Throwing a Rope

Or, this black dog is following me around, but I don’t want to keep him.

I don’t think it’s news to any of you that I’m depressive. No, let me rephrase that. I’m depressive by nature, and I usually compensate for it mentally. It’s sort of like being born lame, but doing your best to walk on both feet, normally even if one hurts.

I’ve stayed away from medications for various reasons. This is not a judgment on people who take them, but I’m one of those people who hated sleeping as kids, and who still hates drinking too much, and who refuses to take pain meds, because I’d rather endure pain than not being sure who is doing my thinking for me.

Perhaps it is a function of having many people in my mind. It’s important to know which voice is yours.

But the last two years have been challenging and I have come very close to throwing in the towel and asking for meds.

Part of it is politics and world affairs. Part of is personal health. Part of it is the economy making family economics shaky. Part of it was various struggles the kids went through. Part of was the fact my neighborhood is simply not safe for me to walk alone anymore, so if I can’t get a son to go with me, I don’t get the exercise I need to stay sane (let alone this side of a mac truck.) (Yes, I have a treadmill, bought used, but I haven’t had time/help to turn it into a standing desk, and I hate exercise machines because I get SO bored. Finding a good show to watch while running helps, but the last one was the prime backlog of Foyle’s war, almost two years ago.)

All of these fed on each other.

This was not the most depressed I’ve been. I was never suicidal. I was just at a bottom of a pit and couldn’t reach out.

I could write these blogs, but not write fiction, because fiction is emotion, and I couldn’t bear emotion. It’s like a magnetic repulsion. I “read” because I have a need for story, but I “read” by listening to audio, which can be done while cleaning, which further distances the emotions.

And I didn’t read. Not really. I skimmed a few books there in the middle. Even Romance which I mostly consider “not real” was too serious for me.

This was gradual, so that at the end of last year I was reading less and less.

And what I wrote – well, I’ve said this – the first version of Through Fire, which is getting fixed, read like a profoundly autistic main character.

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort, been trying to dig out. But there are relapses. The problem of being that close with the black dog so long is that any slight “bad news” no matter how minor revive that feeling of futility and push you back into the pit and then the climbing back out takes longer than falling in.

When Jagi Lamplighter asked if I’d read and blurb her book, The Raven, the elf and Rachel, I should have said no, because I was having trouble making myself read things. But I said yes. And she sent me both books, because I hadn’t read the first one yet.

As deadline approached I thought “I’ll skim it.” But then I found myself reading it. Both of them, back to back.

And suddenly I was reading again. Which has helped, because writing needs to be “fed.” You can’t write too long without experiencing reading.

I re-read things that I barely remembered reading before the depression clamped down. Like Dog and Dragon.

And I’m on the way up.

But remember I said this is all very frail. Anything can push you back all the way again.

This last week I got sick. Seems to be a virus mainly characterized by making you feel exhausted, so it’s a dangerous one, because you feel blah and don’t know why. I felt better (psychologically) when I realized I had a fever, because that’s not psychological.

And I’ve been getting better.

But yesterday we had some disappointing news. Nothing really bad, and most of the time I’d not even have thought about it, but where I am right now it was enough to knock me on my can.

I’m looking at the writing backlog of two years, and I’m still tired from being sick, and suddenly the writing shut down again and I was tottering at the edge.

And then a friend, on Facebook, asked me if I’d finished a story he read the beginning of. He’d been searching Amazon for it. It’s a minor little thing, not a novel, and not something I thought anyone would be waiting for.

But he was. And he told me. And suddenly the world refocused.

It’s very easy when you’re a writer to forget that people receive your writing; that it matters.

It’s very easy to see fans asking for things as demands, as pushing at you when you can’t do everything at once. It’s easy to get rude at readers (the whole George R.R. Martin is not your bitch thing. No, he’s not, but he has a contract with the readers that he’ll finish the series. It’s easy to think of this as an imposition, but we writers shouldn’t. It’s a tie. A human connection. All those can be burdens or occasions of grace.)

Kris Rush, who understands me pretty well, once told me – when I was frustrated and angry at my publishers – “Ignore all that, Sarah, write for your readers.”

Only that’s not so easy because when you’re writing, you’re writing alone. Which is why writers are prone to the black dog, as Dave blogged about yesterday.

I was going to blog about fascism, (no, real one) and about intolerance of dissent.

But I still feel frail from yesterday. Not depressed, just tired. Part of it might be a hangover from being sick, since as I said whatever this was was mostly characterized by tiredness.

I don’t feel I have the… ah… force to blog about something like that.

So I thought I’d blog about how sometimes we need a rope. We’re down there, struggling, and we don’t even realize we’re drowning, until someone throws us a rope and we pull up a little and go “Oh.”

Before I wrote this, I sent Jagi a thank you note. It occurred to me I never told her. I don’t know if she struggles with the black dog, but every writer this side of J K Rowling struggles with not knowing the impact they have, or what importance what they do has.

Writing is a lonely business. Too lonely.

I hadn’t told her how I felt because I thought it sounded stupid. So other than teasing demands for more, I didn’t tell her. Then I realized it’s not stupid. Yes, she might know, but she might not.

I’m not fishing for compliments – please don’t – I got my rope last night, unexpectedly, from someone who didn’t realize he was throwing it; from someone I can trust not to say it just because.

And that’s important. Don’t say it just because. And don’t say it just to writers. But if someone knit you a scarf, cooked you a meal, took time to talk to you, and it mattered – it really mattered and it really helped, let them know.

Tell them. They might need a rope, or they might not, but they should know. And even if you didn’t need a rope. Even if it was just something you really liked/enjoyed, something well done that someone put effort into, something that gave you joy, let them know.

Don’t think “surely they know.” Achievement and accomplishment and reward aren’t often covalent in the world, nor is ability and self-confidence.

And you might not know it – I suspect there are a lot of people like me out there, doing their best to walk on two feet even if they were born lame – but you might be throwing someone a rope into the pit and shining a light into the abyss.

