Thursday, February 25, 2016

Author Spotlight with Aaron Dunbar

Introducing the AWESOME author of A Wish for Giants Aaron Dunbar 

Aaron was born in the small western town of Kittanning PA. When he was 2 his family moved to another town about an hour north where he lived for the next 30 years or so. After his grandparents' passing he moved back to his family's original farm just a couple miles outside Kittanning. Fun fact: Kittanning was the site of filming for "The Mothman Prophecies" in 2000, staring Richard Gere. Also, a 15 minute drive from the old funeral home where some scenes for "Silence of the lambs" was filmed.

He was married in 2002, has 2 boys, 10 & 13 and a step daughter who is now 21. His wife is his biggest supporter AND critic when it comes to writing. "I'm told I have a gift of creativity; however, such a talent sometimes impairs one's ability to follow rules. SO, while I write cool stories with east--punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure often suffer. Thankfully, I'm married to someone who got A's in English."

At age 10, he wrote his first book, "Snowbeast" which was typed on an old typewriter and the covers were made from cardboard and fabric soaked in some starch solution his mother mixed up. "I'd say writing is the single most ambition I've had from day one. Despite my lingering tendency for misspelled words, out of place commas and shoddy sentence structure, I did actually minor in English writing in undergrad. The rest of my formal education includes major in Psychology then I went on to earn a masters degree in secondary ed counseling (M.Ed)"

After a short stint working at a community mental health center, he decided it just wasn't for him. He loved counseling teens, but had some apprehensions of their penchant to medicate children and the pay generally afforded to social services was hardly sufficient. Now he makes a living by...a markedly different interest altogether...Landscape Architecture. There was also a transitional event, after being fed up with status quo mental health, he decided to buy a bar. It was a 100 year old landmark hotel with a dark past, and--you guessed it--it was what some would call "haunted". "That'll be a subject for a future novel.  Let's just say I've acquired a spirituality from it&#X1f60a." In addition to writing, he loves to build things. Mostly backyard paradise kinds of things--in ground pools, waterfalls, gazebos, ponds, retaining walls. He gives credit to the old Hotel that was in disrepair when he bought it, so he learned quickly how to DIY.

So, now that he has written his second book to be published, "A Wish for Giants," his aspiration are to retire as an author. "From what I can tell, marketing is the key to success so I'm always open to suggestions."

Watch the Book Trailer for A GIFT FOR GIANTS

Favorite Book/ Book that inspires you: 
The keyword here is "inspires" so I would have to go with the Bible, although I often fail miserably when compared to its ideals. Now, as far as reading for pleasure or entertainment, I have to say I'm drawn to all things Bigfoot--whether fictional or non.

Favorite Fictional Character:
Oh wow--I have lots! Sadly, for a man of my age, most are Marvel Superheroes. My wife bought me a birthday cake one year and had the bakery print the Hulk on it--the woman asked her how old her son was...#Reality

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Anything but a grown up! While my career objectives changed several times throughout childhood and on through college, the common thread I would have to say is that I always loved to write stories. Perhaps giving away my age, but the typewriter was my favorite toy from about 4th grade on. 

How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite and Why?
Not counting "Snowbeast" which I wrote in 5th grade using an old typewriter and fabricated the covers myself...TO DATE, I've written 3 novels. "Nostalgia" "A Wish for Giants" and "Isaka". The first 2 are published and available. "Isaka" is still in the editing process. Of those, I'd say Isaka is my favorite. It's a tale I built from a dream I had when I was about 14. Seldom does a single night time dream remain with a person throughout middle age and yet it does. I'd go deeper with my explanation but I don't want to risk giving away the story line before the book is published.

Your Current Read:
Not currently reading anything right now. Perhaps I could be tempted by fellow authors  

Besides writing, I'm a movie fanatic who's typically drawn to paranormal genres--especially if they claim to be "based on actual events". I also like to build things when the mood hits me--all sorts of things from helping my son build a bionic arm or laser to adding a new structure to our backyard paradise for my wife to paint. I'm also a workout junkie with a semi-health conscious diet. 

