Anxiety In a Trying Time

Now is a bad time to have anxiety.

As I write this, I am living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are very different from what they were two weeks ago. At that time, the disease was isolated to a few cases in a handful of American states. Now, we have surpassed active cases in China, the country initially hit hardest. Italy was the big outbreak spot until a few days ago when we took over their active case number. They’re still leading in deaths, but it’s only a matter of time. My own tiny state already has nearly 200 cases and six people here are dead. Those local numbers might not sound so bad to most people.

Most people don’t have my level of anxiety.

So, I’ll level with you, appreciated readers, and talk a little bit about one of the personal issues I grapple with daily.

I – like millions of other Americans – suffer from generalized anxiety. Some of it has always been there. Much of it came from a traumatic experience in 2005 as a bonus from PTSD. All of it stems from issues I have regarding human mortality and the fragility of the world that we live in. I think those who know me best would point to a certain morbidity in my outlook. I do write horror after all. It extends far beyond my writing, however. My brain can eat itself alive if I let it.

In 2008 I experienced my first full-blown panic attack. After being discharged pending a four-hour ER encounter in which they managed to pop a faulty IV into my arm, I booked an appointment with my mental health provider. I finally caved at her gentle urging and started taking what are called SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. It’s a class of drug that slowly changes how your brain relates to Seratonin, the hormone in your brain that gives you good feels. 

The result of taking SSRI’s is that it’s a little easier to break through low-level to mid-range anxiety, which lets you start to improve executive function. She told me the drugs would take about two weeks to fully work, but I swear to god I felt some relief the first day. It was like having a messy filing system suddenly ordered. Life improved over time. I began to enjoy things again (Depression was something I came to finally admit to years later, but that’s another story). I felt more comfortable in my skin. 

Until recently, it generally does its job. It helps me to cope with a lot of my unreasonable fears and hang-ups. In a world that mostly makes sense, it’s a boon. Things are better when I‘m on them. In the brief times I’ve had to go without, life is not good. These aren’t the kind of meds you just stop taking. The withdrawal effects are full-throated and they last for a long time. The longest I’ve gone without was for about five weeks, and I never want to do that again. 

In times of acute stress, they help form a temporary barrier that holds long enough to weather a bad day. Eventually though, under constant stress, their effectiveness can falter. My average dose is moderate and I take them at night when I am most likely to suffer from panic attacks. I am told higher doses are an option available to me. I either feel the need to suffer (a side effect of being raised Lutheran I suppose) or I simply don’t want to be any more reliant on the SSRIs than I already am. Either way, I have more or less been at my present dosage for quite some time, with only changes to the time of day those SSRIs are taken.

In these times though, I find the anxiety harder and harder to push back. My generation has had few stressors as extreme as this and I’m counting the financial meltdown and 9/11. We’re updated constantly on mortality rates, new information about vectors, incubation times, the importance of physically separating ourselves from our loved ones and coworkers. It’s a lot. In a world where the plague we are all trying to weather is marked by shortness of breath (among other fun symptoms), being susceptible to panic attacks creates a certain kind of hell for those who suffer from anxiety.

As of late, when I am rousing or when I am settling into sleep, I feel shortness of breath. It’s panic breaking through my medication. There is no concomitant fever or dry cough. Just the feeling that the walls are closing in and that I cannot get enough air. Right now I can kick that feeling aside with a little mindfulness, but it takes a few minutes. And, of course, it’s waiting for me just a little while later. It’s the kind of effect that can wear you down over time. It’s not fun.

I know I’m not the only one going through it. I know that I have it good; I was able to secure a sufficient supply of my SSRIs for the next two months. Gods willing, I will have the resources I need to acquire more if this nightmare continues beyond May. Many will not have such recourse. Many don’t have it right now. Hell, some people don’t even have toilet paper. Tyler Durden may have taught us that soap is the yardstick of civilization (and to hear the CDC say it, there’s some truth to that). But, tell you what: go without the ability to shit comfortably for an extended time and you start to feel like you’ve lost about a century worth of progress right there. Toilet paper has a lot going for it.

I’m getting by though. The most important thing I’ve learned about getting through a panic attack is making sure that I’m mindful of my breathing. I have to do that a lot these days. It’s essential to my well being. 

