When I was asked to write something for Mental Wellness for #HoldOnToTheLight , I was thrilled. Why? It is the reason why I create and write, to do just that, Hold On To The Light. A spectrum of mental health issues, both my own, family, and friends surrounded me growing up. At first, my writing did not reflect these deep dark pools of human struggle until I reached my high school years when I better understood them. I realized that it was part of living in a tangible world. Often Mental Health is not considered in the possible outcomes, consequences of our actions or the events we experience, but look again, and the reality is we are prisoners of our own minds and bodies. These wounds, injuries or disabilities, cannot always be seen, yet Mental Health is a drowning wave of emotions that hits even those around you.
Let me tell you the experiences, the panic I felt growing up with the suffocating awareness of how important one’s Mental Health can be. I was in Fifth grade when the first wave hit. Yes, even at this startling age someone can fall apart mentally. Verbal abuse was escalating, at home and in school. Diagnosed with depression, put on strong medications, and changing teachers and ripped from friends; these were all decisions made at this time. The only counseling was with the one at my school, but I was too young, too scared to voice what was going on with me. I felt that I had done something wrong to be treated this way by my teacher, by my mother. How was I supposed to know adults could choose to be mean to a child for no reason at all?
Middle school widened my eyes. No longer would I take the Depression pills that made me horribly sick, plus my mother had voiced she wasn’t going to pay for that or the counseling since I was no longer going to that school. Mental health was something talked about in my school and even covered along with anti-drug campaigns and abuse awareness. Granted, they still didn’t cover enough for me to see how my situation fit into this spectrum of abuse. I did my best not to cry in front of my mom, because I had caught on she dug her claws deeper when I did. There is still this overwhelming sting of being in Seventh grade, watching as she let my Fifth grade sister shave her legs. Looking to my own, you would think they belonged to a lumberjack. I braved to ask if she could let me, show me even and the reply never stopped ringing in my ears, you’re not pretty enough, why should you?
High school was when I decided I would work hard for myself. I was now painfully aware that my mother was aiming to make me fail at every turn. That phrase alone may seem dramatic when heard from a young girl, but who would believe me? Who would think I was not lying when I told them my mother threw my library books in the trash, she demanded I quit my first job because I got the shoes I bought dirty, that I had to pay rent, was responsible for taking care of my sister and making parental worthy judgment calls like should she go to this party or that one (I always said no to them all, but Mom would let her go and I would be the one blamed), I filled out the divorce papers for my parents, she wiped out my savings account when she realized I was going to put a deposit down on an apartment, and the list can go on for days. All this weighing down on my mind yet my mental health was struggling to stay positive by writing and drawing. It felt good, even when she ripped them apart and threw them away, I could always make more. It was my silent rebellion, the rope that kept me from falling completely down an abyss of depression.
As I moved out, grew older, I was riddled with everlasting scars which brought my mental health to a painful new low. Anxiety attacks would send me to my knees and I would rock on the floor sobbing uncontrollably while my cell phone buzzed across the tiles with the word Mom flashing on its screen. I had assumed I had escaped it, but no one ever told me Mental Abuse can continue to lash out long after the source has been taken out of the equation. This is when I made a huge decision, to see a therapist and psychiatrist. Even while my head screamed at me to stop, my body went through the motions. Medication was needed to help break that, and at first, I went in hopes of working things out with my mother. Instead, when I called to ask her to come to a session with me, I felt the invisible slap on the face as she screamed over the phone, F*** YOU! You’re the crazy one! I don’t need to go to a F***ing therapist! Another thing I failed here in my early adulthood was I had stopped writing and even drawing for some time. Later, I would discover it was my lifesaver and even today, I refuse to let it go, knowing it helps me keep my mind healthy even at the worst of times.
In short, writing and art came back in my life when I found myself at a whole new low. There wasn’t much I could do about my situation; two months pregnant, both my husband and I lost our jobs (2009), Mortgage company refused to work with us and started foreclosure papers, repo’ed one of our cars since we couldn’t afford it, sold off what we could, signed up for what we could, and the grand slam was diagnosed with Skin Cancer and having the back of my left calf removed at the six month mark of my first pregnancy. My focus turned to keeping my mind occupied elsewhere. I put my mental health first since I knew I would need my head and emotions working, functioning to pull through this weight Murphy’s Law had dumped on my shoulders. I sat down, I opened that novel I started in High School, and started to learn everything I could about writing at a professional level.
