PLAY ON’s Six Month Anniversary: Thank You

Six months ago, my little bookish baby was released into the world. So now, in true Michelle form, it’s time to ramble, and it’s time to get all emotional.

(Spoiler: I originally vlogged this post. And then I couldn’t stop crying. So I decided that this was clearly meant for written words.)

I wrote PLAY ON about one year after I began treatment for my depression. The idea for the story had been brewing for a long time, and now, I was finally ready to write it. The draft was complete within a month. I signed with my agent and editor within six months of beginning that draft.

Needless to say, I was on Cloud 9.

But as much as I loved the original version of my little book, my editor saw it not only for what it was, but for what it could be. And together, we tore those pages apart. The new pages? That’s where the real story appeared.

And that’s where I learned so, so much about myself.

play on page

Through Austin, I learned that we don’t always need to chase moments—we need to live in this moment.

I learned about love and bravery through Brett and Jay, two guys who tried to completely steal the show.

And Marisa. That girl. She taught me that depression is not my defining factor. That yes, you can have depression, and yes, you can also live and love and burst with love for others.

The boys on that team…they taught me that family is what you make it. That family doesn’t end with blood. And that we should always, always have each other’s backs.

To everyone who has read PLAY ON, to everyone who has emailed or tweeted or reviewed…thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Depression does not define you. Your past does not define you. You define you. Your heart, and your spirit, and your soul: That’s who you are.

This year has been hard. It’s been really, really hard. But you guys? YOU have gotten me through it. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

You Matter So Much (World Suicide Prevention Day)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you’ve been around the blog or my Twitter for more than a month or so, I’m sure you know how near and dear mental health awareness is to my heart. While I won’t go into my story much here, this post I recently did for the Mental Health in YA event sums it up.

To make a long story short, a little over three years ago, I chose to stay. And in those three years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this whole LIFE thing. Because there has to be more than waking up, tending to obligations, going to bed, and rinsing and repeating day, after day, after day. Right?

Right.

See, we all have a purpose. You will never convince me otherwise. There’s a reason we’re here. If your heart is beating and there’s air in your lungs and you’re reading this right here and right now, you have a purpose. And there are plenty of people (myself included) who have spent so. much. time. trying to discover that purpose, to figure out why we’re here. But honestly, I’m beginning to think it’s really quite simple.

We’re here to love people. We’re here to help others. Because while we so often need to be helped to our feet, sometimes we’re the ones who do the pulling.

And then there’s the big question: “What am I supposed to actually do with my life?” The ever-present “What am I supposed to be when I grow up?” (I’ll call you guys when I actually grow up.) And honestly, I think that ties into loving people. I really and truly feel that if we spend our lives loving and helping and living (not to be confused with simply surviving), I think our paths will become a bit clearer, little by little.

Now, don’t mistake that for meaning we’ll see the next twenty years of our lives with 20/20 vision; sometimes, it only means we see what’s going to happen the next day, and then the next. It unfolds slowly. Carefully. Intentionally.

I’m pretty sure life does that on purpose. I think that if we were to see life’s grand plan all at once, there’s a very, very strong possibility we’ll get way too far ahead of ourselves because our instincts tell us to go go GO. Life provides us with stepping stones to get to where we need to go for good reason. Each experience leads us to the next, and the next, and the next.

Don’t rush. Don’t spend each moment waiting for the next. Make memories, and cherish those memories.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this on World Suicide Prevention Day, and this is why: Depression has a way of bringing a fog that feels impenetrable. When I was at my lowest, knowing that others loved me didn’t make the depression disappear. Loving someone isn’t a magic fix-all. It can’t cure depression.

But it can make it a heck of a lot more manageable.

I wish I could say that loving someone as fiercely as possible would make depression disappear, but then I’d be lying. But I will say this: In those low moments, I could still hear the words of encouragement. I could feel the hugs I’d received, the smiles I’d been given. I could remember the true genuineness in people’s eyes when they saw me—ME—instead of my depression.

Love may not cure the illness, but it can discredit so many of its lies.

