Depression: words on the things we lose

Of late I’ve been trying to figure out how to manage more shifts at work, a new story idea that is essentially about queers with mental illness trying to solve crime while living the stigma and erasure their diagnoses and treatments bring, the ongoing mountain that is trying to clean my house, and survival. Survival isn’t so easy when everything from TV to the wreckage littering my bed reminds me of my failure to just be a functional person.

Needless to say, depression dogs my footsteps, a snarling, smothering shadow of barely-dammed despair. Right now the only place I can escape it – where I feel capable, functional and successful at anything – is while writing fiction or handling stock/talking to customers at work, but even that comes at a cost, given the emotional exhaustion that follows shunting aside my feelings for a shift or two. Yet I can’t survive without that escape from my own head, such that the things that help me survive are making it harder for me to function in general.

I can write, and while I am lost in the words I feel almost alive, but if I write all the time I can’t do anything else: I’m addicted to that brief flash of not-depression I feel such that getting up and attempting laundry or the dishes brings on an even greater awareness of my world as it is, and there’s nothing about that awareness that is easily endurable.

Continue reading

The ghost of a girl

I say it a lot, I think, but I am not the person I used to be.

I live in fear, in fact, of becoming the person I was: that I am still not enough different, that the miserable person I was is still who I am despite my efforts otherwise, that this newness is a fragile shell, thin candy coating over weaker chocolate that melts in the sun. My thoughts and feelings are a trifle suspect at the moment – I am in fact writing this because my new med dose has made me so groggy I can’t think my way to anything else – but this might be a fear I have to learn to live with. I am so much less anxious about many things of late – travelling after dark, meeting strangers, trying new things – which is amazing and something I don’t take for granted, but this anxiety might be forever with me. It’s scar-tissue, a burn healed: the skin is never quite the same as the unburnt skin that surrounds it and never will be. The scar will always be white and hairless, and I will always live with the ghost of who I was. I will always, I think, be a little afraid of that girl. That’s a sad and horrible thing to articulate in words, but it feels like my truth.

Continue reading

The worlds unseen: depression

This week I have begun a new job, been to my GP, started a higher dose of my antidepressant, returned to my psychologist, apologised to a commissioning editor for royally fucking up in terms of keeping up contact and tried to get back to a normal sleeping schedule. I’ve still got a long list of emails to reply to, invoices to send and people to inform with regards my realisation that everything not writing has become so difficult for me because depression steals motivation, enthusiasm and energy. People who know me, if you’re reading this – this is why I’ve been able to be online and ignore emails. This is why it’s so fucking hard for me to send a couple of forms so people can pay me money for doing something I love. (I’m not even talking about the fucking IRS forms for Smashwords, which are actually genuinely annoying and off-putting – and one day I’m going to write about all the hoops one has to go through to be a self-published non-American author who wants to make any kind of income from their words.) Depression. How does something so intangible render so many things difficult or impossible?

I have two things going for me. I’m able to talk about my shit to other people, which isn’t easy after almost three years of practice, but at least gets a little more natural after a while. I’m also surrounded, these days, by incredibly kind, supportive, amazing people who are patient, tolerant and accepting of me and my struggles without pathologising me or diminishing me for my illnesses. That’s not something I’ve always had, and I will never stop being grateful for the existence of these incredible people in my life who are content that everything awesome in me comes hand-in-hand with failures, struggles and challenges.

(I think the most important life lesson I have ever learnt – and I am speaking as a perfectionist mortally afraid of failure – is that there is a powerful and amazing magic in saying to people that I have fucked up, these are my reasons, this is what I’m trying to do about it, please forgive me for my failures to be the person you expect. It hasn’t let me down yet.)

Continue reading

Call to arms, my dear creatives

A friend this weekend paid me the second-highest compliment a writer can receive when she told me my writing isn’t generic. This is incredibly flattering, but it’s also an interesting counterpoint to my fears that I am, in fact, everything but.

(The highest compliment is when people tell you that they’re engrossed in your words despite the fact you fucked up will/would in present tense all the way through a 140 000 word novel. ‘Amazing’ doesn’t mean anything. ‘I kept reading’ is what I strive for. If a reader can forgive me my faults and flaws, place their trust in me that their investment in my words is worth their time, and follow me to the end, I have done what I need to do. This shouldn’t stop me from seeking to improve, and it won’t silence my anxiety, that grand and notorious speaker of bullshit, but it is enough. If a reader takes my hand and comes with me on my journey, it is enough.)

Likewise, J P Kyle used my latest post as a jumping off point for her important thoughts on guilty pleasures, rape culture and romance in literature, particularly romance/YA, and when your words inspire someone to write, especially something else meaningful, I don’t think there can be anything more flattering or profound.