So do it. It costs nothing except a little embarrassment. And the ripples go on forever.


224 thoughts on “Throwing a Rope

  1. Two things come to mind.

    One is a line from an old Arsenio Hall monologue. He was talking about his grandmother, and about funerals. And his grandmother told him: “You bring me my flowers when I’m ALIVE!” Not that there’s anything wrong with honoring a person at their passing; but why wait that long? Honor them while they’re around to appreciate it.

    Another is a realization I had many years back. I had a couple of really great college instructors. I always told people stories of these two men, and how I applied their lessons in my life, and how much they had changed and shaped my career. And one day I realized: I had never told THEM. So often we say good things about people without saying it to them. So that day I sat down and wrote letters to my old instructors. One, a giant of a man, fell into a long dementia and finally death a few years later. I am so glad I told him what he meant to me while we could still share memories and stories. So now my rule is: when I say something good about a person, I find the time to say it to them, too.

    1. On honoring people while they’re alive: yes. Though in some cases, I’ve heard of funeral stories that started like this: “Bill would never have let me say this while he was alive — he was too humble. But let me tell you about…” and then they launch into some great thing that Bill had done, which Bill had never told anyone about because he didn’t want to brag.

      So there can be some of that in play, too.

      1. Honor to people while they are alive is in the measure they will accept. Honor for people after they have passed is in the kind and degree for which they will be remembered. Different focuses.

        1. For the living, the right kind of complaints are a form of honoring.

          For example, every single complaint about the odiousness of one of my puns is jam* on the croissant of my life.

          *Actually, I am more partial to shredded ginger preserve or lime marmalade, but those would have ruined the meter of the line.

    1. I seem to have an allergy to something, so I was congested and sniffing most of last week. Does that count? I got a bit better when I cam home.

    2. I was rather out of it from end of last week until Monday. Several friends were also under the weather during one or more days in the same time frame. Some of the pollen levels are apparently very high at the moment.

    3. I came home early from work on Friday because I discovered that bacon will actually go bad in the fridge. But I don’t think that counts.

    4. not sick, but I missed a day of work last week and was hampered the other 3 days by a sore hip. The weather most likely (well, and arthritis). And it was while dealing with that and a weekend of unexpected hard work that I agreed with our hostess that this group does wonders for our battles with the Evil D thing.
      So not only Thanks to her for hosting, but Thanks to y’all for being the oddballs that you are..

                  1. Connoisseurs of Britcoms may well recall this, offered here for opening and ending theme song.

                    I’m h-a-p-p-y, I am h-a-p-p-y, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m h-a-p-p-y …

    5. Judy and I have both had what we call “the dumb flu” all week. Really warm weather seems to have kicked off every allergy we’ve ever had, plus some viral caused diminished-capacity, lowering effective IQ by about 20 points.

    6. Well, I got a bit dehydrated on Saturday from walking up the side of a mountain, which lead to headaches and stuff.

      Then today I’m all sore from picking moderately heavy stuff up at the gym.

      Does that count?

    7. I’ve been icky, and husband was struck low by what I think is second-hand-kids-gone-back-to-school plague. (Ours are home, but some coworkers have school kids, or interact with grandkids.)

      1. We got something like that but it was last week. Light fever, aches and joint pain. Oddly enough, the likely vectors, our boys and a friend who works at a hospital, haven’t been sick at all.

    8. Do paint/polyurethane headaches, cuts and bruises, and all over aches from unaccustomed exercise count? *chuckle* Other than that, healthy as a horse.

    9. No, not really sick, not this week. Last week I was recovering from what was either flu or a deadly combination of upper respiratory assault coupled with gastro-intestinal tract invasion.

      This week I’ve had the entertainment of elbow-to-wrist poison ivy, a pleasure I have managed to avoid for almost thirty years (although my childhood featured semi-annual enjoyment of the vine.)

  2. 😉

    I bet Rowling struggles, too…why else try to write under another name to see if she was actually any good or it was a fluke? (I love her Cormoran Strike books, So she has my vote.)

    God bless you, Sarah!

    (As for the black dog…stick him in a story where he belongs. 😉

          1. It still kinda bugs me because I was raised saying it “SIGH-rus,” so the connection to the dog star just doesn’t work to me, but enough years of “Seer-E-ous” satellite radio make it work on some level…

            You have seen the pictures of his dear Godfather looking grim with the caption “Why So Sirius,” right?

              1. Mom had all of her mythology books from college, and never said we could’t read them…

                That said, I still get the giggles thinking about the English (veddy, veddy Brit-tosh) recreations of the Ooo-E-dee-pus Cycle we watched in my advanced English.

                Good heavens, I’d love to know what folks actually said just to have it in my head!

                1. If you want fun, try PDQ Bach’s ‘Oedipus Tex’ operetta. If you’re familiar with PDQ Bach, you can well imagine what his retelling of the story might consist of…

                  “Howdy there, I’m Oedipus Tex. I’m a HERO! You may have heard of my brother Rex…”

                  Oh, lord… 🙂

              2. I went to school with two guys named “SIGH-rus”, one spelled his name Cyrus and the other spelled his Sirius. So I always struggled with Sirius radio being pronounce seer-e-us.

  3. Mom always said that depression was the thing that would steal the most from you, your time your joys and your life, and you wouldn’t even notice they were gone.

    1. A couple years ago I was given the choice of resigning or being fired. For the previous two years I’d been juggling 3 full time positions for my employer – my actual job and two for our largest client (IT has been my career for the last 20 some years). I left and found myself unable to even look at a computer. It took several weeks before I could even bring myself to go online to apply for unemployment, and looking at job ads made me want to vomit. What saved me was a long time friend calling me and asking me to come help. He was having problems with his systems at his office, and because of HIPAA and HITECH, he had to go to a full EMR for his clinic (the client I’d been working with for the previous two years was a hospital). He forced me to get back into the IT game. And I found that I didn’t hate computers and IT, I’d hated my previous job. I picked up a couple of other freelance contracts over the next couple of months and was able to actually start looking for a job. And now I work at one of the best companies I’ve ever worked for, doing a job that I absolutely love (though I loathe SharePoint).

