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.

Not Being Second (flash fiction)

***It’s been a while since I posted any flash fiction, so here it goes 🙂 Enjoy.***

“She wanted something else, something different, something more. Passion and romance, perhaps, or maybe quiet conversations in candlelit rooms, or perhaps something as simple as not being second.”

Nicholas Spark “The Notebook

She had read that quote and it spoke to her. It gave words to what she had felt now for years. Too many years of analyzing, blaming herself, trying to make sense of what she wanted. Her husband, her friends, even her therapist often asked her, “What exactly do you want from your marriage?” Until she read that quote, she had no way of articulating how she felt, even to herself.

Something as simple as not being second.” In her marriage, in her life in general, she had always come second. Or third. She couldn’t remember an instance where she had been first in someone’s life other than her own parents’. She was always the afterthought, the one who is useful but not fun or wanted.

When she first got married she found out quickly she was not at the top of her husband’s list of priorities. First came his own family, second his sports, third his career, and then herself. The wedding vows, for better or for worse, turned into maybe if nothing else more important comes up. Even in sickness she found herself a faraway second to career or family. Her needs were never met with a kind ear but rather a pointing finger at how inconvenient her requests were. Everybody, including neighbors she barely knew, were more important than her.

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She made excuses. Things would get better later on, marriage was a new thing to him, he’d come around eventually.

There were big gifts on Christmas and birthdays, attempts at appeasing her once in a while. Big gestures instead of the little daily kindnesses she really was looking for. She had never been much of a material girl. Never one for diamonds, expensive clothes, or fancy gadgets. She wanted her husband to ask her why she was sad instead of getting mad at her because she was sulking. She wanted her husband to side with her–or at least support her–when she didn’t agree with his family or friends. She wanted a hand to hold on to when she didn’t feel well. An attentive ear when she shared something that was important to her. Instead she got irritated looks and sudden changes of subject.

As the years went by things didn’t change. In many ways it got worse. The career was replaced by a crowd of friends, concerts, bars, parties… She stopped going with him. She stopped trying to be there for him because he was not there for her. No one to share that trip of a lifetime with, or her joy and excitement at having accomplished a dream. No one to talk to.

She blamed herself. She had put on weight, she was boring, she was an introvert and was uncomfortable in social situations he thrived on. It was her fault he didn’t find anything attractive in spending time with her, in talking to her, in sharing those small moments a marriage is built on.

She was unhappy. She was lonely. Tears danced in her eyes as soon as she woke up in the morning and when she fell asleep. She envied fictitious couples in literature and TV and bitterness filled her heart like noxious fumes.

The truth was she didn’t want anything complicated, nothing expensive or hard to do. All she wanted was to be first once in a while. Something as simple as not being second.

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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.

 

On the subject of death

Once in a while we are reminded of just how mortal we are. Nothing brings that fact closer to home than when someone you love passes through to that mysterious realm of the after-death. I don’t normally talk about this, much preferring to talk about things that bring us happiness; but the fact remain that death is as much part of living as it is being born or having children. As sad and final as it is we have no choice but to accept the inevitability of it all and make peace with it.

I haven’t been around when those I love have died. Living across an ocean makes it harder but it also makes it easier for me to come to terms with those losses. When my uncle, and shortly after my aunt (the matriarch of my family and my namesake) died I was away working in the islands. I couldn’t even make it to the funerals. My grandma Alice was the next one to go and I was by then in the US, with the Atlantic Ocean between us and no money for a plane ticket. My best friend Mizé took her own life just as I was getting ready to give birth to my first child. Since then I lost my other grandparents and my favorite aunt Filomena. And more painfully, I lost my dad.

I couldn’t make it to any of their funerals but I don’t feel bad about it. In fact, I am glad I have only the good memories of them to sustain me. I am glad that my last memory of my dad is not of his lifeless body but of the hug I gave him at the airport the last time he had flown here to see me. I am glad that my last memory of my wonderful aunt is of her laughter over the phone as we exchanged the news.

I am reminded of these sad events now as my father-in-law fights a losing battle to hang on to life. I can only imagine the pain and sense of helplessness his kids (my husband included) must be feeling watching their dad slip away. I can only hope they will be able to escape that image and remember rather what he used to be like a month ago, a year ago, ten years ago… I hope they can remember his laughing face just as I remember my dad’s and be at peace.

After all, we never really die. We go on for much longer than our life spans; in the memories of those who knew and loved us, in the genetic make-up of our off-spring, in what we accomplished while on this earth.  It is life at its most basic, beginnings and endings in a never ending cycle. My advice is to make it count!