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.**

 

Roller Coaster Ride

Living with someone who suffers  from a mental illness is like being stuck in a roller coaster ride for life. At first it’s scary but you can ride it out knowing–or hoping–the dips will eventually end but after a while, the non-stop changes in direction, rises and falls begin messing with your sense of equilibrium.

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My youngest son was always an active, bright, and adventurous kid. There was never a boring moment with him. He could be just as sweet as he was horrible and he came to earn the nickname of Houdini because there was no restraints that he couldn’t break from. By the time he was three or four he had figured out how to unlock all the children’s safety locks in the house. Car seats were no challenge for him, and when I bought a four-point harness to keep him in child seats at restaurants and coffee shops, his future career as an escape artist was looking very bright indeed.

Art was strong in this one. He loved dancing, singing, and playing instruments. He was playing the guitar in fourth grade and joined the strings orchestra in fifth. By the time he was in high school he was playing with local orchestras and being spotlighted as a soloist. In his senior year we had the opportunity to visit New York city with his orchestra and he decided then that’s where he was going to study music.violin-374096_1920

All his dreams (and mine) came crushing down one evening when he walked into our living room and declared to my husband and I that he was Jesus and like Jesus he must die in order to save his friends. At first we thought he was high on something but this went on for days afterwards with Facebook posts and strange and scary behavior from him. He began going to bed with whatever “weapon” he could find (gardening tools, kitchen knives) because they were after him. Who they were was never established.

He would get in his car and drive for hours sometimes in the middle of snow storms or tornado watches and often would stay in the car all night because “the house was not safe”. It became quite apparent to us that something had shifted in his mind. His behavior became more erratic and risky to himself and us at the house.

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Since then he has been hospitalized five times before we finally managed to find the right cocktail of meds that made him stable. He was stable for a few years until recently when he lost his balance again. The roller coaster began again…

Living with a mental health patient is difficult enough, but the system makes it even more difficult. As parents of an adult we have no rights whatsoever. Patient’s rights to confidentiality–which I totally believe in most cases–dictates that someone who is going through a psychotic episode and thinks everyone is literally watching and out to get him has to be the one deciding about his treatment options.

This roller coaster ride means sleepless nights followed by days when your body is at work but your mind is at home wondering what he’s up to. It is long days at work followed by hours of mind-exhausting nonsensical rants, followed by more sleepless nights. It means not having a single knife or headache medicine readily available because they have all been hidden somewhere safe, just in case.

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I never liked roller coasters, not even as a child. I don’t like anything that keeps me off balance. I don’t even like rocking chairs because of that. The universe sure has a warped sense of humor to put me in this ride and keep me in constant chaotic shifting and turning. I want out but know I am stuck on this ride for life. He’s my son and I love him. Seeing him unstable and suffering kills me one cell at a time. And there is nothing I can do to help him.

 

NOTE: This last return to our roller coaster ride was due in great measure to unwise choices my son made. It is totally possible to control most mental illnesses these days as long as you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices; such as taking your meds regularly, getting enough sleep, keeping partying to a minimum, and staying away from any substance that will make your condition spin out of control. At some point my son became very comfortable in the knowledge he was stable and decided he didn’t have to be cautious anymore. Thus the sudden “dip” again. He is now on the right track and staying away from everything that may cause him trouble. Of course, there is no guarantee he will stick to it forever. I’m cautiously hopeful…