On Hiding Behind Okay

For the past month, I have been hiding behind okay.

What turned out to be a rare and serious case of strep throat the first week of April pushed me into a manic, panic attack ridden state with memory problems where I was messing up at work, forgetting basic details, and also my throat felt like knives and I had a raging fever but was too stubborn to heed my body – so I worked four full 9-5 days until the clinic finally called me, told me they got back the lab results, and that no it wasn’t allergies, yes you are seriously ill.

Then I went on antibiotics.  And I didn’t know it at the time, as the research just came out in 2015, but antibiotics can push bipolar patients into manic states.  So, already delirious off fevers and infections, I swallowed two pills daily that led to me becoming suicidal, violently unstable, a crying wreck with no self-esteem that thought she was a horrible person, and multiple panic attacks where I was inches away from walking into traffic or jumping in front of the Metro.

If you had asked me how I was doing, I would have said?

Okay.

I still went out with friends.  I went on dates with the guy I like.  Sometimes I had to cancel, and sometimes I went home in a crying wreck, curling up in my bed for a ball for hours.

But I didn’t miss a day of work.

I didn’t miss friend’s parties.

I didn’t miss my kindred dinners or blots.

I went to classes from 7:20-11:00 on Mondays without complaint.

I push, and I push, and I push, and I never admit that I’m not okay.

My best friend told me that apparently all my friends think I’m a badass, which never really dawned on me, but they’ve seen me wrestle with this monster that is bipolar type 1 with psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD.  One alone could put someone on disability.  I’m such a special snowflake I have six diagnoses.  And I work a my dream job doing hard work on Capitol Hill for forty hours each week and still have time to be a cornerstone for friends.

When I was at my sickest, and I couldn’t take care of myself, I still was taking care of other people.  Two Sundays ago, six of my friends opened up to me with their worst fears and problems all in the span of 5 hours.  It was therapeutic for me to help them, because I was so mentally weak and unstable, I thought maybe if I could stretch to listen to and nurture them, I could fix myself.

I still haven’t fixed myself.

After an entire month, I’m finally stable again, and my mania and panic attacks have worn off.  As in I-can’t-breathe-I’m-going-to-violently-kill-myself-and-blame-my-parents-for-not-aborting-the-worthless-cunt-I-am panic attacks.

I like to fantasize about my death a lot.

Oven head like Sylvia Plath.

Self mutilation like Van Gogh.

Pills, poison, jumping from a building.

It’s nice to know that at any moment, you can end your hell of a life.

And trust me, my life was absolute shit.

Sometimes I think suicide is stupid.  Sometimes I think it’s worth it.

Samael calls it selfish and shameful.

Michael just holds me and sings lullabies and runs his fingers through my hair.

Freyr became a tree with me, and I felt so at peace as a tree, feeding off starlight and rain.

Sometimes I wish I was normal, just for one, a single, glorious day, not a slave to my emotions or the turmoil and intrusive thoughts and delusions.

These gods and angels and demons, they could all just be in my head.

This universe could just be some sick trick a comatose brain is playing.

When you’re one of the crazies, you realize reality is fickle, and that you are never in control, not really.

So yes, I am okay.

But then again –

I am never okay.

When I was crying to my mom on the phone about to jump in front of the six o ‘clock train, she said I was too high-functioning to ever go on disability.  And it’s so fucking true. I’m too talented.  Insanely smart.  Too strong.  Not that being on disability means you’re weak, but honestly, with my diagnosis, most people are flat out homeless and very few have high profile jobs saving the world.

Most are probably just dead.

So I guess I’ll keep living, keep being useful, and try to take care of myself.

Because if I don’t, I’ll break again.

I’ll want to die again, return to the void.

Samael turned into the Void in one of my dreams, and he wrapped himself around me and I just dissolved.  Into nothingness.  That’s how I hope Death is.  Just erasing.  Nonexistence.

Because hell no am I doing this again.

I quit life next go around.

I will be nirvana.

Nothing.

