Our first webcomic by Mike Norton, Sweeney Boo, Ryan Ferrier and myself.
Our first webcomic by Mike Norton, Sweeney Boo, Ryan Ferrier and myself.
It was an ordinary day, like any other that had come before. I’d struggled along, unaware that each ordinary day was one where I’d slipped just that little bit further. Not realising there was a weight pushing me down the tiniest bit more.
Every extra hour I’d spend in bed in the morning. Each additional day I’d go without showering. More days that would pass where I refused to leave the house. It had become a pattern, and I was completely blind to it.
But on June 19th of this year, the normal day ended in a very bleak place. I would say it came out of nowhere, but in retrospect, every sign was there from the beginning. I’d let my mental health collapse.
It was that night, after watching Birdman, where I had to admit to myself that if I didn’t have a family, I would’ve killed myself. Hell, I even sat with the thought of suicide all night. I’m lucky that the reminder of my daughter asleep in the other room spared me an awful decision that night. But I had to face the facts:
Family couldn’t save me forever.
Suicide in men has been described as a “silent epidemic.” It has a disturbingly high incidence and is a major contributor to men’s mortality. In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. Among men of all ages in Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in 2007.
The above quote is from an article in the BC Medical Journal in 2011. It’s an excellent insight into leading theories behind the ‘silent epidemic’ and one I encourage you to read.
When I say that I’m lucky, I absolutely believe it. I have many securities that men in similar situations aren’t fortunate to have. Financial stability, family, and a community of trusted friends, just to name a few.
The answer isn’t an easy one. Depression is a sly, subtle bastard. It hooks in quietly and is content to whisper for months and years. There have been rare occasions where I’ve been able to feel it settling in, where I have enough self-awareness to understand the feelings I’m having. It’s rare to happen that way.
It begins with something small and ends with you thinking tomorrow really isn’t worth waiting out. And it can happen slow or terrifyingly fast. That loss of perspective is almost indescribable and is deeply horrifying. I still can’t explain to you how I couldn’t see value in the life I was living. Even with everything being absolutely wonderful from the outside. I’m embarrassed to have taken it all for granted.
But, I can promise you this; it wasn’t taken for granted. I simply didn’t see my value in the equation.
That night I had a long talk with my wife. I told her everything I’d kept inside, the awful shit that swirled around in my brain day and night. I confessed the anxieties, my fear of going outside, the lack of desire to be a person anymore. It was scary, for both of us. She knew, of course. She’d been living with my depression as much as I had. I don’t think she understood how far down I’d spiralled emotionally. I hide well. If I had a superpower, that would be it.
The conversation came around to preservation. To stop the free fall and find some solutions. That support from my wife, unyielding and strong, kept me from the precipice. And three days later I was in a soft sofa overlooking Vancouver’s rainy harbour, talking to a professional about what led me to this place.
Life turned around at such a rate that it surprised me, and in a way that I am proud of. In a way that gives me strength even now. Because, yes, the support I had was invaluable in saving my life, but I did the work to get me out of that pit. I clawed my way out and demanded better.
I saved myself.
1) Seek Help – There are many ways you can do this. There are hundreds of options out there. It is the most obvious of answers to those suffering from depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. The problem is, we believe that because we have dealt with it our whole life, we are in control of it.
The reality is, mental health is taken less seriously than any physical injury. If you had a broken hand, you would go to a doctor to get it fixed. You wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and carry on. “Well, this is just who I am now.”
It’s not always easy to find the right help, either, but the struggle is worth it. I promise you. I know it seems like all you’re getting is common sense suggestions, and that you’re doing all the work while they’re getting paid for it. But here’s the truth:
You are responsible for the hard work.
It took my counsellor to point out the obvious because I’d lost that perspective. And there was an actual shift that occurred in my clouded brain. Like I could see again. That was the beginning.
2) Demand Order – I’ve been a professional writer for five years. I’m a freelancer, I create my own hours, my own work space and I’m ultimately responsible for my deadlines. Guess what?
