Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

If you are familiar with my reviewing practices, I like to give my bottom line up front (BLUF) then dissect it in detail. My BLUF for 13 Reasons Why (both the Netflix series and book) is that I loved them and hated them, simultaneously. In either case, I recommend reading/watching to explore your own opinions. You will love them, or hate them, if not both. And in either case, I think it is a topic that belongs in our media so that it can be discussed and approached more openly.

And now to it…

Anyone who knows me, in both the real and virtual worlds, probably knows how I feel about suicide. I survived my own mediocre attempt as a child; then I plunged into self-destruction and self-harm as a teenager. I lost my way, disappeared into my own darkness.

Since recovering from that entire period, I have been very verbal about my experiences. I inadvertently ended up talking to hundreds of high school students on how I dove into writing after I failed to kill myself, how I used the words to drag me through and out of self-destruction and depression. Maybe it is because I am a writer and that makes it compulsive; maybe it is because I never want anyone to feel alone in that place the way I did.

Suicide is a topic very close to my heart. More than my own experiences (because, like I said, my attempts were fledgling then indirect), I have collected a volume of stories on the subject. After I wrote How to Kill Yourself Slowly, I received hundreds of emails from suicidal people. With many, we connected. They told me their pain and all the things that brought them there. We talked about what it was like to be in a place where you wanted to die. And they imprinted on me. All of them. The details are now an amalgamation in my unreliable memory, but I feel them still.

With my own pain and the others’ branded on the soft tissue inside of me, I am judgmental on the subject. I have so many perspectives to weigh the portrayal against. I admit I hold a certain set of expectations. Yet I always devour the media with ravenous curiosity because, in truth, even if you do not succeed in dying, you never fully leave that place. You always have one foot, one toe maybe, left lingering in those twisted shadows.

I live in the city with the highest teen suicide rate in the nation. Chris Cornell just killed himself. This is real. This is a thing in our culture.

I know the topic of suicide gets people all jumpy. It’s ugly; it’s uncomfortable; it’s taboo. Maybe it should not be. Maybe if it was not such a secret, people would not suffer in secret. Maybe if we talk about suicide, write about suicide, watch about suicide, we won’t inspire more suicide; we will instead invite conversation about it. Conversation that could save some lives.

In any case, I approached 13 Reasons Why with mixed feelings. Were they going to do it justice? Were they going to glamorize the idea of taking your own life? Were they going to trivialize and mainstream it? Was it going to be stupid? Yet I resolved to indulge with an open mind. Here are my experiences and impressions of it. Spoiler free, so much as I can help it.

Watching 13 Reasons Why

In case you have managed to miss the buzz about the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why is a series about a high school girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves 13 audio cassette tapes detailing the “13 reasons” why she committed suicide. Each tape centers on one perpetrator, and the tapes are passed from person to person, with an ominous shepherd hovering in the peripheral. The series follows one person (Clay) as he listens to his tapes to discover his role in Hannah’s death.

Initially, the series had me with suspense. The premise is fascinating.

“We’ll never know why they did it.”

“If they decided to end their life, nothing anyone did could really stop them.”

I have heard this sort of rhetoric around every suicide I have been near, at the funeral I attended. That is what suicide leaves: a wake of questions, doubts, blameshifting, and guilt. But what if you could know? What if someone filled 13 sides of audio tapes with the detailed story of why?

In addition to the sheer curiosity generated by such a story, experiencing the tapes with Clay personalizes the narrative. I wanted to know why he, a seemingly decent if not oblivious kid, had made such a list. I wanted every episode to be his. And so, instead of sleep, I clicked Next Episode and Next Episode…

As Hannah began to unravel her tale of woe, I found my mixed feelings resurfacing. I definitely connected and empathized deeply with Hannah. I was undoubtedly enthralled to find out how she could decide to meet her end. Yet, near the middle of the season, the pace began to lag. The offenses and perpetrators became increasingly “high school” and less shocking and upsetting. It almost felt as if Hannah (or the writers) was groping for more to blame. However, at the end, with the full picture in sight, it did make more sense, and it became clear that all the pieces were in fact very necessary. They were contributing factors.

