I had an 88 year-old client named Muriel who died last year. Her son called me and told me she had taken a turn for the worse, and asked if I could come by and see her. This was in October, right after my own mother passed away. It was difficult, but strangely therapeutic. I knew Muriel was ill. I knew she had grown terribly thin. But, when I came back into town after my mom's funeral, I was taken aback by how much she had worsened in just a couple of weeks.
I sat with Muriel and talked to her as she went in and out of sleep. I held her hand. I helped her with the things she needed help with. She had been a client for a long time and, as with many of my clients, she was very dear to me. A former schoolteacher who had traveled the world on her own, I admired her strength, and her fierce independence - and loved her warm sense of humor.
Muriel turned to me during my last visit with her and quietly said, "I want you to know, you've always been my sunshine." Needless to say, I will never forget that moment. It touched me so deeply, but also made me sad I hadn't been there for my own mother before she passed away (that plane ride to her funeral was pretty tough the next day - I was too late). I also remembered Muriel asking me one time if I ever got depressed. She said I was always full of laughter and like a ray of light when I visited. She said she simply couldn't see me ever getting depressed. I assured her that I did indeed get depressed at times - just not around her.
A year has passed since that time. Although I know I am still grieving my mother's death, and the holidays are here again, I also still miss Muriel and the two other ladies that died last year. There was Rosemary, who died at 99 1/2, and reminded me of my own grandmother who I lost at fourteen. And then there was Pat, a feisty 86 year-old who always wanted me to stay and play cribbage when we were done working.
But the depression continues to linger on. In fact, it has been there off and on for years. In and out of tough times, losses, and unexpected changes. Although I see it clearly and with compassion in others, it always throws me in myself. Why is the positive, upbeat person others see harboring a sad, disappointed one?
I had recently been thinking I should just give up on writing. I've had to give up on other dreams recently, and I thought maybe it was time to throw in the towel on writing too. But, I've been writing since I was three years old, so maybe stopping isn't really possible. Writers, all artists, have something wired in us that makes us just have to work on our art. Although one in five people deal with depression, the numbers are even higher if you are a creative type. It just goes with the territory.
Searching for encouragement, I came across this post from last March in Joe Konrath's blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He published a letter from writer Kiana Davenport. His response to her discouragement helped mine as well:
Over the years, I've lost count of the conversations I've had with writers who had similar experiences to Kiana and me. Tales of rejection. Of bad luck and stupid publisher decisions. Of getting the shit end of the stick, over and over and over.I've only published nineteen articles, one in an anthology, and have two incomplete books that have been sitting on a shelf for a few years now. I thought it would be a natural flow to the next published piece. But, it simply doesn't work that way. Joe gives not only encouragement, but ideas for self-publishing. Writing has never been easy. It isn't supposed to be. I wonder if what I've always been told is talent is just mediocre, but I also ask how can you give up something that's such a deep part of you?
It got me thinking. For every writer popping open the champagne because they just got a new deal, there are dozens who have gotten screwed. And no doubt some of them thought about swimming out to sea. While my depression never got that severe, I certainly wouldn't want to relive those dark, depressing, frightening months without a publishing contract.
But I never have to feel that way again. None of us do. We don't have to rely on a gatekeeper's "yes" or "no" to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We don't have to put all of our eggs into the legacy publishing basket anymore. Hell, we don't have to put any eggs in there at all.
Thank you Joe, and thank you Kiana (check out her book, House of Skin) for helping me to realize this. We all get depressed, we all get discouraged. But, writers need to support and help each other get through it, no matter what the outcome.