And if you’re suffering from depression, if you feel like you’re outside the world looking in, I hope you know how much you are loved.

You’re loved.

You’re loved.

Depression is lying. You are so loved.

I hope you remember those words in the worst moments. I hope they find you like a friend. I hope they give you the strength to make it through the next minute, and the next.

I hope you know that every single breath you take is a victory, and it’s worthy of celebration.

I hope you believe me when I say that it gets better. It’s not always easy. But it’s better.

If you need to chat with someone, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255. If you’re in crisis and need help now, don’t hesitate to call 911 or go to the hospital.

You matter. You matter so very much.

And back to that life thing: I’m still trying to figure it out. But I think loving others is a pretty good way to start.

We’re Going Back to Lewis Creek…

…with GAME ON!

GAME ON

Oh, you guys. I am so excited to share this book. SO excited.

GAME ON is a companion novel to PLAY ON, which means a few things:

1) We’re going back to Lewis Creek, y’all,

2) There’s more of the baseball that we know and love, and

3) There are lots of starry skies and Carolina nights. Basically, two of my favorite things.

We get to see the rise and fall of Eric Perry, the new starting pitcher of the Lewis Creek Bulldogs, along with his re-building. You’ll also get to meet Bri, the girl who completely swiped my heart and ran away with it. (Related: This book is dual POV, so you’ll get to hear from both of them!)

I’ve mentioned before that PLAY ON said a lot of things I’d always wanted to say, but didn’t know that I could. GAME ON is very much the same in that regard. Basically, it boils down to this:

Mistakes don’t define you. Falling doesn’t mean you’ll be down forever. No one gets to tell you who you are. And you are so, so much stronger than you think.

I will neither *confirm* (wink, wink, WINK) nor deny that we’ll get a few cameos from PLAY ON’s characters, but I’ll not-so-subtly remind you that Eric is Brett Perry’s brother. Ahem.

Release is scheduled for 2016, and you can add GAME ON to your Goodreads list here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25970036-game-on.

And if you’re in the mood for an official synopsis, I’m more than happy to oblige!

Eric Perry is Lewis Creek’s resident bad boy. When he’s named the new starting pitcher in a town that thinks baseball is everything and he is nothing but trouble, Eric knows he has to clean up his act. Lay low, his coach tells him—at least long enough to actually pitch a game. But when a fight with his teammate lands him in jail yet again, his season may be over before it starts… until his next door neighbor, Bri, comes to the rescue. Making a deal with Eric’s coach, she offers him one final chance at redemption: community service.

Bri Johnson hadn’t talked to Eric in months. Her boyfriend Matt, Eric’s teammate and the school’s golden boy, didn’t like her to be around Eric. Matt didn’t like a lot of things Bri did or said or wore, which is why she ends it with him the same night he and Eric get into a fight—a fight over her. That night is the reason Bri offers to take Eric with her to the community center each week, so he can keep his spot on the team. But spending time with Eric only makes her life worse, as scandalous rumors start flying and Matt refuses to let her move on.

While Eric and Bri work closely together at the center, old stories of stargazing, first kisses, and a time when they were friends start to re-connect them. As they open up their secrets and their hearts to each other, they start to see that they are more than what other people think they are—and even more than what they think about themselves.

Happy Birthday, PLAY ON

After a hectic morning, I’m finally sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee, listening to thunder rumble and rain fall outside. And it’s finally hitting me that PLAY ON is—surprise!—out in the world for people to read. A week early. Because this little book has been anything but normal over the past couple of years. (Yes, its early arrival surprised me, too!)

I don’t want to turn this into a super-sappy post–even if I have been called sappier than a maple tree, but that’s not the point–but there’s a lot going through my mind right now that I’d like to share with you guys.

Right now, I’m thinking about the friends who become family.

I’m thinking about the nights when we just need someone to tell us “good night.”

I’m thinking about how sometimes, all we need is someone to ask, “Do you need to talk?”

I’m thinking about those who are affected by mental illness, whether or not they experience it themselves.

