Robin Williams and The Never-Ending Battle Against Depression

medium_3462043780Hearing the news of Robin William’s apparent suicide hit me the way I’m sure it hit many others who have suffered, or still suffer, from depression. It made me think about my own moments of darkness and hopelessness when I seriously considered taking the pills or slashing open my wrists to make it all end. I’ve spent the past five years writing a book about such moments, so I’m still glued into them like they happened to me yesterday.

What some people may not know about me is that I continue to fight off feelings of depression, as well as anxiety, on a daily basis. Although I identify as someone who has recovered from the worst of my mental illnesses, these things never truly go away. There’s the constant fear of a relapse, the fear that anything (or nothing) could pull me back in. There are the continued pains and fears and worries that haunt me even on the best of days.

Depression distorts your thoughts. It makes the world black and white. It sucks all the light and air out of you. Maybe there’s something that triggered it, something that brought you to that point. Sometimes there’s no reason, and that’s even worse somehow. You just want the pain to stop. People don’t understand what’s wrong with you. They tell you to just smile, to just be happy. You reach the point when you can’t think of any alternatives because it’s gone on for so long and you’ve already tried everything to make it better. It feels like it will never get better, like it will never end.

Some people have suggested that Robin Williams should have just asked for help. I’m sure he did. I asked for help too when I was a teenager. I got all the help money and insurance could buy. Help got me medications that made me feel sick and worse, therapists who were incompetent and uncaring, and a month-long psych hospitalization that did little other than prevent me from going through with my plan to kill myself. Help also eventually got me a therapist who cared about me and saved my life, the right combination of medications that balanced what was imbalanced, and even an alternative high school that provided me the resources I needed to recover and graduate.

Help can be good, and it can be bad. It’s not fool-proof, and it’s not perfect.

The best thing we can do for people suffering from depression is to be empathetic and open-minded. We can offer help and hope it does what it’s supposed to. We can listen, care, and try to understand. Depression is an illness. It’s a disease. No one asks for it, and no one wants it. Overcoming it can be be the hardest thing you ever do. Not everyone is lucky enough to make it.

I was lucky, and I hope I continue to be lucky. I have more resources, more experience, and more love and support than I did at the worst of my depression. But Robin shows us that you can have so much – a family, friends, a meaningful career, an enduring sense of humor – and still lose it all to depression. That’s how powerful it is. That’s how real it is.

Let’s not allow this conversation about depression and suicide to pass as our attentions wander to new tragedies and events. Let’s make sure we’re there for people, that we advocate for better treatment and research, that we keep our eyes open to those who might be suffering and alone. Let’s be kind to ourselves, be patient with our pain, and remember that it is possible to survive and overcome even the worst moments of sadness and depression.

 
(photo credit: Frodrig via photopin cc)

I Finished My Memoir! Now What?

medium_216516964For years, I’ve dreamed about the moment when I finally finished the first complete draft of my memoir. I imagined confetti falling out of the ceiling, maybe some triumphant trumpet music playing, and a crowd of all the friends and family who have heard me complain, agonize over, and gush about the book for the past five years running into my room, cheering for me and hugging me.

Of course, what really happened is that I stopped typing and stared at the screen in silence for a few minutes.

I’m…done? I thought.

I felt a little flicker of happiness and accomplishment, sure. Throughout the years of angst and writer’s block and a frequent desire to give up, I’d wondered many times whether I’d ever actually finish the book. Just finishing it was a big deal. But then I realized that I’d still need to have a few beta readers look it over, do more edits on it, write a query letter and send it off to agents, then eventually do even more edits if/when it gets picked up by a publisher. I was far from done.

So, instead of feeling all the great feelings I thought I would – instead of confetti, trumpets, and cheers – what I experienced, instead, was panic. Finishing the manuscript, in many ways, is only the beginning of the process. I’d always known that, but for some reason, I thought getting to the next step would feel different.

I started thinking about how tough it was going to be to write the query letter. I worried about the realities of sending the memoir out into the world, wondering what people would think of it if/when someone decided to publish it, afraid of how my friends and family might feel after reading it. This idea, this story, that has been living in my head for so long, can finally take the next step forward into becoming an actual book.

Holy shit.

Am I ready to take the next step? Will I be able to get everything together? Will I have the bravery and strength needed for such a task?

Well, despite the near-paralyzing fears I’ve encountered, I’ve already started writing my query letter, checking in with beta readers, and getting feedback. I’m researching agents and publishers. I keep having to remind myself that I shouldn’t let this publication process negate what I’ve already accomplished. Although the book won’t feel 100% real until I’m holding the finished, printed copy in my hands, I’m so much closer than I’ve ever been. I’ve got the story down, which is truly the hardest part.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the process. All of this is new to me. Even though I’ve been writing for years, this is new territory. It’s terrifying, it’s overwhelming, but it’s exciting too. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can try to feel good about how far I’ve already come, and keep taking steps to move myself, and my memoir, forward.

My Short Story eBook Publishing Experiment

medium_9469185471On June 26th, I unveiled my free short story eBook, “Some Kind of Moment.” I got the idea to make this eBook from other authors and entrepreneurs I’d seen around the internet who were giving out eBooks for free when readers subscribed to their email lists.

However, I noticed that all of their eBooks were informational, not creative. They gave tips on being a writer, shared advice on making money online, etc. I decided to test the waters with the idea of doing the same thing, but with creative work.