What ultimately seduced me over were the characters. Most notably, how flawed the characters are. Not a single character, not even Hannah, is simply good or only bad. They are each complex and confused and contradictory. They struggle and falter the way we all do, especially at that awkward and vulnerable high school age. I appreciated that the story showed how many mistakes Hannah made, how she contributed to her problems, how she made it difficult and sometimes impossible to help her.

I know that was what a suicidal me was like.

Hannah struggled; Clay struggled. At one point or another, I loved, hated, sympathized with, cursed, felt sorry for each character (except maybe two). It felt real, and reality was what this story demanded.

Once a certain turning point in the story happened, the plot captivated me once more. I was sacrificing sleep once more. I learned with Clay, perhaps as slowly as Clay, how all these many factors amassed to crush Hannah. And my heart broke for her when that killer blow was dealt.

Watching Hannah’s suicide was brutal. I cried. Like ugly, hysterical, soul crying. I was that 12 year-old girl again; I was that 17 year-old girl again. I was wrapped back up in that darkness that so many times almost pulled me under. And it was strange how comforting it felt. The scene was beautiful in just how viscerally terrible it was.

I can honestly say that my opinion is that the series did not glamorize suicide. Hannah is not shown as this perfect, innocent victim. She is not authentically worshiped as she is mourned after her death. People still hate her; people still talk vicious shit about her. Her parents’ agony is palpable. The show examines more the negative consequences for the people left alive than it depicts her being liberated from her strife.

Instead, my chief complaint is that the anti-bullying propaganda is both belabored and irritating, like being assaulted with the idea. The message is applied far too thickly and unnecessarily as if the show’s creators needed to have it to make fixating on suicide acceptable.

I do not like the persistent suggestion that anyone, especially focusing on a potential high school love interest, could save her. It is an excellent examination of how the small, seemingly insignificant things in life culminate into something larger, something crushing. It is also an alarmingly analysis of causality and all the ways small cultural behaviors are deemed safe yet can lead to something so dangerous. As I read through the inane stepping stones to her demise, I kept thinking, so what? Get over it! Yet it makes sense when you can see the full picture, when the minor infractions are revealed as breadcrumbs to the greater trauma.

Yet the show just keeps beating on the idea that if just ONE thing went differently, she would be saved. Bullshit.

There is never any way to know “what if.” With suicide, with anything in life.

No experience is the same for two people. There is never going to be able to judge what is “enough.” What might kill one person, might just traumatize another, and might go relatively unnoticed on another. All based on the chemistry and biology of their brains, their dispositions, and the compilations of their life experiences. Even just comparing me to me, enough to kill me as a teenager does not even register compared to what I estimate it would take to get me back to that mindset now. And that’s not because my life is better or worse or I am stronger or weaker, simply different. Incomparable.

Additionally, I took issue with Hannah’s narrative itself. Hannah presents a very detailed, logical, near clinical analysis of how she ended up on a suicidal precipice. She speaks about her pain and suicidal influences with the detachment and calm that I can muster decades later. In my experience and in my understanding of other experiences, that sort of encompassing perspective, that kind of sanity cannot coexist with self-destruction. If one could see things so startling clear through the pain, the delusions necessary to kill oneself could not consummate themselves.

Now, every suicide is different. Every pain and every person is different. I cannot reliably say that no one has reached clarity as part of their terminal journey. Yet the portrayal contradicted my expectations and struck uncomfortably against my internal definitions. I mean it did make more sense when her later traumas were revealed, yet the personal critique remains. If she could see so many things so clearly, why could she not see the other side of this temporary horror?

I wanted her to. The entire series, I wanted her to, even knowing how it would all end. And I consider that burning, sustained desire to be a success on the part of the show.

Despite my doubts and critiques, when I survived the last episode, when I considered the series as a whole, I loved it. I do not think it portrayed suicide well; I think it portrayed a suicide well. I think it told one story. One flawed person, one clumsy life–beautiful, unique and irrelevant, mundane.

Reading 13 Reasons Why

When I started 13 Reasons Why, I had no idea it was based on a novel. However, once the credits enlightened me, I of course had to follow my viewing with reading.

Reading a book is always a more intimate experience for me than watching an adaptation. Reading puts the narrative inside my brain rather than before my eyes, but I am happy that I experienced 13 Reasons Why in this order, series then book. In all honesty, the adaptation is close, as close as perhaps Fight Club (for me). Crucial changes yet overwhelming loyalty to the story.