      1. I am glad you found your way back…it is interesting how sometimes helping others is the thing that yanks us out of the darkness.

  4. Two thoughts.

    Ever see that picture of a kitten hanging by its claws at the end of a rope? [Very Big Grin]

    Sometimes, when that “black dog” got me I’d think in terms of “if somebody threw me a rope, it’d have a noose at the end”. [Sad Smile]

    Hang in there Sarah. [Smile]

  5. Look for the beauty in the moment Sarah.

    I think books have a spirit in them and there are ones that actually crush your soul and others that lift it up.

    I practically gave up fiction for a period and then found myself with a Dean Koontz that I couldn’t put down and it brought me back.

    I still don’t read fiction anywhere like I used to.

  6. Sarah, Foxfier and Shadowdancer,

    As a general rule I’m much less compromising and harsher on myself than I’m with other people. So, again thank you for the thoughts of worry and concern. I have a tendence to become focused on the internal and what I’m doing in the moment and get detached from the outside world. To withdraw.

    Thanks for the rope.

    1. *wolf grin* As occasionally infuriating as you can be– you care, and that shines through. Take care of yourself, don’t spiral down.

      Someone who not just gives a dang, but has passion– that’s of great value. I don’t know about the other ladies, but I could no more pass that by than ignore a diamond in a mud puddle.

  7. This bit of a speech from our first and greatest Grand Master seems somehow appropriate. Guess it wasn’t all skittles and beer even for the best of the breed:
    “It means working when you don’t feel like working, even though there is no one to tell you that you must. It means following these rules even when you are disheartened by a long string of rejections and your head aches and your stomach is upset—and your wife thinks you are a fool not to look for a job. It means refusing to see your best friends when you are writing. It means telling your wife and children to get out of your study and stay out! It means offending people who can’t understand that writing must not be interrupted—not for dinner parties, not for birth, not even for Christmas. It means getting a reputation as a bad-tempered, self-centered curmudgeon—and resigning yourself to living with that reputation no matter how eagerly you want to be liked—and writers do want to be liked, else they would not be trying to reach people through writing.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, excerpted from Channel Markers

  8. I couldn’t say if it’s a writer’s characteristic (I’ll make no claims to being a writer) but I strongly suspect it’s a creative characteristic. The whole thing seems to be compounded by the ability to vividly imagine the darker, more negative possibilities in every situation.

    Bob said something up above, about stealing the most from you. That resonates.

    It’s a challenge, being your own bucket of crabs.

  9. I think a lot of people are fighting that feeling of creeping horror as we see trouble coming over the horizon, and there just… doesn’t… seem… to be… anyone… listening… or paying attention. How many times have I felt like that guy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers yelling down the highway “THEY’RE ALREADY HERE! YOU’RE NEXT! YOU’RE NEXT!”

    And that, combined with being super hard on myself for past mistakes, really does a number on the emotions, and totally dried up the writing. My wife has been saying “you should write something. You’re happier when you write something,” and I get really quiet, because it feels like the imagination is just gone, and there’s nothing there.

  10. I can understand why you don’t want to go on meds—every chronic depressive I’ve known has taken long periods of time to get the meds right. In fact, I know someone who intentionally under-doses just a tad so that he can be in top form at work, because the meds that work for him also blunt his abilities a bit. That also means that a day at work is exhausting for him, more so than it should be.

    That being said, it may be worth looking into, if you can find a doctor who will work with you to get something that is very low-dose. The meds that work right won’t take away the lows but should raise the whole mood sine curve just a bit. Like a stepstool. Nobody blames short folk for not being able to reach the top shelf…

    1. Seconded. I’ve been on psych meds for a while now. Before that life was pretty hellish and I did a lot of self medicating. The first thing they tried me with was an SSRI with an odd side effect: I could repeat back to you everything you had just said but not tell you what it meant. Eventually they found one that worked and dialed in the dosage. About a month and a half ago I noticed I was running short. The doc needed to send a new prescription to the mailing out. That took a while. Then the mail order house didn’t have it in stock. For two weeks. I eventually had to step down my dosage and go without. While off of them, I noticed I was pretty much perpetually angry. It was a long nine days without and getting the brain to settle back in while stepping up was a minor chore but I’m backing to being whichever version of me I usually am.
      As an aside, I found out it’s a family thing. Apparently SSRIs made my sister violent and did nothing for my brother.
      If you decide to spin the wheel of Psychotropics, good luck.

    2. Yes, low dose, and temporary. I have one friend who knows the signs when she’s about to go into the dark tunnel, and starts a very low dose med – one that builds up quickly, but the body can churn out quickly at the end. And my sister, who had schizophrenic symptoms, went on Haldol, but has weaned off it and is doing fine. There’s every hope she got what she needed and won’t need it again, or at most just a very low dose. Just a short time on it – or something related to it – gave her what she needed.

      It has been a rough year for many. I can almost believe in evil star alignments, though, yes, it’s more likely general environmental things – politics, the bad economy, allergies. My health – knock on wood – has been good enough (I’ve been doing the iodine thing and, while I’m not losing any weight, my general health has improved, including my allergies).

      My exhaustion has been from external causes. Worst is the sudden death of a best friend last June (her health wasn’t great to begin with, and a horrible job caused a major deterioration these past two years. The bad economy is not just about the people who can’t find work, but for all the people stuck in increasingly abusive jobs because they can’t find anything better).

      I didn’t start feeling better until I started finishing up some of her needlework projects. And writing – not creative work, but just journaling, putting words on paper. No pressure things, only to satisfy myself, not anyone else. Cleaning and other house projects help. I’m beginning to think I might be able to do some creative work again, but I’m going to ease into it. (I’m hoping to come back and comment here more again – it’s certainly helped reading everyone else’s comments. This is a terrific group.)