 

On Loving an Immortal

I bled again last night, quiet perilous hours
you held me in moonbeam hands but I was lost
cast upon shores of solitude, I stumbled out
into the abyss, even though we were entwined
somehow, beyond your eyes, past your earlobe,
in the solace of your arms, I still stray far
away from all who love me, through terrors of
my mind, you could be kissing me, inside me,
and still, body heat, musk, I wouldn’t notice
instead pain and isolation would beckon me down
into the harrows of a bruised brain, and it
doesn’t help that my love for you is a ghost,
immaterial, and no matter how many shafts of
golden light sprinkle down upon me, no matter
how many swans slip into my window, or thunder
bolts doors shut, I can’t even be incinerated
on your heart pyre, because even when all the
hosts of heaven and legions of hell are at my
wayward side, when all the gods of Asgard and
tricksters of all the worlds guide me, even if
I know I am loved beyond belief, there’s still
a voice that taunts my mind of a place you will
never be able to reach me, we each have our own
private prisons, worry threads doubt into palms
those are what the heart, head, and life line are
just ruminations of the divine on their mortal’s
skin, and though you are with me in quiet hours,
in bosom days, in full glass evenings, first there
by my side in the morning, you have no body, not
really, just electric touch, ecstasy tongue, a
freezing soul, and I can never, ever hold you.

It hurts. It hurts. It hurts like a glass cage.

Mania, O Mania

At first it was a brain on fire
cruel nights, razors, psychosis
gods talked and demons caressed
you are Eve, Mother Mary, Whore,
anything your brain tells you
you threw all your belongings out
the window, glass cut you, you tried
to hurl yourself out, only stopped
when a wailing mother dragged you
to a straitjacket, and stale hospital
beds, the ward couldn’t hold you,
the drugs drowned you, but your
madness still frothed to a foam
the voices and sobbing Devil were
sweet, horrible, murderous, splendid
the nurses were angels, your parents
were predators, you couldn’t remember
your name – Iris, Puck, Persephone –
you cycled through myth encyclopedias
a new delusion to wear each day,
Depakote and Seroquel and Clonazepam
they all sounded like veneral diseases,
but you swallowed the medicine anyway,
nurses checked under your tongue, a
gulp of water to make them go down,
you scribbled mania in rainbow pencils
lit the ward up with rabid laughter,
it took four years to find yourself
again, and truly, you never even left
the hospital, because inside, you still
carry the skinhead Buddhist monk on crack
the beautiful olive diplomat’s daughter
the girl who picked her wrist wounds
the words of the pagans and poets, you
are a walking mausoleum, and bipolar bodes
unwell, chronic, there is never an escape.

On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

I am, to date, my most successful at querying since I started at 22, so from 2015-2017 at a ripe old 24 years of age I’ve learned a few tricks.  I have three fulls out right now with stellar agents and three partials with top notch, six-figure-and-above dealmakers that would be dreams to work with.  If any were to offer, it would make my life, though the chances of course are slim.

It’s only been nine days since I queried my top batch of agents and I got three requests so far, with dozens more who have yet to respond.  I have never, in two whole years, ever been this successful.  Still, I wonder – am I imagining this?  Am I an imposter?  Does my writing, well, suck?

I know I’m young.  I’m barely out of college, still in grad school, and still developing my voice, or voices, seeing as I seem to have Multiple Persona Disorder when it comes to writing..  Agents have given me great feedback, but many times, they tell me they love the premise, or that I have a great concept, but that something just didn’t work.  The execution was rough.  I need more characterization.  The writing was lush and evocative, but I’m not quite there yet.  Needs more background, less background, more exposition, more action, less detail, more detail – rarely do two agents think alike!

My Firebird retelling has truly been a labor of love, and I look back at my ten paragraph queries from two years ago and the teensy awful 50,000 word manuscript it used to be and think, how could I have been so damn naive and unsavvy!  And oh god, how could I have sent this off to those patient as saints agents???

