Two Years Later

Hello world!

Two years has passed since my last post. Two whole years, filled with so much I hardly know where to begin.

For now, I will settle for saying hello and doing some much needed housework around this website. I have already selected a new theme. I hope you like it. It suits my needs, but I think, in time, I’ll inject some colour into it to liven it up a bit. I will make some tweaks over the next few days, fix links, and some pages that seemed to have gone astray with the long neglect imposed on them.

Later, I will write a post to let you know what I’ve been through and where I’m headed. But not today. Today is the start of my new future. I’m told it can be anything I want it to be. I’m still thinking about it so I’ll let you know soon.

So, again, hello world. I hope you’re well and happy. What’s been happening?

Semi-Online and Forging a New Routine

The last three months has seen my entire life change. Sadly, Dad passed away at the end of June from lung cancer. Those last few weeks were horrible, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget certain details from that period. The pain. The confusion. The acceptance. The moment I realised he was gone.

Then the changes started. Moving house. Transferring location at work. Forging new routines. Learning to cope with Mum’s condition and the constant questions. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times I found myself sitting staring at the floor consumed with thoughts that scared me. But, like all bad situations, there were teething problems but it is settling down now.

My only constant during this time is that I have found time to read. I finished “The Lavender Keeper” by Fiona McIntosh, which was a brilliant book set in WWII. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I also finished “Wanted” (A Leopold Blake Thriller) by Nick Stephenson, which reminded me of The Da Vinci Code without the history lessons (and believe me when I say that’s a compliment). Currently, I’m reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Many people that I trust recommended this book to me. At first, I found the backstory annoying, even though it is a large part of the plot, however, the storyline is quite twisted and I’m so engrossed in it now that I find it hard to stay away from. I look forward to seeing the movie when I’ve completed the book.

Anyway, I set up my laptop yesterday and here I am … checking on things, writing updates, sifting through emails, catching up with news.

I don’t think I’ll have the same internet experience anymore, not like I used to. I just don’t have the time. But I will write updates when I can. And I will attempt to start writing book reviews once more, but no promises.

And, no, I haven’t written during this time, but I have found myself thinking about my works-in-progess. If time permits, I think I’ll try to dedicate that time to finishing those works-in-progress rather than spending time on other activities.

Going Offline for an Indefinite Period

be-back-soonIn coming weeks, due to family illness and a need for me to become the primary carer, I will be moving in with my parents for an indefinite period of time. They don’t have the internet connected and due to the circumstances (my father has lung cancer and my mother has early dementia) I will not be pushing to change this.

I may be able to access emails from another location, but it will not be often, so I am going to say that even emails will not reach me.

Yes, I will be totally internet free for several months. Yes, it will feel weird, but we will have more important things on our minds.

Eventually, more permanent decisions will have to be made. I envision this to be two or three months down the track, at the earliest. And I suspect I will be relocating permanently at that time. This will mean lots of changes; selling my home and my furniture, making arrangements where my job is concerned, new routines, new priorities, but I’ll face that when I get to it.

Right now, I am spending time pulling back from anything that can be put on a back-burner, including writing. I have spent hours unsubscribing to websites and newsletters (I don’t want to log in to my email in six months time to discover 1,000s of emails sitting there waiting for me). I have loaded heaps of ebooks on to my iPad in anticipation of having time to read in the evenings (I won’t be able to take a multitude of books with me, so this is a fabulous option). I have prepared this website so it can be left unattended.

I will return. Not sure exactly when, but when decisions have been made and put into action, and when I am settled in then I will return to the internet. Until then, I hope life is good to you.

Writing Update

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote an update for this website that didn’t consist of a book review. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the blog is dead. But it’s not. I’m here as always. I check in often but don’t feel there’s anything worth saying, that hasn’t been said before. That’s one of the problems with having a blog for many years. The blogger runs out of things to say. Or, maybe the importance of what’s being said changes with time.