Who inspires you?
That's a difficult question to answer. I'm inspired daily by different people. Overall, I'd say I'm most inspired by those who I perceive to have already accomplished those goals which I've set for myself. 

If you could spend a day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Myself--when I was younger. I'd like to have a father/son kind of talk with my younger self. Tell that kid to straighten up and not do some of the things he's some of things he didn't do...not be so afraid of taking risks like he often was.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I was told I'm a good drawer. I'm also artistic in that I can visualize something then make it happen. For a living I build back yard paradise sorts of things: Gazebos, retaining walls, ponds, waterfalls, in ground pools, various culturally themed structures. Creativity has been my best friend in the work world. I love looking at a barren yard like a blank canvas on which many cool ideas can be brought to life. Most of my clients have an idea what they want but rely on my suggestions to materialize their thoughts. I really enjoy doing that and feel I've been blessed with this talent.

Things you keep at your desk:
Since my desk is simply my laptop at the breakfast table--a glass of ice water and perhaps a snack. My car keys as well, because my zip drive is on the keychain--it contains all my novels and photos to date. It's called "Gorilla drive", claiming to be water proof, etc. Not a bad way to spend $12 at Staples.

How long have you been writing and what initially inspired you to write?
Since 5th grade, I can't really explain why but I've always been fascinated by the concept of writing a book. With the wonderful inventions of such things as computers and "word" my interest has found a great atmosphere in which to thrive. I guess it's the freedom to create a setting and characters that do exactly what I want....what's that word--expression? When I'm zoned into writing mode, I live in that world and have an almost personal connection to the characters. For me, this is better than any exotic vacation.

What’s your cure for Writer’s block?
Close the laptop and go do something physical--some cardio or weightlifting, perhaps. Other options would be to drive to the mall and walk around--you never know who you might run into. Sometimes that stranger you hold the door for could inspire a new thought or direction for your writing with something as simple as a smile. I'm a socialite so being around people is a rich environment for ideas...watching them converse or interact while imagining how I'd convey what I see to a reader. So many times I steal physical or behavioral qualities from people I encounter in everyday life and project them onto characters.

What motivated you to write A WISH FOR GIANTS?
A Wish for Giants was written for the purpose of raising money for Make-A-Wish. I took 2 otherwise unrelated interests and merged them into a novel. As a long time Bigfoot researcher, I've always wanted to pen a novel about the big hairy guy. As a person who loves to help others, Make-A-Wish is one of my favorite causes. I contacted Make-A-Wish late in the spring of 2015 an asked for permission to use their name as a basis for my novel. They chuckled at the notion of adding Bigfoot to the mix but after consulting their national office they approved my request.

How long did it take you to write A WISH FOR GIANTS?
I began writing in May--the final edits were completed and proof was in hand by December.

How did you come up with the title?
It just seemed natural to name my novel what I was a child's wish to meet a Sasquatch.

Can you briefly share with aspiring writers your publishing process?
Create space is a wonderful tool. My wife is much more computer savvy than me so she pioneered us through the publication of "Nostalgia" after a bad experience with a publisher a year earlier. Once you've done it, it's like riding the proverbial bicycle. The steps are so well explained even I can do it. They give you a preview to see exactly how your work will appear on each page. There are lots of editing tools as well. Once you're satisfied you can order a proof copy to be sent to your house and go over--sometimes this is the best way to find small errors. There's no time pressure, take as long as you need to change anything you're not completely thrilled with. As far as I know, there's no limit of times you can go back and edit...until you submit the final version. Believe me, it can be frustrating when you think you're done (after 19 or so edits) then find that one period where it shouldn't be or a space where there should be a letter...for a cool $3k or so you can get a professional to shoulder this task but I've heard they can let one slip now and then too. Self-publishing is not for the impatient personality; however, it's normally much quicker than traditional publishing--not to mention a sure result.

