Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hope Is More Than A Keyword, Too.

Man, it seems like we've been talking about Depression forever, doesn't it? We started with just a little kernel of thought, a need to share some truth, to shed some light on a dark subject that's become hardly more than a hashtag in today's society. On the one hand it's a good thing, the commonplace way we look at depression, the way the stigma is falling away and we are, as a general society, trying to look upon depression with more compassion and understanding than ever before. Through the increased awareness, we've created worldwide campaigns against bullying, violence, and all other sorts of basic human meanness, all in an effort to spread happiness to each other. This is a beautiful thing; we try harder now, as a people, to be more conscious of how our words and actions make others feel, and we nurture empathy perhaps more than any other form of human compassion.

Let us not forget though, as we accept Depression and what it means for the people living under its cloud, to offer a cure. We talk often about the cure for this Cancer, the cure for Alzheimer's, the cure for MS, the cure ALS, the cure for ... everything. We spread awareness with the explicit purpose of bringing each other together in a battle, a war against the various afflictions that attack the human species on a daily basis. We want to team up, we want each person to give a dollar to research, we want everyone to pledge and walk the marathon, we want everyone to put the bumper sticker on their car.

The sad truth is that there are some things we have to do all of that for, or we'll never accomplish the end goal. If we don't work together, we'll never cure cancer or any of the other myriad illnesses that plague us. And without awareness spreading among us like an epidemic, there is no working together.

We talk about it to spread the sadness of it, to share the pain of it, so that together, we can all shoulder the burdens. We do it with taxes and welfare and food stamps too, but that's a whole other post.

The point I'm trying to make here is that although we do all of this, together, for so many individual reasons, it all boils down to just one thing. One simple word. One little flickering flame against the darkness of the human condition. The one thing that can solve everything, cure everything, if only we used it as a building block.

Hope.

We share memes all the time that say different variations of "lighting another person's candle doesn't diminish your own flame," but I'm not sure we really believe it in a day to day setting. I'm not sure we really believe that we can share the light from one soul to another as easily as we might light a match from a fire, and then use it to light five other candles. We should, though, because that's how you light the deepest corners of a darkened room, with one flame spread slowly, one flame that becomes two, that becomes three, and so on.
  • "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." -- Desmond Tutu
  • "Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us." -- Samuel Smiles

Hope is what makes us donate a dollar to research. Hope is what makes us walk that marathon. It's how we'll finally find that cure we're always searching for ... the cure is built on each tiny little block of hope, stacked ever so carefully upon the ones that came before it. Hope is what makes us join hands in church as we pray. Hope is what makes us encourage our loved ones. Hope is what makes us willing to walk into the darkness of illness, of injury, of depression -- we do it with hope, and the eager belief that it is possible to retrieve a loved one who has become lost. Hope is what makes us sit in a hospital waiting room, it's what urges us to go on that first date. It's the thing we're most filled with as we touch the fresh softness of a newborn baby.

But we must be willing to share it. We must be willing to give of our own stores to others who have run out. Next week, I'm going to set the Kingsley Series aside (for now, until it's time to talk about Evan's story), and I'm going to talk about a story of hope, a story of perseverance, a story of unimaginable strength. I'm going to talk to you in a way I've never talked before, about a story that means more to me than I could ever say. I'm going to tell you about the story behind Fighting For Freedom, the reason I wrote it. I'm going to share with you the tiny kernel of hope that's growing because of that book, let you crowd around and look in on the privately sheltered flame of hope that sparked to life with Christine's story. Because ...
  • "Everything that is done in the world is done by hope." -- Martin Luther

In the meantime, I love you all, and thank you so much for the way so many of you wrote to me these past weeks to ask if I was alright and what prompted me to write so thoroughly on the subjects of depression and mental illness. Thank you for reaching out, for being willing to lend your flame to spark mine when it wavered. You guys are everything.

Until next week,
Happy Reading.
B.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- My Depression Is My Fault, Part II

This past month, I've been talking a lot about my struggle with depression, what life is like for a depressed person, and how the theme of depression and mental illness runs strongly through the books of the Kingsley Series. Last week I told you how my depression is "my own fault"; I wrote a sarcastic sort of passage about how it feels when I "choose" to be depressed, and I promised this week to give you the lowdown on what depression is really like.

I'd like to urge you to take a moment - go back and read last week's post, with a particular focus on the italicized passage at the end; then come back and let me show you what it truly feels like to watch, powerless, as my emotional world turns itself upside down, completely and totally against my will.

It's usually something innocuous, often something so small and so meaningless that I hardly notice it. Something as insignificant as a bread crumb, a flower seed, a pinpoint. It's a thing someone said in passing, the whisper of a thought in the very back of my mind, an echo of emotional pain long since passed.

It's a demon whispering in my ear, a radio station I can't turn off.

But people say:

  • "Yes you can. You can choose to be positive."
  • "You can choose not to listen to that."
  • "You have to let it go, just let it roll off your back."

