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So, the second thing that happened—the loss of a good friend—is so much harder to tackle. Basically, what happened—from my perspective, which is the only one I have—is this: I met someone with whom there was an instant connection. This—in my life—never happens. I don’t make friends easily, and close friends are difficult to find. My life, my upbringing, my family, my experiences, while not unique if you take them one at a time, but together make it practically impossible to really relate to just about anyone. So to have found someone with whom so many of the boxes could be checked off—this was a big deal. That this person is a really wonderful person was a bonus.

Over the course of about a year, we became very close. Or, I thought we did. I had no reason to believe we hadn’t. This person had issues in their life—many stemming from similar past experiences that I know my issues stem from. Some of them ongoing. The result was that I worried about them almost constantly. And it wasn’t just that we related to each other so well—it was that this person is a stellar human being. Again, not easy to come by, and it was very easy to care deeply about what happened to them, the things they went through and continues to go through, and how they dealt with it all.

Because I cared so much, I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to help. The fact was that there was very little I could do. Nothing substantial, really. At best, I could be supportive and offer anything I could possibly think of as advice on how to change the little things (that we all know add up to big things). Or, I hoped so. And all seemed well as far as our friendship went, as we both had difficulties we were dealing with. I felt a kinship with this person. I honestly felt like, as far as life went, and as much garbage as it can throw at you, at the very least we understood each other, where we came from, where we hoped to go, and that we’d support one another. I really expected to know this person for the rest of my life, as I’ve guessed that with people before, and this is the first time I’ve been wrong.

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And then one day, this person was gone. We’d talked that day and everything seemed fine. I expected to talk with them again later, but they were nowhere to be found. I was immediately worried. And I worried for a few days until various clues pointed to the fact that this person had deliberately, and without warning, cut me off entirely. They, apparently, had no intention of ever talking to me again.

I think that any reasonable person in that situation would be upset. I was. I was confused and deeply hurt. This was compounded drastically by the withdrawal symptoms from the Effexor kicking in. I dealt with it badly. “Badly” is an understatement. But considering there had been a point in our friendship where this person had a similar experience—having one’s medication cause your brain to go completely haywire—I (stupidly, I guess) hoped they’d understand. They didn’t and I was on my own. My dealing with it badly was considered proof as to what a terrible person I was. Because, after doing everything I could to communicate with this person (because the only way this sort of thing can possibly be straightened out is through communication), they finally emailed me to let me know what shit person I was. Of course, not in those words. But not far off. That’s what it felt like.

I was controlling. I had apparently made it clear to them that they could do nothing right. I kept a running list of their mistakes that I would use against them. Etc. Now, I had come to understand over the course of knowing this person that maybe other people in their life did these things, but I was not one of them.

It’s true, I was probably overbearing—I was constantly offering tips and suggestions on things they could try to fix this or that. Those “little” things. How to eat healthier. To exercise regularly. To work on getting good sleep at night. To take time for themselves—downtime, leisure time, whatever. I felt okay offering this advice, because it was advice I was trying to take myself—all of these things have been, and are, a struggle for me. But I know that getting a reasonable handle on these things helps up the quality of your life in general, so that maybe handling the big, truly troublesome things might be a little easier. That was the only possible way I could help with the big things. Indirectly. So, while what I just described to you was how I saw it—it’s certainly how I felt and what I thought I was doing—it was certainly what I’d intended—they had experienced it as controlling and critical. I don’t imagine most of this communication taking place online helped much, with so much lost in translation.

The sad thing is that any mistakes they made were mistakes I have made—how can I say they were ever “wrong.” It’s just trial and error—we can’t succeed all the time, all day, every day. It never occurred to me that anything this person did was “wrong.” The food they ate, their exercise regimen, their sleep schedule, all of that. These were all things I thought we were both making efforts to improve in our lives—I kind of thought we were cheerleading each other. No, not kind of. I did think that. But they never expressed any irritation with any of this. They seemed happy with it. They told me it was good—that, in fact, it was motivational and inspiring. And so I thought I was doing the right thing. Until one day it wasn’t, and I wasn’t, and the communication was cut, and there was nothing I could do about any of it. I’d never even had a chance to change, to understand where they were coming from. And it’s hard for me to not think that was terribly unfair.

Life is fucking unfair. Always.

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As for the running list of their faults—I had no such list. I didn’t really have anything with which I could make a list. I never considered their “faults” faults. I truly appreciated who they were, entirely, and whatever “faults” there were weren’t any less palatable than anyone else’s, and, actually, because this person was such a smart, ethically sound, naturally multi-talented, all-around amazing person, their “faults” could hardly be seen as faults. And the rare moment when I was angry or frustrated with them (which, by my experience, is exactly twice), they were both misunderstandings, and to me, when a conflict arose from a misunderstanding, you dismissed it. It didn’t happen. Only one of them was relevant to bring up at a later date, and that was the issue with medication (for the obvious reasons). But, I didn’t bring it up because I wanted to remind them what a terrible person they were—they are the furthest thing from a terrible person. I only wanted to remind them that they should know what I was dealing with, and hey, I had compassion for them then, why was it not coming back to me? It wasn’t an attack; it was a relevant and reasonable question given the circumstances. It wasn’t their past action that was the issue–I didn’t care about that–it was their present reaction to my going through what they had, only, I promise you, much, much worse than they’d experienced.

They told me at one point—in the very few messages they sent, but didn’t allow me to respond to—that they felt stressed and when they thought of their life without me in it, they felt calm. They also said that having me in their life was only a distraction from more important things (which was everything, I guess). If you’ve never had anyone you care about say something like this to you, you can’t imagine how hurtful it is. You can’t imagine how worthless it makes you feel. Your absence brings calm, and that was worth throwing you away.

I’ve been stressed. I have a fair amount of stress in general. And although some of that stress did come from them (I realize that now that they are gone), it never occurred to me to imagine them out of my life, because I can’t imagine pushing someone I care about away just because their issues caused me worry and stress. And now, almost two months on, I can definitely see where their absence has made my life less stressful in the sense of what I was dealing with directly. But I still would rather have their friendship. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I’d have dealt with the stress until we could have found solutions. I doubly know that because I know how horrible it is to be told your presence causes too much stress to be dealt with (though it’s not like I’ve never heard that before). I couldn’t do that to someone I cared for.

In terms of their conclusions, all I know—and I know this because I’m not outside myself making assumptions and judging myself; I am me, I am the one having the experience, the feelings, taking the actions, having the intentions—all I know is that everything that had so upset them about me, I had zero intention of doing. In fact, my feelings, my intentions, what I thought I was doing, was the complete opposite. The exact opposite end of the spectrum. That is absolutely what I know to be true.