Who designed your cover?
I did, actually. It's simple, yet it defines the general flavor of the work. The back ground is a shot of the forest behind my house at dusk. The Sasquatch hand is from a costume my wife bought me for Christmas one year. The girl's hand is my neighbor who was over swimming last summer. I mentioned to her parents I was looking for a young girl's hand for the cover of my novel--she literally jumped up "Pick me pick me!" So there you have it. 

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas in your book that you would like to discuss?
Make-A-Wish is the basic foundation of my novel, coupled with the enigma of something science has yet to achieve. I will note, however, that when I was in the early stages of writing and character creation I did a lot of brainstorming for ideas. The main character's name, Roxie, came from a twitter poll I did at the time. I explained I was looking for a young girl's name, sorta tomboyish. To my shock, one of my favorite movie actresses Tina Ivlev ("Bound to Vengeance", LMN's "Death Clique", "Major Crimes", "CSI") responded so it was she who named the lead character. Also I should mention that Bob Gimlin, who was present when the most famous footage of Bigfoot was shot in 1967, was kind enough to give permission to use his character for an entire chapter. The dialogue therein is based on an actual conversation I had with Bob at a Bigfoot convention several years ago. I sent him a copy of the novel and he sent me a check to donate to Make-A-Wish. Finally, Cliff Barackman of the show "Finding Bigfoot" was awesome enough to let me use a photo he took of that 1967 film site, as it is today! This photo graces the back cover of my novel. Cliff also donated to Make-A-Wish.

Are any experiences in your book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Most of the characters are fabricated although some were comprised of personalities from people in real life. The wish coordinator from my local chapter was patient enough to answer questions via email--sometimes daily--as I wrote. This was to keep the story in accordance with actual procedures within the organization, as if it were a real case.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) you faced while bringing your story to life?
Being a staff member on a forum about Bigfoot, research on that topic was readily available so I was able to throw in some theories and facts from the field to bring my story to life. As far as the Make-A-Wish setting, I learned as I went--the various titles, roles and duties within their organization. I also learned certain appropriate vs inappropriate terms to use when referring to their service. They NEVER say terminal illness--the proper term is "life threatening medical condition". The reasoning is  we never want to condemn to a gloomy end, but rather, endorse a positive outcome. It should also not go without saying that 80% of the children referred to them do live on to become adults 

What advice do you have for new writers?
Never give up! 
Also, watch out for publishers who call you. I learned a very expensive lesson when I published my first novel. Salesmen will call if you leave your number on a website seeking info, etc. They will sell you services ranging from a couple hundred dollars for a basic plan to several thousand--depending on which "package" you go with. I did so thinking they would market for me....wrong. The extent of marketing is they put your book on a list available to retailers like Barnes & Noble but do little to encourage them to buy. They will also, for a fee, make your work available on Amazon as print on demand or various eBooks (kindle, etc)...something self-publishers can also do for themselves free. Another thing that was even worse than not marketing was they printed a retail price on my book that was so ridiculously high ($27.95 + S&H) my own mother wouldn't have bought it! And, despite the high price, my royalty was less than $2! Now, I know not all publishers fit this bill. I'm only sharing my experience to help others be cautious. Do lots of research before you pay anyone to publish what you worked hard enough to get finished, edited and ready for print. 
Network with as many other authors as you can. Trade books even. We're never in competition with each other but rather all on the same team. Social media is wonderful for getting known in the writing world. Who knows, maybe the right person will catch their eye on your work and open up a whole new world for you. It has happened before!

