Seeking Help

Welcome to release week for Dolphins in the Mud!

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Needing help can be difficult to accept, especially when it’s something that people assume everyone can do, or that someone should be able to handle. Often that leads to someone being unwilling to ask, and trying to do more than they’re able. Sometimes that can have devastating results.

We live in a world where to some extent community is valued, and we’re told we can rely on our friends and family. At the same time, some things are simply not talked about. If you need help moving to a new home, you probably won’t have too much difficulty finding people. But if you need help dealing with a mental illness, or with a child’s needs, you won’t necessarily get the results you hope for.

In Dolphins in the Mud, both the main character’s mother and his new friend Noah Silver need help, and neither is able to ask for it. Chris’s mother is overwhelmed by taking care of her nine-year-old autistic daughter Cece. In the town where they previously lived, she had a support system that gave her some respite, but since they moved, she has isolated herself from neighbors and refuses to admit to anyone that she can’t quite handle Cece alone. Even her husband is unaware of how badly she needs help, and since he has a four-hour round-trip commute to his full-time job, he isn’t around to give her any assistance.

Meanwhile, Noah is coping with untreated bipolar disorder. Although he has been diagnosed, his parents won’t allow him to be put on medication. They try to keep everyone from finding out that their son has a mental illness. He does have a therapist, but the therapist only sees Noah occasionally, and Noah generally refuses to speak to him. Noah won’t admit, and sometimes doesn’t recognize, that he needs more help than his parents are giving him.

In Chris’s mother’s case, her refusal to ask for help is equal parts pride and shame. She is too proud to let on that she can’t be the perfect mother, and she’s ashamed of how ineffective she feels in dealing with Cece. After all, aren’t mothers supposed to be able to take care of their children no matter what? This refusal, though, leads to her making choices that disrupt the entire family, and ultimately abandoning her husband and children altogether.

With Noah, his inability to get the help he needs for his mental illness nearly results in tragedy. As he becomes more deeply and unhealthily entwined with Chris, his need to hold onto the one person he trusts results in his taking drastic action when his father threatens to stop letting Chris and Noah see each other.

Through all of this, Chris, too, isn’t asking for the help he needs. He doesn’t feel equipped to take care of Cece as much as his mother demands, but he won’t talk to his father or any of the neighbors about it. He knows he definitely can’t handle Noah’s clinginess or needs, but doesn’t know who to talk to about it, other than Noah’s father. And Mr. Silver has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to hear about Noah’s struggles.

Ultimately, Chris is the only one who does ask for help. He speaks up for himself and Cece when their mother abandons them. Although he lashes out in anger, he does make it clear to his father and some of their neighbors that he and Cece both need more help than anyone is giving them. And as Chris and his father become closer, his father is the one Chris turns to for help in dealing with Noah’s illness and the impact it has on their friendship.

Asking for help isn’t easy, and when you’re afraid of what other people will think, it’s even more difficult. But it is important to do.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat

A message popped up at the bottom of the screen. Quickly, I got up to read over Rob’s shoulder.

You’re in for it Monday, freak. I hope you’re ready.

Rob made a strangled sound and looked up at me, ghost-white. “See? You see, Mira? I’m never going to be safe anywhere!”

“Easy.” I touched his shoulder and hoped he wouldn’t notice my hand was shaking. “Someone’s just being a dickhead, that’s all. It’s okay. They’re just trying to scare you.”

“No. You’re wrong.” He stared at the screen again. He was trembling and breathing the way he had in the office when he found out the police were arresting Craig and Seth. “This isn’t the first one. That’s why I wanted to check.”

“What do you mean? The first what?” I read the message again. I didn’t recognize the name on it. “Who is that?”

He shrugged. “The profile is blank. I get notifications on my phone when someone messages me on here. No one ever does, but this morning, someone did. The same person as this. I deleted that one. It said something about I’d better hire a bodyguard.”

He shoved the wheeled chair away from the desk and spun to face me. “They’re out to get me. All of them. If I go to school Monday…. Hell, I probably won’t even make it to school. They’ll ambush me on the way or something. You’d better not meet me, because they’ll attack you too.”

“I’m not going to let you deal with them alone. If someone really is planning something, I’ll be with you.” My heart pounded. Despite Ms. Cramer’s warnings, I hadn’t actually believed there would be any fallout from the arrests. But it sounded as if someone planned to seriously hurt Rob. “We have to tell someone about this, Rob.”