Anyway, after the stroke 18 months ago, I spent many months recovering. I did little else except sleep, work and read. 2012 was a complete write-off for me.

2013 has been different. There are on-going medical issues and will be forever, from what I’m told, but I’m not going to focus on any of that. This post is about achievements. Despite the set-backs, I have had achievements.

I completed the editing course and received my diploma. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when that happened.

I have edited and published two anthologies — Night Terrors and Tomorrow — under the name Karen Henderson.

And in recent months, I have started writing again. I have written half a manuscript for younger readers, which has a working title of Haunted House and I have written four chapters of book 3 of The Land of Miu series — The Lion Gods.

At present, I am averaging about 800 words a day, which (to me) is brilliant. It is important not to pressure myself into a corner, so I made the decision to write 450 words a day. And, if I do miss a day (which is rare) I don’t beat myself up over it.

Writing, for me, used to be a way of spending every spare moment. I would think about writing while at work or on the train. I would dream about writing at night. I would sit long into the night and lose myself in worlds of my own making. But then, I started to feel pressured and writing became a chore. When that happened, I lost the joy and stopped writing.

I’m not interested in going back to that. Not ever!

So, when I write, I do it to relax. I want to enjoy what I’m doing and never want to feel pressured in any way. If I write 200 words and it’s just not coming together, then I’ll stop and try again tomorrow (when I’ll probably scrap those words and start again). However, I’m finding that the words flow if I don’t over commit myself and I’m pleased about that. I’ll go with it until both the manuscripts I’ve mentioned above are completed.

Picking Up the Pieces

Back in March of this year I wrote a post called A Stroke in Life where I said I had had a stroke at the beginning of the year and was put on injections to try and stop me having another stroke. I had the understanding it would be six weeks before my body started getting used to the affects of the injection.

Boy, was I wrong!

It was six months. Six months of hell, I might add. 2012 has been a year best forgotten. And believe me, if it wasn’t for the fact that I felt lousy the entire time I would be able to forget because I’ve done virtually nothing worth remembering. I’ve had little to no social life. I’ve done no writing. I’ve barely had the strength to go outside, let alone walk around shops or parks or any other place of interest.

But I didn’t start this post to complain. I started this post to tell you that despite how horrid the year has been, I am finally starting to feel much better. I’ve actually been putting my hair up and I’ve been using nail polish and I’ve been buying new clothes. These are such small things, but I feel as if I’m living again and that alone makes me want to smile more.

Talking of smiling, the people I know in ‘real’ life have actually been saying to me, “you look different”, meaning I’m smiling. They are happy to see it. I’m happy to do it.

In the last four weeks I’ve caught up on all my paperwork. I’ve done all the housework. I’ve visited all my friends and family. I’ve also been on a wonderful holiday. Life is good.

The last hurdle I had to approach was restarting my course. The last unit I submitted I received a ‘fail’. I was devastated when I saw it. All the previous assignments I had obtained a distinction or high distinction so to suddenly get a fail was not good. That one simple word made the hurdle much harder to approach, but I was mature enough to acknowledge that I did have a stroke shortly before submitting the unit and, luckily for me, the tutor (who didn’t know about the stroke) obviously realised something was out of the ordinary and she gave me the opportunity to resubmit the unit. I also knew that I wanted to finish the course and obtain the diploma I’ve worked hard for. It was difficult, but I had to force myself to face this hurdle. I spent two whole days redoing the unit and I posted it just over a week ago. I haven’t received a result as yet, but I am confident that the ‘fail’ will disappear and be replaced with a better mark. And I am studying the next unit and getting myself ready to start the assignment on Monday. So I can officially say that all hurdles have been faced and conquered.

Picking up the pieces of your life is not always easy. And sometimes, even with love and support, it really is down to you to take the first steps. Often, those steps in life seem extremely difficult but once you take them you look back and think “that was nowhere near as hard as I imagined it would be”.

