Friday, August 28, 2015

By the Pricking of My Thumbs....


First and foremost, I would ask that if you don't take the time to read this entire post, please consider going to the order page (link listed above) for my new fantasy novel: Ophelia, Doll. It's a story about a young lady becoming a woman, trying to find a place for the magic of her childhood in the seemingly mundane options presented to her as she chooses which road to follow as an adult. I'm launching this book through an Inkshares/The Nerdist contest, which will grant me a publishing deal with a promotional staff, national level bookstore placement and access to professional editors so that I can polish the draft that I have now into something even better. I'm proud of this story and I hope you'll give it a chance. It's $10 to preorder ($5 after you create an Inkshares account and receive your starter credits). To win, I need to be in the top 5 most preordered books by the end of September. I've been bouncing around the top 3 spots for a week now, but I am going to need help from strangers if I'm going to attain the kind of reach needed to keep up with those who are gaining momentum and surpassing my current order threshold. If you'd like to hear more about the story of Ophelia, Doll, visit the link to my book's store page and you can preview the first chapter (you get access to the current drafts of chapters one through five if you place an order). This blog post has more to do with my current struggles to achieve the kind of community outreach (both local community and internet) required to win this contest and launch my dreams into the orbit of reality. I beg you- if you think that this story is compelling, please share, comment or find some other way to let me know. If you visit the page for Ophelia, Doll and like what you read, I would ask that you do the same (with the inclusion of a preorder if you are able). Thank you all for giving me the time to convince you that my dreams are worthy of your support.

* * *

Everything I've written for the last week feels like a cheap commercial where I am, at the heart of the advertisement, the product that I wish to sell. I don't like this form of internet prostitution- that's not to say that I think it's wrong or that I don't believe it is absolutely required for my survival in this contest. I just don't like it... personally. It makes me feel more vulnerable than sharing anything I've ever written to be asking friends, family, and total strangers for the kind of support I need. It's even hard to handle the staggering degree to which so many people have helped already (but don't let that stop you from adding your own contributions!). It's hard for me to imagine that the support I've received already is not enough, because it is more than I ever expected, far more than I ever allowed myself to dream possible.
When I finished the first complete draft of my very first novel (Ophelia, Doll), after twenty one years of knowing that's what I wanted to do with my life, I had mixed feelings of elation and a deep, paralytic fearfulness. I knew that publishing was getting close and soon I would have to figure out how to go about doing that. It's hard to describe to others, because so many of my loved ones want me to believe that writing the book was the major accomplishment... and in its way, it certainly was. The best way I can describe the pit of despair that busied itself tying knots in my stomach is by using the old philosophical riddle: "If a tree falls in a forest and there's nobody around to hear it, does it make a noise?" In much the same sense that one might argue that sound is inextricably linked to hearing, so much so that it can't be called sound without ears to hear, my book doesn't feel like a book because it hasn't been put out there for others to read. It's not a noise, so much as vibrations in the air that could maybe be called a noise under the right conditions.

I've been battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the last year. During the first six months after what I can only describe as the initial stages of "going bat shit crazy," I was involved in a LOT of therapy- approximately 4 days a week, 4 hours a day, for a total of 16 hours a week. That doesn't seem like a lot compared to the 45-60 hour working weeks that I was used to holding down, but that kind of intense therapy is rough if you are invested in the process of getting better and I most certainly am invested. In a lot of ways, dashing through that gauntlet of self reflection and improvement (as a lot of therapy tends to do) broke me down even more, wore me even further towards the nub. 

If you're unfamiliar with PTSD on a personal level, I've come to discover that many people don't know how it operates- I sure as Hell didn't. In fact, it took a couple months of multiple doctors telling me that I was so obviously afflicted and explaining to me how real life PTSD differs from the movies before I could identify with the disorder enough to admit to myself that I might be dealing with it. I never really got comfortable saying PTSD out loud or telling people that this is what's wrong with me, what altered my personality entirely. Almost universally, when someone does hear that I have PTSD (I'm including myself in this group) they want to know what the trauma was. That's one reason that I don't bring it up so often or use the PTSD title. It's like having a bullet wound, but instead of helping to keep the pressure on it, everyone's first instinct is to see how far they can jam their fingers into it. I'm still working to understand what's happened, and even though I'm no longer doing the grueling 16 hour weeks of therapy, I am working with a specialist weekly and a psychiatrist who is constantly updating my medication to help me cope with the physiological symptoms that tag along with PTSD.

That's the hardest part for me to swallow, is that after a year of hardcore therapy, I've mostly just been learning how to cope; how to coexist with the monkey on my back. It's taken me so long to learn how to live with having PTSD because it's like the Baskin Robins of psychological disorders- each of its many symptoms exists in the mental health community as a clinical diagnosis flavor of its own. I have anxiety issues, agoraphobia, depression, panic attacks... and SO MUCH insomnia! I used to SAY I had insomnia when I was describing a single isolated night of not being able to sleep... kind of like when I would interview people for a job and they would tell me they were OCD like it was a selling point, not that they had to wash their hands three times and touch a door knob with the backside of both hands before opening it or else they might unleash Satan on Earth. It turns out, real insomnia is way worse than I previously understood... let me try to describe the difference. 

I went to bed at five in the morning last night (this morning, I guess?) and jolted awake at eight thirty, startled and feeling like I must have certainly slept through the entire day. It's like that "Oh no! I think I forgot to set my alarm" kind of feeling, where you think you'll be late for work? Except my body thinks I'm acting all high and mighty, like I'm the freaking Queen of England if I dare to sleep for 5-6 hours in one stretch- and that's on Ambien, which I take every night! I thought that drug was guaranteed to knock people out. Sometimes it does, mostly it means I'm sleeping pretty hard once I do fall asleep and not waking up from nightmares every half hour or so. The insomnia aspect of my PTSD has gotten better through rigorous trials of different medication cocktails, but it is by no means disappeared. After a particularly grueling stretch of several days with little to no sleep, every other aspect of my condition is amplified. I am worn and weak and insecure as a general rule, but when sleepless nights are added to the mix, I turn into a wretched pile of parts that may have once been human, but somehow got put together all wrong.