“Who?” He narrowed his eyes. “No one’s going to care. We don’t even know who sent the message. If we tell anyone about it, they’ll say it’s someone playing a joke or something.”

“Dad wouldn’t.” I didn’t know what Dad would be able to do, but he could at least help us figure out how to handle it.

“Don’t tell your father.” He sighed. “Don’t tell anyone. There’s no point. It’s just another case of me whining, right?”

“No!” I knelt in front of him so I could look him in the eyes. “This is real. You aren’t whining. You have every reason to be worried, and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You’re the only one.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to die on Monday. That’s it.”

“Stop saying that!” I sat back on my heels and looked at my laptop again. There had to be some way to help Rob. Something I could do to make people leave him alone, or something I could say to convince the school and his parents to protect him. He didn’t deserve to be this afraid all the time. I hated the people who knew about it and didn’t do a damn thing to help him.

“It is what it is.” Without looking, he reached behind him and closed the laptop. “I don’t want to think about it anymore. It doesn’t matter. None of this is going to matter.”

“It does matter. You should be able to feel safe.” His deadened tone and blank expression scared me again. Not to mention his talk about dying. He might not mean someone else would kill him. Maybe he was planning to take care of it himself.

I had to talk to Dad, even if Rob didn’t want me to. If Rob was serious about wanting to die, I needed someone to help me help him. And I couldn’t protect him by myself either.

“Don’t worry about it.” He stood. “And don’t tell your dad or anyone else. Promise. Otherwise I won’t be able to trust you, and then I won’t have anyone. I need to trust you, Mira.”

“I….” I couldn’t say much to that. He was right. I was his best friend. If I went behind his back, even if I only talked to Dad, I wouldn’t be any better than Talia. “Okay. I promise not to say anything if you promise you won’t hurt yourself.”

“I promise I won’t if I can avoid it.”

That wasn’t good enough. He might decide he couldn’t avoid it. But before I could argue with him, he opened the door. “I think I’m ready to go home now. Thanks for letting me come over.”

“I thought your stepmother was picking you up.” I couldn’t let him leave yet. I had to calm him down first.

He shrugged again. “I’ll call her on the way home. Talk to you soon.”

And then he walked away.

Choose Who’s In Your Life

Most of us have family members or friends. Sometimes close, sometimes not so much.

The hard part is when someone who’s been close to us suddenly isn’t. Either they’ve backed off or we have, or maybe they’ve done something we just can’t accept. Maybe it’s an issue of physical distance, maybe one of emotional. Maybe we feel worse when we’re with them than when we aren’t.

When we let someone into our lives to that extent, and especially if they’re a family member, cutting them out can be difficult. It might even seem impossible. But if you feel negative when you’re around them, or if they’ve changed the way they act toward you to something hurtful, sometimes you have to make that choice.

We all have the right to decide who’s in our lives. Even being related doesn’t guarantee someone a place. People might say “I can’t stop talking to them, they’re my parent” or something along those lines, but that’s still a choice.

Choose yourself first. Be the most important person in your life, and surround yourself with people who make you happy, or at least comfortable. You deserve it.

Going to Be Away…

I’m going to be away for a week, which means there won’t be a post next Monday.

I’m not sure about this going away thing. I’m going to a retreat, which I went to last year as well. Last year, it was difficult. I only knew three or four people there, and two of those were people I didn’t know well. I met people there, of course, and I’ve kept in touch with a few of them who will be there again this year. So it won’t be as difficult from that perspective.

But just like the convention I went to in January, at this retreat, there are going to be a lot of people. At times, things are going to be very crowded and loud. I don’t do well with crowded and loud. It’s also at a summer camp that has no internet or cell phone access, so I won’t be able to distract myself with my usual things. (Which is kind of the point of having the retreat there, since it’s a thing you aren’t really supposed to be distracted from.)

A lot of things will be outside, and I’m not always comfortable being outside, either.

I have to be very mindful during this retreat of my health, both physical (because there’ll be a lot of walking) and mental. Fortunately, I’m going with a close friend who’s aware of this and will be keeping an eye on me, but it’s my responsibility to manage my health and make sure I’m taking care of myself. Which I can do, I just have to remember that pushing myself is okay, but shoving myself…not so much.

Writing About Trauma

(Given the title, the content warning might be obvious…)

I really have to wonder about my choices of things to write about. Even when I try to write something happy, bad things end up happening to my characters.