I wish with all of my heart that it really worked that way. I've tried it. I try it every time the cloud rolls in, and I pray with everything inside me that it'll pass - that it'll just be a dark day, just one. I journal, I allow myself the emotional freedom to feel what I'm feeling, hoping desperately that letting myself feel it and being honest with myself will allow it pass. I urge myself to be strong and to stay positive, to take care of myself in ways that are uplifting and encouraging. I use positive affirmations. I remind myself to appreciate the little things, and I make lists of my blessings. I write down things I'm thankful for, hoping that these things will light a candle to chase away to darkness that's closing in.

But sometimes despite all of it, the sky of my life goes slowly darker and darker. It's like my life is on an electronic dimmer switch that's got a short in it, and the harder I try to turn it back up, the faster it seems to be turning down. I tell myself that I'm not scared of the dark, that I'm not bothered by the storm, and sometimes I'll smile a little to myself despite the rising sense of dread, because aside from this metaphor, I'm actually not afraid of the dark, and I love storms.

But then the first metaphorical raindrops begin to fall, useless tears that wet my face and leave traces of salt drying on the lenses of my glasses. Each tear I shed is more than just the overflow of sadness, though. It's more than the sense of shame and failure that washes over me as the darkness shows me all the shadows of my daily life.

  • It's the little things, like when I was irritable and asked for space, didn't get it, and yelled at the kids.
  • It's the moments when I'm so focused on myself that it becomes harder to see and feel for others when they need me to.
  • It's the financial things I wish I could do for my mother that are still out of my reach. It's the thought of her dying before she sees me get where I'm going.
  • It's a long, sad estrangement from my father, and the little girl inside that still hurts no matter how much I tell her not to.
  • It's a failed marriage.
  • It's people who have walked away from me.
  • It's people who didn't believe in me.
It's a sad sense of wrongness, of otherness, because I'm trying to be happier. I'm trying to "stop dwelling on the bad things," and I'm seeking desperately for "the bright side." And it isn't working, and I'm so lost in the dark that I can't find the bright side anymore.

And the seed of depression grows.

It doesn't take long, even when I fight it. Even when I call for help, even when I'm honest about my struggle ... even when I'm so desperate to get out of the pit that I'm almost begging for someone to just take my hand and pull me out, because I'm drowning.

As dark as it is then, and as scary as it's starting to be ... at that point I can still cry out for help, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't have to ... sometimes someone will notice and reach for me, wrap an arm around me and hang on tight to keep me from slipping away.

If they don't ... I can tell myself it's not happening, I can pretend it isn't there. I can "do something nice for someone else" or "just get out more and try to keep busy." And I do things to "get my mind off of it." I step up my service to my children and my family. I step up my journaling, and then I take it one step further. I confess my thoughts and feelings to someone who, I believe, cares about me - because I'm not all the way in the darkness yet, and so far, I still believe that there is someone who cares about me.

Sometimes someone will notice that I'm pulling away, that I'm struggling, and that even though they're trying, they can't pull me back. Sometimes, they'll just come into the dark with me for a while, and wait beside me until it passes. Sometimes as a coach, sometimes as nothing more than a silent companion, a reminder that darkness is not all there is.

But if that doesn't work...

In the recesses of my mind, there's a soundtrack playing, and no matter who is there, I can't turn it off. While I'm cleaning so that I can give my family a safe and comfortable place to live (not spotless, mind you, but clean), depression tells me that it's not enough, that it can never be enough. That it doesn't matter anyway because no one else even notices or cares. Depression whispers like a lover in my ear, "This is unacceptable. Not enough. Never enough." When I'm cooking, feeding the hungry bellies of my children, Depression sneers like a demon, "You can't cook. Why do you bother?" I like to cook from recipes; it feels encouraging to use a well-thought plan from someone who knows better than I do. "But you aren't even close to Rachel Ray. Who do you think you are? Bobby Flay would vomit. Loser. You can't even follow a recipe."

The crazy thing is, that happens even when I get it right, even when it's delicious and everyone says so. Even when the house looks spectacular and someone notices. I still only see the darkness, no matter how desperately I'm searching for light.

I know it's wrong. I know isn't helpful or productive, I know it's hurting me. I know that my depression is inside me - that it's my hand digging the pit deeper and deeper. But what YOU don't know, what you can't see, is that my hand is possessed. It doesn't obey me anymore, and no matter how hard my mind screams "Stop!" my hand just keeps on digging. I can't just choose to make it go away. Believe me, if I could, I would.

It's usually been a while now, and I can tell that I'm alienating people, even the ones who tried to stay with me, even the ones who give their all trying to keep me in the light. I can hear their frustration now when I talk to them. I notice that they take longer to answer texts from me than they did before. So then I begin to doubt them, even as the "sane" part of me acknowledges how frustrating my depression must be for people who can't understand it. I'm even annoyed with myself at this point, on top of everything else.

So I withdraw again. I cut myself off, and then I'm alone in the dark with no one but my own thoughts for company and nothing but the sting of self-imposed loneliness to wrap myself in. It starts to look true, that thought that no one cares about me at all. And I begin to wonder again, "If I never came out of the pit, would anyone even notice? If I let it take me this time, would anyone even care?"