The other thing I have to do is keep busy. I have temporarily lost my day job working at a local bookstore. The time I had before to keep my mind busy with shelving, alphabetizing, and merchandising is gone. Replacing it has been largely successful, though I miss the physicality of my work. Much of the lifting, shifting, and cardio has been replaced with dog walking and playing rather a lot of video games. I’ve taken up a project to get my retro gaming consoles in one place and organized. I have a lot of things lined up to consume in terms of reading, television, and film. It’s been essential in keeping myself just distanced enough from what’s going on outside without becoming fully disengaged. The other option is watching cable news broadcasts constantly and tracking CDC updates. I have never been so happy to have cut cable out of my life.

What I’m getting at I suppose is that we’re all doing things to cope with varying degrees of success. A lot of people have my problems and likely more severe at that. If you know someone who before all of this who had anxiety like mine or worse, check in on them. Let them know they’re not alone. We still have a lot going for us in terms of communication – Zoom and FaceTime are helping a lot of people through tough times. If you’re holding your shit together and have wrestled with anxiety as long as myself, take some time to explain anxiety to people who are just coming into it now. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people coming around to my levels of anxiety. I’m curious to see the numbers on people seeking assistance from mental health professionals regarding anxiety after this passes – and it will pass.

Regardless of whether or not you’re feeling what I and others feel or are new to the unpleasantness of anxiety, remember these things when you start getting antsy. I’m pretty sure they’ll help because they’re helping me:

  • Breathe. Take deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Do it as many times as you have to.
  • Find a routine and try to stick to it. If you’re furloughed like I am, who cares if the time frames are weird? If you’re working from home, you already have a structure. Just make sure you’re keeping fairly consistent.
  • Try to eat well if you can (I’m having trouble with this, but still remembering that veggies exist). A lot of us are cash strapped or have dietary requirements but try to get the recommended three square meals a day. Keep a regular meal schedule. Try not to eat as a reaction to boredom or stress (this is a problem for me) to keep your food supply stocked.
  • Find some exercise time. A lot of places are still allowing people to get out of their homes to exercise so long as you maintain an appropriate distance from other people. Your dog has never had it so good if they love walkies.
  • Take up a project. I guarantee you whatever it is you decide to do beats watching anything coming out of the White House or watching the reactions of people to the misinformation coming out of the White House. The more physical the work is or if it keeps your hands busy, so much the better. At least that’s what’s been working for me.
  • If you’re sick, self-isolate and seek treatment if things start getting bad (lips/face turning blue, feeling like you’re gonna pass out).

Lastly, if you’re like me remember that you are not alone. Reach out for help. There are professionals and friends, and even strangers out there who have the same situation. Talk to them on the phone, by text, use semaphore flags. Whatever it is you have to do, remember that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Our connections are what get us through times like this, and you can make things better by reaching out for help. In fact, it’s dangerous to go alone, take this, too:

We’ll get through. Hang in there. You are not alone.

IT’S HERE – A Strange Signal (and Patreon) Debuts today!

I’m going to make things weird.

Well, I’ve been quiet for a while. And it’s not been because I was incapacitated, kidnapped, or had nothing creative going. I’ve been quiet for many reasons, but chief among them was a brand new thing that has been a long time coming. I’ll let you have a look at what it all means, but in short, it’s a brand new project: A Strange Signal.

In short, it was an art project inspired by a tabletop game plot-creating technique: Go out; take pictures of things that strike you as weird, odd, or out of place; come up with ideas behind them for your game. After a sixteen-hundred-plus picture trip to San Francisco, it soon became apparent to me that this was not going to go into a game. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because there was so much content that I’d never get to use most of it due to the time it takes to get a game up and running, let alone to play it. Soon I had characters, nascent plots, and all manner of great stuff to get out of my skull and onto my computers. The ‘new project’ was born.

It was the kind of thing that just kept building up steam. I remember thinking that maybe this was just a phase. Let it run out. I couldn’t possibly keep this up. I went from making one or two a day to making four or five. They started piling up around me. Even when I hit snags and had to come up with better ways to make each piece – which I individually refer to as a ‘Signal’ – I just came up with faster ways to make better Signals. I’m fast approaching a hundred of them.

And people liked them. I’ve found that most people who viewed my past visual work never really had strong opinions on it. I’ll admit that it stung – I don’t think there was an artist born who didn’t basically want people to look at their work and feel not just something, but something that stirs you from the center of your being. We like that kind of attention. At least to the work if not ourselves (let’s be honest – it’s usually both).  And when I started posting them on my personal Facebook page, I got exactly that.

This was the first project I think I’ve ever done where people started talking about the work. Asking me when the next one would come out. Questioning about what they meant and where it was all going. If it would be collected as a book. How they could buy it.

