The Dark Cloud

I had a lot planned today.  Laundry to do, check to deposit, dishes in the dishwasher to unload, new ones to shove in, my fancy new wine glasses to meticulously hand wash because I refuse to put them in the dishwasher, and of course, there is the writing — the ‘work on my pilot rewrite’ writing or the ‘rework the first act of new pilot’ writing or even the ‘hash out an outline for this feature spec’ writing… but I’ve put it all aside right at this moment, because right now, there is nothing I want to do more than talk to you about something.

It’s something I’ve put off a very long time, in part, because I fear that talking about it may not make any difference, and could in fact make things worse.  It’s been on my mind all morning, because it is every morning. And every afternoon. And every night.  Since I’m not male, you probably surmise I’m not thinking about sex all the time, so you can stand down from worrying if this is an X-rated post.

I want to talk to you about the Dark Cloud.

The dark cloud has been with me as long as I can remember.  I refer to it as the ‘dark cloud’ because of a specific poem I wrote when I was a kid, all imagery of scary darkness and frightening forests and anger and pain.  The dark cloud loomed over all of that other stuff, as it does in my real life.  The dark cloud has descended upon me so often in my life and when it does its effects are devastating — relationships destroyed, personal health and happiness abandoned, apathy and hopelessness conquering all else.

My “dark cloud” is clinical depression.

I was diagnosed officially in 2000, but it has been with me all my life.  There’s no abuse, no divorce, no tragedy that I can point to that has impacted my ability to be happy as an adult.  All I have to look to is myself and this constant feeling of inadequacy, of failure and ennui.  I had been functioning with it for many years, but it wasn’t until I headed down a very dark spiral in 2000 that a friend of mine finally alerted me to the fact I needed to get professional help.

“I can’t help you with this anymore.  I think you need to find someone who can.”

Those were the words that set me down the path of getting help and learning that admitting I needed help wasn’t itself a failure — it was a first step toward happiness.  So, I called up the “behavioral health” (I love that euphemism) coverage provider for my then-job in Orlando and got a referral and an appointment to be assessed.  It didn’t take much for them to figure out I was clinically depressed.  From there I was assigned a therapist and not long after I was prescribed medication.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I had control.

Over the next ten years, I would go through fits and starts of mental health.  Most of the time, I’d be functioning incredibly well, and handling depression became easier.  There was a brief time after my initial move to Los Angeles in 2003 that I had to deal with finding a new therapist and getting a new prescription, but I didn’t let my mental health progress lapse for more than two or three months.  Even after I was laid off from my job in 2009 I had built up enough coping mechanisms and good mental health practices that I still looked to the huge question mark of my future with optimism — being laid off was an opportunity to pursue my true dreams!  For the year following my lay off I certainly saw my therapist more (which really, this was probably my 8th or 9th therapist. There’s always been a revolving door there, but that’s the nature of things) and handled my new situation pretty well.  Even when relationships fell apart I weathered the storm with little damage.

Then my COBRA coverage ended.  My supply of anti-depressants dried up.  For awhile I was actually happy to get off my medication;  I eased myself off by ratcheting down the dose from the supply I had available once I no longer had any refills remaining.  It felt liberating — I had been chained to a drug every day of my life for 10 years — why wouldn’t I want to try to break free of that?  I had also read extensively about the school of thought that drugs weren’t really the answer for everyone.  I had always hoped that the drugs would be a temporary arrangement anyway, so moving myself off of them seemed like a good arrangement.

The trouble with having depression is that it is a sneaky bastard of a condition (I refuse to call it a ‘disease’) — very often I don’t recognize the signs that I am in a downward spiral until I’m circling the drain, about to fall in.  I’ll go days and weeks saying ‘I’m fine’ when I am very clearly not fine.  In fact, I sometimes even used this system to my advantage.  I figured as long as nobody noticed I wasn’t fine, then there was nothing really to worry about.  I never actually start worrying until I hear this from someone who is very close to me (family member, inner circle friend):

“Hey, are you okay? I mean, really okay?”

