Five Years Later and Today (TW: Suicide)

TW: suicide, mental illness

My life has had a lot of ups and downs in the last couple of months. It’s been a wild ride.

But there have been big names in the media over the last week who met death. Not just death, but death by suicide. People who were successful. And it’s not even just the last week. I didn’t know if I was going to publish this post until all this news. A version of this has been sitting in my drafts since the end of April.

This might be a slightly controversial post.

If you thought my earlier posts were authentic, wait until you realize what this is about. It’s not a pretty topic nor is it fun to talk about it. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve talked about it or if I should. The thing is, it’s important for me to remember. I’ve come a long way in the last several years, not just because I ventured out of my teens and into adulthood. Ha! I’m barely a grown-up, more like a kid still stumbling around and fumbling with everything.

Around this time five years ago, I ended up in the hospital. One week in the intensive care unit for mental illness. Another week in the psychiatric ward for children and adolescents.

Countless days of school I missed along the way. All because of my mental illness.

Five years ago, I was hospitalized after a failed suicide attempt. I couldn’t do it, but I almost did. Thank goodness I didn’t, but I still remember that day. Not the exact day because the days blur together. I remember it was April, still cold but no longer winter. I remember thinking I only had a few months of high school left to endure. I remember thinking that I couldn’t last another day.

I couldn’t speak to any friends while I was in the hospital. I had no phone, no internet. I could not be contacted by anyone except my immediate family. My teachers didn’t send me any work because, luckily, I was doing well (as I was high-functioning and didn’t show any academic evidence of my struggle) and they wanted me to forget about school and just feel better. I had full days of examining how I treat myself, how I treat others, and how others treat me. I had hours upon hours to learn how to take care of myself, even if that meant I had to give up on a few relationships. I had so much time to consider every aspect of my life without any responsibilities stealing me away from these moments.

The hospital was a horrible experience, a huge wake-up call. I liked that I didn’t have to worry about anything in there, but I didn’t like being there.

A lot went into why I got there, without even getting into the details. Why did I want to die? Why was I ready to give up? I was about to graduate from high school on the honour list with awards and recognition for my high grades and participation in the school community. I had a group of friends that was there for me and a family who took care of me. I just didn’t have the will to live or the interest in living. I stopped writing and reading and spending time with friends and family. I stopped talking much and stopped sleeping and eating well. I stopped waking up with a sense of things-to-do-and-people-to-see.

Suicide, I believe, is not an easy decision. It is not an off-hand idea that seems like a great idea at one bad moment.  It takes some stubbornness, a string of beliefs about what isn’t working and why life just isn’t worth it. It requires conviction of it being the only way to find relief. Of course, the experience differs from one person to another, so I don’t speak for everyone.

But five years ago, I was convinced it was my only option.

A whole lot happened. I spoke to countless counselors, social workers, therapists, doctors, psychiatrists. I switched from one medication to a set of different ones. I learned what it was like to sleep peacefully and have a clear mind. That peace was the best part. I got to keep it when I left, for a while at least.

Being diagnosed meant I wasn’t allowed to be alone, to have knives near me, to have my prescriptions monitored, to get calls hourly, to have people checking up on me regularly. Being diagnosed meant I was no longer trusted to learn how to drive because I could try to use that as a way to hurt myself. Living in the middle of nowhere with the nearest town 10 minutes away by driving and not being able to drive meant I couldn’t work. Not being able to work as a teenager meant having limited experience except for stray volunteering or working a few months at a time. Being mentally ill meant I could choose between university and working, that I couldn’t have both because the toll would be too much and I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

As much as I love seeing people posting about suicide hotlines, that phone number isn’t enough. Reach out to your loved ones. Check in on them. Be there for them, not just throwing out a number, but voicing your love and concern and listening.

This isn’t to say that there is no benefit from posting these phone numbers. They do definitely make a difference. I’m just saying that it isn’t the only thing to do or that can b done. There could be more. It isn’t easy either, but I believe it’s something to remember.