        1. I remember that – I was worried about you last year. This year does seem to be more weariness for you. Well, and allergies. Yes, recovery time is so vulnerable. And I recall you being a bad patient – getting back up and pushing yourself too soon. 🙂

          But I’m hopeful for you this year, Even with the black dog. You seem to know what to do about it, even if it’s “Oh no, not again, not now!”

  11. You are of course in the position of having legal access to three mood altering substances: alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis. I would strongly suggest you avoid nicotine, that stuff is nasty and addictive. Hear tell you already drinks a bit, all to the good if done in moderation. As far as weed is concerned, never did much for me, but you never know.
    I do recall a live interview with the actor Sterling Hayden who also wrote a number of novels. He was describing how very different his writing styles were when under the influence of wine versus grass.
    Speaking for myself and I suspect the majority here, take care of yourself young Portagee. Your health and that of your loved ones comes first, writing a close second.
    So, when will you have that next book in to Baen? And, no, Toni did not make me ask. She is a much better nag than I’ll ever hope to be anyway.

    1. Of those three (Alcohol, Nicotine, THC) only the nicotine might help with mild depression. *MIGHT*.

      Nicotine is a seratonin uptake inhibitor, similar in effect (in the broadest sense) to SSRIs, except on a global scale.

      This doesn’t mean start smoking, after all there’s nicorette gum…

      More seriously there’s a few things out there that are cheap and have *mild* but scientifically demonstrable impacts on depression. For example see here: St. John’s wort has very mixed reviews, but *might* have some impact if you’ve got mild depression (studies indicate it doesn’t work any better than a placebo on major depression, but that same study indicated that neither did any of the tested medications, so YBCMV. Actually no, YBCWV).

      Also, just to check, you *do* have a daylight balanced light (SAD therapy light) right? Because if you’re spend that much time in the house that might help. Apparently now they’ve got CFLs that do that, so it’s just a matter of 20 bucks and you can fill the whole room with noon day light.

      Regarding it being safe to walk the neighborhood. Carry a hammer. If someone bothers you, stress relief AND your good deed for the day AND some extra exercise all wrapped up in one little burst of aggression.

      1. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve no clue what the city is playing at, or what caused this, but the turndown is marked in the last two years, and Robert and I have been “crowded” while walking in full light of day. This despite… ROBERT.
        I usually carry a pocket knife.
        St. John’s Wort helped at one time, but I suspect the issue now is at least partly hormonal. Ready for this ‘change to be over.

        1. Sarah, I’m sorry to tell you this, but having now seen Robert (if only briefly, at Liberty Con), I suspect that he has my problem. To wit, that he has no natural “intimidation factor”. Now, he could also be like me in that if he were to walk around looking really pissed, that it would show up, but it just wasn’t there when I saw him.

          1. I always got bullied in school when the bullies got to know me, but dangerous looking people avoid me on the street. There’s a speculative glance and then a “no, not him” look and they give me space as I pass. I don’t know what it is they judge a potential victim by.

        2. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve no clue what the city is playing at, or what caused this, but the turndown is marked in the last two years,


          Robert and I have been “crowded” while walking in full light of day. This despite… ROBERT.

          He’s big, but he’s not *scary*.

          Also look into vitamin D deficiency–major impact on moods, especially since it’s a hormone and affects lots of things (including calcium absorbtion):

          1. I started on Suburban Banshee’s suggestion years ago, stopped when I was preggers, forgot to start back up… and ended up with my first broken foot ever. 😦 And bonus sick-as-a-dog plus depressed.

            D, folic acid and “B Complex” (usually has some C for absorption) are awesome “breakfast supplements,” especially if you usually have a high calcium breakfast shake instead of food.

                1. Wouldn’t a dozen eggs provide you with a dozen whites?

                  But I totally agree the yolk is the good part of the egg, if I was going to throw away half an egg, the yolk wouldn’t be the half I threw away.

                  1. It is only in the past few years that I’ve discovered the marvelous flavor of yolks not yet cooked solid.

                    Egg whites, however, are nicest when a little bit crispy in butter.

                    Amazingly it is actually possible to get both in the same egg.

                  2. While hospitalized I discovered the joy of egg salad sandwiches. Soft, creamy boiled eggs chopped into little pieces, strips of lettuce, a bit of butter, between slices of white bread. It might sound odd, but I really liked the food at the local hospital.

                    Alas I can’t have soft boiled eggs for a while for health reasons (and can’t wait to be able to have them again!) I love them, with toasted strips of buttered, parmesan dusted toast. They’re something that Housemate is actually very good at cooking.

                    …Oh yes. Lunchtime. *hungry!*

                    1. ;_; they don’t have sweet pickles here. The pickles are pickled with peppercorns in them. /sadface

                      There used to be just plain sweet pickles, but at the local grocery no longer carries them. I have a couple of jars of pickle relish I jealously hoard in my pantry, imported all the way from the Philippines, a gift from my mother to satisfy my pregnancy cravings.

      2. This doesn’t mean start smoking, after all there’s nicorette gum…

        Do they have a vape in pipe form yet? Then you get the nicotine, don’t get the smoke, and get Writer Points for having a pipe to fiddle with.

    2. You aren’t counting caffeine and chocolate has mood enhancers? What about a pellet gun and a cheap jumbo bag of animal crackers.

        1. Cheap animal crackers aren’t for eating. They are for shooting at! Big game hunting in your back-yard, and they are biodegradable too.

  12. Mine isn’t a black dog. It’s a monster I keep locked in a cage, deep in the basement of my mind. It’s a small thing, but it feeds off of attention, and if I let it out of it’s box and give it what it craves – even a little bit – it quickly grows out of control.

    The only help I ever had with it was my mother mocking me once by loudly telling me when I was 15 “What, are you going to be sad and mopy your whole life? Snap out of it! You’re letting yourself be miserable, and it’s nobodies fault but yours. If you don’t stop you’re going to spend the next 60 years being like this.” And then she turned in went inside.

    Just the day before it had been so bad that if we had had any shells I would have put the shotgun to my head to end the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. After her words, said in such a condescending way, I wished for a shell for the second time in two days.

