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 I 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.
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.