Since I'm hurting too much to ask now (although sometimes I have asked, the wrong people, to the detriment of my own mental health), I just imagine the answers to those tough questions.

  • "No, no one would notice. They don't notice you when you aren't withdrawn, they don't come into the dark to get you ... of course they don't notice."
  • "As a matter of fact, they'd probably be relieved. It'll be good to not have to worry about you feeling sorry for yourself all the time anyway."
This is pretty intense, I know. I've cried several times just trying to write it, so that ought to give you a glimpse of what it's like to live in. A small one.

It doesn't always get that bad. It isn't always that dark.

But when it does get that bad, and the darkness gets so thick that I can't see even a glimmer of light through it anymore, that's when I write a letter, in a frantic attempt to talk myself into believing again. I write letters to my girls, to their dad ... to Dana. To other people. And I make myself read them, make myself imagine what those people would feel if they had to read them. Most of the time, that's enough to break through - most of the time, that's enough to light a sudden flickering flame.

Of hope?

No, I'm not there yet. The flame is nothing more than duty - it's nothing more than a sense of obligation that ties me. I have to stick around, I have to come out of it. Not always because I think those people will be hurt or saddened, but sometimes it's as simple as the thought that if I gave up, that would burden them too. I don't always come out because I find someone that I'm convinced loves me enough to be bothered. It's not always because I'm convinced that quitting this thing called life would hurt someone, because the truth is that when I'm in the darkness, I don't believe there's anyone who would care. I come out because despite it all, I care.

I don't come out of the dark because the dark goes away, or because I suddenly change my mind and choose happiness again. I come out because humans are created for life, even the pitiful ones like me who can do nothing better than to sink into pits of depression like helpless worms with no will to control their own pain. I come out because even when I'm in the dark and cannot see myself as anyone's "loved one," I still have loved ones of my own. I come out because of articles like this one.

Because even something as sad and scarily heartbreaking as a suicide letter can be the thing that sparks new life, new hope born of the ashes. And like a phoenix, as the ashes fall away and that tiny little spark of hope flickers to life again, I keep on trying, one minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time.

At least, until the cycle begins again.

But for now ...


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- My Depression Is My Fault, Part I

I was supposed to talk about hope today, but recently I had a talk with someone about my post series about Depression and what it really feels like to suffer from the weight of this illness (to read those posts, please click here), and I had to talk about that instead. I had to share it with you, because if you're depressed, you need to see it. And if you aren't depressed, don't know what it's like, and have a depressed person in your life that's exasperating the hell out of you, you need to see it.

I've been talking a lot about how taboo this subject is, and how sufferers of Depression are beginning to fight back against societal stigma. I had a strong (and somewhat emotional) debate with this person about the stigma of Depression where things like this were said:

Person: "You know, I was thinking about your posts lately, and I think some of the stigma behind depression is the depressed people's fault."

Me, heart in my throat: "Are you serious right now?"

We went on to talk about how Depressed people tend to pretend they're fine. We talked about how even when someone says things like, "How are you?" and, "Are you okay?" and, "How's it going," the Depressed person will often smile brightly and say, "Oh, I'm fine, and you?"

We talked about how that is the Depressed person's fault, if there is truly fault to be assigned. We talked about how people can't read each other's minds, and if the Depressed person doesn't open up, no one will know. Then we talked about the societal expectation when a person, Depressed or not, is greeted by another person. The expected normal conversation should look like this:

1st Person: "Hey! It's been a while since I last saw you; how are you!"

2nd Person, who is deeply depressed but "not allowed" to say so: "Fine, and you?"

And the first person feels good that they asked, encouraged that the second person is fine, and happy about the encounter in general. If the first person is perceptive, then they still feel generally good about asking, generally encouraged that the second person is at least fine enough to have said so -- or that even if they aren't, they just clearly "don't want to talk about it, but at least I asked" -- and generally content with the encounter. However, the dirty little truth of these encounters is often portrayed in memes like this one:


Or this one:


Or even this one:


Depressed people tell other people what they want to hear. We say we're fine when we aren't, because we feel like no one cares. We say we're fine when we aren't because we're tired of being patted on the back and smothered with platitudes. We say we're fine when we're not, because we don't want to burden our loved ones with our many problems, with our negativity, with our pity party, with our "choice" to "wallow" in our sorrows. We say we're fine when we aren't because we did notice the way you rolled your eyes the last time we told the truth. We say it because we did notice the frustration in your voice the last time you told us, again, that we just need to fix it. We say it because we believed you when you said things like, "Mind over matter," and, "Fake it 'til you make it," because we believed that if you're happy and that works for you, then it should work for us too. Because when it didn't, we felt like failures. Like losers. Like the people who say, "Happiness is a choice," must be right, and we're just too weak/stupid/sad to make the right choice.

We say we're fine when we're not, because we're desperately hoping that one day, we'll say it and it'll be true.

