June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

There is one good thing about the dentist – nitrous gas! As I lay there this morning a little high with a drill in my mouth, and music in my ears, I was struck by a line in Ashley McBryde’s Andy (I Can’t Live Without You).

You’re the only one who knows -- Me and my heart can’t get along

Or put another way, My Head and My Heart can’t get along.

At the same time I was hearing those lines, a check for $500 was in the mailbox waiting to be sent to my writing coach. Me and my heart are not getting along. Again.

The truth is I will never “make it” as an author. While my books are well-written and on important topics (PTSD recovery), I am not Celeste Ng or Jodi Picoult or Jeanine Cummins. I have talent but not TALENT. You know the difference.

In the past month I’ve sold 22 copies of Journey To Hope (book 2) and a little less of Decide to Hope (book 1). Most of these have been to family and friends. And I can’t even get ALL of my family and friends to invest $4.99.

My husband and I would like to buy a cabin in the NC mountains. While he won’t retire for nine more years, we could start using the cabin now. We could escape life every weekend. Our family could enjoy the property.

Where is the Disconnect?

I spend a lot – a lot – of money on what should be a hobby and not a career. If I hadn’t spent so much money on writing in the last few years, we would have that cabin. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not. My brain has done the math and weighed the benefits. There is no argument – I should let writing be a hobbyand not try to find “commercial” success. I should be happy writing more for fun and less for publication. That’s my HEAD.

My HEART is not necessarily in agreement. While I sat there with gas pumping through my veins, I was able to see some of this a little more clearly. I love my writing coach. She and I have become friends, sort of. We talk about our families and since my novels are emotional journeys, she’s learned a lot about me through my stories. But we are not friends. I am her customer and if I quit paying her, she would not contact me at all. Am I paying for a friendship? I’ve gotten caught in the trap of paying for friendships many times.

I imagined taking the check out of the mailbox. What would that feel like (heart)? What would the impact be (head)?

HEART: More truth time – part of the reason I want to send the check is because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. If you know me, you know the fear of “disappointing others” is a trigger for an emotional spiral. If I discontinue this relationship, I could disappoint her. I don’t want the conflict. I want the friendship. Could this be real friendship AND a business relationship?.

HEAD:  That $500 (and all the other $) could be invested in a cabin. Or invested in decorating the cabin. It could be used for travel when COVID ends. I could spend a fraction of that money to create a scrapbook space that allows me to enjoy my hobby. ETC ETC

HEART: I do better when I’m busy. Actually, I do better when I’m too busy. It frightens me to have nothing to do. I know I could fill my time with other things. I could also keep writing. After all, I’ve learned a lot and likely don’t need as much coaching. But I know me – if there is no accountability, I won’t do anything.

HEAD: Probably I should “heal” the part of me that needs outside accountability and the part of me that’s unhappy just sitting still. I could fill my time with my best talent – teaching. I enjoy the adult classes I have at local colleges. I could easily make those a focus for my time.

HEART: These blogs and my books help others. That’s why I do it. Right? Part of me believes that altruism.

HEAD: But I’m not really helping anyone except maybe myself. The only people that read my blog are friends. And these blogs aren’t free (well, the blogs are free but trying to find subscribers is not). This is another expense that could be channeled elsewhere.

HEART: I like writing – mostly. I liked seeing my book on the shelf and on Amazon. I liked people telling me my writing is good.

HEAD: Writing is free. And if/when I finish a project, I can still hire someone (or not) for editing, cover design, etc. I’d spend a lot less $. A lot less. I can find other types of writing projects that pay me instead of my paying others.

HEART: Other people I know are churning out book after book. They are supposedly making money. My books are just as good. I should be making $ too.

HEAD: First, I am not a ‘churner’ so if I tried, I’d be miserable. Second, “making money” is quite subjective. The churners don’t use coaches. The point is, I can write or not write, I can teach or not teach. What I shouldn’t do is pour “good money after bad”. If I quit spending this money, I will effectively give us a significant raise!

What’s Next?

Well, Dave will read this blog because he edits them all. He will tell me to do whatever makes me happy. I want to ask him to tell me I can’t do this anymore. But he and I both know telling me I can’t causes me to dig my heels in. But I must find a way to be happy without employing others (not writing coaches or social media experts or therapists or any other non-friend friends).