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I can guess why they came to the conclusions about me that they did, though I wish I didn’t have to. Those two times I was angry/frustrated with them. Of course it’s upsetting when someone’s upset with you. But it’s not exactly unusual or unnatural for people to get upset. It’s just being human. And while it might be rocky for a little bit there, you figure it out. You accept that the other person is human, with their own issues and baggage, and if you care about them, you work it out. I thought we had, both occasions. To me, those things were in the past. But I feel like the fact that they had occurred at all was enough to give them “suspicions” that I was, actually, a terrible person posing as a decent person who cared about them. As opposed to just being proof that I was human. To me, this person is just human. I imagine, also, that because they’d interpreted my desperately wanting to help as stressful and putting pressure on them, that whatever they thought my intentions were would have to be negative. Stress/pressure = negative. It didn’t occur to them that I wasn’t trying to put pressure on them (to be honest, it’s really hard for me to wrap my head around how they concluded that, considering every other aspect of our friendship and the fact that I thought they’d known me pretty well), and so it was easy for them to assume the worst. I really have no idea what I could have done—on my own, without any input from them (and, in fact, against all the positive reaction they actually gave)—to have behaved any differently. I am no Zen master, and I don’t know anyone who is. Though, I would have tried had I been given the chance—if I’d known that that’s what it would have taken. I suppose I can also assume they assumed the worst because, like me, they’ve been dumped on a lot. When you get dumped on a lot, you grow eyes in the back of your head and you expect the shit to come from every possible direction–particularly from people you should be able to trust. Those people are most suspect. You can’t trust anyone. I’ve always known that, but I’m stupid.

Another possible cause? This person was taking Wellbutrin. I was taking Wellbutrin. Let me refresh your memory of the possible side effects: confusion, trouble concentrating, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior, delusions, hostility. I have obviously had bad reactions to other medications. So has this person. I don’t know that it’s entirely out of line to suggest that it might have pushed them to think they way they did. Not entirely.

But I’m grasping at straws here.

What’s the big deal, you ask? So what? Fuck this person. There are plenty of friendly fish in the sea.

Well, it’s a big deal because…there’s not. There aren’t many people with whom I can really connect, so the loss is huge.

Fuck them because what they did was unforgivably shitty.

Well, sure, I guess. I would have thought so. What they did was most certainly shitty. I can’t deny that. It was a decision they’d come to without much thought about how much it would hurt me. But that’s not actually true. They had apparently thought about it, because one of the last things they said to me was that I was strong and I’d be fine. I’d get over it. I, apparently, didn’t need them.

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Christ. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, starting with my own mother before I’d even hit my teens. It’s come out of the mouths of so many people who should have cared, or said they’d cared, about me, but when things got too hard for them—either with me, or with their own problems—they jumped shipped into whatever lifeboat they’d found and let me sink.

You’re a better swimmer than me, you’ll be fine. Except that there’s no land in sight. Thanks.

That hurt, yes. Deeply. One more colossal let down. One more deep, painful wound that I’m left to heal myself. Oh, poor pity me, right? If that’s what you’re thinking, fuck yourself. Seriously, fuck yourself. Facts are facts. This is my fucking life. That whole “I’m not strong because I’m somehow inherently strong, I am because I have to be” bullshit. It’s true. I’ve always been swimming on my own. I was born swimming, badly. Just because I haven’t drowned quite yet in no way means I never get tired. It doesn’t even mean I’ve ever learned to swim properly. It doesn’t mean I’ve never just wanted to give up and sink. But, apparently, I am disposable, as long as they can save themselves.

So, fuck this person, too, right?

Well, again, no. Because here’s the kicker. I can bring myself to be angry with the situation. I can be angry that this is an apparently unstoppable pattern in my life. But, as much as I’ve tried (because I mistakenly thought it’d make me feel better), I can’t bring myself to be angry with this person. It’s just not in me. I’ve searched and searched for it. It’s not there.

In the past, I’ve dealt with some deeply shitty stuff to the very best of my ability. It was hard in my early 20s, because I was such a confused, hot mess. That’s true. But I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to hurt my mother, so I put up with her emotional garbage until I was 39. That’s a long time. Too long. I finally had to go No Contact, which wasn’t even a little bit easy. It’s still not easy. She’s my mother.

I was beaten and blamed for it for almost three years by a live-in boyfriend. What did I do when I was finally able to leave and get out of it? I spent the next nine months, literally, trying to help him understand what had happened and make him feel better about it. I was emotionally and physically dead, but it seemed important to try, because I’d loved him once. I got nothing out of it except more stress and pain and exhaustion, and he still couldn’t to take responsibility. In the end, even when he thought he understood, hey, had I not had such shit self esteem in the first place, it never would have happened. See, it happened because I let it happen. My letting it happen somehow caused it.

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The mutual friend who murdered his girlfriend that I mentioned in the previous post? I was surrounded by grieving and stunned late-teens-early-20-somethings. And him—to not have compassion for him was unthinkable to me. Yes, he’d murdered an innocent young woman. But it wasn’t premeditated. It was a sudden, drastic, likely pharmaceutically-induced loss of control. He was only 23. And stupid me, I got it together to make sure he had what he needed in jail (like his glasses, which he’d need to read whatever they were putting in front of him), I contacted his parents to let them know that they had support, I made sure all of his friends—the ones who didn’t immediately kneejerk their compassion away from him—knew how to contact him and his parents, what days and times the hearings were so they could show support, or whatever it was they needed to do. You know what I got for that? I was called a self-serving emotional vampire, and the people who considered me that way actually went too far out of their way, for way too long afterward, to wreck my life (I can’t even get into it, it’s so ridiculous). All because I wanted to help when no one else was going to.

I had a good friend since high school that I had a tremendously difficult relationship with. He had very serious issues that neither of us could handle, but since I was about 15, I’d been trying to help him overcome them. I was no match for it. We hurt each other a lot, despite that we cared for each other immensely. At some point, we’d done enough damage to each other—after about ten years—that we’d stopped talking. I’d always regretted it and hoped that we’d be able to know each other again. But he died of a massive heart attack at age 38. I found out three months later, and I wasn’t just angry with myself for having failed him so badly, I was furious that I had not somehow, magically known that he’d died. Like, I should have. That was how close we’d been, once upon a time.

I have had too much experience in trying to help and do what I think is right (and failing miserably), and a long history of getting shit on for it. I’m not saying that I’m perfect and everything I do is wonderful. I’m not and it’s not. I fuck up quite regularly, thank you. But I fucking try. And if I ever questioned whether or not I was a decent person or a piece of shit—because if people conclude terrible things about you consistently and tell you repeatedly what a POS you are, you will question yourself—I have my answer. I’m not a piece of shit.

