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.

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.

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.

Work in Progress

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Recently, I started a new project. It isn’t the easiest thing to write, but I think it’s important. My publisher suggested I stick with contemporary fiction, so that’s what this is, but in the real, contemporary world, sometimes things are not easy to deal with. And those are the kind of thing I seem to end up writing about much of the time.

This book is about a boy who is in a relationship with another boy. Doesn’t sound so unpleasant so far, right? Relationships can be good things.

But this one isn’t so good. The main character thought at first that his new boyfriend was just a little nervous about being in a relationship. Then he thought his boyfriend was insecure about his other friends. After all, there’s nothing unusual about being a little bit jealous when you’re in a relationship with someone, right?

It might not be unusual, but sometimes it becomes poisonous. When the “little bit” of jealousy becomes the boyfriend taking away his phone to read his texts, and listening in on phone calls, and following him around to make sure he isn’t cheating, it isn’t so good.

And when none of that reassures his boyfriend that their relationship is solid, and the jealousy becomes physical abuse…

That’s the part that’s tough to write about. I know too many people who have experienced that. And I’ve seen too many teens on social media saying things like “He doesn’t love you if he isn’t jealous,” and even implying or flat out saying there’s nothing wrong with physical abuse in a relationship. There IS something wrong with it. It’s never okay.

That’s why I’m writing about it, even though it isn’t easy. I want to make sure people know it isn’t okay. I want people to know they can find help getting out of that kind of relationship.

But first, I have to finish the book.

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.

Redefining Self

Figuring out who you are isn’t something that happens once. Life is an ongoing process of change, reconsidering, and redefining. But when it comes to some subjects, people don’t always remember that.

I’ve known people who came out as homosexual in their 40s or later, after years of giving no sign at all that they were interested in people of the same sex. In a couple of cases, they themselves didn’t realize they were interested, or at least they didn’t admit it to themselves. But then they realized, or they came to terms with what they already knew.

That doesn’t mean they were heterosexual up until that point. It means they were living in the way they thought was best for them, or the way they thought they had to in order to be accepted by others, but over time they realized that wasn’t who they truly were.

Online, I’ve seen teens and young adults accused of “faking” their sexual orientation or gender “to get attention,” or of “jumping on the bandwagon,” because they’ve changed their self-identification over time. That doesn’t mean they’ve ever been dishonest about it. It means they might not have thought it completely through before they first came out. They also might, over time, have seen references to orientations or genders they didn’t know existed, and realized one of those terms fit them better than the way they’d previously identified.

I’ve also seen people say that certain genders and sexual orientations were “invented” by people on the Internet. This is not true. Those genders and orientations might not have had names until recently, but they still existed.

The Internet has been a help and support to a lot of people as they work on defining and identifying themselves. People who might have thought something was wrong with them because of the way they felt can now learn they aren’t the only one who feels that way. Of course, the Internet also has its downside; people can be judgmental and bully one another.

But the process of defining and identifying oneself doesn’t have a finite ending point. We all learn new things about ourselves over time. Life isn’t stagnant, and neither are we.

Teaser Thursday- Cluing In

I trudged back to health class, where I dropped the pass on Mrs. Forrestt’s desk and slumped into my seat to listen to yet another lecture about teen alcohol abuse. We’d been on the same topic for about three weeks now, and pretty much all of us had become sick of hearing that we shouldn’t drink and why. I didn’t think drinking was such a great thing anyway. I didn’t need it hammered into my brain over and over.

The bell rang and my stomach growled at the same time. Jebbi and I picked up our stuff and headed to the cafeteria. “I can’t eat lunch with you today,” I said. “Tina thinks we need to talk.”

She shook her head. “Tina always thinks you need to talk.”

“That’s a relationship, I guess.” I hefted my books. “I want to dump these in my locker. Come with me?”

“Sure.”

We pushed through the crowd heading to lunch and finally reached my locker. “I don’t know anything about relationships,” Jebbi said as I fiddled with my combination lock. “I’m not sure having one means you have to listen to someone telling you what to do all the time, though.”

I shrugged and finally managed to pop the lock open. Not an easy thing to do with a pile of books balanced on one arm. “She doesn’t tell me what to do. Just asks me to do things I don’t really want to, and I say no, and that’s that.”

“If you say so.” She nodded toward the end of the hall, where Tina stood with her arms folded and a thunderstorm on her face. “I think I’ll leave you two alone. Want me to buy you something to eat in case you make it to lunch?”

“I’ll buy something before she and I talk.” I slammed my locker shut and tugged Jebbi’s sleeve. “Come on. She won’t bite.”

“No, she’ll just say I’m taking her man’s time again, like she always does.” Jebbi sighed. “Being friends with me isn’t helping things between you and her.”

