on the wrong side of a sand bar – a sand bar which made the waves higher and stronger.  If I had forced myself out past them, I would likely have discovered a calmer ride and we could have stayed out longer.  But I don’t regret knowing my limits and following my gut.

And I walked away from the world’s most oceanic lake with a new goal: to stretch myself once again.  Once warmer weather returns, you will find me back out on the river learning to roll. 

River water never looked so good.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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18 November 2015

Writing Under the Influence

Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk.
But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian,
or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.
~ Peter De Vries, Reuben, Reuben



eter De Vries (not Papa Hemingway as many mistakenly believe) was wrong.  Maybe he could write drunk, but I can say from recent personal experience that being zoned out on heavy pain meds does not a brilliant author make. 

Which is why you haven’t heard a peep from me since May ~ when the first of seven kidney stone attacks ruined all my grand summer plans.
Although, to be fair, it wasn’t entirely the kidney stone’s fault. 
At the same time I was writhing around in pain, I decided to quit my anti-depressant meds cold turkey because my new batch was coated in red dye.  While there are studies suggesting that synthetic dyes pose serious side effects, quitting any medication, but especially antidepressants ~ without telling either my naturopathic doctor or my therapist ~ tops the list of Things No Thinking Person Should Ever Do.
But that’s just the point: I wasn’t thinking clearly.  I was in almost constant pain (when I wasn’t sleepy or zoned out from the pain medication) and when I’m in pain, I forget my own name, let alone remember smart and healthy protocols when it comes to medications.
Why else would anyone quit taking medicine that helps you cope and live normally?

Don’t Know Whatcha Ya Got

In my defense, I had lived without anti-depressant medication for the majority of my life.  So I didn’t realize how much my meds helped my brain function as if it were healthy and well-balanced.  Until five days after I stopped and it left my system completely. 
I felt like I was on the set of a Sigourney Weaver film, with this dark mass of nastiness crawling out of my chest.  All the progress I had made in the year since I took my first dose was washed overboard in a storm of anxiety, extreme fatigue, insomnia, loss of focus, loss of balance, mood swings, and of course, a threefold return of my depression.
But when my depression returned, it brought along a new friend: social anxiety bordering on phobia. 

Plans eagerly made were then hastily cancelled, often at the last possible minute, in a haze of fear.  Then I would stew in a muck of guilt and shame and hopelessness.  What in the world was wrong with me?!  I had been coached to stop, review my surroundings, review my feelings, and basically talk myself down from the ledge.  But I was too bewildered by the onslaught caused by my brain’s return to a chemical imbalance; I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so wretched.  Conveniently, I blamed it on all the kidney pain and the subsequent pain medications.   

But it wasn’t until I finally reached out to my therapist that we discovered the source of the maelstrom.

Nothing! No incidents of eviscerating criticism and verbal abuse.  No disappointments.  Apart from the kidney stones and their debilitating effect on my social life, everything’s fine!

Oh. Wait.  I did stop taking my antidepressants suddenly. 

His text telling me to call my primary doctor immediately didn’t need a face-palm emoji to get his disbelief across. 

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia

I fell victim to one of the classic blunders ~ never stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first!  And never stop taking it all at once ~ your body needs to be weaned off of it to avoid the more debilitating effects of withdrawal.   

My issue may have been the dye on the pills.  But I have friends who stop taking their antidepressants (or antipsychotics) because they feel better.  And that’s the other classic blunder: believing that the medication is a cure.  That once you start taking them, they will “fix” whatever is missing or off in your neurological chemistry.   

Taking medication for depression or an Axis II personality disorder is like putting oil in a car.  You don’t pour in one quart and expect the engine to run smoothly for the next 100,000 miles without needing to add more oil or change it.  Medication needs to be taken all the time (and sometimes changed) in order to keep the car of my body and my mind running smoothly.  This, in addition to the gasoline that is therapy, helps me reach my destination ~ a whole and healthy life. 

Since the particular medication I take no longer comes in an uncoated form, I decided that the pros of being depression-free outweighed the cons of red dye side effects.  Even so, it was tough waiting for the meds to take effect ~ a pit of despair I’m not anxious to visit anytime soon.

Happily Ever After…for Now

It took me at least until the end of July to feel fully human again ~ no more aliens living in my chest.  But the damage to both my system and my Muse had already been done.  My meds had to be adjusted to a higher dose and switched to the brand name instead of the generic (surprise!  They aren’t always the same) and my writing Muse had gone into hiding and refused to come out. 