In the scenarios above, in every case, it was a real struggle to do the right thing. It was hard to keep getting the shit my mother gave me and still have a relationship with her. It was hard to look my abuser in the eye almost every day and try to make him feel better about himself. It was hard to understand that there were some people who thought I’d help a murderer for any other reason other than out of human compassion, let alone actively trying to emotionally benefit from such a tragic and hopeless situation. It was hard to have to walk away from a person I loved whom I wasn’t equipped to help. It was hard to do what was right at the time. It always is. But I try, and I think that should automatically qualify me as “not a piece of shit.” So many other people seem to qualify for much less.

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My friend hurt me deeply. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand what happened. They will never speak to me again—this is so hard for me to accept because, as I’ve said, their experience of our friendship and mine were entirely opposite things, and while it might have been easy for them to walk away, I never had the chance to make the transition. I’ve been left with no way to rationally process it–and in light of, well, the rest of my life, it feel impossible. And still, I can’t hate them. I can’t be mad at them. Why? Because of what I said at the start of this—they are a stellar human being.

How could a stellar human being do something like this?

How could anyone? Because anyone could. I feel like I know enough about this person to know that, outside of the context of our friendship, I can absolutely understand why they’d conclude the worst, about me or anyone else. I can understand why they felt they had to cut me off so abruptly and without any interaction. I can understand pretty much everything they did and said, even if it doesn’t rationally make sense in terms of the facts that I know about myself. It doesn’t matter how much it hurt and still hurts. It doesn’t matter if it affected me in such a way as to fundamentally change who I am, irreversibly. It doesn’t matter if I can never truly trust anyone again, because this was the final emotional straw and my back is broken. It doesn’t matter how good a swimmer I am, or not, or if I’ll drown. None of that makes their actions and feelings less understandable. Their wrongness (and yes, in this case—as opposed to every other case they thought—they were and are wrong) doesn’t make it less right to them, and they think they’re right for a lot of reasons that they can’t be blamed for. These are just facts.

I wish I could go back into our pasts and change all the things that saddled us with this bullshit baggage. I wish I could change the way they were wired like I’ve spent decades trying to change my own wiring. The only good thing that’s come from this is that I can point to the moment I realized I couldn’t be mad at this person as the moment I knew I’d succeeded. I had changed my wiring. The anger wasn’t just something I naturally felt—I tried to force it. But no matter what I do (because the hurt from all of this? I wish I could burn it out of me. I wish I could cut it out. It’s consuming, because it touches so many things in me that are so painful), like a cork that can’t be sunk, I inadvertently revert back to my natural and effortless response, which is that I’m still very worried about them. I still care what happens to them. And the sad fact is that I would forgive them instantly and never bring it up again, because they are that good a person. Have you ever met one of these people? They really are amazing. This person is one of those rare, golden people, and like a lot of those rare people, they have no idea they’re made of gold. They seem to refuse to believe it if you tell them. And I get that. I just wish it weren’t the case.

Why all this effort? Why care this much?

Because that’s just the way it is. It’s the way I am and it’s the effect this person has had on me. People might come and go for others, but for me, it’s much harder and much more complicated. Particularly if that person if made of gold. In a world full of people who have no fucking excuse for their behavior and the shitty things they think and say and do, when someone comes along and their value is so obvious, even if not to them and even if they’re hard to handle, you want to hold onto that person. In any capacity. I’ve had loss, but maybe I’ve just had too much, or too much disappointment from people who should have been holding my safety net. Whatever the case, this loss feels insurmountable, and that’s not just the bullshit anti-depressants talking. Once I got that out of my system, I was very easily able to tell the difference between my normal, rational sadness and what was plunging me far too deep. The pharmaceutically-induced grief is gone, but the deep sadness of real loss is still there (unfortunately, I’ll probably always associate this loss with that medicated false grief, like Pavlov’s dogs). It’s attached to this one person, but I understand that it’s a lot of things, because God knows, so much of what’s gone on in my life has been running through my mind, seemingly out of my control (try as I might, I haven’t been able to stop it yet). Sure, they’re the catalyst, but that doesn’t mean they’re just the token lightning rod. This person is a tremendously amazing person who deserves more than they get, and more than they’ve gotten. And I truly hope that someday they can see that, sure, agreed, most people can be complete rubbish, but some people aren’t. I wasn’t. Not everyone is out to tear this person down, least of all me. It was the last thing I wanted to do.

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And yeah, it will probably always hurt that they’re out there thinking these terrible things about me—that these are the conclusions they’ve come to and will stick to. I shouldn’t care, but I do. That doesn’t make me weak—it just makes me human, which, regrettably, I still am.

I’m not in any way saying I’m easy to be friends with. I am probably not easy to know. I tend to be a little too honest, and I know that sounds like bragging, but it’s not. It feels like a curse. I am too open. I am too forward and matter-of-fact. And God forbid I believe in you, because I will push you. The only way I know how to succeed at anything is to bust through the fucking wall, because it takes that much effort to get there in the first place. I think—if I care about you—I will try to be your one-woman support structure, because I know going anything alone is a difficult, sometimes, impossible, prospect without one. I am probably too much to deal with. I am not a bad person—I’ve never gone out of my way to hurt anyone. If anything, I jump through fiery hoops to avoid it. I have gone out of my way to help people who’ve hurt me terribly. But this frankness, this drive to help if I see someone who needs help, this stupid, painful, occasionally crippling empathy I have for people I get close to (and for people I don’t, really)…it all sounds lovely, I’m sure, but it’s not. It’s not for me, and it’s not for anyone around me. It wasn’t, apparently, for my friend. I cause stress. I hurt more than I help, whether I mean to or not. If you’re smart, you’ll stay the hell away from me.

If I’m smart, I’ll stay the hell away from everyone.

 

Conclusion: These things that have happened recently—yes, some good has come out of them. I realize that I’m not clinically depressed. It only took 30 years, but hey, better late than never. I’m also not crazy. But if I’m in a bad environment, I’m going to react badly. I think most people are like this—I don’t actually think I’m better or worse than anyone in this way. I’ve just had much less in terms of the means by which to deal with it—nothing anyone cared enough to hand me. I’ve had to figure it all out by trial and error, and let me tell you, that’s just not what you want to be doing with your life. You want to be out enjoying it, being productive, being happy, or reasonably so. Figuring out who you are and what your deal is is par for the course, but it never should have been this difficult when there are so many resources out there. I just didn’t have access to any that were worth a damn. But, I’ve gotten this far.

