Tag Archives: mental health

Monday Musings: Uncertainty, Optimism, and the New Year

I have been sitting in front of this screen for the better part of an hour, trying to write something for my opening Monday post of 2022. I am in no mood for prognosticating. With Covid still raging, and forty million Americans still stubbornly refusing to be vaccinated and bizarrely resistant to wearing masks, this doesn’t seem a time to be confident about anything, near-term or long-term.

I have no interest in reviewing the year just past. Any discussion of current political trends is likely to be irrelevant a month from now (and depressing for me and my like-minded friends in the interim . . .).

I also don’t wish to write about something frivolous (I have been enjoying this week’s Premier League soccer broadcasts and considered — briefly — writing about that).

I have written far too often about my personal struggles of the past year, and don’t wish to revisit them once again.

And, I realize as I write that last, I am reluctant to delve too much into my current emotional state. Because the truth is, I feel pretty good right now. Better than I have for much of the past year.

This will sound odd, but optimism scares me.

I come by my pessimism naturally. My mother could be terribly superstitious, and often didn’t like to give voice to her hope for good things, at least not without knocking on wood or something of the sort. I can be the same way. And on occasion in the past, when I’ve allowed myself to think positively, I’ve had bitter disappointments. None more devastating than this past year, when I dared feel some optimism in the winter, with The Former Guy having left office and the harsh winter Covid wave seemingly on the wane. Then our daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

And so saying I feel good right now scares me a little. The truth is, we don’t know what will happen with our daughter’s illness. Things look good right now, but with a disease like this, there are never guarantees. We as a nation don’t know what will happen with the pandemic. Things look dire right now, but if we can weather this wave, which seems likely to peak late this month, who knows? We also don’t know what will come of the anti-democratic rumblings and activities of the far right. I fear the worst, but hold out some hope that our system of government, which has seen so many crises over the past two hundred and forty years, will prove resilient.

Life’s uncertainty is a source of both wonder and terror for all of us. Good things come out of the blue, sometimes changing the course of our personal or professional existence. Disappointment and tragedy do the same. The hardest part of my emotional health journey over the past year has been coming to terms with that uncertainty and embracing it. Because we can’t know what will happen. Over the years, I’ve written so many characters in so many different stories in so many fantasy worlds, who have the power to glimpse the future, to judge people’s fates, or to see their own. Call it Divination, or The Sight, or Scrying — the power is a common trope in the realm of speculative fiction.

It is a power I am not sure I would want. I know, I just said that dealing with uncertainty has been difficult for me. But I also think knowing our future would rob us of something essentially human. Because while I have never been good at being optimistic, it is something I strive to be. I believe hope is the most human of emotions. Take away uncertainty, and we take away hope as well.

I will admit that my view on this isn’t entirely consistent. Would I like to know for certain, right now, that my daughter will forever be just fine? Of course. Would I want to know the opposite? No way in hell.

Embracing uncertainty means more than merely accepting what we can’t know. It means refusing to game out scenarios in our minds (something I do far too often, to my own detriment), resisting the tendency to give in to our worst fears, or to build up too much expectation for unrealistically rosy outcomes.

And so as I stand at the leading edge of this new year, I find myself unwilling to make predictions, or even to spell out with too much specificity what I want to see happen and what I don’t. Life comes at us fast, and the older I get, the harder it becomes to slow down the days, the seasons, the years.

But for the first time in my life, I am content to begin the new year saying to myself and to the world, I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen to us personally, professionally, politically, socially, culturally. I. Don’t. Know. And that’s okay. Today, I feel good. I’ll let you know about tomorrow when it gets here.

Have a good week. Have a good year.

Monday Musings: Taking Stock This Thanksgiving Week

A year ago at this time, I wrote a post about Thanksgiving — random thoughts on the holiday, essentially. I just reread it, and laughed once more at some of the memories I recounted. Part of the post touched on the oddness of last year’s celebration, the fact that we were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that made family gatherings difficult if not impossible. And I lamented this, because, as I said then, Thanksgiving is just about my favorite holiday.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2021, and we find ourselves still grappling with the pandemic. Last year, while writing my post, I didn’t see that happening. Yes, I knew already that Covid would be with us for a long, long time — an illness to be managed rather than one we were likely to wipe out anytime soon. But I thought our management would have progressed further by now. I am not yet in a space where I want to dive into political discussions, but I will simply offer this: If you’re not yet vaccinated, please consider getting the vaccine before year’s end. And if you’re unvaccinated and you refuse to wear a mask, please consider that your recklessness is endangering everyone around you.