I wouldn’t have been diagnosed if my mom hadn’t come up to me and said, “something is wrong and I want you to see a doctor.” No, I didn’t agree with her that first time. It took prodding and persistence to get me to go. I wouldn’t have been caught before seriously hurting myself if someone hadn’t been watching me and checking in on me.

We can’t end the stigma by saying “reach out!” because it’s not easy. It’s especially not easy when you feel like you don’t matter or there’s no point or something along those lines. Don’t place someone’s will to live on their ability to reach out. It’s not easy to ask someone how they’re doing, to keep asking if their answer doesn’t feel genuine. A lot of paying attention is necessary, even if that person you love and care about keeps telling you otherwise.

I am so sick of people talking about depression and suicide after someone famous dies. I am so sick of tweet after tweet of suicide hotlines. I am so sick of “this is why we need to end the stigma” and yet nothing really changes. I was never able to call a hotline or reach out myself. I was never able to go to someone and tell them that I wasn’t okay. Some people can, others can’t. It felt physically impossible. Couple my severe depression with my intense social anxiety, I would nearly vomit at the thought of calling a stranger to tell them I wanted to die.

I know we’re supposed to reach out when we need help. I know it makes a difference when we redach out. I also know it doesn’t always feel possible to reach out when you’re the one struggling and in pain.

I don’t have a solution. I only have my own personal experience.

These days, I haven’t needed medication. I’m not perfect. I still have anxiety and depression. I still have debilitating social phobia. But I have made huge progress.

And two years ago, I completed a first draft. I wrote a whole novel, something I thought I could never do because I had barely written more than a couple of lines in the preceding years. I did it, the things I dreamed of but never imagined accomplishing. And then DVpit happened and now I have an agent. I’m still reeling from all of it, still trying to process it. I’ve cried multiple times and wondered if I deserved it, if there was something I needed to do to deserve it.

A lot has happened to bring me to this point. A lot of people are involved in getting me to where I am. Sometimes it hurts to say it, but I depend on people. Sometimes it feels like we shouldn’t, that we should be independent, but this is both a personal and a social issue. We need each other to look out for each other.

To the social worker who taught me different coping techniques, quickly learning that all I want is an explanation and then a chance to try things on my own time: thank you and remember how you told me to do things that scare me, to put myself out there, to do one thing outside my comfort zone every month then every week then every day? I’m doing it. I did it.

To my mom, who watched me and noticed things and took care of me because no one else saw it. Her persistence is why I am alive today, her persistent pushing to help me find the will to live in a variety of ways.

To the seventeen-year-old girl I was five years ago, ready to die: I am so glad you didn’t.

To anyone on that cliff edge, thinking about making that leap from life to death: I hope you stay where you’re standing. I will be trying to look out for others, to check in. I will be keeping an eye on my loved ones, just as you should for yours.

It is a lot to bear, but it’s worth it. If you can do it, please do.

One more life is all the difference.

