On Oct 1 I talked to Dixie K. Keyes’ class at Arkansas State University through Zoom on SCARS being challenged and what to do when a book is challenged. I talked about the importance of teens finding reflections of their experiences in books, especially of painful issues such as sexual abuse, suicide, self harm, racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and sizeism, and how books can save lives. They did for some of my readers and for me.
You can watch my talk on YouTube, or read it as an article on my website. It feels deeply wrong to me to prevent kids and teens from having books that might help them heal, talk to someone sooner, find community sooner–or even save their lives.
I love how compassionate, loving, gentle, and playful dolphins are. I have always longed to swim with them. I hope you can feel that here, in my new needle-felt painting. (Smiling)
I worked on it in between working on my manuscript and a paper on book challenges. It’s good to do something creative and stress busting on the weekends.If you haven’t tried it, I think needle felting is great for mental health. So is any creative outlet. My favourites are writing, art, and crafting.
Some people have asked me about my process for needle felting. Remember that I am completely self-taught. But I have always loved and worked with art.
The first thing I do is decide on my subject, and find a photo that I want to work from. Next I fill out the background, just like you do with a painting, poking the wool into a piece of felt. I use wool-based felt, though I’ve seen some people say they use synthetic, or a wool blanket, or even cotton. But felt feels sturdier to me and easier to poke the wool into.
Then I make a rough drawing outline on paper of the shape of the foreground object, in my case an animal, about the size that I want it to be, and cut it out. I started doing this after my needle felt of the deer because it was becoming too big for my canvas area.
I make the rough shape of the animal with a base of wool. I use my needle to poke it straight through and get it to stay, but I also poke sideways and a little bit diagonally to get it into the shape I want it to be. And I keep comparing it to my paper cut out so that I don’t make it too big.
For raised areas I roll the wool into ovals or balls or teardrops, whatever fits the shape better, and poke it in. I keep building it up.
When I have what feels like the right shape, I add in layers of colour, and then add in details like eyes or the ears.
Then I look at my overall composition and add what I need to feel right visually to me. I already have an idea of that before I start, but I always let myself play around with it. I make it the way I want it to look, not how the photo looks. The photo is just for reference. That’s my process. I hope you find it interesting or helpful!
Crafting, creating art or writing, can be relaxing, help with mental health issues, and at the same time you can create a nice gift or something that pleases your eye. I hope you try needle felting if it appeals to you, too.
I’ve always created both writing and art, and I’ve found that I use different parts of my brain for creating each. I usually need at least a week between them to focus well on one or the other.
Lately I’ve been taking a bit of a break from editing my manuscripts, which draw heavily on my trauma, and have been working with needle felt. I’m self-taught, and have just been playing around with what the wool can do, and enjoying the results.
Creating something for others makes me feel good, most especially when it’s something they enjoy and appreciate. And I’ve found that creating art or crafting can also take me out of my depression and anxiety for a while. I get so focused on what I’m creating that I forget my pain, sadness, and depression while I work–at least when I get in the zone. And when I create art I listen to positive music, which also helps lift my mood.
So if you also deal with mental health issues, you might want to consider making something creative. And if you need motivation to keep going, think about making it for someone you care about.
I’ve now created three needle-felt “paintings,” and am working on my fourth. I’ve been sharing them online with others, and it’s been a delight to hear so much positive feedback.
I’ve been working in small little “paintings.” My biggest so far is 3.75″ x 3.5″. There’s something so appealing to me about miniature art. I hope you enjoy looking at my creations.
Since people have been enjoying looking at my needle-felted paintings, I decided to create an Instagram account just for my art, separate from my author Instagram account. I’ll likely post extra photos on my art account, showing how I create some of what I do. I hope you’ll join me there.
I love Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s writer thesaurus books so much that I wanted to be part of spreading the word. So I’ve written a review of their latest book, included details on their giveaway and bonus, and have a mini post from them.
Take it away, Angela and Becca:
Certain details can reveal a lot about a character, such as their goals, desires, and backstory wounds. But did you know there’s another detail that can tie your character’s arc to the plot, provide intense, multi-layered conflict, AND shorten the “get to know the character” curve for readers?
It’s true. Your character’s occupation is a GOLD MINE of storytelling potential.
Think about it: how much time do you spend on the job? Does it fulfill you or frustrate you? Can you separate work from home? Is it causing you challenges, creating obstacles…or bringing you joy and helping you live your truth?
Just like us, most characters will have a job, and the work they do will impact their life. The ups and downs can serve us well in the story.