Despite the difficulties posed by another pandemic-inflicted Thanksgiving, and despite having endured a year more difficult than any my family and I have experienced before, I find myself embracing the spirit of this most spiritual holiday. I don’t mean spiritual in the sense of “religious,” at least not really. For some, I suppose, thankfulness does lend itself to religious expression. But as someone who considers himself agnostic in matters of faith, I still am drawn to what I perceive as a powerful spiritual component of Thanksgiving. This is a time when all of us in this country — a nation that is both flawed and deeply blessed — are called upon to pause in our work, in our private lives, in our political and cultural rancor, and reflect on all for which we ought to be grateful. We do this as the calendar year draws to a close, as the natural year — the cycle of seasons, of life’s emergence, flourish, and retreat — winds down as well. This is an opportunity to take stock, to appreciate what we have and, perhaps, to think about things we hope to be thankful for in another year.

And so . . .

I am grateful, as always, for my wonderful family. As always, I say. And yet after this year of crisis, of illness, of anxiety and sadness and deepest fear, I am more grateful than ever to be married to my love and closest friend, and to have two daughters whom I adore, who dazzle me with their humor and brilliance and beauty. I am grateful for my siblings, those I have still and the one I have lost, my relationships with whom have been so formative throughout my life. I am grateful for my parents, gone now for more than two decades, but who loved me and supported me in life, and who raised me to believe I could be anything I chose to become. I am grateful for my extended family, relatives I love even though we see one another far too infrequently.

I am grateful beyond words to have truly amazing friends, people who enrich my life with their wit, their intellect, their compassion and generosity. And I am so fortunate to have in my life fans of my work who are kind, vocal in their enthusiasm for my fiction, but also respectful of appropriate boundaries.

I am grateful for my career, which has been through ups and downs, which has perhaps not yet reached every height I hoped it would, but which continues to engage me and challenge me and reward me each day. I am grateful for all the talented professionals with whom I have had the honor and pleasure of working.

I am grateful for the pastimes I pursue daily — my music, my photography, my passion for nature, especially birds.

I am grateful for the comfort of our home, for the food we eat, for the privileges we enjoy, and I am mindful always, but particularly this time of year, of those who are not as fortunate as we are, who live without the certainty of shelter, who eat without the surety of a next meal, who encounter illness or injury without the peace of mind of knowing how they will access and pay for treatment.

And I am grateful for this past year, despite its difficulties. From it, I have learned to appreciate more deeply what I have. I have learned to cope with emotional crises that might have ruined me a year or two ago. And I have grown stronger, so that the next crisis — and of course there will be a next one; such is life — will be just a little easier to endure.

I wish you all a joyous Thanksgiving and hope that you have a long list of people and things for which you are grateful.

— DBC

Creative Friday: Images of Late Fall

Part of my journey back toward normal life and emotional health has been my rediscovery of my love of photography. For reasons I am still trying to understand fully, the difficulties of the past several months caused me to give up certain things. I continued to play music, but I stopped taking photos almost entirely. I missed it, but I stayed away from it. As I say, I’m not yet sure why.

Recently, Nancy and I traveled to the coast for some much needed time away, and while there I got back to using my camera, and in fact, I took photos every day. Upon our return, I continued to take photo walks. This past week, I hiked on two separate afternoons to places where I could enjoy the colors and deep blue skies of late fall.

Here are two of the images I captured. Enjoy. Have a wonderful weekend. Be kind to one another.

Morgan's Steep Falls, by David B. Coe Jackson Lake, November, by David B. Coe

Professional Wednesday: Work as Balm

Continuing this week’s theme of maintaining mental health through difficult times . . .

Back in March, when our daughter’s cancer was diagnosed, my first impulse was to put everything on pause. I contacted my editor and agent to let them know I was not going to be working for a while. I announced on my various social media platforms that I would be pulling back from them as well. I don’t know what I thought I would be busy with. I don’t know what I thought I would do to fill my days. But in that instant, I couldn’t imagine doing . . . anything.

I can’t say for certain if this was a good decision or a bad one. I did what I needed to do in that moment. I made time for myself to deal with something utterly devastating and unprecedented in my life, for the very reason I stated above. I didn’t know what I could do and what I couldn’t. And, being self-employed, I have the luxury of being able to clear my schedule when I need to.