And right now, that’s exactly how I feel. I’m over the hurdles, the sun is shining in my face and the great unknown is ahead of me. Did I mention, life is good?!

Edited on 15 November 2012: I received the revised assignment back today and I passed with flying colours! I am so relieved. 🙂

A Stroke in Life

Life is short. This is something we are told regularly, but – in truth – I believe we don’t take much notice of this saying. When I was a kid, a year seemed like a lifetime! It took forever to go from the first day of term to the last, let alone getting to the summer holidays. I always believed we lived forever (even though I knew this was not a reality). But as I got older, the years went faster. Much faster. It was almost as if the years became shorter somehow.

It wasn’t until I lost my son almost six years ago that I realised how short life really is. But then you never truly know anything until it smacks you in the face. Not really. I became complacent and allowed the knowledge to start slipping away. Until … Wednesday, the 25th of January.

When I had a stroke.

Don’t worry is was only minor, but I did suffer a bit of brain damage … again, only minor. Nothing that is noticeable. I was extremely lucky!

My specialist said that next time I might not be so lucky. Now that is scary. Hopefully there won’t be a next time, but I’m not going to take any chances and for that reason I am following instructions and have been injecting myself and making myself very, VERY sick.

I have a blood disorder called Essential Thrombocytosis. This means something inside me isn’t working properly and I’m making red blood cells constantly. I’ve been on tablet medication for about 18 months. It worked to begin with but then not so much. My blood count started climbing again, I had the stroke and now I have to go on injections (twice a week) in an effort to bring the numbers down to a safe level again.

Thing is, the injections make me sick for at least two days. As I have two injections a week, this means I’m sick for four days a week, but this past week I’ve been sick all week. I’m told my body will get used to the injections, but it will take about six weeks. I’m in my third week. Half way there. But the side affects are numerous – headaches, shivering, fever, aches and pains, confusion, depression, weakened eye sight, hair loss, fatigue, nausea and some other things it doesn’t seem right to put here. I have all these symptoms. It can also cause the patient to feel suicidal, anorexic and have breathing difficulties. So far, I do not have these symptoms.

It doesn’t sound bad in writing but just as I start to feel a little better, the next injection is due and I slip all the way to the bottom again. And I’m finding it more difficult to hold on to the fact that this is meant to be short term. But I’ll get there. I just remind myself how bad it could have been, and that helps me move forward.

My life has changed since the injections started. I don’t have a life. I go nowhere and do nothing because I’m too sick. I do go to work when I feel I can (this week that was only on Monday). Surprisingly, I have managed to do some writing. Never much in any one sitting, but at least I am putting some words down. And I have stayed on top of major projects. I hope I can keep that up over the next few weeks too.

When my body adjusts, I hope to have a healthier lifestyle and not have to worry about the possibility of another stroke. For now, I will just push on through and hope the next injection – due tomorrow – will not be as intense as the previous ones.

Paperbacks v Digital Books

There was a time in the not so distant past when I clearly remember believing paperbacks would always be my preferred reading source. I love books. I love reading. It’s the one thing I do constantly in my life and have done since I was a very young child. Books are important to me.

I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love seeing them lined up in a book case, showing their vivid colours and inviting me to jump into their secret worlds. These things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into someone else’s home and viewing their books of choice scattered around the place. It hints at the type of person they are, the imagination they might have. It’s possible to spy reference books which tells you of that person’s interests too. And in moments of quiet, they allow you to point to a book and ask them about it … which may well lead to a very interesting conversation. Again, these things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into a book shop and browsing the shelves of unknown authors, never before seen covers. Picking them up and flipping them over to read the (hopefully) catchy blurb on the back. Will it intrigue me enough to want to read it? Or does it sound boring or too serious for me, which will make me put it back on the shelf? At the risk of repeating myself, this cannot be said about digital books.

Yet, with all this said and done, I can’t help but prefer to read books in digital format these days. In 2011 most of the books I read were digital. 2012 has only just started, but my reading list comprises of digital books only so far. I have a beautiful wooden bookcase in my bedroom, filled with wonderful books. I want to read them all. They deserve my time, but I feel pulled to my reading device.