Roxie Madison, a nine year old diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, is referred to Make-A-Wish (R) Most children with a life threatening medical condition ask to go somewhere fun, meet a favorite celebrity or get something their parents could not otherwise afford. Instead, Roxie's wish is to so something no one else has ever done-Find BIGFOOT! Contemplating a feat that science itself has yet to achieve. Make-A-Wish is at a stand still...until Sophie Bracone comes on board to volunteer. A graduate student and fearless children's advocate with political ambitions to leave no child without home, Sophie gladly accepts the challenge. A self-indulgent classmate who learns of her quest sets out to stage an elaborate hoax to gain fame and win Sophie's love, caring little for Roxie's wish-Who will succeed?  

Purchase A WISH FOR GIANTS by Aaron Dunbar, Proceeds go toward wishes for children with life threatening conditions.

Congrats to Aaron and the cast of A Wish for Giants. Now available on DVD & Blu-Ray

"Most people live for the next day, especially the young because they think they are somehow immune to the casualties of life. But sadly we aren't, even 17 year old handsome jocks face their own mortality. It isn't fair or logical and life doesn't have mercy on you just because you ask nicely. It's just a series of twists and turns, so you just have to buckle up, find someone to enjoy the ups and downs with and bedazzle your helmet." -Faye, Questioning the Universe

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Outside Looking In with Paul Crowe

Late night, brakes lock, hear the tires squeal 
Red light, can't stop so I spin the wheel 
My world goes black before I feel an angel lift me up
And I open bloodshot eyes into fluorescent white 
They flip the sirens, hit the lights, close the door and I am gone

These are lyrics to one of my favorite songs- Artist in the Ambulance (Listen to Thrice Artist in the Ambulance on YouTube) An "artist" makes something from nothing/ molds & brings things to life. Our culture gives fame and glory to celebrities, bands, singers, actors, even writers are deemed "artists" which we are, but we also don't give credit where credit is due to nontraditional artists, EMTs, Firefighters, police, soldiers, ect. First Responders sadly show up to disastrous scenes creating hope in hopeless situations and bring people back to life. 

"Life was full of indelicacies. I wondered how beauty and obscenity could coexist.  Only a door separated two very different realities within the same world, beauty of a storm passed and a war on the verge of surrender." - Questioning the Universe, my novel in Progress

When I was approached to write a blog on First Responders I immediately thought of this line from my novel. Life IS full of indelicacies and beauty and obscenity DO coexist. Bad things happen, lives change in an instant, and tragedy strikes when you least expect it. Luckily we have these selfless individuals to help retain our freedom, to enforce justice, to help when we are sick and broken and ultimately save our lives. These wonderful people help to keep our world beautiful and are there to offer help when we are on the verge of surrender. THANK YOU to all of the men and women out there that fight and work hard to keep us safe. 

I have a guest blogger today. Thank you Paul Crowe for your willingness to contribute.

by: Paul Crowe C.D.

Days will always begin with the break of dawn and the sunset will close out with the night skies, in our busy lives we wish to just have a couple of moments to ourselves to relax from the busy schedules we keep in our day to day activities. But there are people who live their lives in pursuit to help others where the time we so preciously need can be their darkest hours. As a veteran myself I feel compelled to discuss, bring to light and identify those who do such work and ask so little in return. I am proudly talking about a our Armed Forces, Police, Firefighters, EMS and 911 Dispatchers.
Many people don't understand the life outside the job or the passion it takes to do the task in the first place, the heartache and the internal pain that never seems to go away. Living day to day with the same events not only takes a toll but can become the most haunting memories to bear. How many times have you been a witness to something terrible such as a car accident, a burning building, or a robbery in progress? Your glad to be standing far enough away so as not to become involved. But, someone takes the next step because its their job and goal in life to help others in a time of need.
Emergency personnel have a work family and the comrade of their own to count on and discuss the worse of times and gladly the best of times, to discuss ups and downs and personal strives. Many go home to their families to relax and hopefully discuss what brings them to a darker place to find comfort within.
In today's world we often see the bad, and hopefully some good that our emergency services personnel must endure on a daily basis, they give their all and ask so little in return. Topics for discussion such as PTSD, homelessness and mental health need not be something to shy away from ,but become involved not because you have to but because you want to and feel the need. We are not all cut out to do this type of task, but we are all grateful they are and need to do our part. Next time, just say thanks for your service, glad you were here when we needed you. I was “outside looking in”. 