The thought of coming clean about my mistake was too terrifying, and my psyche had too much time crouched there in the dark.  The old records were playing again: you aren’t a writer and no one wants to read what you write. No one cares what you have to say.  But go ahead and write your pathetic scribblings.  No one is listening.

It took me a total of five and half months, plus a healthy dose of a new outdoor obsession and one powerful and healing writers’ retreat to silence those voices.  And only by continuing to take the medication, and stay in touch with my fellow writers who believe so strongly in me and my writing will I be able to silence them forever.

Only then, can I stay drunk on writing.

Oremus pro invicem,

~ Mikaela


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07 July 2015

Pride and Forgiveness in Elizabeth Hunter's The Scarlet Deep: A Review

I betrayed the woman I loved because of pride…I broke her trust. 
I might have lost her forever, if she wasn’t so forgiving. 
Pride is…seductive.  Addictive. 
And a harder habit to break than any drug.
~ Elizabeth Hunter,  The Scarlet Deep

July is National Anti-Boredom Month.  It should be Writers Block month. 

hen she dreamed, she dreamed of death and madness.  Of the deep and of forgotten things.  The moon shone full through the water, and the drifting weeds surrounded her as she stared into the night sky….She sank past the touch of moonlight, where the chill of the water crept into her bones and settled her soul.” (Prologue, The Scarlet Deep)

The narrator’s voice fades, along with the spotlight and the curtain rises on Patrick Murphy, a familiar figure for Elemental World readers.

That is how a novel should begin.  I was immediately lifted out of reality and ordinary life and dropped into another world, my curiosity aroused:  Who is this woman?  Why is she dreaming of death and madness?  And how is she connected to the most powerful vampire in Ireland?

From the Pen of a Master Storyteller
Publishers and readers alike tend to dismiss the Romance genre as pulp fiction/fluff writing.  And I have come across my fair share of authors (Romance or otherwise) who give the genre a bad name.

But a romance has the potential to not only take you away from the real world, it also has the power to inform and transform you. If it’s well written and the pen has been wielded by a master.

And when you find a master storyteller, you don’t let go. 

You buy every book she has written.  You pre-order the ones she’s still working.  Because you know she won’t let you down.  Her imagination is rich and deep; an eternal well of plots, themes, and witty repartee.

Image © Elizabeth Hunter
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Hunter. I own (and have read several times) every book she’s written.  They are well written and remain as fresh as the first time I read them.

Ms. Hunter’s latest creation, The Scarlet Deep went live today and for fans of the Elemental Mysteries Series, it fills the emptiness left behind when we finished The Secret in March.  And once again, she does not disappoint in giving us more than “just” a romance.

Pride, Grace, and Redemption
The Scarlet Deep takes us back into the Elemental World and while it can be read as a stand-alone, IMHO, it is even better when read after the Elemental Mysteries series and the other books in the Elemental World series.  Characters who had starring roles in the other books return as supporting actors.

At the center of it all is Patrick and Aìne, who love each other but have let past mistakes – mistakes that were a betrayal of trust – and pride come between them.  But with the deadly Elixir still in production and killing both mortal and immortal alike, they will have to get over their past and join forces (and fangs) in order to find – and stop – the person responsible.

This book touched me deeply, because I too have had my trust betrayed.  Like Aìne, I have longed to bury myself in isolation to escape the pain and to deny the part that I played in allowing those betrayals to dictate my path. 

And as Aìne stubbornly refuses Patrick’s blood - essentially starving herself - my own fears and pride prevent me from seeking the help and connection I need.
Life is one long series of making mistakes and seeking grace.
Carwyn, The Scarlet Deep

We all make mistakes – sometimes really big ones!  So we are in need of forgiveness and grace.  Does that mean that everyone deserves to have access to our heart and soul?  Of course not.  Some people have truly toxic behaviours and for our own health, we need to limit our interactions with them or forego them altogether.

Forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. It’s about letting go of the past, trying again in the present, and taking back control of the future.

And you don’t have to be a vampire to take that lesson to heart.
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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I received this book as an ARC from the author.  I have not been paid for this review.

Posts on La Belle are written with the following fonts: Georgia, Times New Roman, Vivaldi, Edwardian, and occasionally Baroque Script.