The other good thing is that I now know what it is to care about someone so much that forgiveness and understanding is effortless. To do otherwise is actually impossible. That comes partially from that person, but it comes just as much from me. I’ve worked hard and have been through a lot to get here. If only it hadn’t meant losing the person to achieve it. If only it didn’t hurt so much. It’s hard to celebrate a victory in which you’ve lost so much. This one, actually, probably cancels itself out.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. I’m currently going through a real existential crisis period. I think I thought I’d been through this in my 20s, but ha…what a joke. I questioned the point of everything then because I had yet to experience enough to form anything that looked like a point. By now, I’ve had too much experience, and the point is far more elusive than it ever was. I try to keep busy. I write, I do this and that. I’m learning new things. Or, trying. But I’m having a really hard time experiencing the joy I thought I would by doing these things. They’re really just exercises in killing time between waking and sleeping. And even if I feel reasonably okay any given day, I still can’t answer the question as to what the point of it is. What is the point of doing anything when, no matter what you do, no matter how far you’ve come, no matter how much you care, no matter how decent a person you try to be…people will hate you? Everything will fall apart. Everything inside you that you’ve strengthened over time will be torn down. You will always have to start over. That’s what I don’t understand. Why the constant starting over? Why can’t I learn some, get hurt a little, grow, and build on it, over and over, like I’ve heard it’s supposed to be? Why is it that whatever must apparently happen is something so destructive that it destroys everything, like a tsunami, and I’m always starting from scratch? Because that’s what it feels like, every single time. And I truly do not see the point.

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One of my more pathetic Instagram moments.

So, here’s something that happened…

Some folks have been wondering what’s been up with me. Others, don’t give a shit (*high five* …thanks). I realize that, for almost two months now, I’ve been erratic, angry, depressed, a little crazy. A lot. Why have I been such an intolerable fucking bitch? I’ve made it no secret on social media, which, though I’ve I lost a number of rather dis-compassionate “friends,” was absolutely necessary to help me get through what I’ve been going through, for no other reason than as an escape for feeling as alone as I did. And in some ways, still do.

Actually, a few things happened at once, but the two major things were: 1) withdrawal symptoms from an anti-depressant had kicked in, and by “kicked in,” I really mean to say that they kicked me in the teeth. And 2) someone whom I considered a very close friend and whom I care a great deal for, quite suddenly removed me from their life. These two things happened at exactly the same time. I honestly can’t tell if one compounded the other, or vice versa, but the effect was like having been emotionally and psychologically nuked. I am the emotional equivalent of Ground Zero and I’m not exaggerating even a little bit.

I’ve been able to figure out a number of things, in terms of depression, medication, and my life, as a result of all of this. On one hand, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, it was a hell of a lot to go through to finally have the tools to get a handle on something that should have been handled years ago. I’m talking in my childhood, or at the latest, in my early twenties.

Sometime last spring, I hit a wall. I woke up one day—seriously—and I couldn’t function. I was overwhelmed with racing thoughts (much worse than usual) and I couldn’t figure out how to get going—how to do anything. It was a little like trying to step off a rapidly moving merry-go-round, whereas before the ride would stop occasionally for me to get off. It was no longer stopping and I couldn’t get off. It was immediately noticeable and pretty much hobbled me. A lot of projects fell by the wayside. I got very depressed. But I didn’t stop trying to figure out what was going on. It’s not really the kind of thing you can pop by the doctor’s and say, “I have this particular kind of pain right here.” I had happened across a few articles, independently of one another in a helpful confluence of good luck, about ADHD, which isn’t something I’d ever considered before, because I’m female and I’m not hyperactive, and nothing in our culture pointed me that way. Turns out, though, that the knowledge of ADHD has changed drastically since I probably should have been diagnosed, which would have been as far back as age 7-8. Nine at the latest. Age nine is the earliest I can pinpoint depression with no discernible pattern, which isn’t normal.

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But the things discussed in these articles were things I understood instantly, and my God, I’d figured it out. I thought back to my childhood and the difficulties I’d had—the terrible grades, the inability to concentrate or retain certain forms of information—a ton of stuff—and unfortunately, the labels “stupid,” and “lazy,” and the cute, but ultimately deflating “space cadet.” Then, the depression. I’ve concluded that I very likely suffer from inattentive type ADHD, which manifests more in females than males. Unfortunately, in 1983, girls weren’t believed to exhibit any form of ADHD, and so we were ignored and undiagnosed. It didn’t help that my parents, frankly, could safely be labeled as dumbasses in terms of meeting the needs of all of their children above food and shelter. Not to mention the bootstrap, we’re-a-military-family-ness of my general upbringing. If I could not perform as expected, it was absolutely my fault, and me, being a kid—I didn’t know how crippled I was in that environment, so I believed it. All of it. Stupid, lazy, space cadet. Because no matter how hard I worked, how hard I tried, I failed the vast majority of the time. So, the fact is, I learned how to compensate for these failings by pushing myself ten times as hard as anyone around me just to get by. I was also incredibly hard on myself. I also learned unhealthy coping mechanisms, like bottling everything up, and misdirecting my righteous fucking anger inward.

Is it really any wonder I got “depressed?”

Since I was about 17, I have been diagnosed as bi-polar, manic depressive, and/or psychotic–all different times, different doctors–and I’ve had doctors try very hard to medicate me for these things. Turns out, I’m pretty positive, I am not and have never been any of these things. What I can say for sure is that, at age 20, after about 11 years of pushing myself to exhaustion to achieve “low-to-normal” standards of success in academic and social pursuits (and often failing anyway, and sinking periodically into stretches of a depression I could not pinpoint the source of because I had no reason to believe that this wasn’t just some pathetic weakness of character in me), I had a nervous breakdown.

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Without going into the gory details, it’s important to note that I was medicated at the time—an anti-depressant and sedative, the names of which I can no longer remember. I tried to kill myself. Took a bunch of pills. Obviously, I survived, but just barely, and I spent the next month and a half or so in a psyche ward (where they decided I was “psychotic,” though I gave them no reason to think this). Here, they tried to put me on Lithium (which is absolutely ridiculous). I didn’t want to be on anything at this point, but they insisted on sedatives to help me sleep, against which I did not argue. They proceeded to overdose me and I spent months physically recovering from that (their excuse: “Oops.” No kidding–I am not fucking kidding).

I swore I’d never do that again.

Fast forward about twenty years. I’ve spent half of my life, more so, really, believing my depression was clinical. Chemical. Something I would just have to live with. And while I went through periods of my life coping with various downturns as well as anyone could be expected to, I think, much of the depression was still without a pattern. Thus, it must be chemical, right? Right. Meanwhile, I’m still running circles around myself and my own brain to manage to accomplish anything. The shit I had to do to get through undergrad and grad school, I can see now, was ridiculous. At the time, I just thought, “This is how stupid, lazy space cadets get through school. It’s all-consuming and it’s what you do 24-7.” By the time I got my MFA (literally, the final semester), the stress, anxiety, and depression blew out my fucking thyroid (they still have no “explanation” for that, but I know what lead up to it).

