Mental Health Break: 11 Coping Techniques to Try

Like so many people (especially those of us in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get up in the morning. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (and also please don’t give advice on something you don’t understand– it’s never helpful).

The last while has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. It’s no secret that Covid is having a negative effect on many people’s mental health. Just the anxiety of going through a pandemic is enough to cause widespread distress. Add to that economic insecurity; the stresses of quarantine and isolation (or going to work or school when you don’t feel safe); people spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories while displaying zero empathy or intelligence; certain so-called leaders and governments content to let the virus run rampant; and countless other things that are making life scarier and more difficult than it needs to be– and the stage is set for more people than ever struggling mentally and emotionally.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it when I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed– there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.

If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby).

In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention number is 1-800-273-8255 (find out more here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.)

In Canada, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645. You can also chat here: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

There’s also good info here: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
If you’re not in crisis but are having a hard time and need something to help you through it, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Read a Book: I know, I suggest this a lot. But a book can help distract you, and provides a feeling of accomplishment when you finish it. Make sure to pick one that interests you, preferably something lighthearted or uplifting. If you’re feeling up to it, try a book designed to help people cope with mental illness (there are many to choose from, but Mind Over Mood is one that’s highly praised by mental health professionals.)
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed, which isn’t helpful. If you’re isolating due to COVID (or feel like you can’t deal with other humans at the moment), go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete, no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant). Or, if you prefer talking to writing, give them a call.
Plan a Trip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t go because it turns out planning trips makes people happier than actually going. So distract yourself by planning your dream vacation (or research anything else you’re interested in).
Find the Humour: Being depressed, down, or anxious doesn’t exactly lend itself to laughter, but a bit of dark humour can actually help lighten the mood. Try looking up memes about anxiety or depression, or chatting with a funny friend who gets it. Darkly humorous shows and movies can also be good (I like the 1964 Addams Family TV series, as well as the movies from the early 1990s, and the “Adult Wednesday Addams” series on YouTube.)
Mental Health Break: 11 Coping Techniques to Try, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Create Coping Cards: This is an idea I got from Unf#ck Your Brain. When you find a technique that works for you, write it down on an index card. When you’re struggling, you’ll have a handy set of coping techniques ready to go. You can even put the cards on a key-ring and keep them with you.
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re having a hard time? Share in the comments…
Stay safe,
Aspasía S. Bissas
PS: Apologies for the spacing issues–they’re thanks to WordPress’s fabulous new editor that no one asked for. Hopefully such issues will be ironed out over time.

Anti-Racist Resources

Anti-Racist Resources blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

The Orem Public Library put out a good list of anti-racist books on their blog: https://justbrowsingopl.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/antiracist-reading-list/

The New York Institute of Technology has a great list of resources that you can start using right now: https://libguides.nyit.edu/c.php?g=666045&p=4761364

And for more of a Canadian-specific focus, the University of Toronto offers this list: https://onesearch.library.utoronto.ca/anti-black-racism-reading-list

 

Keep reading…

Aspasía S. Bissas

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Chances are when you think of vampires you’ll think of Eric Northman, Drusilla, Barnabas Collins, or any of the other fanged creatures-of-the-night that populate modern culture, including Mara from Love Lies Bleeding. The vampires we’re familiar with are (generally) human looking, powerful, often charismatic and attractive, with a thirst for blood and a dislike of stakes. But that wasn’t always the case. History and folklore are full of vampires that are nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Here are five examples…

Vetala

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo via https://detechter.com/three-famous-vampires-in-india/

Also known as vetaal or baital, the vetala is a blood-drinking demon in Hindu mythology that haunts burial grounds and crematoria, hangs upside down (like a bat) from trees, and possesses dead (or occasionally living) humans or animals. Not unlike the vampires on Buffy, the demon sets up shop in the body it’s possessing, while the original soul that inhabited said body is “completely gone.” Unlike the vampires of Buffy, the vetala retains none of the memories of the person it’s possessing. As well, destroying the body doesn’t destroy the demon, which simply moves on to the next handy body. Vetala are chaotic, revelling in the damage they cause, including driving people insane and killing children. Interestingly, some vetala are not evil; there’s even a Disney Channel series in India where a harmless vetala is friends with a boy. It’s also possible that Bram Stoker was inspired by tales of vetala before he wrote Dracula.

