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.