A veteran of over 20 years of service with the Canadian Armed Forces, a decorated service member with several years spent traveling North America, Europe and the Middle East for business and pleasure. Originally from Peterborough, Ontario now retired and residing in the beautiful Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Love of writing to tell the stories that need to be heard.

Paul Crowe C.D.
Published Freelance Writer

Questioning the Universe News- This week was HUGE for me. I finally sent my manuscript off to my lovely editor +Susan Malone It is rough but I know together we can make something beautiful. I am so grateful for her patience and her willingness to work with me. Thanks to my husband for supporting my dream and not outright telling me I was crazy for changing my career choice from nurse to writer. To my kiddos for dealing with a cranky, reclusive and some times crazy mother. Having your mom talk to herself and act out scenes in the parking lot is probably not good for your rep. To my friends and family who have listened to countless hours of me talking about Matt and Faye, your job is far from over. To my best friend Emily for inspiring Emmalyn. I don't think I would have gotten through my teen years without you and BING. And to the Angel who inspired Matt, thanks for watching over me and may I do your memory justice.

Next time your mind wanders, follow it around for a while. You never know where it might lead you. Thanks for reading. Remember to thank those who keep us safe. Have a blessed week full of love and inspiration. XoXo- Cheryl

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Author Spotlight with Kelly Moore

Introducing the Beautiful Kelly Moore

Author of Broken Pieces

Kelly was raised in Mt.Dora, Florida, a true southern girl with a sarcastic wit. Gypsy traveling nurse by day and romantic author by night. Loves all things romantic with a little spice and humor. She loves two characters who overcome their pasts to fall in love and have a happy ending. Wife, mother, grandmother and dog lover. Travels the US in a fifth wheel making memories and friends.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly and learning more about BROKEN PIECES as well her life as a traveling nurse. Thank you Kelly for all that you do. I know for a fact nursing is a very hard, selfless but rewarding career.

Favorite book/Book that inspires you?
My favorite book is actually a series of books.  I love the HACKER Series by Meredith Wild which include HARDWIRE, HARDPRESSED, HARDLINE, HARD LIMIT, and HARD LOVE.  I love the characters she created. They are strong, intelligent and fierce. She created a great love story.

Favorite fictional character.
Acheron in the DARK HUNTER Series by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Acheron had been grossly abused, but is a character is full of love and loyalty to family and friends.  He loves the unlovable and sees the good in them.  Besides, he is tall dark and handsome.

HUNGER GAMES – Team Peeta or Gale?
While Gale is handsome, I would choose Peeta because of his deep love for Katniss. What can I say I am a fool for love. He would give his life for her. Truly romantic.

Current Read
I have been trying to focus on writing and marketing in between working as an ICU travel nurse, but a fellow author I met on twitter, Tim McBain has pulled me into reading one of his books called AWAKE IN THE DARK.  I read one chapter and was hooked. He paints a picture so well and his character is very funny.  I did finish another book about a month ago called CONFESSIONS.  It wasactually pretty good.  Sweet ending.

Who is a strong woman that inspires you?
This is a difficult question because there are many authors who inspire me, but if I think about my everyday life, I would have to say my mother-in-law. She is a beautiful woman inside and out.
She is one of the only people I can say that truly practices what she preaches. She is so pure in heart. She encourages me even if she may not agree with me. She loves and supports me. I can’t think of anyone else I cherish more than her.

The obvious is reading and writing.  I love to be creative making gifts for people like scrubs, beard oil, soaps anything crafty. Scrapbooking and card making.

If you could spend a day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Robert Redford. I have been in love with him since I was a little girl. I love his philosophy on life. He is a man of good character.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I do. I make my own medications with essential oils and herbs. My children call it my “Voo Doo Brews.”  The laugh at me, but when they are sick they don’t mind taking them.  I can mix stuff up
that will knock a flu or cold right out of you.

