Sunday, March 15, 2020

Tick Tock

Last month ended up being a little more trying than usual. In a lot of ways, I felt like I had my life on track. I was staying on top of things at home better. Being less of a screw up and setting a better example as a parent. Keeping up with German lessons and guitar practice and my new fitness routine. Taking a break from my novel only to work on a collection of short stories I need to complete before May (assuming the cause of the proverbial fire under my bottom doesn't get cancelled). More on that next month.

Everything I'm working for became threatened Mid-February. I'm positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which makes me high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. I've had mammograms since my twenties. I worry every year, but this year felt different. It felt different in the way receiving the results of my genetic testing felt different. For all my freaking out beforehand, I'd never really expected a positive result. That's what the freaking out was for; as long as I set myself up to look like an idiot, I'd be fine. But as soon as I walked into the building, I knew. 

I had a similar sense of 'oh crap' for lack of a better phrase when I went to the radiology clinic this year. I felt a little better after my mammogram. The images didn't appear notably different than last year, but the radiologist saw something she didn't like so back I was sent for an ultrasound. I had a hard time viewing the screen the way the room was set up, but when I glanced back I just saw her measuring cysts. 

No biggie.

What concerned my radiologist turned out to be one of those cysts, but the ultrasound technician caught something else. Now I was being asked if I wanted to schedule a biopsy or stick around and see if they could squeeze me in. I wanted it done sooner rather than later because a delay only meant extending fear over my health and the procedure. Better to get it over with before I had too much time to think about it.

They almost squeezed me in an hour later, but a late arrival showed up for their scheduled biopsy; it wasn't for several more hours that I had a core needle biopsy. It involved giving me a numbing shot, making an incision, and inserting a larger spring loaded needle to remove tissue samples. It was...unpleasant. After the first painful shot all I felt was pressure, but the sound of the spring was awful, like 'tummy stapled after a c-section' awful. 

I wore an ice pack home, and didn't bother with any ibuprofen. I still went to work the next day even though my husband wanted me to stay home to relax (uh). That night I had a panic attack. I felt a little foolish the following day when I received my results. It was benign. 

But I also realized something.

While some family members underwent surgery following their own positive genetic tests, I wanted to hold off until something happened, and not because my femininity felt threatened. I carry a lot of resentment towards the emphasis placed on the body part over the person (literally the only form of cancer where that's the case), and I think it plays a role in the negativity toward women who take preventative measures. Mostly, the thought of surgery felt like too great a reminder of mortality, the equivalent of having one foot in the grave. 

And yes, I know that's counter intuitive and irrational, but it's how I felt.

What I've realized is I don't want to chance my health and wait until my back is to the wall, but I have some goals I'd like to reach first (to say nothing of financial concerns). 

Right now I'm working toward a green belt in karate. If I maintain my current pace, I can be a third degree brown belt by next summer (unfortunately that just became a bigger 'if' in light of current events). At that point, it's a matter of reviewing everything I've learned so maybe taking a month or two off classes to recover from surgery wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Plus that belt is actually red, my favorite color. Missing the gym would hurt a bit more, but surely I wouldn't have to skip as many leg days as long as I avoid certain exercises?

I only work out two to three hours a week with an emphasis on strength training for building muscle and strengthening my core to protect bones and joints, and to increase endurance and striking power. And as much as I'm predisposed to dislike routine, it's important for my mental health to maintain one, and it throws me off when it's significantly disrupted (like now). 

But some disruptions are greater and more permanent than others.

So much to do; so little time.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Knowing Your Worth

"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes."
"But they starts with thinking about people as things."
- Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett

Whenever I see things about knowing our worth like we're commodities instead of people, it bugs me. I know that's not how it's meant, but the reality is people often do measure the worth of others in terms of things like income. You can't convince me a trust fund baby has more value than a doctor, nurse, or teacher just because they were born to more wealth than the others earn through service. I'm not saying they have less value, either. It shouldn't be about that in the first place.