Here I stand before you, chasing after a dream I grew up thinking was impossible, even stupid. I have books on Amazon, paperbacks you can hold and see, I host workshops and events, people ask me about my work, ask me to sign their copies of my creativity, and even though my life still explodes, I feel great mentally. That doesn’t mean I don’t get tired or worn down on occasion, but I don’t stay down for long. I strive every day to put my mental health first, since a lot of the nasty stuff I face today is only overcome by being able to think and see clear enough to see the solution and actions I need to take. There are still days I cry, but I do a lot more laughing now. Life’s too short to drown in mental health issues, but then again, I am lucky and fortunate enough to not need help beyond my writing for most of it. If I get overwhelmed though, I do not hesitate to seek help and that’s the biggest difference.
So, how does this influence my writing? We see that writing influences my mental state drastically, but it’s a two way street. I have characters that are often immortal, extremely powerful, but they are all flawed in a mental capacity. They are never dying and have magical powers, but even they are prone to making mistakes, mental health failing when they don’t consider the consequences, and it doesn’t just affect them, but those around them and the very world I’ve created for their story.
In my Young Adult Urban Fantasy, Tattooed Angels Trilogy, you will find characters who struggle to do anything alone. No one should face depression, grief, and other dark emotion by themselves. They will break you. This trilogy I started in High School, and it was my way of sharing a fictional tale as to why it’s important to let yourself lean on those around you, family and friends, so you can overcome the mental and emotional obstacles in your life.
A sharp ache stabbed into his chest and the frightening words hit him: sole survivor. Closing his eyes tight, tears worked past his eyelids and he caved to the drowning sensation of grief. Cupping his face with his hands, all the mental and emotional exhaustion boiled over inside him. Starting from the moment Hotan revealed his visions to the raging storm, he clenched his teeth sobbing. All that pain and misery to only end up sitting on a heavenly beach, miraculously healed, yet left all alone. Where were his friends, family and fellow Levites? It all seemed like a cruel taunt from destiny.
[Excerpt from JUDGMENT, Book 2 Tattooed Angels Trilogy]
The one that really digs deep in the speed in which mental health can fall apart when you neglect yourself is The Cedric Series. As you traverse events and decisions with these characters, their lives entangle themselves in ever-increasing chaos. The moments they do seem to succeed and pull through is where they open up to one another, accept their limitations on an emotional capacity, or when they take the time to work together. Granted, they are fragile, and as soon as one spirals out of control, they drag the rest in. I can attest to this in my own life. This series is a reflection of the darker aspects of mental health and a way to reach out to readers that even with all this power, even they cannot escape the weight of abuse, trauma, loss, mental disabilities, and more.
“Fenrir! You bastard! Where have you gone!” Tears fell from his eyes, his face red, veins in his temple and neck bulged from the lament of his tantrum. “Why did you leave me alone, please, don’t be silent! Not even this wills you to speak! I, I can’t tell who I am anymore without your voice!”
Nyctimus whimpered, realizing something he had missed during the last few decades. There were no more moments of Fenrir pulling forward. It had suddenly stopped around the time Romasanta had started living with the lepers. Fear waved over Nyctimus as his thoughts raced for answers. If Fenrir had vanished, than why would the curse remain?
Rolling to his side, Romasanta shook as he covered his face sobbing. “Daphne, if only I had you, just maybe, for an instant, I could be the man I started as… but how could I ever face you again as the monster I’ve become.”
[Excerpt from ROMASANTA, Book 2 The Cedric Series]
My message here is clear: Stop, Evaluate, and Accept. We sometimes have to give ourselves a moment to breath, look at our situation and how we are or aren’t dealing with it all, and then accept that we need help. Mental Health can make the difference between hurting the loved ones and friends in your life versus accepting you need help through counseling, medicinal, or other means. Pride needs to be pushed into a box, saved for a time you can use it more properly. Being secretive needs to be pushed out to the open, for the cry of help is needed to reach whoever can best aid you. Honesty, to yourself, to your aids, is the upmost importance so that you may not slide too far down the abyss of breaking your mind. There our people in your life wanting to help you, that is always there whether you realize it or not, but until you SEA you need the help, they have no way to cross that threshold to support you. I once failed to do that, and I hope, someone somewhere that this message reaches you and helps you take that breath and get your life going in a better direction.