After the mental breakdown (2012) and the loss of my career and most friends, I began to really focus on my health -- hiking, nutrition, reading, even cleaning and organizing my house. I was happy then. I think? I was lonely though. And I don’t know how to find “real” friends.

I need to start hiking again. I need to focus on creating good meals. I need to teach (that’s where my energy comes from). I need to write for fun.

All of my contracts (coach and social media) come to an end on December 31. It will be a good time to stop, to save the money, to buy a cabin, to plan a trip to Glacier. Writing will be a hobby that might or might not become something on a shelf.

I will have to find a way to spend my energy.

HEAD: I have to learn to tell myself “no”. I have to determine why that’s so difficult.

HEART: I’m not sure I can do that. Not having anything structured is scary. This blog has taken me two hours. If I’m not doing writing, how would I spend those two hours?

The Final Decision?

HEAD: I got the check out of the mailbox and tore it up.

HEART: It’s easy to write another one.

If you still see me on this blog in January, you’ll know my heart won. If you see me hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’ll know my head won.

Surely my heart and my head can get along.

PS

My husband edits all of my blogs. I expected -- hoped -- he'd say, "Follow you're heart, honey." He didn't. He said, "This has been my favorite post so far." Hmmmm

I’ve been struggling to write this blog for several weeks. Not because I don’t want to share but because:

  • I’m not sure I can get the message across
  • I know I’m wrong and that I should feel differently. I also know that I don’t believe in the “should”. Readers will judge me. I judge myself.
  • I can’t tell you everything because it would violate someone else’s privacy.

So, bear (or is it bare?) with me and know I’ll likely miss the mark.

It was a Sunday and a few friends were hanging out when a gift bag was placed in our laps. It wasn’t a holiday or a birthday. The people who provided the bags were staring at us with huge eyes and one was biting his nails. As a writer, I recognized the body language and should have prepared myself. Instead, I yanked the pretty tissue paper from its nest.

The Gift

Inside the pretty little bag were three onesies. Tiny little outfits, each with a different Star Wars theme. They were very cute. Until I realized the meaning. This couple was announcing a pregnancy. Others in the room clapped and hugged and started all of the rah-rah you’d expect. But me? The last of my emotions for this person drained away. I was empty of emotion. Empty of platitudes. Empty.

My Truth

This couple is not in a place where I could welcome a new child. They can “afford” a baby. They have “stable” jobs. They get along well. The decision to get pregnant (and yes it was a choice) is, in my opinion, poorly timed for reasons I wish I could tell you without violating privacy. Trust me, you would agree. I stood there trying to decide what to say to be authentic and not condemning. Those scared eyes turned to me (as it was my opinion that mattered most).

What would you have said? Pretended to be excited for their sake? Decide “it is what it is” and therefore accept and be happy? Would you have said what the world says you “should” say? Would you have said the “right” words to avoid judgment? I almost obeyed society’s rules, but I think those rules are what keep us from being real and by not being real, we shame those who hurt. I needed to find that perfect balance. I said, “It’s going to take me a while to get used to this idea. I’m not ready to share your joy. Give me time.”

I’m proud of my response. The couple understood and I think appreciated both the truth and my willingness to eventually find a path to joy.

Over the last many weeks, I kept expecting emotion to crash and crush. Nothing. I began to worry – to fear -- that whatever emotion finally landed would be difficult to handle. But still nothing.

The Silos

I’ve started to wonder if we have a limited amount of emotion for the important people and situations in our lives. I imagine a field of silos. Each person I care about has a designated silo. Inside the silo is corn and when you first start to care about this person, the silo is brimming with corn. I imagine “good” experiences add corn. “Bad” experiences drain corn. The better the experience, the more added. The worse the experience, the more drained. Am I making any sense?

Can the silo finally run dry? Can your emotional tank just hit empty? Can you finally just feel “nothing”?

We don’t just have silos for people. We have silos for careers and projects or causes. Have you ever gone to work and thought, “I’m over this. It’s time to move on.” I think that might be an empty tank. Have you ever started a project and then said, “This isn’t fun anymore. Why do I keep spending my time on this?” An empty silo?

It’s not that I’m angry – anger requires corn and lots of it. I turn the siphon and all I get is dust. I peer into the tank and it’s dark. Not a scary, menacing dark. More the dark of a cavernous space.