It’s been that way for a lot of the time that I’ve been writing. Early on in my romance author career, which happened under a different pen name, a publisher told me to stop writing about abuse survivors, because they were present in every one of my books. I did try, but the books I wrote with “healthy” characters were flat and uninteresting, and they didn’t sell so well. I couldn’t connect to the characters.

I have unfortunate experience with abuse and trauma. I can relate to characters who have gone through it. I ended up going back to writing the type of character I was comfortable with, and those books, at least some of them, sold pretty well and got decent reviews.

That doesn’t mean I enjoy writing about those characters. Or at least, I don’t enjoy writing about the horrible things they’ve gone through. Sometimes it’s just painful. Other times, it’s triggering.

But I keep writing the stories because those are the characters who come to me asking that their stories be told. Which might sound weird if you aren’t a writer, but believe me, to writers their characters sometimes seem to have lives of their own.

The Dangerous Side of Dating

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Last week, I talked about the new book I’m working on, which is about relationship abuse.

Unfortunately, this is something too many people encounter. It seems to be particularly prevalent among teenagers, especially if they’re dating someone older, but even with someone the same age. When you’re kind of just learning how to be in a relationship, you don’t always know what is or isn’t okay. And it’s easy for someone to take jealousy as a sign of love, when it often really isn’t.

According to the website loveisrespect.org, one in three teens will experience dating abuse of some kind. For one in ten, that will be physical violence. Statistics indicate that it happens more to girls than guys, but those statistics might be affected by the fact that boys don’t often report dating abuse. If a guy slaps his girlfriend across the face, most people would say that’s abusive, but if a girl does the same to her boyfriend, people act like it’s no big deal.

And that, of course, is the heteronormative perspective. I wasn’t able to find stats on dating abuse among LGBTQ+ teens in the short amount of time I spent researching this post.

Any incident of abuse is one too many. But people on the receiving end of the abuse often try to make excuses for their partner—or take the blame for their partner’s behavior. They lie about injuries and pretend the relationship is just fine. Sometimes they realize things aren’t fine and are able to get out of the relationship. Sometimes they aren’t.

Sometimes the relationship costs them their lives.

Loveisrespect.org has resources available if you’re in, or think you might be in, an abusive relationship. Those resources include online chat, a phone line, and a text line for people to contact. If you’re concerned about a relationship, whether yours or a friend’s or family members, please visit that site, or talk to someone you trust.

Spring Into Self-Care

In my part of the world, it’s spring. The weather is finally getting warmer, after playing a few tricks on us during March and the beginning part of April. People are able to get outside more, which is a good thing after a winter of snow, wind, and ridiculous cold.

But going outside to enjoy activities or just the fresh air is something not everyone does. For some people, it takes thought to figure out what you want to do. Being around nature isn’t easy if you’re living in a city, and sometimes fresh air isn’t really a thing that happens. Being in the country, you might have to drive a while to reach the location of an outdoor activity you want to do.

Being cooped up inside all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. Personally, I deal with it a lot, because some of the health issues I have make leaving the house difficult at times. They also make wanting to be outside difficult. (PTSD and anxiety.) I have days when I have to push myself to just open the door and step out onto the porch, though if I can at least get that far, I’ll have the fresh air.

Being out in the sunshine, moving around and taking in the fresh air, can be really good for you. Not only can it help you be healthier physically, but it can boost your mood as well. If it’s something you’re able to do, try to make sure you do it on a regular basis. If it’s difficult for you to go places or do activities on your own, see if a friend or family member wants to go with you. Take time to figure out what you really want to do that will get you out of the house once in a while. It’s worth it.

High School Changes

The end of high school is a stressful time. Some students are thinking about college; some have already been accepted, some might not have heard yet, or might not know where they want to go. And they don’t know what college will be like. Other students are heading into the workplace or the military, and they don’t know what that holds for them.

On top of that, the senior year of high school is filled with projects. Many high schools require students to complete a graduation project or portfolio, which has to be done in addition to the homework they’re assigned, and there is a LOT of homework.

It isn’t entirely easy for parents either. The college application paperwork, and then the financial aid paperwork, seem like a mountain of things to fill out. But more importantly, parents are watching their kids dealing with stress, and possibly anxiety and depression, and all they can do to help is just be there. They can’t make it better, and no matter how old a kid gets, in a positive family, the parents are *always* going to want to make everything better.

It’s a time for the student to adjust to being an adult, and for the parents to adjust to having an adult. It’s a time when support is necessary. From family, from friends, and most of all between the student and the parent. It’s a time to be there for each other as much as you can, and as much as you’re able to allow.

