This is very long and very revealing story about one person’s journey with mental illness, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee or something. It’s time I shared a story with all the people who have known me for more than ten years because I disappeared offline and I’d like them to know why. I’m also doing this because maybe, just maybe, it might make someone else step up to get help instead of doing what I did.
Sharing this is hard as hell.
First and most important, despite all of this, I managed to continue working toward my dream. You CAN be a successful and productive member of society even when fighting a difficult illness. And not everyone gets to the point I did. Some find out a lot earlier and do so much better than I have. And this doesn’t mean I’m not a strong and sometimes, confident, woman. I am. It’s just there’s this extra challenge…
I’ve actually been writing posts like this for years. I delete them because frankly, it’s rough out there. There is so much judgement toward people now. I know there always has been, but we’re exposed to it constantly on social media and it takes a toll.
And so often, that judgment is about how authors write, what they write, how they promote… We’re writing fiction. Telling stories. Sometimes people in those stories aren’t perfect. We’re not perfect. But it feels like authors are constantly wading into molten lava. Every single time I publish, I have to fight tripping over into a bad space out of fear.
So why don’t I quit? I love what I do. I’m writing books I truly love writing and yes, it’s also my job and how I pay my bills. I push through out of sheer tenacity.
But you know what? Books, written by other authors, saved my life more than once. Fiction is a wonderful escape and for some, it can be a way to bring a chaotic mind into focus.
So what made me finally decide to post this when I’ve hesitated for so long? I recently, I saw my book cover in a group of favorite books with author Gena Showalter’s. It made me look up this picture. This was ten years ago and I hardly recognize the woman (Me) in this image. People didn’t know I was going through hell at that time. I hid a lot. But I was still mostly functioning at this point. I was still meeting friends for dinners and lunches, still attending writer’s meetings at the RWA chapter where I’d been on the board for six years. I was still attending a yearly local writer’s conference that I loved.
But I dealt with such severe anxiety; I would worry so much before a meeting, then obsess over every word out of my mouth for days and weeks after. It was exhausting.
I also have…quirks. For instance, when my anxiety gets too high, I can sometimes trip over into this kind of restlessness that lasts for many days. It’s not a happy, happy fun place either. In fact, some are periods of hell on Earth with uncontrollable crying, an inability to focus, and dark thoughts. And then, there’s the talking. Nerves would take over and I would talk so much. The last big local writer’s retreat I went to was hard because a good friend in the group was fighting cancer and my personal life was falling apart–I was an emotional mess. So, I talked too much.
Anyway, that ended up being my last retreat for many years because another author got disgusted with me and said something cruel. I was so embarrassed, I never went back.
BUT—and this is a big but—also, around that time, a series of extremely hard life things happened and I lost the ability to cope. I crawled into a rough place and… stayed.
I stopped doing anything that could trigger that unbearable anxiety. This led me to narrow my world until I took it to an extreme. I spent years doing this until it reached a point where I couldn’t drive out of my town without having panic attacks.
I went from being the president of an RWA chapter to someone who couldn’t even leave her house. I also didn’t tell people because I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I’m sure most think of me as unsocial now, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I started feeling so bad about turning down invitations; I backed away from almost everyone. Any hint of a guilt trip and I pushed away. I had no choice.
Every now and then, I managed to do something. I have a couple of tenacious friends who figured out something was going on with me. Rachel Vincent would come and get me out of the house on the days I could. And she never, not one time, made me feel bad when I couldn’t. In 2015, she even got me to go with her to Texas to a RT convention so I could meet with my agent and work with Jocelynn Drake in person. (I didn’t attend the convention—just hung out with a few friends.) Jocelynn is that other friend who talked me into writing with her when I had decided I couldn’t do this anymore. Both of them love me and knew if I stopped writing, it wouldn’t be good. But even they didn’t know how bad things really were.
In 2016, I hit another deep depression and this time, I couldn’t pull out. It went on so long, I stopped being able to hide it. The election played a huge part of this. I could simply not stop being sad on a deep level that’s hard to describe. In 2017, I stopped being able to hide how bad it was. Family started randomly showing up to check on me. And though this is incredibly hard to confess, I was in a spiral of suicidal thoughts I couldn’t pull out of. It wasn’t my first round with that fight and I was terrified I was going to lose that time.