Let me tell you about when I "choose" to "wallow." Let me tell you what it feels like when I build that lonely, sad little blanket fort in my mind, and I "choose" to go into it and not come out, because I'm "sad" and "I just want other people to feel sorry for me."

*sarcasm alert*

When that first wave of sadness hits me, I pretend it isn't there in front of others because it's my best kept little fun secret and I'm selfish enough to want to keep it all to myself. And when I'm alone I usually sit down and think about it for as long as possible, because sadness is my most favorite state of mind and I want it to stick around. I alternate between eating too much and not eating at all, because variety is the spice of life, and when I'm having fun being sad, I really like to get my body completely jacked up. Once I've gotten myself to the point where it's too hard to get dressed or look at myself in the mirror, I start to notice that I don't feel good, ever. It's probably because I'm having so much fun being sad, and the spicy variety of the starvation/binge pattern is creating lots of fun roller coasters with my blood sugar, blood pressure, and digestive system. This is where the good times really get rolling, because now that I don't feel good physically, I have lots of time to sit around lazily thinking about how great it is to be sad. That's, of course, when I'm not busy lashing out at others and hating myself for doing it, or when I'm not too tired because I can't sleep, which is one of my favorite parts because it also helps me to keep not feeling good.

It's usually around this time that I realize I'm having such a great time feeling sorry for myself that I begin to invite others to feel sorry for me, too. I tell someone I'm having a rough time, and I confess that I don't really know what to do about it. I tell them I feel like I'm drowning, or I'm stuck in the bottom of a pit, or I'm held down by shackles I can't remove, chained to my sadness ... haunted by a demon.

I super love it when that someone rolls their eyes and is obviously thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, jeez, this again?!?" Actually though, I don't, because all I want is to keep feeling sorry for myself, and I want to do it so powerfully that I can drag the whole world down with me. You know, because misery loves company, right? And there's no good wallowing if you can't drag someone else down and make them wallow too. Because it's so fun to choose depression as a lifestyle, and depressed people are all sitting around wondering why the happy people can't come on over to the pity party. It's such a grand time, after all.

But since the happy people won't be dragged down by my insistent desire to be negative and whiny and sad, I just figure that's alright, I'll be depressed alone. Because being alone is better for depression anyway; loneliness waters the garden of depression like a good rainstorm. Makes everything all droopy and miserable, which is great because depressed people love that -- it's so totally emo, and since that's in now, all the better.

Now and then, when I'm having so much fun crying all day and fantasizing about suicide, I like to stay in bed all day. For weeks. It's extra fun if the house gets dirty, too, because filth, like depression, is my favorite state of being. In fact, I embrace the dirt so fully that sometimes I just skip showers for a while and stop brushing my teeth, I just lay around feeling sorry for myself. I think about how my knees hurt and my back hurts and head hurts, and my heart hurts, and I feel gratified because my choice to remain sad is really starting to pay off now. I listen to the silence around me, and I love it that I've finally driven everyone away because now I don't have to be burdened with meeting the happy peoples' expectations anymore. This gives me time to work on my confidence.

While I'm spending my time in bed all day enjoying the luxury of being alone, unwashed, unfed, and abandoned by my fair weather friends (which is nice because at least I know who my "real" friends are, right? No one? Hahaha, I'm so glad I chose this.), I like to think about how ugly I am, because it rounds out the sadness pretty nicely. I tell myself I'm not worth anything and no one loves me, that I'm fat and disgusting and stupid. Sometimes I get really nasty just for the fun of it, and I tell myself that if I died, not only would no one care, but they probably wouldn't even notice. At some point, I almost always tell myself that not only would most people not notice, but the few who might would probably be relieved. At least then they wouldn't have to field my constant pity party invitations anymore, right?

This is a great time. I don't know why those happy people don't choose this instead of happiness. Look at them all out there, going out to have drinks together, and having their phone calls and stuff. Working their careers like champs and paying all their bills and wearing bras and stuff. It's crazy; they should all totally decide to sit around and think about killing themselves like I do, crying inconsolably and having little fun fits of shame and rage whenever they glimpse themselves in the mirror. What am awesome lifestyle choice -- I love it here under my little rain cloud of pity-drama. Such a good time.

Eventually though, the cloud passes even though I'm trying as hard as I can to hold onto it. As the depression lifts and I begin to live again, a day comes when for some reason I just want to wash my hair. So I do. I crawl out of bed even though I love the dank smell of unwashed blankets, and I stumble to the bathroom. It makes me sad to notice that the more I move around, the more my stiffness goes away, and I think of going back to bed again, and I promise myself that right after the shower, I'll go.

In the shower, the water is hot, carrying away caked on hair oil and old dead skin cells. But I wish I could keep them because it took me a long time to get that disgusting, and I'm sure going to miss the heavy feeling of being unwashed. Probably, it'll take me another six months to get that dirty again, now that I'm in the pit of depression and I'm not really doing much anymore. But since it's all washing away anyhow, I might as well use some soap. Even though it smells nice, because I hate all the good things and I just want to keep wallowing in my sadness.

