From The Darkness

 

Three years ago I signed a contract with a new publisher for my second book, Desert Jewel, and what would become The Jewel Chronicles series. Rebel Jewel was just released yesterday marking my eleventh publication in four years. So why am I bringing this up now?

That year I was in a bad place. I had suffered from bouts of mild depression throughout my life but nothing prepared me for what that year would bring down on me. It wasn’t one isolated thing and it didn’t have anything to do with a death in the family or an illness. It was just a combination of many things throughout the space of a few years all rolled into what turned out to be the perfect storm that almost took me under.

I won’t go into details about everything that went wrong in my life during those years but they were both family and work related. By then I had been navigating many downs in my personal and professional life, but what happened that year was the proverbial drop that overflowed my very full cup.

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Going to work that year was unbearable. I felt smaller than a bug in an extremely toxic environment. The one thing that anchored me to sanity was my writing. I had been offered a contract for my first book and that small triumph made my life bearable and gave me hope that something better lay ahead. Then I received a rejection letter from my publisher for Desert Jewel, a story I had put all of myself into, one I wanted to share with the world because it spoke of my beliefs, it spoke of the strength that lies inside me, it spoke of many things I normally couldn’t voice. I was crushed. Suddenly my only tether to hope had been severed and I was left adrift.

All the hurts, all the doubts, all the fingers pointed at me in the past came crashing down and before I could do anything about it, I was drowning in darkness. I withdrew from all my friends, all activities, barely talked and was always on the verge of tears. I was never suicidal, but I did think about death a lot. I’d be driving home from work and a thought would pop into my head, “What if a car ran the red light, crashed into mine and killed me?” In my depressive state I thought that it would be a blessing, not only for me but my loved ones. My husband would finally be able to move back to his hometown and marry a wife who made him happier, my sons would not have my pervasive enabling to deal with and could finally be independent and happy, my coworkers would be able to work with someone more efficient than me, and I would have some peace at last. Years of listening to people telling me these things had finally convinced me they were right. I was useless and brought nothing to the world. Even the one thing I thought I was good at, my writing, was now a broken dream.

The scariest part was that no one noticed or realized how depressed I was, even though I barely talked, barely left the house, stopped meeting with friends. Instead, those close to me thought I was just being difficult, that because I was unhappy at work, I was mad at the world and just lashing out. They would often get mad at me, tell me to snap out of it which in turn made me even more depressed. I felt guilty for being such a party pooper, for feeling the way I felt and helpless against it.

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Amid all the murkiness of depression I sent a submission to a new publisher one of my pub sisters had recommended. I was not holding my breath. After all, if my own publisher didn’t want my book why would others?

My husband and I went on a mini-vacation to the mountains that spring and I was miserable. This early riser couldn’t get herself out of bed in the morning and woke up already crying. That morning I dragged myself out of bed and went to hide in the big bathroom, pretending I was getting dressed. I sat on the edge of the hot tub scrolling through my messages and saw an email from the publisher I had sent my manuscript to. I must have sat there for ten minutes before daring to open it. I was sure it was a rejection but as long as I didn’t actually read the words there was always a thread of hope. And I needed hope desperately.

Eventually I did click on it and read the message. I will never forget what I felt reading the words of the woman who is now my publisher. It was not a rejection, far from it. Not only was she offering me a contract, but her words filled me with a joy I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was not just a “yes, we want your book” letter, it was a “loved your manuscript, it’d be an honor to publish it”.

She doesn’t know this—no one does—but that message brought me from the edge of that terrible place I was in. That day I got dressed, I went out, I laughed and talked to my husband. I also decided to get a therapist and go back to yoga. Shortly after that, I got an interview and was able to move to a different school where people treat me with respect to this day.

I was not “cured”. More recently I saw the darkness rising again but I was ready this time. I called my doctor and asked for help before it got too far. Writing is still saving me one day at a time. It’s where I go when I need a break from reality, where I go when I need to control life the way I can’t do in the real world. It’s where I go to rest.

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I was lucky to have someone say just the right thing at the right time to give me enough hope that I could find my way to the surface, but what if that hadn’t happened? Where would I be?

Be aware of your loved ones’ behavior at all times. Don’t assume they are just being difficult and if you notice a difference, talk to them without judgement, without finger-pointing and listen, listen to them. You may be the one thing that keeps them afloat.

**This article offers several depression hotlines that you can use at any time. Don’t wait, talk to someone today.**

 

Tales of an Introvert

This is the story of how I managed to sabotage myself thanks to my introvert anxieties.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend SaSS18, a much anticipated and large romance authors’ signing in Norfolk, Virginia. It was a dream come true (I got in because someone had to cancel at the last minute) and I was determined to make this opportunity my foot-in into the circle of wonderful authors who always seemed to be invited for these events.