Things that you keep at your desk.
Being a traveling nurse, I live in a 5th wheel. I don’t actually have a desk just a kitchen table. But, you will always find pen and paper, a bottle of water and my diffuser. I am usually diffusing something like peppermint to help me stay focused.

How long have you been writing and what initially inspired you to write?
I have carried a composition book as long as I can remember. Initially I wrote to escape a bad childhood. It was my coping mechanism, but it became a passion. I am typically very shy and it took me until last year to even try to publish anything.  I was lucky on my first admission with BROKEN PIECES and the sequel PIECED TOGETHER should be out by next summer.

What is your cure for writers block?
Hiking. My husband and I love to hike in the forest for hours. Sometimes I don’t realize he is even talking to me because a story will start running through my head. For some reason hiking gets the juices flowing.

What motivated you to write BROKEN PIECES?
I am not sure there was a motivating factor other than the story was just in my head and I needed to put it on paper.

How long did it take you to write BROKEN PIECES? 
BROKEN PIECES and PIECED TOGETHER were actually written at the same time. It took me about 5 months to write it.  But it was a year before I got the courage to actual tried to get it published. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share the story.

How did you come up with the title?
That was easy for me. The characters, Brogan and Kyren, were both broken and they needed the pieces of each other to heal.

Can you briefly share with other aspiring writers your publishing process?
I simply sent my manuscript out to Page Publishing. They did all the hard work. Editing was probably the most grueling part.  I am considering self-publishing my third book.  It would give me more control over the cost of my books.  I am doing all the marketing anyway, so it just seems to make sense.

Who designed your cover?
I came up with the idea of what I wanted and Page Publishing design team made it happen.

Are any experiences in your book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
I think each character has a part of us in them. Even though I have tried to convince my daughter that I am not Brogan in my book, there are life experiences in there that mimic mine.

What advice do you have for new writers?
Unfortunately not a lot only because I am new at this too.  I would have to say just don’t give up and don’t stop writing.

His touch is scorching hot and rough, just how I like it. It's just sex. I don't believe in love, but he makes me feel things I have never felt. I want to try. I want to trust him with my secrets, but there is a good chance he will leave. He will see how broken I am. He is what I need to fix the broken pieces of my heart.

At a very young age, violence and secrets forced Brogan to escape the only life she knew. Now a young woman with a good career, she hopes to finally forget her past. She is tormented by demons in her dreams, and it has threatened every sexual relationship she has ever had. Brogan meets Kyren Nolan, a sexy ex-military man. He knows what he wants the minute he meets Brogan. He wants her, and his first meeting with her lands him on the ground. He doesn't take no for an answer. They start a passionate affair that turns into more. He teaches her that a gentle touch can create as much heat between them. They struggle for control. But Kyren has his own scars and secrets. When their pasts collide, will they be able to overcome the broken pieces of both their lives together?

Add BROKEN PIECES to GoodReads

Order BROKEN PIECES on Amazon

E-Book will be available on Monday, February 15 for ONLY .99

Connect with KELLY MOORE for the latest on BROKEN PIECES and it's sequel PIECED TOGETHER

Do you want a FREE copy of Charlotte Haines new book INTRODUCING CHARLOTTE? 

View Introducing Charlotte on SmashWords

Charlotte Haines is an amazing author that I have interviewed and will review for a future Author Spotlight. She was nice enough to let me share it with you for FREE, all that we ask is that you post a review on SmashWords and mention my blog. I would also love to post your reviews on my blog and give you a shout out. After all we are a community and need to help each other out. 
Email me or DM on Twitter @CherylAMnty23 and I will message you the code for your FREE ebook. 

Oh my goodness that SMILE! This week my hubby and I watched one of my favorite movies which is based on one of my favorite books, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Somehow it was even better than the last time I saw it. So it just seemed right that I use Logan Lerman to model Matt's infectious smile.

