Tag Archives: mental health

Monday Musings: So Many Of Us Just Coping — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

So, I don’t know where this post is going. I feel it’s important to make that clear up front. And I also want to say that, all things considered, I am doing pretty well right now. Our older daughter’s health is stable, and she is active, happy, enjoying her work and her friends. Our younger daughter is settling in to a new life out in Colorado with her love. She has an interesting job, a nice apartment, and the excitement of beginning a new chapter. And Nancy and I are solid as ever, partners in all we do, as always able to laugh and talk and enjoy each other’s company.

But I have been reflecting on the simple truth that life is just hard. Yeah, I know: quite the revelation.

I remember when I was younger, and I would go through a rough patch and think, “I just want life to get back to normal,” by which I seemed to mean a place where things were easy and smooth and not filled with heartache.

The naïveté of youth.

I’m not trying to get all existential, nor do I wish to say I think life is nothing but a slog through grief and worry and difficulty. Because I don’t. Life is wondrous. I have spent the last thirty-plus years (and intend to spend the next thirty-plus years) living with someone who is my best friend as well as the love of my life. I have two incredible daughters. I have the privilege of writing stories for a living. I have family and friends whom I adore. Life is good.

But it’s hard. Everywhere I look, I see friends and family — people I care about — dealing with loss, grief, tragedy, heartbreak. And, perhaps because I’m older now, and a bit wiser, a bit more jaded, I understand that this is life. There is no normal. The easy, smooth moments are the exceptions. In the last week or so alone, I have learned of one friend heading into a messy, difficult divorce. I have word from another that they are sick with a serious illness. And still another is dealing with as-yet-undetermined health issues. Less than a month ago, Nancy lost her mom. Our family — immediate and extended — have ongoing medical issues to deal with. Moreover, quite apart from all the other stuff, the pandemic has taken its toll. So has the ongoing right-wing assault on our democracy. And the epidemic of gun violence. Etc., etc., etc.

I could go on, but I actually don’t mean for the litany to become the point. Nor do I wish to extract from my readers expressions of sympathy. This stuff is happening to all of us, and I really am doing all right.

The point is not the difficulty, but rather the coping.

And I believe this brings us back to where I started, because I think dealing with the challenges life presents begins with acknowledging them, with having compassion both for ourselves and for those around us. I am part of an online writing group that keeps in touch via emails in which we share news, ask one another for advice, offer and seek moral support in times of difficulty, and even ask for word-of-mouth help in publicizing new releases and such. Recently, activity on that mailing list had slowed to a trickle and someone sent out a message asking if, after many years of activity, our group had finally given up.

No, came one reply. I’m still here. Just struggling with career issues, and pandemic exhaustion, and some personal problems.

Me, too, said another member. Still here. But I have a lot going on.

Same.

Same.

Same.

Before long, a bunch of us had checked in, reaffirming our enthusiasm for being in the group, but also confiding about all we had been through over the past few years. It was simultaneously warming and chilling. So many of us happy for even this small opportunity to reach out and reconnect, so many of us struggling with life issues that threatened to overwhelm.

I believe our tiny online community is reflective of something going on all over the country, all over the world. And I think my point in writing today is this: Life is hard. Life right now is REALLY hard. It’s all right to reach out. It’s all right to make ourselves vulnerable in that way. More, it’s all right to reach back, to be compassionate, to share and confide and commiserate and try to make others feel better. That, it seems to me, is a positive way to confront life’s challenges.

Twice now I have said I am doing okay. The third time makes it true (at least that’s how stuff works in the Celtic urban fantasy I’m working on . . .). I am.

And I hope you are, too.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Shutting Out the World

I have struggled some in recent weeks to come up with topics for my Monday Musings posts. One reason for this: I don’t want to overload readers with essays about family issues and mental health, though both are much in my thoughts these days. A second reason, I realized today, is that I have, in the interests of my own well-being, shut out current events from much of my thinking. If you look back through my posts in 2020 and early 2021, I wrote a lot about the state of the world and the state of our nation. This year, not so much.

