You are not alone

Yesterday, I wrote a pretty heavy blog post because life is heavy right now. I received some amazing responses, some serious, some silly, but all reminding me that I do not suffer alone. A sampling of texts …

“So we have this life. Mother Earth gives us everything we need to survive but does not give a fuck if we do or not. I think that’s beautiful. We must learn to fight. Learn to adapt. Learn to love. Then we learn that everything ends. That’s beautiful, too. So in this brief time we are given, we can do our best to live our best lives and make a difference in whatever small way we can. Or we can sit around and feel bad for ourselves and be miserable. We’re gonna die eventually regardless of our choices. Might as well make good choices.”

“I feel you. Life sucks balls. Just pretend to Life. You can. Do it.”

“I actually sobbed my way through your post this afternoon because I can relate to it so much right now. Reaching out to you from my own dark hole.”

“I just wanna float. Is that possible?”

“That kind of depression sucks. It’s the ‘I’d rather not get out of bed’ variety. Exercise is basically the only thing keeping me sane right now.”

“I once asked a professor I really respected how she ‘did it all,’ expecting some super wise advice. She said, ‘Just get up and do things. Then, things happen.’ I was disappointed at the time, but the older I get, the more I think that’s about right. Just keep on going on.”

Several of these messages were interspersed with GIFs of Timothee Chalamet and Cillian Murphy, so that didn’t hurt, but the words were helpful, too.

Just remember: you’re not alone in your depression. Other people are super sad, too. Other people can’t get out of bed, either. We are never alone, and we can’t give up.

Depression never really goes away

I’m trying not to be angry with myself for my current state of depression. It doesn’t help to get angry with myself. I know, scientifically and from experience: depression doesn’t go away. It merely hides.

Literally, I say in my own mental health speech:

“I think the scariest thing about depression is that it waits. It has the patience of God. It’s that dark shadow in the scary movie, the monster under your bed. It waits and it waits and then it shows up with its knives for fingers, bloodshot eyes, fangs. It shows up and says, ‘Remember me? You didn’t really think I’d gone, did you?’”

Maybe I’m angry because, for a hot minute, I was doing so well. I was in the midst of successful therapy and had finally found an antidepressant that worked. There was joy in my life again. There were actual emotions other than sad and sadder. I looked forward to things and woke in the morning not dreading every minute of the coming day.

Then, some bad things happened last week. I was on a bender all weekend. There are hazy alcohol moments I don’t quite remember. I felt out of control. I wanted to give up on everything.

I told myself Sunday night, Okay, that’s it; tomorrow is a new week. You got this.

Well, I don’t “got this.”

I’m beyond sad. I’m numb, which might be worse, and I’m beating myself up because YOU WERE DOING SO WELL, SARA. Things looked good again. I felt good again. Now, it’s all gone.

Depression isn’t like the flu. You can’t get an anti-depression vaccine. It’s the invisible killer. There is no cure, only treatments, and many of us seek treatments so we can live semi-normal lives. But just like cold weather makes arthritis flare up, life circumstances affect our mental health—no matter the yoga or funny movies or SSRIs.

Depression is the relative you don’t like but shows up for surprise visits anyway.

Depression is the thief who comes in the night and makes you less in the morning.

Depression is the thing that will never let me go because it’s not only in my blood but also in my sensitive, artistic psychological makeup.

This is me, riding the proverbial rollercoaster. Up, down, up, down.

Today, I can’t remember how to be happy. I don’t even remember what “happy” feels like, but I tasted it for several weeks this year, so I know I can get back there. I can find “happy” again. For now, I nurse an open wound that doesn’t bleed because depression is invisible.

It’s not like getting your arm chopped off. If you get your arm chopped off, people are going to point and say, “You should probably get that checked out.” No one can look at depression, see the pain is so much worse, and give me a bandage to fix it.

Do I know you?

easter

Ten years ago, I woke up Easter Sunday in Charleston, South Carolina, in my boyfriend’s bed following a night of wine, cigarettes, and brilliant conversation. I woke early because I needed to get to church.

Outside, on that humid morning, a congregation across the street was just about to begin its worship. Women in flowing spring dresses and huge, Southern hats milled about with handsome, suited husbands on their arms.

I attended church that Easter with a friend of mine because my boyfriend was agnostic at best but probably more of an atheist who thought it was super weird I went to church. (I did not marry this boyfriend; I actually met my husband five months later.)

I remember feeling nothing that Sunday morning. Easter, the cornerstone of my religious beliefs, felt like just another day. I think I might have even been bored during the service. The holiday came and went with zero fanfare.

That girl I was ten years ago? She feels like someone else. That entire life feels like a life that belonged to someone else. Scrolling through those memories is akin to watching an old movie—an old movie you didn’t even like.

Ten years ago, I was really unhappy in Charleston, South Carolina, despite the beautiful architecture, charming city, and rolling beaches nearby. Despite a boyfriend who thought I was beautiful and brilliant. I know I was unhappy then, and yet, I can look back now and not feel a damn thing.

Frankly, that girl from ten years ago isn’t me. I look at her now and ask, “Do I know you?” I know we met before, but I don’t recognize her. She is another life.