I’ll pause here to say this is why paid family leave should be universal across the country. People deal with crises of this sort every day. The privileged few — people like me — shouldn’t be the only ones who can take the time to care for themselves and their loved ones in this way.

Of course, Nancy had work, and though her colleagues and boss would have understood had she taken time off, the truth is the nature of her position at the university, and the fact that the school was in the middle of implementing the Covid response she helped formulate, made this impossible. And so, perhaps not so surprisingly, after taking only a few days to be shellshocked and emotionally paralyzed, I got back to work as well.

RADIANTS, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Belle Books)I was in the middle of writing a book — Invasives, the sequel to Radiants — and I dove back in. It’s a book about family, as so many of my novels are, and about discovering powers within. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why I would find that particular story line comforting.

At the time, I wasn’t very far along in the book — maybe one-third of the way in. But with my reality frightening and sad, I threw myself into the story. Work became the place I went to escape my dread, my grief, my rage at the injustice of my kid’s illness. The emotions came with me, of course, but I was able to channel them into my characters, to turn them into narrative. That is the magic of creation, the alchemy that allows us to convert anguish into art. Each day, I couldn’t wait to get back to my book; I can’t remember a time when work has meant more to me. My haven, my outlet, my balm.

I finished the book in less than two months, which is pretty quick for me, and I knew immediately that I had written something special. I love all my books. Someone asked me just the other day what my favorite book is among those I’ve written, and I answered as I always do: the newest one. But in this case, it was especially true. Invasives is laden with emotional power and it is, to my mind, one of the best plotted books I’ve written. Often when I write, I have to fight off distractions. Not this time. With Invasives, writing was the distraction.

I was sad to finish the book — which was definitely new for me. Usually I celebrate finishing a novel. This time, I wondered how I would cope without the book to write. My child was still sick, still dealing with treatments and such. And I was still scared, still sad.

"The Adams Gambit," by D. B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)And so around that time, unsure of what to write next, I acted on an idea I’d had for several years. I hung out my virtual shingle as a freelance editor. Work came in quickly, and before I knew it I was editing a series for one friend, and talking to others about future editing projects. I also released the Thieftaker novellas. And prepared for the October release of Radiants. And started gearing up for the Kickstarter for Noir, the anthology I’m co-editing for Zombies Need Brains. And wrote a story for another anthology.

In other words, I worked the way I normally would. Yes, some days were harder than others. Some days I got nothing done at all. And part of working through this ordeal has been giving myself permission to have days where I do nothing more than spin my wheels. But more often than not, work has continued to offer me solace.

I’ve watched in awe as Nancy, who has even more on her plate than I do (elder care issues involving her parents and a job that is emotionally and mentally exhausting), has found the strength and discipline to be a loving, supportive mom, an attentive daughter, a skilled and focused professional, as well as a loving partner. She, too, has found refuge in her job.

Looking back, I feel a little foolish for having retreated from my professional life the way I did those first days after learning of my daughter’s diagnosis. From this vantage point, it appears rash, unnecessary. I feared that in some way my job would keep me from giving my full attention to my daughter’s health. I was right. The mistake I made was in thinking that would be a bad thing. Believe me, I spent a ton of time thinking about her, worrying about her, searching for ways I might ease her burden. But I couldn’t do that for every hour of every day, not without doing real damage to my own emotional and physical health.

Work saved me.

Now, I know each of us deals in unique ways with anxiety, fear, grief, and other emotions, and so I offer this post not as a prescription for others, but simply as a description of my experience. I hope that some of you find it helpful.

Monday Musings: My Decision to Start Therapy — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLightShortly after I graduated from college, back in Medieval times, I corresponded with a dear college friend, one who continues to this day to be a close friend. At the time, she was dealing with some emotional issues and had started therapy. “Counseling is the best thing in the world,” she wrote to me. “If everyone was in counseling with a good counselor there would be world peace.”

I wrote down the quote at the time, and have returned to it many times in the intervening years, sometimes with amusement (it’s just a great statement) and at other times with the sense that I ought to take to heart the lesson of her words.

Only this year, with the cancer diagnosis given to my older child, did I finally act on her wise advice and start therapy.

