In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant…. My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known – no wonder, then, that I return the love.
– Soren Kierkegaard
It is a demon always looking over my shoulder or standing in between my life and me. It is dark and mysterious and the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. I am in constant fear of being consumed by it and that is a rational fear because it has certainly consumed large quantities of my life and energy and spirit. Not only does it steal your life while you’re living it, it affects your ability to be able to remember your past. When it is present things literally look, smell, and sound different. What is this monster forever lurking in the shadows? My depression.
In moments of strength I realize that my depression cannot do anything to me that I do not allow. But when I am sliding down a steep slope into complete despair that is not how it feels. For most of my life I have felt completely controlled by clinical depression. It has been both a shadowy monster constantly hovering over me and a comforting friend who is always there; I have let it define me for most of my life. It has been a burden to me and those who love me but I was never quite able to shake it and chase away that monster. I have been on medication and off medication, in therapy and out of therapy and still it bedevils me. Sometimes it is content to watch me from afar and I can feel its eyes on me. Other times it inhabits my soul and rearranges my thoughts. And, oddly, at times its presence comforts me.
It is insidious and has affected every aspect of my life. It has threatened my ability to work and certainly forced all the joy out of my life. It is an illness that affects not only the person suffering from it, but also the people who love her. I am thankful that my parents were so supportive but there is only so much other people can do. I have suffered from depression since I was a little girl and it has stolen large chunks of my life.
I often look back on the little girl who I was and mourn for her. Instead of waking each morning, eager to explore the world, I would linger in bed trying to summon the desire to face the day that lay ahead. Even as a child I dreaded every day that I was alive. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been depressed. When I was little I didn’t have words for it, but as I look back I can recognize it for what it was. Although I did not have a name for it, I definitely saw the world through a curtain of gray.
(This is an excerpt from my book, A Life Less Lived. I am happy to say that this is just the beginning of my story.)
I’ve been keeping my eye on my book sales (although not as closely as I used to; I was a little obsessed at first) and they’re slowing to a trickle. It makes me wonder why the sales were good (well, good for a first book from an unknown author) and now they’ve dropped off. I wonder if it’s moved down the list when people do searches for my key words. Who knows. It’s done a little better than I thought it would so that’s good. So far I’ve made about $65.00 from it, not that I was in it for the money. One thing I have mixed emotions about is the lack of feedback on Amazon. I had two very nice friends leave feedback but no one else has. In one way I’m glad because I don’t know how I’d react to a negative review but it would be nice to know how the book was received. I look at it this way, though: feedback comes from people with strong feelings about something. Apparently no one was terribly disappointed in the book but that also means that no one was blown away by it, either. And that’s ok. I didn’t expect people to be blown away by it; I just wanted to write a book for myself in hopes that it would help someone else through a tough time. I read a book when I was really depressed titled You Are Not Alone and it helped me just knowing that there were other people out there suffering like I was. It was a collection of reflections from people who were suffering from depression and it was nice to read things that mirrored my own thoughts and emotions. I felt a little less crazy after reading it. I just hope someone who read my book got some good out of it. That’s all I was really looking for. If you read my book I welcome your feedback; positive or negative.
So I wrote this book and self-published it on Amazon (see the sidebar to the right). I enjoyed the writing process, even though it brought up some bad memories, and now it’s out there in the world. Of course I want people to read it and like it but I don’t have delusions that it will make it to the bestseller list or anything. That being said, I’m struggling a little with equating sales to success.
On Amazon I can see how many people have bought the book and Kindle versions. I check it every day. Every day! It’s certainly not because I think I’m going to get rich off it because I only make a little over $2.00 per sale. No, I think I’m looking for validation which is a tricky thing. It’s like with this blog. I want people to read it and leave a little comment and if that doesn’t happen I start second-guessing myself and my writing.