01 May 2015

Not All Wounds Are Visible: Blogging for National Mental Health Month

It's up to you today to start making healthy choices.
Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.

~ Steve Maraboli

May is National Mental Health Awareness month

or a society that can communicate in a nanosecond with everyone in the world about what they ate, who they’re dating, and what they feel about their favorite sports team, when it comes to discussing mental health, we clam up faster than a viral Tweet.

And there are as many reasons for that lack of communication as there are personality types and psychological disorders.

Which is why this year, I once again

“…pledge my commitment to the 

Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. 
I will blog about mental health topics 
not only for myself, but for others. 
By displaying this badge,
I show 
my pride, dedication,
and acceptance for mental health. 
I use this to promote mental health education 
in the struggle to erase stigma.”

Just like last year, all my blog posts in May will be about mental health in some way.  No, I’m not a professional counselor, but four years ago, I stopped trying to battle my cyclothymic depression on my own and asked for help.  And then last year, I decided that the stigma surrounding mental health and illness needed to be eradicated.  So I “came out” about my depression.

It was the most freeing decision I ever made.

Since then, in an effort to further my own healing and learn better coping skills to deal with family members suffering from psychologically disorders, I’ve continued to educate myself about mental health, generational dysfunctions, and the different modes of therapy. Maybe my battles ~ both those I've won, and those I've lost ~ can be helpful to you.

Even if it’s only to realize that you aren’t alone in this battle.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Not all Wounds are Visible.

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Posts on La Belle are written with the following fonts: Georgia, Times New Roman, Vivaldi, Edwardian, and occasionally Baroque Script.

In 2015, I’m participating in Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge: writing at least 500 words a day for a year! (YTD Word Count: 44,891)

In addition, for the next 50 days, I’m participating in the Abbey of the Arts’ Pilgrimage of Resurrection: A Creative Journey through the Easter Season.  Join us!

27 April 2015

Unlocking the Prison Cell: MHA-F Walk for Mental Wellness

The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.
~ William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

In 2015, I’m participating in Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge: writing at least 500 words a day for a year! (YTD Word Count: 50,750)

In addition, for the next 50 days, I’m participating in the Abbey of the Arts’ Pilgrimage of Resurrection: A Creative Journey through the Easter Season.

live in a prison cell. 

The foundation and the walls were built by others, but sadly, I contributed to its design.

Jailers pace outside, hurling insults and criticisms and verbal abuse through the bars, but ultimately, the worst jailer is behind bars with me.  She holds tight to the key that would free us and alternately cringes in a corner or returns verbal fire with even nastier fire. 

But it only eases the pain of confinement and isolation a little.  In the end, me, myself, and I are still trapped. 

I do have one consolation ~ friends who come to visit me here in this dark, sad place. They offer encouragement to me and my cell mate~ encouraging us both to take out that key, put it in the lock, and break free.  We refuse to leave the familiar comfort of our pain; but they don’t leave in disgust ~ they sit with us and love us anyway.

Mental, emotional, and psychological illnesses are debilitating and more often than not, they can feel like a prison.  My coping mechanisms ~ which had provided safety and security from a hurtful childhood and un-diagnosed cyclothymic depression ~ at some point, trapped me in a cycle of habits and though patterns.  Instead of safety and security, I found I couldn’t move on in freedom and compassion.

About four years ago, I found my current psychologist and he was able to pry that rusted old key from my frightened hands and slowly, we’ve been oiling that old cell lock, working on setting me free.  I’m not out yet, but there’s a window open now, and there have been some psychological earth quakes that have weakened the foundation of this prison.

And I’m not the only one here.

In this prison, there are many cells and at least once a day, I hear the hopeless weeping of other prisoners ~ some who have been here longer than I’ve been alive.  Many of them can’t hear the others; they are locked deep in isolation.  

But I hear them. 

And it breaks my heart that they have no friends to sit with and comfort them, and no trusted therapist to help loosen the chains.

Which is why on May 2, I’m walking for them.

It is deplorable that in our “enlightened” society, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness.  No one but an idiot breaks their femur bone and insists on setting it themselves or calls all orthopedists quacks.  

Mental illness is real; it causes physical pain and has far-reaching effects and consequences.  And currently, one in four adults in the United States suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Mental Health of America is a non-profit that is passionate about making mental health a critical part of our overall health and wellness.  On May 2, they are sponsoring a 1-3 mile walk to raise awareness of mental health issues specifically affecting teens and seniors citizens.  And yours truly, along with a few friends, will be one of the people walking to help #EndTheStigma.   

