In the northern hemisphere, we’re dealing with the coldest month of the year. Yes, the days are getting longer, but not by much–not yet. The holidays are behind us, and spring is weeks or months away.
If emotional burdens also pile up at this time of year, for me they land with double weight, and that prompts me to think about Big Black Moments. In every romance novel, and in most genre fiction generally, there comes a point in the tale when all is lost. The lovers cannot be together on happily ever after terms, the villain is inexorably on track to win, and we will never figure out who stole the Hope Diamond.
Then somebody has an insight, a new clue comes to light, the protags finally out-clever the villain, and a renewed push to the emotionally satisfying conclusion is possible.
All very tidy and satisfying, but in my life, no mastermind has ever attempted to sabotage my quest to retrieve a valuable diamond. When I fell in love (as best I can recall), my romantic aspirations were not thwarted by my beloved’s competing allegiance to my intergalactic enemy, nor were any secret babies or sham marriages involved.
And yet, there have been big black moments. Early on along the path of single parenting, I was frequently overwhelmed and despairing, in part because that kid was NEVER going to grow up. When Darling Child was school age, matters did not improve much because I was chronically broke, exhausted (see thyroid disease rants), and utterly alone with my fears and challenges. My nearest relative was 600 miles away, I lived way out in the country (where the cheap houses are), and the effort of making a living and raising a child meant I had little energy for even something as mundane as a book club.
What grinds me down, and what I think can daunt anybody, are problems that hit a trifecta of misery: You are alone with your burden, it appears to have no end, and the suffering feels meaningless. Any one of these qualities can make pain particularly ugly, but put all three of them together, and my courage, stamina, and optimism quickly deflate.
Fortunately, I am far enough along on my diamond hunt that I know how important it is to find the people who love me, and I am better about fostering hope and taking a long view. So I’m thinking about my big black moments from a different perspective: The all hope is lost version works well enough for a heroic quest, but what about a heroine’s quest? Maybe there’s a different version of despair for those us not as defined by external goal-oriented quests that make great Hollywood scripts. A version of despair that will resonate just as effectively for readers, and even be a little more credible.
The best black moment is surely a topic for mid-winter rumination. When have you or somebody you care about been brought lower than low; what contributed to the downward slide? How did you climb out of the ditch? I’ll put the names of three commenters on the list to receive an e-ARC of A Woman of True Honor (comes out Feb. 7 in the web store, Feb 18 on the major platforms.)
I was a single parent once for about 3 weeks. I realized somewhere in there that if my husband didn’t make it home, I was going to put the darling girl up for adoption. I couldn’t be a decent parent, never mind a good one, on my own. Kudos to those of you who are.
I do think women learn younger and better about black holes. We may have learned that tomorrow is another day. Lack of sleep and dehydration have each about cost me my life and my sanity. I’m careful now.
There were many Big Black Moments for me early in my child rearing experience. It started with my oldest son and my MIL’s accusations of abuse and neglect but my spouse, her son, was not mentioned as being a problem at all. Kiddo wasn’t talking when she thought he should, so she told everyone she knew it must be something I was doing or not doing. It preyed on my self-esteem and view of myself on every level. I was called selfish for having other children as well. It took a lot to get me out of bed every morning and take care of him and my other two sons for quite a few years. I felt hopeless and ashamed but I was never quite sure what I was ashamed about.I loved my son and truly did not understand what I was doing wrong.
It turns out, my son has autism. And it also turns out his teachers, physicians and therapists believed me to be a wonderful mother and told me so. Their support and kindness helped pulled me out of many Big Black Moments. My MIL never did apologize for calling me neglectful and to this day thinks she did nothing wrong.
I spent a good portion of my life since we began our autism journey working for him and advocating for those with disabilities. I learned everything I could and tried new things and read and read. I took courses in behavior management techniques and Sib Shops for my other children. All of those things helped pull me out of Big Black Moments little by little. I worked for many years with parents of newly diagnosed children and made sure to tell them often their child’s autism has nothing to do with what they did or did not do.
My Big Black Moment occurred about 5 years ago. It was work related. Lots of changes going on at work— new clients, new representatives. Stress, stress, stress.
