It all started with Anne. I loved reading before her but in Anne I found a "kindred spirit." I admired her intellect, her authenticity, her whimsy and I fell in love with her world. (Maybe one day I'll share all the nods to my love of Anne in my real life.) Anne's world is full of love: love of family, love in friendship, love of beauty and knowledge, and romantic love. Anne was my first introduction to a slow burn, enemies to friends and then friends to lovers, love story. Gah, to this day I still swoon at Gilbert's proposal!
Later I branched off, enjoying stories that scared me, thrilled me, and took me to new, faraway places. Horror, mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, YA, chick lit...I've always been an equal opportunity devourer of fictional realms. Or at least I was, until 2020.
I don't know if my experience in the midst of the global pandemic was, like so many others,' because of what was happening around me or if it was just coincidental timing. Unlike most, our day to day life didn't change that much. Living on the island of Oahu, we're pretty separate from the rest of the world already. We've homeschooled for the last 7 years, so our day to day schedule wasn't affected by the world shutting down. School and spending time together at home was exactly the same. Because my husband is in the Navy, he still went to work and we were fortunate enough to never have to worry about his paycheck. There were a few months when he was quarantined to the ship, at the pier, which was hard on all of us, but we were very lucky. I'm not a worrier by nature. I wasn't panicked about getting COVID and I wasn't battling the sudden isolation of being alone at home with my kids. In fact, things could have been construed as better. I didn't have to spend hours driving kids to and from activities, I no longer had to go to the grocery stores (a chore I loathe), and we slowed down and enjoyed our time together. I played guitar, we painted, played video games and board games and read A LOT of books together. There was just one small problem, I was battling overwhelming, non-stop anxiety.
Anxiety was not entirely new to me. I've dealt with panic attacks in the past, but they always stemmed from something tangible. My reaction didn't make sense, but I knew what was causing it. There was a period where riding in a car would send me spiraling. I could perfectly picture the myriad of ways that we could die while driving. I didn't want to but I couldn't stop. I remember vividly scaring my dad as he drove us through the mountain roads in California, crying hysterically, hyperventilating, my head squeezed down between my knees. He wasn't driving recklessly at all. My reaction did not fit the situation. But I knew the car ride was the issue. In 2020, there was no catalyst. I wasn't set off by something in particular, I wasn't worried, I didn't have any reason to be scared but I felt an internal sense of dread all the time. My heart would race, I'd get light-headed, I'd have to fight off crying and freaking out. It scared me. Even stranger, reading often made it worse. I could no longer read thrillers or horror. Anything remotely scary or tense was too much for me. Even if I could handle the story itself, getting interrupted--something that is guaranteed when you're at home with 5 kids--would send me into an emotional tailspin because I couldn't resolve the tension in the story. If the book was too thick, the story too complex, then I wouldn't be able to read it in one sitting and I would worry about the characters and stress about the unknown until I felt physically ill. I know, it's ridiculous. I knew then that it was ridiculous, but that didn't stop my erratic pulse or my constantly clenched stomach.
I had the same problem with tv shows. I could no longer handle anything too scary or intense. I started watching Hallmark style Christmas movies in October. The stories were tame and often predictable. They were happy. Safe. I didn't feel anxious watching them. Sure, I found it annoying that there was so much emotional build up for one lame kiss 5 seconds before the end credits, but I didn't feel like I was dying so it was a win. I also started reading cozy mysteries. Quirky characters, violence and crime happen "off screen," again: safe. In November, around the same time I went to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack (it was just my first panic attack entirely unrelated to anything, a whole new experience for me) I saw an ad on my kindle lock screen for a holiday love story and figured I'd give it a try. From that point until the end of the year, I read more than 130 books. Not only could I read romance without feeling physically ill from an irrational worry about the characters or the plot of the book, I enjoyed them! What's not to love about books that make you laugh, make you cry happy tears, and enforce the idea that a woman's feelings (in a relationship and in the bedroom) matter?! Plus, romance, by definition, always has a guaranteed Happily Ever After. I knew, no matter how tense things got, everything would work out in the end. I felt like a human being for the first time in a loooong time between that guarantee and a miracle prescription that not only got my 24-7 generalized anxiety under control but wiped out depression that was so much a part of my life I didn't even know I was feeling it anymore. Guys, I legit didn't remember what it was like to be happy! When we finally hit on the right dosage, it was like stepping out of a deep, dark cave to the unreal beauty of a Hawaiian sunset! Or like when you get glasses for the first time and all you can think is, "wait, everyone else is just walking around seeing things this clearly?!" Depression and a shitty memory from unmedicated Inattentive ADHD for the win...or not.
Still with me? It's worth pointing out, if you haven't abandoned ship yet, that my husband has been gently pushing me to write for years. He knew how much I wanted to but I couldn't. Fear of failure, convinced I had no worthwhile ideas, you name it I used it to excuse my inaction. So, in that annoying way that permeates most of our relationship, he bugged me about it just enough that I knew he hadn't forgotten and still thought I should give myself a chance. He loves and supports persistently, even though I'm usually very resistant and a real jerk about it. It's kind of our thing. In February of 2021, I forgot all the reasons why I was too scared to try. I was feeling better than I had in a good decade or more. I had ideas, I could carve out time, why not take a chance on myself? I started getting up a few hours earlier than my kids (this is not hard, 4/5th of them are NOT morning people) and in a week, I had a book. A real deal, so proud I could cry novel! And then I had a second, and a third...until I had six completed books, a novella, and a bunch of ideas knocking around my head.
For a while, I was too scared to tell anyone. It wasn't because I wasn't proud or didn't think they were very good, though. It was because I'm so happy with the work and the end results and I simply don't have it in me to deal with anyone else's bullshit anymore. I didn't have the energy to refute the nonsense that romance isn't "real" reading or is just "mommy porn" or garbage lit. I didn't want to have to think about people looking at me differently because of what I wrote. I get preemptively angry just thinking about it. For one, I know the people that never had a problem with me reading Stephen King at 12 would 100% judge me for writing romance. Because swearing and sex is fine as long as there is also violence, death, and the absolute worst of humanity. But if you have those two things in a story about growing emotionally with someone and pushing past life's obstacles to grab your happy ending, then it's trash. Makes sense, right?
Here's what I know, friends: I LOVE love stories! I love emotionally complex people. I love found families. I love real, deep connections and witty banter. I love sex and happily ever afters. I love reading those stories. I love writing those stories. And over the last few months, love stories (and miraculous pharmaceuticals that helped my effed up brain chemistry) helped me find my way back to myself, find my own voice, and find a new title.
I'm Drea Braddock. I'm a Navy wife, a tattooed mom of 5, a mediocre at best homeschooling mom, a worship band singer and guitar player, an avid reader, an introvert smart ass, an enneagram 4, an awkward friend, and I am a romance writer.
Photo of my 14 year old daughter by: Annie Groves Photography