How I Wrote Myself Out of Depression!
In the summer of 2009, close to one year into my new job, my mother suffered 5 strokes back-to-back in a three month time period. In fact, she had a first massive stroke the day after her birthday that July. The universe definitely made sure that we remembered!
The battle to regain my mother post-stroke(s) started that summer, but little did I know that the battles would wage even wider — extending to me — as I came face to face with what only seemed to exist on television: depression or at least the version that showed up in my life. I lost sleep for close to nine months, isolated myself away from everyone where I wanted to be in my one bedroom apartment (eating, watching tv, and listening to music crying most times in the dark questioning God), feeling abandoned in the world with my mother unable to remember the last 50 years given the significant brain injury from a stroke, and perhaps the most deflating thing for an aspiring writer like me — losing the interest to write.
I could lie and say that I did some extensive vegetarian or juicing program, or took some happy pill that had me back in the chair writing again like a pro…but that would.be.a.straight.lie. July and August all the chaos erupted. By September, I was barely sleeping one hour a day merely laying in bed in my back room, listening to the drone of the tv as I cried — quite often — wondering why me, why my mother, and why our lives had fallen apart. The nights seemed to run together as the weeks and months seemed to drone on, by and by and by alone. It wasn’t really until early November that I finally got the nerve, the courage, and a half of an ounce of will to return to my desk and even fathom picking up the pen; to write.
The truth is, I only sat down because I hate telling people I will do something and then not follow through. So after agreeing to meet a friend in December to talk about our book proposals, I figured I better keep my end of the bargain — — I followed through, later that week after the collegial agreement. I went to work, I cleaned off my desk, I neatly arranged my pen and paper as I thought to myself over and over, how am I going to do this? What if I don’t like writing again. Can’t I go home and just try tomorrow? No one will even care about this woman’s story, nor my writing…At that moment, I thought to myself about the one person who would care and always cared up through to the strokes; that was my mother. So I shifted the perspective and asked myself, what would my mother suggest that I do? And, looking back a few tips seemed to emerge in getting me out of the initial fog:
- Be Intentional: Find A Focus!
I don’t know why, but as I sat trying to figure my writing future out at that desk that December, I recalled my mom telling me that she thought I had been chosen to tell the story of this woman being thrown off a slave ship. I looked at what I had cut originally from the book and then I saw the entire murder case with a new set of eyes. At that point this woman, her suffering, the ocean, and thinking how best to tell her story became a productive distraction. I still was not the most confident this would get me back writing, but I used the nudge at hand and became clear in my focus. By being open to a way out I was able to see more clearly the necessary path ahead.
2. Get Up, Get Out & Do Something: Set Deadlines!
I love Outkast and Goodie M.O.B, and so for me the “you need to get up, get out and do something” is what I had to held to in order to remind myself to not stay at home isolated from all things including writing. If we sit around talking about what we need to do, complaining about the world rather than doing it, we could never be fully inspired. For me, I chose a professional conference in order to present my ideas publicly. I submitted an abstract based on the woman’s case and prayed and hoped that I would find the courage and words to tell her story. I figured by choosing somewhere beyond my desk, that would require my sharing the story. It would get me out of my head, out of my apartment, city, it would set deadlines, force me to engage with readers, listeners and other writers and most of all remind me how to return back to the art of storytelling. — — — The other trick that I was using, knowing my personal competitive edge and essentially how it is that I work, was to create firm deadlines to both get me back into the writing game, and also keep me writing and engaged.
3. Be Ready & Willing: Re-Entering Society!
The one thing looking back that I realize I should have prepared myself for was the public audience. Having to justify intellectual ideas, be around people, travel, explain why this woman’s story mattered, and what I had been up to over the semester and the past year. I never enjoyed having my life on full display for others interest, so I kept the focus on the work in order to keep me sane in many regards. I couldn’t tell anyone that I yearned to crawl in the bed all the time, and that I was only there sharing ideas simply this story was not my own. What I did not fully account for was the push back on why this woman’s story mattered either! That question lingered in the conference and later when I submitted the essay to a journal for publication consideration. The reader’s report received I received later essentially told me that learning about the death of this overthrown woman offered very little value in historical learning. It was at that point that I realized that I was no longer in the comfort of my mind, my ideas, and my clarity but the price of the ticket for re-entering and re-engaging meant having strength to stand strong and fight back on what I believed.