It’s a small object really. Most people would lift an eye brow and scoff at reading on it. They mumble things like “small screen” and “eye strain” but I always assure them that the size of the screen is not noticed and I’ve never had eye strain whilst using it.

Perhaps it’s my personal circumstances that make reading this way more attractive. Our lounge room has no lighting except for a single lamp. Reading in the evening is difficult due to shadows across the pages. To avoid the shadow I must sit in an uncomfortable position. I’ve tried using a book lamp but it was more trouble than it was worth, to say the least. However, when I use my reading device I can sit anywhere I want, however I want because the backlight on the screen is just right (for me) for reading.

If I can’t sleep, I can sit in bed and read in comfort. If I want to sit in the garden, I can. I can read on the train, and can swap and change between books if I want to. I can take a selection of books with me on vacation or to work or to the hospital. There’s no weight, no storage problems. If there’s a power source, I can plug in and read. If not, the battery lasts for an entire week if all I’m doing is reading on the device.

I have purchased ebooks from online bookshops, but there is no personality and no feeling of belonging. Shopping in the virtual world is not as good as shopping in the physical world. I still want to browse books, pick them up and flick through the pages, read the blurb and make a decision. But I think when the decision is made I’d like to be able to go up to the counter and say I want the digital version.

Bookshops need to get with the times, and I believe this is starting to happen, but it’s not something I’ve seen for myself. Bookshops draw booklovers to them, so why not entice the booklover to walk out of the shop with a book in hand (be that paperback or digital). Instead of denying the existence of an ever changing world, merge with it and grow.

People will continue to buy printed books, but more and more people are swapping to digital reading. Once, I would have vocalised loudly about the need for paperbacks, but now I find myself vocalising more loudly about reading itself, not the format it’s done in.

Are you having thoughts of suicide?

Recently, I attended a seminar through my work place. I work for a Government organisation and they are always wanting us to ‘brush up’ on one procedure or another so imagine my shock when I discovered the seminar was about suicide awareness.

It is a shock to be sitting with a couple of dozen other people, several who you know well, and are confronted with a subject that is close to your heart. As soon as I realised what would be discussed, I welled up. The presenter, used to watching people’s actions and looking for ‘signs’, did not miss my instant reaction to her words. We were presented with video recreations of potential warnings … and all of them slapped me across the face and made my heart pound quicker. I watched as the mother on-screen missed her son’s call for help. Just like I did in real life. Is it any wonder I couldn’t speak, could hardly hold the tears back, was unable to stop the trembling?

The presenter announced a break and everyone left the room, except me. I was not able to speak aloud, so I whispered the fact that I had lost a son to suicide. Of course, she had already guessed that by my reaction. She thanked me for letting her know and told me I was free to leave the seminar, if I wanted to. I didn’t need to think about it.

I wanted to stay!

But I needed her to know why I would not be able to participate in active feedback within the seminar. She understood that I was struggling and asking me to speak would be my undoing. So, the seminar continued and I sat frozen faced and trembling in the middle of lots of people, but I felt as if I were struggling through a major upset … totally alone.

By the time the seminar was finished I was considered to be a qualified Care Assistant for the workplace. In truth, I spent most of the time focused inwards dealing with my own demons. Yes, I would be able to recognise (now) if someone was suicidal. And, yes, I would be able to ask the all important question, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”. And, yes, I would be able to look after that person until help was at hand. I never needed the seminar for any of that. I’ve spent over five years learning the facts about suicide myself. But now I have a certificate to confirm it.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I thought I was doing OK. I thought I had moved passed the tears, but those few hours proved I am not doing as great as I thought and have not moved on from losing my son. I guess there will always be moments in my life that will bring the past slamming back into full focus. I suppose I’m better equipped for those moments now but it doesn’t mean they will be any easier to deal with.