I think this is an entirely selfish reason for embarking on vulnerability in creativity, by the by, and why creatives need to get used to throwing caution to the wind in the frightening quest to be real. It’s not that one’s work is inevitably better (although it is): it’s the impact on others and the feedback one gets as a result of that impact. Sure, vulnerability in creativity doesn’t mean one will get more readers, more likes, more hits. In fact, depending on about a million factors, that may not be true at all. Talent isn’t an indicator of numerical success. The feedback one does get, though, tends to be special. We get to see that, in our words, we have had some effect on the hearts and minds of one other person. We can promote change, provoke, educate, help, comfort, inspire. We can make profound and incredible art, if only we step up and take a risk on our own honesty, and people tell us it matters.

Continue reading

Walk the talk: you’re not alone

I had a conversation with someone about the contents of my last post – in general about the reality of the creative life but more specifically about the anxiety inherent in not only being creative but promoting that creativity. It wasn’t the conversation I was being paid to have – I guess teaching is like that, sometimes – but it was the kind of conversation that makes one sit up and take notice because of the words she told me: I thought I was the only one who felt like that.

I talk a lot about anxiety, here. I truly hope I’m not presenting an image of being anything other than a person who is utterly terrified of every word I write. I do it anyway, because otherwise I’m back to being that person who wrote millions of words as desperate escapism, but I am not a fearless hero. In fact, I despise fearless heroes, for they are not human. (Steve Nakamura is the closest I’ll ever get to writing one, and he isn’t as much fearless as he is well-grounded and a tad reckless. He’s also a foil for the true fearful hero in the piece, Abe.) I wrote 140 000 words about a fearful not-hero who becomes a fearful hero, because the world needs more stories about heroes who break into a nervous sweat at the thought of doing anything remotely heroic and yet have people with faith in their heroism. There are, in fact, not enough words in the world about these sorts of heroes if anyone can ever look at me and tell me in all seriousness that they thought they were alone in being utterly terrified at the thought of blogging or social media or putting their words out for public consumption. Those words spoken by one person are a tragic failure of society. Those words, when they go unspoken by someone who needs to know they are not alone, lead to mental illness and suicide.

We create a world that has a direct hand in the deaths of our siblings in spirit because people can, in all honesty, say those terrible, awful words, and that’s still better, by far, than the alternative: people dying because they don’t know that they’re not alone.

Continue reading

Nothing happening here but an awkward confession

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I’m trying to work on the whole ‘social media self-promotion’ thing. I’m very bad at this. This is part hand pain – anything that takes me away from creative writing annoys me – and mostly because I’m a terrified, insecure, anxiety-ridden person afraid of what people think about me, which I just have to get the fuck over if I ever want to do something scary like, oh, submit my novel to an agent.

I like having a quiet blog because it means I don’t have to worry about confronting my fear of negative evaluation, to quote Sian Prior (Rotunda guest, amazing person, wonderful speaker). I can just create awesome-to-me content and not worry about the rest, secure in the knowledge that the people who come here are, well, like me. Unfortunately, it also means I don’t have to come to terms with the disjunct between the creative I am that’s a hundred percent behind my own somewhat offbeat bent because the things I write need saying … and the real-to-me belief that saying these things is going to result in everyone in the world hating me, so I should only do the internet equivalent of quiet whispering in the far corner of the library.

This is what happens when you were once a person who couldn’t say anything without receiving negative evaluation (‘nobody cares’ is certainly that); it is the ultimate upshot of life in the world of monsters.

Continue reading

The other me: Death is Only a Theoretical Concept

I think you know, now, that I’ve been writing creatively for the best part of the last fifteen years. I’ve written and completed about eight novels (first drafts, trust me) and who knows how many incomplete novels and stories. The vast majority of this is never going to see the light of day, as is right: it takes millions of words to get really good, and while I still have plenty to learn, I have my current skill level because of the millions of words I’ve left in my wake.

Over that time my style and creative focus have changed such that I look at the person who wrote my earlier stories and don’t quite recognise them.

Some of the more recent stories, though – some of the things I’ve written in the last five years – are not terrible. They need work, yes; I’ve learnt a great deal in PWE. They are also, topically, not what I’d write today, which usually involves trans and non-binary identities alongside a collection of female characters with feminist leanings. They belong to the period of my life where I wrote about men because I was forced to live the life of a girl, a life that chafed me to the bone, and there was a great deal of liberation in being able to pick up the keyboard and step into an imaginary world where I could live, via proxy, the life I wanted. I read them today and shake my head at the absolute lack of women, at the overwhelming majority of cis male characters (writing a cis male majority means writing everyone gay/bi/pan, because I wasn’t interested in writing about straights even then) and the lack of understanding with regards to social issues.

I also read them today and realise something else: they’re still pretty damn funny.

