Writing Under the Rainbow
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I deal with depression in my everyday world. I’m not embarrassed by this. In fact, I have depression to thank for my writing career. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I went to see a counselor, I wouldn’t be writing. You see, I’d given up my dream of being an author. There’d been too many years of disappointment in the form of rejection after rejection, and I mean rejection letters as well as people rejection.
After about fifteen years of taking classes, going to conferences and writer group meetings, entering contests, writing and submitting novels, I quit it all cold turkey and didn’t write a word for five years. I had just launched into another vocation where I put in forty hours a week and came home miserable. While waiting to be published, I’d worked as a travel agent, a high school French teacher, a receptionist, a legal secretary, a paralegal, a transcriber, and a disability services specialist in a college. In short, I was lounging at the bottom of the barrel and couldn’t see any way to get up. It’s so cliché, but I sought professional help where this counselor tells me I’m in a deep depression, and if I don’t start writing again, I’m not going to get any better.
Within a week of my diagnosis, and my categorical refusal to write again despite the dire warning, I submitted the first two novels in my Angel Ridge Series to Bell Bridge Books, the new imprint of Belle Books. I submitted to get a rejection so I could go back and tell the counselor that me writing wasn’t meant to be, and the rejection would be my proof.
God had other plans. Deb Smith offered me a three-book deal that turned into a six-book deal. And before you know it, not only was I writing again, but I was working on an MFA in Writing with Goddard College. This month, the fifth Angel Ridge novel, Unforgettable, will be published. I earned my MFA in 2011. Writing is my full-time job. An outsider looking in would say my dreams all came true when I least expected it, and they would be right. So why is this so hard?
The short answer is because the depression and self-doubt that feeds it are still there, seething beneath the surface. Day to day problems, the kinds that everyone deals with, affect me differently. My focus shifts to these distractions, and if I’m not careful, they can pull me under.
As I said, last year, I graduated from my MFA program. Although I was proud to have achieved this tremendous accomplishment, graduating took away my writing support system. I had to figure out how to do it on my own again. Being in the program addicted me to feedback. Feedback I was no longer receiving when I began writing Unforgettable. Welcome back self-doubt! Then other things happened to shift my focus: a good friend losing her battle to cancer, my son struggling in a sport he loved in his senior year of college, issues with aging parents, and my best friend moved halfway across the country. I hibernated in my house, slept a lot, gained weight, which always attacks self-esteem. I wrote in spurts interrupted by long periods of not getting up out of my recliner after staying up half the night and sleeping most of the day.
I went through four depression medication changes while my symptoms worsened, leveled out, then worsened again and again. As the deadline for the book loomed, I knew I had to do something radical. I began researching depression meds and found that many people taking antidepressants long-term reached a point where they no longer worked. So, I looked for alternative therapies. I revisited talk therapies that had worked for me in the past, but got no relief. At this point I felt I had to make the radical decision to go off my meds and try herbal alternatives. CAUTION: do not try this without the supervision of a physician! But hey, I figured I could be depressed, dragging, and wanting to sleep all day without meds. Thankfully, I’ve never been suicidal, but in the past year, I gained an understanding for why people with depression feel suicidal.
Slowly, I began to feel better. I had more energy, tons of it. In fact, I had trouble being a little too hyped up since most of what I was taking revved me up. So, I added something to level me out, and so far so good. I’ve been able to write again in a sustained manner. Meaning, I can write for weeks at a time without taking months off.
What does all this mean for Unforgettable? I guess you could call it life imitating art. The theme and tone of this book are heavy. There are few light moments in the book. The hero and heroine are dealing with loss, addiction, family struggles, and deep emotional conflict. But as always, they find a way to deal. Like me and perhaps others out there, they go it alone until they realize they need help. They benefit from engaging a support network of family and friends, as well as a happily-ever-after relationship with each other. Their problems don’t disappear, but they are better able to deal with them together.
The title of this post is “Writing Under the Rainbow.” I think that’s going to be the new name for this blog. If you feel inclined, share your comments. Support and encouragement are always appreciated here!