The Pendulum.

The last time I did stand up, I did this bit about growing a beard again for the first time in years:

ME: Beard! How’ve you been!

BEARD: Ah, how’s it going man?

ME: So. You’re grey now?

BEARD: (mumbling like a war vet) This fuckin’ year man, this fuckin’ year…

 

2017 has not been a good year for me, to put it mildly. To put it less mildly, if 2017 was a person I’d seduce its wife out of spite and spread a rumour that its people took the soup*. And so it was that, at the end of this miserable soup-taking cuckold of a year, I found myself in a very bad place.

I had a conversation once with a writer friend of mine and I asked her if she knew any writers who hadn’t grappled with depression at some point. She thought for a long time and finally admitted that, no, she didn’t. The reason that I didn’t ask her if she had ever grappled with depression was because I already knew she had. Just like I knew that every other writer know has had to deal with it. My point is, it’s an occupational hazard. Footballers pull hamstrings, computer programmers get eye-strain, writers get depressed. So it goes.

I’ve always been a pendulum. I’ll write something and I’ll send it in and I’ll load it down with hopes and dreams. This will be the one. This will be my big breakthrough. This is the thing that will change my life.

And then I’ll get an email back that contains the word “unfortunately”.

And I get knocked back, and I doubt myself and a few days later I start writing again and I’ll write something and I’ll send it in and I’ll load it down with hopes and dreams. This will be the one. This will be my big breakthrough. This is the thing that will change my life.

I swing back and forth. Back and forth. And usually, it’s fine.

But early on this year, I got knocked back. Bad. Two really, really big opportunities both went up in smoke within the same month. And I found myself, if not back at Square 1, somewhere that looked and felt and smelt a lot like that particular neighbourhood. After that, the usual rejections started to sting a whole lot more. And the pendulum started swinging harder and harder. I’d put more and more of myself into every application, and each rejection started taking bigger and bigger chunks out of me.

So when an opportunity came up to write for one of the most critically acclaimed computer game companies in the world, an actual honest to God, full time writing job? A nine to five job where I could actually do the only thing that I’m actually good at? I jumped at that. I jumped harder than I have ever jumped. I wrote two Twine games from scratch, burnished my CV until it shone, checked my application letter once, twice, three, times, four. I wanted this so bad. And I really, really thought I was going to get it. I often let myself get carried away thinking about the future. But I went full on alternate reality. I had my whole future planned out. I was going to get this job. I could feel it. I knew it. And I was honestly more happy than I have been in ages.

And then, in work, I get an email from the company. And it’s a very gracious, very complimentary, very supportive email. But it does, nonetheless, contain the word “unfortunately”.

And the pendulum swung back. Harder, than it has ever swung.

My vision went black. I wish I was being hyperbolic. But that was a real goddamn thing that happened.

And in that blackness I heard a voice. Small, quiet, but nonetheless rather insistent.

“Hey. You know what? You should go to the roof.”

“You mean…to get some fresh air?”

“No.”

“…”

“Oh.”

So what did I do? I ran out of there like Ussain Frickin’ Bolt, that’s what I did. I told work I wasn’t feeling well, called my wife, told her I was having a panic attack (I told her why later) and I went home.

Yeah, I know. Kinda anticlimactic. But…that’s good, right?

Here’s what happened afterwards. It happened on a Friday so I had the weekend regroup. I told Ms Mouse Friday night, and she was awesome. Because she always is. That’s her default setting. She got me a number for a counselling service in Dublin. The next few days were kind of shitty. I was sick a lot (I think i may have been in shock) and kinda paranoid. Everywhere I went I felt like people were looking at me and thinking…

Mostly, I just felt tired. Just bone fucking exhausted.

Monday, I called in sick to work and went to my GP. She listened carefully and sympathetically, told me to take a week off work to recuperate, gave me some numbers for counselling services and a prescription for anti-anxiety meds.

Tuesday I went into work for around half an hour to tidy up some things and explain to my boss. She, as it turns out, is also awesome, and told me to go home and not to even think about work.

I’m starting counselling this week, and the Unwelcome Visitor has not made a reappearance.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

People are wonderful. People are amazing. When they see you’re in trouble, they want to help. They want to look after you. They want you to be well. They want you to be happy. They want you to stay right here, thank you very much. The last week has bonded me more deeply to my family than I can put into words.