So I binged on the book as I binged on the show, and I began to note all the distinctions between the two versions.

The show’s largest deviation from the novel, in my opinion, is the inclusion of additional perspectives and side stories by developing and following several of the collateral characters. This makes for a more rich (and more watchable) story, rounder characters with backstories. Something that could go into a second season with a dead protagonist whose tapes are spent.

In Hannah’s depiction in the book, these characters are flat, villainous in certain instances. The show tries to make them more balanced, give them redeeming or at least empathetic characteristics, give origin to their behaviors. It makes for a more dense and interesting plot, but it does shift the audience’s perspectives and sympathies.

The book confines the audience to Clay and Hannah, which amplified the appeal of the story for me, making it more of a case study on a suicidal youth and her suicide bystander. I was less worried about it being an accurate rendition of suicide and more taken in by the intriguing dynamics in the story.

I found it easier to relate to Clay’s direct, closed narration in the book. Hannah’s story is in first person in both instances, yet in the show we see it reverberate mostly through Clay but also fragments of the other players. The book definitely put me more in Clay’s head. With the series, I empathized with Hannah. Yet with the book, I felt Clay.

In the show, Hannah’s narration sounds more detached, resigned. It was actually unsettling to me (see above) because she seemed too objective and clear-headed for suicide. The book reads with the anger and emotion that felt more appropriate to my expectations. Her distorted perceptions and thoughts seem more clear and enlivened, even when they same words were used.

Without these distractions, Hannah’s narrative was more raw and consuming for me. Hannah’s fixations are annoying; her reasons are irrational. They should be. We never should be able to bob our heads along and say how justified the suicide was. It should be illogical, frustrating, even sometimes stupid. Then we have Clay interrupting her narrative to remind us she was wrong, to keep us tethered to the nonsuicidal perspective.

Hannah seems mad that no one tried to save her, yet she never tried to save herself. She claims she kept attempting, yet it sounds like (from her own words) she is seeking out failures, hunting for justifications for how she feels. Nothing is ever good enough for her. The way depression breaks your mind. The way we seek out ways to confirm our own distorted, destructive ideas about ourselves. Terminal self-fulfilling prophecies. Convenient harmful excuses. I know I am guilty of that, even still.

The show also upped her trauma, made her reasons more reasonable. Yet I found the book to be more resonate. More real to me. The fragile truths about our own weaknesses. The things we don’t want to believe we would do. When I read the book, I heard the deformed thoughts and twisted perceptions I expect with suicide. It shouldn’t make sense; it shouldn’t be reasonable because suicide is not reasonable.

For Netflix, they made Hannah “more” traumatized and “more” rational to make the topic more palatable. Because the realities of suicide are too uncomfortable for our culture. I liked the less desirable Hannah of the page.

The show also changes Clay. Instead of being another victim of the tapes and a cog in the process of her revenge, he is resistant and confrontational, even vengeful on the perpetrators identified on the tapes. Again, it makes the drama interesting and more digestible for people to watch (we love to think there is justice in the world), but it changes the larger message.

At some point along the way, more with the book than the show, I realized Hannah’s suicide then distribution of the tapes is like a school massacre turned inward. She takes this passive-aggressive way of selecting victims and taking revenge. She does not kill or physically harm them directly, yet she still spreads the pain that she thought no one noticed. She is still aiming to make them pay.

All Told

So after all of that rambling and waffling, what did I think? Like I said in the BLUF, I loved them. And I hated them. Some twisted, blended dance of the two. On the whole, I enjoyed both the show and the book. I understood and accepted the changes the show chose to make in the adaptation. I even enjoyed many of them, but the book remains my preference of the two. Both have their limitations and warts, yet in the end, both worked on me.

For me, the story (book and show) is about perspectives. Hannah’s, Clay’s, all the “perpetrators,’” all the bystanders’. All are narrow and flawed, incomplete and at times utterly inaccurate.

Perspective fascinates me. How every experience is inevitably influenced and distorted by perception, perception we can’t escape. How there is no unified reality. One single thing can (and is) interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. This is the reason Seven Types of Ambiguity is my favorite book. Teen depression and suicide speak to me, but I am even more drawn to the examination of perspective. That is why I connect to this story.