When I was young, being in therapy carried a stigma. Mental health and mental illness were even less well understood than they are now. Seeking a counselor was an admission of “weakness,” of being unable to hack it on one’s own. I grew up in New York, a bastion of liberal thought and cutting edge cultural trends, and was raised in an educated, privileged family. And still, I grew up with this bias ingrained in me. People like me didn’t need therapy, because we were “strong” and “normal” and “healthy,” whatever the hell those words meant.

It took me a long, long time to overcome that element of my upbringing. Which is really too bad, because I now know that I have suffered from anxiety and panic disorder my entire life. I denied this reality for years. I was “high strung.” “Type A.” I was “a worrier.” Given time, I could probably come up with a dozen other euphemisms that I used, or that others used on my behalf, to help me deny the obvious. Because “high strung” was okay. Suffering from anxiety suggested something deeper, more serious, more systemic. It implied that I wasn’t “well.”

Guess what. I wasn’t well.

Back in 2017 and 2018, after my brother died, I went through a really dark period. I was grieving, grappling with all sorts of difficult, nearly crippling emotional issues. At the time, it was the most troubling period of my emotional life. Still I made excuses, explaining away my decision not to seek therapy. Our younger daughter was just starting college and we couldn’t afford the added expense. It was natural for me to be having a hard time — I was in mourning. I could handle the problems on my own.

It was a terrible decision, and I shudder to think of what might have happened had I not fallen back on the next best thing to seeking the help of a counselor. I wrote about my brother. Not just a journal entry (although I should add here that regular journaling has also become a key part of my mental health regimen). I had conversations with people from his life and delved deeply into family history and the papers he’d left behind. The piece I wrote about him is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Few have read it, and for now that’s fine with me. The process itself was the point. It saved me from myself — my stubbornness, my denial, the lingering effects of my upbringing.

With my daughter’s cancer diagnosis earlier this year, which came on the heels of a period of deep anxiety during the fall of 2020, I realized the obvious: I needed help. More, I was  for help. I couldn’t do this on my own anymore, nor did I see the need to.

Starting therapy was revelatory. I was fortunate, in that I found on my first try a counselor who understands me, who knows when to challenge my assumptions and when to let me ramble and find for myself a helpful emotional path. Early on, as we talked about an episode in my life that had been particularly formative and painful, she said something that spoke powerfully to my experience, not only with her, but also with the piece I’d written about my brother.

“When you talk about something painful like this,” she said — and I believe she could also have said, when you write about this sort of thing — “you assert control over it. You’re no longer subject to it. Rather, it answers to you.”

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

This was why writing about my brother and his death proved so therapeutic. This was why my sessions with my therapist have been so positive and helpful. This was why my beloved old friend could see universal therapy leading to world peace. When we acknowledge the things that afflict us, when we accept them and speak to them and come to understand them, they cease to be our enemy. They don’t vanish, at least not immediately. But by embracing them, by asserting control over them and making them ours, rather than us being theirs, we rob them of their power.

This, at least, has been my experience. And all those arguments against therapy, which I used to delay what I never should have put off? I reject them now. The stigma? Fortunately, society has progressed beyond this, and I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The money? Many health insurance policies cover mental health, making it as affordable as most common prescription drugs. The time commitment? I take time every day to exercise, because I know that doing so is good for me. Why would I begrudge an hour each week to do something equally healthful?

And so I stand before you (albeit virtually) as an unabashed booster of therapy. I waited until I was in the midst of a family crisis, and I wish I hadn’t. If I’d had the wherewithal as a much younger man to seek professional help, I might have recognized my anxiety for what it was in my twenties or thirties rather than in my fifties. I could have saved myself so much torment, so much sadness and angst. I choose not to consider this for too long. Water under the bridge as the cliché goes.

But I will say this: If you’re suffering, if you feel that you need help, but have been reluctant, for whatever reason, to seek it out, please take the plunge. I believe you’ll be glad you did. You may find peace, healing, and tools for coping that have eluded you up until now. And, as my friend suggests, you might even move us one step closer to world peace.

Update: What’s Been Going On In My Life

In August, after a long retreat from social media and a series of appearance cancellations, I shared with all in a post on his blog that our older daughter, Alex, has cancer. You can read that post here.

Now, several months later, I wanted to offer an update to that original post, and to share some positive news.

