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.
Trigger warning: in-depth, personal discussions of depression, chronic pain and suicide/suicidal ideation/self-harm.
I’m writing this because yesterday I spent about twenty minutes crying to my psychologist that people don’t talk about this, and because right now the only way I feel even remotely alive is through the act of using my words to do something about that. Most of the ropes I’m holding onto are fraying. This is the only one that’s even remotely sturdy, the fierce motivation I have to make the worlds unspoken real, so once again I’ll commit the crime (not a crime) of honesty if it’s the thing that keeps me breathing. (I’m a hero-rescuer type; I’m sure you noticed.) This motivation is strong and fierce, even in depression, enough that it’s so very easy to look at me and think I am not – well, my psychologist is using lovely words like ‘crisis’ – drowning in a pit brought on by chronic self-hatred and a lack of serotonin and other useful neurotransmitters that make the difference between stability and collapse.
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.)
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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.
Hi, blog. Long time, no see. Yes, I’ve been busy and crazy. That’s pretty much status normal.
For anyone who is local (Melbourne, Australia): on Thursday night at the Helen Garner Rotunda we will be launching Platform 16, our education-themed bumper edition of local Australian writing featuring community, emerging and established writers. (What’s Platform? Check out issue 15 here!) For no more than the cost of entry, you get to enjoy Helen Garner in conversation with the fabulous Bruno Lettieri, the best literary crowd in Melbourne and pick up a free copy of a magazine that features (in no particular order) the works of Sherryl Clark, Myron Lysenko, Raimond Gaita, John Marsden and Kristin Henry among many talented community, academic, established and emerging writers the world should know. (And a piece or two by yours truly.) The editorial team have worked long and hard on this project, and we’re very excited to celebrate its emergence into the world.
Interested? Download the flyer and drop Bruno Lettieri an email. I assure you, a great night will be had – it’s Rotunda’s big 60 and we mean to party!
(Or: honesty and the dark side of the Force. Either way.)
I just want to say that every post of late brings with it a new collection of followers. I’m touched that my words mean enough that people want to keep on reading them.
So. People step on my toes, right?
Of course, having bruised toes never means I don’t have the ability to step on other people’s toes. Hell, being a member of the same oppressed group still doesn’t mean I’m not going to step on toes.
Just like everybody else, I have stepped on a lot of toes.
I’ve been reading back through some of my old writing … not too far, no later than 2005 or so. Anything I wrote before that (and I’ve been writing since 2000) is less like curiosity and more like masochistic levels of embarrassment. I’m not sad that it took me so long to get up the nerve to show my writing for an audience. Every writer is going to have a growing trail of old shame – in fact, they should, or otherwise they’re not growing and developing as a creative and as a person. Next year I hope I look back at what I write this year and twitch, just a little … most likely at my abuse of fancy punctuation. (I also hope that I’ve gained the ability to be content with the fact that I’m doing as good a job as I can right this moment.)
I could write a post where I speak enthusiastically about the digital release of my latest project, but it’s the Victoria University Law Journal.
Actually, it does contain scholarly legal articles about computer-generated works, the treatment of women with intellectual disabilities and something called ‘hot-tubbing’. (No, I still don’t really get why that’s the appropriate term, and I’ve read that article several times by now, but I’m not a legal editor. I’m not paid to understand. I’m paid to put the hyphen in ‘computer-generated works’.) I don’t actually agree with all the articles or their academic position/line of thought, and I wish I’d had the time and pay to go through and do more line editing/proofing, but it’s actually not an uninteresting read, and it’s a free open-source academic journal.
Moving on. Yes, I can sometimes be capable of brevity.
I’ve also spent some time working on the conundrum of ‘How do I make my free books available to people without using a Smashwords-esque service, the nonsensical Google Play, or a host that only hosts PDFs and Word docs (like Google Drive and WordPress and every other hosting service I was already signed up for)?’. I’ve got a few ideas now, but for the moment, I’m putting all my files up on Dropbox, so if you ever wanted an epub or mobi edition of Up Close and Personal or Crooked Words, go forth and download. I’m also using WordPress to host versions of the PDFs for in-browser reading, as it doesn’t disable the interactivity the way Google Drive does. One day I’ll figure out this how-to-be-an-author deal and get everything working smoothly, but I’m not there yet.
On to something title-relevant.
I’m writing a scene in my novella-in-progress where one character (A) listens to a second (B) talk about a third (C), already struggling with depression and PTSD (in addition to queerness and non-binary gender identity and chronic pain), who gets so emotional in triggering situations. B can’t understand why C can’t calmly/quietly/rationally explain what’s going on in her head, or why the things B says to C (some of which are subjective or non-obvious) hurt C so damn much.