We live so many lives. I’m not talking about reincarnation. Over the span of how ever many years we get on this earth, we are so many different people. For me, there is college Sara. Bartender Sara. Sara in that relationship. Sara in Charleston. Sara in Phoenix. Sara after signing her first publishing deal.

Sara today, six weeks after starting Wellbutrin.

From October 2018 to March 2019, my depression was unmanageable. I was “barely there Sara.” Sara the ghost. Sara without laughter or joy. I tried the right things. I took care of myself physically. I sought therapy. I read self-help books and prayed. Nothing worked until my therapist suggested medication—something I once promised myself I would never do again. But I took her advice and started antidepressants.

In therapy this past Thursday, my therapist and I did more socializing than delving into issues … possibly because it felt like so many of my issues had disappeared. We both agreed: although there are some circumstantial things messing with my head, I have a chemical imbalance, and the Wellbutrin has given me back my smile, my energy, and a whole lot of peace.

That girl I was in March? She seems as far away now as that miserable woman from Easter ten years ago, and I feel okay letting both of these past lives go. The symbolism might be heavy, but like Jesus, I feel reborn. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, IT’S ALIVE! I know there will still be dark days because depression is an ambitious beast that continually creeps, but even the dark days might be a bit lighter.

Sometimes, a lifestyle change is necessary, but it looks like (for me), sometimes meds are necessary, too, as is letting go of things past. Let’s see what this new version of Sara gets up to.

Writing the next chapter?

writer

Since I’m a writer, my therapist thought it would be good for me to write about my life in order to see where I am and where I need to go, considering I’ve been completely lost for a couple months now.

Fair enough. So far, I’ve written eight pages of pretty much stream-of-consciousness. Have some snippets …

(And yes, for some reason, I wrote in third person, which my brother thinks is a cop out. He thinks I’m distancing myself from myself. But I’m a writer and couldn’t help the third person POV. I swear, this even reads like a children’s book on occasion, if you discount the content.)


She gets anxiety in grocery stores. She hates grocery stores—the people and the bright lights.

She reads a lot to escape. She prefers the lives of fictional characters. She knows her friends (especially the ones with kids) think she lives a golden life. They know she has “mental health issues,” but they don’t know the reality of her mysterious misery. What does she really have to be miserable about anyway?

She relates to Tom Petty:
Every now and then I get down to the end of the day
I’ll just stop… ask myself: why I’ve done it?
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard
And nothin’ ever really seem to come from it

Sara has too many thoughts about too many things and too many opportunities that swirl around her head until she’s overwhelmed and can’t do anything.

The problem is she looks outside herself for validation, for joy, when it’s not fair to put that much pressure on the world. The world isn’t always a very nice place, so why should it be nice to her?


So, as you can see, I’ve pretty much pegged where I am RIGHT NOW. However, my therapist’s challenge was to write “The Next Chapter.” What does Sara do next? I’ve been thinking about focusing more on public speaking. Maybe returning to journalism … although I never was much of a fan of that. Finding a way to travel more. Even teaching yoga.

Yet, nothing is clear, possibly because I’m not psychic, but possibly because in the thralls of mental illness, it can be impossible to picture what it looks like on the other side of the road. I mean, how do you remember light when you’ve been in the darkness so long? How do you regain purpose, remember how to dream, imagine doing something NEW and BIG when you can barely wash the dishes without wanting to nap?

I see what my therapist is getting at. “Write your next chapter.” She’s trying to get me out of the present depression and into a future where I’m happy and healthy. Or perhaps just content. It’s okay to be content, I think. We don’t have to be smiling all the time, but we can be just … good.

I could totally type “She lived contently ever after!!!” New chapter finished! But that’s a cheat. How do I reach that contentment? It’s something I’m seriously trying to think about and actively take steps toward.

What about you? What does your next chapter look like? Step outside whatever crap you’re going through right now and try to picture what would make you happy–and how to get there.

Invisible me

ghosts hand

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was three. I was friends with these twin sisters who were blind, and we were looking under my bed, possibly for monsters. I told them to “Look,” and they told me, “We can’t.” I’m not sure my childhood brain really understood, but I knew they couldn’t see me.

A later memory was of swimming at the Perrysburg pool. I was a good swimmer, but I was tiny. A friend of mine—who was a lot bigger than me—started panicking in the water. She shoved me under, held me under, in her rush to get out of the deep end. Once I was able to escape her grip, I vomited. Hygienic, I know, but it was like she didn’t notice I was drowning.

When I look back at school as a kid, I was the smallest one in class. I wore big glasses and had a funny haircut. I was smart, well behaved, and shy. No one saw me. I was an invisible kid simply because I was good and average and quiet.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t loved. I’m sure I was, dearly, but when I think hard about my childhood memories, they’re mostly of things happening to other people, like I was an observer but not a participant in life. I remember my dad crying when his father passed away. I remember a drunken woman peeing on our front porch. I remember watching the neighbors have a huge screaming fight. I saw, and no one noticed because I was the invisible kid.

