Sometimes it’s the small things that make the most difference.
Like sharing an issue you might be dealing with.
I was once at a writer’s retreat at a home above the Sundance ski resort. I’d be asked to present to some of the other writers there. Robison Wells, who writes awesome YA, was also presenting. He talked about marketing and plot, but the presentation that was probably most memorable was the one he gave on the obsessive compulsive disorder he deals with.
He started off by telling us folks really didn’t know what they were talking about when they talked about obsessive compulsive disorder. He described it this way. He said he and his wife were sitting on the couch watching TV one evening. She said she was craving some ice cream, orangesicles, I think. He replied that he was craving banging his head into the wall. She anticipated some delicious ice cream. He anticipated some delicious head whacking. He then pointed at the wall behind all of us and said that it would feel so good to bang his head on the corner of the wall behind us. Needless to say, he had our attention.
He went on to explain more about this condition and mental illness in general and urged us, when we wrote about it, to get it right. To be accurate. To not turn such conditions into happy-happy super powers, nor to make them into things to be feared.
By the way, Robison had a fine little dog with him. Not some yapper to carry about in a purse, but a nice little companion. I keep wanting to call her Abby, but I know that’s not its name. We learned that his dog was trained to watch him and remind him to take his meds. It appeared that Robison would sometimes rationalize away doing that.
Robison isn’t crazy. We didn’t have a dangerous wild man among us. He’s just a guy who has to deal with some kinks in his hoses.
So what happened next? Well, nothing. We had a great retreat and went home. But the story doesn’t end there. See, if an issue is taboo, it becomes very difficult to deal with it. As an individual, a couple, a family, a community. In fact, hiding something like this only creates more problems. For example, if Robison ever says he’s going out to pick up some hammers, we now know that we probably ought to have someone go with him (grin). So Robison not only wanted to educate us, he also wanted to help bring mental illness out of the dark. And he’s talked about this issue in a number of different places.
Howard Tayler, the cartoonist, heard him talk about the self-harm once. He saw the good being open did and decided to write a bit about some things he has to deal with. Howard’s got a tricky bit of depression he has to manage. Sandra, Howard’s wife, decided to add to it what it was like being married to someone with such an issue.
Now, I didn’t know the Taylers had written anything up until last week at Comic Con. During the event a woman talked to me. In our conversation she indicated that she’d been wrangling with some mental crap, but that Howard’s comments about his had helped her. We continued with our discussion, and she left. On Friday evening after the expo for the Salt Lake City Comic Con had closed, I walked around the event floor, chatting with some folks I hadn’t had time to visit during the event. I stopped at Howard’s booth and said hello to him and Sandra. They were busy, and I didn’t stay long, but as I went to walk away, I thought I should pass on what the woman had said. So I did. I didn’t know what comments she was talking about. All I knew was that Howard had helped her. And I wanted to make sure he knew it.
We talked some more as they tried to clean up their booth before Howard had to run off to a panel. Then Howard handed me “No. I’m Fine”. It’s a little 15-page booklet that contains the title story, written by Howard, plus the essay “Married to Depression” by Sandra, his wife.
The story is an excellent short that gives you the feeling of what’s it like to be dealing with one form of the bugger. The essay reveals a bit of what it’s like as the spouse and recommends some action. But the thing I found so wonderful about both the story and the essay was the example of tender love in the midst of adversity.
I’m a writer. I can’t help but be drawn to potential characters and stories. The view we get of these two in this booklet is good stuff to build some characters on. Of course, that’s not the reason to read the booklet. The reason is because what they share is fascinating and tender—it’s good drama—and, if you or someone you know is dealing with these issues, it just might help.
While we’re talking about this, those of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve had a few dust-ups with depression myself. I wrote about it and the tools I used to deal with it then and when it tries to come back to town. After reading the Tayler’s stuff, you’ll want to look at it as well.
Edit 9/14: Addeded links to “Married to Depression”