I’m not a natural at this, I’m basically a stick in the mud, who only learns when she gets hits on the head a lot.  Agents made my manuscript what it is today, and they made it that way through suggestion and rejection.  It’s the best it’s been, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (those projects are still unfinished 😉 ) it’s pretty damn solid by my own meager standards.  Which are probably not enough to get published at this rate, but at least I’m creative.

And still, I always think I suck.  That I got these requests on accident.  That agents loathe my writing and think what I create is trash.  That out of the seven requests I have out right now, they will all end in scathing rejections, even though that has never in my life happened.  Agents have only ever, at worst, given form rejects.

I’m just so used to being broken mentally, I think my writing is broken too.  That there is some piece of storytelling craft that I am missing because hey, I have OCD, manic depression, psychosis, and a host of other disorders, and under a CT scan my brain would have a shrunken prefrontal cortex and scars from manic and depressive episodes.

It ties into my extremely bad anxiety and panic disorder, bolstered by mixed episodes that combine the loveliness of suicidality with depression and crippling panic attacks/obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts to self harm and mutilate, or just jump in front of that car, and the truth is, querying and putting myself out there is not mentally healthy for me.  It makes me unstable.  I’m managing a brand new job, a new townhouse with great roommates, a disorder where I can’t even look at alcohol, have to be in bed by 10 pm, not even drink frigging grapefruit juice, which I love, and one that ends with 1 in 4 people committing suicide.  Chances are high I won’t live past 25, and that was the date I set in my mind at the ripe old age of 15 when I realized life as a mentally ill person with snowflake diagnoses was, well, hell.

But I’m over exaggerating, and rambling, and because I’m broken, sometimes I can’t see beauty.

I’m as stable as I’ve ever been, making a great salary in a great city with a great boyfriend, working for an organization that is amazing and saves so many of my favorite animals and aids communities around the world, doing amazing work that helps people, when I may not ever be able to help myself, at least I stopped rhino poachers or saved endangered lemurs and birds or gave people with no livelihoods hope.

I am whole in so many ways, and because of that, I think it’s okay to take a break from this whole publishing quest.  I have half a mind to rescind all my full and partials and just become a hermit like the Tarot card, but I know that’s just a kneejerk reaction that is from my impulsive self-destructive craving for death and mayhem.  I have a huge Thanatos drive.  I have wanted to die so many times that perhaps a part of me has died already.  I die a bit every time I finish a story, it’s like another piece of my heart has been taken from me and eaten.  I serve my heart up on a plate for onlookers who judge its merits, when really, they’re judging my soul.  And it sometimes hurts.

I know you’re not supposed to take literary rejection personally, and I usually don’t, but sometimes, in my moments of weakness, I circle back to the thought that I’m a shit writer.  That all my successes, however small, so far have been flukes.  That my poetry is trash.  That I am trash.  I have such a low opinion of myself that sometimes I think I’d be bettering the world if I dove headfirst into the subway.  I have to stand far away from the oncoming trains, because almost every time, I have the urge to jump, even when everything is going right in my life.

Maybe it was the stress of my dad being hospitalized this weekend that made me reevaluate my creative aspirations, the thought that the person I hold dearest besides my mom could be ripped away from me by something as cruel as death, that spurred me to feel unstable.  Usually I’m the first to put myself out there, first to volunteer, to lead a class discussion or group project, I reach for the stars, and figure hey, if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

But it always circles back to the imposter syndrome.  I was trying to enjoy Girls last night, one of my favorite shows, when Hannah Horvath was interviewing a female writer, and part of it just made me cry.  All my efforts felt futile – Hannah is a struggling writer, always reaching so high but failing, not realizing what she already has, and maybe a part of me felt like I was, in a sense, this TV character I loathed.  Maybe I always see the glass half-empty.  And my mood swings be damned, I’m elated one second and terrified or a soul sucking black hole the next, even though I’m on five different medications, see a therapist once a week, abstain from even Mike’s Hards, have never so much as smoked or toked once, live a straitlaced boring existence where I do everything right, break and break and break again as I try to appear stable and sane, when inside I am mad.

Inside, I will always be damaged, but in ruin is beauty, and the cracks in my mind let the light slip through.  So persevere on I do, and no, I will never give up.

