Well … Now I’m Depressed

My last post was a good few months ago, discussing the fact that being mentally stable can have its downsides – notably, the fact that really, it’s kind of boring. I haven’t had a whole lot to say since then, despite my promises of more frequent posting here back at the start of the year, but the honest truth is that there hasn’t been a whole lot going on in my life; work, home, work, home … it kind of all just blends, day after day, into a mishmash of boring daily routine.

But the good news is, that’s all changed. Now, I’m depressed. (Really it’s not that good.) For the past few weeks I’ve been slowly settling into a decline of mental state, to the point where today, I spent my day off primarily sleeping in bed, just waiting for the day to be over.

It all started well enough; slept in a little, got up to make a nice breakfast of crepes and bacon. But little things set me off – things that previously might not have bothered me. I couldn’t get the coffee machine to work. The crepes stuck to the pan. The heat and humidity of northern New Jersey don’t help. And just like that, I wound up in a childishly bad mood, storming off to sleep the morning away.

And there I stayed, on and off, until now. To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m writing this at all. It isn’t deep, it isn’t important, and it isn’t meaningful. I think it’s just a way of exorcising some demons, perhaps – talking to anonymous internet people who just maybe understand something of what I feel.

The honest truth is that it isn’t really all that bad; I’m not cripplingly depressed, I’m still going to work – I’m able to function. It’s more like a festering dismal mindset, something that rears its ugly head when I have a moment to spare and nothing better to think about. Distractions – work, entertainment, movies – work well, but then of course there are the more destructive coping mechanisms as well.

For me, it’s primarily alcohol. Not anything outright alarming; nothing overly copious, no morning hangovers; just … a few beers every single night. Maybe some whiskey. Enough to take the edge off. And I don’t necessarily think there’s anything terribly wrong with that, either – it’s just a question of whether or not I’m becoming dependent on it. I haven’t really gone a night without drinking in a month or more, and I wonder how I’d feel – emotionally – if I did.

I know that this is a passing phase, and that I will recover from this and feel better. I also know that it won’t be easy making it through to that point. It’s potentially dangerous, too; not outright life-threatening, but for my physical, mental and emotional well-being. It comes with a kind of “fuck it” mentality, a sense that I just don’t care anymore, which can lead to overspending, overeating, over-drinking … you name it, I might do it.

Eventually I’ll emerge from the other side of this canyon, but like any dip into a deep well, it’s harder climbing out than falling in. The good news is that life is relentless, pushing you forward whether you like it or not, and for all the struggles, I’ve made it this far and I’ll make it further.

Until then, I’ll drink my beer, and eat too much cheese, and sleep all day if I want to. It’s the only way I know how to make it through.

It’s Funny How Time Slips By

I had the strangest sensation earlier (it might have been the hallucination of a pre-wake dream) that April was almost over, and we were barreling toward September. A kind of grand perspective of the year, a notion that with four months down, it really isn’t that far until most of the year is gone, and then not much further until all of it is. And in that thought, it occurred to me that the year is really only made up of days, and it doesn’t take much for a day to go by without consequence – so that by extension, the rest of the year can go by without us really even being aware of it.

Time is a strange beast, gnawing away daily at our lives until there’s nothing left. Even into the minutes that make up the day, they can pass like treacle – so slow that you hardly notice, and it seems an endless moment until something else happens – or they can fly by like the Flash circling Superman. For example, I woke up around 8 AM this morning, and I didn’t have to leave for work until around 11:15 AM. That’s a lot of time to do stuff – theoretically. Here’s how my morning played out:

  • 8 AM – 9 AM: Lie with the cat.
  • 9 AM – 9:15 AM: Have coffee.
  • 9:15 AM – 10:30 AM: Nap.
  • 10:30 AM – 11:15 AM: Write this post.

And trust me, I almost didn’t write this post – mainly because I couldn’t think of what to write. I was lying in bed, cozy and warm under the covers but wide awake, and thinking to myself: What on earth should I do now? It was one of those moments where it felt like I had all the time in the world, and nothing to do with it.

But the scary part about that is that the attitude of “there’s plenty of time” is also what leads to lost time. A kind of procrastinator’s curse, if you will. It’s one thing if you put off until tomorrow in order to get something else done, but when you put off something in order to get nothing done, not only does it feel like you’ve wasted your time, but it also feels as though you’re wasting your future time, knowing that you’ll now have to do something when you might not really have the time to do it.

For what it’s worth, I’m not saying that having a warm, cozy morning nap is a waste of time; sometimes it’s exactly what you need. I’m no stranger to self-care, and dealing with mental illness most of my life has taught me that I really do need that ‘me-time’ – at least from time to time. But this morning was different; I wasn’t feeling depressed, stressed, anxious, or really anything negative at all. Instead, I think what happened is I fell into a routine, a habit that has spawned out of the need for sleep and self-care, which led me to, if not ‘waste’ time, at least not use it productively. I could have done any number of things this morning, and I actually would have felt like doing them. But I didn’t.

This sort of philosophy, this kind of behavior that I know I fall prey to really quite frequently, I think, is why I feel like time is slipping away. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how many months – perhaps even years – of my life I could have back had I not spent them sleeping, or moping, or feeling like there was no point doing anything. Not that any of that was really under my control – depression is a real villain, sometimes – but it makes me wonder if, for example, The Redemption of Erâth would be complete by now if I was some other person. Or perhaps I would be further ahead in my career at work.