Alex is still undergoing treatments, but her doctors have transitioned her from chemotherapy, which in her case was VERY effective, to what they call a maintenance regimen. Essentially this means that the cancer has been knocked back by the chemo. In many places where she had malignancies, it’s impossible to tell she ever had cancer. In other spots, the cancer remains but is greatly diminished.

The maintenance regimen is intended to keep the cancer in its present, reduced state. It prevents new or renewed cancerous growth without inflicting the kind of side-effects Alex suffered through while on the chemotherapy. Put another way, her doctors are now treating her cancer as a chronic condition, one that can be managed without an invasive and devastating surgery, and without further use of drugs that sap her of energy, make her feel rotten, and cause her hair to fall out.

The sobering news is that, at least for now, they do not know if her cancer is fully curable. It may be that they cannot say “her cancer is gone and it’s not coming back.” This remains to be seen. The reassuring and offsetting news is that they can keep her on the maintenance regimen indefinitely, for the rest of her natural life if they need to. Because Alex responded so well to the first chemotherapy “cocktail” they tried, her doctors have plenty of other treatments they can use on the off-chance that the cancer reasserts itself. And research on exact DNA mutation that caused Alex’s cancer may, before long, yield even more effective, and possibly curative, treatments.

And so it seems she is on a good trajectory, if not yet cured.

I have to admit that adjusting to this outcome has taken me some time. I have lost my mother, my father, and my oldest brother to cancer. I am a gold-circle member of the “Fuck Cancer” club. More, I am shaped by a 20th century view of cancer as a binary phenomenon. One has cancer or one doesn’t; one beats cancer or one dies from it. That has long been my understanding.

But 21st century oncology is not always like that. For some patients with some forms of the disease — including Alex and hers — cancer is something that can be lived with, controlled, kept in check.

From the start, I have wanted nothing more than to be able to announce to the world that Alex is cancer-free. For now, that is more than I can say. But short of that, this is as good an outcome as I could have hoped for or imagined. We will worry each time Alex has a new set of scans to assess the state of her disease, but that was going to be true under any scenario. What matters is that she feels fine, the symptoms associated with her cancer have gone away, she is otherwise healthy and happy, she is working, seeing friends, having fun, living her life, looking forward to the return of her gorgeous hair, which has been an identity marker for her all her life. And the rest of us — Nancy, our wonderful younger daughter, Erin, and I — are breathing easier and recovering ourselves from the emotional ordeal of the past eight months.

I want to thank all of you for your support and friendship during this period. Every expression of concern, every word of sympathy and encouragement, every act of kindness has meant more to me than I can convey.

I look forward to returning to a more normal routine. I intend to be more of a presence online. I plan to attend more conventions in the coming year. Having re-started the newsletter, I will continue to publish it monthly, with the usual giveaways and previews of upcoming releases. (You can sign up for it here!)

Again my thanks to all of you. It’s good to be back.

What’s Been Going On In My Life

As some of you may remember, back in March I pulled away for a time from all social media. And, as you may have noticed, even now my social media presence remains limited. I haven’t been blogging regularly. I haven’t been sending out my newsletter. I have been far less “chatty” than usual. And there is a reason for all of this.

In March, our older daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

The months since have been the longest and most difficult of my life, and our ordeal is far from over. She is undergoing treatment and has responded well so far. Her spirits are good — remarkably so. She is, as I already knew, one of the bravest, wisest, strongest, most positive people I’ve ever encountered. Even in this most difficult time, I am so very proud of her. And I know that her attitude has been and will continue to be a most potent weapon in her battle. That said, though, the cancer had progressed significantly before it was discovered and she still has a long road ahead of her. We are hopeful in the long-term — we believe we have every reason to be — but again, this is hard.

We are grappling with fear, uncertainty, the sadness that comes with knowing our child — yes, our adult child, but nevertheless — is suffering and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. We are grieving for all we’ve lost as a family. Not because we doubt that she’ll recover. But because, even after she is cancer-free, we will, all of us, live for the rest of our lives fearing a return of the illness. We as a family — not just Alex, not just Nancy and me, but also Erin, our beloved younger daughter — have lost our innocence in a way. We’ll never be the same.

There was a time, early on, when I was exchanging texts with my brother about one development or another, and I wrote something about “Alex’s oncologist.” And I had to pause to say to myself and to him, “Fuck, my daughter has an oncologist.” The past several months have been filled with moments like these. Times when I catch myself saying things no parent ever wants to say and thinking of things I never in my darkest dreams thought I would have to consider.