Revenant

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Dylan Sauerwein on Unsplash

There’s some debate about what revenants actually are. It has been argued that they are a type of vampire, zombies, or simply generic undead. Since the word itself means “one who returns,” it could refer to anything from a ghost to (technically) someone coming back from a long trip. Augustin Calmet wrote in the 18th century that revenants were created by sorcerers “who sucked the blood of victims.” Most historical accounts agreed that revenants are caused by the restless spirits of wicked people re-animating their corpses. Whatever a revenant is, stories show a number of similarities with classic vampires, from their bodies being swollen with blood (usually from gorging on it); to only being able to move about at night; to needing their heads and/or hearts removed and destroyed in order to finally stop them. Illness and death almost always follow in a revenant’s wake. While vampires are said to require blood as sustenance, a revenant doesn’t need the blood it consumes. Another difference is that revenants, unlike vampires, decompose.

Draugr

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Draugr (or draug, pl. draugur, AKA aptrganga) is essentially a Norse revenant. Unlike other revenants, draugur can increase their size at will, are motivated by treasure (as well as revenge and the general desire to do damage), and are not affected by sunlight (although they prefer the dark). Draugur have magical abilities and can shape shift (one form they were known to take was a cat that would sit on a sleeping person’s chest, getting steadily heavier until the victim suffocated). They can also rise from their graves as wisps of smoke or pass through solid rock. Draugur can enter the dreams of the living, leaving a “gift” as assurance that they were really there. Draugur kill their victims (both human and animal) by draining their blood, but can also kill by crushing, devouring, or driving their victims mad. They were also thought to run animals to death by chasing or riding them. They can be killed via burning, dismemberment, destruction of the body, or simply by eventual decay.

Izcacus

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Illustration by Mexicankaiju on DeviantArt

(AKA Aizhakos) A pagan shaman on trial during the Hungarian Inquisition described a demon called Izcacus (meaning blood drinker), which could be called forth to destroy the enemies of the pagans. The name has ancient Turkish roots, and may have been originally spread by migrating tribes who were themselves influenced by the Assyrians. Specific information on the Izcacus is hard to find, but if it does have roots in Assyrian vampire beliefs, it could (like other Assyrian vampires) be a violent, merciless spirit or demon that devours its victims’ blood and flesh.

Guaxa

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Image source (and I believe this is the artist).

Originating in Spain, the guaxa (AKA guaja or guajona) is an ancient vampire resembling an old hag (think stereotypical witch) with bright eyes and bird legs (any relation to Baba Yaga?) She sucks blood (preferably from children) with her single long tooth/fang. The guaxa sneaks into homes at night through keyholes and chimneys, and slowly drains victims over the course of weeks, causing them to waste away. Unlike most vampires, they are born, not turned. One source claims that the guaxa’s weaknesses include silver, antlers, running water, and magical amulets, but I couldn’t find any corroborating sources, so it may not be accurate.

Have you heard of these vampires? Which do you think is scariest? Tell me in the comments…

Edit: I forgot to add the link to my original post, 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of. Enjoy 🙂

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Get more vampires right now– download my books FREE!

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Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

Three Famous Vampires in India

Vetala Indo-European Vampire

Wikipedia: Revenant

Mythology.net: Revenant

Wikipedia: Draugr

Vampire Underworld: Draugr

Vampire Folklore by Region

Monsters from Mesopotamia

La Guaxa Es La Vampiresa Asturiana

Wikipedia: Guajona

The Monster Blog of Monsters: Guajona

 

 

 

 

Vampire’s Garden: Garlic

Vampire's Garden: Garlic, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Nick Collins on Pexels.com

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is eighth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

COVID-19 Note:

Vampire's Garden: Garlic, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Read more of the WHO’s coronavirus/COVID-19 advice here.