This world is full of love. Full to overflowing. I know it may not seem that way, but I know it now to be true.

Another thing I’ve learned is my worst fear. And that’s not making it as a writer. And it still scares me. But it does not scare me that much, and right now I feel like it never will again. Time will tell. Maybe I will make it someday. Or maybe I’ll still be doing this decades from now, bitching about how the Frozen franchise went off the rails with Frozen 8: The Froze and the Furious.

This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to say “And then, yesterday, I got an email from a publisher/theatre/agent saying…” but life doesn’t work like that.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t have a sad ending. It doesn’t have an ending. Because it’s not over yet.

And it won’t be, not for a very, very, very, very long time.

 

 

*In this scenario, 2017 is Irish.

52 comments

  1. Hi,

    I’ve never commented here before, but I love your work, and I just want to wish you the best and offer my support. We almost lost my cousin to suicide and depression earlier this year, so this hit home for me. Best wishes to you and your family.

  2. I can’t say for sure that “It gets better,” but what I can say is that there is a legion of fans and readers behind you who love you, support you, and are rooting for you, and I am one of them. I really, really, sincerely hope that it DOES get better for you in the coming year. Thank you for all the laughs over the years, and hopefully, for many more to come. I hope the Unwelcome Visitor never rears its ugly head again.

  3. Haven’t commented here before, but I’ve been reading for quite a while and subscribed a couple months ago*ish. Also a big Sharuf! supporter. 😉 I appreciate your honesty. So glad you reached out to others. It is admirable and I respect you for that. I’m also truly greatful (why is it “grateful” when I’m clearly not grating cheese?) for your loved ones being supportive. Have a wonderful week. 🙂

  4. You’re an absolute hero Mouse. I’ve been struggling a fair bit this year myself, couldn’t get work, had to move home from Dublin last February. Started going to counselling in September. They really are great human beings.

    Thanks for telling us all, it’s nice to know I’m not the only going through this =)

    1. I think part of the problem is people only post when things are going well (I’m very guolty of this). It makes you feel that everyone else is doing great and you’re the only one struggling.

  5. That pendulum is a wrecking ball sometimes. And it doesn’t help when people tell you JK Rowling got rejected 67 times.
    But let me tell you again: you made a stranger on the other side of the world laugh in her own darkest hour. A lot. Your writing is powerful. All any of us can do is keep trying.

  6. It’s strange…I look at your blog and I think “I wish I were half as talented. I wish I could be so funny and draw in so many readers. I wish I could do something else instead of my kind of full time writing job which is most of the time dreadfully boring because it is always the same kind of texts day in and day out and I just would love to delve into something really creative”….and as usual, the ink isn’t greener on the other side of the paper.

    Would it help to you that the one time I was struggling with depression it had nothing to do with my writing? A lot of people struggle for one reason or another – including football player btw. I am just glad that you were brave enough to act immediately and ask for help. Too many people don’t and it rarely ends well.

    I hope the next year gets better for you.

  7. Hey man. First off, well done in getting help. I’ve been in a very, very similar situation, and it got a lot worse because I was too proud (I.E. Moronic) to get help. And I know this is the words of a random stranger on the internet…..but here it is nevertheless. You are a fantastic writer. I specifically look for your blog to update because it is a highlight of my day to read it. Your writings have often made me smile when my own unwelcome visitor likes to come around. You do a wonderful job bringing humor and analysis to works i have always loved. You are phenomenal writer and great human being. Thank you, for all you have done. And I hope that 2018 is a far better place for you.

      1. It’s the least i can do. Figure, with the large amount of joy you bring to the internet, seems only fair the internet does what it can to bring you some.

  8. Neil. My big brother. I know you haven’t gotten published yet, but that doesn’t mean the things you create are anything less then remarkable. And when I talk about my ideal future I always say, I want to be a writer, like Neil. You are an incredible role model. Keep up the good work.

  9. Damn, this hit too close to home for me. In my case, I started taking anxiety meds around late August/early September after having a panic attack at work. It really is helping me cope with adulting right now. Hang in there, Neil. I understand.

  10. I’m not the first to say that I hope this isn’t weird coming from a stranger on the internet, but I just have to say I wish you the best. I’ve spent last year keeping on top of the treatment and recovery of a lot of loved ones, plus my own anxiety issues. All through it your writing has been a constant source of joy, a way to feel part of something. It’s good to hear that you were able to get help because too many people can’t or won’t. I can’t offer much more than hoping things get better for you, but I really sincerely do.