Depression and chaos aren’t good partners. For me, it was a huge contributor to the spiral. A week would pass and I’d done so little work that it would trigger a collection of thoughts that carried over to the next week, compounding how awful I already felt.
Worthless. Lazy. Unhelpful. Irresponsible. Shameful.
Depression eventually devoured my ability to create, think clearly and be productive. I went from writing a few hours a week to a few hours a month.
In that time I had a conversation with a colleague and he said he’d started living by a daily schedule. He showed me his template, a really smart and easy to create day planner with Google Calendar. I thought little of it at the time, but when I was taking control of my life again, the idea resurfaced.
So I created one for myself.
It revolutionised my life. I went from writing a script a month to a script a week, sometimes even two a week. That built confidence, excitement and a growing motivation. I could look back at the end of the week and see everything I’d accomplished. Of course I missed personal deadlines here and there, but I could be proud of everything I’d managed to create.
I do a full calendar every month, and will continue to plan out my life with a more defined, ordered future. (Confession: that 7:30AM running thing has fallen off in recent months. Time to get back to it.)
3) Inner Dialogue – This was the hardest for me, and is still a struggle every single day. The first two points are excellent weapons to battle negative self talk.When that voice starts whispering about how lazy you are, or how useless you are, you have a reference point to fight that notion. You can strengthen the positive voice.
“No, I’m not lazy! I may have only written one script last week, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the zero I wrote before!”
To take that power back is an incredible tool to staying motivated and strong. Whenever I struggle with that negativity, I actively refute it with reassurances that I’m doing just fine. Doing this, even a little bit, every day, will make the next fight that much easier.
I can openly admit that I know I will struggle with depression in the future. My ability to accept that fact will help me beat it the next time it rolls around. For the first time in my life, I have the tools to combat a health issue that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.
The article above talks about some key factors that they believe leads to men, in particular, killing themselves at such a significant rate in my age group. And many of those factors applied to me, but the main one being a refusal to acknowledge the need for help. To deal with it quietly until it’s too late.
I understand. It’s easier to pretend and carry on. To let depression suck you in so deep that you can’t see the exit anymore. And when that happens, you’re only left with one option. And to everyone in your life that loves you, to the contribution you make to the world, it is not the one you should take.
I am many factors to many equations. I am a father. A husband. A brother. A son. A writer. I can see how my role plays out in all of these and I know that my life is important. That my existence does have meaning, even in the times I lose sight of that.
And even if you can’t see it, you are a part of not just one equation, but many.
Sometimes it takes one impossible phone call to change your life. And your life can change. How do I know?
Because mine did.
If you’re in crisis, please visit the BC Crisis Centre.
I was the storyteller for a Stranger Things inspired Dread RPG over the weekend. Here’s the first part of the episode. It was a lot of fun, and would love to host another at some time!
You can check the channel for many other shows I’m involved in, including D20Babes, an all lady party in an original Forgotten Realms story. Others include Gadfly, an original cyberpunk world using the James Bond 007 RPG system and Edge of the Empire.
The third issue of my Dark Horse Series Bounty with Mindy Lee comes out this Wednesday! Romance, action and cyberwizardry abound!
It’s August 8th tomorrow. Another day of summer in another year of my life.
Around this time last year I was sitting in the waiting room waiting for the love of my life as she was prepared for major surgery. I can’t tell you everything I felt then. I was nervous, that much is certain, and I had no right to be, really. I wasn’t about to risk my life for another. All I had to do was sit there and not pass out.
A task which I accomplished in spectacular fashion.
And after a half hour of work in which I contributed nothing, you were brought into the world and into our lives. Into our family. I’m having a hard time believing that a year has passed between then and now, but here we are.
You’re the measuring stick of time, amongst many other things.
Willow, tomorrow you’re a year old. I’ve been writing letters to you since before you were born, and in that time I’ve realized that these pieces of memory are as much for me as they are you. Because it’s moments like this where I take time to appreciate the value of you when the day to day tends to be a blur of crying, poop and sleepless nights.