Most of my current issues, seemingly, have to do with my fear of returning to that state—of becoming Mrs. Cellophane. (Look right through me, walk right by me.) Maybe this is why I dye my hair crazy colors and wear revealing clothes. Although I can’t imagine being anything else, maybe this is partially why I’m a writer. It’s a limelight sort of career, especially the romance genre, especially erotica. (Look at me! Look at all the smut!)

Lately, despite professional success and an amazing support system, I have felt invisible. Like no one cares. Like no one is listening. Like no one can really see me. It’s partially my own fault, because I come off as happy and carefree—the social butterfly. And, yes, there’s a thing as being “too seen.” This past weekend, I was sexually harassed at a convention, possibly due to my weird hair and revealing clothes. Desperate to disappear on Monday, I wore a huge coat, didn’t wear makeup, and covered my head in a big hat. Sometimes, surprise, I want to be as invisible as possible.

But not usually. Usually I want to be seen and heard and understood. Our early memories shape us greatly, and the invisibility of my youth has followed me like a ghost into adulthood. I fear being forgotten, being ignored. My depression thrives in this space. When I begin to feel invisible, the Depression Monster loves coming around to remind me … “You’re not important. No one needs you. They look right through you, walk right past you.” Maybe this is why my mental health has been so bad lately.

Do you know me? Do you see me? I’m barely here.

Con-drop

drop

According to the powerful Internet, con-drop “is a physiological reaction that often has emotional or psychological symptoms. Essentially, it’s the endorphins and other happy chemicals your body has been spewing out the last 3-5 days drying up. It’s the crash after the high.”

This feeling applies to huge events like Comic-Con in San Diego or something smaller like a local book fair. I went to Cleveland Concoction this weekend: a big geek fest featuring movies, comics, books, and cosplay. I was one of the featured authors, which meant I spoke on panels, signed books, and mingled for two days straight.

Contrary to what you might think based on my ravings, I am actually an extrovert. I’ll talk to anyone about anything. I actually approach strangers. I’m, like, charismatic and shit (I’ve been told).

However, in the opinion of my therapist, I’m an introverted extrovert. In other words, no matter how much of a social butterfly I am, being a social butterfly sucks the very life out of me.

I’m beginning to think this is both literal and figurative because not only am I thoroughly depressed today and basically unable to do anything, I also feel physically ill. I slept twelve hours and am still tired. I have a sore throat and headache. I’ve been sick off and on for months, so I’m frustrated to be SICK again, but there’s nothing to be done. I spread myself too thin at Concoction. I literally networked myself into a physical and emotional coma.

Con-drop is a thing that happens to many convention attendees (especially the introverted ones). The energy at conventions is so high, and you have to be constantly on your game because someone is always watching. People are talking to you or you’re speaking in front of a room-full of people. Then, there’s the bar mingling and NSFW panels at 10 PM that pretty much require you never, ever rest.

I feel freaking terrible today.

I’m glad I went to Concoction. I always have a great time, and I get to see all my nerd friends. It’s wonderful … but this is a reminder of why I don’t do very many conventions. In the beginning, with the release of Bite Somebody, I traveled all over the place for promo. Now, I do two or three events a year because I literally can’t take anymore.

The depression is back so hard right now, and I feel so sick. Why does one late night give me a terrible cold? Why does a weekend of excitement, fun, and yeah, high pressure, make me so very sad? Does anyone out there know how to fix con-drop? I’d love to know how to heal myself this week.

The PMS problem

cryFor one week out of every month, some women lose their damn minds. I am one of those women. PMS. Premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as “Sara is a psycho.” (Feel free to insert your own name here.)

The week leading up to Aunt Flow’s arrival, my mental health takes a nosedive. The depression is practically crippling. My temper FLARES. (Flames basically shoot from my eyes.) I feel fatty fat fat. I make bad decisions or I am incapable of making decisions. I want to scream at everyone and then, cry about it.

This shit happens every month.

My husband, Jake, has a radar for its arrival. He claims he gets more annoying whenever I’m PMSing, like he needs to annoy me on a deep, hormonal level. (The man has no sense of self-preservation, considering PMS time is the time when I am most capable of homicide.) He’ll suddenly realize he’s acting super annoying and say, “Wait, you’re PMSing, aren’t you?” It’s uncanny.

The problem with PMS (other than the obvious emotional turmoil) is the difficulty in treating it. I’ve talked to my doctor about this. Many doctors, honestly. They all suggest going on antidepressants … to treat one week of the month. No, thank you. Then, they say maybe I could just take antidepressants for a week of every month, but that doesn’t make any damn sense because, in order to work, antidepressants need to build up in your system … which is when side effects show up … which is exactly what I do not want.

There are the “natural cures:” take more B vitamins. Chaste Tree. Ashwagandha. Physical activity. Eat healthier. Drink more water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine around the PMS time.

Far as I can tell, nothing works.

So, dear reader, I implore YOU. I know I’m not the only woman who goes possible-serial-killer once a month for seven entire days. For the women out there who’ve found a way to manage their PMS, what do you do? For the husbands whose wives are not Pennywise with better makeup during PMS time, what have your wives done as treatment?

SEND HELP!!!!