I do not think 13 Reasons Why is a great or amazing portrayal of teen depression and suicide, but I do think it is a brilliant depiction of a spiderweb of interactions and perspectives surrounding one pivotal knot.

We want there to be a reason; we want suicide to make sense or maybe mean something. However, the point of the book (for me) was that even with 13 tapes detailing 13 reasons in excruciating detail, it still does not make sense. It still does not provide enough reason. Or the right reason.

My interaction with this story, either on the screen or the page, affected me. Gravely affected me. It infected my mind, lingered on the edge of my thoughts and dreams every day. The scenes, the characters echoed in my brain, deep into the darkest corridors inside me. It all brought me back, stirred up feelings long starved and dormant. Not in a negative way, not even in an upsetting way. It conjured a strange yet comforting nostalgia, like finding my way back to a part of myself forgotten. I felt that damaged little girl at my core, and something in that connection was healing.

There is nothing wrong with still connecting with the darkness, with remembering and honoring all the things I have done and felt. I find it distinctly safer to maintain that relationship, lest the darkness swell and fester unchecked.

If you are hurting, do not stay silent. Nothing in life is permanent. No one can be completely lost. Had I succeeded all those years ago, I would never have seen the life that unfurled in front of me. Or the life yet to reveal itself. I would never be able to gamble with my circumstance in every decision and experience the beautiful joy and pain tethered to each course. My darkest times are still my times. Mine to own and experience, learn from and move on from.

If you are lost, do not hesitate to reach out. You can still email me. A distant voice typing on the internet without judgement. christina[dot]bergling[at]gmail[dot]com. Just don’t message me on Facebook; I get too many unsolicited dick pictures there.

Christina Bergling

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I have a demon living in my leg. It is nestled deep below my flesh, far below the surface where anyone can see, invisible and out of sight. Yet I can feel it in the razor edges of its shape. I feel it as it pierces deeper toward my skeleton. The intruder roots deep in my hip joint, embedded under the attachment of my leg. Then it entwines its barbed tentacles around my shape, binding and restraining me.

I hear it laugh when I try to stand up quickly. I feel its claws snag and catch my nerves as I struggle to move. It paralyzes me, nullifying my brain’s commands with the garbled static of pain.

I imagine the demon with long, electrified tentacles, which it whips around at random. I feel them coil around my nerves and send flashes of pain over my nervous system. I imagine it has horrendous razor teeth, sharp points that plunge into my soft tissue if I offend it. I see the demon the color of dark, oxygen-deprived blood and misshapen like a tumor.

In short, my hamstring injury continues. The MRI identified it as a tear, but to me, it feels like this relentless demon.

If I am honest with myself, the kind of soul-crushing honest that one maybe should not put on the internet, I invited this demon in. Not with my obsessive exercise. Not with my compulsive over training. Not with my complete disregard for my body’s pain signals and warnings. No, I all but directly conjured it.

When I was younger and lost in my own darkness, I coped through self-mutilation. My pain was so great and my mind was so fractured that I both grounded myself and released myself with minor cutting or burning. The physical pain brought clarity, dredged me up back to the real world from the distorted trap in my mind.

It was a horrible coping device that obviously did more harm than good, and thankfully, I was only entangled in it for a short time. It was a crucial step on my descent to my bottom. At the bottom, I discovered myself and started becoming who I am today. Yet there was an enticing honesty about it. A rawness in the complete embrace of the pain, both mental and physical. The behavior felt pure and unfettered by rules or expectations.

Despite knowing how outlandishly crazy these feelings are and moving well past the behavior, at times I endure a certain nostalgia for it. The kind of delusional fondness one could only feel for something so destructive after over a decade. I have not placed blade to my skin since I was in my latest teens, and that gap has permitted a perverted ideation to blossom.

 

I never thought I wanted to cut myself again. I never had an impulse to injure or hurt myself. I was not even upset or depressed. Ironically, I found myself in a level, balanced, even happy place. Yet, I found strange thoughts bobbing up in my brain. A weird sort of desire to have a minor injury to nurse, some minor physical pain. Perhaps a rebellion to the uncharted territory of sanity and happiness, as fleeting as it ever is.