That said, my depression at this point, though still out-of-the blue, so to speak, was manageable. It was something I came to look at as this inexplicable thing that was terrible for the time it lasted, but would always go away. So, when it came, I just sank into myself and waited. Eventually, it would go away. Not the most awesome way to live, but much better than how I’d been handling it in my teens and 20s. I wasn’t anywhere near wanting to kill myself.

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So, when I realized last spring that, hey, it seems very likely—I have far too many of the symptoms to dismiss it—that I actually have this inattentive form of ADHD, I decided I would tackle it like an adult. I’d go get it diagnosed and treated. (I should note here that in terms of my many so-called depression diagnoses, my symptoms might only have matched one or two out of twenty of thirty, but depression was always the go-to diagnosis. It was the 90s. It was too bad I didn’t get a psychiatric degree just to have been able to figure this out on my own…I guess I was too busy trying to survive with literally zero guidance and zero support).

I suppose another important detail is that I’d managed to inadvertently cultivate a general social anxiety disorder (with agoraphobia gravy, no less) in the last six or seven years. This is another thing, apparently, that happens when you go through life with ADHD and don’t know it. You do just about anything to stay away from anyone who could possibly look at you like you’re worthless—you steer clear of anyone that might notice how screwed up you are—how stupid and lazy and spacey. Pretty soon, you don’t leave the house. It happens slowly, so that you don’t even realize it. Then one day, because you can’t just be a hermit and you must sometimes be around people, you get knocked down by an anxiety attack. And then another. And another. And they don’t stop because you can’t live in a bubble. Once again, not depression, but pretty standard for undiagnosed ADHD.

I made an appointment at the local ADHD treatment program here. They made me fill out the most ridiculous, anxiety-triggering forms that I can’t imagine anyone with ADHD or general anxiety filling out without at least one meltdown (I had at least one). These forms, I found, didn’t allow me to fully explain what my symptoms were, nor did they really ask. They were, though, all about focusing on my supposed depression (though, at this time, I was pretty at peace with all of that—I dealt with it). What they said sounded reasonable. We would treat the depression/anxiety and then once that was under control, we’d address the ADHD issue.

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Okay. Fair enough. And I thought, hey, it’s been twenty years. I can’t let that experience twenty years ago stop me from possibly getting this crap taken care of, right? I had dreams of thinking and living “normally.” I fantasized about starting projects, working on them, and finishing them all within a tightly organized framework. I was so optimistic. So, I got medicated. First on Zoloft, which helped, but wasn’t awesome in terms of tolerable side effects.

Meanwhile, after a few months, I finally got an appointment for an assessment to determine if I have ADHD or not. Mind you, this assessment is, by and large, given to children, not adults. In the end, they concluded—and, get this, because it’s almost funny—that I once had ADHD when I was a kid. But I somehow grew out of it (which isn’t actually possible, but okay). No, not ADHD, but clinical depression and that depression was what was causing me the anxiety and current ADHD-like symptoms.

Got that? I had ADHD, but it magically went away and now my ADHD symptoms (which predate any kind of depression and have occurred unbroken from before I can remember) are just the result of my depression. Right. Also, part of what they felt proved I didn’t have ADHD now was that I had a Masters degree. Apparently, no one with ADHD pushes themselves through higher education without special provisions (or at all…they never asked me about special provisions). That I just about fried my nervous system doing it didn’t seem to make any difference.

Now, I’d been on this medication and it was absolutely helped with the anxiety. No more anxiety attacks, which was wonderful. And, no, no depression, but then, I wasn’t really having an issue with that to begin with. However, the ADHD symptoms persisted. I told them this and was promptly ignored. They insisted it was just because we hadn’t really tackled this depression/anxiety thing, despite that I was feeling pretty good about that, actually. Their diagnosis was, apparently, far more important than the symptoms I actually felt and told them about. My experience in all of this had no bearing whatsoever.

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I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I liked not having the level of anxiety I had been experiencing, so I went on with it. I switched the Zoloft to Effexor, because there were side effects from the Zoloft that didn’t really excite me, so why not try something else? Mistake. On the Effexor, at first the side effects were okay, but then they were worse than the Zoloft, so we added some Wellbutrin to the mix to mitigate that. It was okay for a few months—and, again, my anxiety was almost non-existent—but then I started having side effects that really weren’t the kind you messed with. Dissociation, depersonalization. Just a few, very brief moments, but if you’ve ever experienced that, you know it’s not something that should (can) be tolerated. So, I told my doctor at my next appointment that I need to get off of this shit. The plan was to taper off the Effexor and stick to the Wellbutrin…see how that does for a bit.

Well.

A couple of weeks after starting the tapering (which ended up being far too fast and too extreme), I started having these emotional issues that weren’t normal for me. It was hard to pinpoint, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. And then, very suddenly, I lost my fucking mind. And it coincided exactly with this terrible loss of this friend who’d meant so much to me. It was a double whammy, which no one—and I mean no one—could possibly have dealt with well, let alone in any sane manner.

A little bit into this, I saw my doctor. According to her reaction, I went from being a fairly pleasant, jovial patient to someone who looked like they’d been dragged into an alley, beaten, and left there. We slowed down the tapering and she prescribed me yet another drug. Klonopin, a sedative. I knew nothing about it, but she talked about it in the same breath as Xanax, which I have taken before and is one of those take-it-as-you-need-it drugs.

It was not only too little, too late, it was actually pouring gas onto the fire. Here are some of the symptoms I experienced from the Effexor withdrawal: agitation, anxiety, confusion, impaired coordination, dizziness, dry mouth, dysphoric mood, fasciculation, fatigue, headaches, hypomania, insomnia, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, sensory disturbances (including shock-like electrical sensations), sweating, tremor, vertigo, and vomiting.

Sound like fun, right? It gets better. I started having anxiety attacks again, one after the other, which, for me, goes a little like this: I feel this building tightness in my chest and when it gets bad enough, my throat constricts, making it hard to breathe. Gee, if only my throat wasn’t constricted…well, it didn’t matter because once that happened, my lungs will also just…stop. They just stop working, voluntarily or involuntarily, and it’s always on the exhale. Which is fucking terrible. This invariably leaves me on my back on the floor sort of staring up at the ceiling trying to will my lungs to just inhale. Just inhale. Veins feel like they’re going to burst. Vision starts to get a little hazy. Banging on my chest with my hand doesn’t do anything to help things along, but at a certain point, you start to get a little desperate and more than a little scared. But eventually, before I can black out, finally, a wheezing, pathetic inhale through a still-constricted throat.

Now, imagine that every fifteen minutes or so.