Why have I spent so much time talking about PTSD when what I'm really trying to do is push my book? Well it isn't for the sympathy vote, that's for sure. Although if that pulled at your heart strings, I'm not turning away pity preorders- I need everything I can get. The thing is, PTSD and I have a symbiotic relationship now. As I mentioned before, I've been learning to live with this problem more than I've begun to unravel it. I'd like to think that I am more than PTSD, but sometimes PTSD is all that I am- like a puppet with a hand jammed up its backside, it works my mouth and body against the will of my skin. Before PTSD demanded this strange timeshare, I was a workaholic. I was pushing myself to be inhumanly great at my job, and without ego, I think I can say that I absolutely was... but I slowly lost my sense of self in the drive to push myself beyond the brink every day. I went crazy with a smile on my face... think Into the Mouth of Madness.

In a lot of ways, I finished my novel because of PTSD, not in spite of it. Before this puppet master slammed on the brakes and sent me flying through the windshield, crippled and left for dead on the side of an old abandoned freeway, I was racing down the road of a life for which I did not give two shits. Not even a single shit, really. I feel guilty admitting that, like I should be ashamed to have taken a gift back from all that PTSD has taken from me. If I'm really honest, I'm afraid to be seen having fun or enjoying life because I've been working 45+ hour weeks since I was old enough to do that- I feel like a terrible person for letting myself get to a place where I can no longer function as my part in society, even though logically I know that I didn't let anything happen. I've grown to be more comfortable with the constant, nagging anxiety that crawls just under my skin than I have with the idea of allowing myself to feel deserving of any time spent doing anything for myself.

What's strange is that I fully believe that PTSD is what afforded me the ability to finish Ophelia, Doll, but now that I'm at the promoting level, I feel crushed beneath the weight of how inept I am. Pre-PTSD this is exactly the kind of thing I would have excelled at doing. It's a paradox. I don't think I couldn't have written the book without PTSD and yet, I am unable to do what I feel I must in order to make its launching a success. I am so lucky that friends and family members are willing to aid me where I am failing personally, but the guilt I carry from that failure is making it harder every day and I feel like I'm losing ground.

Several months ago my therapist asked me to walk to a coffee shop around the corner from my house each morning as part of my exposure therapy, to make sure that I had a little bit of human interaction beyond the walls of my house every day. Once that was something I could do consistently, she asked me to start asking for the employee's names when they asked for mine (to put on the drink I ordered). That was tough, but it felt really good to know all of their names and connect with each of them beyond the merits of the standard transaction relationship. Now, each and every employee knows my name and what I order every day. They greet me warmly as soon as I enter and on most days, it's nowhere near the level of scary that it used to be. I've essentially expanded the safety bubble of my home to include the coffee shop around the corner, which may not seem like much, but to me it's a HUGE vitory. Of course, the half a block stretch between my house and the coffee shop is still no man's land, but it's a step. I've got all these posters, business cards and post cards I'm supposed to be handing out to help pimp out preorders of Ophelia, Doll through my local community. I thought that my "safety bubble" coffee shop would be a great place for me to push myself into that step and for the last three days I walked in there with business cards in my pocket, fully planning to talk to the owner or employees about what I'm trying to do, asking them for their help either personally or through letting me leave some of the cards on their counter. The business is a huge supporter of art, I should mention. They have a gallery that rotates monthly and this community art promotion is right in their wheelhouse. Still, every day I have frozen, unable to pull the cards out of my pocket, look someone in the eyes and ask for help. The last two days, I walked home crying because I was so disappointed and ashamed in myself. Pre-PTSD Robert would have kicked this part of the competition in the ass. Now I can't help but feel woefully unprepared for what's required of me in order to keep this dream going.

I feel like I'm throwing lit matches into the void of the internet, hoping for one of them to catch fire, watching each one suffocate and extinguish in the great vacuum that is social media. Each of my fellow competitors has a story, each one of them have their own personal struggles and all of them are as valid and important as mine. We're all fighting for space on the stage and I wouldn't dream of discounting any of them. I am not the guy that's going to put out someone else's match and expect it to make mine burn brighter. So how am I supposed to win this thing? How can I hope that my voice will pierce the veil? 

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'm falling back on the one thing I feel confident that I'm good at doing. I'm taking a break from all of the standard publicity I've been trying to generate to spill my guts onto the page. All I can do is be real and hope that resonates with you. I want you to give my book a shot. I want you to know the hellish fires that forged Ophelia, Doll. I want you to know me and my story. I want to have a relationship with my audience that allows for us to share these things that haunt us. I want to pull them out of their hidey-holes, name them, give them definition and shape. That's something I used to be able to do easily and now, not so much. I hope that you'll understand what it means to risk this kind of openness, even if it's through the safe pseudo-anonymity of the internet.

Please take the time to check out Ophelia, Doll. With all of the shame I carry with me every day, this is the one thing I've done that I know I should be proud for having completed and I genuinely love the characters and story that I've constructed. I hope that you'll give me a chance to appeal to you with the story I've told, ideally I hope you'll preorder it for $10 (5 after creating an inkshares account) and I would be flattered if you thought enough of what I'm doing to give me some feedback, share your own story or tell a friend about what I'm trying to accomplish with the launching of my book.

Thank you, Internet. Her life is in your hands, Dude... Her life is in your hands.