You’re already walking. You’ve been timidly trying for the past month but you’ve taken a real shining to it now. It allows you to be more mischievous with increased efficiency. You’ve taught us since then that nothing is ever truly baby proofed, it only ever maintains the illusion of it.
You’re very curious. Sometimes I have to attribute that mischievousness to your natural desire to learn more as a means to curbing my frustration. Snatching my mouse away and closing windows on the computer was funny the first time.
I assure it is not anymore.
You’ve changed me, little one. And you’ll forgive me if I choke back a few tears when I write this. I haven’t really faced these emotions yet. I haven’t formed the words to the choices I’ve made to be a better man, for myself and a better father, for you.
11 weeks ago I swore a sober life. And I’ve done so. Because every morning you smiled and waited for me even on the days when I struggled to pull myself from bed. Because you were happy to see me, unconditionally, even though the hangover was the only thing on my mind.
My life isn’t just my own. It is an owed life; to me, your mother and to you.
I suppose that, if anything, is what you taught me. And I’ve been slow to learn and accept it. I’ve begrudgingly accepted the responsibility. And while it’s embarrassing to admit it, that’s the truth of the matter.
A year isn’t very long. At least, it never used to be. But you change month by month before my eyes.
And because of you I’ve stopped measuring time by years but by moments. Happy ones amidst sad ones. Joy and frustration. Laughter and anger. And the occasion when you make a marvelous discovery and smile with delight that the world has gotten that much bigger for you.
Still, we mark this year for you tomorrow. It’s an important day.
Because all those moments added together make this year.
And it’s the best I could’ve ever asked for, my little love.
Happy birthday, Willow.
A few weeks ago I decided to put some effort into a Star Wars RPG and not only run it for friends, but podcast it as well. I wanted to use the Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire rules as they were focused on character and narrative over fiddly number crunching.
I also wanted to create a living world that advanced independently from character choices, that would evolve with or without their involvement.
I put in a few evenings of work and crafted a faction system that monitors their overall goals and a ‘weekly’ goal, a scheme they put into action that happens between sessions. The results are decided by a die roll and a few factors like influence and resources, and said outcome can directly affect the PC’s… or not. Quite simply, they are more likely to get caught up in all these nefarious schemes than be an active part in them.
With that said, here is the link to our first episode plus a photo of the players and their characters. More information can be found on the website.
May 2: 9am-4pm: Third Eye Comics, Annapolis, Maryland- Free Comic Book Day
May 6: 4pm-7pm: Big Pete’s Comics, North Vancouver, Canada. Rat Queens Volume 2 SIgning.
May 9: 1pm-4pm: Hourglass Comics, Port Moody, Canada. Pisces/Rat Queens Signing
May 22: PaizoCon: Seattle, WA
May 23/24: VanCaf, Vancouver, Canada. Convention.
May 28-31: Awesome Con, Washington, DC. Convention.
June 13: 11am-4pm, The Comic Shop, Fairfax, VA. Signing.
July 8-12: SDCC, San Diego, CA
July 31-Aug. 2: Boston Comic Con
Nov 9-15: Thought Bubble UK, Leeds
You’re five months today and I’m still not sure where the time has gone. Maybe before you were born I had all the time in the world, even though I thought I possibly couldn’t have less of it. I didn’t understand less time until August 8th, the day you were born.
I’ve been meaning to write to you again, there are so many little details that I wanted to capture before I’d forgotten them. I’ve failed to do so. I watched you lying on your back the other day and I remembered this little thing you did when you were first born. It was something you and I shared on those endlessly long nights while you suffered with food allergies and the pain that came with it.
But I’ve forgotten what it was, and I can’t remember now for the life of me.
So, before I forget, I’m immortalizing you in the now. Because you won’t always be this way, or even for very long.
