It’s Time To Talk Day, which if you don’t know about it, is a day to talk about mental illness in order to remove the stigma from it. We wrote a post about it last year too. You can read it here. Until 2014, we’d been seeing a wonderful psychologist, Neil, who changed our lives. You can read about how we felt about leaving the mental health system here. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get the help they need – they’re either ashamed, see it as weak, or there just isn’t the support around. Mental health isn’t treated with the same importance as physical health, when really, the two are often linked. If people with cancer were treated the same way as people with mental illness are, there would be uproar. And whilst illnesses like depression and anxiety are slowly gaining support, the other issues, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are still stigmatized. That needs to change.
We haven’t blogged much recently – we’ve written maybe two posts in two months. We’d like to blame it on being busy but that would be a lie. We just didn’t care. Our youngest cat, Ebony, died in December and to us, our animal army are our family. So when one of the dies, it’s like losing a family member. Grief is grief, no matter who you’re grieving for. We were heading into a spell of what we call the darkshines anyway, because when we’ve had a few good months, the darkshines like to visit to remind us they’re still there lurking in the background. Whilst they can be dealt with, they never go away completely. Winston Churchill likened his depression to a black dog – some times it was a small dog that he barely noticed, other times it was a large dog. It’s a good description. It’s like a shadow – you always have one, but sometimes you and others don’t see it, so you forget it’s there. Other days, it’s clearly visible, like a twisted, blackened version of yourself.
We use the term darkshines (stolen from a Muse song) because it’s an umbrella term that covers the different forms it takes – sometimes we feel inexplicable rage, or a burning knot of frustration, or times where the slightest thing will make us cry. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming numbness. For it to be a bout of darkshines, it has to last more than a few days, otherwise that’s just a shitty mood. It’s been six weeks now and this time it’s despondency. Rage is preferable because we’re like Bruce Banner – avoid confrontations whenever possible but when the rage hits, we Hulk out and get shit done. We once emailed every library in Cardiff, asking if we could do readings purely because we were in a fit of rage. Why? Because we discovered dinosaur erotica was selling more books than we ever will in our lifetime. For us, rage is empowering. We embrace it. It gives us the confidence we normally lack to face our problems and take them down. We turn from socially awkward messes into goddamn productive ninjas. And who doesn’t want to be ninja?
Despondency is more destructive. Despondency makes us not care. Despondency finds something that isn’t going well and focuses on it, using it as a example of what massive failures we are. In this case, it’s book sales. We sell one ebook a month. Considering we have eight books out, that’s spectacularly shitty. So the darkshines like to remind us how shitty this is. Every single day. Though to be fair, even the most positive person would have to agree this is failure. It tells us we must be shit writers to achieve such poor sales. It tells us there’s no point releasing more books because they won’t sell either. It tells us that whatever we submit will be rejected and it backs up the argument with the 300+ rejections we’ve had over the past eight years. The darkshines love statistics to prove the point. We stopped counting after 300 but the darkshines wants to know what the current total to further support the point. It’stough to resist the urge to give in and do a recount. We’ve come close to giving in a few times, but we know it’s what it wants. January was extremely difficult as we submitted five novels and four poems with the darkshines chattering away about how pointless it all was because we weren’t going to get anywhere. Then we weren’t longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize for the first time in two years. The darkshines just said “told you so.”
Writing is something we’re passionate about. Being writers isn’t what we do. It’s what are. That burning, consuming hunger we feel every day never goes away. Not many people understand that hunger. People tell us all the time, “if it has this effect on you, why don’t you quit?” And do what? It’s like telling someone to stop breathing. Yes, there are times it destroys us, but it also keeps us going.
What helps, is writing. Escaping. Going on adventures, doing zumba or FitBox. And hanging out with our friends. Our friends don’t know when the darkshines hit. We don’t tell them. We don’t want to burden them. But they help us without even realising it. Hanging out with them brings us out of ourselves, whether it’s going to the cinema, having game night, D&D or spending an evening watching horror films back to back. Even though we know we haven’t been fun to be around. When at times the darkshines is too strong to conceal completely and our mere presence just ruins everything. We’ve been hurt badly by people we thought were friends, but that taught us who the good ones are. Just because someone is fun to be around, doesn’t mean they’re a good friend. It’s the ones who are there for you, who stick up for you. We’ve found them and we’re keeping hold of them. Sorry, guys. Not sorry.
We’ve talked a lot about our depression and overcoming the social phobia that kept us imprisoned inside our house from age 18-26. We’ve come such a long way. Back then, we couldn’t eat out in public, could barely speak in public. A supermarket trip was traumatic. Now we’ve done readings at literary festivals, had tables at horror cons, we travel the UK with our ghost hunting show, Calamityville Horror and in September, we went to America with Neen. Our first time of leaving the UK. We went to Las Vegas and San Francisco. We visited Alcatraz, the Winchester Mystery House, we spent a day by ourselves in Vegas while Neen was at her brother’s wedding. We met the guys from Ghost Adventures. And these are the same people who were once too scared to walk anywhere in public. So the social phobia is cured. Yes we’re still socially awkward but we’ve learned that’s not part of our mental illness, that’s just who we are and we can’t change it, so we’ve learned to accept it. We joke about it. Our depression cannot be cured. But it can be lived with.
The worst thing is knowing that it’s just the darkshines and it will pass and yet still drowning in them anyway. It’s like a wave – sometimes it drags us out of our depth, but eventually it will carry us back to shore and spit us out. We just have to wait for it to change direction. We’ve been listening to Rise Against’s ‘Tragedy and Time‘ which is great for reminding you that nothing lasts forever – not even the bad times.