So, I’ve been gone a while. Thought I’d talk about that. There will be a TLDR at the bottom.
One year after I traveled to Tennessee for UtopiaCon and my book signing, my husband and I packed up our things, gathered our many rescue pets, and moved 4,000 miles to that very state. I’d only visited the once—and he, not at all. But the call to adventure had sounded, and in addition to a desire for new experiences, we were eager to outrun the staggering inflation and housing crisis of my beloved home-state. Frankly, we couldn’t afford a million dollar home and wouldn’t risk losing our rescue family to increasingly constrictive rental agreements. Our pets are our family, and we would not send them back to the kill shelters we’d rescued them from in the first place.
This move has taken me farther from home than I’ve ever been and has given me more food for thought than I’d have gained if I’d stayed in a familiar place.
But the move wasn’t cause for my silence, or my absence.
As it turns out, I’d been falling ill, likely, over the past 6 years (the last 2, being the most difficult). The thing was, I didn’t realize it. It happened slowly. So. Very. Slowly. There were some signs, to be sure, but like any hard-working artist hell bent on making their dreams reality, I ignored them. I was so focused on my work, on the hustle, I didn’t pay attention to the signals and subtle cries for help my body was sending. When illness sets in gradually, you have the time to acclimate, to accept a new “norm”. It’s dangerous. I’m lucky it wasn’t deadly.
My warnings came in the form of migraines, dizziness, fatigue, inability to concentrate, increased social anxiety, to name a few. I buckled down harder, blaming myself for not being tougher. Blaming my naturally introverted personality for losing my ability to cope socially (something I’d worked very hard to achieve since high school). All these things were piling up, and I began to self-isolate.
I did what we’re taught to: Don’t complain—work harder.
By the time we reached Tennessee, my symptoms had culminated to a point that drove me to depression. My anxiety was so heightened, I couldn’t come down from it. My heart raced like a tiger was chasing me at any given moment. I was suffering from reoccurring panic attacks too, the kind that crush your chest and numb your arms. Two solid years of this. I blamed it on life stress. I blamed it on past trauma. I blamed it on fear for not releasing another book fast enough—like a kid, late to turn in a final assignment and awaiting public retribution from their teacher.
In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, I began to lose my cognitive functions. I had trouble expressing myself and couldn’t think clearly enough to ask for help. I suffered major memory lapses, often forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence.
I never stopped writing. My new manuscript, the one I’ve been hinting at, had already undergone a first wave of submissions to major publishers. I was in a revision stage, rewriting to make this book the best it could possibly be. But now, I’d sit for 8 hours a day, struggling to write a handful of paragraphs—a devastating fall in productivity, considering I’d written the original manuscript in 3 months. Depression whispered in my ear that this was my new normal. That I was going to continue sinking, and that whatever good I’d done in life was behind me. (This was a lie.)
Eventually, all creativity abandoned me. I truly hope that someday, society will understand without judgement or blame, that artists need a connection to creativity as much as we need blood in our veins and air in our lungs. Being without it was worse than all my symptoms combined.
BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE
During that difficult time, respite was found in the company of my husband, our rescue family, and the natural beauty of the land surrounding us. Eventually, I took up watercolor painting and freshwater shrimp-keeping to practice focus and relaxation. lol Because all I need are more pets.
After 6 months of treatments and procedures, I am feeling more like myself than I have in years. In fact, only by becoming healthier did I realize how sick I’d become. (Sick-ception?) I am so grateful for how understanding my agent has been, urging me to focus on my health before all else.
I’ve chosen to talk with all of you about this because I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I know it’s difficult when medical care is expensive and hard to make time for, but please take care of yourselves. If something is making you feel “off” don’t wait for it to become normal. Depression and anxiety come in many forms and for many reasons, but if it appears in your life when you don’t expect it to, try to get a medical checkup. It just might be your body asking for help.
THE WORLD AT LARGE
I feel like I’ve awakened from a long dream, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to arrive. Finally feeling well enough to go outside and see people again—must stay home. It’s an easy decision for me though. I have books, snuggly pets and video games. Besides, I’m an introvert. I’m essentially a social-camel! I can survive long distances without needing to drink from the pool of social interaction. But seriously, it isn’t worth it to me to risk contracting or spreading this virus. If I’m being extra cautious, so be it. I don’t lose anything by chilling. If I really need to stretch my legs, I have Red Dead Online and a yoga mat. Not to mention, I hear modded Skyrim is lovely this time of year.
Wherever you are in the world, my heart is with you. Stay safe, stay healthy, be good to each other, and in the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. We'll get through this, together.
TLDR: We moved to Tennessee, rescue pets and all. I gradually fell ill, resulting in a culmination of depression and anxiety. I was diagnosed with anemia, advanced h.pylori, celiac’s disease and a benign abdominal tumor. Feeling much better now! Staying home during pandemic. Still writing. Forever and always. Big love!
A. R. Ivanovich is likely typing away at her desk, with a cup of heavily caffeinated tea and a cat on her lap.