Did I get your attention? FAKE OUT.
There was tons of good, nothing bad and just a smidgen of self-inflicted ugly.
There is so much good that came out of my time at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana I don’t know how to separate it all. I know I’m running the risk of sounding clichéd by writing this, but I believe this past weekend is going to be one in which I look back and realize something changed. Something shifted.
I know. I know. We writers are a dramatic bunch. (Okay, I’M the dramatic one, but I’m willing to bet there are others like me.)
Be that as it may, I’m sticking to my guns on this one. There are just some times in your life that you feel a very spiritual (and take that however you want) deviation from what you thought your intent was into a realm that makes you feel that you found the place where you belong. I came home feeling so blessed. There was a peace in my heart, and a confidence in my mind that I haven’t felt in a long time.
To my fellow writers you will get this. To my other friends, here’s the thing: Writing is HARD.
No, you don’t know. It’s really, really hard.
I met Judy Blume a few months ago (ohmyGod I just realized I never blogged about that! I must!) and when I told her about my journey she said, “It’s hard. It’s so, so hard. Writing isn’t FUN. Writing is what you do when your mind won’t let you do anything else.” I love her.
You don’t just sit down one day, type away, and have a book when you’re done. No. You sit down many days, even months, to hammer out a first draft. There are revisions. There are many, many revisions. Then just when you think you’ve got it, something hits you as you’re about to fall asleep, and you stay up all night to adjust that one scene. Yes, that happened to me last night.
So, we’re all on the same page, right? Writing is super hard.
Here is another thing: Writing is super, duper isolating.
Yes, I know that’s a shock.
I’m not going to lie. There have been times I’ve been so deep into writing that I don’t talk to anyone except my husband or kid for days. The path I’ve chosen, or rather has chosen me, brings me to a place where I’m alone a lot. When I’m needing quiet, and peace, during a difficult time pulling a project together, my dear husband will take off for a weekend with my son so I can have that time.
And another thing: When you’re trying to get a career in writing off the ground, you will face the most debilitating forms of rejection and self-doubt you could ever imagine. Some people will say, “You need to have tough skin.” I say you need iron skin. I know that sounds really uncomfortable, but so is querying sometimes.
You never get used to rejection. Yes, it learns to sting less, but you never get used to it. For me, when I get a particularly painful one, I allow myself to feel it, grieve, and then wrap it in imaginary box to send off to the Land of Painful Rejections to die.
There is no other choice. You need to accept it and move on.
Last thing: If you’re lucky, lotto-winning-lucky, you’ll find some people, who will become your friends to take this journey with. THIS is what holds you together. The days when you feel like you can’t do it anymore, and there is a friend there that not only tells you you can, but makes you.
Everyone is going at this at their own pace. Some will get an agent and published first. Some with still be working on that first project. It doesn’t matter, because no matter where you are, someone else has been there, is there, or will be there, and GETS IT.
What does all this have to do with MWW? I’m SO GLAD YOU ASKED!
I’ve been to a few other conferences before, and have always walked away feeling like I’ve learned something. MWW was no different, except there was all this added loveliness sprinkled in.
I don’t really recall how I heard about this conference, but I’m pretty sure @fizzygrrl had something to do with it. At first, I was unsure if I wanted to go, despite my husband and friends urging me to. I was at a very strange point in my journey. Okay. That’s not entirely true. I was considering heavily where the hell I was on my journey. Did I want to pack up my polka-dot suitcase and bust a move home? Or did I want to keep walking the road I was on even though I was SO tired?
I was used to being tired. That was what caffeine was for.
I signed up for MWW.
It was the best thing I’d done in a long time.
Guys and dolls, I can’t tell you how amazing this conference was. I was surrounded by people all on the same road as me and suddenly, the road wasn’t so lonely anymore. There were so many talented, brilliant people right there with me. For 3 days there was a stellar faculty at MWW to guide us, and other writers there to walk beside us. I said on Twitter when I got home that I’d never in my life seen a more collective effort by a group of professionals trying to help other professional succeed. In no other job or profession would you sit down with your competition and help them find the best they had, encouraging them to push themselves further. We didn’t want to one-up each other. We wanted to see each other nail it.
We helped each other with pitches while calming nerves, and excitedly awaited their return after their appointments. We eagerly took notes during workshops and never stopped wanting more even when we felt we couldn’t take in anymore. We laughed in the face of our fears. Together.
For me, personally, I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I thought I’d fall down, unable to recover. Being an introvert, the barrage of stimulation was intense.