    I wanted to kill her at that moment. Here was a woman that was always complaining not only about physical pain, but about people treating her poorly. And now she mocked me as I looked about for a reason to live. I shook as I stood over the dirt bike I had been working on. It took everything I had not to take the wrench in my hand, run inside, and bash her skull.

    I didn’t of course. She had her own problems. Some type of personality disorder. And neither of us knew at the time that depression almost always has it’s roots in bad brain chemistry, that depression is like a bad trip and the body keeps dosing itself. Eventually I decided she was right even if she was incredibly cruel. I probably had half a century more of life left. Living that long feeling like I did was unthinkable, but, ultimately, so was killing myself. Even then I believed enough in God and honour to know down in my gut suicide was wrong.

    I started by acting different even if the feelings on the inside was the same. Fake it till you make it I figured, like the alcoholics say. At first the only emotion I could summon besides depression was surly anger. It was dangerous, but it was still marginally better. Eventually I learned to ‘act’ more and more normal. Slowly, oh so slowly, I noticed the monster was shrinking for lack of attention. That made it a little easier, and so it went.

    It got easier still when I finally learned how there was a chemical basis for my problem. After that, when the monster rose up and threatened to swallow me, I could picture it as something outside of me, a separate alien thing that was launching a sort of psychic assault on my mind. That helped, and I can only thank sci-fi for giving me the mental tools needed to do it. “This isn’t you Johnny, it’s that evil mentalist trying to take over your mind! Fight it, fight!”

    And of course once Johnny understands that some outside force is screwing with his noodle he grits his teeth, doubles over with effort, and drives the alien notions from his mind. I couldn’t just will the monster away of course, but I finally had the tools to fight it. Now it was a thing distinct from myself, imposing feelings on me that had no basis in reality. And thanks to the anger I had cultivated I had the will to fight it. I beat it and shoved it down into a basement, and once it was on the floor I kicked it until it crawled into a steel box.

    It wont die of course. It’ll never die. It sits there still in it’s locked box in the basement of my mind, waiting for me to feed it with doubt or shame or hopelessness. It’s gotten out once or twice in the last ten years, and the bastard grows quickly when it does, seeking to take over again. I stand guard over it always, ever vigilant, and I will for the rest of my life. I have to. It took almost 40 years to get close to normal. All that time cost me a hell of a lot: no college, no career, no wife or kids of my own. Too busy fighting the monster. The fight left room for nothing else.

    But it’s been worth it, and the alternative is unacceptable. I’m as close to happy and peace now than I’ve ever been. Lady, don’t you let the monster win. The feelings are real, won’t tell you they’re not, but they’re not you’re own. They’re the monster’s. Get a little angry. Take up the sword and beat the crap out of the e’ffer. Shove him back into his box where he belongs. You have more family and allies that I ever had, done more to be proud of than I ever had, and if I can do it, so can you. You’d shoot an intruder in your home. Well, you have an intruder in your mind. Fight.

    Fight it johnny, this isn’t you!

    1. /cheer

      My families’ issues are less serious, but the same tactic works– the “oh, you can’t help it, it’s chemical” thing would kill us.

      The “fight it! You CAN fight it– NEVER give up!” version keeps us alive.

      1. Growing up on a farm may have helped me. Livestock didn’t care how I felt- they still needed to be fed and watered. So I learned to keep plugging along, leading with my chin; and somehow, it got better after several days.

  13. My own troubles this past year have been something that I have simply had to force out of my mind, because thinking about it is neither productive, nor can I banish it by thinking it out. But so far I have been able to keep it mostly at bay.

  14. Bless you, Sarah. Strong post. I read this blog because I usually find you my rope. I am a depressive myself. Have been all my life. I find despair very easily. I have always admired your outrage, your common sense, and your defiance. It helps me push back the darkness when all the craziness in this world gets overwhelming.

    Given my own experience, ill health just makes depression harder to fight. I’m hoping you feel better quickly and then stay well for a very long time 🙂

    1. Well, in a quick search I couldn’t find a link to Sarah saying it, so using it like it’s someone you should OF COURSE know of is pretty good advertising.

        1. I know you use it, I just didn’t see any link when I quickly scanned.

          Appropriately enough, the subject depresses me so I try to avoid it…..

  15. Just remember, the black dog is a scent hunter, and it follows the trail of guilt and fear.

    For me, the fear’s pretty intense right now–my daughter’s going into major surgery this Thursday, so if anyone has any positive thoughts, please send them her way.

    And Sarah? I’m grateful to you and all your acerbic words of wisdom. I usually end up thinking a little more during the day because of them.

      1. And he’s taken to hanging around 24/7 about five years ago. No, I don’t know why. I just know that all of a sudden a spate of characters were named Raphael and there was just that feeling.
        (Yes, the atheists can assume I’m nuts. The others can assume I’m baffled. I don’t remember doing anything to deserve that sort of attention.)

            1. …Dang it, Sarah, now you have me musing on the time management skills of beings outside of Time.

              More seriously– because you’re important. If you’re not getting upper management attention, it’s because it’s important that you do it on your own, not because they’re distracted.

              Like every parent, Upper Management might want to hold your hand, pick you up, wrap you in felt and generally keep you safe– but then you can’t be you, and neither can anybody else.

              1. Oh, good grief. Don’t get RES started on superior beings outside of time again.

                What’s that? Oh. Oh, HI, RES! So nice to see you! We were just talking about you! (Walking away, trying to look innocent)

                  1. Heh. Doesn’t really bother me, that just came out because I remembered that for some reason, his response to me once when I disagreed with him on the subject made my teeth itch. 🙂

                1. Piffle — I am perfectly willing to entertain the idea of inferior beings that are outside of time. I aim to dispel illusions of all sorts, not just the illusion of sequentiality. The only illusion I do not attack is that of rationality, as doing so strikes me as irrational (it also seems a proprietary vocation of the political Left and I don’t need any extra turf battles with them.)

