Jana Lanning battles the demon of depression – literally! That’s the tag line from my latest mystery novel titled Anywhere But Here. Today, I’d like to tell you a little more about it.
I find it interesting that people never ask me if I’ve ever suffered from depression. I’m not sure why, because they’ve asked me plenty of questions about whether I experienced any of the things in my other novels, but this is a question I’m never asked. Maybe they know me well enough to know the answer to that question. Or maybe because even now, in the 21st century, there’s still a stigma around depression that causes people to avoid discussing it directly or speaking of it in hushed whispers and round-about terms. It’s funny that you can do a web search on “depression” and get tens of thousands of hits, but open conversation on the topic is still taboo. I still share the story about how I shut down a conversation on depression medications several years ago when I was asked what antidepressants I was on and I replied “none, I don’t have depression.” The entire conversation – which I found interesting because it was the first time I ever heard it openly discussed – shut down immediately. Three people finally opened up, but finding out there was one person present that didn’t face the same struggles stopped it cold. I was very disappointed in that, because I probably learned more about depression listening to that one conversation than I did during all fours of my undergraduate program in psychology. And such a golden opportunity hasn’t happened again.
I think that discussion was the catalyst for Anywhere But Here. I realized that lots of people suffer, but they fear talking about. I’ve personally known many people that struggled with depression, and they’ve been willing to talk to me privately about their struggles on many occasions. When I got the idea for this book, I approached many of them to ask about their struggles (including some of the ones who’s conversation I accidentally shut down) and they were willing to talk to me and answer any questions I had – but were explicitly clear that I was not to divulge their identity or to publically acknowledge that I even had the conversation at all in any way, shape or form. But if you’re writing a fictionalized account, they all said, then go for it and I hope people will read it and learn more about this disease.
I decided to go for it. The idea about a young woman who’s life plan falls apart is certainly a practical idea. Establishing yourself as an adult after leaving school isn’t easy, and don’t we all go through those seasons where an anvil is taken to our perfect life and we’re left to reassemble the pieces? Of course we do, and I knew these were things that everybody could relate to. The lead into depression is a natural result of such times, because if you have the disorder then it’s times like these that bring on the attacks.
Jana Lanning is a fictional character. There’s no Palmetto Beach, South Carolina and nothing that happened in that book is a reflection on any real events, people, or places in my life or anybody elses’ life that I personally know. But I believe the struggle she faces is universal. We all have those times when we can’t win, and we have to learn that the only one that can pick us back up is ourselves. Superheroes only exist in comic books and movies and television shows based on comic books. When it comes to reality, we are responsible for our own life and for finding the strength to fight the battles and bring forth victory. Other people can’t do it for us, and it’s dangerous to depend on others to hold you up or to be responsible for your happiness. They have their own responsibilities and will tend to that first – as well they should – and that doesn’t always work to our advantage. It’s up to us to take everything that happens in life and work it to it’s best in our own life.
Depression is tough because it tends to blind people to personal responsibility. They’re so down that they feel they need a hand getting up, but often they can’t see it when it comes. I recently read a quote on Twitter attributed to Mark Twain: “Opportunity is often missed because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” That’s 100% truth. We have to work for everything. We have to work to take care of ourselves and our responsibilities and when something goes wrong, we have to work to make it right. This is what makes the struggle so much harder for those with depression. The energy they have has been sucked up by the demon of
depression, and they don’t know how to rally to find what they need to work their way out of the pit.
The good news is that they can win. That’s the theme of this book. By personifying depression as a demon, I wanted to show that it is a living force at work against the mind, but it can be fought and beaten. You don’t have to live with it. You don’t have to submit to it. You don’t have to accept it as a way of life. But you do have to stand up and fight it – perhaps over and over, because it’s never cured, but it can be kept at bay if you how to handle it when it rears it’s ugly head. This demon, like all others, only has dominion over you if you allow it to rule your life.
In closing, I’d like to offer advice to those of you that don’t have depression, but have loved ones that do. It took me a long time to learn that there was nothing I could do to make it go away for them, or to make them happy. This is a battle that must be fought alone, and that’s a tough thing to accept when somebody you love and care about is struggling. Two things I can tell you about this: The first is that once I did consult with a therapist about
supporting people with depression, and the thing they stressed is not to accept depression as an excuse for anything or to shield people from the consequences of their actions. This is a battle they must face, but they’ll never learn how to defeat it if they don’t realize what its’ costing them. So don’t accept it as an excuse and don’t pass things off as “that’s just the depression talking/acting” because that keeps them incapacitated to this demon by passing a judgment on them that they don’t need to be subject to. They can recover and you need to act on the truth that they can find that strength and do it if they rally to beat it. The second thing is to keep on being yourself. Don’t put on airs, handle then with kid gloves, or walk on eggshells. Sometimes the best inspiration is to have the security of knowing the truth and learning to rely on it. Let them know you for who you really are and that they can count on unwavering support and stability in you.
It took tough breaks for Jana Lanning to take control of her life, and she certainly didn’t catch any breaks. The people around her expected her to step up and be responsible and even her friends went on with their lives and made it clear that while they were concerned and wanted to support her, they also had their own struggles to deal with. One interesting thing about this book is the question of who are the villains? The demon played the clash between expectation and reality to put Jana where he wanted her, but what about the people he used? Were they selfish people, or a product of the uncertain circumstances; people with their own struggles to get by? There was a lot of instability and uncertainty in the situations that arose, and people often jumped to what was easy over what was right. I’d love to hear feedback from readers on how they view Jana and the other characters in this book because it’s such a parallel to real life.
I hope that Anywhere But Here is a book that reaches and touches many people, because depression is a demon that touches us all. If you’re interested in reading it, check out the home tab on this website for links to purchasing it through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Whiskey Creek Press.
That’s all today. Enjoy your weekend and the Holiday Season!
I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
I was talking to a friend a while back who sheepishly admitted that their doctor put them on an antidepressant. This friend was very unhappy to be on medication and said they wanted off the pills ASAP.
I countered by asking this friend if they thought it was bad for me to take antihistimines everyday to manage my allergy and sinus problems.
"No, why would that be a problem?" they asked. "After all, you have to take it to be able to function every day.It's a maintenance medication"
"Well, how is that different from you taking an antidepressant?" I asked. "If it helps you feel more energetic and you're able to go about your daily tasks easier, what's the difference?"
They never thought of it that way. And in my experience, it seems most people don't.
I don't understand why we're so hesitant to take care of our mind. We don't mind popping an aspirin for a headache, or taking antacids for heartburn. We'll mention an ache or pain to a doctor in a minute. But if it's our emotions that hurt, well, that's different. That's personal. That's nobody's business.
Well, my allergies aren't anybody's business, but I'm not ashamed of them. I don't advertise this health issue, but I don't hide it either. And while I understand that an anxiety attack and sniffling and sneezing are perceived differently by the general public, well, relief is available. Shouldn't we take advantage of it?
I think that as a whole, society has come a long way in understanding mental illness, but they still have a long way to go. One thing we can do to progress this effort is to be honest with ourselves. If you've lacked motivation for six months or more and getting out of bed every day is a challenge, treat it like the flu and see your doctor. Relief is available.
There may not be a cure for many of the emotional disorders that plague us, but they can be managed. And with the right treatment, you can have a good and productive life, just like you deserve.
You don't life in bondage to your physical ailments - you manage them. don't live in bondage to your emotions or your mind either. Don't be shy. Don't be embarassed. Don't let it define you. Manage it, so you define yourself in spite of it.