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Even before the day of the event arrived, my anxieties were already kicking in and by the time I checked in at the hotel I was not feeling so good. It only got worse. When the doors opened to the public I was totally overhwlemed. A nonstop stream of self-defeating mantras flashed in my head:

  • You suck as a writer.
  • Nobody reads your books.
  • People think you’re boring.
  • You’re too fat.
  • No one wants to talk to you.
  • They all think you’re an idiot.
  • You don’t belong here.

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No matter how much I fight these inner voices, they are often too strong for me. And this was the case that weekend. Afraid that I would be the one in a corner alone while everyone else was having fun, I ditched all the fun events, those where I could make an impression by talking and networking with other authors and readers.

Afterward came the self-loathing, anger at myself for once again making myself invisible. Apart from a couple of people, no one will remember that middle-aged woman who barely moved out of her table for the whole signing.

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Names have already began being picked for next year’s event, and I’m not holding my breath–why would they pick someone they can’t even remember? I’m in about three event pictures out of hundreds and I have no one else to blame but myself. Everyone was sweet and welcoming, but my anxieties did what I had promised myself I wouldn’t allow them to do; they ruined something I had looked forward to so much.

Have your anxieties ever done anything like that to you?

Writing Warrior

Writing is not for the faint of heart. What looks like an innocuous activity, perfect for an introvert, is in fact a minefield for those who like me, doubt themselves at every step and suffer from bouts of depression and/or anxiety. I speak not of the actual writing but of the publishing—the exposure of your writing to the scrutiny of others, the opening yourself to criticism. If you already doubted yourself beforehand, wait until your words are being read by total strangers, people who may have a total different view from yours, people who may not connect with your characters or your story the way you’d expected them to.

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Then there are the sales–or lack thereof. I torture myself on a daily basis by checking my rankings. As a traditionally published author I don’t have access to actual numbers until the royalties come in–or as I call it, Total Depression Day. When my books are on the bottom of the ranks (which happens way too often) I feel it as a personal criticism, a statement of how much my writing really stinks. “Nobody likes my books” or “I suck at writing” are common thoughts running through my mind as I watch that cruel graph line plunging toward its death.

I do bounce back, mostly because writing has been my passion since I was a little girl with too many stories in my head and no one willing to listen to them. So after I cry for a while, I wipe my tears, drink a strong cup of coffee, and write on.

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My mom always told me that the only thing you can’t hope to change is death, so as long as there is life, there is hope. I hang on to that hope for dear life and I keep going. And who knows? Maybe one day my books will actually sell well.

Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

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The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

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I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

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Monster – A Poem

I don’t do poetry. I’m not good at it, simple as that. But once in a while there are feelings that seem better expressed with a few words.  I wrote this during one of those moments when your heart is bleeding and you don’t know what to do to stop it. I’ve said it often, writing is my therapy and somehow just writing it down makes it feel a little better.

The Monster

Loneliness is a monster

That chews on your heart

Sucks up your brain

And swallows your soul.

Nothing worse than this fear

Of being alone in a crowd

Succeeding but no one to share it

Passionate and nobody caring

Talking but no one listening

Crying and nobody seeing it

Hurting and no one noticing.

Loneliness is a monster

I want to slay but can’t fight

A monster who’s winning

My joy for life as the prize.

 

P.S.- If you feel like this, know you’re not alone and that even though that’s no consolation, there is a strange comfort in knowing someone else somewhere understands how you feel. Never hesitate to reach out to a friend, a therapist, maybe even a stranger…and when everything else fails, write it down. There is magic in the written word.

 

When Life Seems To Pass You By

I’ve been pretty depressed lately which makes me the person NOT to be around when you are trying to have fun. Even as I packed to go on a much deserved and wanted vacation, my mood was determined to ruin everything for me and my husband.  On top of the depression there was the guilt that comes from realizing that you are unwillingly ruining things for those around you, as well.

You see, when you have the blues everything seems to fall apart. I have always been a believer and a practitioner in the power of positive thoughts. But this past year was so tough emotionally that I could feel the hold on the positive side of things slip away from me. Even the publishing of my first book could not take me out of my funk for long. In fact, in some ways it made it worse. The book sales have been abysmal enough to just make me want to quit my dream altogether. I think I have been so low, I have been emitting some kind of bad vibes to the world around me. I feel as if life is passing me by and I stand helpless against it.

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Then there is this big world we live in where people can surprise you by being amazing or just horrifyingly cruel. The news are scary in more ways than one. There is so much hate talk on TV I wish I could convince my husband to just stop watching the news. The horror of what humans can do to other humans in the name of just about anything they can pull out of their delusional and morally skewed hat is terrifying and depressing.