"We accept the love we think we deserve." Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being A Wallflower

You are amazing and deserve the very best. Remember to smile! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful week filled with love & inspiration. XoXo-Cheryl 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let Talk about...Mental Health #ItAffectsMe

All week long I have contemplated whether or not I should write this blog. Bell Let's Talk Day 2016 was last week and it inspired me to share my own story. I tweeted using it's hashtag and received so much support. I now know I am not alone.This is difficult and somewhat uncomfortable to share but that is exactly the reason why I should. It affects me- I have a Dissociative Disorder.

"I get these headaches sometimes. No big deal. This isn't an out and out lie, because the headaches are part of it. It's like my brain is firing so fast that it can't keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything else fades into the background and all I'm left with is sound, I can hear everything, but not just hear it- I can feel it too. But then it can come all at once- the sounds turn into light, and the light goes too bright, and it's like its slicing me in two, and then comes the headache." - Finch, All the Bright Places 

I was never able to put into words exactly how I felt during those "dark times," that was until I read All the Bright Places a couple months ago. Now I borrow Jennifer Niven's words, which I think encompass my feelings perfectly. Theodore Finch is my teenage literary doppelganger. Although he dealt with Bi Polar Disorder, we share the same struggle to stay "awake." If you haven't read this book, you definitely should. (Add All the Bright Places on GoodReads)

I remember the first time it happened. I was 12 years old and had just gotten out of the shower while at my grandparents house. I looked into the foggy mirror and I didn't recognize my own reflection. I touched my nose, my lips, and blinked my eyes a couple times. I felt my skin underneath my fingertips and the girl in the mirror mimicked me but somehow the movements felt disconnected. I brushed it off and figured I was just tired. But later when I spoke, my voice seemed unfamiliar. Panic swept over my body and I felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. I spent the rest of our vacation scared out of my mind in a room under the covers and refused to leave the house. Luckily, my grandma had tons of old movies to entertain me while everyone else enjoyed themselves.

 As I got older, this feeling continued to come over me at random times, for various lengths of time in different degrees. It also progressed to the point that during my "episodes" I didn't recognize the people around me either.  I knew everyone's names of course but their bodies seemed distorted, weird and unfamiliar. My senses were on overload, everything was too bright and too loud and every touch was too much. The way time passed was even altered, the days seemed longer because I couldn't remember what I had done just hours before. One night, it was so bad I was convinced I had a brain tumor and that I wouldn't survive the night. But the next morning I woke up still trapped in my own distorted reality to suffer yet another day. I wanted to tell my family but didn't know how to explain exactly how I felt. How crazy would I have sounded? "Mom I feel like I robot has taken over my body."

As an adult the symptoms only worsened. Along with the unreal feeling came terrible vertigo which fueled anxiety which thrusted me even deeper into the painful cycle.  When I got married I would tell my husband, "I feel loopy." That was code for the feeling is here and I need to be left alone and not touched. He was very very patient while I locked myself in my room with the blinds drawn and stayed in bed for days. I also had manic periods where I had total disregard for everyone around me. My reality felt like a lucid dream so I treated it as one. I did whatever I pleased without worrying about the consequences of my actions. I was not the most pleasant person to be around during these times for my loved ones. On the other hand, my friends saw it as a "crazy streak" and I was the life of the party.

Fast forward to May of 2012, my life was finally coming together after a long period of total SHIT. I tried to be more delicate in the matter but the year before was a real shit fest. I was finally happier than I had been in a long time. I had 3 healthy beautiful children, my Graves was in remission, I was in a loving stable relationship, and going to school. I went to the grocery store and I felt it come over me. I pushed it back, NO! I am happy, not now. Sometimes I went to bed and in the morning it was completely gone. So I just hoped for that, but days turned into weeks.  About a month later, I was popping Xanax just so I could sleep through it. It came in various degrees but this time I felt like I couldn't even see straight and it was painful to keep my eyes open. It was like being stuck in a nightmare you can't wake up from.