At times, work has been a balm, and I have been able to lose myself in my writing or the freelance editing I’ve been doing recently. At times, I can’t do anything at all. I have started therapy, which has been wonderful for me. I have continued to exercise and eat well. I have managed not to drink myself into oblivion even once, though I will admit to being tempted on more than one occasion. I sleep moderately well, but often wake up feeling utterly devastated and sick to my stomach. Nancy and I still manage to have fun when we can. We also take turns comforting each other. One day one of us will be okay and the other will be a wreck. The next day we’ve reversed roles.

Mostly, though, we move through life and work and quiet time feeling like we’re wearing those leaded bibs they use at the dentist’s office when you’re getting x-rays. Everything is weighed down. Everything is harder, more wearying. Our tempers are a bit more frayed. Even our best days are only so-so, and our worst days are bleak and seemingly endless.

Before now, I hadn’t wanted to make this sort of public pronouncement. I’m not entirely sure why. Alex has been very open about being sick and has made it clear to the rest of us that she doesn’t consider her illness a secret to be guarded. Maybe I feared “announcing” it would make it feel more real. Though honestly, I don’t know how it could be any more real. Maybe I just wanted to put off the exchanges of messages and comments that will inevitably follow a post like this one. Maybe I wanted to avoid the tears I’ve shed while writing this.

Whatever the reason, I felt that with everything else I’ve pulled back from this year, my cancellation of my appearance at DragonCon warranted an explanation. The fact is, even with all the precautions the convention has taken — and the con committee has been terrific in this regard — I fear exposing myself to the Delta Variant of Covid-19 in advance of a visit with our immunocompromised daughter. I am sorry to miss the convention. I am sorry to disappoint those of you who looked forward to seeing me there. I hope and plan to attend in 2022, when this latest surge in the pandemic is a distant memory, and our daughter is on the mend.

Many of you, I am sure, will want to help in some way. The fact is, there is not much anyone can do right now. I welcome and am grateful for your expressions of support and friendship. I would, however, ask two things of you: 1) Please respect our privacy. I have shared what’s going on with our family. I have no intention of filling in additional details. And 2) Please do not share your cancer stories with me. I know they are kindly meant, and I thank you for your good intentions. I also know they will do nothing to help me, and will in fact increase my anxiety.

Otherwise, I ask only that you spare a positive thought for my daughter, my family, and me.

Thank you so much for reading this. Take care of yourselves. Be kind to one another. Hug the people you love.

Monday Musings: 2020 is the New 1968

Putting on my historian’s cap…

There are certain years in modern history that stand out as significant all on their own. They are so fraught, so filled with resonance and import, that they become both microcosms and embodiments of the periods in which they occur. They typify entire eras.

Arguably, the most prominent example of this is 1968, the capstone of a tumultuous decade. It began with the Tet Offensive at the end of January — a coordinated and devastating attack on key military and civilian positions carried out by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The offensive gave the lie to all the false assurances of “progress” the U.S. military had been offering about the American war effort in Vietnam. In March, the sitting President, Lyndon Johnson, was nearly defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Senator Eugene McCarthy. Weeks later, on the 31st of March, Johnson withdrew from the race, throwing the election into turmoil. On April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, sparking riots in many cities. Only two months after that, Bobby Kennedy, by then the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, was shot and killed as well. Summer saw the chaos of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, with riots in the streets and near brawls within the convention center. In November, former Vice President Richard Nixon narrowly defeated the sitting Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, for the Presidency.

2020 will be remembered and written about the way 1968 is. The pandemic, which introduced the world to “masking” and “social distancing,” and exposed anew the anti-science, anti-“elite” biases of a significant portion of the American public, turned the world upside down. The casualty count — total cases, hospital capacity, deaths from the disease — has become a grim daily reminder of our nation’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the problem, and our national leaders’ incompetence and lack of compassion.

The resulting economic collapse sent shockwaves across the entire globe. Here in the U.S., unemployment spiked, businesses closed, the stock market tanked, rallied, fell again, and now is rallying again, even as the pandemic’s third wave ravages rural communities in nearly every state.

The murders of Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd sparked protests throughout the country, and beyond our borders. These protests, in turn, further exposed the problem of police brutality in countless cities. Confrontations between White vigilantes and police on the one hand, and protesters, Black and White, on the other, turned ugly, violent, and deadly.