High school ends, and you move on with life. It gets easier. But when you’re standing on the edge of such a massive change, it can be scary. Don’t go through it alone.

What “Trigger” Means

Sometimes online I see people seriously misusing the word “trigger” in a mental health sense. This has been said before, and better, by others, but I need to chime in.

If something annoys or upsets you, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that annoys or upsets you.

If it makes you angry, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that makes you angry.

If you don’t like it, or you find it disgusting or disturbing, or you strongly disagree with it, it still isn’t a trigger.

Something is a trigger, in a mental health sense, when it causes severe mental and emotional distress arising from past trauma, including flashbacks of the traumatic event (or one of them). Triggering, in this sense, is a reaction tied to PTSD. An incident, or word, or whatever, reminds you so strongly of the trauma you experienced that it’s as if you’re experiencing it all over again.

If you haven’t experienced that degree of trauma, I’m glad for you. But many others have. If you did, but you’ve worked hard to overcome it and you can confront things that used to trigger you, I admire you. I’ve been able to do that myself with a few of my more minor triggers, but there are some things that will probably always trigger me. (Don’t ever tell me to take a bath to relax myself…)

Using “trigger” in a minimized way, for example, “I can’t stand that color shirt, it’s really triggering me” or “He told me I was wrong about Supernatural, and that triggered me” is completely insensitive and offensive, and it causes a lot of harm to those who are legitimately triggered by reminders of traumas.

The more the word is tossed around, the less impact it has, and the more likely it is that if someone said, “I read a sexual assault scene in this book, and I ended up in the emergency room because it triggered me,” other people are going to just brush it off or accuse the person of seeking attention. Think about what you’re saying and why. And think about the effect your words have on others.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat

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I made it through the rest of Friday. At work, Talia and I were friendly when we had to talk to each other. When we first got there, she asked me again why Rob and I hadn’t been in class, and I told her all I knew was that Rob had gone home. She let the subject drop. She probably didn’t even care what happened to Rob. She just wanted to make sure I didn’t blame her for anything else. For the rest of my shift, I avoided her as much as I could.

After work, I watched TV with Dad and Olin, but I gave up after a while because my brain wouldn’t shut up long enough for me to pay attention to the shows. I was stuck again on the news about the kid in Wyoming. I hadn’t heard any more about him, so I still didn’t know why he’d done it, assuming anyone had managed to find out.

Maybe he’d been like Rob right up until he picked up the gun. Maybe people had told him to toughen up or had said he didn’t need help. His friends and family might not have noticed anything was wrong, or they might have wanted to believe they were imagining it. Just like I wanted to believe Rob was okay.

If Olin hadn’t been around, I would have talked to Dad about my concerns. Then again, he might have called Rob’s parents, which wouldn’t have done Rob any favors. Even though he knew how Rob’s father and Lee-Anne were, he probably still believed they would help Rob if they found out other people were worried.

I knew better. I didn’t want to think about what Rob was dealing with at home tonight. His dad was probably going off on him again, ranting and not giving Rob a chance to defend himself. And of course Lee-Anne would be backing up everything Rob’s father said.

I finally went to bed around eleven, but I couldn’t sleep. For over an hour, I lay with my eyes closed, trying and failing to shut off my thoughts.

My phone buzzed, and I immediately grabbed it. It couldn’t have been anyone other than Rob, even though I didn’t understand why his parents had given him back his phone so soon.

Hi, Mira.

Hi. Are you okay?

His answer took a couple of minutes to show up.

Define okay. I’m home. Father and his wife doing usual. Blaming me. I whine. I’m weak. Same old. Can’t leave my room but still want to see you tomorrow. They gave back my phone at least.

Good. I wanted him to come over too, but I didn’t see how if he wasn’t allowed to leave his room. Then again, since his parents had changed their minds about his phone, maybe they would change their minds about this too.

You want to see me, right?

Yeah. Of course.

Just checking.

He shouldn’t have needed to check. He knew I was his friend. Nothing would change that.

Are you still there?

Yeah. Sorry. Thinking. I hadn’t even taken a minute to reply. He was twitchier than usual. I couldn’t blame him, but if he wasn’t going to give me time to type my answers, it would get annoying.

I’m thinking too. Need to find a way so stuff like this stops happening.

My chest tightened. I sat up and tried to breathe more easily. He hadn’t said anything threatening. Only his usual thing about wanting to stop the bullying. But all I could think was that the kid in Wyoming might have said the same kind of thing.

The news story had gotten to me. That was all. I had to let go of it.