I wrote a post a while back: “Tracking Contrivance vs. My Mental Health at the Time,” an exercise in tracing changes in my writing versus changes in my mental health.
For this post, I’m doing it again, with the emphasis on the I’ll Give You series.
It’s been most of a year since the whole “my father died suddenly at fifty-eight and I found his ten day old corpse in his house” thing. I seemed to be over the worst of the trauma response for a little while, but the pandemic struck full force two months ago, reports about overstuffed refrigerated trucks dominating the news. My grandmother passed just days ago at home in hospice care; I arrived just moments after her death to sit with family.
I’ve spent most of a year buried in Contrivance, my dark, primary original fiction project of most of a decade, writing instead of sleeping. My fear of beds—too many bodies in too many beds, memory and flashback and nightmare and hallucination—is so bad, I’ve taken to sleeping on the floor in the loft (after scaring the daylights out of my best friend—now our quarantine roommate in the guest room—by unexpectedly sleeping on the couch, in the house we closed on the first day of March). I’m not on meds, and I’m Zooming my therapist weekly. The world is burning. I just got engaged.
And I need less doom and gloom.
The idea for a new writing project is slowly taking shape. Daydreams—erotic and otherwise—start to take real shape, the same characters, situations, themes, showing up again and again. I could use a distraction, a little side project. Maybe eighty-thousand words, I tell myself, a few months, one book. Just a detour while I figure out a few things about my real writing love, Contrivance. (It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe we just need a break.)
I start hashing out character basics, scroll Zillow for setting inspiration, combining random ideas into a plot. I sit on the couch and talk it all out with my best friend, also a writer in need of distraction.
I’m taking an online writing workshop, and our prompt for a freewrite one day is company from out of town could mean trouble. I misinterpret it slightly—though the instructor stresses that it’s open to interpretation—and a plot is born, an enemy, a cause, an ending to the story.
I start writing for real, and it’s like a dam bursting. I struggle with titles for a bit, but eventually settle on I’ll Give You Everything I Am (You’ll Give Me Everything I Want to Be). And I start posting it on Archive of Our Own to a silent reception for a full five chapters, because why not?
I am still writing like crazy—even winning Camp NaNoWriMo, writing over fifty thousand words in July alone—though I dropped out of the more structured writing workshop. (I finished a shorter one on dialogue, and I notice that this project’s dialogue is much more relaxed, natural, than in Contrivance, something I want to take with me to my edits.) I’m also picking up a bit of an audience, which is exciting, and a little nervewracking—I’ve never really written erotica before, not even something centered on romance.
I’ve also picked up two tricky, additional main characters, whom I battle with—they want to throw grenades at my plot, and I would like them to go away and leave my three-month, eighty-thousand word, one-book side project alone. I retcon them out of past chapters where they’re not strictly needed only for them to pop up again, more significantly, later, until we’re seriously throwing the word polyamory around.
I’m spending a lot of time at the park, on the swingset in triple digit heat, listening to music and trying to figure this project out. Who on Earth are these two, and where do they fit into my beautifully simple, tiny project?
And so Jen and Clara are born.
Meanwhile, my mental health isn’t going so well. I’m hallucinating regularly—mostly Dad, dead, and, of all things, a mysterious golden retriever puppy named Farrah. I’m catatonic for hours at a time, occasionally delusional, and generally a mess.
I also start this—The Schizophrenia Diaries—because I sure have mental health things to talk about. I’m still maintaining my older blog—more alternative sexuality education—too, and that’s now picking up attention from my erotic fiction audience.
My therapist thinks I should go back on meds, but I can’t even get in to my old psychiatrist.
Everyone is a mess right now.
I’ve accepted—mostly—that Jen and Clara exist. In Chapter Fourteen, Clara tells Lalia a story that just begs for more, about a time she ran away. In the middle of the night, in the dark, I fire up a new document and title it bluntly “The Night That Clara Ran Away”, a title which oddly sticks permanently, and has a few more stories titled in something like parody, like the later “The Night That Clara Just Wanted to Sleep.”
So I begin writing companion stories.
I’m back on meds, and it’s mostly great. I’m sleeping at night, and all but bouncing with energy during the day. I stop seeing my therapist. My best friend moves in with my mom, and I get my own swingset in the backyard. Vaccines are on the horizon, my wedding is in two months. I’ve been posting Contrivance bits on their own website. A neurologist rules out the idea that I’m having seizures.
In that process, I’m required to do a sleep deprived EEG. So I pull an all nighter. My appointment also happens to be right after Yom Kippur. So I start fasting at sundown, sleep, fast for about twenty-six hours total, eat dinner, and then stay up all night, snacking, and have my morning appointment and then a full afternoon and evening, for a total of thirty-eight consecutive waking hours.
If one wasn’t psychotic at the start of that, they would be by the end.
And, y’know, I was schizophrenic to start with.
In the middle of the all nighter, I create a Discord server to chat with myself, figuring out I’ll Give You plot bits. In that crazed night, the plot of what becomes Book Two—by now I’ve accepted a Book Two is coming—is born.
I get married. It is one of the best days of my life, and another one is close on its heels.
I finish what I now acknowledge is only Book One of what I’ve started to call the I’ll Give You series/trilogy, and, for fun, have a few copies vanity printed for me and friends. But now that I’ve put all the formatting work in… why not self publish?