At the same time, the nation went through a political campaign like no other, with the pandemic curtailing in-person campaigning and complicating the voting process. We saw the historic nomination and subsequent election of Kamala Harris as our next Vice President. And we watched Donald Trump engage in an unprecedented assault on our democratic norms, that were ultimately unsuccessful, but damaging nevertheless.

Then there were the oddities — shortages of rice and beans, toilet paper and cleaning supplies, bread flour and other staples; restaurants and bars closed for a time (and now closing again); sporting events and entire major league seasons altered, reconfigured, “bubbled;” movies and theater and concerts forsaken.

And, of course, we saw more than our share of tragic and untimely deaths, losing Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis, Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter, Chadwick Boseman and Naya Rivera and countless others.

Every time we thought 2020 couldn’t get crazier or darker, it did. Stress and anxiety afflicted nearly all of us in one form or another. Isolation became its own epidemic.

It goes without saying that future historians will write books about this year. Our grandchildren will ask us questions about the pandemic.

Here are a few things I’ll remember.

Early in April, our older daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, and who was living alone in the bleakest days of New York’s early struggle with COVID, texted me about what it was like living in the city at that point. All she heard, she said, were sirens. “It’s eerie because the streets are otherwise dead. Sirens are the only sound.” Except in the mornings, she added, when all the churches rang their bells. Haunting.

Our younger daughter contracted COVID in September, and I will never forget my fear, my feeling of helplessness, my awareness of the miles between us and the impracticality, even danger, of going to see her and care for her.

The news that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died hit me like a gut punch, and prompted a very real concern that Trump’s replacement, whoever it might turn out to be, would help him steal the election.

I went to bed on election night, thinking that Trump had probably won. The counting of absentee ballots in key states hadn’t yet started, and though I had read enough about the “red mirage” and the “blue shift” to know what to expect, the numbers looked daunting. Waking up Wednesday morning to renewed hope was one of the highlights of the year.

For me, personally, this was a year of physical problems that reminded me of my advancing age. For the first half of 2020 I dealt with debilitating pain in my shoulder that made even the simplest tasks agonizing. The pain is much reduced now, but it’s not yet gone entirely. It was also a year of emotional struggles, though I’m hardly alone in that regard. Anxiety, panic attacks, stress, professional worries: I had enough of these for five years, much less one.

But amid all the sadness and worry, there have also been bright spots. Nancy and I have enjoyed our time together and have truly never been closer. I have made nature walks a feature of my daily routine, allowing myself to birdwatch each morning, and use my camera more often than ever. I have played a lot of guitar (when my shoulder allowed it) and have learned a bunch of new songs. Even with Major League Baseball’s regular season disrupted, and despite the odd spectacle of stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts, the postseason was terrific and rekindled my passion for the game.

Finally, I know this will sound hackneyed, like the worst sort of cliché, but it’s the truth: I feel that I will enter 2021 with a new appreciation for things that I took for granted most of my life. Time with friends and family, the simple pleasure of sitting in a restaurant with my wife and daughters, the opportunity to think once more about travel. We have a long distance to go, as a nation, as a global community. But I believe 2021 will start us on a path to a new normal, something different from what we knew before the pandemic, but something also more comfortable than what we’ve been through these past nine months.

That, in any case, is my hope.

Wishing you a wonderful week.

Beyond the Dark Place: A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

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.

http://www.DavidBCoe.com
https://www.davidbcoe.com/blog/
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://www.facebook.com/david.b.coe

https://www.amazon.com/author/davidbcoe

Justis Fearsson Journal Entry — September 23: A #HoldOnToTheLight post

#HoldOnToTheLightWhen Gail Martin invited me to participate in the #HoldontotheLight campaign, I leapt at the chance and thought immediately of Justis Fearsson, the lead character in my contemporary urban fantasy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson (Spell Blind, His Father’s Eyes, Shadow’s Blade, all from Baen Books). Every book in the series deals with mental health issues, and the magic system itself is build around them. Jay Fearsson is a weremyste. He’s a sorcerer all the time, but every month on the full moon he lapses into temporary insanity and his magic strengthens. Gradually, these moon phasings will drive him permanently insane, as they did his father, also a weremyste.

