Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Dark Road: a #HoldOnToTheLight post

Over the past few years, I’ve read the accounts of many of my writing peers as they confessed their mental health struggles on social media. Each time, I felt glad that they were brave enough to be open about it…and wished I could be as bold and confident because I have also walked the dark road holding hands with that specter.

Twice, I've sought medical treatment and been diagnosed with depression. The first time was 2007. The second time was more recent, February 2015, and it was coupled with anxiety and insomnia.

Allow me to set the stage. -gulp- I’ve never been this open in a public forum. Here I go.

A (now-estranged) family member had moved in “temporarily,” refused to get a job, and began bullying me to the point that I did not feel safe in my own home. Early in 2013, this person returned to find the entirety of their belongings on the porch and the locks changed. I wish I could say that ordeal had ended there. 

In 2013, I began seeing a counselor because I was starting to question my sanity; she helped me see that I wasn’t crazy. I ended a relationship with a man who was abusive in a way that she never formally identified but -thanks to book research afterward- I can call it gaslighting. It hit me hard when I realized he’d had nearly all of the classic traits. Months later, I had to file bankruptcy and I lost my car. (I’d never missed a payment on it but the bank took it anyway because they could.) So I walked to work for a while and bummed rides when I could. 

The day before my birthday in January of 2014 a father-figure passed away and suddenly it felt like I hadn’t grieved my own father who had died in 2008. This was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” I had my first real anxiety attack when I was supposed to leave work and go to this friend’s funeral. I made it as far as the front entrance of my workplace, then I found myself back in my office, door shut and sobbing because I COULD NOT GET IN THE CAR AND GO.

I knew it was irrational. I knew something was wrong. And I lied to myself about it just as I had been lying to myself about a host of other things.

Looking back, having all this on top of regular stress and responsibilities, I can see how that specter was holding my hand, whispering to me long after a decent bedtime had passed, night after night after night.

**You do not have to have such troubles or upheavals to suffer with mental illness, but I believe that in my case, these things were definitive factors.**

At this time in my life a good, true friend would have been invaluable to me, but (perhaps due to the burns received from the ‘friendships’ of my youth) I never learned the skills to be ‘good at’ friendships, to hold on to them and nurture them. Instead, I became skilled at crawling inside myself and being satisfied with the solitary act of putting words on the page or making music rumble from my guitar’s amplifier. Though I’m ‘good at’ being alone and staying busy, solitude in excess isn’t healthy. At least not for me.

When I wanted to pick up the phone, the specter would say:
Who will you call? They might be busy. Besides, you didn’t call when you were happy. No one will want to hear you whining.

When I thought to stop by to see a friend, the specter would say:
People don’t do that anymore. It’s an imposition. It’s rude. Besides, you didn’t stop by when you were happy. No one wants to listen to you talk about how much you hurt inside.

When I considered going out to where my friends might be, the specter would say:
You can’t possibly go out alone. A woman walking into a bar alone sends a bad sign, worse if she’s not meeting friends quickly inside. You can’t have a drink. You aren’t safe out there. Stay home. Alone. You’re safe there.

It cut me off every time I tried to reason my way out.

My own family didn’t recognize how I hurt. They thought I was in my own space writing and being creative. But the creativity was meager at best. The part of me I adored most was slipping away and that hurt most of all. The self-doubt from that is the most pervasive and yet-lingering part.

I would drive myself up to the Mt. Jeez overlook when the house was too constricting {read as I needed some place new to cry}. I often checked-in from there on Facebook, silently hoping someone I knew would recognize the truth and come talk to me. Isn’t that a horrifyingly pitiful, selfish, and stupid bit of behavior? I see that clearly now. I feel ashamed to admit that I thought that way, and equally so to admit that I had no idea how to reach out to others without also feeling immeasurable shame for simply thinking about reaching out.

That shame is the specter's punishment, one I wanted so much to avoid. Via hindsight I can say that I now see the choice I could not see then. It was: Avoid the shame and stay in the dark alone and stagnating, or face and accept the shame and take the chance of reaching out and growing.


I made an appointment to see my doctor in late February 2015. He prescribed something to help me sleep and another something for depression. We had a bit of trial an error but by summer I was feeling much better, if lonely. The sleep was so good. The loneliness was there, but it didn’t hurt. Because it didn’t hurt, I was able to move slowly back into the light where the loneliness finally began to fade.

After about six months, I quit taking the medicines. I had discussed the exit strategy with my doctor at the beginning and it was important for me to know if I needed a kick to straighten out, or if I needed medicine as a daily part of my life. Maybe it will come to that someday but for now I haven’t been on the medicine for over a year. I feel good. I sleep 97% of the time good and naturally.

Every day of life is a learning opportunity. Good days and bad days alike.

I learned to know me better and recognize my warning signs. The shadows remain, and probably always will, but I have learned that there is truly no shame in seeking treatment. If I find I’m not kicking the occasional lows, or if the anxiety is unmanageable, or if the sleep stops again, I will not wait or argue with myself about going back to my doctor because I know that specter is out there, and I know what it does: It tricks you into the lonely dark and into stagnation where confidence dwindles and self-doubt grows to monstrous proportions.  

I don't want that. Not again.

Telling all of you this private stuff about me, I believe, is part of helping myself keep the specter at bay. 

I've told it because the #HoldOnToTheLight initiative brings awareness, the kind that not only helps people with mental health issues, but will help other people recognize mental health issues in their loved ones. If someone in my family hadn't been ignorant of the signs, perhaps they could have/would have done something and I might have gotten help so much sooner.  

I’ve told it because I remember seeing my peers and being encouraged by their admissions. 

I’ve told it because if you’re reading this and you’re struggling, I want you to know without a doubt that YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Do not listen to that specter’s lies; things are not hopeless and you do not deserve this

Do not let it convince you that it is shameful to  ask for help. 

Do not stagnate, you must keep growing and learning and doing and being. 

Don’t wait. Take the initiative, please. It IS worth it. Reach out, let people help you.

Neither you nor I have to walk the dark road holding hands with that specter.


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, Home 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 and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to


  1. Brave. Courageous. Honest. Raw. That's my friend, Linda. So proud of you.

  2. Lovely post, Linda - I knew you'd struggled with some bad luck, but not how much went so very wrong. I admire you for keeping up with everything as well as you have, despite all this. You rock!