  16. I’m not fishing for compliments – please don’t – I got my rope last night, unexpectedly, from someone who didn’t realize he was throwing it; from someone I can trust not to say it just because.

    And that’s important. Don’t say it just because.

    Very, very, VERY much this.

    Folks make cracks about giving your kids a complex– I know that after a bit of noticing that everything I did was “wonderful,” I didn’t believe any assurance of quality on the part of a teacher.

    1. Yes.
      Also, if everyone is telling me how wonderful I am, I start looking around to see which direction it is coming from.

      1. For the last five years or so, EVERYONE in my family says “wow, you look like you lost a lot of weight– you look great!” every time I see them.

        I’ve been decidedly over-weight that whole time, not counting when I was actually pregnant.

        I recently have managed to get my weight down by an odd series of events, so I’ve dropped almost twenty pounds… and everyone is saying exactly the same thing, except for one sibling who sounded genuinely startled. 😀

        1. You look the same to me as you did when you started posting here a couple of kids ago. Of course all we can see is the head and shoulders shot you choose to show us.

          1. *sappy smile*
            My husband, who drew this back before he was even boyfriend material, says similar things…and in a way that I believe him. Part of why I love him is that he’s a really horrible liar, especially when he’s trying to be nice.

    2. Wouldn’t the alternative to giving your kid a complex be to render “him” a simpleton?

      Besides, it is so very simple to give a justified compliment, just structure it according to the form “for a _______, you ___________.” For example, “For a fat girl, you don’t sweat much.” or “For a conservative, you aren’t very racist.” See how easy it is?

  17. Strangely, the small to middling stroke I had a couple years back helped as well. In addition to doing some unfortunate things to my right arm and leg, it also did something to the area of my brain that controls how I react physically to emotions. Prior to the stroke I could, and did, remain stone faced no matter how funny, scary, or sad the situation became. Now, well now sudden loud noises make me jump, sad scenes in movies can make me misty, and amusing thoughts make me chuckle even when it’s totally inappropriate.

    I find all this even more irritating than my reduced mobility. One of the few things I took pride in was my self control. It allowed me to be scary enough to work in bad neighbourhoods and stare down angry men with guns. It made me the serious one, the reliable one, the guy people trusted. It was my one advantage. That control is gone now. Odd thing is, that almost constant outward expression of humour has helped to lighten my mood some. My nieces also say I’m more pleasant to be around.

    Still, it’s not a therapy I recommend. Learning how to hold a spoon again at 42 wasn’t that much fun.

  18. This sounds like how I’ve lived most of my life. Black Dog. For about a week earlier this month the light bulbs in the kitchen and my bedroom blew and for that week I would get home, eat something, look at a book for a half hour or so by flashlight and then go to bed. Why not go straight to buy the lightbulb? Charles isn’t worth buying a lightbulb for? Darned if I know, and it’s me. Anyway, I started writing an hour a day even if it’s babble, got light bulbs (at KMart, real light bulbs while they last for a quarter each!) and a request to let the building inspector into my apartment because they’re selling inspired me to clean it up a little. Well, I half filled the dumpster, but when I took out the last bag the dumpster had been emptied and the guys behind me had half filled it again. My mother was an utter, dedicated sadist, but my poor brother, a year and a half younger, got most of her attention.

  19. Dr. Chase prescribes the following video for symptoms of Black Dog.

    Guaranteed cure for doldrums, moping, and lethargy. BONUS: tiny sqeeeks and demonstration of the principle of Transfer of Sproinginess by collision.

    The gloom cloud comes to visit me, too. The SAD light helps a LOT, especially when I turn it on as soon as I wake up to darkness (I have it on a timer so it comes on 20 minutes before my alarm goes off). Plus I have two kitties on call each with their own preferred silliness mode…

    1. I avoid female OB/GYNs and pediatricians because most of the women who go into that drive me up a wall– normal doctor? I kinda like a lady doctor.
      But for OB/GYNs? Every lady doctor I’ve gone to has seen “we’re both women, so I can tell you how your morals are WRONG!!!” as a baseline.

      If my husband had been a little less involved… the best-thing-you-can-call-her-is-female doctor after my first pregnancy would’ve done a lot of damage with her emotional manipulation.
      I was emotionally vulnerable, our situation was unstable, and if she’d been a little less absolutely counter to everything I knew I may have believed her.

      Instead, I just made sure I never got an appointment with her again.
      Now, I wonder what kind of damage she’s done…..

      1. Anybody wants to discuss my morals better be ready to discuss theirs. If they get truly difficult I can haul in theology, history, economics, sociology, anthropology, cinema and quantum physics. A major benefit of a broad education is the ability to bore people in multiple disciplines.

        1. RES

          I know just enough to be dangerous. Having a broad edjimacsion is not a prerequisite for boring people. I should know.


        2. I was so shocked to have someone respond to not putting more hormones in my body that I didn’t do much.

          Thank goodness. When I do respond to Stupid Doctor Tricks, it tends to be quite rude.

          1. There are anti-contraception doctors out there. They may be the only hope of women who want their problems treated rather than papered over.

  20. Wishing you well. I have found that cheese helps mild depression. My wife swears by mangos. St John’s Wort has also helped me. Though it is herbal, some studies show similar effectiveness to antidepressants. It seems remarkably helpful. I found it to be fast-acting, but that may simply be the placebo effect. Antidepressants work, but the effects tend to comparable to exercise – and also kill sex drive and increase weight. I figure depression is a feedback loop, so keeping some tools around to dig you out before you get deep is wise. Oh, and friends, friends are great.


    1. Building and launching model rockets, taking down dead trees with a 20″ chainsaw, and playing frisbee with the rotten dog are sure cures for being moody……..

  21. Well if you want to know what impact you have, your sci-fi short stories are something I have been looking for ever since I was a child.

    I read Asimov’s short stories then, and a few others I can’t recall, and I read Philip K Dick in the last few years. I loved them, but they were obviously out of date. They told of a future, but one that no longer fitted with what we already knew of technology. For example by the time I was 10 in 1983 I was using personal digital computers, and I knew that Univac was not the way computers would go (although I loved reading Asimov’s story about a world where a paper book is a fascinating antique on a Kindle recently). I always wondered what such stories felt like to those who first read them, who saw them as a fresh vision of what might be.

