Depression, the thief of time

June 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

You’ve likely heard the saying about depression being a liar, how it tells you awful things about yourself that paralyze you. That’s true. I’m not going to belabor that, but I do want to talk about how that paralysis can ruin you.

Back in 2003, I wrote my first book, Things That Never Were. It got a decent critical reception, got me a job writing a column for Fantastic Metropolis and I even got to meet Jeff Vandermeer once. I was a guest at 2004’s Norwescon, where I was on several panels and was generally well received on each of them. It was a decent start for a writing career. Publications in Postscripts magazine followed, and a short story in an anthology called Adventure! by the same publisher as my first book came out. I was doing pretty well, all told.

From 2005 to 2012 I wrote practically nothing. And frankly, in 2o12 to 2015, I basically just found older stuff I’d written and scavenged it for publication. So for nearly ten years my output was zero.

I still haven’t recovered from this. I lost my publisher, of course, and all my writing industry contacts. Writers who vanish into the ether might as well be dead – none of the people I knew had much time for me or were even involved in the industry anymore. Frankly, as of this writing (June 2017) if not for Patreon I would likely be doing nothing because I wouldn’t have any income as a writer.

I don’t know exactly what triggered me to start writing again. Part of it was my friend Pete (Peter Milan, here’s his website) who alongside my wife encouraged and supported me to start up again. Pete even co-wrote a very long science fiction project that I hope sees the light of day someday. He and Julian (my amazing wife) were supportive, but depression still ate a great deal of my energy and focus. It still does. Every day I have to fight and I don’t always win – if not for depression I might be on the first book of a new series by now instead of just finishing the third book in the Nameless troika.

Depression makes you feel worthless and pointless. It also makes everything you do seem meaningless. I can’t talk about how it is for other people, of course – I’ve known people who process it very differently than I do. The way I process it is to simply shut down and pretend everything is normal while doing as little thinking as possible. Creativity is agonizing when I’m in a full on depressive state because in order to be creative I have to think and when I’m thinking under the influence of depression all my thoughts are about how awful and useless I am, how it would have been better if I’d died as a child, how nothing I do matters and nobody cares. To get through that I have to turn off my brain – I used to drink, now I usually play some video games or sleep – and the time is lost. Time I could have used for something else is lost. For years, I basically busied myself with games, with movies and TV, with anything that would keep me distracted.

As a result I didn’t monitor my health and let my diabetes go untreated for years, because I didn’t let myself focus on it. I was worthless anyway, so who cared?

I didn’t work creatively, I didn’t take care of myself, and now I’m in my 40’s, sick, permanently disabled and over a decade behind on the one thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life, entirely because of depression.

So what’s the answer? How do other people avoid this? Well, for starters, get help. Listen to people who want to help you.

Secondly, don’t let yourself sink. It’s a battle, but you CAN win it, at least on a day to day basis. I have days I lose, but I have days I win, too – the Nameless series exists as living proof that you can overcome the black water that wants to drown you in self hate. You can push back against it. It will be agonizing, you’ll screw up, you’ll fail and even success will feel like taking a cheese grater to your face.

But when you have that thing you made – when you can see it, touch it, show it off – it’s worthwhile. It’s worth fighting for.

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