Somehow, soap changes everything. When I get out of the shower, I'm feeling these little bursts of contentment, and every time I try to sigh myself back into suicidal thoughts, my heart just keeps getting light and lighter, totally against my will. So I wrap myself in a big clean towel and maybe if I'm feeling up to it, I put some clean clothes on. Might as well, since I'm sick of looking at the other ones I've been wearing so long since I'm a loser. Now and then, if I'm not careful I'll catch my face in the mirror, and I'll smile just a little bit before I realize what I'm doing. Not for long though, because my skin looks good and the smile is growing, and if I'm not careful the happiness will come back. We can't be having that, now can we?

Usually, I'm not ready to let go of being sad because it's so much fun, so I'll tell someone how good it felt to finally take a shower. I'll tell them how alive it makes me feel, and that tomorrow I might even wash my sheets or something. I do this purposely, because I can feel little dandelions of happiness sprouting up in my pity garden, and I need someone to help me pull them. So I find someone who seems pretty accomplished, and I tell them a little about what's been going on with me. Usually, it's best if that person is smug and happy, because they really like those happy little dandelions, and as they remind me, smiling, to just pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix it (because life is easy and you can totally just choose to be happy like they are), the happy person collects my dandelions without even noticing, leaving me with my carefully cultivated plot of depression, sad and pathetic again -- just how I like it.

Eventually though, no matter how hard I fight them off, some happy person attaches themselves to me and drags me along beside them. I try to ignore it and keep being sad in my little cloud of darkness, but the happy person keeps shining light all over everything until the dandelions bloom and chase my depression away. I try to drag them down with me because I love being sad all the time, but it doesn't work. I get happy -- even though I hate it and I need my sadness back, since it's my comfort zone now and depression is the life I choose for myself. So I begin to store up things to be depressed about. I look for reasons to complain and I start taking things personally on purpose because that's a good way to make me feel sorry for myself. I try to overreact as much as possible because otherwise I'll accidentally build a support network, and I get anxious a lot because if I can't be depressed, I can at least be anxious, right?

During the happy times, I just hold out and wait for the sadness to come again, and it always does. I fight the happiness off for as long as I can, tolerate it while it lasts, finally get used it -- but since I like to be negative all the time, I make a point of always "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It's fun living life wrapped in a blanket of dread, so I hold onto that too, for as long as I can. Eventually though, I start to accept the happiness -- because even though I want to be depressed all the time and feel sorry for myself, it looks like happy is my new norm so I may as well get used to it.

Then a few months later, I do it all again because the endlessness of this cycle is the best aspect of choosing to be part of it.

Not. Like seriously, do you guys even see how ridiculous that is? How heartcrushingly sad is it that right now, someone is reading this and nodding their head smugly because that's actually what they think depression is.

*sigh*

Okay. This post has gotten pretty long, so I'm going to leave it hanging right here, where people who don't get it can see what it feels like to be told to just "let it go" and "get over it" because "it'll get better" and "all you have to do is change things." I'm going to leave it hanging right here, where people who suffer from not only Depression, but the smugness of others who don't understand it, can feel just for once like they are not alone, because they can see the truth behind the italics.

And in my next post, I'm going to put it all out there for you. I'm going to use regular text, and I'm going to stop being funny or sarcastic. I'm going to use full-on 100% honesty, and I'm going to tell you what really hides behind "I'm fine, just tired today." I'm going to rewrite the above account, and I'm going to do it the honest way, even though it terrifies me because the only honest way I know is the one that's honest for me, the one that lives inside my head.

In the mean time, I wish you happy reading -- because for some of us, sometimes, a book is the only happy place we can find.
B.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Depression Is More Than A KeyWord -- More Than Friends

I've been working my way through the Kingsley Series lately, telling you all about the thread of Depression (and general mental health) awareness that runs through the books in this series. I talked a little about why, and what part mental health plays in each book in this series (so far). I even mentioned briefly why this particular subject is such an important one for me personally, and in the back of each book, I've included a personal letter from me that relates even more closely to the story of each Kingsley couple.

I'm thirty-two now, and I have suffered from Depression for over half my life; for all of my adult life (and most of my teenage years) I've battled tendencies to self-destructive thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, poor relationship choices, and suicidal temptation -- but with that said, I can also say that I'm among the lucky ones.

For me, Depression is a demon that rides around on my shoulder, whispering in my ear. It tells me I'm not pretty enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not tall enough. Not good enough. It echoes things that I have heard from others, from commercials, from books, from music, from movies. From people who were once close to me, from people who lied to me or people who once loved me but for whatever reason eventually stopped. Depression tells me that everyone who ever left my life did it willingly, that they left me because I lack whatever it takes to keep people around, that every loss I've ever felt has somehow not only been my fault, but because I deserve that loss. It tells me that I'll never amount to anything, that I'm destined to never rise above the legacy of my childhood. Because I am not deserving of good things, because I am not deserving of love, because I am not enough.