Life has changed, for the record. I look back at the romanticizing, aggrandizing pre-father me and want to punch his cloud nine dopey face. Because he has no idea what he’s in for. While everything I wrote was through a pair of glasses with broken rose coloured lenses, I know I meant them. I was excited for you, and I couldn’t wait to meet you. I just wasn’t ready for how much of an impact you’d have on my life, good or not so good. But I’ll talk about that in a moment.
It was a bizarre experience. We didn’t go through the process we’d been training for in our pre-natal classes because we skipped past all the labour and screaming and gushing blood (I might owe you for that one). Your mom was insanely calm and focused. Giant needle to the spine? “No problem.” Opening her up and ripping a living creature from her insides? “Shhh, I want to hear the doctor talk!”
Meanwhile, I just tried to focus on anything but the idea that the woman I loved was laying on a gurney with a gaping belly hole. The protective sheet that blocked my view didn’t extend to my imagination, unfortunately.
It wasn’t long, though. There was that brief moment in time where we crossed a line; life without you and life full of you. And in between there existed your very first sound in the world as you cried.
We still had to wait, mind you. You were getting cleaned and weighed. Screaming your head off all the while. I still hadn’t seen you yet, just heard that you happened upon our lives from behind a sheet.
And then you came to me, all wrapped up and pudgy, like a marshmallow given a heartbeat. I held you. I think I was stunned. I was unsure of it all. Maybe it was because there wasn’t a long build up to the moment. Hell, your mother and I had an expensive French dinner at a beautiful restaurant not 16 hours prior.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t feel anything. I just sat there, trying to take it all in.
And it kind of went that way for a few more days as we eked out an existence in the hospital while your mom recovered. To this day I have no idea how she managed. Not just the physical pain of her surgery, but the emotional and psychological change she had to go through while healing. Her frustration at not being able to move. To lift or hold you properly without feeling excruciating pain.
She did, though. And she’s the best mom you could ever have.
The following two months were the hardest I’ve lived through. I will tell you this, though: I cried when we returned home from the hospital. That’s when the emotion hit me. That you’d arrived and that you were mine. But there wasn’t time for that because life was only going to become more insane.
I don’t want to go into all those details, it hardly matters now that I’ve come out the other end alive and forged by the hellfire. You were sick and cried a lot. You screamed at two helpless parents for eight hours a day, you tried to tell us what was wrong in the only way you knew how, but we were clueless.
Dr. Internet was the saviour.
Since then, you’ve grown. You hardly cry anymore, even when you cut teeth at four months old. You’re downright rude if you don’t get your food exactly when you want it, but most days are good now.
You smile like your mom. You have giant ears like me. Your eyes light up when you’re happy, like mine do on the occasion positivity cracks through my scowl.
You love a bath more than anything. From the time we set you in the water, you kick and flail, stopping only to make sure we’re watching you before going right back to it.
You like when I sing to you in the mornings, Josh Pyke being a favourite between us.
You love your mom more than anything. You smile when she enters the room and cry when she leaves it. Not jealous. Nope.
You love people. Anyone can pick you up and you’re just happy to be held. I hope that comfort with people stays with you and you don’t struggle with social anxiety like I do.
You refuse to sleep when we have company because you know something much better is happening outside your crib.
You take the stinkiest shits.
You rub your head in an awkwardly euphoric way while you drink from your bottle.
You intentionally stick your legs out of your crib when we put you down to sleep because you know we’ll come get you.
You smile every time we come get you.
You enjoy doing an inhuman growl that makes my skin crawl.
You would live in your oversized puffy coat if we let you.
I know I’m missing things. I know there aren’t words to encapsulate everything that you are and all that you mean to me. For anyone to understand, they would just have to spend a bit of time to find out why we love you.
I suppose that’s what the five months has taught me, if anything. Every moment I spend with you matters. It means something. To you. To me.
And when I woke up this Christmas, I looked around and saw something new.
And I’m so glad you are part of it, Willow. I couldn’t imagine life without you.