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Surely you can understand that, along with my thinking Klonopin could be taken like Xanax, I popped a few more. I really, really needed those attacks—the product of the Effexor withdrawal—to stop. Funnily enough (because all of this is just hilarious), the dose my doctor had me on to begin with—I learned later—was far too high. So, I was already on too high a dose of that shit, and I popped a few extra, hoping to make this mortal horror of sequential anxiety attacks stop. Well, here’s what can happen when you take too much Klonopin: confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior, unusual risk-taking behavior, no fear of danger, weak/shallow breathing, unusual/involuntary eye movements, pounding heartbeats, easy bruising/bleeding, drowsiness, problems with thinking or memory, muscle weakness, loss of balance or coordination, slurred speech, dry mouth, loss of appetite, nausea, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, weight changes.

These are some side effects. Well, they’re the ones I experienced. I should clarify that “loss of appetite” and “weight changes” was actually vomit-inducing aversion to eating of any kind. I had an appetite. I was hungry, absolutely starving, but it was a good day if I could keep down a protein drink and about a cup and a half of food. That explained the rapid, unhealthy weight loss. I spent one night (just about all night) alone in a hotel room on the floor in front of the toilet trying to get down a single protein shake, because it’s all I had there that I could even realistically keep down, but even if I thought I could have eaten anything else, I was literally too weak to move. I should also mention…”problems with thinking or memory?” I could barely put a coherent thought together. And there’s about a week in early March that’s pretty much gone. Missing. There was one night that was gone pretty much immediately, but as time has gone on, that memory loss seems to have seeped both forward and backward into the proceeding and preceding days, where I recall some things, but it’s all very fuzzy and completely unreliable.

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I have absolutely no memory of taking or posting this. This, though, I know, was a particularly bad night.

Let’s talk about depression. Remember how I described what it had gotten to be at this point in my life: “It was something I came to look at as this inexplicable thing that was terrible for the time it lasted, but would always go away. So, when it came, I just sank into myself and waited. Eventually, it would go away. Not the most awesome way to live, but much better than how I’d been handling it in my teens and 20s.”

Compared to what I was now experiencing, any level of depression I’d ever experienced up until all of this bullshit was a fucking cake walk. Now, I have lost people that I loved, and I would count my deepest grief until this to have been when my father died. In fact, it is that grief that gives me a reference to this most recent experience. Those of you who have lost a loved one will know that the sadness and loss and depression that is grief is unlike anything you’ve felt. It’s its own thing. It’s all of these terrible things, but there is a certain tone to it, a depth, or a harmonic that resonates in every part of you. It’s very different from your run-of-the-mill depression. What I experienced for about a month was this, except a hundred times worse. It felt like everyone I knew and loved had all died at once. Not just a bit worse. Not just super-duper sad. I’ve never experienced anything like that and I’d chew my own arm off if I thought it would guarantee prevention in the future.

During the month of March, I tried to kill myself twice.

That’s pretty much where this whole thing freezes and my brain goes, “Wait. What?” Part of me feels like this should be embarrassing, but…it’s a fact of these drugs. It might be important for someone reading this to have this information. I would have liked to have had it.

I went to a doctor to get help for ADHD symptoms. They said they’d tease out the ADHD symptoms from the anxiety/depression and we’d move forward. The ADHD symptoms have never stopped. And here I am trying to end my life. Twice. This didn’t begin because my depression was so intolerable that I sought medical help, but because the doctor could not move past “a history of depression” on the paperwork, despite what I was currently feeling and suffering from–ADHD. And I’m trying to kill myself. Because I wanted to think more clearly and get a better handle on my life now that I knew what the real problem was and could learn healthier coping mechanisms/tricks to maneuver around the ADHD.

Suicide.

What the fuck?

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This week, currently, is the first week since the second time I took a bunch of pills that I’ve felt mostly okay again. In this particular case, trying to OD on the Klonopin rebooted all of those shit symptoms, including, for a little bit, this whooshing sound in my head when I move I eyes. Also, accompanying that, the sensation/sound of someone banging on a metal door, loud and hard, inside my head. Yeah, that couldn’t go away fast enough. I’ve only recently been able to drive again, and to walk down the stairs in the morning without sliding most of the way down with my arm against the wall because I can’t stand up straight. It’s all very similar to the overdose of sedatives they’d given me twenty years ago.

On one hand, I’ve been angry at myself for having gone through it again, but really, wasn’t it reasonable to have thought that over the course of twenty years, something might have changed? That they’d have a better understanding of not only how these drugs work, but how serious they are? These are not drugs you should fuck around with, even under a doctor’s supervision (because, honestly, they seem the worst prepared to administer them correctly, let alone to follow-up responsibly). I stopped going to my doctor and finished tapering off with what I had. I stopped the Wellbutrin altogether. She didn’t call to follow-up until two weeks later.

(Just for fun, here are some side effects of Wellbutrin: confusion, trouble concentrating, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior, delusions, hostility. It might have contributed to my issues with all of this, but it might also be applicable to my next post).

Story time: In the spring of 2010, we had a friend who stopped taking his anti-depressant a few weeks before he had a complete psychotic break and murdered his girlfriend. This was an acquaintance for me, but actually a good friend of my husband’s. He’d stopped seeing the campus counselor who prescribed it and that counselor never followed up with him, despite having still been a student on campus, completely contactable. He’s doing 26.5 years in prison; she’s dead.

This isn’t shit that you fuck with. Anti-depressants are fairly well known at this point in actually causing suicidal thoughts. Two weeks, my doctor waited to call me. And the times I’ve been suicidal and actually tried to follow through were while I was medicated by a psychiatrist for a mental illness I never had.

Fact: ADHD, particularly undiagnosed and untreated, can cause severe depression and anxiety in adults. It’s hardly surprising—I spent 32 years trying to force my brain to work in a way that it simply could not. I was judged repeatedly, constantly, for not functioning “normally.” My nervous breakdowns weren’t the result of being bummed out, or clinically “crazy.” They were the result of the constant strain of having to keep that shit up. When I hit that wall last spring, it was just my mind telling me, “Enough of this shit. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” No professional person seems to give a shit that these symptoms predate any form of depression. I was a fucking kid, for fuck’s sake.

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If I’m not mistaken, I took a bunch of pills this day.

I’ve been belittled and told I’m defective my entire life. Anytime I tried to get any kind of help (I challenge you to figure this shit out on your own when your family doesn’t want to deal with it and no one knows you well enough to see the exact ways in which you are struggling), I was drugged, and not even responsibly. I feel like a guinea pig. I almost killed myself three times in my life all because depression, I assume, makes more money and more headlines than ADHD.

So, I’m currently still working my way out of that. I am leaps and bounds better than I was two months ago. Better than a month ago. Hell, better than two weeks ago. But I’m still depressed, though it’s not the I’d-rather-die-than-feel-like-this-for-one-more-minute kind of depression. It’s the regular ol’ existential depression when you’re experience of something turns out to have been, apparently, some kind of mirage, and of loss. Actual loss, not drug-induced pretend loss. Which leads me to…well…

Enjoy the shit out this depressing as fuck next post…

Note: In case you’re wondering why all the selfies–no, I’m not a narcissist. I’m pretty sure. But I posted all of these during the last couple of months and I can tell you…these were not good times. I am heartbroken, miserable, desperate, and very often contemplating killing myself. This is pretty much what this shit looks like, but, needless to say, I did not record and post the worst of it. None of what you see here touches that.