Refilling the Silo

Can you refill the silo? I said above that “good” experiences add corn. If I spend quality time with this couple and see evidence they are ready, will I add corn? Will the baby be one big load of corn and fill the silo to the brim? As I see this couple love the baby and work on loving each other, will corn drip in? Note: the baby will have his or her own silo and it will be full full full!

Am I crazy and I’m simply pushing down emotions that will choke me? Am I using the silo analogy to excuse myself from not digging deeper? I have no idea, but if I start to feel, I’ll let you know.

As you can imagine, as a writer, I have several different types of thesauruses. One is called The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Ackerman and Puglisi. I use this to drill down to the deep soul-need in my character. Then I can construct the plot and force my character to face the wound and change her narrative.

I’ve had this book for quite a while, and I use it often. But I’ve never used it on myself. There are many emotional wounds I could identify with but the one I focused on was “Battling a Mental Disorder”.

I turned to page 90, ran my finger down the page and made a mental checkmark by each element describing me. It’s kind of shocking to see your “issues” written as a black and white list on two pages. It was also kind of comforting to see myself on the pages – it made me feel less alone. After all, if Ackerman and Puglisi can make such a list, then surely I can’t be so unusual, right?

I won’t share with you their entire list because Ackerman and Puglisi are writers and their work is their work. But I will share the pieces which described me, and I’ll indicate the most relevant to my world and my heart.

My Basic Needs

  • Safety and security
  • Love and belonging
  • Esteem and recognition

These needs, obviously, are universal. But the degree of the need is not. When I don’t receive positive feedback to what I’m doing, I begin to feel like I’ve disappointed. It’s as if I say to myself, “They didn’t ooh and ahh. Therefore, it [I] must be awful.” Wrong thinking but being wrong doesn’t make the thought stop.

False Beliefs That Could Be Embraced

  • I’m so messed up no one would love me
  • My dreams are out of reach
  • I am broken and beyond repair
  • I am the only person struggling this way
  • I’m a burden to others

I had each of these beliefs at various times and in those truly awful moments I’ve had them all simultaneously.  Right this minute, I think the only one which causes me true struggle is “my dreams are out of reach”. New authors have a very difficult time finding traction. (Unless Reese or Oprah lands on your book.)

The Character [me] May Fear

  • Passing the disorder onto my children (which I have)
  • Becoming like my parents (which I fight)
  • Accidently hurting a loved one during an episode – I take this to mean physically and/or emotionally**

I fear losing what I’ve worked hard to achieve – a good marriage, a fulfilling career, friends, my adult relationships with my children.

Possible Responses and Results

  • Making light of shortcomings instead of acknowledging
  • Avoiding people who might hold me accountable
  • Depression
  • Pessimism, negative self-talk
  • Isolation
  • Emotional volatility**
  • Uncontrolled thoughts or impulses

Emotional volatility is my most problematic response. When I act out of emotion instead of wisdom, I say harmful things. And we all know words cannot be retracted – ever.

Positive Personality Traits (yea, I have some of these)

  • Enthusiastic
  • Generous
  • Idealistic

Negative Personality Traits (boo, I have these too)

  • Compulsive
  • Disorganized
  • Forgetful
  • Hostile
  • Irrational
  • Needy

Triggers

  • A disappointment or loss that deals an emotional blow **********!!!!!!!
  • Struggling to make an important decision (and I’ll add – 2nd guessing your decision)
  • Routine disruption (or for me, changing plans already made)

How Is This Helpful

I’m not sure it is. But identifying the negative traits gives me the opportunity to seek change. Knowing my triggers lessens their power. Acknowledging my less-than-helpful responses allows me the chance to pause and respond differently. Understanding my fears allows me to shine a light in that corner and make the monster go poof. Identifying my fears also affords me the chance to work in that area.

Okay, maybe this was helpful. You don’t need a book to do this. Look inside yourself –

  • What are your needs?
  • What false beliefs are weighing you down?
  • What do you fear?
  • How do you respond to fears and triggers?
  • What positive traits do you have? Negative?
  • What triggers you?

Put the answers in black and white. Once you have the information, you can use it to your advantage.

To Writers

If you are a writer, I highly recommend ALL of Ackerman and Puglisi’s thesauruses. You can find them at onestopforwriters.com. I use this site almost daily.

Click HERE to download the journaling activity that goes with this blog and try the above activity for yourself!

June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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