Eventually we will all be ash or dust no matter who we are in life, so why make things any worse than they have to be for ourselves and others in the meantime?

I also see a lot of messaging about gratitude, and of course we should be grateful for what we have and mindful of the less fortunate, but the people who need the message the most - the richest and most powerful among us - receive it the least. Instead it's used to keep the masses in our place and discourage us from speaking against things that are wrong simply because they could be worse. 

In terms of material comfort, I had a good childhood. I didn't even know I was 'poor' until college. I went to a so-called party school favored by rich kids from out of state who didn't have the grades for Ivy League. My dorm was nine stories, and late night fire alarms as frat pranks were the norm. Each time we had to evacuate and wait for the fire company to come and check every room on every floor. I remember more than one false alarm some nights, and several during final's week when the rich kids booked hotels to avoid them. 

Room and board was raised mid year to cover the cost of an extra fire truck. I also lost my tuition waiver because I received straight Bs. I didn't share someone's resentment that a girl I went to high school with had received a more lenient waiver. She seemed kind and mature, and someone with her accomplishments should have been granted a full ride. As she wasn't the source of my problems, I never begrudged her anything. I earned a new waiver through my major the following semester, and ultimately graduated with a 3.7 or 3.8 for whatever that's worth.

My first roommate's family pulled some strings for her to switch dorms because she thought our suite mates had it in for her; specifically that they were loud and obnoxious to offend her religious sensibilities, and not because that's just who they were. We didn't exactly get along, either, but I guess I was quiet enough she didn't feel threatened. A resident assistant confided she felt bad I had such a nutty roommate, but I was about to find out what it was like to share space with someone who really does have it in for you.

My new roommate, an early graduate, had an abusive boyfriend within her first week (if alarms didn't wake me up at odd hours, their fights did). She routinely skipped class to sleep in or lay out by the pool at the gym. She didn't care for my unfashionable appearance, or the fact I did work on my computer in our room instead of going to the lab or buying essays online like her (cheating was so bad, I had to show ID for some finals because people paid others to take theirs). Eventually, she had some frat buddies harass and threaten me on the phone and online. 

I only had one toxic friendship. I'd never heard of gas lighting, and I didn't know about the steps he'd taken to isolate me from others. I was sleep deprived, losing weight from under-eating (I'm 5'8" and the one time someone made me weigh myself that year, the scale read 100 lbs), and feeling increasingly disconnected from everything and everyone, including myself, when he tried to take advantage of me. 

I remember thinking a few things in rapid overlapping succession: This isn't happening. The big things don't happen to me. I never should have gotten myself into this mess. It's no worse than anyone thinks I deserveThen another voice cut through the din: I don't care!

In that moment, it didn't matter to me whether or not I had value. I didn't want it. It wasn't happening. I already had my knees against my chest, but now I braced my feet against his stomach, and pushed. He didn't expect it. He knew not to try again. For the first time in a long time, I felt present. This doesn't negate the experiences of those who've been less fortunate. There was a lot of pent up anger behind that push. I was lucky, but I don't feel gratitude for the experiences that contributed to my anger. After all, those experiences left me open to the abuse.

I don't think anger is a useless emotion, either. Nature doesn't work like that. Every emotion plays a role in survival. I've done some of my best writing when I've been angry, and it's taken my stories to some surprising places, even happy endings. Others channel their anger through art or music, or use it to fuel their fight against injustice. It's even a natural part of grieving. 

And once it reminded me I'm here. I exist. That's enough.

Thursday, January 30, 2020


"And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is." - Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

I recently read an article about people who quit multi-level marketing jobs (MLMs). Someone said she began seeing people as potential customers instead of potential friends. Another article addressed people monetizing every hobby and interest because consumerism has led us to believe spending time on anything that doesn't turn a profit is a waste. The pervasiveness of this mindset is seen on social media as more people brand themselves, and treat new and existing relationships like an opportunity to make a sale rather than a connection. 