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Weekend Reading

EditorFactCheck

Just a few articles about editing for your weekend read. A couple are older, one significantly so, but all totally still applicable. First, Blake Harrison’s “Black Day for The Blue Pencil” (2005), then Alex Clark’s “The Lost Art of Editing” (2011), which refers to Harrison’s piece. Finally, Barry Harbaugh’s “Yes, Books Editor’s Edit” from this month last year. All great, all worth reading for editors and writers alike.

Enjoy your weekend. Read and write a lot.

hp-lovecraft-and-sonia-greeneThis particular topic is neither here nor there. I only bring it up because I happen to have just enjoyed a stellar performance by the impeccable David Crawford of his one-man show, Lovecraft’s Monsters, last night. I knew Lovecraft’s undeniable racism would be addressed, and rightfully so. And it was. But later in the piece, Crawford worked in something that most conversations about Lovecraft’s racism skip over.

I’m not going to get into the many ridiculous apologies/justifications for Lovecraft’s bigotry, and I’m not going to get into the arguments for replacing Lovecraft’s image on the World Fantasy Award statue. You’ve either read it all before, or if you haven’t, you can use Google as well as I can. Suffice to say, I’ve seen more talk about his racism in the last few years than I ever have before, and while on one hand that’s a good thing (because the unsavory beliefs of our most beloved icons should not go ignored, nor can they be defended). But on the other hand, that’s usually where the conversation ends in regards to that aspects of Lovecraft’s character. “Yeah, I read Lovecraft; he’s great. Too bad he was a racist.”

To that, I would add, “…and too bad he died so young, because he seemed to have been on his way to being a better person.” Because, he was.

H.P. Lovecraft was a tragic individual who spent most of his life isolated and impoverished before dying of intestinal cancer and malnutrition in 1937 at the relatively young age of forty-six. Anyone who’s done a little reading into Lovecraft’s biography and letters, as Scott Kemore points out in this piece from September of last year, would conclude that while he was a racist in his younger days, he had mellowed on the subject as he got older. You know, kind of like we all do. We all believe things passionately, strongly in our teens and twenties, maybe the wrong things, but as we age, we learn, we experience, and we change. Lovecraft was no different.

Kenmore says:

Any thorough reading of his personal correspondence (mine includes the 2,000-page Arkham House Selected Letters series) makes clear that Lovecraft’s bigotry was in full, gleeful bloom in his late teens and early 20s, but that it gradually shriveled away as he got older—as, crucially, his opinions in other areas also began to change. If Lovecraft was not exactly anti-racist by the end of his life, he was a least bored with it as a subject. ( when his correspondents try to bait him into a discussion of race, he comes across like an old dog who has tired of chasing that particular ball.)

In his final years, Lovecraft realized that many of the notions he’d found charmingly “antiquarian” in his younger days were flatly asinine. This shift is perhaps best encapsulated in a letter he wrote—just a year before he died—to Jennie K. Plaiser. A salient passage reads: “…I realised what an ass I had been. The liberals at whom I used to laugh were the ones who were right—for they were living in the present while I had been living in the past.” Lovecraft had gone from being an unintentional parody of a British Tory to a (man) who was interested in policies that would benefit everybody, not just “aristocratic” whites.

Kenmore concludes this point with:

Was Lovecraft very bigoted at some points in his life? Absolutely, yes. But it’s inaccurate to give the impression that Lovecraft held the same views throughout all of his 46 years. The truth is more complex and interesting than that.

Had he not died so young, who knows how his thinking on the matter would have continued to change, but I’d be willing to bet that he was heading in a more progressive direction. And considering his general alienation, considering his issues, considering pretty much everything about him, that he’d progressed at all by aged forty-six was a minor miracle, and one I think he should be commended for. No, I don’t think we need to go around foisting him up as an anti-bigotry hero (because there’s no argument from me that he was ever anything but, overall), but the very least we can do for someone who lived largely so miserably and yet who gave us so much in terms of his writing is to not guillotine the conversation at “too bad he was a racist.” I would hope, after I’m dead and gone and unable to grow and change, let alone defend myself, people would not be latching onto some crackpot thing I’d gotten into my head when I was twenty and defined me that way, forever and eternal, no matter how I’d grown otherwise before I kicked it.

And some folks will, I’m sure, say I’m defending his racism, sweeping it under the rug, etc. I feel pretty secure, knowing myself well enough, that that is not what I’m doing. And, in fact, to say that would be ignoring the facts as we know them. On the contrary, I think his racism should be addressed, but as it is, so should the evolution of it.

So, why do I think we should give Lovecraft a break? Is it only because he’s done so much for the genre and genre writing, as a lot of people seem to think? Actually, it’s not even a little bit that. I don’t think any amount of prestige or talent gives anyone a pass in terms of their abhorrent views. You believe something disgusting, you’re going to get raked over the coals no matter who you are and what you’ve done. But, that said, I also believe in credit where credit is due.

Lovecraft didn’t die in 1937 the bigot he was in 1912. And here’s the thing: Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t this the kind of transformation, no matter how slow (and in this case, incomplete due to death), for which we’d like to give credit? Or is the whole point of racial dialog to simply nail the racists? True, some people will never change their beliefs. Some people were born and raised in the Klan, grew up to be Klansmen, and they’ll be buried in their cowardly robes. Lovecraft, though…a little knowledge of his life shows his circumstances and resulting disposition were fairly unique, and frankly, to be pitied. And more importantly, he was moving in the right direction when he died. He was moving toward a potential state of non-bigotry, willing to admit where he had been wrong, which is more than many of us can do, over the course of many more years than he’d had, and for much less. I feel like that’s worth keeping in mind…

…and it was something I’d been thinking of when I went to see Crawford’s performance last night, and yes, it was gratifying to see that Crawford had, indeed, addressed it. Throughout the piece, Crawford goes through Lovecraft’s various stages of life, and within each he addresses Lovecraft’s bigotry in regards to the “Irish, the Italians, and the Slavs.” But as Lovecraft is older, and clearly wasting a way, painfully, he says (and I’m paraphrasing, as I didn’t think I’d need to memorize it): “My best friend is Jewish (Samuel Loveman). I married a Jew (Sonia Greene). I’ve experienced these people and I know them. They are good people.” Crawford went exactly where these conversations should go. If you’re racist and you die still a racist, the conversation ends at, “He was racist.” If you’re racist and you demonstrated signs of more progressive thinking when you died, that’s where that conversation ends, not a few steps back at, “He was racist.” So, kudos to David Crawford, because while it may not have been particularly PC, it was intellectually honest.