I’m thinking about the people who have their own corners to run to. Who hide behind their own locked doors.

I’m thinking about the people who feel broken. Scarred. Replaceable.

I’m thinking about those who are too scared to say that they can’t do life alone.

I’m thinking about those who fall, and who are desperate to believe that there’s something worth fighting for after that fall.

And I hope you know that there is.

There’s hope.

There’s happiness.

There’s laughter.

There’s light.

There’s love. There’s so much love. And I hope you know that you’re worthy of that love.

When I started PLAY ON, I knew that Marisa had depression—that was part of the story. But that’s just it: it’s only part of the story—part of her story. See, there’s life outside of an illness—yes, you can have depression, and yes, you can fall to rock bottom, but you can also thrive after that fall. I promise.

Your illness does not define you. Your setbacks do not define you. Every single breath is a victory, and you should be darn proud of those victories.

PLAY ON was a blast to write. It also taught me so, so much about myself. And for that, I will be forever grateful to this little book.

Play-On

Currently available for Kindle (paperback available through Amazon on April 21st) and Nook, and paperback is available for purchase through Barnes and Noble.

Dear Past Michelle

Dear Past Michelle,

It’s April 2012. I’m reaching out from 2015 because you’re in a pretty weird place right now, and you could probably use a little insight.

Actually, let’s go ahead and cut the crap—you’re in a horrible place. You’ve gotten used to smiling when it’s time to smile, and you know how to laugh when it’s time to laugh. You even have an occasional good day—a really good day—that almost makes you think that things are going to be okay. Almost.

But.

A night is coming in a few weeks. This night will be worse than all the others. And I know the sound of that horrifies you, because all those other nights have been unbearably painful. How the heck can it possibly get worse?

Since we’ve already agreed to cut the crap, I’m going to be straight with you: Depression has managed to weasel its way into every corner of your brain. If that sounds terrifying, that’s because it is. You’re going to reach the end of your rope. You’re going to feel more alone than you ever have. You’re going to feel abandoned, and you’re going to feel like you’re in the way of everything and everyone, and you’re going to just feel…done. You’re going to be locked in a bathroom—yes, the same bathroom that’s become your hiding place—wondering how much more of this you can take.

You probably want to run now. You’re probably even tempted to check yourself into a hospital because the sound of feeling more alone is impossible to comprehend and you can’t fathom the concept. And as much as I wish you would reach out for the help you desperately need and deserve, as much as I wish you understood that you’re worthy of life and love and happiness, the truth is that you’re too scared to do that, to admit that you’re not okay, even with this warning. You don’t want people to think you’re anything less than perfect. Even more than that, you don’t want to worry others, to feel like a burden.

So, you’re going to do what you’re used to doing: You’re going to pretend that things are fine. That you’re fine. That it’s all going to be fine. Heck, by now, this is second-nature. But hiding from your problems never works for long. (You’ve been doing that for two years now—how’s that working for you?)

Now that I’ve been through that night, I’m going to give you a heads-up: That night is painful. That night is paralyzing. That night brings confusion and hurt and heartache.

That night also changes your life.

It’s when you’ll realize that miracles still exist. It’s when you’ll realize that you’re not alone. It’s when you’ll realize that you are strong enough to face another night. It’s when you’ll realize that you can’t do life on your own. It’s when you’ll realize that asking for help is not only brave, but necessary. It’s when you’ll realize that you’re actually going to stay and face this life-thing.

Now, I want you to lean in and listen closely. Here’s what’s going to happen:

You’re going to start taking antidepressants. You’re going to find an amazing therapist. And you’re going to be forever grateful that the pair exist.

You’re going to have a blast with your family. This summer? FULL of memories. Because now the fog is gone, and you can see—really see—their love for you.

You’re going to realize that the church you’ve been attending truly has open arms and the warmest of hearts. That church will soon feel like home.

You’re going to discover that yes, God is still in the business of miracles.

You’re going to laugh and smile, but this time, you’ll mean every single one of them.

You’re going to stumble.

You’re going to fall flat on your butt.