That last one? That has never happened to me before this. I’ve worked spec for commissions, sure. But this was different. This was something, unasked for, that people seemed to want more of once they saw it.

Between the interest and my own compulsion, I can’t just leave these Signals be. They wake me up in the middle of the night some time to be made. I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to get source images. I tweak each one that comes through until I can find the right way to make it as unique and quaintly unsettling as I can. The crazed idea beast is at work now. And I cannot shut it down.

So, now I’m here. I have started a Patreon for my new endeavor, and soon, I’ll be adding an Etsy store (TBA soon). It’s terrifying. I’ve never put myself out like this before, never felt I had an idea good enough or marketable enough to put my name and a price tag on. But, that was yesterday And this is today. And today is full of Magic. And it’s also got you, here. Reading this.

So, Head on over. See what it’s all about. Dive deep into a weird otherworld where dogs are our masters, you should legitimately fear the ocean (more), and where doors can’t be trusted. I think you’re going to like it.

Just never trust a magician. They’ll only break your heart. Or other things you can’t get back.


Creative Dispatch – Publication and Tabletop Gaming, January 22nd, 2018

The monthly creative dispatch updates continue! While I’ve been working smarter and harder on my day work, the creative stuff continues to roll out.

My novel in progress, Hack Job, is continuing to move along at an acceptable pace. I’m about ten chapters in, and just shy of seventeen thousand words. It appears to be on target for somewhere around seventy to one hundred thousand words with the content I want to fit into it. I feel that John Ferryman, the protagonist of my love letter to cyberpunk science fiction, may even have a couple of stories to tell beyond the main novel, though any full-length follow-up titles are likely to feature new main characters. We’ll see how that goes.

On other creative fronts, gaming is looking to possibly blow up this year. I gave my dad a copy of Cthulhu Confidential for Christmas. While he got the physical copy, I got the PDF. We’ll take turns GM-ing over the internet once he’s gone off to Arizona. It’s a pared down version of the Gumshoe rules meant for one player and one gamemaster. It should solve some of our problems for finding a group provided we both get around to reading the rules soon.

Additionally, the Starfinder module mentioned previously is about seventy-five percent completed. I have all of the encounters outlined, I know all of the supporting cast. My pre-generated characters are all ready. The starships are designed. It’s all written down in a usable format. Some last-minute monster design details remain. I even made a map! I have two potential playtest groups forming, with one ready to start as soon as next week.

I was also asked by a good friend to set up a fantasy game. She knows a group she lovingly refers to as her ‘tabletop virgins’. With that in mind, I suggested Pathfinder in order to DM a module I’ve always wanted to run: The Haunting of Harrowstone. It’s Ravenloft flavored, so naturally, it drew my eye when it was first released. If the players really like it, they can even continue. I have the entire six-part Carrion Crown adventure path that will take them from level one to level twenty!

Finally, I need to make a big announcement: a short story that I submitted last year is earmarked for publication! This happened almost six months ago and I didn’t want to say anything until I had a contract in hand, but I can’t hide this any longer! Things are slow to develop (which I’m told is the norm). I’ll let everyone know which story and what publication it will be in as soon as I hear more from the publisher!

Creative Dispatch – August 14, 2017

Its like, news or something… but creative.

Apologies for the missed blog post last Thursday – the past seven days have been my first week on the path back to steadier income. I driving for Uber now, and I am learning the ropes while investigating a few other options. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive change so far. I like the work, I meet lots of new people, and they talk. I like to talk. When you meet new people and they like to talk, you learn about things you’d never have thought about before. I learned a couple things about recovering from addiction, what it’s like raising money for schools in West Africa, as well as the people in neighborhoods I’ve never been in before. I’ve also been drumming up a lot of old memories about places I haven’t been to in years. Then there’s the facet of a whole new way of employment – that in itself has a story brewing in my mind.

Speaking of which, let’s talk a little bit more about what’s been on my creative docket.