With both the blog and the book, I try not to equate readers with success but it’s difficult for me, someone who looks to others for self worth. I know I’m not supposed to do that and it’s something I struggle with every day. I’m working on caring less about what other people think of me but it’s definitely a work in progress.
But that still leaves me here, stalking Amazon.com and my blog, waiting for validation.
When writing your life story, how much privacy do you owe to the other people who show up in your story? I included in my book a retelling of an incident of sexual abuse that occurred in my childhood. I did not name the abuser or tell what relation that person may or may not be to me. But anyone who knows me very well can probably tell who the abuser was. I thought long and hard about how much to write about the incident, but ultimately I decided it was not my job to protect him and writing about the abuse was an integral part of my story.
When I wrote about the abuse I was careful to relay the facts as I recall them and my own feelings. I did not try to explain his actions or assign feelings to him. That is HIS story, not mine. I was not going to vilify him but I wasn’t going to sugar-coat it either. I had no reason to name him so I didn’t. But it was important to me to include the abuse in my book because it is one element that created the person I am today. I have struggled with the aftermath of the abuse for my entire life and to leave that out of a memoir would mean leaving out a large chunk of the story.
I found out from a relative that he read an excerpt of my book online. That’s all he said. I quickly went to Amazon.com to see what exactly is included in the excerpt they chose for the site. There is a reference to the abuse on the website. My guess is he’s NOT going to buy the book. But I wonder what he thinks of it all? Does he see himself as a victim now that his secret is kind of out in the open? Has he even admitted to himself that I was writing about him?
I’ve never been able to confront my abuser. We have a somewhat hesitant relationship that is sustained solely by birthday and Christmas cards and I have no desire to be any closer to him than that. I am afraid to talk to him about this and, I suspect, for us it’s better left unsaid. But I could not write a memoir without writing about the abuse. How he chooses to react to it is his concern, not mine.
It’s taken me years to write my book. I would work on it for a little while then put it away for a very long time. When I started it I was still in the deep throes of depression so motivation was difficult for me. Now that I’m on the proper medication, it was easier for me to stay motivated and get it finished. It was difficult, however, to revisit those times.
My mother asked me if the book was difficult to write since it dealt with so many bad times in my life. I did cry while writing parts of the book and, because depression messes with your memory, it was even difficult to recall the order of events. But overall it was a catharsis and I’m so glad I did it even if it’s not widely read.
The final chapter was the best for me to write because it allowed me to take stock of where I’m at and how far I’ve come. I’m a better person today than in my past and it was important for me to acknowledge that. I’m still a work in progress, of course, as we all are but I have to give myself credit for living through what I have and coming out stronger on the other side.
I took a creative memoir course in graduate school and that’s where I really started getting excited about finishing my book. It took many years after that to actually finish it but it’s where I started to get positive feedback about my writing. I highly recommend sitting down and writing out your life story. It doesn’t have to be good and you don’t have to make it public if you don’t want to. But the act of writing down your experiences and history really can help you take stock of your life and your character. It highlights your strengths and accomplishments and also shows where there can be improvement. If you do want to publish the book, it’s very easy to do it on Amazon.com and you still retain the rights so if it’s a blockbuster and a traditional publisher wants to buy it that is still an option.
I don’t expect a large number of people to read my book but I hope that it can help those who do read it. When I was really depressed I read a book, You Are Not Alone, that really helped me because it allowed me to see that others had some of the same experiences and feelings I did. It is a collection of short personal glimpses into their experiences with mental illnesses. I found kindred spirits in people I didn’t even know and it helped me to feel a little more “normal.” I highly recommend the book for people who are suffering from mental illness and the people who love them. I would be very happy if my book did even half as much for someone else as You Are Not Alone did for me.
So sit down and write your story. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a book. Start a journal if that is more comfortable. I was never good at committing to regular writing so sitting down and writing it all out at once was a better path for me. Even if writing isn’t your thing, I encourage you to use it as a way to reflect on your life and also look to the future.