We traffic in emotion and internal monologue, in the interpretation of sensation and the vagaries of mood and feeling. Most of the time — at least ideally — we can separate our own emotions and thoughts from those of our characters. But when our own lives are roiled — by grief or loss, by jealousy or resentment, or by the slow, relentless grind of depression — separating ourselves from the turmoil we impose upon our characters grows ever more difficult.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that months have passed since my last blog post. Sharing online, be it to offer writing advice or share news of one sort or another, is an inherently public act. And for some time now, I have been in an intensely private space.
Many of you will know at least some of the reasons for this; others won’t, and really that’s all right. For the purposes of this post, the reasons don’t matter. We all deal with loss and upheaval, frustrations and disappointments, be they personal or professional. Writers are no different.
Except that’s not exactly true. We are different in that more than most people, we live in our own heads. We traffic in emotion and internal monologue, in the interpretation of sensation and the vagaries of mood and feeling. Most of the time — at least ideally — we can separate our own emotions and thoughts from those of our characters. But when our own lives are roiled — by grief or loss, by jealousy or resentment, or by the slow, relentless grind of depression — separating ourselves from the turmoil we impose upon our characters grows ever more difficult.
I found it hard to write this summer. That doesn’t happen to me often. I was wracked with self-doubt, with a sense of professional and personal helplessness the frightened me. I grappled with an emotional lethargy, the like of which I’d never experienced before, one that felt both utterly alien and dangerously alluring. Don’t fight it, it seemed to say. It’ll be so much easier if you don’t fight it.
I was exhausted, which didn’t help matters. Family and professional obligations had me traveling almost constantly: Over a span of about 16 weeks, I spent a total of more than eight weeks on the road. By the end, I was ready to cancel my final trips, which would have meant giving up a free trip to Calgary for a convention and the workshop I was to teach there, and also skipping DragonCon, which is always one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a sign of how low I was that I would consider giving up even one of those trips, much less both.
I made myself go to Calgary, not because I overcame my dark torpor, but simply because I had made a commitment to the people there. A professional writer honors such obligations and I found that I could do no less. I’m so glad I did. Because that trip to western Canada started me on the path to recovery. For a week, I had no choice but to focus outward, to interact with people — strangers and friends both — and to think about things other than those that had battered and bruised me all summer. By the time I returned home, I had started to recognize myself again, to see in my emotions and my sense of creativity something of the normal me. Since then, I’ve had a bit of good news, and I’ve had a wonderful four days at DragonCon. I’m better, and I’m overwhelmed with relief. That dark place frightened me.
People who deal with mental health issues on a day-to-day basis face far greater challenges than those with which I dealt these past few months. The pit is deeper, the path out is longer, steeper, and it’s strewn with obstacles I can barely imagine. I’m fortunate, and I know it. More to the point, I’m not so glib or ignorant as to suggest that what shook me out of my dark place will work for others. Just the opposite, really. I write today with profound admiration for those who struggle each day with depression, with the insidious lethargy that trapped me briefly this summer. I experienced it for a few harrowing weeks, and nearly succumbed to it. Some live with it daily, for years on end, and yet they soldier on.
The #HoldOnToTheLight campaign is about raising awareness of mental health issues. This summer I lost a brother who was as dear to me as anyone in this world. He struggled much of his life with depression and substance abuse, and though the thread connecting those issues with his death is thin and difficult to trace, I know it’s there. I acknowledged before that I’ve been fortunate throughout my life. He wasn’t. What I glimpsed in myself this summer, particularly after his death, he braved every day. I understand him a little better now — cold comfort to be sure, and yet illuminating. I’ll carry that knowledge with me for the rest of my life, and always it will be braided with my love for him. And all I can hope is that it will make me a better person, a better friend, a better brother to the siblings I have left, a better father and spouse, and yes, even a better writer.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books consisting of Spell Blind, His Father’s Eyes, and Shadow’s Blade. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach.
David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.
He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.