Advertisements

May 2018 Reflections

LIFE UPDATES

  • This post is slightly delayed because I was waiting to announce that I NOW HAVE AN AGENT *CUE SCREAMING* anyway, back to the regular program.
  • Building that Writing Community
    • I got to see the Toronto writers several times in May! First, at the beginning of the month, meeting more of the group and getting to talk about publishing things (especially that post-DVpit madness that I went through). Then on Fridays with June, talking about various things in our own publishing journeys. Those Fridays with June were so ridiculous with full requests coming during the couple of hours I met with her or afterwards. Fridays were intense with requests and calls and just so so many emotions. I went to a few book events too and it was like a huge realization that this is my life now??? I get to do much bookish stuff????
  • Querying and More Querying
    • My last round of querying only lasted three months. I forgot how stressful it is and, honestly, it was more stressful this time around because I was expecting rejection after rejection. Honestly, I wasn’t eating or sleeping regularly. I completely lost my focus, not even reading as many books as I wanted. Last year, I could read a book a day. With my disjointed focus, some books took me up to a week. I did end up reading more books than I had any other month this year, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped!
    • Querying was a real drag though. Everyone says not to check your email all the time, but I couldn’t help it. There was a new email almost every day. The three weeks of querying I endured were NOWHERE near normal. I would get a rejection, then a request for more (often a full). And then rejections. And then silence. Obviously, there was a happy ending, but there was chaos leading up to it. I actually developed hives from stress and it was damn ridiculous. I slathered myself in medicinal honey and downed different kinds of allergy pills until I wasn’t one bit itch anymore.
    • I also took a break from writing because all I could think about was querying. On my days off, I stayed outside. No books, no internet, nothing but fresh air and lots of activity. I kept myself busy so I wouldn’t implode.
    • THANK GOD things took a turn for the better. I get into a lot of health scares and I really did not want to get into another one, or a worsened state of what I already experienced.
  • All the Giveaways!! and Good Karma
    • Okay, I only did one giveaway because my life got turned a little upside down. I wanted to do more but honestly, I have no idea what happened this past month except for my days off when I had lots to do outside of my apartment. The days flew by. I am so happy I was able to send Maurene Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love to my giveaway winner. Hope she enjoyed it as much as I did!
    • Eventually, I do want to do more giveaways. I intended to do a pitch/query critique for PitMad since my pitch did so well but lol where did the time go? Maybe next time!
  • OH MY GOD AN OFFER OF REP??? AND NOW I HAVE AN AMAZING AGENT?
    • I actually got two offers!! And I wrote a post on it that will read much better than anything else I could write at this point. Go read it here if you haven’t already and want to know what happened!

BOOKS I’VE READ

  • Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman ★★★★★
  • The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace ★★★★
  • From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh ★★★★
  • Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson ★★★★
  • Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell ★★★★
  • A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas ★★
  • The Chaos of Longing by K.Y. Robinson ★★★
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann ★★★
  • Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones ★★★★
  • Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai ★★★★★

FILMS I’VE WATCHED

  • Rampage (2018)
  • Crimson Peak (2015)
  • The Little Hours (2017)
  • Deadpool 2 (2018)
  • The Foreigner (2017)
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
  • The Impossible (2012)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

TV SHOWS I’VE WATCHED

  • Timeless (2016-)
  • New Girl (2011-)
  • Imposters (2017-)
  • Into the Badlands (2015-)
  • Black Lightning (2018-)
  • Once Upon a Time (2011-2018)
  • The Alienist (2018)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-)

How I Got My Agent

Oh my god. I did not think I would be writing this kind of post any time soon. Sure, I dreamt about it and hoped and hoped and hoped.

And it happened?

Okay, so if you’ve been following me on my blog or even on Twitter, you probably know that DVpit was a major success for me. It wasn’t something I expected or even hoped for. It just kind of happened.

DVpit
My DVpit Tweet and its final stats

My book, in my perspective, was ready to be sent off. I’d already emailed the agents who encouraged me to revise and resubmit from last October’s DVpit, as well as agents I really, really wanted. After DVpit, I made another spreadsheet with agents and details, and made a plan of action. I sent out a batch of queries, got a bunch of full requests within a week. I sent out some more to make sure other agents I’d be excited to work with also had a chance. A few more full requests appeared in my inbox.

I also received many rejections, one after the other. Every time I received one, I sent out a new query.

Almost two weeks after DVpit, someone I started following after they boosted my DVpit tweet announced that they joined an agency as an intern AND they were open to queries. Earlier that day, I received a rejection. I was sad and wanted to have some hope, so I sent this new intern/agent a query.

She requested the full manuscript within an hour.

Honestly, I nearly died.

I waited and waited, hanging almost all my hopes on this agent. She seemed promising with experience in the industry as an editor and interest in stories like mine. I could only hope that my book matched her wishlist. If anyone could love my book, I thought, it had to be her. 

Three weeks after DVpit, something big happened. Something I hoped for and dreamed about.

On Wednesday, May 16… I got the big email to set up a call. The following Friday, I had The Call. I don’t think we were even ten minutes into the call before the agent offered representation. During the call, I’d asked her to email me the details of the call because I was so emotional, I was scared I missed important details. I took notes during the call about her enthusiasm, what she loved, what she wanted to do for revisions. I nearly died when she compared the light/dark witch stuff in my book to Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I was so relieved that the parts of my book that I loved most were the ones that she loved too. And even better, she’s Filipina and I’m Filipina and that part of who I am plays a big role in my stories.