That’s when I know I’m not pulling one over on anyone anymore.

A few months ago I discovered a lost cache of anti-depressants in my bathroom.  I debated with myself for a month whether to take them, as they were an older prescription, one I had before my medication had been switched up when it had lost efficacy.  Of course now that I wasn’t taking anything, it seemed like they might work again.  Also, now that I was paying for my own health insurance, I reasoned I could start with these, and if they helped, I could ask my doctor to write me a prescription (I can’t actually see a therapist or a psychiatrist under this health plan — the cost for that is prohibitively expensive).  So I gave them a shot.  Usually it takes about four weeks to notice any change from the medication, but I noticed improvement within 2 weeks, and that was on half the dosage I had (I scored the pills).  After about 40 days, I noticed I only had about a week or so of pills left, so I called my doctor to arrange for a prescription…

…it never got called in.

Now at this point, I should have called my doctor back, asking why, but the dark cloud has a way of causing self-defeat.  I never called her back.  My self-defeating brain told me that if it didn’t get called in, ‘it was because she couldn’t authorize the prescription, which would mean I couldn’t have it, and what’s the point of raising a fuss about something when there’s nothing that can be done about it…’

We all have self-talk.  Those moments when you have to psych yourself up to do something or when you tell yourself you can’t do something… that’s self-talk.  Mine is nonstop.  Seriously, my self-talk is a chatty Cathy, and it never shuts up.  If the medication does anything, it shuts up my negative self-talk or at least mutes it so I can function in my life.

My self-talk sounds like this: “I don’t know why you bother with this script.  You’ve been working on it for months and it isn’t getting any better.  No one loves it — you’ve not gotten a single note raving about it.  If they’re all so critical of it, it must be bad, so you should probably just quit working on it.  Besides, it’s not like you’ve written anything else that’s good.  If you had, you’d be doing so much better by now, you might even have an agent.  But then, that’s you — you can’t finish anything; you still have a book to read that you started a year ago.  Oh and don’t try to counter me by bringing up the ‘Mars’ thing — you’re just piggybacking on someone else’s talent for that project and you know it.  Your sister is a better writer than you and she’s been doing this half as long as you have.  You know what else? She’s prettier than you are.  She’s pretty and younger and more talented.  She writes with you out of pity because she feels guilty that you aren’t capable of having your own career.  She’s also more well-adjusted and has better relationships than you do because you are an introverted freak who can’t keep a relationship going.  Everyone knows you are the quiet and less talented sister — that’s why she’s so popular and you aren’t.  You hide in your room and refuse to wear makeup or go out (and let’s not even get started about how fat you are) so of course you are social kryptonite on the scale of Gollum.  You look a lot like Gollum actually.  Perhaps you should live in a dark cave, or perhaps, you shouldn’t live at all…

Yep.  That’s self-talk.  It’s horrible.  Believe me, it was effortless to write that, because most of that stuff runs through my head at some point, and it all usually ends up in the same place “perhaps you shouldn’t live at all…”

Believe me, I’m too much of a coward to ever actually kill myself (I really hate pain), but the self-talk plants this constant refrain in my head — that I’m worthless, I’m talentless, I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m old, I’m past my prime, that everyone around me is better, that I’m kidding myself, that all I do is for naught.  There have been more nights than I can count where I have gone to bed fantasizing of never waking up again — and that’s a comforting thought that allows me to fall asleep.  THAT SHOULD NOT BE.

Why am I posting about this, publicly? And why now?

Because last night was another one of those nights — where I lulled myself to sleep by thinking about it being my last night alive — that maybe I’d just die in my sleep and the pain would be over.

Because this morning I woke up from a dream where someone said “I can’t help you anymore.  I think you should find someone who can.”

Because I decided I was done with living in pain, but dying wasn’t the answer.  I did this pain for years before my first step, and it got me nowhere.  Revisiting the pain doesn’t help anything, and it certainly doesn’t make me happy.