If you want to add layers to your character and plot, you can add more by choosing a career that best fits your character’s personality or motivations, or that will bring greater tension to your story—and the best book to inspire you in this is The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
An occupation for your character can help characterize them, generate conflict, reveal dysfunction, or reveal their passion and quirks. The Occupation Thesaurus details many jobs, giving an overview of each job; the useful skills, talents, or abilities for the job; helpful character traits; sources of friction; people they might interact with; how the job might impact your character’s needs; ways to twist the stereotype; and reasons a character might choose this profession. It is sure to spark your own thoughts on why and how an occupation may impact your character.
The Occupation Thesaurus doesn’t just describe many jobs, it also explores why your character might choose—or run from—a particular job, including because of their needs, emotional wounds, and interests and passions. It explains how a job can characterize your character, revealing personality traits, talents and skills, hobbies, economic status, and more, and the ways a job may bring tension and conflict. The articles are thoughtful and insightful, with concrete examples that make it clear how the profession you choose for a character can reveal more about the character, affect the storyline, increase tension, help your character achieve their goal, and even awaken a character’s need for change. This book is full of great advice for writers, including skipping the boring stuff, dismantling stereotypes, and being specific.
The Occupation Thesaurus also includes some great bonuses at the back of the book, including a worksheet; occupation speed dating (choosing an occupation from your character’s personality type); a career assessment worksheet and example; career assessment cheat sheet; and recommended reading list.
The Occupation Thesaurus will have you looking at occupations in a whole new way, delving deeper into the psychological, motivation, and need aspects, as well as the source of potential conflict or growth. Highly recommended.
Check out these awesome bonus articles to celebrate The Occupation Therausus:
Resource Alert: A List of Additional Jobs Profiles for Your Characters
Some of the amazing writers in our community have put together additional career profiles for you, based on jobs they have done in the past. What a great way to get accurate information so you can better describe the roles and responsibilities that go with a specific job, right? To access this list, GO HERE.
The pandemic is traumatizing. There are constant updates of sickness and death rates on the news and social media, overwhelmed healthcare systems, and shortages of medical supplies. We may know someone who died from covid-19; worry about our loved ones or ourselves getting sick or dying; experience financial insecurity, and/or experience isolation and lack of safe touch.
It is especially traumatizing for people who already deal with mental health issues; survivors of abuse and trauma; kids or adults enduring abuse now; and people experiencing loss and grief, financial insecurity, pandemic-inspired racism, physical health issues or disabilities, or who are on the front lines. And we know trauma affects the brain. Yet people are being shamed for not being productive, or for how they are coping.
The pandemic, resulting isolation, and the social pressure to be productive and “okay” has increased my own anxiety and depression, triggered abuse and trauma memories, and left me struggling at times to focus and get work done, or overwhelmed me. So many sensitive, creative, and intelligent people I know are experiencing the same. But social media can be a powerful way to connect with others and make positive change. I was reminded of this by Padma Venkatraman #AuthorsTogether.
Let’s change the conversation from shaming people and denying the impact of the pandemic on mental health to awareness and acceptance.
Let’s remind each other this Thursday, April 23 on social media to #ShieldYourMentalHealth and that there is #NoShameInCoping, and to #ReachOutToConnect.
Let’s use the hashtags to remind each other that it’s okay to cope however you are coping (as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else), that you are not alone if you are feeling stressed, anxious, helpless, exhausted, depressed, or overwhelmed, and that it’s okay to protect your mental health, to turn off updates on the pandemic, checking in when you want to. Let’s remind ourselves to reach out to others, and to check in on the ones we love. Connection is so important.
There is so much pressure on social media to be extra productive during this pandemic—that we should come out of this having learned a new skill or language, taken a new course, written or painted a masterpiece, gotten ourselves fit or lost weight, or accomplished even more work than usual—and that if we haven’t we are somehow lazy or wasting our time. This ignores how the pandemic is traumatizing for so many people, how trauma affects people, and how people are struggling, as well as how it affects people already living with mental health issues, or the reality of parents working from home. It ignores the impact of fear, anxiety, and depression—which can often lead to increased lack of focus and concentration, and increased exhaustion.
I’ve also seen people deny my or other’s anxiety, depression, fear, or exhaustion, and even deny the reality of the pandemic. This is invalidating and not helpful, and can actually increase anxiety or depression, or endanger health. And there is a push to stay educated about the pandemic—which I agree with—but a constant onslaught of news or information can be overwhelming.
Isolation can also negatively affect us. As human beings we need other people. We need social interaction, safe touch, positive interactions—even if we’re introverts. There have been many studies done on the need for safe touch, and how a lack of it can increase depression, loneliness, stress, lack of sleep, and affect our mental and physical health. Social isolation is especially hard on people living alone; the elderly; people with mental health issues, trauma histories, in abusive relationships, or LGBTQ kids/teens with homophobic parents.