10 Punctuation Tips

run-onHere are a few punctuation tips. Read it. See which mistakes you’re guilty of, so you can stop making them. And, for the record, before writers start losing their minds about the punctuation police coming to ruin their genius and that we editors are all a bunch of dogmatic fundamentalists, I’ll say now that…I disagree with #9. Yes, I disagree. I will read a run-on sentence all day long (if that how long it is) so long as it’s punctuated correctly, reads wells (is not awkward and clunky), and is not confusing. And no, you can’t just keep adding “ands” and “buts.” And yes, it’s good to recognize when it’s more appropriate within the context of the piece to go ahead and split it up into two of more sentences. Just be aware.

GSS Banner Final FinalMy quest to find out about more black folks in horror for my unofficial, impromptu Big Black Horror Month led me to this website that I’m actually embarrassed I did not know existed: Graveyard Shift Sisters. I was around when Pretty Scary started to give women in general a louder voice in the genre, but I bowed out when it became clear that men were dominating the conversation on the message boards (you know, where women were supposed to feel comfortable) and if anyone complained, we ladies were being “sexist.” Yeah, that old yarn. And, of course, there’s the “official” Women in Horror Month. But I can only assume that what exists out there for women in horror isn’t sufficient to also embrace fully women of color in horror. Or else, I suppose, there wouldn’t be a need to Graveyard Shift Sisters.
While I regret that this site is apparently necessary (the same way I regret that women need a special month to get recognition for their work in horror), I’m certainly glad it exists.
Here’s an article interviewing Nicole Renee Simmons:
…my first years giving this whole film thing a go, I had no idea. I wasn’t clueless; I just hadn’t experienced anything that necessarily pointed out me being different. The horror community is not just all guys first off. So I didn’t really feel the difference of gender until I started actually shooting. My crew was mostly men except for cast; the other directors of the genre were men. And then as I continued my education on to business entertainment, reality sunk in that I was extremely different. And not just in my specific genre, but my industry alone. There are a few black writers and directors in the film industry and even less in the horror film genre.

Where The Hell Am I?

Question-mark-on-book-1kda8osI have, for some time now, been nurturing a growing concern about my writing. And by nurture, I suppose I mean that it started as a question, became a nagging one, and didn’t seem to be going away, so I thought it best, I suppose, if I gave it its own room and made it comfortable. The answer wasn’t–and doesn’t seem to be–forthcoming, but I’m not entirely sure how to kick it out now. Though I do recognize that we shouldn’t allow these unanswerable concerns to live with us. I suppose I thought, at the time, it could be answered, so there wasn’t much harm in letting it stick around.

Wrong.

The concern is that…I actually have no idea what the hell it is I’m writing. I have no workshop, no readers; I work largely in a void. I feel reasonably certain it is literary. I spend time and thought and effort on character, setting, subtext, and language. But no literary magazine or press would touch this stuff, because they would not consider it literary. Because there is often a supernatural element, either dominating or at the bottom of it. And they can’t have that sort of thing.

So, it’s horror, right? Supernatural horror? Speculative fiction? Gothic? My writing has been called Gothic before (I’m looking at you, Mary Rickert) and it was good to hear because it made me feel better. I had an outside source describing what it is that I write, because I have no idea. And, on one hand, I can see it being described as Gothic. It’s kind of low-key, I think. Pretty subtle. I like atmosphere. I’d rather work my way to a big scare scene rather than throw it at the reader, over and over, without warning, with machine-gun speed and quantity. That kind of thing, to me, loses it’s appeal after a while (and not even a long while). But I also think that the term “Gothic”–for folks who don’t really know much about Gothic lit–produces certain images in the heads of readers, or even editors and agents, of castles, hidden passes, dungeons, harassed young women and brooding antagonistic men, and a general sense of the moon momentarily obscured by a passing cloud, punctuated by a Scooby-Doo wolf howl. And that’s not what I do. So, I’m leery of describing my writing in that way. (Full disclosure: I love Gothic Literature. Just sayin’.)

But “Horror” makes me think of chainsaws and machetes, and, again, rapid fire violence and gore, which is, again, not what I do. And “Speculative”…? Honestly, I’m not even sure I know what that means. Oh, and the other one, designed to trick literary folks into reading your MS…”Magical Surrealism.” I actually dislike that term simply because it feels like a cop-out. And to compound my problem, in addition to “Gothic,” my work has been described as “classic” and “traditional,” which in my head translates to, “Outdated–no one reads this shit anymore. No one but you.”

What I have are ghosts and monsters, mostly. Strange occurrences. And yes, violence and gore, but it’s…how can I describe it? It’s baked into the bread, not ladled over everything like a gravy. Again, there’s attention paid to character, setting, subtext, and language (which, I suppose, is why my stories tend to fall into that unpublishable length of too long for a short story and too short for a novella…and no one wants novellas or novelettes).

I think everyone would say, “It’s literary horror!” I used to think so as well. It’s a term I feel like I’ve been hearing increasingly over the last handful of years, and yet, I don’t see it in practice all that often. But then, I think the problem there lies with me. Here’s a fact: I have no idea what small-to-medium-sized presses publish this stuff. Actual “literary horror.” Because so far, what seems to pass as “literary horror” are stories with that same rapid fire violence/gore, though with a pinch of character development thrown in. Usually something deep, troubling, but generally still not particularly well developed. And, understand, I’m not bagging on this stuff. It is what it is and people like it. It seems to sell. But I still don’t see too much attention to language, except to just write a reasonably grammatical sentence (which, admittedly, is lacking in some other “subgenres” I’ve seen). And, again, this is my weakness. My failure. I don’t know where to look to find something truly “literary” and yet still scary, creepy, spooky, what-have-you. And it’s difficult to ask, because if I’ve learned anything, my idea of “literary” seems to be very different compared to what most genre folks define as “literary.” Often, when I do get a suggestion, it is of the “literary horror” type that, again, simply strives to write a readable sentence as opposed to one intended to be  both readable and beautiful.

This makes it really hard to submit stories…anywhere. I look at my publication list and I disappoint myself. But, I suppose it’s not terrible for someone who maybe submits two or three stories a year, if that. And I do have that length issue. I hardly want to submit my stories that fall within a generally accepted short story length because…I don’t really like them. They seem thin and underdeveloped to me. And the ones I really like…too fucking long.

So, this is the concern that pops it’s head into my bunker now and then. I don’t dwell on it. But after a few rejections, I think, well, they’re not bad stories. I don’t actually suck at writing.* It was the wrong market. That’s what I suck at. Hard. How the hell do I find the right market?

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*I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not bashing your work constantly–I do alright and I’m not ashamed of that.

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