Trust me, I cried and sobbed so much that day and I was shaking so hard that I couldn’t really do anything. It threw me off so much that I had to get out of my home and do something else to keep my mind off of this thing that felt so out of reach.

I immediately told some friends, of course, since being able to share good news makes it even better. While I was capslock screaming at my groupchat, they were screaming back. This was exciting and ridiculous and OH MY GOD IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING? And, of course, there had to be a meme. I cried and laughed even more.

OFFER DAY - LOL Thanks Joel
The meme of the week was obviously this Captain America shot from Spiderman: Homecoming and apparently Joel had been waiting to use this LOL

Something to note, however, is that I did not suddenly receive a flood of offers. I actually received rejections, one after another, because they loved the story but not enough to offer representation. They each pointed out things that they loved—from the chemistry between the MC and the love interest to the witches to the importance of balance between elements, individuals, and the state of magic—and filled my heart with hope. These agents, sadly, didn’t connect well enough or didn’t feel like the right agent to represent me and rejected or stepped aside after I’d notified them of my offer.

One other agent offered representation and I had a wonderful phone call with her on May 25th. She loved my story even though I was fully convinced that no other agent would love it enough to offer. She gushed over the phone about what she loved and I’ll never forget how she described my book.

“A really lovely homage to fantasy but with a modern and fresh perspective”— seriously, mind-blowing. I was shaking and ready to cry but somehow managed to keep my cool despite my loss for words. Taking classic tropes and twisting them into some new and subversive was a key piece in shaping WHEN THEY BECKON. Hearing someone else identify that meant the world to me. And yet, as much as I loved her and as excited as I was, I think my heart was already set on the agent I ultimately ended up choosing.

I signed the contract and sent it off last Friday, June 1st. And today, it’s official.

So, I’m excited to announce that I’m now represented by Kat Enright at the Seymour Agency!

Here are some pictures to illustrate the journey.

Of course, there are several people I need to thank.

First, Taylor Shaw, my long-time online friend and a ridiculously kind and generous person who agreed to help me sort out the mess of my first draft and turn it into something legible. Even if it did take a long time to work this out together, it was all worthwhile. You taught me so much about writing and helped me improve my writing. Without you, all I’d have is a trashfire of a first draft and aimless wandering as I tried to figure out what to do. You were my lighthouse. You shine so brightly, leading the way when I see nothing but darkness.

My childhood best friends who are still my best friends today: Angelica Tijssen, Andrea Gamboa, and Nicole Rak. They read the first draft of my book and made me believe it wasn’t absolute garbage. They were the best cheerleaders and the best support even though they didn’t really know what’s supposed to happen on the road to publishing.

My critique partners, Marie Melendez and Rachel Greenlaw, who were paramount to identifying what worked or didn’t work in this little book. Your notes and comments and love for my story made me believe that my dreams were possible. Your endless cheerleading and encouragement kept me going and going even when I was doubting my work.

The Toronto Writer Crew. This past month has been a whirlwind and I don’t think I would have known how to navigate this journey within them! Your excitement and encouragement bolstered me through the process and kept me hopeful. Getting to share my news and celebrate with you all means so, so much and I’m so grateful that I’ve met this group of talented writers. You are beautiful people inside and out!

Jen, Abix, and Suzie—getting to speak with you in the post-DVpit chaos helped stabilize me. Though I was a wreck with stress, breaking out in hives and sleeping horribly and feeling hopeless at times, speaking with you three made it so much more bearable. Your support and encouragement has also been paramount to my ability to cope through the querying process. All I wanted was to support other writers who had a huge response during DVpit because I could relate to their experiences and could lend a shoulder in case they needed someone. I tried to, at least.

Total Queries: 33
DVpit-related Queries: 27
Full Requests: 12
Partials: 1
Offers of Representation: 2