Magic in Jay’s world is known, but stigmatized, much as mental health problems are in our world, and Jay not only suffers from his own magic-induced illness, he is also a caretaker for his Dad. Magic, of course, is a device, a way into these issues that allows me to write books that are entertaining and edifying at the same time. In the piece that follows, Jay reflects on grappling with his own demons, just as people I love — friends and family — deal with theirs on a daily basis. I wish all of you strength and good health, and I hope that this piece, and our group efforts to #HoldontotheLight, help in some small way. — DBC

*****
If Billie and I ever have kids, and any of them grow up to be weremystes, like me, I’ll tell them about this, my second birthday.

A person can’t be a weremyste without understanding mental illness. Can’t be done. Every month on the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after, we lose our minds, even as our magic strengthens. That the insanity is temporary does nothing to soften the impact of those moon phasings. And over the course of time — no surprise — subjecting our minds to that magical meat grinder does permanent damage.

My dad is a weremyste, a burned-out old sorcerer who’s subject to delusions, hallucinations, and all the rest. I look at him, and I see more than a man with my pale gray eyes and tapered jaw. I see me in thirty years. I see my future, and it’s not pretty.

There isn’t one of us who hasn’t put something to his or her head in the middle of a phasing. A bottle of cheap bourbon, a crack pipe, a pistol. I’ve never tried crack, but the other two . . . Yeah, I’ve drunk my way through a lot of full moons, and I’ve rested the muzzle of my Glock against my temple more times than I care to count. It’s a miracle that I’m still alive.

But what set September 23, 2007 apart from all the other times was that it didn’t fall on a full moon. We were still three nights shy of the first night of the phasing.

It wasn’t temporary insanity than put the pistol in my hand. I don’t have that excuse.

I didn’t have Billie in my life back then. I was new to the Phoenix police force and really wasn’t holding it together too well, what with trying to take care of my dad and stumbling from one phasing to the next. I couldn’t confide in my partner, Kona, because at that point she didn’t know I was a weremyste, and I wasn’t ready to confess all. And I was staring down the barrel of yet another phasing.

That night, I’d had enough. I was weary to my very soul. I couldn’t imagine weathering another full moon, much less a lifetime of them. I was filled with dread and self-loathing and I just wanted a way out, no matter how extreme or final. I wouldn’t say I was at my best or even fully cogent. But as I say, I didn’t have the excuse of the moon phasing. This was me, unvarnished, face to face with the worst of my demons.

So, why am I still alive? Why am I able to celebrate today as a second “birthday”? I wish I could point to some heart-warming epiphany that made me put down the Glock and pull my shit together. I wish I would say that I thought of how much I love my father and knew I couldn’t leave him alone, or that I realized God loved me and so understood my self-worth and my place in the world. But I don’t think life works that way. It certainly didn’t for me.

No, it was darker than that. I imagined Kona finding my body. I imagined her having to drive out to Wofford, where my Dad has his trailer, and explain to him what had happened. What I had done. I tried to piece together that conversation in my head; I thought of her fighting through his dementia, making him understand that I was dead, a suicide.

Okay, maybe it was that I love him. But there were no angels signing, no fanfare of trumpets, nothing beautiful or dramatic or romantic about it. I chose not to kill myself because I wasn’t willing to put the people I care about through the pain of dealing with my mess.

Only later on, a couple of months down the road, did I come to appreciate how close I had come to  doing something unspeakable. And by that time, Kona and I were getting along better. I had started to confide in her. Namid, the Runemyste who guides my magical training, had come into my life and forced me to see my powers as something other than a burden. I’d started to work on improving my relationship with my Dad and, lo and behold, on those rare days when he was coherent, he responded by opening up a little.

In other words, life got better. Not turn-my-world-around better. But it was progress nevertheless. The phasings still sucked. There was no way around that. And yet, even they weren’t quite so bad. I managed to get through more and more of them without reaching for a fifth of Jack, or wondering where I’d left my weapon.

My second birthday didn’t Change Everything. Really it changed nothing. All that happened was I hit bottom and managed to keep myself from pulling the trigger. That was enough, though. Because we get better. We learn to cope. We love and we live and we fight the battles that need to be fought.

I don’t have a lot of answers. When my son or daughter wrestles with his or her demons, I won’t have any magical solutions for them — pun intended. I’ll just be able to tell them what I learned all those years ago. Every day we refuse to give up, is another day we win.

*****
About the campaign:

#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, Home 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 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
https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/