A lot of people are also experiencing sleep deprivation, or interrupted sleep or nightmares from anxiety and the pandemic. Sleep is important not only for our immune systems, but also for our mental health and wellbeing. And yet the pressure to produce or to be okay keeps coming at us.
I am calling on fellow survivors and mental health warriors and those who love us. Calling on fellow authors who write about mental health or abuse and trauma. Please let others know it’s okay to #ShieldYourMentalHealth and know that there is #NoShameInCoping however you need to, and that it can help to #ReachOutToConnect. Please share a sentence or two on how you are doing this or why it’s important, using one or more of these hashtags on social media.
Let others know it’s okay not to be productive right now, it’s okay to be gentle with themselves and protect their mental health. It’s okay to turn off the news or take a break from it. It’s okay to escape from reality into books, movies, music, or do whatever you need (as long as it doesn’t hurt you or others). And that it’s a good idea to keep reaching out to others, to connect in some way and break the isolation.
If you’re an author, publishing industry professional, mental health advocate, or educator, and would like to take part and have your name here, just email me at Cheryl (at) CherylRainfield.com, or private message me on social media, and I will add you in.
I hope you’ll join us in using the hashtags. Share this post with others. Tag friends. And connect with us online.
You may also want to check out an online YAlit panel Basketcases this Thursday that deals with mental health and the pandemic, featuring Gwenda Bond, Margaret Stohl, Lauren Myracle, Bill Konigsberg, Romina Garber, and Maggie Tokuda-Hall.
What can you do to cope?
Turn off the news. Update yourself in small increments so you don’t get overwhelmed.
If you’re quarantined with someone you feel safe with—a person or a pet—make sure you hug them. If not, try hugging a stuffed animal, or even a pillow. Or visualize someone you love hugging you.
If you’re struggling to get good sleep, make sure you turn off your screens at least an hour before bed. Try reading or listening to an audiobook before you turn in. In bed, imagine each of your muscles relaxing, from your toes to your forehead. Try supplements like magnesium (I use Natural Calm) or melatonin for sleep, or have something warm to drink.
Connect with others. Video chat with your friends and loved ones, email, call, and text them. Make sure you talk to someone every day. Connection is so important, and can uplift you.
If you’re quarantined with others, make sure you get some time alone, some you time where you can unwind.
Go for a walk or a run outside, keeping social distance. Just being outside with the sun (or wind or rain or snow) can help, and so can the exercise. Practice yoga, stretching, etc.
Meditate or try mindfulness. Even 5 minutes can help.
Use positive distraction. Listen to uplifting music, read a book, watch a show or movie. Make a craft, paint, write, or dance. Sing. Keeping your mind and hands busy can lessen anxiety. If you struggle to make something, think about making a gift for someone.
Find small ways to help others. This can not only help them but also help you, by giving you meaning and lifting your mood. You could donate money or food to a food bank or organization doing good; sew masks for people who need it; read a book to a child through video; buy a book from an indie bookstore; check in on friends and loved ones; express your appreciation to medical and essential workers; etc.
It can also help to develop tragic optimism—a term coined by Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist—to find hope and meaning despite inescapable pain, loss and suffering. This doesn’t mean denying trauma or the negative that is happening, but acknowledging the trauma, feeling it, while managing to find small bits of good, such as witnessing people helping each other, or appreciating life more. But if you can’t do that, that’s okay, too! Remember—whatever helps you right now, whatever you need to do to cope, as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, is a good thing.
Let’s get through this together with as much mental health as we can.
The article has many good tips for parents, including educating themselves, and that is where some of the most common underlying reasons for self-harm are including trauma and neglect.
I wish it’d also mentioned that trauma & abuse is one of the biggest root causes, as well as other reasons for self-harm: stopping emotional pain; shutting down trauma/abuse memories; silencing oneself; punishing oneself; and to keep from killing oneself. But it is a great piece!
It covers so much for a mainstream article, and I am really impressed by the info, care, & thought that the author Kristen Fuller put into the article. Thank you Kristen and Psychology Today!
If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month), or want some tips on writing a first draft faster, these are some things that help me write faster, that might also help you:
-I try to write and not stop for a good period of time, and I do NOT allow my inner editor to talk/criticize while I write. The faster I write, the less I hear the inner editor. This is great for a first draft.
-When I am stuck I do a menial task (wash a few dishes, etc) and then often the solution comes to me. If it doesn’t, and I’m still stuck, I try to skip it for now.