Because whatever it is, I don't have it.

Sometimes it echoes the things people have said to me, things that poked right through the tough exterior, things that dug right into the soft center of the girl everyone believes is fearless. It tells me disdainfully that I'm "a typical woman" because I want romance in my life that meets my emotional needs (just like everyone else does), and it tells me I am "selfish" and "greedy" because I am no longer willing to settle for less than what will make me happy. It tells me I am "lazy" because I work at home instead of outside the home, it tells me I am "doing nothing all day" even though my timeclock argues otherwise. When I'm feeling accomplished and proud to be chasing my dreams, Depression whispers in my ear, "Come on, you and I both know you'll never get there." It uses my father's voice, my uncle's voice, the voice of a childhood friend. It uses the voices of men I once loved, the voices of their family members, the voices of my own family members. It uses the sting of a laughing vocal tone, the spiritual ache of a scornful eye roll, the twinge of soul that occurs upon the witness of a doubtful smirk.

Depression is a demon, make no mistake about it; it's an enemy that hides like a shadow behind every mental corner, creeps upon you like a predator in the quiet moments, and never lets go.

But it can be beaten, even if it must be beaten again and again.

In More Than Friends, Michael Kingsley suffered from Depression after his wife left him. He's the first in the Kingsley family to be divorced, and he saw his wife's abandonment as a personal failure. He sank into alcohol abuse, fell into a casual sex relationship that sated his need for companionship but failed to ease the wounds of his spirit. He went through the motions, sure, kept his business running, kept his relationships up with his family ... but under the surface, there was a demon whispering in his ear.
  • "You were a lousy husband."
  • "It's no wonder she left you."
  • "What a loser, you can't even keep a wife."
  • "Look, everyone is married but you."
  • "Everyone is in love, but you."
  • "You're a failure. An embarrassment. An alcoholic."

But Michael was one of the lucky ones, too -- maybe even luckier than I am. Michael was fortunate enough to have a close-knit family that supported him, a young employee who looked up to him, a friend who never failed to just be there for him.

His family offered him unconditional love, the belief that he would be alright, the certainty that all would be well again. He knew they would never leave him. Ben, the young man who worked for Michael, was an encouragement simply by the friendship he offered, the faithfulness of his work ethic, and his eagerness to be helpful. But it was Renee who spent those quiet moments with him, talking too much about nothing, laughing over stupid jokes, and simply being present in his life. It was Renee who offered Michael another glimpse at something he wasn't sure he'd ever feel again -- hope.

Hope is the single strongest weapon a sufferer of Depression has, the single most valuable tool that can be used to fight the demon. Hope waters the spirit, gives life to the soul, and allows so many other beautiful things to bloom.

In the next newsletter, we'll talk about the value of Hope, where to find it when you're next to giving up, and how to grow it once you've got it. 

But for now, I'd like to offer you a giveaway -- my first $20 Trivia.

Also: a reminder, and a request for help. Fat Chance, the first book in the Kingsley Series, is now free on most major e-book markets. For direct download links, the book blurb, and more information about the Kingsley Series, please see the Kingsley Series information page. Fat Chance also needs some review love! Reviews are a meaningful way to let authors know what you like best about a book, and I try to read every single review of my books. Now and then I miss one though, so if you review Fat Chance (or any of my books) on any website or online platform, please send a link to your review to me at authorbrandikennedy@gmail.com. Make sure to include your name and mailing address, and I'll drop a swag pack in the mail to thank you for your time.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- Wrestling Harmony

Lately I've been talking a lot about depression, because it's been something that I'm extra aware of recently. It's all over my newsfeeds on social media, partly because awareness is beginning to grow more quickly, partly because stigma is declining after such a very long time of this being a taboo topic. And partly because I am frequent sufferer. Depression bleeds through the fabric of my life like an ink stain -- it marks my relationships with the people who love me, it sometimes separates me from the people I love. It leaves me often feeling isolated and tender, overly sensitive and overly emotional. It makes me angry, makes people angry with me. Obviously it makes me sad.

It makes me think the unthinkable, just like Cass did in Fat Chance. It makes me isolate, like Cameron in Prescription For Love, who had her trusted network and was afraid to let anyone else in. It makes me anxious, like Harmony in Wrestling Harmony - although she was closer to an anxiety disorder than actual depression.

Harmony walked through her young life with an uncomfortably full awareness of the terrible thing that happened to her big sister, Cameron, and it made her afraid to open herself up. Afraid to trust, afraid to love - and afraid to try again when she realized that the course her life had been set on was no longer working. She had a big dream, a huge goal, and she had dedicated most of her young life to chasing that goal - only to pass the threshold where that goal became impossible.

You see, young Harmony Kingsley was going to be an Olympic star, a gymnast. She trained hard, she competed often, and she was well on her way - for a while. But then she left her teen years behind and as she moved into her 20's, she began to see hints from the gymnastics community that her time was up. She began to receive invites from the coaching community, gentle nudges away from competition, and she saw her dreams slipping away.

