Dear reader, I want us to get well.
I want us to shut out all the voices in our culture that treat mental illness
as a mark of shame, that equate taking medication with being weak. I am not weak.
I’ve defended a PhD to a hostile committee, looked down a mugger’s gun barrel,
and walked two miles with a blood clot lodged in my heart. I know what “tough
it out” means. I have depression and anxiety, but I am not weak and neither are
you. Even the strongest people need medicine.
My brain has always been a problem.
From time to time, the light switch gets stuck in the OFF position. In my late twenties – when I
couldn’t sleep until 3am or get out of bed before 3pm or pay the electric bill
without shaking -- I finally went to see a doctor. Diagnosis: Moderate
Depression. They gave me a mild anti-depressant. Lovely, I thought. My brain is a bit mis-wired, but now it’s fine. And it was
fine, or at least okay-ish, kind of, until this year. For various reasons –
stress, biology, wrong medication - my neurochemical switches shorted out so badly
that I had to be hospitalized.
Now it was Major Depressive Disorder
with Anxiety and PTSD. (Someday I’ll write more about that last part.)
I left the hospital with a handful of new prescriptions and a binder full of
new coping mechanisms. Sure, I was still waist deep in a sucking peat bog, but
now I had a life jacket and a rope. I’d be fine.
But it wasn’t long before I was
armpit deep and sinking fast. The first set of meds did nothing but keep me awake. The second set of meds gave
me an eight hour panic attack. The third set dulled the despair, but they muted
all my other feelings too, feelings I needed like love and hope, even my
ability to taste food.
Every four weeks, I waited for forty-five minutes so I could
have my five minutes with the psychiatrist. He frowned at his notes, frowned at
me, and scribbled a new script before rushing off to the next patient. My life became one long chemistry experiment.
Through it all I went to therapy,
did my journaling, and remembered to take deep, calming breaths. I joined a
gym. I prayed. I practiced self-care. These things kept me treading water, but the
bog was slowly pulling me back in.
My psychologist saved my life. She
listened. She insisted I make a safety plan and either
stick to it or go back to the hospital. She taught me what real self-care
looked like. (No FB, it’s not just a mani-pedi now and then.) She pushed me to tell her how I was really doing
when I said, “I’m okay. I’m managing.” Eventually, she leaned forward and said,
“You’re doing everything you’re supposed to. This has to be neuro-chemical.
Nothing in therapy is going to work if we can’t get your basic chemistry right.”
She gave me a referral to a different psychiatrist and insisted that I make the
call from her office – a smart move since ten to one I wouldn’t have bothered
on my own. What was the point? Nothing worked. “Tell them I referred you,” she
said. “Tell them it’s urgent.” It’s probably a scam to get me to see her buddy,
I thought, but I dialed anyway.
The new psychiatrist canceled her
own day off to fit me into her schedule. She listened for an hour and made eye
contact. “Why are you on these old fashioned medicines?” she said. “There are
much better meds now. And we have to get you off generics.” She explained that
not all generics are made to the same standards, so a switch from one supplier
to another can change your dosage without you ever knowing. She gave me the first
two weeks of the new medicine for free and said to call immediately if I got
worse. “You should see results in a week,” she said. I left her office torn
between throwing the new drugs in the trash and hugging them like a life preserver.
It’s been over a month since I
started taking the new medication. Somewhere around day five, I looked at my
work email and didn’t have a panic attack. A few days later, I remembered what
it was like to laugh, just a little, without bitterness. Three days in a row
after that I woke up happy – not high, not euphoric, just happy. Able to get
out of bed without a struggle. Today I woke up grumpy and that’s good too.
Being stuck in PollyAnna land isn’t any healthier than being stuck in
depression, but having a regular old grouch because the cat pissed on the floor
is. The meds aren’t forcing me to feel a specific way; they’re allowing me to
feel what I really feel in response to the world around me.
Listen to me – I know good writing
is vivid because it’s specific, but I’ve avoided telling you which meds I’m on,
which meds worked and which ones didn’t. I did this because my brain isn’t your
brain. Don’t walk away from this thinking “Drug X is bad, but drug Y will cure
me.” That’s not how it works. The drug that made my hands shake might be the
one that flips your switches back to the healthy setting. Or vice versa. You
need a qualified psychiatrist who listens carefully and knows the science.
If you can’t remember what it’s
like to laugh, if anxiety is your daily companion, if you can’t shut out the
thoughts about dying, if sharp objects fascinate and terrify you because you
know exactly where you’d hurt yourself with them, if everything is a dull and
empty blur – see a doctor. See two or three if you have to. Go to the ER. Tell
someone just how bad it is. Plug your ears against the negative labels –
depression lies and so do people who think you don’t need help. If you’re worn
to the very last frazzled end of your rope, start screaming for help until someone
listens and gives you what you need. There is a way out of the swamp. There are
medications that will turn the lights back on.