    Only this year, when I started reading your work, did I know. That is the first I read something that felt like I think Asimov would have felt to readers when he first came off the press. Ric Locke got close with Temporary Duty, but with the stories in Wings you gave me that pleasure. I especially loved Touch and Sugarbush. I really enjoyed the fantasy as well, but the sci-fi was such a revelation to me I tend to think of the book more as sci-fi even though it is mostly fantasy, I think.

    I liked Witchfinder a lot, and Dipped, Stripped and Dead (still not on Kindle!) and I intend to start on the Shakespeare stuff soon and have been promising myself Darkship Thieves for months, but to me the best are your short stories.

    Having read your blog here long before your work (I found you through Instapundit) I would have known your voice in every book. It is a good voice for story telling.

    1. Thank you. I am humbled. I would appreciate if you leave a review on Amazon if you have not. And if I CAN dig myself out of this hole, I have three different SF universes to explore, as well as rewriting/compiling the future history stories for the Darkship universe and putting them out in collections.
      And thank you. You’ve made me feel better.

      1. Gratified, humbled, and please right a review on Amazon–have you ever seen the movie Steel Magnolias?

        Oh–Harvey on wrote “This Is Pretty Much Why I Blog” and gave a link to John C. Wright’s Book of Gold column that he found on Neatorama (and Neatorama says that they found it on Brian J. Noggle’s site):

        And go to bed, people! Sleep deprivation is bad for your mental health; just look at me scratching on this computer like someone is up at this time of night.

      2. I did so as soon as I finished it. It’s on Amazon UK, and the only review there so you get a 5 stars here!

        Thank you; the stories are much appreciated. I look forward to more.

        I’m just realising that the Tom Holt I am reading is crap (I usually like his, but don’t recommend Snow White and the Seven Samurai) so I think I shall start Ill Met now.

  22. P.S. I did not type the above just in response to this article. It is something I had intended to thank you for since I read the book, and it seemed to fit here. It is how an author can reach a reader in a way very personal to that one reader and important to him, in a really odd way the author would never think of.

  23. A couple of things. If you haven’t looked into aroma therapy, I would suggest doing so. FInd a good shop with people who know what they are doing.
    Also I might suggest that you consider hormone replacement. My wife has been on this for almost 30 years now inspite of what the fools say about it. And lastly, unless you are really happy with your current doc, you might try to find a doctor who is not a American trained but rather European trained. They seem to have a different atitude toward medicine… jist sayin’

    1. Part of the family’s insistence I come over this year, is that I come from a family that runs to doctors and engineers. My brother is an engineer, and I should have been a doctor, if only I could face the cadavers (I couldn’t.) They want me to come back because my cousin who runs an allergy and upper respiratory clinic wants to do a battery of tests.

      1. Okay, this seems like a Very Good Idea for so many of your reasons plus this. So basically money has to be raised… or you need to get invited to a convention in Portugal/nearby Europe that will pay your way. Once you’re over in Europe, you can always fly crazy Ryanair and all that. Or we need Jeff Bezos or another Evil Capitalist to let you guys hitch a ride on his private jet.

        Hmmmmm. Everybody think.

          1. Maybe you should try burning something from a Hachette imprint and invoking Beelzebezos’s secret name during the first quarter of the waxing fiscal year. I’m told that has worked for a few people.

            Then again so has buying lottery tickets.

      2. The cadavers never do anything when you are facing them, it is when you turn your back that you have to worry.

              1. “Evening Primrose” by John Collier. One of the greatest horror stories ever written. I was astonished to find I missed a TV musical adaptation around 1966, staring Anthony Perkins, perfect casting. never released on video, I hope it survives somewhere.

            1. When the Autons, animated mannequins, first appeared as baddies in Doctor Who (classic series), they spooked people something fierce, according to some books I’ve read.

              1. The Autons predate the term but IMO they are a good example of the “uncanny valley” effect.

                The idea is that the closer something comes to a human appearance but still isn’t completely human-like, there is a repulsive effect in humans.

                For example, C-3PO obviously isn’t human so just looks strange but a “bot” that was almost human but was “off” in some way becomes disturbing to viewers.


  24. I don’t know that I am more depressive than the normal person, if you are Never depressed, there is something wrong with you! I know that I didn’t always handle it normally or probably well, however. When I was younger, when I got depressed, instead of moping around I would go looking for a fight, this always perked me up, but isn’t a therapy I would recommend.

    I’m another one who doesn’t take medication, part of it is that I don’t want to admit that I need any help from chemicals, and by dealing with pain/sickness/etc. without taking anything I prove that to myself. Another part is probably the almost subconscious worry that I might like the effects (invariably the exact opposite occurs, if I notice any side-effects it is because I dislike them) that the medication has. When I was a teenager I at least tried almost any mind-altering substance you can think of, and a few of them I did a lot a more than try. I quit everything before I was legal drinking age, and since then not only have I not taken any of the illegal pharmaceuticals, but while I have taken antibiotics a couple times, the only time I have taken even ibuprofen was a few years ago when I had shingles (something I highly recommend avoiding if at all possible, I have been beaten over the head with a boat oar, and it was much less painful). While I occasionally have a drink, it is always just a drink, and that only very rarely. While I don’t think I was an alcoholic (definitions vary wildly) I liked it, a lot, and it isn’t a habit I want to start back up. And drinking yourself into oblivion may make you forget your depression until you wake up, but it certainly doesn’t help you get rid of it.

    1. And drinking yourself into oblivion


      No, Drinking yourself to Bolivia.

      It’s better that way.

        1. It’s a well known fact from slash stories that every guy is two drinks away from some m/m action. (And no, I don’t believe it. In fact I’ve broken the heart of friends who are slashers, but then I’ve broken the heart of guys who believe every woman is two drinks away from some f/f action. When younger son said something suggestive of believing this, and I told him it wasn’t true, he said “Hey, thanks for destroying the dream.” I THINK he was joking.)