My manager decided to pick apart my department. She made life miserable for several of us. A good friend took a demotion and was able to transfer out. I knew I needed a plan. I interviewed for several job postings and didn’t get them.
During one of my interviews, I met a manger who encouraged me to post for a position in a different department. She told me to think out of the box and go for it. I knew the job was detail oriented and I asked two author friends for recommendations. Two interviews later, I was able to climb out of the black hole.
I am not sure if it was thinking out of the box, the recommendations or luck that got me into the light. The BIg Black moment or dark hole isn’t a good place to be…but, you can learn and grow from the experience. I know I did.
Oh man, I think one of the biggest things contributing to a downward slide is poor sleep. Everything looks incredibly daunting when you are exhausted. And given that you’re so tired, you don’t have the mental faculties to think outside the box to help come up with a solution. But you’re stressed, so even if you get the opportunity to get some well-needed sleep, you can’t actually fall asleep because you’re stressed. It’s such a viscous cycle. Insomnia is the very devil.
For me, it’s been a combination of chronic medical issues, the sucking tentacles of malevolent bureaucracy, and isolation from said chronic medical issues. People simply stop coming around when your life becomes such a hard grind and you live alone.
Books, music, and benevolent others combine to lift me. The doctor who studies me and says, “You’re exhausted. Write ad copy for my practice by end of the month and we’ll call it quits. It’s worth more to me than your co-pays.” The grocery start up that delivers blemished organic food that wouldn’t sell for cosmetic reasons to my door weekly for half of what the big box would charge if I could get there & in fresher condition. The new neighbor I met when her dog bit me, yet who turns out to be a reliable help in need. (And the silly mutt apologizes humbly by wriggling on his back & whining each time me sees me as his dim brain finally realized the strange human grabbed him to save him from the huge truck & he really didn’t mean it in his terror)
The news might be full of turmoil. There will be days simply hauling my carcass out of bed, dosing & feeding it is a marathon. But good people remain good at the unlikeliest moments. Fat white fluffballs of yapping goodwill can bring neighbors together in crazy coincidences straight out of movies. And once I’m reminded how wonderful the world can be, it tends to swing around & confirm it. It seems to come down to where we choose to focus our attention. I’m gonna pick the good stuff.
There was a period of over a year in my life where I lost my job of over two decades, my marriage was in shambles, I totaled my car, and my best friend in the world died. There was no magical solution to any of it. I just persevered, tried to deal with the grief and made the decision to work at the marriage. It took time and prayers, but I found another job, got another car, and the marriage got back on track better than it had been in years. Grief never really goes away, just becomes gentler with the passing of time.
December is always pretty bleak for me. My parents died in the months of December and January and each year that time is difficult although it has been years. When my mother was in her final illness, I couldn’t be with her as I had an 18 month old and no one who was willing to pick up my slack, and my mother was in an out of state hospital. It literally broke my heart.
And yes, I feel like that my now 23 year old son will *never* grow up and be independent.
I am convinced that one major source of depression is feeling helpless. What helps me is realizing that I am never helpless, that there is always something I can do, even if it is to make a plan on how to improve what is wrong.
And if it is genuinely unfixable, it is possible to change how you look at it and how you feel about it. My parents are gone but I know I will see them again.
And from these many years of perspective, what I should have done during my mother’s final illness was to literally put the baby in my husband’s arms and left to go to my mother.
My absolutely darkest period was when at the age of three months my first baby Timothy died of a congenital heart defect.
Btw. I looovvveee your books !
I agree that lack of sleep, even short term deprivation, is torture and makes everything horrible. Of course as caregivers, women are spending years at a time significantly sleep deprived and simply expected to carry on as if nothing is wrong. My second child screamed every night in pain for the first year of their life. I would go to sleep at 5 or 6 a.m. every morning. When their health issues came into focus and I got reliable sleep it was like a whole different life.
Another thing that has brought on dark times, is being dismissed by doctors and not treated. I had one dr. put his feet up on his desk and tell me how I was wrong about it all. I had another threaten me with Munchausen-by-proxy if I didn’t stop questioning him (I was pregnant). So I felt sick AND dismissed without options. Pushing for another doctor and complaining about treatment helped, but when you are kicked when you are down and helpless, it stinks.