Continue reading

The personal and the sensitive

This week I taught people how to sew handmade books, someone else a little on how to make ebooks, edited a ten-thousand-word transcript of a panel-type presentation, realised that I totally know how to style a Word doc for html, and had a friend offer me a job that sounds like fun and money. My harddrive is also dying, so I’m now working off a shitty Windows 8 netbook, and my floral-patterned trolley (it’s so awesome people stop me in the street to tell me how awesome it is) cracked a wheel. But it’s mostly good. It’s actually pretty damn nice to be in a position where people are starting to throw things in my direction so I can use my collection of professional skills to (nearly) pay the rent.

When I finished my BA with an anthropology major and an Honours thesis on genocide as a form of sacrifice, I had no community, no sense of connectedness to academia or the industry. It’s a strange and wondrous thing, this time around, to have friends and connections to the community and PWE staff, to have a tangible skillset that isn’t ‘writing essays’ or ‘able to tell you just why the UN failed in Rwanda’, to have people in my life who know I’m the resident ebook expert. I don’t regret my BA. I loved my sojourn into Shakespeare; I loved everything I learnt in anthropology. My novel is essentially a fantastic form of the themes in my thesis. It did not give me, though, what a less-prestigious TAFE course gave me; I am not the person that began the course two and half years ago in terms of the array of skills I now have, and I am so damn glad of that.

If you are in Australia and you are a literary creative, if you have even the slightest pretensions to a industry career that goes a little beyond just crafting words – Professional Writing and Editing TAFE is the best investment of your time and money, and the Victoria University staff and community are the most amazing people. I know I say it again and again, but I owe so much to this course. They have allowed me to transform myself from K. A. the warehouse flunkie to K. A. the emerging writing and publishing professional.*

(* This phrasing, which is something I wrote without thinking about it, is quite interesting in the sense that it squarely places the agency in my hands. I could have said that they transformed me, and not so long ago I would have. That’s not true, however, and that must be a truth I’m starting to grasp enough that I can phrase it in just that way – that I’m the agent of change in my own life. My teachers and psychologists and friends can support me, encourage me and teach me, but they can’t change me. I can.)

Continue reading

Reflections on acknowledgement and gratitude

I feel I should mention that this is less an argumentative essay – this is why you need to do what I’m doing – and more a reflection on why I feel the way I feel.

I believe in crediting as many of the creatives as possible who are involved in allowing me to create the things I do.

It’s all the more important when those creatives have put their work (images, textures, fonts) into the world for free.

Now, I think I give back in the sense of paying forwards: a great deal of my work goes out into the world for free, too. If I were getting paid for every word I wrote, I’d be putting down the well-deserved licensing fees for the images and fonts I use. As it stands, however, I wouldn’t be earning much money from my words even if I insisted on payment (the artistic world doesn’t work that way), so in order to create I am obliged to the generosity of other creatives (who live and work in the same boat when it comes to revenue and the creative life). Creation, in fact, doesn’t happen in isolation. Sure, I can create words myself. I’m fortunate enough to be able to edit them myself (to an extent, anyway) and design books myself, but I sure as fuck can’t design a good font, print my book or pop my book in an online store without the unsung assistance from other creative people. This post would not exist without the designers and web techs who developed WordPress and the layout I use. I can make lovely documents in InDesign, but I do that on the back of the many, many designers and technicians who created the program; I do that on the back of the foundries who created the fonts I love. There’s a reason why Adobe Creative Suite costs so much money, and it’s not (just) because Adobe CS operates in the same kind of industry-standard monopoly as Microsoft Office. Consider how much a good font package alone can run for!

Continue reading

The demon at the crossroads

(Note: I don’t usually content-warn for specific blog posts, but this one contains a lot of reflections on suicide – not as something I want to do, but what it means to me, as a person who has been suicidal and still has suicidal thoughts, so it rather merits a heads up.)

I’ve been experimenting with how much design I can do without actually paying money for upgrades. As it turns out, a fair bit. Not as much as I want, but more than I thought, as long as I’m armed with Photoshop and Font Squirrel. I didn’t quite realise I could carry over so much of my developing design skills to the web; I don’t know why it took me so long to realise that I could make my own header. So expect more changes and tweaks, because it’s really quite addicting. One day I’ll have the money to either learn how to make a website from scratch or pay for the upgrades, and then I’ll really have fun.

And since I’ve been updating my resume and designing business cards (I’m starting to find myself in positions where I need them) well, new domain. I dare say it’s a better investment than an Ever After High Maddie doll (and cheaper, at least here in Australia). The thing that really makes me smile is the new email address I created through having said domain – finally, I have a gender-neutral professional-resembling email!

(There’s not much to see on my Port Carmila site, if anyone noticed it … yet. Why, yes, I may be editing a bunch of older short stories and turning them into ebooks. I may be writing this so I therefore have to go and do it. Accountability is awesome.)

Where have I been?

I have done something this year I said I was going to do – not many of the things I have to do, mind, but something I wanted.

Continue reading