Girls and women with ADHD already have difficulty connecting. I used to overcompensate, which led to being treated as a doormat until people were done walking all over me (and we all know what happens to doormats after they've been dirtied up). I resigned myself to being one of those wives whose husband is her best friend (as if that's a bad thing). 

Once we had our sons, I felt obligated to connect with others and joined a local meet up group for moms. Epic fail due to the perfect storm of my untreated ADHD woes, some catty moms who never grew up, and a creepy dad who began targeting my admittedly high energy toddlers for ridicule after I ignored his nosy late night messages. I later found out he'd been inappropriate and more with some of the moms who did respond, and did the math. I was accustomed to people having problems with me, but now they were taking it out on my boys. 

I realized I wanted friends for myself, but I never wanted myself or my sons in that situation again. And since the boys were going to preschool soon, I no longer felt pressured to make friends for them. When the proverbial poo hit the fan around my birthday (because things always seem to go wrong around my birthday) I researched community theater and tried out for a play. I earned a supporting role. It was fun, and artsy people are an eclectic bunch so I didn't stick out like a sore thumb. 

When we moved again, I turned to the arts once more as a means of expressing myself and making connections with other people. I even found opportunities for paid work, but that was just a bonus. I did learn to set healthy boundaries in terms of what is and isn't a wise investment of my time and resources. Like René Brooks says, "Guard your yes."

What I haven't found is friendship. Making friends in the arts has all the complications of regular friendship magnified by the nature of the arts. You have cliques, social climbers, the occasional creeper with questionable motives, and, oh yeah, the added wrinkle of inevitable rejection. My tolerance for rejection ends the moment I question whether or not it's personal. Even if I don't internalize it, the outcome is the same: I feel bored and left out, or used in the case of people with obvious agendas or friendships that fizzled when projects fell through. 

It's less of an issue in the writing community specifically, but we're a solitary bunch, and it's mostly lonely work. I do know crowdfunding isn't for me. I'll take my piles of anonymous rejections, and self-publish if it comes to that. 

I also have the luxury of pursuing hobbies and interests just for me (like guitar and martial arts) without depending on the acceptance of others. 

Mostly I'm throwing things at the wall, and seeing who or what sticks. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Crazy Busy, Cool!

I know it looks like I've been doing the flaky ADHD thing since I haven't posted since the end of October, but in my defense, I did successfully participate in National Novel Writing Month in November. The rough draft of my novel isn't done, but it's about two thirds of the way there. 

Then in December, I needed to cram for my next promotion in karate because I wanted to earn my blue belt before winter break. 

Yes, I practice karate. 

No, the additional physical activity has not cured my ADHD. In fact, I wouldn't have accomplished as much as I have without treatment.

As it is, I still need to see an ophthalmologist for a possible visual disorder. I'm actually eagle eyed, but sometimes I feel like I can't watch fast enough so even when I'm as attentive as I need to be, I still have difficulty making sense of what I'm looking at when motion is involved. I can read the smallest line on an eye chart, no problem, but driving around curves or mountain roads can trigger anxiety, and learning karate techniques takes me longer than other people.

Once the Shihan showed me the next move of a bo staff kata I was learning, and I was blown away, and nobody could understand why I was so amazed, and I couldn't understand why it felt so much more mundane when I did it, even though everyone assured me I was doing it correctly. Even now, when I watch someone else, I'm like:

Turns out there's binocular vision disorders that makes your eye muscles work harder to maintain visual clarity, and that's potentially another challenge I've been teased about most of my life that was outside my control without identification and treatment.


I'm not bitter.

(I'm totally bitter.)

I've also spent much of December streamlining my life. I don't think I've been overextending myself in terms of the number of goals and interests I'm pursuing, but my time management has not been the best.

