[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Nina Varela guest posting on the site today. She’s sharing her story of overcoming mental illness during her writing journey. Take it away, Nina!]
Content warnings: detailed descriptons of depression, mental illness, medication, and implied suicidal ideation.
It’s December 2018 and I am sitting on the kitchen floor, staring at my laptop, trawling for words and for the first time in my life coming up entirely empty. Before this, no matter how sick I was, I could always get out at least a few awkward sentences. The words always existed. Even if reaching for them was exhausting, even if they sucked and had to be deleted later, they existed; I could find them. But a few months ago, the meds I’d been taking every day for six years stopped working, and my pdoc tried doubling the dose. For whatever reason it straight up wiped my brain.
I have a deadline, I keep thinking. I have a deadline. Once I start thinking it, I can’t stop. It goes on loop. I sit there trying to remember what I’m supposed to be writing, what part of the story I’m at, and I keep rereading the most recent paragraphs and forgetting them immediately. Some other version of me is two hundred pages into this book, and maybe that me remembers what the book is about, but I don’t. I type out the main character’s name and try to fill in the rest of the sentence and my brain says, I have a deadline I have a deadline I have a deadline and I spend the next four hours like that. Then the next three months.
I do turn things in—late, and I don’t remember writing any of it after the fact, but it happens. I have brief periods of lucidity. It helps that I’ve been writing for so long it’s like muscle memory. But I keep trying to step back into this book I’m supposed to be writing, this fantasy world, and my brain is empty, the words are gone, and the worst part is I have wanted this for so long. I’ve been writing since I learned how. I have been writing almost every day for twenty years. This is the only thing I want to do, the only thing I have ever done. And I can’t do it.
My pdoc switches my meds. The next months are hazy. It takes a few tries to find a combination that works. But we do find it, and the words come back. My days and nights even out again. Slowly, I begin to feel less like a ghost and more like a person. With weight and presence. I run my hands over the walls of my bedroom, the bedspread, the sharp corners of my desk, and it almost always feels real.
By May 2019, I am writing consistently again. I meet deadlines. I still don’t remember most of what I write—by the time I reach the middle of the book, I’ve forgotten the beginning—but I don’t think that’s going away. It’s cool. That’s what outlines are for.
I want to say something profound here. I want to give out some shining beacon of hope. But the truth is: I’m doing well right now, I’m taking my meds and eating green things and drinking lots of water and all the other things you’re meant to do, hashtag self-care. I don’t think this will last forever; I do think I will fall again. But the truth is: I know it is possible to feel better. To feel okay. That’s my goal. I don’t want to walk around deliriously happy all the time; I don’t think anyone is like that. I just want to feel okay most days. I know it’s possible; I know what it feels like. I know someday I’m going to lose myself again, but I also know I can get back to that okay-place. Different meds, therapy if I can afford it, a lightbox, my friends, my dog. Small things. Patience, unfortunately. That’s my mantra when the world slips sideways and goes foggy: This isn’t forever. This can change. I can feel better.
And somewhere in all of this I write three books. And it’s hard. I wish it were easier, and at the same time I know I’m lucky: My health insurance covers my medication. (There are no in-network therapists within 50 miles of me, so I can’t go to therapy. And still I am one of the lucky ones.) Again, there’s no magic spell, no tidy little Happily Ever After; I am a long way from any afters. But I’m stable. I write around my dayjob, in the evenings and on weekends, and I’m careful not to overdo it. I don’t want to burn out. Sleep has to come first. Eating well, seeing friends, walking the dog—I try to balance these things with my work. I’m getting better at living for things other than deadlines. I want to keep getting better.
So it can be hard. Finding the words, keeping them. I won’t lie: it can be really hard. But it’s not impossible, and for now that’s all the odds I need.
About the Author:
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya.
Connect with Nina:
Crier’s War by Nina Varela, out now!
From debut author Nina Varela comes the first book in an Own Voices, richly imagined epic fantasy duology about an impossible love between two girls—one human, one Made—whose romance could be the beginning of a revolution.
Perfect for fans of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse as well as Game of Thrones and Westworld.
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.