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!