A lot of people these days ask me if I’m okay. They ask how I’m doing, if I’m coping, if I need anything. Some of them are asking because it’s expected. Many more are asking because they’re genuinely worried. They honestly want to know. They grasp entirely how overwhelming this has all been.
And I lie to them every time.
I lie and say I’m a bit shaken, but getting better every day. I lie and say things turned out for the best, and I’m a little burnt out but getting over it.
I lie and say I’m some form of okay, when I’m not and I haven’t been for over a month.
I can even tell you why I lie. I lie because it’s socially expected. I lie because many of these kind people are strangers to me, and I don’t want our first interaction to be a massive drop of the burden of my entirely fucked headspace. I lie because many of these people are my friends, and I can’t ask them to do the emotional labor of holding me up. I lie out of pride. I lie because I feel like because everything turned out the right way and we can see a path to blaze new ground in this industry, I should be okay.
But I’m not.
I’m still struggling with just…life. I lose hours trying to convince myself to get up and do basic tasks, hours I can’t afford to waste because my time as a freelancer is billed in product created, not in hourly wages. I don’t get paid by the hour to have a slow day; if I have a slow day I lose out, and god damn have I been losing out, to the point where I’m struggling on a shoestring and yet even that just makes it harder to focus with anxiety and worries about mundane life crushing down. For a while it was so bad I was basically told to stay off duty until I could make sensible words again; I accumulated the first of three strikes required to get fired from my job. I don’t sleep right; sleeping feels like being dead, and it just makes me more tired. Food has no appeal. I keep eyeing the 100+ backlogged DMs that I really want to answer, and I just…can’t.
Occasionally I just hit this point of frustration with trying to function and burst out crying when I can’t, because every time I think I’ve isolated and excised the bads in my brain they just adapt like malware and tunnel deeper and find a way to fuck me up again. I keep trying to find my way to some level of normal, let alone the hyperspeed I usually function at, and it’s not working.
I’m not working. I’m broken, and I don’t know what to do with that.
Especially when I feel like I shouldn’t be.
Broken, that is.
No more than I normally am.
I know what many of you will tell me. That this past month has been a lot. A lot. Enough to break anyone. I was involved with the SH mess—more than y’all even know—and had my own mess with discussing Sarah Lyons and the entrenched culture at Riptide…and let me tell y’all, on top of dredging up my own shite, my own hurt, my own humiliation…vicarious trauma is a thing. And by a thing I mean a hammer to the face, taking in others’ stories of the pain they went through and somehow getting them tangled up inside me until they echoed off the walls of my similar experiences and amplified exponentially.
Trauma squared. It’ll wreck you inside and out.
And I mean…I’ve never been at the center of a social media blowup before. I just. Fuck. Wow. No one tells you that leaves you with a weird hollow feeling behind your eyes and your brain feeling like it’s stuffed into a jar too small to hold it, as all of that batters you in the face. And I am an introvert of the highest order. The only reason you think I’m not is because my career has trained me to be able to tamp down the wide-eyed moment of panic when I realize my batteries have burned out mid-convo, and taught me to put on a good face and still find a way to smile and laugh and be mildly-if-awkwardly-witty for people even when I’m close to hyperventilating and need to be inside a hamster ball with everyone else on the outside of it for just a little while.
Death threats. Okay. People calling me mentally ill, telling me to kill myself because I’m a waste of a life, calling me a liar, screaming at me for not posting their hateful comments to the point where I had to close all comments on my blog to make people stop abusing me in my space. Strangers telling me every bit of mortification I went through was unimportant, and I should care more about a racist serial sexual harasser losing her job than about the fact that she actually was a racist serial sexual harasser.
Maybe that’s another reason to not be okay.
Complete lack of closure, too, in the Riptide situation. I’ve been trying to speak to them through an intermediary and good friend regarding suggestions (basically more free labor) to improve their culture and organization and to protect authors, as well as requesting the rights back to SHATTERPROOF, opening a discussion about compensation for unpaid labor, and requesting an actual apology that acknowledges me as a human being and not a talking point for their statements. I got SHATTERPROOF back. Everything else they have pointedly not commented on, to the point of barely responding or not responding to follow-ups at all. What little response they’ve made has just dug the wound deeper, and basically it feels like they’re hoping I’ll take my book and go away so they can pretend this never happened.
They can answer tweets about Triton still being an operating imprint, but they can’t answer me after every other insult on top of injury, unless it’s to demand additional labor of me and attempt invasions of my privacy.
And there’s the knowledge, too, that I still have more things buried inside me that I will never openly tell in more than vague statements. Like the beloved author who was once my “friend”—but during that friendship completely dismissed my upset about Sarah’s behavior, labeling her “harmless,” only to now gather accolades for their courage in pulling their books from Riptide; that same “friend” viciously attacked me for avoiding Santino, and was my first taste of how dangerous it was to not toe the line with “his” worshippers.
But that “friend” is good at putting on a public face and reaping the rewards when it’s advantageous.
Then there’s the lead editor at another publishing house who told me that by explaining to a different editor why a change request was culturally offensive and I couldn’t agree to make it, I essentially called the editor a “racist wh*re” even though I’ve never said those words in my life. When I protested, I was told that I lacked the objectivity to see that that’s what I’d done, but a white woman with no experience with POC life or the culture I was writing about was entirely objective enough to decide that for me, and to chide me that with time I would have enough distance to agree with her, because clearly there was no other option.
It’s entirely possible if she hadn’t said that on the phone I’d be quite happy to point out who said it, and what publisher they work for; we need to stop letting shite like this slide and start exposing it. But with phone conversations it’s her word against mine, and I know from experience exactly how good she is with gaslighting and verbal manipulation in situations like that. I also know how quickly she’ll resort to bullying people into silence with lawyers, with how often she’s done it in the past.
And after everything else, with all the shite bottled up in me, I don’t have the strength for that fight.
I don’t have the strength to go through another situation like this again.
But it still lives inside me, doing its damage.
So maybe I have reasons to not be okay. But I just…I don’t fucking want to not be okay. I don’t want to justify it and then sit here and feel like shite until it goes away. I want it to go away when I tell it to go away. I want my capacity and capability back. I want my mind and body to obey instead of slowly destabilizing into coagulated lumps. I want my brain to rewire itself back to where it was before the beginning of March. I want to be happy about all my plans I have upcoming, CRIMINAL INTENTIONS launching next week, story ideas I love. I want to go back to making y’all laugh with self-deprecating sarcasm over the silly, harmless little hot messes my life gets into. (I’m still holding grudges against voles.) I want to function at breakneck speed again and make everyone side-eye me when I burn and burn and burn until I burn myself out, knowing damn well that once I’ve rested I’m going to do it all over again.
I want to feel like me again, instead of like the charred remnants of what happened when the fire burned too bright, spread too far, and left just the ashes of a man in their wake.
I want to stop crying.
I want to stop struggling against my fucked-up neurochemistry just to accomplish the simplest things.
But I don’t know how.
No one tells you that even when you achieve a victory in shitty situations like this, even when people believe you and validate you, even when the right thing happens, even when good is done in the wake of cataclysmic change…
It still leaves you broken.
The trauma doesn’t just go away.
And I likely need professional help, but thanks to the detritus of the last year of shitty missed opportunities in the wake of Riptide’s post-SHATTERPROOF fuckery plus my current dysfunction in trying to stay on top of work…I honestly can’t afford therapy/counseling/etc. So I don’t know what to do.
Wait it out?
Scream into the void?
Quit everything and disappear?
Write rambling blog posts that don’t accomplish anything and put way too much of my personal shite out there?
…when do I get to be okay again?