I should have changed gyms as soon as my boys and I became involved in karate because I rarely swim laps at my old gym anymore, and the only reason I went to a gym that was further from home was the pool. My new gym is both closer to home, and within walking distance of our dojo so instead of dorking around on my phone when the boys are in class, I strength train. Then I take my class on alternate nights instead of waiting around after theirs. I'm even working out more, and still saving time and money.

I also have a new to-do list app, but it's set up like an RPG. Apparently there was this whole "gamification" trend in time management apps that's great for those of us with ADHD in particular. I always used to turn everything into a game as a coping skill, for better (beat my best grade) or worse (see how many days I can go without eating my Freshmen year of college) so it made perfect sense. Laugh if you must, but the game aspect aside, it's so much more robust than a conventional to-do list, and helps me ascend my personal Wall of Awful.

It's the free version of Habitica, by the way. I like the clean interface, and it's very user friendly. If improving time management or achieving multiple goals is one of your New Year's resolutions, I highly recommend it, or a similar app of your choosing. 

While I'm recommending things, check out this YouTube channel, How to ADHD. Jessica McCabe introduced me to the whole concept of the Wall of Awful, and has a lot of great insights and information. And I learned about vertical heterophoria from another favorite ADHD resource, René Brooks of Black Girl, Lost Keys

Oh, and the Deception anthology featuring my short story, "Alpha", has been available in paperback since November. Same great collection, now with the new book smell!

Author Aly Welch

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trick or Treat?

A tall, dark, and handsome "Alpha" is coming to dinner on Halloween!

The Deception Anthology from Writing Bloc is available for pre-order on Kindle for $2.99. I'm so honored and humbled to be a part of this collection, which includes twenty four stories from newcomers like me and accomplished award winning authors, as well as my husband's chilling "You Might Get It".

His satirical "Convict 45" appeared in the Writing Bloc inaugural anthology, Escape.

I had concerns about submitting a story to their second outing, but submissions were assigned numbers and rated by a committee of readers. The anonymity of the process eased any concerns I had. I'm glad I took the leap. It's nice being accepted by your peers, and knowing it's based solely on the quality of your work.

It's also easier to brace for rejection when you know it isn't personal. My ADHD comes with a side helping of rejection sensitive dysphoria. Rejection goes with the territory when you're involved in the arts, and mostly I find it manageable, but it's magnified when it comes from people you know because you'll always wonder if it's you they're rejecting.

I now have an official author page on Amazon. So far I only have one short story to show for myself, but it's a start. I do have a couple of projects in the works. 

I've talked a lot about Grimalkin, which is developing nicely. In a strange way, scaling back from a planned trilogy to a stand alone novel has allowed me to open the story up to more subplots and thematic content that enriches the overarching plot. At the same time, I'm building a 'world' I may draw on for future stories. Grimalkin was always more lightweight than my short stories; now it has a little more heft.

I'm continuing to work on a collection of stories "Alpha" was originally intended for (and can still be used in). I may submit some of the other stories to other publications, but ultimately look forward to housing them all in one collection of my own. The stories range from horror to sci-fi to urban fantasy. One may even be realistic fiction; it's up to the reader to decide if events are simply cause and effect, or if there's something supernatural afoot.

I may consider self publishing, especially as one title that seemed so clever at the time is losing pop culture relevance and another is appearing all over holiday décor. "Resting Witch Face" was written in 2017, well before the phrase adorned shot glasses and wall plaques. That's all I'm saying. (Basic witches stealing my thunder.)

In the meantime, I'm exciting to share "Alpha" with readers. I'm also wrestling with a bit of Imposter Syndrome. (Then again, the anthology is called Deception. If I'm only pretending to be a writer for Halloween, that makes me even more on theme!)

If you're like me, and you'd prefer a physical copy for that new book smell (which is my second favorite smell after puppy breath), the release date will be announced soon. 

Author Aly Welch