I am such an idiot.

My body answered. In a dazzling display of self-preservation, it gave me what I wanted.

Instead of granting me a small little physical irritant, a little pacification of my old demons, it went grand.  I cannot say that I blame it; how could I expect any different from MY body? I do nothing a little. To answer me, it ripped my damn hamstring and provided me with more pain than I knew how to cope with. I asked for a cup of water and got a firehouse. My clever body flooded me with pain so that I would never be foolish and moronic enough to wish for it again.

I did this to myself, with my own mental defects and stupidity. I invited this suffering, and for being so foolish, I deserve it. The injury is not the problem. It is not the demon at all. It is me; I am the demon within.

Christina Bergling

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The pain has become a good friend at this point, as the weeks have spiraled seamlessly into months. The burning edge on my nerves has become the peripheral of my normal, the baseline of my perception.

It hurts. It has hurt. It always hurts. Perhaps, it will always hurt.

The pain swallows the time, devouring the days whole spent cringing, wincing, and compensating. I do not even remember what it is like to stand up without a grimace or sneeze without a high-pitched whimper. The injury has become part of me; defeat is an adaptation.

The pain burns so vividly. As if my hamstring is being peeled from my pelvis and out the back of my leg in a long bloody line, the tendon quivering like a strummed guitar string. As if boiling water is pouring down the back of my leg in a terrible waterfall that pools prickling in my foot. The fire encapsulates my entire hip before dripping and flowing down my leg until my toes are tingling and my knee buckles. The intensity washes my nerves so blindingly that my entire body seizes involuntarily around the sensation, igniting more angry points of pain.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Strangled breaths shoved from pursed lips. Desperate gasps outside my body.

Until the wave passes. Until the pain recedes back into the injury and the temporary paralysis of it releases.

The pain is always there, always on the edge of the incoming signals to my brain. Any movement can anger the beast. It lies in wait when I sit, exploding upon me when I dare to stand. It coils in my trunk, spiraling out into my limbs when I lean at the wrong angle or look the wrong way. It fractures the world when I sneeze.

The problem is at my root, reaching diseased branches up through my body before forming a sharp nest in my brain. The barbs and edges interfere with the neural firing, deform my reactions and perceptions, warp my personality as it has to arch and bend around the intruder. I would recognize my words and actions as foreign, if I can see anything but the pain. I only know that everything incoming stimuli is now an irritation. It all just adds to the cut of the pain.

I feel trapped within my own damaged body. My bones, wrapped in frayed nerves, form my cage, bind me in the ever-whining flesh. Each flare of pain, each restriction of movement is another barred door between me and functionality. I crave the freedom to move without thought and consequence. I want to just exist, able to do the things I want. I find myself obsessed with healing, with the idea of the other side of this injury. I fantasize about when I am all back to normal again, yet every day without improvement is just a punch in that fixation.

The confined and claustrophobic feeling in my chest tangles and dances with the physical experience of the pain. The two marry and breed into something larger and something darker, something with teeth and fangs that sets upon my mind.  I feel the hot and angry tears escape from my eyes as all the sharp points sink into the soft parts of me. I ugly cry with abandon and despair.

So I run. Literally. And I dance. And I workout like nothing is wrong, adapting and compensating around the injury. Flinching silently, breathing through it, adjusting the movement. It hurts less when I move, or so I tell myself as the endorphins reduce the size of my assailant. I take any escape when my body is quiet and my mind can process any other sensation.

Yet the pain does not relent. When the movement stops, it flares back into place.

Overnight, it changed. Consistently uncomfortable had become tolerable; flashes of pain at movement had become normal. I had packed my life up around the problem and made it work. Then I went to sleep.

With each restless turn, it felt worse. The pain spread deeper over my lethargic muscles. More angles had sharp edges or ignited the fire under my flesh. I found the one neutral position, face down with straight and immobile legs, and I sheltered in it for sleep.

When I did wake, I floundered in the pain. It overwhelmed me, blinded me, surged up over me until I could not move. I struggled to roll over to slam into my limitation. I clawed to sit up and discovered the pain formed a wall to prevent me. I could not move, and when that realization broke upon my mind, I felt the panic bloom in my chest and spread like wildfire over my nerves.