Yesterday I woke up in tears and ended up going to bed in tears again. This morning I woke up and my first instinct was to turn around and go back to sleep. I dragged myself out of bed—mostly because my bladder was not taking no for an answer—and started my second day of vacation. I had decided that I was going to go to yoga this morning no matter how bad I felt. I even bought myself a new pair of yoga pants and a top considering I couldn’t use the one I brought (apparently my old yoga pants got depressed as well and gave up).

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After I had a cup of coffee I did what I always do every morning. It’s my “business hour”, the time of the day I go through messages that came over night, swoon over the pretty book pictures on Instagram, and check (and clean) my inbox. I’m sweeping through all the Twitter notifications and other junky email when I see one from a publisher I queried to about a month ago. I brace myself for another rejection and I open it. Before I was even finished reading it, I was in tears. The good kind. They were offering me a contract for my second book (which happens to be one I really, really love). As if this was not enough, they sent me the nicest, most encouraging letter I have ever received from a publisher or an agent (and guys, I have been doing this for almost 30 years). The kindness in those words hit me hard.

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In less than five minutes I went from “I want to drown myself in bed and never come up for air” to “Let’s go exercise and zip-lining” (not really! My husband will be doing that while I relax in the lazy river). The power of a handful of kind, encouraging words is truly amazing.

I apologize for this longish and rambling post. I think what I’m trying to say is don’t give up on your dream (even if it looks hopeless) and always be kind to others. Trust me, your kind words or actions can make a world of difference to someone who is not too thrilled to be alive at that moment. Pay it forward. One day you may be the one in need of those words.

Namaste.

Do what makes you happyBe with who makes you smileLaugh as much as you breatheLove as long as you live

 

Metaphor

The darkness was thick around her. In her small cocoon of candlelight, she sat on the cold hard floor, eyes lost in thought staring blindly at the candle. The wax oozed and pooled in the palm of her hand singeing her skin and yet, she didn’t blink, didn’t stir; it was the pain inside of her she felt, not the puny sting of hot wax in the sensitive skin of her fingers.

Her mind was in such turmoil, she couldn’t tell where the pain started and she ended. It was all entwined, pain enmeshed in her awareness, in a big ball of barbed wire, scraping and pulling at the edges of her sanity.

In her state of numbness (madness?) she looked at the melting candle and saw meanings, symbols for everything she was feeling, all that had somehow become her life. The darkness that surrounded her in itself held an ominous meaning, akin to the darkness in her heart at that moment, the bitterness that soured her thoughts, the desperation that caused her frightening thoughts and desires.

Where had everything gone wrong? She had been happy, really happy. From the depths of her aching heart she dug up memories of the happy child she had once been, loved and protected, full of dreams and hopes; memories of her as a young woman still innocent enough to believe that love healed all, that with the right attitude anything could be achieved, that happiness was a choice. Where had that woman go? Why hadn’t she taken her with her?

The pool of melted wax in her hand reminded her too much of all her own crushed dreams, her obliterated hopes; a giant blob of shapeless, useless matter lingering around and crusting over as it settled into its new shape. She felt a sob climbing up from deep within her.

`The candle was shriveling to a stub, an insignificant nothing much like her. She had wanted to be someone; not a star, not rich. Someone who made a difference in the world, however small. Someone respected and acknowledged. Yet, here she was much like the candle, small and inconsequential. Nothing she touched seemed to have left a mark of any significance. Her marriage had been a failure. Her career a disaster. Her children had grown up to be exactly the opposite of what she had hoped and strived for.

Memories took her back to high school, the least happy time in her childhood. There, she had been either bullied or invisible.  Sometimes both at the same time. She had thought – hoped- her adult years would be different. But the bullying never really stopped, it just changed its form. As an professional adult she was bullied by her boss and her colleagues. As a wife and a mother she was bullied and ignored by her spouse and her kids. Then bullied by those who are quick to dish out judgement. Even her friends bullied her one way or another. Nobody respected a doormat and that’s exactly what she had become. Her need to please and keep the peace was more often than not misconstrued as a weakness. Her friends thought her to be week and pliant and, in spite of often taking advantage of those characteristics themselves, dismissed her as a push-over.

The silence brought on for the lack of electricity was oppressive. As oppressive as her sense of isolation and loneliness. No-one really understood. No-one really cared.

Amidst it all, she was starting to believe it; she was beginning to think that she was indeed a weakling, a characterless human form that served no purpose, an extraneous existence. The candle in her hands wavered and danced. She longed to snuff it out, to snuff all of it out. To allow the darkness to take over everything, to take over her for good. End of story.

The lights flickered into existence again at that moment, inundating the space around her with brightness and color, snapping her off her dark reverie. The sob stuck somewhere in her chest was swallowed. She blinked, allowing her eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness and then she snuffed the flame out. Only the candle. This time.