It’s not that I have blocked out all news. I listen to NPR every morning. I check headlines daily. I have not stuck my head in the proverbial sand. But neither am I obsessing over world events right now.

And can you blame me?

Republicans are poised to take back both houses of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections. They have gerrymandered their way to disproportionate representation. They continue to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election. They attack the Administration and its progressive allies for rising energy and food prices, knowing full well that these are not the Administration’s fault. They exploit cultural conflicts over race and gender identity for their own cynical purposes, endangering the safety of Blacks, trans youth, educators, and medical professionals. And their tactics are working, so they have no incentive to stop.

Vladimir Putin is playing the most dangerous game of Russian Roulette since the Cuban Missile Crisis, moving the planet closer to global nuclear conflict than at any time since the end of the Cold War. He and his generals are responsible for heinous war crimes — genocide, some would argue — in Ukraine. And despite fighting valiantly for their freedom, their homes, their families, their very lives, the Ukrainian army likely cannot hold out indefinitely. The end game will be hideous and horrifying.

The planet is dying. There is no softening that reality. It’s dying. The wildfire season has already begun in the Western U.S. — months earlier than usual — and it promises to be historically bad. Again.

Prices are rising, thanks to Putin’s war. And the stock market is tanking. Each month, we receive our brokerage statements, the latest figures on our retirement savings, and we file them away without looking at them. There’s nothing we can do, and we have no intention of getting out of the market, so . . . It’ll rebound eventually, right? Right??

But by all means, let’s all get our panties in a twist over yet another egotistical billionaire buying yet another social media platform.

Yeah, so this is why I have been avoiding current affairs topics in my Monday Musings posts. I don’t have the energy. I would never say I don’t care. I do. I care passionately. But I feel like there is nothing I can do that will make a significant difference. I can give to international aid organizations. And I do. I can give to environmental groups and to progressive candidates. And I do. I can drive a Prius and use LED bulbs and set the house thermostats with energy conservation in mind. I do all those things.

But like so many people — perhaps like you — I am weary. I have too much on my personal plate right now. Family crises, work deadlines, things I have to get done, things I want to do. Last weekend, while at a convention, I might have been exposed to Covid. I’ve taken a couple of tests this week, the most recent today. Both negative. I’m probably fine, thank goodness. I will admit, though — and I’m not proud of this — that a tiny part of me hoped the test would be positive, giving me an excuse to just stop and rest and do nothing.

In a way, this post has wound up being about current affairs after all. Because the truth is, I am far from alone in feeling the way I do. We as a society are exhausted. And that exhaustion manifests as both apathy and irascibility. Many of us want to shut out the world. And when we can’t, many of us turn to contentiousness, to behavior that serves only to deepen divides that are already too deep.

Spring is here. Our little corner of the Cumberland Plateau is exploding with color right now: the myriad greens of young leaves, the whites of Dogwoods, the pinks of Wild Azaleas, the brilliant reds and yellows and blues of migrating tanagers, warblers, and buntings.

Covid is less of a threat that it was this winter, and warmer temperatures should mitigate the dangers even more. The housing market is beginning to normalize, which might help calm inflation in the months to come.

Maybe the fire season will prove less destructive than feared. Maybe Putin’s war effort will continue to fall short of his ambitions, leading him to settle for a partial victory rather than total conquest. Maybe the midterms won’t be quite the bloodbath some anticipate.

The fact is, as bad as things seem right now, they could be worse. They could always be worse. And in the meantime, there is beauty in the world. In the colors of spring, in the love of family and friends, in creativity, in work well done, in down-time enjoyed.