“You’ve been my friend a lot longer than she’s been my girlfriend, and I don’t care what she or anyone else thinks about it. Now come on.” I pulled on her sleeve again and she followed me up the hall.

Tina stayed right where she was until we walked up to her. “I thought we’d agreed to talk at lunch, Jamey,” she snapped.

“Yes, and I’m not at lunch yet,” I said. “I had to drop off my books, and now, since it is lunch, I’m going to buy some food.” My stomach rumbled again. “See? I’m hungry.”

“What are you doing here?” Tina glared at Jebbi. “Stealing someone else’s boyfriend? Once wasn’t enough for you?”

“Tina, shut up!” I said.

“You’re sticking up for her?” Her voice rose. “So maybe people are right about you two.”

“You know Jamey and I are just friends.” Jebbi spoke calmly, but her voice shook a little. She hated confrontations, especially with Tina. She also hated the reminder of what had happened freshman year between her and Drew Edgerly. “I’m not stealing anything, and I’m sorry you don’t trust Jamey enough to let him have other friends. Jamey, see you later.” She strode away down the hall.

“Good.” Tina reached for my hand and I pulled away. “What’s wrong?”

“How can you talk to her that way?” I narrowed my eyes. “You know damn well that what happened with Drew wasn’t Jebbi’s fault. And it was two years ago! You’re being a bitch, and I don’t waste time with bitches.”

Holiday Stress

Sometimes holiday gatherings aren’t the fun, happy times we wish they could be. For a lot of people, the stress of the holidays leads to conflict during get-togethers, even if the rest of the year everyone gets along fine. On the other hand, sometimes the holidays force us to see family members we prefer to avoid because the relationship is strained to say the least.

For some people, seeing family during the holidays is dangerous, and yet they are given no choice about spending a day among people who hate them for being who they are. Or, instead, they might be banned from seeing relatives with whom they wish they could have contact.

No matter how close a family is, minor conflicts are common, and during the holidays those things might become magnified by stress, fatigue, and other factors. Things that generally have little or no effect on us become the spark that ignites an argument. Feelings might be hurt. Things might be said that can’t be taken back.

The holidays are meant to be a time of happiness and joy, and in many ways they are for many of us. But no matter what our circumstances are, there are bound to be difficulties during the holiday season.

After the season comes to an end and we no longer have to face these gatherings, it’s time to take care of ourselves. Process how the season went. Spend time with people you care about who help you feel happy and calm. Spend time alone, resting and doing things that relax you.

If those aren’t enough, consider speaking with a professional or calling a hotline. Reaching out for help is always okay if you need it.

And remind yourself that the holidays are over, and better days are coming.

Cleaning…

For the past month, I’ve been doing a LOT of cleaning around my house. We’ve lived here for four and a half years, and in that time, we’ve accumulated way too many things. Now that both of my offspring are no longer living here, it was time to get rid of some things and rearrange some others.

It’s been a process. I’ve found trash, which I threw away… over a dozen bags of it. I’ve found books, clothes, toys, and, once I’ve moved all of those things, I’ve found floors! Who knew?

It isn’t that I’m happy to have my offspring out of the house. I’m not. I miss them, and as I posted before, sometimes it’s far too quiet around here. On the other hand, it’s nice to be able to walk through the living room without walking into something or tripping over something, and I’ve turned one of the now-vacant bedrooms into a retreat room for myself, or at least I’m in the process of doing so.

We also had some broken or damaged furniture hauled away, which gives us more space here. And I donated all of my husband’s and my hardcover and paperback books, because at this point he only reads online or on Kindle, and I have a Kindle so can easily read on that when I make time to read. Or I borrow one of my kid’s books, since her books are still living here for a while.

So it’s still kind of weird looking around and not seeing the offspring or some of their stuff, but at the same time, it’s nice to have a cleaner house.

It’s Quiet… Too Quiet

It’s been a bit over a month since my younger daughter left for college. It’s been two weeks since the older offspring moved out of the house.

It’s quiet around here…

With both of them gone, the only humans here are my husband and me, and he works 50-60 hours a week. Sometimes he and I don’t actually see each other awake for two or three days at a stretch. I have cats, and some days they’re the only living creatures I interact with at all.

One would think that having quiet here would give me a chance to get more work done, but it hasn’t so far. I’m not used to quiet. I’m used to having to work around people saying “Mom, Mom, Mom,” or loud TV shows, or music blaring from two or three different sources. Sometimes those things are distracting, but to some extent I can usually tune them out because I’ve had over twenty years of getting used to working with those distractions.

Silence, though… silence is sometimes a lot more distracting. The bracing myself at 3:30pm for younger child to come home from school, and then remembering she isn’t going to, is distracting. The trying to figure out if older offspring is in their room or out with friends, and then remembering they’re in another state living someplace else, is distracting.

Probably over time I’ll get used to this. Maybe.