But I was there to get a job done and I did. I didn’t pass out from nerves when I walked into a room without knowing a single soul aside from some acquaintances from Twitter. I didn’t require defibrillators before, during or after my agent pitch session, which went amazing. (I walked away with a request!) I didn’t need CPR at any point having to approach new people, and ultimately made new friends within a dynamic group of writers. Even when I dropped a chair on an agents foot and she was clearly in pain, I didn’t die on the spot from mortification.
(She was gracious enough to not make me feel bad nor serve me with any bodily harm lawsuit. Well, at least not yet.)
Although tired from a long weekend, I’m buzzing with creative energy. MWW did that for me, and for that, I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
I’m often asked why I decided to write about such a sensitive topic, like schizophrenia, in my first book. I realize that mental illness is an often difficult subject to present, but that is precisely why I wrote it.
This has been a difficult week for a few people I care deeply about. You see, when a loved one has a mental illness of any kind, it quite simply shatters your world. Completely. Difficult decisions have to be made by a usually defiant person who can turn from the loving person you know into a vile stranger. That is what this disease does. It’s steals your loved ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s depression, bipolar or any other form of mental illness. The result is often the same. Someone you love is drowning and sometimes they can’t be saved. Can you imagine? Watching your husband or wife, son or daughter, best friend or co-worker slipping away, before your very eyes, and they are too far away to reach. They slip right from your fingers.
In one case this past week, a dear friend lost her brother to the disease in the most unimaginable way possible. She, and her family, had to watch and wait for this horrific ending that they knew was inevitable. Now, they are left to pick up the pieces while grieving for all they’ve lost. This family, along with friends, tried for YEARS to get him help, but unfortunately, the system is set up to protect a patients rights and not set up to hear the pleas from the people who know them best. In many cases, someone who is very ill don’t recognize they are ill and won’t seek treatment on their own. When their family intervenes, they are often met with denial and anger, which only furthers the distance between them. Professionals can’t reach them, or force treatment. Police can only step in if they are a threat to themselves or someone else and even at that, the resources are very limited on how to help. There is no law against someone who is acting erratically or talking out of character. Best case scenario is that they are involuntarily admitted for treatment, but the system is so over-saturated with cases (and by law) they are only required to stay between 7-10 days. That is not enough time for medications to work. It’s not enough time for them to realize the severity of their illness and to comprehend the ramifications of what will happen if they are not medicated. I am beyond heartbroken for my friend and her family who have to deal with this young mans death knowing that help was out there, but no way to get him there. The system completely, and utterly, failed them. No other disease is treated with such disregard, and negligence.
In my own life I’ve seen mental illness take over a family and turn loved one against loved one. In my novel, I wanted to show the effects of mental illness on the entire family because it does just that–Effects the whole family. Marriages crumble, relationships falter, and there is such hopelessness at watching your loved one slip far, far away. In my novel, the stories of a young woman in the throes of insanity, are all true stories. They are frightening and they are real, told to me by a family member. I could go on and on, but the fact remains that mental illness is probably the most unrecognized, most misunderstood disease there is. I wrote this story so maybe, in some small way, the bridge to understanding could be built. Mental illness is still considered taboo, but with all who are suffering it needs to be brought out in the open.
I’ve personally dealt with clinical depression for the last 15 years. Being told to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’ were often thrown at me, but just like a heart condition or diabetes (or any other number of illnesses) I had no control over it. We all have times when we are sad, or have a few blue days. This is different. It’s like seeing the world in color, and it slowly fading to grey. There is nothing you can do to stop it. There were times I sunk so deep into the illness that I literally thought I was going to die. Honestly? There were times I wanted to. The most horrific episode occurred when I was pregnant with my son. I had insomnia for days. I’d lay awake and wait for sleep to come, but it would never would. I could barely leave my house because of exhaustion and was sick to my stomach all the time. My employer was understanding, but grew impatient when I’d say I’d be in the next day and I just…couldn’t…even when I knew my clients and boss would be disappointed once again. I was so frightened. Here I was, pregnant with the baby I had waited so long for, and I wanted it all to be over. It was debilitating and if it wasn’t for the help of a few good doctors, and my husband, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s too scary to revisit those thoughts to imagine that ‘what ifs.’
So why did I choose to write a book about a girl who is so petrified about inheriting a mental illness that she lives her life as a lie? Because people just don’t get it. I want people to understand. I want people to treat others with mental illness with as much care and concern as they would if it was any disease. I want family and friends to be able to get treatment for those suffering without all the red tape and barricades. I want people to not have to feel embarrassed because there is an illness in their brain, and not any other part of their body. I want people to be compassionate to those with this ugly illness, and not be scared because they are ‘different.’
I want people to GET IT.
THAT is why I wrote it.