  11. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me.

    You are an amazing writer, you are a fantastic person, you are important, and you will win because that’s what winners do. Depression is a liar and a coward and a bully, and it will lose because that’s what losers do. The Mouse WILL beat the tractor.

    Thank you for everything you’ve done and will continue to do. Thank for for making me look at some of my favorite movies with new eyes, for helping me discover new ones (Tokyo Godfathers tonight – a holiday favorite since I read your review), and for occasionally tearing the ones that needed it a new orifice.

    Thank you for being awesome.

  12. Mouse.

    You have a loving wife and daughter, a loyal and well deserved followship of avid readers, you live in a rather well placed First World society that, for all its flaws, at least guarantees a certain level of stability.

    I have never been married, I don’t have any children, I’m growing older while facing the almost certain likelihood of a lonely end. I’m ill, I live in a Third World society in a constant downward slide with no hopes of any sort of recovery anytime soon, I have never achieved anything really worth mentioning and I’ll most likely never be remembered for anything after I’m gone. My very job might be at risk because of the economic situation, and around here, you don’t even really get ‘unfortunately’s included when you are rejected at something.

    I don’t want to tell you ‘don’t complain, you could be me’, you certainly have every right to vent out whenever you want and we all will support you… but please always keep in mind you are a wonderfully lucky person in comparation to some others, and God or random, whatever, placed you, and then you further placed yourself, in a position where you have darn fine reasons to be contented with your lot in life. And if I haven’t thrown myself to the train just yet, then you also should strive ahead. Best of lucks at that, and keep that furry chin up.

    1. It takes a lot of courage to share what you just shared, OverMaster. I really admire the fact that you’re willing to talk about your own hardships in life just to be encouraging to Mouse. Stay strong and know that you are not alone.

  13. Having struggled with depression and two failed suicide attempts I can say that I understand where you’re at. My two attempts also came after big momentus things that were supposed to determine my entire future, and then they didn’t. It sucked. It still sucks. I still take buttloads of medication so I don’t go crazy. But I am doing better. I’m a manager at a pet store (I sell your brethren as snake food, I’m so sorry), I have an amazing boyfriend and my family hasn’t completely rejected me for coming out. Yes I still struggle sometimes and my country is apparently sliding into authoritarian fascism but I’m doing okay. And you will too. Hang in there, Mouse.

    P.S. I also have a pet snake but he eats frozen brethren instead of lives which is… better?

  14. Whenever I talk of Disney movies yours is the blog I mention. I don’t think I’ve plugged any blog have as much as yours. (Even mine) I hope you get that big break someday but even if you don’t remember that if success is measured by the journey you take your readers on then you’ve already accomplished many things. That may not mean much but I’m glad you have people around you to give you strength. Riding the pendulum is a bitch.

  15. Yeah, I just went through, or I suppose am still going through, a similar experience. Depression is a really horrible disease, especially since it doesn’t make sense to people who haven’t directly experienced it.

    Fortunately, I have an awesome, supportive wife too. It helps.

    So, you hang in there, and I will too. Sounds good?

  16. My friends and I finished our own Disney Quest about half a year ago. I floated the idea of watching through all those movies thanks to having found this blog. I do truly appreciate the experience. This blog has given me a newfound appreciation for those movies and for movies in general. Recently other friends of mine asked me to be the godfather of their child, and I already have all these ideas for when he’s old enough to watch Disney movies. All these little things I want to point out to him, to give him a chance to love them as much as I do.
    I’ve heard it said that the books we read, the movies we watch, the things we experience, are all buildings blocks for our character. They shape how we think, who we are. And you have been a major building block in my life these past couple of years.
    So thank you. All these people who have already commented, myself included, and numerous others, have all been shaped by you. And for the better, have no doubt about that. Which is why I wish you all the best and even brighter future endeavors.

  17. This is a very relate-able post. I am familiar with the Unwanted Visitor and it camped on my doorstep for years. In times of intense stress and overwhelm, it knocks at the door. I am so glad you are surrounded by loving and supportive family. I am also glad you sought help. As for those who want you to “stay here”, I am definitely among them. When I last wrote to you, I was in quite a state and in desperate need of perspective. I was in the middle of a 4 hour drive, alone with only my thoughts. I recalled another very personal blog post you wrote which made me feel I could reach out to you. I so appreciated your response. I hope 2018 is less of a bastard to you. I hope is a time of growth for you and brings joy to you and your family. You’re a fantastic writer, I love your wit and humor. This blog is my favorite to read. Thank you for writing about this. It starts a needed conversation and in doing so, you find you’re not alone.