So I do. It’s surreal, to hold a published book that arrived in the mail, with hundreds of pages, a real cover, a summary on the back along with reader reviews, a dedication page with my wife’s name on it, and my (pen) name on the front.
Yeah. My quick little side project, indeed.
To my shock, people even buy it.
Encouraged, I start posting Contrivance in the same manner—serially, in order, as a book, on Archive of Our Own. It doesn’t get quite the same engagement, which is funny to me—Contrivance is still my precious baby in a way, not the I’ll Give You series, but that’s okay. Sex sells. I accept that. I’m also accepting I might actually know something about these things I’ve been writing about, and schedule my first classes as an alternative sexuality educator.
I think I’ve just about got things figured out—I know how Jen and Clara fit into my no longer so simple plot, I know how I like to post things, I know how self publishing works, I know what has an audience, I know what’s coming in Book Two—and then, Clara tosses another grenade.
She has an eating disorder. Anorexia, specifically. Well, mostly recovered, but it’s been there this whole time.
And… it has. It’s there, all right—in every time we see her interact with food. It’s there, every time she might want a coping mechanism. It’s there, in the way she looks in the mirror, in the way she lives in the dance studio, in her penchant for self destruction. It’s there, in the former perfectionistic, traumatized teenager without a mother. It’s been there.
So I do some research, and I make it work.
This whole writing companions thing is kind of out of control, and now there’s a book’s worth of them, and I publish The First IGY Companion as almost an accident.
I’ve started teaching webinars, I’ve started going to butler school. Other areas of my life are picking up—not just hunkered down writing.
I take a little staycation, a few day writing retreat alone at a nearby hotel, using rewards points that we got to keep through the pandemic.
I don’t take care of myself well, though, too lost in my words. My mental state spirals, and I self harm for the first time in many years.
My wife takes me home early, and I recover quickly.
By now, I’m running Las Vegas TNG, a local alternative sexuality group, and I publish Service Slave Secrets (Volume One), the first years of my blog on the subject, to a nice reception.
Book Two—I’ll Give You Everything I Want to Be (You’ll Give Me Everything I Need to Be)—is flowing, as everyone unpacks their issues in and out of therapy.
I try going off my meds briefly, gradually cutting down with the thought that I’ll stop when it starts to affect my sleep, as that’s the easiest way to measure the minimum dosage. However, my sleep doesn’t really suffer, but I abruptly realize, five minutes overdue for the first dose I’ve totally skipped, that I’ve been absolutely miserable, and can’t hear my own thoughts over the music hallucinations I mistook for a song stuck in my head, among others.
I go back to the full dosage that night.
Several months into the “health kick” that’s taken an especially dark spiral recently—hint hint, healthy diets don’t include this much purging and fasting and overexercising—I accept that I have an eating disorder—all of the symptoms of anorexia, not quite underweight—and start the cycle of on again off again commitment to recovery. I don’t need to weight restore, but this cycle has got to stop. I start to talk about it with the people close to me, and write a post in which I theorize about where it came from:
It’s been almost a year since my abrupt realization that Clara had an eating disorder, and I am now detangling my thoughts and hers. I write a post on this—the dangers of writing a character with a disorder I don’t have, as a schizophrenic author with a very fine line between character and self.
At some point in my research, the tables turned. Now I’m writing backstory companions to pour what my head sounds like onto paper—this many calories eaten, this many hours left to fast, this many pounds, BMI this, BMR that, that many minutes of exercise—thoughts that weren’t mine when I started.
I write about how I took an online eating disorder assessment as research early on, and got a very safe, normal score. Now, though: yup. Something’s not right.
Which came first? Was I already developing disordered eating habits, projecting them onto a character until I couldn’t deny it was me anymore? I’m convinced that the character’s disorder came first, but we’ll see.
Incidentally, I finish and publish Book Two.
I publish The Second IGY Companion along with Contrivance in the same week, having recently finished my first (posted) AU for the I’ll Give You series: “Let’s Not Be Star Crossed Lovers”, a short multichapter of alternate backstory.
I’m also finally learning to drive, which is always an emotional roller coaster.
Book Three—I’ll Give You Everything I Need to Be (You’ll Give Me Everything I Am)—continues on.
It’s certainly an interesting month. I’m still bouncing back and forth on the eating habits, now with my wife’s help supervising three meals a day for a while, starting to sort out my disordered thoughts around food, focusing on the fact that skinny seems to represent productive for me, and that I’m actually more productive if I just eat.
Book Three is still in progress, flowing along. A few companions have gone up, but they’re slowing down, and I’m thinking of editing them into a future edition of The Second IGY Companion rather than creating a third. I have at least one more AU going on in my head to write.
I got my driver’s license, I’ve gotten into hiking, I’ve started donating plasma, and I’ve started a Little Free Library. I’m still writing—blogging, including my newest blog, A Productive Hannah—and a brewing sequel to Contrivance. I’m still teaching, running TNG, going to butler school, being a housewife, looking to reinvest as a landlord, including a day trip to go scout out a different city.
I publish Service Slave Secrets: Volume Two, breaking my personal royalty records.
My mental health bounces around a lot, even though my external life is going great.
We’ll see how it goes.
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