Botanical Name: Allium sativum

Common Names: Ajo, Allium, Clove Garlic, Camphor of the Poor, Poor Man’s Treacle, Stinking Rose, Serpent Garlic, Spanish Garlic, Common Garlic

History: Native to Central Asia, garlic has naturalized in many areas and can even be a weed in some places. Garlic has been used in food, medicine, and in religious rituals for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks left it at crossroads as an offering to the Goddess Hekate. Medieval European folklore claims that garlic can be used to repel demons, vampires, and werewolves. Historically, garlic has been used to improve strength and endurance; to treat snake bites, arthritis, and respiratory illnesses; as a cure-all; and as an antibiotic (it was used in both World Wars to prevent gangrene in wounds).

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Courage, strength, or as a ward against illness or “evil spirits” (unwanted suitors).

Cultivation: Perennial. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9, but can be grown in Zone 3. Prefers full sun and loose, dry, well-drained soil high in organic matter. There are two sub-species of garlic: hard necked and soft necked, as well as hundreds of varieties and cultivars. Hard-neck garlic generally grows in cooler climates and produces larger cloves; soft-neck varieties are smaller and tend to be grown in hotter climates. Garlic can be grown year-round in milder climates. In colder climates, plant individual cloves about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. To plant, loosen soil to a depth of 8 inches and plant cloves (pointy end up) 3 to 4 inches deep. Garlic can be planted close together (as long as there’s room for the bulb to mature) and can also be grown in pots. Cover planting area with about 6 inches of straw to help protect the cloves over the winter. Harvest in late spring or early summer. Garlic bulbs are susceptible to a few diseases, as well as to leek moth (AKA onion leaf miner).

Uses:

Culinary: The bulb and scapes are edible and used in a wide variety of savoury (and some sweet) dishes. The flowers are also edible, although they have a much milder flavour than the bulb or scapes. Immature (or “green”) garlic can be pulled and used like scallions. Black garlic is heat aged over several weeks to create a subtle sweet flavour that can be slathered on bread or added to vinaigrettes and sauces. Garlic can be dried or stored in vinegar, but storing in oil can result in botulism poisoning (see below for link on safely storing and preserving garlic).

Some popular garlic recipes include:

Garlic Knots

Pesto

Harissa

Pickled Garlic

Aïoli

Chimichurri

Roasted Garlic Ice Cream

My Mom’s Skordalia

Traditionally served as a sauce with fish or roast meat, skordalia is also good as a dip with vegetables, french fries, and pita bread triangles.

2-3 medium to large potatoes, peeled, and cut in half

10 large cloves garlic, minced or grated finely

scant 1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil for a milder flavour)

1/2 cup reserved cooking water (optional)

Place potatoes in medium saucepan over high heat. Add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and lower heat to medium. Cook until potatoes are soft (about 30 minutes). Drain potatoes, reserving cooking water. Leave potatoes in saucepan and mash. You should have about 2 cups of mashed potatoes. Add minced garlic to mashed potatoes. Add vinegar and salt, stirring briefly after each addition. Add oil. Stir well. If serving as a dip, no further additions are necessary. If serving as a sauce, add reserved cooking liquid, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Serve at room temperature.  Note: This keeps well refrigerated for 4-5 days.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

 

Tip: Garlic breath can be most effectively minimized  by drinking milk with the garlic (it doesn’t work if you drink milk afterwards or with skim milk).

Companion planting: Garlic is said to repel rabbits and moles, and to improve roses when planted near them.

Mosquito repellent: Anecdotal evidence suggests that eating garlic makes you less attractive to mosquitoes. Research shows that garlic may repel ticks, although not as well as commercial tick repellents.

