For those of you short on time, here is the pull quote version of what I want to say and my vision for you and the world:
Don’t hurt yourself. Ever. If you do, stop. We need you. Choose today, even if it’s just today, to say, “I’m not going to hurt myself during this particular waking period.” Start there. Then do it again and again and again. Because whatever it is you are hurting yourself for, I know this to be true: it is not your fault.
If you want to read more, here you go:
I’m gonna tell you something right now that very, very few people have ever been told. But because I believe in the mission of #HoldOnToTheLight, I’m gonna tell you. Okay? I’m trusting you with this. My family—or, rather, the people I am related to by blood—probably aren’t going throw me any parties any time soon for sharing this. They are also unlikely to ever see it.
Okay? You with me? Here we go.
When I was about four or five, my mom rubbed my own shit in my face. A few times. It was supposed to teach me something. It was supposed to teach me how to use the goddamn toilet, in fact. I was having some trouble with that at the time.
Oddly, her approach didn’t work.
So on another occasion, my dad tossed my bare-naked ass into our outdoor chicken coop, where I literally jumped up and down in the air, screaming and terrified that I was either A) going to be left out there all day and all night, or B) the chickens were going to peck me to death, or C) both.
Oddly, that didn’t work, either.
These are two examples of what was considered Good Parenting Of A Preschooler.
Just two. Things that, if I saw someone doing them to my son, no court on Earth would convict me of what I’d do to them.
I didn’t know it was wrong of them to have done this until just a few years ago. Imagine if I’d thought that was normal when my son was born? Who might he become if I hadn’t known this was wrong?
Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.
Flash forward to the year after high school graduation. Some friends and I got jumped in an apartment building parking lot. Two went to the ER. We didn’t even get a punch in. It wasn’t a big deal, really. Not at the time.
But then a few months later, I was alone in a community college parking lot after dark, and this car full of guys roars into the lot, starts doing donuts around me, and screamed, “WE’RE GONNA KICK YOUR ASS!”
They didn’t. I guess they were “kidding.”
When I got home, I collapsed in my room and couldn’t move. I thought I was going to puke, stroke out, and have a heart attack all at once.
I didn’t. I guess my body was “kidding.”
But I didn’t leave the house after dark for the next three years, either. And for the next several after that, if I did go out at night, it wasn’t without an escape plan. I lost friends. I missed opportunities. I pretended to sleep through my own birthday party so I wouldn’t have to leave the house. I cut lines into my arms to “relieve stress.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve flown into Exorcist-level rages over such slights as the garage door not opening correctly. I beat the almighty fuck out of my head, stomach, and legs. I’ve broken more shit than I can even remember. (Doors used to my favorite target; they were great for roundhouse kicks.)
My friends and readers, I have post-traumatic stress disorder. I never served on a front line and I was never a first responder, so I resisted this diagnosis for a long time. How could I have PTSD? I’m an author, not a solider, not a cop. I have a friend who was literally blown up in Iraq. (I saw the footage!) He seems to be fine; ergo, I needed to shut up and quit being a fucking wuss.
That’s not how this works.
I developed a panic disorder that night after we got jumped. That was in January 1994. I’ve since gotten pretty much over that, though I still have an escape plan everywhere I go, and I can’t sit in the middle of a row at the movies or other events; always an aisle. So there are lingering effects from that.
The PTSD on the other hand . . . that shit’s still here. I actually have never-before-seen video footage of what the rages look like, and it would be funny, almost, if it wasn’t so fucking creepy. It’s inhuman. I am unrecognizable, even to me.
But it’s getting better, and you want to know why? Because a professional mental health practitioner told me what it was.
That’s the first step. If you cannot get out of bed from crushing sadness, if your only emotional release comes from a blade or a bottle of booze or a bottle of pills, if the slightest surprise noise makes you shrink inside your skin and then blow up with madness (like it does with me)…then something is wrong, and you need—
You deserve to have it checked out.
You don’t have to live like this. You don’t.
People always say “Get help!” What’s that mean? It means finding someone who can tell you what is wrong. Someone who can help you name it. Someone who, like my doctor did for me, can lean forward in her chair, look you in the eye, and say:
“What they did to you was not okay.”
Because eventually, you’ll start to believe it. You’ll start to accept it. And then things start to get better.
Whatever it was that was done to you was not okay.
Go ahead. Say it. Say it out loud to yourself right now. What they did to me was not okay. Because it wasn’t.
Now, I’d been to a whole slew of doctors from a very young age. None of them did much to make me feel better. I’ve done my time in a behavioral health facility over this mess, and that was . . . nice . . . but didn’t stop the rage, didn’t stop the self-hate, didn’t stop the fear.
What did one doctor do that all the others before her couldn’t? Here’s the secret:
I told her the whole story.
See, before that, I kept parts of the hell I’d been through to myself. They didn’t need to know! It was My Fault, obviously. I’d handle it. I’d Been Sick, obviously. My family history had nothing to do with slashing my arms or punching myself all the fuck over.
It sounds silly to write. It might sound silly to read. But that’s the secret. I told her everything, and that allowed her to give me the diagnosis I needed to start the process of feeling better.
My wife, doctor, and I developed a scale of rage from 1 to 10, 1 being “everything’s cool” to 10 being “I am out of control and breaking shit in the house, car, and my body.” It’s been…let’s see…maybe a few months since I had no-holds-barred Level 10 outburst. But I come close every week or two. I probably reach an 8 once every ten days.
But that’s down from a 10 every other week or so.
I hate me more than any ten, a hundred, or a thousand people on earth combined could ever hope to. (Even more than Kirkus and Goodreads reviewers, if such a thing be possible!) That’s my legacy. It’s not my only one, I know, but it’s up there. It is one that I chip away at as best I can. It’s one I will never let my son experience.
I don’t have to live like that. So I try to choose not to. (Try is the operative word. Sometimes it’s all we can do. That’s okay. It counts.)
If your life, or the life of someone you love, has become unmanageable . . . if simple daily tasks feel impossible because of that crushing intangible weight in your heart and mind . . . then today is the day to set up an appointment with someone who can help you name it.
You don’t have to live like this. You don’t.
But you do have to live. I’m here because I know there are people who would miss me if I left. You have those people, too. Don’t let what someone did to you determine the course of your life. They are not worth it. You are better. You are stronger. And hey, there are too many great books yet to read, right?
Stay here. If you can absolutely nothing else today, do that. Stay here. We’ll work on it again tomorrow.
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About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to