For those of you still in battle keep on fighting.
RIP Warriors  
Mental Illness claims victims just like every other disease, except since it is misunderstood suicide is deemed selfish and not a tragic side effect of a sickness. I think the most common misconception about suicide is that you want to die. I wanted to LIVE but couldn't continue to breathe in a world I didn't understand. I just wanted to end the seemingly never-ending agony. When I posed a danger to myself, my husband drove me to a hospital in another city. Finally a doctor gave a name to what I had been feeling for so long-DEPERSONALIZATION/DEREALIZATION. That time was the longest it had ever lasted, I was dissociated for over a year. No amount of medications or therapy helped even in the slightest. I held on and did what I could just to get through the days. How grateful I am that I got help because IT GETS BETTER.

"Depersonalization is the third most common psychological symptom after feelings of anxiety and depression." -

During my most recent episode, I picked up a pencil and started writing a stupid short story/fan fiction about Hemlock Grove. Upirs running around Stalin-ruled Soviet Russia and an unsuspecting girl giving birth to the daughters of the Apocalypse. After a few days of writing, I felt better than I had ever felt. I discovered writing was my new therapy, a way of escaping reality in a healthy way. I changed my major and went back to my local community college to study English Literature and Creative Writing. After my first assignment, my teacher told me the piece I turned in was garbage. I didn't think it was that bad, just unrelatable to a middle aged divorced man since it was a story about a young couple's journey through infertility and adoption. So I refused to write for him anymore. I sat in his class in the back of the room with my earbuds in, which is very uncharacteristic of me. The week before finals, he pulled me aside and said if I didn't turn anything in he would fail me. I locked myself in my room and stared at the wall. I need inspiration and fast because I had to turn in 20 written pages to pass my class. I sat at my desk and the words flowed onto the page effortlessly.  I turned it in proudly but then he questioned if I had really written it and if I had, what had changed. I told him about my friend Matt* who had lost his life to suicide and how he visited my dreams. Nothing had really changed, I was just INSPIRED. He said I should write a book, and that is exactly what I did. This is how Questioning the Universe was born.

Matt has saved me so many times over. First in high school when he kept my secrets to himself, then when he visited me in my dreams when I needed him the most, and again through the fiction character he inspired. Over Christmas, I "finished" my book and was so excited. I immediately got in touch with editors and couldn't wait to send it off. Then I got word that another classmate had taken his life. He was afraid to get help because of the stigma that is attached to mental illness within the military. I hadn't seen this boy since Freshman year of high school but I can still remember his scrunched up smile and his goofiness during Debate Club in middle school. I felt overwhelmed and got in my car to take a drive. Ironically, the Fray's How to Save a Life came on the radio and so many feelings flooded me all at once. I was saddened by his loss and felt for his wife and children. I missed Matt even more because I felt like after I sent my book off, he was really gone and I couldn't even write about him anymore. But then it hit me, I felt guilty too. Although no path is exactly the same, we went down similar roads but our destinations were different. I wondered why...and I don't have an answer but I will let you know it does indeed get better. This is the longest I have ever gone without an episode, it has almost been 2 YEARS. I see the world clearly now and can fully appreciate all of it's beauty. Remember to know true happiness you must feel pain as well, which gives us a unique view of the world. I appreciate every single day I am well and live life to the fullest.

If you or someone you know needs help, please don't be afraid to reach out.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

When you get a chance please follow these awesome accounts on twitter that fight to end the stigma and who promote mental health awareness.

Don't forget to check out my new "Writer" FB page! It isn't much yet but it's a start and could use the support.

Thanks for joining me and letting me share my story. Together lets #RemovetheStigma and shout out loud that #MentalHealthMatters. It only takes one smile to stop a thousand tears. XoXo- Cheryl