Sometimes, I wonder if I should even be alive today.
Those aren’t the words of someone who has lived through tragedy, who overcame adversity he initially thought too much to bear. No, they’re the common refrain of survivors’ guilt, and they stem from a very pivotal moment in my life.
A little over five years ago, my cousin died. Joey was 35, and I saw him as a big brother. And I do mean big. He was 6’5″, and he weighed over 400 pounds—the latter most certainly contributed to his death in the opening days of 2014. Today, March 15, is the day when my current age will match that which he attained, and the last years (coinciding with my best writing output) have often seen me question whether I am worthy of that. He was the better man, in my opinion, so why should I be the one who keeps on living?
I know that’s the wrong way to think about it. I really do. Deep in my mind, I recognize the fallacy, yet my emotional side comes out, and…well, that’s my problem. Depression, as J.K. Rowling so eloquently said it, is the “absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.” A “very deadened feeling.” And I understand those words perfectly.
A lot has happened to me over the past year. Some things I never imagined, some places my mind has never truly explored. I don’t like all of them, and there are a few thoughts, a few words, a few actions I wish I could take back. My mental state has taken a toll on my own health, as well as my relationship with my family. That, for me, is the worst. As I state in the acknowledgments of all my books, family comes first. In my opinion, that is the only right way to look at the world. If we forsake our family, then who are we?
They don’t make it easy, I’ll admit. Too many members of my family are Trump fanatics. Not merely Republicans, or conservatives, but the kind who see through glasses tinted by one man’s verbal wanderings. While I’m far from liberal on many issues, I have been tarred with that brush on repeated occasions. Here in the South, in a rural part of Tennessee, “liberal” is a dirty word. A political slur, rather than a racial one. Like any epithet spoken in anger, it hurts, and that hurt piles on top of the ones I already endure. But I can forgive. I must, to be the man I want to be. Family comes first.
One of my larger problems is that, in a lot of cases, there’s nobody else on the list after them. Since last May, I’ve managed to come out of my shell a bit, but I remain incredibly introverted. Nearly 800 posts on the fediverse (@firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’re wondering) don’t change that. The three and a half months I spent trading texts with a woman I met online don’t change that. It’s part of my nature, as surely as my intelligence, rationality, and, apparently, depression.
To keep the darkness at bay, I write. Since I first reached the deepest depths, I’ve become a bit of a machine. Five stories done in 2015, eight (I think) in ’16. Twenty completed in 2017. I’ve written about three million words since my cousin’s passing, because I really don’t have any other creative outlets. Nor do I have a vent for my frustrations, my rage at the injustice of a world that would take away one of the most important people in my life.
I write. And in that writing, I tell my own story. Not for nothing are some of my favorite characters like me. Shade, protagonist of Nocturne, embodies my idealism, my personal disdain for extremism. Lucas, the character from my free novella “Fallen”, is my inner skeptic. And it seems like all my works have an intelligent, insecure man who really just wants to get away from it all. Alex in the Otherworld series, Asho in the Hidden Hills books, Porter in The Linear Cycle…the list goes on, and it probably will as long as I continue down this path. “Write what you know,” the advice goes, and I have taken that lesson to heart.
Can I change? I honestly don’t know. I’ve tried, and I’ve seen rays of sunlight pierce the darkness. For the second half of last year, I wrote far less than in the prior six months; this I owe to the influence of the woman I mentioned earlier. At no other time in my adult life had anyone ever confessed genuine interest in me, and…that made me feel good. It blew away the dark clouds for a time.
But the end of that time left me sinking further. Barely two months ago, I seriously questioned the purpose of continuing in this world. In the end, though, I did find one: family. Because family comes first.
If this stream of consciousness is hard to read, don’t worry. It was hard to write, too. But I needed to get these words out there, if only so there would be a record outside my own mind of what I’m going through. It’s why I write. It’s why I keep going. At this point, I don’t care if anyone ever reads my stories, or subscribes to my Patreon, or buys the books I submit to Amazon. The stories exist. They’re my escape, my salvation. When I’m writing, I can forget all the bad things in my life. I forget the good, too, but there’s never enough of that.
My hope, though, is that today will mark a change, in outlook if not in fortune. I have reached a milestone, and now I enter an uncharted phase of my life. The past is the past, the future unknown. For now, I look to the present, to each new day as it comes. Maybe that’ll work.