You can relate, right? Because that's hard on anyone; we all remember the big dreams of our childhoods, the dreams of becoming a famous singer, an astronaut, a dancer, an actor. But when you're a young woman just beginning to learn the ways of the world, not yet finished with the angst of young adulthood, this is particularly hard.

Enter the boy (because I am a romance writer, after all - there must be a boy). Harmony meets a young man by accident, right in the midst of all of this change, and ultimately, it's her meeting with him that changes the course of her life. Through the experiences he brings her way, Harmony learns to begin again, to walk away from the past, to cut the loss of her dream ... and to begin to dream again.

Harmony's "official" diagnosis is PTSD-by-proxy, a disorder characterized by emotional closeness to an authentic sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This category includes (for example) untouched children who were witnesses but not direct victims of situations like sexual abuse and/or domestic violence, etc. PTSD-by-proxy can leave sufferers with various symptoms similar to several disorders, including anxiety attacks and bouts of depression.

This is why we read books, isn't it? To understand the obscure, to practice compassion and empathy, to feel something we haven't felt before. We read fantasies so that we can experience the unknown, we read thrillers so that we can partake in unimaginable adventure, we read mysteries so that we can exercise our inner sleuth. But romance? We read romance to feel. We want to feel the elated high of new love, the full body shivers of eroticism, the crushing depth of heartbreak, the emptiness of loss.

We love the love in it, sure, and we tell our friends about our favorite sweet books, the ones that make us laugh and swoon and fall in love. But we tell our friends, too, about the books that break our hearts, the ones that make us cry, the ones that leave something in our souls that wasn't there before.

Depression is a demon for me, a darkness that I can't escape from no matter how many candles I light. It's a stench that poisons my life, no matter how much perfume I spray. It's a curse that no magic can unravel.

But books ... books help me walk away for a while, they help me leave the darkness behind, help me shut the door on the demon. But they help me embrace it too - because in sharing my books with you, in sharing my stories and the characters that are so very real to me ... I find solace.

My characters are often troubled by some circumstance they haven't yet been able to let go of, and in the course of each of their stories, they find a loving companion willing to meet them right where they are and walk them into the light of hope. My characters are often bogged down by traumas from their pasts, and as they learn to forgive, to trust, to believe, I hope they endeavor to bring you into the light of hope, as well.

But until then,
Happy Reading.
B.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- Prescription For Love

Last week, I talked about the way depression fit into the story of my book, Fat Chance. I told you a little about Cass and her struggle with suicidal depression, but what I didn't say (because I hope you would want to read the book and see how she was able to grow and heal) is how meaningful her growth in that story was to me personally.

After Cass went to therapy for the first time, she took home some lessons and some strong encouragement from her therapist, Mac Caswell; he gave her strategies in the book that I have used in my own personal life to battle depression and the lure of suicide. With Mac's guidance, Cass used the power of positive music and daily positive affirmations -- the very same things that I use on an almost daily basis to battle the demon of Depression, which has lived on my shoulder since I was a teenager. Mac challenged Cass to find her own self worth, to find her own self love. He helped her learn to respect herself, and it was his encouragement that gave her the power to change her life.

These weren't exactly the same strategies Mac used with Cameron in Prescription For Love, though.

Cameron wasn't really depressed, per se, but she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which isn't without its similarities to Depression. Depression and PTSD often come hand in hand, actually, though Cameron was much less severely depressed than Cass; Cameron had a strong support system behind her, one that she trusted completely and believed in with all her heart, and it made the difference for her between giving up after tragedy and rebuilding a life from the ashes.

Still, the after-effects of rape trauma left Cameron somewhat bitter and disillusioned, afraid to risk her heart, and too secure behind her wall of protection to ever risk believing in love. And who could blame her for that, right? We've all been hurt before, haven't we? And I can't imagine any person is ever in a hurry to let themselves be hurt again -- and neither was Cameron, whose heartbreak was far from the average relationship gone bad.

Somehow, a career as a wedding planner didn't help either; as she often found herself planning weddings for the same people over and over, Cameron began to doubt that she could ever find love. Soon, even the reminder of her parents' solid and happy marriage wasn't enough to inspire her to open her heart.

I call Depression a demon, and for most people who suffer from it, that's what it is. It's an evil little whisper in the depths of your heart, a weight you aren't sure you have the strength to carry, a wound you have no hope will ever heal. For sufferers of PTSD, the feeling is the largely the same, though the symptoms may differ greatly. Still, like with Depression, it truly takes a major change to break the cycle -- and Cameron found her major change in an unexpected attraction to a widower, raising his young son mostly alone.

A widower who knew his way around a troubled soul.

When the Kingsley Series is taken book by book, each story is a message of something bigger that pertains to one story ... just a book about a couple journeying together into the realm of love, sometimes having been there before -- and sometimes not. But I like to think of the Kingsley Series as a whole, and as a whole, this is a story of a family's growth through Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD. It's the journey of a family as they move through tragedy and shame, hardship and unbelievable challenge.