Because I really don’t want other people to suffer as I have suffered.  If some person reads this, who has never sought help for their depression and sees a reflection of him or herself here and decides they don’t want to live like this anymore, then it will have all been worth it.

This is the scariest thing I’ve ever written on my blog.  It’s more terrifying than when I wrote about career success or failure, or putting my creative work on display.  It’s scary because THIS IS ME.  This is who I am, this is what I live with.  Every day.  For the last two years I’ve let the dark cloud rule my life, and I’m not letting that happen anymore.  Today I’m taking back control.

I will probably never get the dark cloud out of my life, but I can certainly push it far enough away it doesn’t interfere with my ability to live my life.  I also figure that most of my friends already suspected I was a ‘brooding artist’ type — but I don’t want to be the artist who suffers for their art and then dies for it.  Also, brooding is really not fun.  I miss my friends.  I miss you.  I miss living my life and never regretting it, even when I make mistakes or take wrong turns.

I don’t ask for people to walk on eggshells or treat me as a fragile porcelain doll.  I know my true friends will just nod their heads and tell me to get on with it already with a virtual slap on the ass to get back in the game.  They won’t tell me to stop whining or mock me for my admission — they’ll just quietly support.  That’s all I want.  You don’t need to post an ‘atta girl’ in my comments here — I’m not looking for that.  I don’t need that.  What I do need, is for people to be more conscious that someone they know may be in this kind of pain and needs help.  The last thing people suffering depression want to do is admit they need help.

I’ve asked for help once, so I know I can do it again.  I called my doctor today and asked for that refill…hours later, I got the call back.  The prescription is being called in now.

It’s a step I was ready to take and now that I have, I am going to work hard not to move back to where I’ve been the last few months.

Thanks for listening.


Posted under Uncategorized

This post was written by Shawna on April 3, 2012


Year Nine

Welcome to Year Nine.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately — I moved to Los Angeles 9 years ago. I have been at this, the trying to break into Hollywood, becoming a paid writer (consistently paid writer) for NINE YEARS. In a lot of ways, it feels like the pressure is really on now. Why,  you ask?

Because I gave myself 10 years to make this happen.

Ten years — that’s what most people say it took to have success. The ten year overnight success, is a very common story.  Anything less than 10 years feels like you are half-assing it, not being realistic about your goal, but ten years, that feels like a lifetime, SO much time.

And yet, here I am, facing down year nine…and it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

And there’s all the time I’ve spent meeting people, figuring out “the system,” and then figuring out the system is broken, and then figuring out that the system doesn’t really matter, and then learning the craft, writing my early, horrible scripts which I look back on and laugh, but recognize that they were essential to my learning… but I’m still writing horrible scripts.  And there are people who are whizzing past me on the Hollywood Freeway, getting agents, getting managers, getting deals.

I’m always happy for them. Always. And then I go drown myself in my own truths.

I still don’t have a portfolio. I have nothing to show for this 9 years.

People ask why I don’t have a manager by now, or why I don’t have an agent, and that’s pretty much the reason. “I’ve got nothing to show them.”

When I did an assessment of last year, it felt like I had accomplished a lot — I got a job assisting a writer — a REAL Hollywood writer!  I finished writing a new pilot, and then, I wrote a new spec.

And now I’m rewriting the pilot.  The spec will soon be unusable for the competitions and fellowship/program entries. I’m writing a new pilot, which will go through the rewrite process, eventually. I’m writing a feature spec, which will also go through the rewrite machine…

It’s a never ending process.  Welcome to the reality — “making it” in this business is non-stop work.  Once you climb one hill, all you will really see is the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that… in biblical terms, this is good — you should want to see the hills.  If you see a valley — well, they don’t call it the “Valley of Death” for nothing.

I’ve noticed a lot of my fellow screenwriting bloggers, the ones who started recording their journeys around the same time I did, have come back to their blogs, feeling like they have something new to say.  I count myself among them.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to consistently blog again, but lately, I’ve felt a lot more like I did when I started this blog; I feel like I have something to say.

Still ‘shouting.’ Still very windy.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on April 2, 2012