Creative Progress

  • Ossua: This has unfortunately stalled. I need to restructure it after reports back from my critique group. As is typical of a big idea, you need other people to show you the flaws in what you think is already concrete. It’s very much like the scientific method. In this case, if you’re going to do something extraordinary, you need to make sure you’re showing it in the best and most accessible way possible to others who do what you do. So… this could take a while. The story while interesting lacks some common things the group pointed out. So I have a lot of work ahead of me after I have figured out the way forward.
  • The Dream of the Nineties In Film: This has been a blast to write, and it’s coming to a conclusion soon. I think when it is complete, I will have the basics for a non-fiction piece that covers the nineties in film as well as my own personal experience of growing up in the decade. A lot of it has been cathartic. And a lot of it has simply been great fun. The completed work will need to be edited and then formatted (the whole format has been an evolution in progress since day one). I’ll need to add in some extra things – but that’s good. It will give new content and also show some growth hopefully. I’m not sure if it will be something I sell or provide as a portfolio piece for people who want to look at my blog writing capabilities or want an example of my ability to use InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Perhaps both on a long enough timeline.
  • New Short Story Seed: A gypsy cab driver with a slick, tech-capable ride in a cyberpunk future has an interesting night.
  • New Short Story Seed: Quantum Entanglement sheds new light on the very existence of life on earth as our sun begins to gutter out.
  • Short Story Mashups: I submitted a trunk story about societal collapse to my critique group against my better judgement last week. I liked the story when I wrote it two years ago, but when I look at it now I feel it needs something more. It turns out the group really liked it, and they noted that it dovetails with another story I submitted earlier. They’re completely right. It should have been really obvious to me, but it wasn’t. In the process, I’ve tagged at least two other stories that would also mash up to create a solid narrative. It needs more meat on the bones to become more than a novella, but it’d be worth the work as a great, Lovecraftian science horror piece. A new sticky joins my Kanban board.
  • Blog Work: I submitted an application to work for an online blogging company and also am speaking with a marketing company in Philadelphia after an interesting opportunity cropped up. Apparently, I may be able to put my storytelling ability to work for them. Hoping to learn a little more about that soon.

In Other News

I’ve been working on getting things done around the house. In addition to the usual stuff that keeps our house pest free and makes sure I don’t get arrested for public indecency, Project Retro has come out from its storage bin and awaits proper cabling. I have several of my old gaming systems lined up on a rack that was previously used to hold storage bins but has finally been cleared. I look forward to a chance to finally play Burning Rangers, as well as several of my old favorites like Xenogears or Sonic Adventures. They’ve been mothballed for a long time, so it’s good to see them out again. Once everything is set up, I shall have to celebrate with other gamers of the retro persuasion. I’m a little short on games (I’ve had to sell many) but 2nd and Charles is right around the corner.

On top of that, driving for Uber occasionally means waiting around to catch a ride. While waiting in the PHL ride share lot for the next person in queue, I had a chance to find a new author: Duane Swiercynski. Well, new to me. He has been working in crime and spy thrillers on the novel end of things for a while, and also writes a lot of capes and cowl work at Marvel. I started out with Severance Package, a tidy little story about an intelligence front company that goes incredibly pear shaped. It was Tarantino-esque in its over-the-topness. This has led me to acquire copies of further works, specifically The Blonde and Canary as well. If those go well, I may dig deeper in my quest to branch out a bit from Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror. I always felt that thriller genre stories needed more aliens, cyborgs, monsters, and ghosts. So to add them, knowing the original formulas helps. I’ve tried a little Hammett and Chandler in the past year or so. I also have some good examples in the Jonathan Maberry vein from the Joe Ledger series. The repertoire is building.

So, that’s the post for this Monday. It may take some time before I can really tackle the next phase of Dream. 1998 has a very long list of films to get to, but we’ll get there.



Creative Dispatch – Ossua, Map, and Halloween Short

And now, for another update of the Creative Dispatch.

  • I managed to get over the creative hump of writing Ossua. A new chapter is now through its first draft, and the story kickstarted itself back to life. It has its problems, but they are mostly things able to be fixed in post.
  • I completed my revisions on ‘Take Only One,’ my halloween-themed, horror short. It’s my intent to shop it soon as Halloween will be upon us faster than we think. I initially eyed a particular source for publication, but they are unfortunately closed to submissions at this time.
  • I’ve also laid down some colors for Ossua’s map (the original pen and ink are here)! I finally got a good digital rendition of it started. Base colors are in place and I should be ready to fill out more details both in terms of locations, cities, and features; and also in more nuanced colorings and graphic flair. See below!

creative dispatch
No, the cities aren’t really underwater. Yet.

Work continues toward getting things done in good order, despite life being very difficult in both expected and unexpected ways. I am disheartened by some of it, but I continue to resolutely work toward creative goals.

Keep on checking in. I promise more good stuff to report.

Some Maintenance

Hi all – looks like my server administrator had to roll out the service the blog is on. Ben is the best though – gave me plenty of warning and there’s just a few minor bugs to work out. I haven’t forgotten about you, dear reader. We’ll be up and running again soon!


Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