But it's their journey of hope, too, the picture of a family making it work through the best and the worst of times. They hold each other up, they encourage and love each other despite everything they've all been through, and they accept the growth of their family through spouses and children with incredible grace and charm.

In the next post, I'm going to keep this up -- and as we walk through the Kingsley Series, I'm going to walk you through some of my personal journeys with Depression. I'll share with you the tools I use to battle this horrible disease, and I hope not only that you'll grow to love the Kingsley family as much as I do, but that these posts will find just the right readers, that these words will provide encouragement, and that my journey might inspire others to keep journeying, too.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Depression Is More Than A KeyWord -- Fat Chance

If you know me at all, even if only through reading and following my books, you know that depression is a deep topic for me. In the writing, you'll have seen (and felt, according to the reviews -- so go me on doing a good job) the true depth of depression in Fat Chance, the first book in the Kingsley Series (which is now free, if you didn't know; click here for download links). In that book, there's an emphasis on body positivity and learning to love yourself, but there's a deeper message a lot of people don't pick up on.

There's a scene in that book where the main female character, Cass, is so sad and in such a dark place (because of her body image and interactions with certain people who were once close to her) that she finds herself in the bathroom at her job, debating the merits of various eating disorders -- and suicide.

"I'd rather be dead than be fat." 
Would I? Would I rather be dead than be fat? I'm a healthy woman. Large as I am, my body is actually rather fit and I am pretty strong. I'm not likely to die of natural causes anytime soon. Still ... 
Standing there in a stall in the bathroom, I feel a tear slip down my cheek as the old urge rises up. Growing up as a foster kid bullied about my status and my weight, I'd always battled feelings of worthlessness and depression. I'd always battled the idea of suicide, the idea that if I were simply to stop living, no one would care.

Once, I'd stolen a page from Janet's proverbial notebook, and I'd listed all the possible routes of suicide that I could think of. I'd listed the pros and cons of each method. Ultimately, it had been the thought of hurting Janet that had stopped me. I couldn’t thumb my nose at her in that way, not after she had worked so hard to provide a life for me. 
When I was fifteen, in the foster home before I was placed with Janet and her husband Jim, I'd chosen an over-the-counter painkiller and taken three quarters of a bottle with a glass of vodka from my foster father's desk drawer. He came home early that day and found me, so here I am. Still alive. Still fat. Still miserable. And because someone loves me, unable to try it again. 
I would try again, maybe, if not for Janet and the twins. But I’m not alone anymore – I don't have a ton of friends because I don't go out, my insecurities don't allow that; but I do have a family now, and aside from Rick, they love me. And I'm standing here staring at that floating toilet that always terrifies me, and I'm thinking again of suicide. I can't believe myself. 
"I'd rather be dead than be fat." 
I don't know that I'd rather be dead. What I do know is that something has to give. I can't walk that path again; it would tear Janet apart to think that she's failed me somehow, even though she hasn't. It would kill my sisters, for them to realize that as close as we are, there are just some times when I can't turn to them. It isn’t their responsibility to save me – or fix me – and I know that. But I can’t leave them with the burden of feeling like they couldn’t. I know they would think they should have.

Almost immediately following this episode, Cass called a therapist. She made an appointment, and she went to it. She showed up, incredibly sad, embarrassed and ashamed, to ask for help from someone else -- because she had reached a point where she was afraid of her own self. Afraid of how she might handle her pain. Afraid of what she might do -- and what that might do to the people she loved.

Being an author who wants to seem accessible to my readers, I spend a lot of time on social media, and recently my news feeds -- particularly on Facebook -- have been dominated by posts about being depressed, depression awareness, and how to conquer depression. Maybe this is organic, since Depression truly is much more than a keyword to me, or maybe it's because finally, awareness is spreading. Stigma is fading. Now, people like me can step out into the world and say that they've struggled with the demon we call Depression. People like me can do what Cass did -- and we can do it without shame. We can find support. We can find others who fight the battle, too.

Awareness still hasn't reached the deepest, darkest parts of our society though. It hasn't reached every person, it hasn't opened every heart to feel compassion, it hasn't opened every mind to understand.

Depressed people are still seen as "negative," "pessimistic," "irritable," "moody." Your depressed friend calls you, and you roll your eyes and ignore the call because you just can't listen to it anymore. They bring you down. They kill your buzz. Party poopers.

But for today, try to remember how much you might be bringing that person up. Remember how much you mean to them, particularly in those moments when your personal "Wendy Whiner" is reaching out to you ... again. If you've got a "Debbie Downer" or a "Negative Ned" in your life, call them today. Reach out to them, ask them if they're alright, and offer to stand beside them as they work their way through the struggles of life. Do it tomorrow, too. And the day after. Because let me tell you from experience -- you might be the one thing that holds that person back from a precipice you didn't even realize they were standing on.

Be an advocate. Be aware. Love Louder.
And in the meantime, Happy Reading.
B.
REAL CHARACTERS. HONEST LOVE. BRANDI KENNEDY BOOKS.