All of it amounts to the thought that my life is really very limited, and having lived through a decent chunk of it already – all of which is time I’ll never get back – I worry that there isn’t enough of it left. I mean, I could die tomorrow, of course, but assuming nothing untoward happens to me, I still only have maybe four or five decades left. Which, right now, sounds like a lot. But I know me, and I know that I’m going to wake up one day and find that I’m actually old, and that I’ve wasted my life.

Maybe this is all coming across as a kind of midlife crisis rant, and perhaps that’s exactly what it is. I’m certainly not here to commit to ‘doing better’, or not wasting my life anymore, but at the same time, I’m very conscious that every day that goes by without an accomplishment – however small – is a day I’ll never get back.

So here’s my accomplishment for today: I wrote this post. Perhaps no one will read it, but if you do, let me know what you think about life, and time, and whether sleeping the day away counts as a waste. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The “Other” Experience: Representing Diversity

I came across a now-deleted post on Reddit the other day, entitled simply, “The Trans Experience”. By the time I clicked on it, the original post had already been removed, but there was a reply that, I think, beautifully encapsulated the struggle some authors face when trying to include diverse perspectives and representations in their work, and what to do – and what not to do – when doing so. There’s a part of me that wishes the comment had been its own post, because it really made a lot of sense.

The comment was quite long, but in summary, it more or less posits the following: do include trans characters in your books; do not attempt to write the ‘trans experience’. Over the course of several paragraphs, the commenter, a stated trans man, quite eloquently points out that diversity and representation of trans people is sorely needed in literature, but when a cis-gendered person tries to write a novel about being trans, and the experience thereof, they are – even if inadvertently – causing more harm than good to trans authors and the trans community. There are elements of being trans that are difficult, if not impossible, for a cis person to truly comprehend, and therefore put across correctly in a story. Instead, the author points out that you should instead focus on aspects of their personalities that are universal – happiness, sadness, life and death – and have the fact that they are trans as more incidental.

Whilst this is a great perspective specific to the context of the trans community, it can easily be widened to incorporate writing about any community the author is not necessarily a part of. I think many authors are very much aware that there is a distinct lack of representation in literature, with what seems to be the vast majority of stories focusing on straight, white male protagonists, but the answer isn’t to try and overcome this by writing stories about the experience of those other groups. A white author might recognize the deficit of black characters, but trying to write a black character from the perspective of their struggles as a black person could go disastrously awry. No white person can ever truly know what it’s like to be black, and it would be incredibly difficult to come across as authentic and genuine.

When I started writing The Redemption of Erâth, I was heavily influenced by The Lord of the Rings, which, for all its fame and importance, is hardly the most inclusive of novels. I also wanted to write characters my then-young son could identify with, so I chose – perhaps subconsciously, even – to make the main protagonists young white males (well, I don’t specify their skin color necessarily, but that’s what I had in mind). I even killed off the only important female character as a plot device to kick off the rest of the series. But as I continued writing, I realized that this didn’t have to be the limit of the characters, and I started introducing far more diverse characters, including stronger female characters, different ethnicities, and even ages.

Of course, The Redemption of Erâth is high fantasy, and there are arguably only the limits of my imagination when it comes to the characters that appear within it. When it comes to my young adult/contemporary fiction that I write under my real name, I found myself in a different boat altogether: my first novel deals with teenage depression from the perspective of a young woman, which is – as a man – a perspective I have limited experience with. In writing from a female perspective, it was tempting to try and shove in as many ‘female’-centric characteristics as possible: dealing with boys, dating, periods, etc. But I soon realized that this kind of writing came off as ‘man tries to write women, fails successfully’.

Instead, I found myself following the above Redditor’s advice years before I ever saw it, and focusing instead on the emotional and human characteristics that are universal to all people: depression, sadness, death and loss, and all the things that affect all humans equally. When I had several female friends beta-read it, I specifically wanted them to see if it felt authentic from a female perspective, and to my astonishment, they universally said ‘yes’.

I took this concept further with my second novel in this genre, featuring both gay and black characters; again, not because I’m trying to force diversity into my stories, but because that’s who these characters are – how they appeared to me, and what their personalities were crying out to me to be. And again, I found myself wanting to write forced passages on racism, sexism and misconstrued sexual identity, and I had to stop myself. I don’t know anything about those concepts, except perhaps as the subconscious perpetrator of racist and sexist ideologies (I don’t think of myself as racist, but I know I’ve definitely said and done racist things without realizing it), so I tried hard to focus on the aspects of being human that transcend sexuality, race, and gender.

I have yet to see how successful this approach is, as this second novel is yet to be published, but I think it’s allowed me to write a story that deals with tragedy, love and loss from the perspective of people, rather than ‘black’ or ‘white’ or any other kind of separator of humankind. And if it turns out successful (to be determined by my readers, of course), then I would like to think that this could be a valid way of writing representation overall.

I think the lesson here is that we can all do better at representing minorities and traditionally unrepresented communities in our writing, and it doesn’t have to be in a way that singles them out – in fact, it’s probably better to write in these characters in an inclusive manner, to make them a part of the story and therefore a part of the world, just as they are in real life. I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, or black, or trans, but I do know that if I was, I would want the same acceptance that I already enjoy as a straight white male. It isn’t fair that there are entire groups of people who are ostracized and isolated because of some characteristic that they don’t even have control over, and I think the world – both in literature and in real life – needs more acceptance, rather than more divisiveness.

What are some of the best instances of minority representation you’ve seen from non-minority authors? Are there examples that make you grind your teeth at how stereotyped the characters are (Stephen King, I’m looking at you)? Let me know in the comments!