Only a sane person would.

On Killer Query Letters

So that’s my third manuscript request in four days.  Clearly, all it took was a query letter revamp, a hook, and instead of going months between full requests, I have a 50% success rate with full or partial requests for my novel.

What changed?

I added a hook:

A Cold War fairytale.  A family of Russian monsters.  A bastard prince.  A witch Kaschei the Deathless covets like a golden firebird.

My story is multilayered: a story set during Ivan Kupalo, a retelling of the myth behind the Ivan da Marya flower where a sister of night falls in love with a son of fire, a reimagining of  Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet in which the firebird – this time a witch – saves herself and her beloved prince – and her entire kingdom – from Kashchei the Deathless.

My comp titles are UPROOTED meets DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.  My query letter used to be ten paragraphs of rambling trash.

You’ve seen me struggle with this, when I started posting the very first chapters of my novel at 21 on this blog in 2014 to the great novel overhaul of 2016 where I added 30,000 words to my manuscript and major edits and plot points to the framework of the story.

None of that mattered if I couldn’t sell it.  If I didn’t have a hook.

Now the novel is with seven agents, and only a year ago I couldn’t get a single one to look at it.  I’m beyond proud of myself, but I’ve racked up my fair amount (a lot) of rejections from being young, naive, and a shittier writer than I am now.

A writer that didn’t know how to make something sound marketable.  Someone that didn’t know the very genre she was writing in, just writing something from her heart that she loved, because she believed in the story of her favorite characters, and because it was, beyond all else, fun.

I think good things are coming.  I really do.  I’ve spent enough time with shitty periods in my life – suicide, depression, panic attacks, constant drowning anxiety that doesn’t let you breathe, PTSD, night terrors, the rollercoaster of mania and crash that comes afterward, getting laid off, not once, but twice within two years due to company downsizing, losing 50 pounds, dealing with toxic people that were driving me mad.

I am a walking pill that never stopped writing.  I slept on that fairy hill and went mad.  I ate the fruit of the underworld and now my soul is unearthly.  I have been through the harrows of hell that is mental illness, been hospitalized with no hopes of recovering, clawed my way up through thorazine drips and antidepressants and antipsychotics and intrusive thoughts of cutting off my toes, biting off my tongue, driving into that tree, and despite all expectations – nay, promise to myself – that I would die when I was 25 – I’m 24 and now I actually want to live.  Now I actually believe in myself.

I think I can be a real writer.  I’ve given up over a decade of my life to this craft, spent days mourning rejections on full manuscripts, written the same damn story over and over again until I got it right.

I put the madness of a crazy, violent brain under wraps and only let the demons inside me come out in dreams, in sick visions and violent delights as my mind rapes itself.

I did all the shadow work, ran for 5 years from him, learned to grow a spine and not be a doormat, and never did I stop writing.

I didn’t stop when I tried to drown myself.

I didn’t stop when I was in the mental ward, grip on reality nonexistent, devils and angels seeking me out and driving me insane.

When I was manic, I wrote.  When I was depressed, I poured all that pain into my writing.  When I was barely alive, catatonic and bloated with drugs I wouldn’t give a horse, I put pen to page and raged.

My writing is an act of resistance.

An act or rebellion.

The pulse of my blood.

My declaration that I am alive, not a slave to my diseases, but master of them.

There’s a reason my query letter is killing:

Because I have already died a million times.

Red Pill Angel

Wings of mercy, garlands of pain
the red pill angel strikes again
carrying wounded to heaven high
up to hospital beds in the sky.

Her wings are crimson, ruddy dew
heals the sickness haunting you
presses salve, staunch the wound
while she sings a healing tune.

Her hair is rosy, lips are true
when she kisses patients through
their tears of struggle, she will
save them from the poison pill.

Alice in Wonderland nurse is free
to heal hate twixt you and me
her song and galdr mend all bone
and make you strong as ancient stone.

The red pill angel has no name
her flight is true, her hair aflame
she visits sickly, ends all pain
the red pill angel saves again.