And this, in the end, is why I have chosen to avoid a certain kind of post this year. Life has been hard, but it also continues to be good. As I age, I find myself gaining a level of perspective I lacked as a younger man, when I was a sky-is-falling kind of guy. I don’t want to focus on the bad and the hard and the tragic. That stuff is always there for us, if that’s where we want our minds to go. These days, I choose a different emphasis.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Thoughts About My Upcoming Appearance at JordanCon

This coming weekend, I will be attending JordanCon in Atlanta. There I will see many friends — colleagues as well as fans. I will sell some books, talk about writing, both on panels and informally over drinks and meals, and catch up with people who have been out of my life for too long. We will all be masked, of course. The con organizers are taking no chances, and I’m grateful to them for that.

JordanCon will not be my first convention of the year — that was Boskone back in February. But somehow this one feels like the start of the convention season. It is the first of several appearances I’ll be making this summer and fall — JordanCon, ConCarolinas, LibertyCon, DragonCon, Hampton Roads Writers Conference, perhaps World Fantasy Convention.

And I have to say, I am more excited for this set of conventions and workshops than I have been in several years. I think part of it is my pent up need to interact with people, to be in a professional setting (as opposed to on a professional Zoom call). Another part of it is the simple fact that I miss my friends. For instance, I haven’t hung out with Faith Hunter in ages. And for those of you who don’t know, Faith is this year’s Literary Guest of Honor at JordanCon. I will be “interviewing” her at the Guest of Honor event Saturday morning of the convention. It should be tremendous fun. (11:30 AM — be there!)

I am, generally speaking, an outgoing person. I enjoy conventions. I enjoy talking to fans and discussing craft and business issues on panels. Since the pandemic began, I have struggled more than ever with my anxiety, and have found myself shying from contact with large groups. I’ve had to force myself to be social and I’ve battled nerves before the few events I have done.

In other words, I haven’t felt like myself, and I’ve hated it. I’m ready to be out in the world again, among people I know and care about and respect. I look at these upcoming conventions and such as more than professional obligations, more than promotional opportunities. They’re a step toward renewed emotional health.

Yes, that’s a lot to ask of a speculative fiction convention, and maybe I’m loading too many expectations onto JordanCon and other events. But really, I’m placing those expectations on myself. As I have said in other posts recently, this spring has been a time for me to come out of my emotional bunker. Life remains complicated for my family and me. On the other hand, as I look around, I see a world filled with people coping with issues of one sort or another. It used to be, when I found myself in the midst of trying times, I would look forward to “normal life” when the difficulties subsided.

I have come to realize there is no such beast. “Normal” as I envisioned it was a time without problems, without stuff going wrong. And that’s not realistic. “Normal life” is complicated in one way or another. Pretty much always. I don’t mean to sound grim. I’m not being Eeyore. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m finding that the hard stuff is a little easier to deal with when I understand that all of us struggle, that no matter how bad one part of life might seem at any given moment, I am not alone, and there is almost invariably another part of life that is good, great even.

This coming weekend, I will begin in earnest to put this perspective into practice.

For those of you who will be at the convention — and I hope to see many of you there — I will be on the following panels (with times and hotel venues):

“Economics of Publishing: How Does It All work?” — Friday, 8:30pm, Conference Center

“I’ve Written Something. Now What?” — Saturday, 10:00am, Conference Center

“Author Guest of Honor Spotlight: With GoH Faith Hunter” — Saturday, 11:30am, Dunwoody

“Outlining vs. Pantsing: What are the Benefits and Drawbacks?” — Sunday, 10:00am, Conference Center

“Pro-Tip: What I Wish I’d Known” — Sunday 1:00pm — Conference Center

Southern Red Trillium, by David B. CoeWhen I am not in these panels, I will be at my table in Author’s Alley, signing and selling books. I also plan to have with me some of the new photographic cards I wrote about recently. Please feel free to come by and say hello. Yes, I’ll be working, but I also welcome the chance to catch up. And maybe I’ll convince you to buy a book or two!

In the meantime, have a great week!

Monday Musings: The Things We Care About, a #HoldOntoTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

I honestly don’t know where this post is going, and so please bear with me as I work through my tangled thoughts.