-I don’t have the right names for any of my characters yet, so I’m substituting words for them like “girlfriend,” “bully,” “father.” This works for other things, too; I tend to add in description and sometimes setting or weather later, so I might just put “school hallway” for now.
-If i’m stuck on a scene but I know generally what’s going to happen, I’ll write it in short hand and then skip over it – something like “Write scene about conflict between main character and bully and realization” and then I can come back to it later.
I started NaNoWriMo late this year because I’m waiting for feedback on one of my manuscripts from my agent, and as soon as I get it I know I’ll have to focus on it. But I decided to try, anyway. At the very least I’ll have more writing done on a new manuscript. And maybe I’ll actually be able to get both done. Meanwhile, I am enjoying this new manuscript idea.
I hope if NaNoWriMo is on your mind that you try it out; you don’t have to meet your goal. More new words on a new manuscript is an accomplishment in itself.
I am reading a #YAlit book I am loving, even though I’m lesbian and there is a strong heterosexual romance thread in the book. As a lesbian I can still enjoy and identify with books with heterosexual romances, just as heterosexuals can enjoy books with queer romances.
In fact, most of the #YAlit books I read have a thread of heterosexual romance because there are so many more heterosexual books than queer or lesbian. And for much of my life I only had access to heterosexual characters in books, and yet still I loved them.
That makes sense to me because in reading we live within a character, their emotions and soul. But I’d have been able to identify more and not felt outsider if there had been more queer books. I am grateful there are increasing numbers of queer #YAlit, though there aren’t enough.
But as a lesbian I can still love hetorosexual character books, though when there are no queer characters at all it is annoying and can make me feel invisible. But there is something I wish authors wouldn’t do. When a book says/ suggests “all girls” would be attracted to a guy I instantly fall out of the book.
First, I don’t think you can say “all girls…” anything. We are all so different and diverse although we have commonalities. But even for heterosexual girls they aren’t all attracted to the same type of guy. As a lesbian I’m sure not attracted to the exact same lesbian others are.
And when you say all girls would be attracted to a guy, you are especially leaving out lesbian readers (and some trans readers). I’ve seen that for years in books, especially when authors are trying to say how attractive a guy is – but it makes me angry. It doesn’t just leave me out, it pushes me out.
So that’s just something to think about when you write or talk about attraction. Or about any opinion. Even if it said “some girls,” I wouldn’t I feel so excluded.
I love books that make me care about the characters and what is happening, and the book I’m reading right now does. So I’m back in the book. But I still wish that the author had somehow made room to include me more. #lgbtqia
I am glad that I am still here. Glad I am alive. But that doesn’t mean everything is easy. I still have hard days. Still have days where I really struggle. Have still had days where I thought of suicide. But I will never kill myself. I am grateful to be here and to have a voice.
Trauma, especially severe, ongoing childhood trauma, leaves deep wounds on the soul and mind. I deal with severe depression, anxiety, CPTSD, suicidal ideation, dissociation, and DID as a direct result of the torture and abuse I survived. Sometimes I still have flashbacks & triggers. But it is SO much better than before.
It is SO much better than when I was being abused. I couldn’t have imagined living without constant pain & terror then, but I know it now. I didn’t really believe that I would find safety, good people, or have a voice. I am so glad I didn’t give up. I hope you don’t, either.
Some things that helped me: therapy; facing my abuse memories with support; talking honestly with people; getting it out safely through writing and art; EMDR; EFT and tapping. Positive distraction like books and music. Connecting with other people. Knowing I wasn’t alone.
I am scared of taking drugs because my abusers used drugs on me and the other kids, so I usually avoid them. I did try some meds for depression but mostly they made it worse for me. But I know they help many people and are something to try. For me, I use natural supplements.
And they help. But sometimes they’re not enough. And when they’re not enough I make sure that I get help. I talk to my therapist and the people who love me. And I try to climb back out of the depression and the despair. But most of the time? It is so much better and I am glad to be here.
Lately I’ve added other things that help, too – like meditation through Sahaja Yoga (which is free worldwide), hypnotherapy through Marisa Peer, healthy eating. And always, always connecting with good people. It all makes a difference.
I didn’t used to be able to see the beauty in nature. I only saw fear because nature was one of the place my abusers tortured me in. But I can see it now. I can see and appreciate the beauty in the sky, trees, flowers, in our world around us. Healing happens in so many layers.
And it gets better. It gets so much better. So if you are a struggling, I see you. I hear you. And I hope that you hang on to see it get better, and then even better. Keep reaching out. Keep connecting. There is beauty and love and healing. There is joy. #SuicidePrevention #suicideawareness #MentalHealth #MentalHealthAwareness #SurvivorStrong