You’re going to get up again. Because now you know that, while falling is inevitable, there is strength in the standing.

You’re going to write another book. You’ve written books before, but this one is different. This one is full of thoughts you never imagined you’d share. It’s also full of hope and love, because now you know that hope and love are possible after the fall.

You’re going to get an email from an editor on a hot Sunday morning in July 2013, saying she’d like to talk about your book.

You’re going to freak the freak out. And then rein it in, because PROFESSIONAL.

You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked on a story before. You’re going to pour even more of your heart and soul into those pages. Some days will feel like it’s just not gonna happen. And then that same editor is going to remind you why you’re doing this, and she’s going to remind you that yes, it’s hard to tell these stories, but it’s also so very worth it.

(Spoiler: That book comes out this month. And your heart, the same heart that was once so full of pain, is now full of so much love and gratitude that it could burst. And yes: it is so, so very worth it.)

You’re going to learn about the indescribable power of stories. And while it’s hard, you’ll become more and more comfortable sharing your own.

More than anything, you’re going to love. You’re going to love fiercely and fearlessly. You’re going to see that life can be messy, but beautiful. Chaotic, but peaceful. Hard, but worth it.

Do you see how many times I’ve said “worth it”? Because it is. It so is.

So, I could tell you to run and hide, like you always do. Or I could tell you to hang in there, because this tunnel won’t last forever. And that the darkness you’re in now will only make you appreciate the light so much more.

Hold on, sweet girl. Your best days are not behind you. In a way, your life is only just beginning.

Self-Care is Important, Y’all

There’s something we need to talk about, folks. Today, we’re talking about this little thing called self-care. This is going to be as short and sweet as I can make it, because as you’ll see below, I’m focusing on this big-time.

Self-care is not only important—it’s a necessity. When life kicks into high gear, when it’s throwing things at you from this way and that, it’s easy to get consumed. And while you’re doing the best you can, becoming overwhelmed is a possibility at every turn. This can result in so many things.

Irritability.

Tears. Lots of tears.

Burnout.

Exhaustion.

And sometimes, you can become lost. You can forget who you are. You forget where your identity lies. And that may be worse than any level of exhaustion.

Trust me. I know this well. Because I’m there.

We absolutely need to have each other’s backs in this crazy life-thing, but we often forget to have our own backs. We give and we give and we give, to both our work and to others, and if we don’t refill ourselves…well, we’re drained. Empty.

So, what does self-care look like? It’s different for everyone. If you’re in a pretty good place, little things like an afternoon cup of tea and a great book may do wonders. But if you’ve let yourself go past that point (*eyes self*), then you may need to go bigger.

– Find your core group. Spend time with them. Reconnect. These are the people you do life with. These are the ones who know you, know you—the ones who won’t let you get away with “I’m fine.” These are the ones who’ll call you on your crap while meeting you for coffee.

– Pinpoint what is life-draining, and what is life-giving. If you can eliminate the life-drainers, do it. Drop them like a hot potato.

– Take a step back. Close your calendar. Take a social media hiatus. Focus on your top priorities, and give your best to them. Much like the life-drainers, if you’re able to eliminate anything here, do it.

Self-care is not selfish. Taking a step back is not selfish. Focusing on your mental health is not selfish. All of these—they’re necessary. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, there’s no way you’ll be able to take care of others.

Take care, friends. ❤

Blurb for PLAY ON

Hi, you guys!

So. I got the okay to share some pretty amazing news that I’ve been sitting on. PLAY ON received a blurb from an author whose debut I absolutely adored, and I promise that I squealed when I was told she read my little ol’ book.

So thank you, Robin Constantine, from the bottom of this writer’s heart. Your incredibly kind words about PLAY ON meant the world to me! And if y’all haven’t read The Promise of Amazing, I highly suggest you change that. Like, now.

Go on.

No, really. I’ll wait.

“Baseball, family and breaking free from the confines of small town thinking — PLAY ON is a Southern charmer with a lot of heart.  Michelle Smith knocks it out of the park!” – Robin Constantine, author of The Promise of Amazing