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My Struggle With Self-Identification

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember (since I was four, I think). My parents got my Hardy Boys books for Christmas presents one year and couldn’t tear me away from them long enough to open the rest of my presents. I haven’t stopped being a bookworm since.

I discovered writing around age six or seven. My first story was about the adventures I’d have with my horse (I love horses). I wrote off and on until I met my life-long best friend in fifth grade (age nine), who also wrote stories (where I was from, I was weird for wanting to write). Finding someone else like me was justification that I wasn’t strange.

And that was the time when I realized I was a writer and would be for life. My parents (particularly my father) had made it clear I’d go to college, so my plans revolved around going to school for creative writing and literature. At the time, I was close to family (my best friend’s family for all intents and purposes adopted me when I was eleven) and my grandparents were in the area, so I’d planned on going to college in Down East Maine. There was a decent writing and literature program at a college there.

Then things went a different direction.

High school and college didn’t go the way I had planned or envisioned. I ended up struggling (a lot) in college because I didn’t know who I wanted to be anymore. My mother had passed away, I wanted to be a writer, and my father insisted I’d be a blasted fool not to pursue a technical career and make some money with my life.

And here I sit today, feeling a blasted fool, making money with my life as a software engineer. Hah.

I just don’t know who I am now.

I get panic attacks, because I feel so overwhelmed.

There’s always plenty to do at work. I just don’t feel capable. I love my company and the people with whom I work; I’d just rather be focusing on my writing craft than learning yet another programming language. I like what I do and technology; I’ve just put it at the forefront, and my dream on the back burner, long enough.

But if I were to catch a break at work, then I’ve got a migraine. Or gout flare ups. Or joint pain. (I’ve been sick, not working, for a week now, because of pain issues.) These stir up my depression and sink me even lower. I’m trying to get my weight under control (I’m down 25 pounds from where I was when these issues started), but I’ve got a long road ahead.

Then I feel like I’m not spending enough time with my family. I’m not doing well enough as a father to my two daughters. I’m not being a good husband.



I don’t have a clue. The only thing I know is that I need to do something. What that is I don’t know yet.

Living With Myself As A Depressed Person

I struggle with depression on a daily basis. I’m on medication and attend therapy sessions, and even still struggle. Every. Single. Day.

The reasons are many.

The usual reason is that I also struggle with a pain disorder (currently diagnosed as gout and fibromyalgia, though who knows). I’m in pain constantly. Usually the pain is tolerable enough that I can go about my day, do my work, and be an active member of my family.

But then there are the other days.

On those days I’m a grump (and that’s being mean to grumps), can barely function (my mobility is severely limited and/or I have to deal with incredible amounts of pain to move), and coherent thoughts are a joke.

That depresses me because it takes me away from my family, which is of primary and significant importance to me.

The other big reasons are my struggles with childhood and teenage traumas. My mother died when I was eleven (there’s a whole bag of depression there), my father was a classic narcissist, and I was sent away to boarding school against my wishes at age seventeen.

It took me seventeen years before I finally admitted I had a problem with these traumas and that I needed help. These traumas are probably the root of my depression, though having been buried for so long, it takes a lot to get them out, identified, and worked on.

Focus on me today. Sitting in my chair, at my writing desk. Today is one of those days where I have no motivation, my passion is lost in the back forty, and I’m struggling to keep my head above the waters of depression before I drown in it and get swept away.

Days like this, everything suffers. My family, my work, my writing. I try my hardest to “just do better.” But it isn’t that easy. I wish it were.

Things That Bother Me When I Read A Book

So, I read a lot. Usually at least one or two books a week, unless I’m particularly busy at work, or stressed out with life.

Given that, there are a number of things that bother me when I try to start a new book. I’m going to spread these things out over multiple posts. So today, here’s my first thing: the line at which an author goes “to hell with the details of my world.”

To rewind a bit, I chiefly read science fiction and fantasy novels. Mostly fantasy, these days, unless I know the SF author well. In fantasy novels, I particularly enjoy an author who does really, really, really good world-building.

It seems as if there is currently a trend towards laziness in world-building, though. I picked up one book a night or two ago and read about five pages. I’m usually impressed with this author’s world-building. This time, I was impressed with the attention to detail, until we got to the religion.

The religion was Christianity with the names just barely changed. I was into the flow of the novel, the rhythm of the world — and then I was jolted straight out of it.

I immediately put the book aside and found a different one to read.

Not because I have a problem with religion, or Christianity (far from it, actually), but because this book is a fantasy novel, a Not Of This World story. I had suspended my beliefs to submit myself to the belief structure of the author’s world. The author had not led me to believe this was a post-apocalyptic fantasy (i.e. our Earth several thousand years in the future).

There are always little things that pester at me when I read a book. Spelling or grammar issues. Word choices that I don’t agree with. These are disturbances that I can usually ignore, if they aren’t too many or great, and generally follow the flow of the story. But something like this breaks the flow for me because so much attention and detail has gone into the rest of the world that it doesn’t make sense for the religion to be a semi-skewed photocopy of a real-world religion. Why not spend the time and create a brand new religion to go with the brand new world?

This has been happening more and more often, in my experience as a reader, and it’s a curious trend. I’d understand it if it were science fiction, as SF is a projection of what our world will become.

I’d also understand it if the story were cast as alternate history fantasy or such. Maybe this is a trend I’m missing?

In any case, that’s today’s thought from me to you on the things I read.

Managing the Things I Need To Do

I’ve always been bad at managing the things I need to do. I’m a procrastinator; always was in school and still am, to a lesser degree (getting married and having kids have made me grow out of it a little). One of the things I find, though, is that being depressed and going through counseling for all my childhood traumas is enhancing the procrastinator in me. I find it difficult to keep track of things; I have memory issues (sometimes severe ones) and I get blocked easily if I’m having a bad day.

This post isn’t to talk about all of that, though.

I’m trying a new technique.

I’ve tried all of the to-do apps on the market. They all have some great features, some bad. And that’s the issue that I have with them all: they are feature-rich. For me, I don’t need a feature-rich app. I just want something simple that I can write things down, sync it between my devices, and check things off as I get them done.

For me, I’m trying this: I’m using Apple’s Reminders app (it’s simple and it syncs) and a standard 8″ x 11″ yellow legal pad. The Reminders app contains the headlines of what I need to do. The yellow pad contains the broken down lists of each step that needs to be completed per headline.

The other things I’m trying is to pick three, and only three, things that I absolutely must accomplish for a day. On my legal pad, I write down today’s date (and tomorrow’s, and the next day’s, if I have enough stuff to plan those days), then I put down the three things that I want to get done. That doesn’t mean I can’t do other things; just that those three things are what I want to get done to call my day a success.

I’ll see how it goes. Definitely a low-tech, less-features way of doing it.

Taking the Bull by the Horns Might Get You Gored

But sometimes it’s the only way to get things done.

I’ve been on the fence about writing for awhile now. Lots of backstory (read: I have issues, some of the same as any writer (Dad says writing “isn’t a career” and was generally unsupportive), some that go a bit  deeper into the psyche).

In any case, I’ve been doing a lot of personal reflection and work with a therapist over the last several years. Finally, I’m at a point where I can handle all the voices in my head well enough to tell them to take a hike.

I’m lining up some writing projects for myself:

  • A couple of articles for WordPress developers (likely applicable to generalists too). One on project management, one on an undecided topic.
  • A couple of book reviews (one on the first two books of Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series, another on an ARC of Jon Sprunk’s new book).
  • A short story that’s been burbling in my head off and on for four years. Writing and sending it as my application to Viable Paradise.
  • General writing goal of doing some writing every day.