          1. Two drinks to f/f action? No, definitely not. At least 6. But then again, there are a bunch of solid drinkers at the places I ever go. On the other hand, I’ve never seen any of that kind of action in real life, anyway, but then again, I never see anything interesting (in that way – I see things interesting to Odds occasionally), so I’m probably not a good example.

            1. f/f was “a thing” about the time I hit my twenties. A lot of girls had to try it, but most went no farther than French kissing, and amazingly enough this usually happened in front of guys they wished to impress. Pure coincidence, I’m sure. But yes, I think a half a dozen drinks would be about minimum for most of those girls, whether they needed that many drinks to lower their inhibitions, or just to have a viable excuse is open to debate.

              1. A lot of my friends tried kissing each other in sober earnest. I simply never had even the remotest interest in women. I have lesbian friends, but the whole idea of having sex with a woman is about as arousing as reading about dinosaur penises. No, wait, less, because dino penises (yes, I own a book on that, and packed it yesterday, so I remember it) at least are sort of intellectually exciting.

  25. Sarah,

    So, I just had this book recommended to me, Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way
    by Rick Carson. 

    I haven’t read it yet, and I only mentioning it because I feel if you get similar messages from different sources the Universe is trying to tell you something and you should listen.

    I’ve down loaded the kindle sample and I ran across this on the youtubes:

    So! Just thought I’d pass it along.

  26. Right there with you, lady.

    I don’t even consider myself “prone” to depression. But I’ve had a bad month and a half/two months or so. Everyone around me is deep in a hole, often deeper than I am.

    I’m climbing out and downing more supplements than I have any interest in, just to do whatever I can to shore up my health so I can separate mood/hormones from body as much as I can. The bad thing is, depression and sickness can have the same symptoms sometimes.

    At least I’ve been able to look the root of my mental stress factors in the eye and take steps to working around them so they don’t control me. The health bit comes and goes, but I’m not struggling as much.

    One of the things that did help was your post a few days back about just existing might help someone else. Y’know, with the whole Agatha Christie anecdote included. I appreciated it at the time, and ought to have said so. But I was much deeper in the hole then than I am now.

  27. I think every single author blog I follow except for Mr. Corriea’s has had a post about the tendencies of writers to depression in the last month. I know my fellow music students in college were far-and-away more prone to mental problems than other students I knew, aside from the art majors. (And prone to not medicating with prescribed pharmaceuticals–self administered were a different story–because prescriptions seemed to universally kill the creativity.)
    My assumption is, and has always been, that there is something about being creative that is either strongly associated with other mind issues, or that our culture is such that it drives creatives crazy, or quite likely some of both.

    1. Apparently it’s a thing again with some of the psychologist types, and there’s at least two books coming out soon arguing “madness is genius” or “genius doesn’t require madness.” Plus everyone watching the annual September Sales Slump currently in progress. *shrug* I’m currently “enjoying” mild anxiety spells every d-mn time I open my other professional e-mail, waiting to hear about what I have to do on the 5th rewrite of a non-fiction book. Not that I’m counting the number of rewrites and revisions anymore, mind you.

  28. The problem many run into when first looking into utilizing aroma therapy is that whoever is selling them the various oils is NOT selling the essential oil but rather essential oil that have been cut with cheaper oils such as olive or almond oil. Uncut essential oils can be very expensive – certain rose oils can be >$60/dram – and will also smell and “feel” different then oils that have been cut. As I said find a good store and maybe pick up a good ref book. Down here we use the Great American store. The women running the place really know what they are doing and can “suggest” the use of various oils based on what you tell them.

    Not sayin’ they will be the cure for what ails you, just sayin’ that inhaling certain ones seem to help in controlling/stablizing mood swing(s).
    Oh yeah don’t be sniffing valarian instead of marjoram(by accident) unless you plan on an early bed time – don’t ask how I know.
    Side bar – there are a lot of them and they have a lot of different uses – tea tree, a serious anticeptic; myrrah, great for “sealing” small cuts and abrasions; lavender for bug bites; and on and on.

    1. Lavender can also be made into wine, and yes it tastes just like you imagine it would. It is supposed to be an aphrodisiac, but I’m not sure how you would get enough down to have any effect.

    2. You can make rose water far more cheaply. Steam distill the rose petals (for really cheap options just make a ‘tea’ of them. Though it’s messier and a slightly different scent.) Most floral places will sell left over roses at a discount. The steam distilled stuff makes a very good fabreeze substitute. (I used to make it all the time.) The hardest part is the cooling system on the still. I haven’t tried it with lavender but I’d presume you could get a similar effect. (Perfuming is a hobby of mine)

  29. Along with aromatherapy, natural supplements can be a real boon. My go-to for blah and dark moods is Mood Elevator by Nature’s Sunshine, Blessed Thistle help with monthly mood fluctuations for me and Distress Remedy by Nature’s Sunshine is great for those disappointments and small traumas in life. Not diagnosing, just saying what works for me. There are some other natural therapies that can help some people. Let me know if you want to hear more. I know depression is stopping my writing, as I’m out of my favorites mentioned above, due to child crisis syndrome (it drains your accounts). Good luck, rest, love yourself, peace.

  30. I’m late on this (WordPress unsubscribed me for the last two weeks and I was too busy to notice), and I haven’t read other comments, so this could be all repeat, but people expect to be appreciated for the ordinary things they do — which just doesn’t happen. But they need to learn to appreciate, say thank you, to people for the ordinary things they do for us, and really think about it and mean it. It transforms us, and it makes a real impression on the other people. An attitude of thankfulness is very important to health and sanity.

    Especially for me. I’m not depressive, but I am a deep melancholy by temperament, and while most of the time that depth of emotion is a great boon, sometimes it pulls in the darkness, and I have to remember to use my emotions, and not be used by them. Thankfulness, giving and receiving, is one of the chief ways out.

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