Being a person is hard.
Late last week I saw in passing on Facebook that another writer friend made an attempt on his own life. This is a man I’ve only met once, and to which I am not close, but that one of our tribe was so lost that he hurt himself hits very, very close to home. Over the last few years, so many have succumbed to that darkness. No, I didn’t know all of them. Some deaths I learned of through mutual friends. While they didn’t have a direct effect on me, I watched people I love suffer in the wake of those losses. There’s too much of this, and it’s getting hard to watch.
Which is exactly why I’m writing this now. It’s hard as hell to do. It sucks. It’s not pretty, and it’s not fun. But until we take this monster to task, it’s going to continue to consume us.
So…where have I been, you ask?
I’ve been depressed.
In the past, I’ve always prided myself on my ability to detect these bouts of misery and overcome them on my own. I’ve always been the one to showcase a strong front, to make people believe I’m okay and that I don’t need help. I’m good at hiding that part of me away so that the vast majority of people don’t know anything is wrong.
Then I realized something: this behavior is how people die. That need to be tough drags people under and smothers them. That purported “strength” is our biggest weakness. The true test of strength comes when we make the decision to ask for help. To admit we aren’t perfect. Flawed. Broken.
And I am. I am still very much broken. I just didn’t realize how badly until I started to come out of the worst of the darkness. I’ve been here for five years, and I’m still not out of the woods yet. I have a long way to go to get back to me.
Five years ago next week, my father died. I know I talk about it a lot, but for those who haven’t been through that kind of loss, it’s a big deal. His death changed me on a fundamental level. 2012 was a hell year. I had exactly one month of the most amazing happiness between the time my daughter was born and the day my mother called me to tell me my father had to have bypass surgery. Then it was a month of worrying. And another month of uncertainty.
And then a funeral.
See, it didn’t just happen all at once. He had his surgery, which he came through well, except for his lungs, which were ruined from years of smoking. After a little over three weeks on the ventilator, we lost him. What I’ve spent the last five years denying to myself is that from the moment I learned of his surgery, I knew it would be the end. The grieving process really started for me the day Mom called, and I’m still not done.
For a long time, I cried every day. But I did it where nobody could see. I pretended to be okay and kept up appearances with social obligations and offers of help to anyone who needed it while I became a workaholic and put all of my focus into the new infant in my life. I can safely say now, five years later, that Alice is the reason I survived. She was my tiny miracle.
I still have moments of pain – April is a particularly bad month – but they’re fewer and farther between. I still miss him every single day. It tears my heart out to know Alice is too young to remember him and Lily won’t ever know him. He’s supposed to be here to torment them and tell them silly things. To spoil them rotten. He should be here. But he’s not, and I still have a hard time reconciling that.
So losing my father sent me into a tailspin that continued for several years. In that time I helped set up and organize a convention, wrote two novels, contributed several short stories to various anthologies, and pretended on the outside like nothing was wrong. As a result of said convention, I made some new friends. I met a LOT of new people and reconnected with some old friends, and the darkness finally started to lift.
I was invited to participate in a couple of projects, which helped to bolster my fragile ego. I was starting to feel human again, and I was excited to be working with new people on something exciting.
In October 2014, I had a miscarriage. Then in November, one of my good friends was murdered 60 feet from where I stood and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Those two massive blows came back to back – within two weeks of each other. Back into the tailspin I went. But I still pretended like nothing was wrong.
Then I attended MidSouth Con in the Spring of 2015. I’d recently found out I was pregnant again, so I was a nervous wreck about that. On top of that, the convention was an unbelievable mess. Poor organization, no signage, panels not well-attended…no sales. What was supposed to be my triumphant return to the con circuit was a flaming disaster.
About a month after that, I started to have problems with sickness as a result of the pregnancy. Between the illness and the depression, I was either at work or asleep with little in between. Sciatica joined the party, so I hurt all the time, too. We were also having issues with phone and internet service at the time, which meant I fell out of touch with people for large chunks of time. Not because I was ignoring them, but because I was physically unable to sit up and be on the internet.
Then two projects I was excited to be working on imploded. I spent months BEGGING for the stories so I could edit them while I was lying in bed being miserable – I could still read, and I did a lot of it during that time – but I kept getting excuses. I got run around in so many ways…then I found out through the grapevine that I was being publicly blamed by the publisher (someone I thought was a friend) for the project going to shit.