  18. I know from my own past experience with depression that it’s not easy to share this kind of thing with other people. Your bravery is commendable, Mouse. I can tell that you’re a strong person and you will eventually find the light at the end of the tunnel.

    It’s especially brave that you can STILL write jokes even in a blog post about your depression. I’m not sure I’d have been able to do that during my depressed period. Thank you for all the laughs you’ve given me. And as much as I love your blog, feel free to take a break if you need to. Or keep going if that’s what you need. We fans will support whatever you need to get better!

  19. I have nothing to add to this that hasn’t been said by anyone already in this thread?

    Like I mentioned in my previous comment, I’ve bingewatched (…bingeread?) this blog in a couple of weeks. I’ve actually had to avoid doing so at work, because if I read it there I’d get odd looks for laughing. I’ve recommended the blog to a number of friends of mine, who similarly agree that it falls somewhere around the “awesome” category; not only for the animation reviews, but also the reasoned arguments you give about political topics.

    ‘Made a random guy on the internet laugh’ probably isn’t the greatest praise you could get… but damnit, when I said I was a little insecure because of how good your stuff was, I was only partly-snarking. As someone who aspires to be a writer, but has trouble getting started because of ‘Unfortunately’ and that nagging voice in my head… well, I like your work. I really like your work. It’s the kind of blog that I wish I could do, and I wish I could write as well and as engagingly as you do.

    So… yeah. I guess that’s my two cents? There will be other opportunities; the work you’ve shown on this blog proves that, to say nothing of other projects like Joanna, the Twine games, and the plays you’ve mentioned.

    Er.. sorry for rambling, and I don’t know if it means much, but… again. Your stuff has made me smile, so at the very least, want to say thanks for that.

  20. Mr Sharpson, as a fellow aspiring writer please allow me to assure you that (A) as someone who can actually produce verifiable evidence of your ability to fulfil those Dreams – evidence people will happily reread, as I can attest from personal experience – you are streets ahead of my ilk, those with the ambition but without the application.

    (B) A child is a greater and more important work of art than any mere handicraft; Miss Sharpson and your love for her will, I suspect, attest more eloquently to your greatness of spirit than anything bound up in dead trees or captured with pixels.

    Allow me to conclude by saying that your work is valued, that your voice has charmed an audience larger than most will ever reach and that Bad as 2017 was, it is very nearly over – now let us each take steps to ensure that we see 2018 coming!

  21. I don’t really know what to say tbh. Apart from you’re a great writer, your voice is evident in every blog and makes these a joy to read. You’ll get a break one day, I’m sure.

    Also ps your last paragraph super reminded me of this song in crazy ex girlfriend https://youtu.be/9Rtvwu75K3I

    Pps You should watch that show if you’re ever feeling low, it’s the best depiction of mental illness on a show I’ve ever seen and it’s just really fun.

  22. I am so, so sorry you went through that. I’m also VERY glad that you got help right away!
    Depression is hell and Unwelcomed Visitor can fuck right the fuck off. ( . . . let’s just say: been there, still fighting the residuals.)

    I’m glad you’re still here. I hope you will remain here for a long, long, LONG time and that 2018 is less of a shite-storm for you.

  23. Hey mouse. Sorry to read this. I’m glad you dealt with it in such a good way. Hopefully the next visit is a long time away and not as tough, but if it is run the same way as before.

  24. I’ve been reading your blog for years but this is the first time I’ve commented. This was really hard to read. I’ve been grappling a lot with the Unwelcome Visitor myself this past year. It’s terrifying having those kinds of thoughts in your head. Your blog has been one of the ways I escaped for a bit. I’m glad you’re surrounded by people who love you and that you’re getting help. I’m glad your story isn’t over and I wish you every joy and success in 2018 (and the last few weeks of 2017).

  25. You’re literally the only blog I follow. You’re a wonderful reviewer and if you ever needed to take time, none of us would begrudge you that (well, maybe Walt, but he’s an evil warlock so screw him). You always bring a smile to my face. I know it’s not always what you want to hear, but it DOES get better. It does. Trust me.

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