While one of my motivations was to get people to sign up for my email list to form a network of readers interested in me and my work, I also felt that it was time to share a longer piece of mine that wouldn’t fit the length constraints of a literary magazine. “Some Kind of Moment” was a compromise between a super long work that will take years to publish (which makes up the majority of my projects) and something short I’d submit out. Plus I’d get to see what this whole eBook/self-publishing thing was about.

The actual process of making the book was time-consuming, but valuable. I decided to format the story for PDF, ePub, and MOBI so it could be read easily on any computer or device. While the formatting process was tedious and required a good deal of research and trial and error, I was ultimately glad I did it. I’ve seen some poorly formatted eBooks that are simply unreadable, and I didn’t want mine, despite being free, to be one of them.

I’m so happy with how the eBook turned out visually. Much of that credit also goes to my designer, Pj Kneisel, for making such a fantastic cover. He used a photo I took of the Santa Monica Pier and transformed it into something amazing that completely fit the tone of the work.

So what were the actual results of this experiment? I got a good response on Facebook when I released my eBook. A lot of friends and acquaintances shared the announcement and downloaded the work. So far, I’ve received very positive feedback from several people about the story itself. Although the numbers around this experiment aren’t super impressive, the story will be available for new subscribers indefinitely, so that could always change. Plus, just being able to share some of my writing with the world this way was a great experience in itself, regardless of numbers.

The eBook still isn’t on Amazon. That process is more complicated, and I’ve been waffling about even putting it there. There’s a chance I’ll keep it as an exclusive bonus to people who are interested in my writing. Now that this experiment is done, it’s time for me to go back to toiling away on my current book-length projects and taking a shot at the intimidating world of personal essay.

To those who have already downloaded my eBook: Thank you so much! To those who haven’t yet: What are you waiting for? It’s free!

 
photo credit: melenita2012 via photopin cc

Some Kind of Moment: A Short Story eBook

SKoM final paperback (layers)Today marks the release of my new short story ebook, “Some Kind of Moment.” Here’s the synopsis:

Friendship can be confusing. 20-year-old Izzy Desmond likes killing time with Luke, an endearingly eccentric slacker, and feels herself drifting apart from Mandy, the Beverly Hills party girl she befriended freshman year. When the three mismatched friends spend a day together at the Santa Monica Pier, Izzy tries to figure out what Luke and Mandy really mean to her, and whether the connections she has with them can last.

To get your free copy, enter your email address in the box below. After you confirm the subscription, you’ll automatically receive links to the PDF, ePub, and MOBI files. There’s also an option to read the story right in your browser.

With the subscription, you’ll also be getting my newsletter with blog posts, occasional updates, and any future exclusive content. I promise I won’t spam you or sell your information. My newsletter helps me stay in touch with all of you, my readers. I’m going to have some exciting projects coming up.

 

Get Your Free Copy of “Some Kind of Moment”


 

I really hope you enjoy the story! A special thank you to Pj Kneisel for designing my beautiful cover and helping me edit the book. I couldn’t have done this without you.

The Most Important Things I Learned in Grad School

Antioch-University-Los-AngelesThis week is my last official week of graduate school.

I’ve been working on my MFA in Writing for a few years now, and it’s been quite a journey. I began my grad school adventure at a different institution and ended up transferring into Antioch University, Los Angeles’ program in December 2012. The school has been a great fit for me and a wonderful experience overall. I’ve gotten to attend tons of amazing lectures, worked one-on-one with helpful mentors, and met some awesome writer friends.

While attending lectures this week, I noticed the idea of transformation coming up quite a bit. Todd Mitchell, a YA author, told us that what readers really want is to see the transformation of a character and the ways they change throughout the narrative. Your job as an author is less about chronicling the story and struggle, and more about showing the main character dealing with those situations and evolving over time.

I think transformation is an especially important concept for those of us who write memoir. For several years, I’ve been working on a memoir about my struggles with mental illness as a child and teenager. At first, I set out to write my story in the hopes that readers would find it interesting, informative, and relatable. But I soon discovered that my memoir needs to be more than a telling of events and stories. My memoir also has to show the transformation I went through from childhood to adulthood, with an emphasis on how I coped and survived.

As readers, and as human beings, transformation is something we love to watch. When we step inside of a book, we look for assurance that we have the potential to make it through anything that life throws at us. We hope to learn how others transform and evolve.

Although I’m still figuring out how to articulate the transformation I went through between childhood and young adulthood, I’m beginning to see the transformation I experienced between starting and finishing grad school. When I started graduate school, my memoir was a mess of scenes and anecdotes. Now, I have a structure for the entire book and two-thirds of it finished. When I started grad school, I wasn’t sure whether anyone would care about what I wanted to say. After hearing so many fellow students, mentors, and even strangers express their interest in my story, I know there’s a place and need for my memoir.

The biggest transformation, though, has been the rise in my confidence as a writer. I came into the program unsure of my voice and whether I’d ever be able to pull off the project that had been so important to me for so long. Not only is that project almost finished now, but I feel confident that I’ll be able to find a good home for it. There were so many times I wanted to give up on this memoir, but I couldn’t, and I won’t. I believe in the project, and thankfully, so do others.

So, what’s next for me? I’ll continue to offer freelance editing services to academic and creative writers. I will also be completing Antioch University’s online teacher training, which includes teaching a 4-week online memoir writing class this October (more on that soon). Right now, I’m considering going the traditional publishing route for my memoir to see what happens. Maybe later I’ll take a shot at indie publishing. The most important thing to me right now is staying open to whatever possibilities come my way.