I would get snarky messages on Facebook about how he wasn’t able to get in contact with me while all of my many emails were going unread. My text messages and phone calls were ignored. I was shut out.
Oh, and I’ve never been paid a penny for the story I gave him to fill out an anthology that had several last-minute rescissions.
That tipped me over the edge into a seriously dark place. Even my friends had begun to turn their backs on me. So I withdrew. I came off Facebook. I wasn’t sure how to help my friends who had their own mental things going on. I couldn’t deal with stress. I lived with the constant, nagging voice telling me I wasn’t good enough and everything I touched turned to shit. I stopped talking to pretty much everyone that didn’t directly contact me by text message or show up at my house. I didn’t want the world to know how hurt I really was by that betrayal.
And let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? That was a damned betrayal. That was someone thinking they could make a buck off of me. Opportunistic bullshit, really. And in the end, I was unfriended on Facebook, run down in multiple social circles, and treated like a goddamned pariah for daring to succumb to a situation beyond my control.
Since that point, I have done very little on the artistic front. I fell into freelance book formatting jobs to supplement my income. I wrote a second Sherlock Holmes story for the Improbable Adventures series. A submitted and had rejected three horror stories. I self-published Loki’s Game after Sugar & Spice closed. But that was it. In fact, Crippled Playthings was the first story I finished since handing over the rights to The Memory Remains two years earlier.
In the middle of this, John Hartness more or less strongarmed me into writing for Falstaff Books (I say strongarmed me because he hit me with a “do you want a contract on this or not” email on a project we’d spoken about several months earlier as a hypothetical thing). I agreed, then promptly panicked. Thankfully, he ignored me.
My 35th birthday pretty much sucked. My birthday falls right in the middle of a pair of big cons in my circle, and several other birthdays are stacked on top of it, so mine usually skates by unnoticed. That this one was unavoidably missed by several people close to me wasn’t anything new or spectacular…it just hurt more this year because of how bad a place I was already in. There was only one person who really knew how badly it hurt because by that point I couldn’t keep everything contained anymore. It wasn’t the truth at all and while the logical, rational part of my brain understood the extenuating circumstances, lack of money, illness, and other reasons behind it, I still felt unloved and unwanted.
It’s that crippling self-doubt that makes us do bad things to ourselves. I know my people love me. I have never doubted that…but that nagging voice screams these things inside where only I can hear it. It tells me all the time that I’m not good enough. That I’ll never be anything.
I didn’t see just how deep into the mire I was until a month or so ago. It was dark, and it was scary. I didn’t realize how much weight I gained, either. That didn’t help.
So after Christmas, I changed my eating and exercise habits. I’ve lost 26 pounds so far, but I still have a long way to go. The exercise helps clear the cobwebs, too.
Another part of the reason why I’m starting to come out of it now – no…the WHOLE reason why I’m starting to come out of it now is because I have amazing friends. A lot of people stuck by me and have loved me unconditionally, even when I didn’t love myself. They believed in me. Selah, Lexx, Crymsyn, and Amy – my writing buddies, cohorts, and partners in crime… they don’t put up with my shit and tell me to stuff it when I get all morose and whiny, and I love them all that much more for it. I think they knew what was wrong with me even when I didn’t.
I’ve written more in the last four months than I have in five years. John offering me that contract was the beginning. I agonized over that first story. I almost threw up after I sent it because that fear that he’d hate it and never want to talk to me again took control.
But he didn’t. He actually liked it. The edits are almost done, and the more of his comments I read, the better I feel about it. I almost feel like I can do this again.
And then there’s Melissa… my twisted, little guardian angel. She’s pushing me to keep writing. We signed on to do this crazy serial, and I think it really was the kick in the ass I needed to make me come back around. We’re working on Episode 3 now, and that project is starting to pick up steam. I’m excited again, which is something I haven’t been in a very long time.
I’m writing every day. That should tell you something.
Things are getting better. They’re not all the way there and, as a writer, I don’t know that they ever will be. But I’m beating it for now. I’m winning. And I realized that any time I need it, all I have to do is ask for help. My people have my back.
But this is my request for help. Be patient with me. Understand that I’m not quite back yet. Continue to love me as I am and for what I am. There’s not enough love in the world today.
I aldo want everyone else who suffers the way I do to understand that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to hurt. But it’s also okay to ask for help. Hell, if there’s nobody else around, come to me. I’ll help if I can.
I may not know you, but I love you.