When this kind of depression hits, it takes over everything. It doesn’t matter that you have a family you love and you know love you. Or good friends. In addition to all that, my career was finally seeing a little light. I was getting messages from men and women who love the books. I had so much going for me. But you see, none of that matters when you can’t face getting up one more day feeling that heavy, heavy drudge of depression and disconnection.
Last year, I finally said something. I didn’t mean to, but I went in for persistent pain as always and had the most humiliating break down in front of a physician’s assistant. She wouldn’t let me leave for a long time that day and not until I agreed to go on anti-depressants and check in.
A month later, I was in with my general practitioner and he’d gone through the years of medical tests. (Um, I built up big medical debt thinking something was physically wrong.) The doctor studied everything. He asked questions and had me fill out questionnaires.
He asked why I hadn’t been honest with him before. He was upset that I’d suffered silently for so many years. Why hadn’t I explained the illogical, crippling health fears, the bedridden times? Why hadn’t I told him that sometimes writing a book takes so much effort to concentrate, I crash harder than I used to after them? He was so upset because he said shutting myself in and cutting so much out of my life is a classic symptom of something I had no idea I had.
Apparently, I’ve been dealing with bipolar disorder my entire life.
I didn’t believe him at first. For one, I’m in my forties. Wouldn’t I have known this by now? Also, I knew nothing about it other than what I’d read or seen in movies and television, and let’s face it, those depictions aren’t flattering.
My doctor set me straight. It’s different for everyone. It’s an illness just like my Graves Disease and absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. (So nobody get offended. I’m new at this and working on that part.) It means I feel things on such a deep level, there are times I can’t deal. It means there is a reason I find it hard to focus and have to work harder at it.
It means there are chemical and biological issues that are completely out of my control.
He talked about how this is just a part of what makes me the person who can tap into a deep well of emotion. Oh, he said a lot of things about creative people and seeing so much beauty and darkness in the world… I know why he was saying all these things. My sense of self-worth was completely gone and had been for some time.
The one part that did settle in? When this goes untreated, it gets really bad. Like it did with me. Borderline agoraphobia happens. He said it was amazing I was still here. So, he set me up on medication and had me come in every couple of months.
This was one year ago. I still don’t know a lot. I do know I’ve had a rough time with medications. I’m about to start working with a professional. (One of those good friends hasn’t been thrilled I’m letting a GP handle my precious brain anyway. Those are her words. 😉 ) And after one meeting this week, I learned it’s possible I’m also dealing with OCD. (Update. Not OCD–rapid cycling bipolar disorder with a side of generalized anxiety disorder. Just had to go and do the double whammy thing. 😉 )Fun, right? And now that I’m looking back, I see consistent cycles of agitation and depression all the way back to the age of 12.
How did I manage to keep pulling through all those years?
Books (I love all authors who give me their worlds!)
Last year, I wanted to meet the wonderfully enthusiastic readers of the books I write with Jocelynn. Seriously, if you knew the other side of this journey, you’d understand why they are precious to me. So I took the steps needed to make that happen and my doc set that up as a goal. I had to take a freaking Xanax to get on an airplane, and I was on new meds that made me feel exhausted, overweight, and crazy-thirsty at the GRL conference, but I did it.
The social anxiety part of this illness is KILLER, you guys.
Am I all fixed? Fuck no! LOL. It’s not that simple. I’m still not to a place I can just hang out socially, and I’ve been going through a rough period again. I’m finding out what works and what doesn’t. One of those things is the constant negativity on social media and a few places that are not great for authors to visit. Reading about all the things people hate about fiction tends to stifle a writer. I’m in no way saying people don’t have a right to like or not like what they do–I’m saying that it’s better for some on the other side not to read about that too much. Makes us second-guess every bad decision a character makes and frankly, there wouldn’t be good stories without flawed characters. 😉
I had to back off Twitter outside of book posts, and I don’t get involved in a lot of the bigger conversations on Facebook out of sheer necessity. Every now and then, I do cave and speak up, but often I can’t.
That’s one reason why I get so upset with people who rant about those staying silent. Some really don’t have a choice. You never know what a person is dealing with. That doesn’t mean we don’t care deeply about what’s happening. Some of us actually care too deeply.
So that’s a part of my story. I really wanted all those people who probably wondered what happened to know. And I needed a way to explain to newer people why I sometimes go quiet or why I can’t just pop out for a meeting. I just have something that makes my life extra… challenging. 🙂