I almost didn’t
publish this. Even as I hit “publish” I’m worrying that people I work with will
see this, that it will hurt my career. But I’m publishing anyway because in the
last two weeks I’ve heard of five more suicides. Please don’t die, dear reader.
Stay alive long enough to make one more phone call.
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, 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.
Here Ed explains his own, unusual take on the zombie genre, in his story for The Big Bad II.
The Story Behind “Feels Like Justice to Me”
I’ve long avoided writing about anything within a thousand
miles of the zombie genre because I felt like there wasn’t anything new to say
on the subject. I’ve run into a few great stories, a slew of bad ones, and
enough competent ones to feel like what ought to be said on the subject already
hasbeen said. I’ve immensely enjoyed
the best of them (the original Night of the Living Dead was brilliant, Carry
Ryan has done exceptional work in both novels and short stories, and I’ve devoured
(pardon the pun) The Walking Dead, both the TV show and the graphic novels). But
a lot of writers are beating what’s starting to feel like a dead horse, and
even if that horse comes back to life and starts eating people… well, okay, I
think I would actually consider reading a story about that, but you really do to
have to go that far out there to hold
my attention any more.
Inevitably, tragically, karmicly, once you express a sentiment
like that, the muses will punish you with what feels like an original idea that
you simply must explore.
So there I was, with an angle I could get excited about. But
then, I always have a variety of ideas nibbling at the fringes of my ADD-riddled
brain, and although I dabbled with a draft or two of this particular idea,
nothing seemed to come alive for me in that way I need it to in order to see things
through to the end.
That’s when an open submission call for Big Bad 2 was
announced. The first book had already been published and I really wanted an
opportunity to work with the editors, John and Emily, as well as to see my own
stuff in a table of contents along with other invited authors whose work I
admired. I also immediately saw that it would not be difficult to shift the POV
character in this zombie-idea of mine from the ‘good guy’ to the ‘bad guy.’ In
fact, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that switching POVs would
make for an even stronger story. Getting inside this ‘bad guy’s’ head and
seeing him commit extreme acts of violence against his fellow humans in order
to protect a zombie—and feel completely justified in doing so—was a darkly
fascinating exercise. I’m not sure what that says about me as a writer or a human
being, but it was absolutely fascinating.
So a big thanks to Emily and John for conceiving the Big Bad
concept in the first place. You always hear the advice that every character should
be the hero of their own story, even the bad guy, so as anthologies go, The Big
Bad is one of those ideas that seems simultaneously brilliant and obvious—so
obvious that you have to ask why no one else thought of it sooner. But then
that’s the true test of genius, isn’t it? It always seems so obvious… in
I also have to give a shout out of thanks to Emily, who,
during the editing phase, pointed out that the revelation of certain
information would be more effective if presented later in the story, and she
was 100% correct. It may seem like a small detail, but the details can make all
the difference. Her (accurate) argument was that revealing key information too
soon ran the risk of making the main character sympathetic, and we weren’t
going for sympathetic, we were going for horrible-but-relatable. That’s
actually no small detail; it’s a vital one.
In a similar vein, many thanks go to James Maxey, who read
an earlier draft of the story and pointed out the absence of other key piece of
information: the main character’s underlying motivation for doing what he was
doing. On one level I felt justified in making the argument that since the primary
‘good guy’ never finds out, the reader ought not to know either. But James
correctly observed that since we were seeing this story unfold through the mind
of the man committing such inexcusable acts of violence, it would feel to the
reader like a cheat not to know, too. Plus, it wasn’t really all that difficult
to let the reader know without revealing anything to the other characters.
I hated James for that. The problem there—for me as an
author, anyway—was that I honestly didn’t know the answer to James’ question.
Why? Yes, I knew the surface reason for his killings, but not the story behind
the character’s story. So back to the
drawing board I went. The new material I produced only amounted to a paragraph
or two, but it was the hardest part of writing this story (which is probably why
I was subconsciously avoiding it). (Writer’s Tip #413: If you ever find
yourself writing a story but avoiding something, take that as a clue: it’s
important stuff and your brain knows it--and has gone into hiding to avoid the
I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that I’ve bent over backward
trying to provide insight into the creation of my story without providing
spoilers. This is simply one of those stories that works best if you don’t know
ahead of time what’s coming. Well… let me restate that. You pretty much know
exactly what’s coming. Corpses, and lots of them; both the living variety and
the dead variety. The joy is digging down into the ‘why’ of the thing. That’s
the part I want you to discover for yourself; the part I’m being so intentional
But then that’s kind of the point of these essays, isn’t it:
to make you want to read the story. I hope you do, because I honestly feel like
it’s one of the best things I’ve written in a long time. I can always tell when
a story is going to turn out well because I have a lot of fun writing it.
Hopefully you’ll have as much fun reading it.
Of course, if you do, you’re a sick fuck. But there’s not
much I can do about that.