Crafts: You can braid soft-neck garlic (see link below).

Medicinal: Garlic supplements vary widely in quality and efficacy– make  sure to buy  one (preferably enteric coated to protect the stomach) from a reputable manufacturer. Cooking garlic may remove some of its medicinal benefits, while raw garlic can cause indigestion or gastrointestinal distress, although black garlic retains its medicinal benefits without causing irritation. Garlic is most commonly used to boost immunity against infection, for lowering cholesterol, to prevent atherosclerosis, and to both prevent and help recover from heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. Research has shown that it may lower your chances of developing some kinds of cancer.

Caution: Don’t take garlic supplements if you’re taking anticoagulants (blood thinning medication) or have a clotting disorder. Garlic can also interfere with some medications, including some antibiotics and hypoglycemic drugs. Avoid taking garlic medicinally while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Caution 2: Applying raw garlic to the skin can cause burns, especially in children.

Mara’s Uses: Mara does not use garlic in any form because it is toxic to her and other vampires (find out why in Love Lies Bleeding). Blood from humans who take garlic supplements is unpalatable to vampires. Blades are sometimes coated in garlic oil as a way of exacerbating a vampire’s wounds.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Don’t forget to download your FREE copies…

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, then order Love Lies Bleeding from an independent bookshop and support small businesses when they need it most. Click here and scroll down for the full list of available online shops.

 

Further Reading

Garlic Scapes FAQ

Green Garlic

Black Garlic

How to Safely Store and Preserve Garlic (pdf)

Wikipedia

What are the benefits of garlic?

WebMD

The Health Benefits of Garlic

Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic

How to Grow Garlic

How to Braid Garlic (video)

 

IWD: Taking Credit

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

Some writers work for money. Some work for the sake of the art. But if there’s one thing just about all writers expect in return for their work, it’s credit. Unfortunately, this basic acknowledgement of a person’s contribution to the world isn’t always accorded to women.

The French writer Colette’s first husband, after encouraging her to pursue writing, went ahead and took credit for her work. At one point, when she refused to write more stories for him, he locked her in a room with nothing but a typewriter. Although Colette eventually divorced him and got back credit (after his death) for her popular Claudine series, her husband owned the copyright and she never saw a dime from the books, the stage adaptation, or the extensive Claudine-themed merchandise.

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

“Anonymous,” a published author, recounts how at a meeting in Hollywood with actors and a showrunner (all male), her story was casually taken, altered just enough, and used for their own benefit without consideration or credit to her. They profited while she got nothing for her work. She is now forced to write as Anonymous because her ex-husband, also a writer, has been violent and is a threat.

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), has a reputation as a free-spirited (some would say wild) flapper who ended up “crazy.” As it happens, she was also a promising writer whose celebrated husband stole entire passages of her work, letters, and diaries to use in his own novels (he also helped himself to his friends’ words and experiences, and accused Zelda of writing about their marriage in her book before he could do the same in his). He may have spread rumours that she was mentally unfit and likely intentionally pushed her to a nervous breakdown. Today Zelda’s writing is hardly known, while F. Scott’s is required reading.

Sadly, these are only three examples of women not getting the credit they’re due. Throughout history women’s work– writing, as well as every other kind– has been diminished, ignored, sometimes destroyed. Men take credit for it without hesitation, as famously happened with scientist Rosalind Franklin. The women who create get buried and forgotten. On this International Women’s Day, take a moment to think of all the women throughout the centuries who have had their legacies taken by men who felt entitled to their credit.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

The Life of French Writer Colette

Colette Only Shows a Sliver of Colette’s Eventual Love Life– Here’s the Rest

Famous Bis: Colette

This Side of Plagiarism

The First Flapper: Zelda Fitzgerald

#ThanksforTyping: the women behind famous male writers

16 Brilliant Women from History Who Got No Credit for Their Groundbreaking Work

Matilda Effect

“I Made that Bitch Famous”

11 Overlooked Women From History