I am struck today — as I ponder a life that is both fraught and wonderful, complicated and strikingly simple, weighted with deep worries and buoyed by simple yet profound pleasures — by the oddity of the things we choose to care about minute to minute, day to day, year to year.

As many of you know, last year our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Her initial treatments went well, her maintenance regimen has been harder to pin down and she recently had a small setback — minor, but with cancer nothing is truly minor.

I suffer from anxiety anyway, and so any change for the worse in her situation can send me into a tailspin. The truth is, lots of things, big and small, can send me into a tailspin, but I am hardly unique in that regard. And when it comes right down to it, I am not convinced my anxiety explains the emotional phenomena with which I’m grappling in today’s post.

Perhaps an example will help me clarify my topic and allow you to follow along as I muse and ponder. I find — and this is nothing new — that one moment I can be focused on my daughter’s health, or something else of equal importance and solemnity, and the next I can be completely put out by my inability to solve the day’s Wordle puzzle in four guesses instead of five. A frivolous, even absurd, example to be sure, but I offer it in all seriousness. The frivolity is kind of the point.

This has been a difficult couple of years to say the least. I often begin my morning walks mired in dark thoughts, consumed with worry about my kid, or the state of the world, or, for a long time, the persistence of the pandemic. And then I will spot a hawk along the trail, or a warbler will pop up and start to sing in plain view, and I will be filled with happiness. Fleeting perhaps, but not any less powerful for its brevity.

We can be resilient creatures, we humans. And I do think some of what I’m writing about is resilience. Part of it might be as well the simple reality that our emotions demand respite. It can be exhausting living with worry or with grief. Many of us, myself included, live with anxiety or depression or other mental health issues, and these conditions can compound that weariness. Many of us struggle to find those moments of pleasure, those glimpses of resilience.

But the fact is, our minds — or at least my mind — seem to seek out breaks from the toughest issues. How else can I explain being consumed with the threat of global climate change one moment, and truly caring who wins the Tottenham v. Manchester City soccer match the next? How can I worry about my children, or the health of my in-laws, and also care whether I solve the puzzle on my phone in the allotted sixty seconds?

Do our minds do this to preserve our sanity? Ophthalmologists tell us that we can ease strain on our eyes when sitting in front of our computers by taking a few minutes periodically to focus on something farther away. Isn’t that what our brains do, too?

Okay, so I’m nearly six hundred words in to this post, and I still haven’t figured out what the hell I want to say. I suppose I am trying to explain to myself how my own coping mechanisms work. I know that for me, constant worry is debilitating. The intrusions of the frivolous save me from myself. I care about Wordle not because it matters, but because in making it matter, I force myself to look elsewhere, to focus on something other than the hard stuff right in front of me. I allow myself the pleasure of a bird sighting — or a song well played on my guitar, or a successful photograph — because without such pleasures my world would be a bleaker place.

I suppose I am merely describing distractions, which all of us have. And perhaps what I’m actually doing, in public, and in a roundabout way, is giving myself permission to be distracted. Because, I have to admit, in the depths of my legitimate worries, I am embarrassed by the trivial things I care about. Resilience. Distraction. Fun. Pleasure. Joy. When we confront serious matters — including life and death matters — these things can feel wrong, like violations of self-imposed gravity. How dare I take pleasure in a new music CD when my kid is dealing with cancer. How dare I care about a soccer match, or a Wordle puzzle, when the world is in crisis.

The thing is, though, without all those pursuits that delight and distract and bring joy, why does anything else matter? We help no one when we deny ourselves simple pleasures. Because they not only are born of resilience, they also promote it. And without resilience we are of no use to the people who need us, to a world that demands our attention and our compassion.

Perhaps this post is one long rationalization, a way to convince myself it’s okay for me to have fun now and then. But I think it’s more. In the depths of difficult times, I believe we need to remind ourselves to take joy when and where we can. Life is hard. We face no shortage of excuses to be sad or frightened or angry. Our humanity demands we also create opportunities to find happiness and peace, even if just for a short while.

Wishing you wonderful week.

 

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.