I hope you walk with us or donate money to Team Grizzly (seriously, would my team be named anything else?! *wink*) and help raise awareness of the prison of mental illness and stigma.

The cell you unlock might just be your own.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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06 April 2015

The Road: ADHD/ADD and Our Good Intentions

It is a bottomless pit of feeling you're failing, but three days later, you feel you can do anything, only to end the week where you began.
It is not learning from your mistakes….
It is a hyper focus, so intense about what bothers you, that you can’t pay attention to anything else, for very long.
It is a never-ending routine of forgetting things….
It is beauty when it has purpose.
It is agony when it doesn’t.
It is called Attention Deficit Disorder.
~ Shannon L. Alder

In 2015, I’m participating in Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge: writing at least 500 words a day for a year! (YTD Word Count: 44,891)

In addition, for the next 50 days, I’m participating in the Abbey of the Arts’ Pilgrimage of Resurrection: A Creative Journey through the Easter Season.

ntentions.   We all know what road they pave, don’t we?
Pithy, but it doesn’t apply to all people at all times and in all circumstances.

Take someone who suffers from ADHD.   For many, something vital is missing from the prefrontal cortex.  Executive functions, or management system of the brain, should have developed over time; functions that would enable them to make decisions, focus on tasks, and exert self-control.

They truly have the best intentions, good intentions, but with a neurobiological disorder like ADHD/ADD, these ideas and intentions and dreams often fall by the wayside.  Their brains aren’t like other brains, and until they receive treatment (therapy + medication + nutrition), they will continue to forget vital information, overbook their calendars, and leave tasks chronically unfinished.
They lack the abilities to handle frustration, start and complete tasks, recall and follow multi-step directions, stay on track, plan, organize, and self-monitorADD/ADHD therapists and other professionals who can evaluate and diagnose ADD/ADHD typically point out executive-function problems, but many families dismiss them as less critical than other learning challenges. However, it is clear that effective executive functioning is a key factor in remedying academic difficulties.
Executive functions are the skills that an individual of any age must master to deal with everyday life. Self-monitoring is particularly important for students, because it governs their ability to evaluate their work and behavior in real time.  (Executive-Function Deficits in Children)
When this happens, it causes great distress for the person with ADHD/ADD.  They feel guilty for letting people down.  Depression– whether it is a chemical depression related to the ADHD or situational depression based on societal and familial attitudes and treatment of the person, usually follows.

My cyclothymic depression mimics certain aspects of ADHD/ADD. So I understand all too well how those with ADHD/ADD feel.  My desk at home is layered with projects that were started, but never completed.  I have a notebook full of bits and bobs of poetry and poetry ideas, story lines, dialogue – but no draft manuscript.

However, I did write and complete one today – in honor of #NationalPoetryMonth, for all my friends who suffer from ADHD/ADD and depression, and based on the 50 Days Pilgrimage word for today: Intention. 

I hope you enjoy and it reminds you to take a step back, support your loved ones who are suffering, and join me in fighting to #EndTheStigma.  (Learn more about ADHD/ADD here.)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

You are not alone.

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01 April 2015

A Lump in My Throat: National Poetry Month

A poem begins with a lump in the throat.
 ~ Robert Frost

In 2015, I’m participating in Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words Challenge: writing at least 500 words a day for a year!  So dearest blog, although I’ve neglected you of late, I have never ceased writing!  YTD Word Count: 46,144

oday marks the beginning of National Poetry Month ~ no foolin’! 

Last year, April found me participating in the A-Z Blog Challenge.  Since I’m already writing (mostly) every day, this year I’m celebrating #NationalPoetryMonth by reading or writing a poem a day.

Mother Goose was the first introduction to poetry for most of us.  But I didn’t really fall in love with the genre until junior high ~ when I had to memorize and recite several poems.  My favorite at that time was Kipling.

That love deepened in high school when I took a course on British Literature.  Because let’s be honest, not many do poetry better than the Brits.  Heck, not many do literature better than the Brits.

So, although I began this post with a quote from an American poet, I’ll end with a Brit:

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you have a favorite British poet?

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Posts on La Belle are written with the following fonts: Georgia, Times New Roman, Vivaldi, Edwardian, and occasionally Baroque Script.