4. Dust Your Shoulders Off: Everybody Gets Rejected!
Rejection happens to everyone in some fashion. It is the basis of writing. How best to learn from it is personal, but use it to your advantage in relighting the fire. I was furious, hurt, and I took somethings personal that were not personal at all. I became almost too invested in the story most when I went going home crying about the rejection from several journals that saw absolutely no value in sharing and thus publishing this story. I could have given up. In fact, I am sure with the right conversation with a few haters I may have put that woman’s story on the shelf for good. But did not. Being who I am, I rechanneled the energy reminding myself that like my mother said, this woman’s story had to be told. I needed to be relentless in telling and seeing her story through to publication. That rejection became the key to the expansion of my career once, and only when, I went with the universal flow.
5. Stop Asking for Permission: Be Grown About Your Future!
There comes a time you have to make decisions for the future you envision. For me, staring at the most scathing rejection I had ever seen, I made a call to some friends and asked them to look at the report and to find what, if anything, was of value. In doing so, I walked away and gave myself barely two weeks to make the decision on re-submitting or moving down the list of other publication options. Once I decided there was nothing of value there, I repackaged the article and sent it it this time to an overseas journal. Doing so, I set my career up in the most profound and unexpected way by going somewhere unexpected; to a British journal. Going the typical American path to publication could have cost anywhere between 2–4+years, but taking a leap and believing in this woman’s story, I sent the essay in December 2010 and it was out close to 9 months later. Looking back, I continue to learn that we all have to be grown about our decisions in life and most of all in writing career, we have to be crystal clear on what we want to do and the career we want to have.
6. Celebrate, Good Times: Remember the Feeling!
When the page proofs on the essay came, I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to share with everyone what was forthcoming. I told colleagues, friends, and neighbors…but what I did not tell them was that this woman’s tragedy became my ticket back to some sense of professional normalcy. That it took having to go even further into the depths of darkness in my own life through depression to even understand the glimpse of how homicide operated in history and at sea. By August 2011, merely a year and a half since the spiral of life through my mother’s strokes, I knew what it took but the vow I made to myself and to the woman whose story I had been chosen to tell took precedent. — — When we write we write for ourselves and sometimes others, but in publishing what I learned most was staying mindful of the purpose of what we do. As time has gone on, perhaps most enduring in the learning process is to remember all the feelings that create important writing — the sadness, the uncertainty, the pain, the angst, the boldness, the confidence, and the sheer drive to take a gamble and just write!
7. The Spinning Broken Record: Starting Over!
Life lifts us up, breaks us apart, and mends us back together through the experiences, the moments, the lessons, the connections, heartaches, and chances taken. Starting over is the hardest thing but post-publication, post-intensity of life’s chaos — we all start over. My starting over still continues every single day, but the record of writing and living and thriving will forever and always start and stop. We will be forced to start over with new ideas, new possibilities, new fears, and new swirls of confidence if merely because you want to be fresh in topic and approach. I still believe, it is the how we cope with the shock and excitement of much in life that matters most. My way out through depression with words, writing, and herstorical telling is still a constant dig to keep flowing, to keep learning, to keep getting questioned and rejected, and to most of all getting back up for myself and finding the unexpected gems on our path that guide us back to our center.
I share these few tips not to say that they will work, nor to say that depression ever really left me, but to share and to engage on the process and to share that we are not alone. We all live with scars that can trigger moments and relapses even in the world of writing. For myself I have continued to learn, to live, to fight my way out by writing. I hope all that read these lines and part of a story, that you find forever in your words and your writing.