Through a flurry of whimpering and straining, I wrangled myself up from the bed, even to standing unsteadily. Yet when my body unfolded completely upright, there was the pain again. At its highest peak. I clawed at the texture of the paint on the walls as I started to collapse under its weight. My leg was too weak to stand against it.

My husband gathered me, sobbing panicked and disheartened. He dressed me and iced my leg and consoled me until I could move again. Then he mocked me mercilessly to make me smile.

The pain recedes and leaves me washed up on the original shore, still holding my hand like that constant friend.

As some of you may recall, I recently talked at a couple schools about writing. It started out innocently enough, just volunteering at my daughter’s school as part of their readathon and helping out a friend teaching Technical Writing for the first year. Then a teacher with whom I often share the zumba dance floor heard about it and asked if I would speak to her class too.

I agreed, of course, thinking talking to another high school class would be easy. Especially talking about horror writing versus technical writing. The middle school aged group had gone so well, been so engaged and fun, that I was willing to try again. Plus my editor always insists that any promotion or publicity is good. After all, I thought it was just one more class.

Oh, no. No no no.

At some point between the request and fulfilment, it became like a real thing. By the time we were finalizing details, I was slated to speak in an auditorium all seven periods of the day, talking to 29 classes totalling about 900 students.

Insert my utter panic.

I am not entirely sure why I was so intimidated. I definitely do not enjoy public speaking; I do not have any particular talent for it. It makes me nervous to stand up in front of a group but nothing close to anxiety. I got over it every time I had to stand up in front of soldiers to train them, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.

The auditorium, the size of the audience, and the multiple speeches surely upped the ante, but as scary as they could be, these were all good things.

So, like a true writer, I gooogled the word count I needed for a thirty minute speech, and I wrote the entire thing out. I showed up at the high school, my nerves vibrating under my skin, with my entire speech printed. I even wrote it in my speaking voice rather than my writing voice (because they are very different).

The teachers were overwhelmingly welcoming. They were genuinely excited to have me there and have me speaking, and that felt amazing. I began to tell myself I could do this; I was going to do this. Under my nerves, I knew the itching anxious feeling was normal, part of it that would pass.

It was intimidating up on that stage, under those lights. My husband mocked me beforehand, saying I could not possibly be jittered over talking to some high schoolers when I have belly danced in front of hundreds of people over the years. Speaking has always just been so different from dance, a different part of the brain and my emotions. Plus, I think I am better at dancing than public speaking (it would not be hard).

That first period was rough. I clung to my printed speech like my life depended on it. I awkwardly paced the stage like a sedated jungle cat. I lived for the cough drop keeping my ill throat lubricated.

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But I made it.

I kept my speech rather basic. I introduced myself, explained I was a horror writer there to talk about writing. I started with how I was inspired to write in elementary school and sort of chronologically walked through my writing career. At this point, I could see the gaping yawns and bobbling heads.

Then my speech took a hard turn. I pulled out my battle with depression, my failed suicide attempt, my bipolar diagnosis, How to Kill Yourself Slowly. Then I suddenly had their attention. I could almost gauge the shock when my narrative changed–sort of, did she really just say that? Is she really talking about that?

I cannot tell my writing journey without including those aspects. My writing, my work does not exist without my broken brain that produces it or my unsavory life experiences that have shaped it. It would feel inauthentic for me to leave it out and speak about my books sterilely.

So I poured out my black, little heart all over the auditorium stage, and I talked to these high schoolers the same as I would to anyone else (minus the normal slathering of curse words and a few punches pulled to stay in bounds on hot topics like suicide). To my mind, if I could decide to try to kill myself at 12, how could I talk to them like children who had never experienced anything? Age 17 was the most formative in my life, and that is right where they are right now. It had to be the raw honesty.

After that chunk, I continued on my little story of being published and being an author as a side job, all the basics of my books and what they involve. Then I opened it up for questions.

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Q&A is my favorite part. I enjoy the questions; I do far better with them than giving a speech. The interaction keeps me out of my own head. The kids were really fun to chat with. They asked me a range of questions, from the canned questions their teachers expected reports on to just random things like my favorite color or favorite Walking Dead character (Negan, currently). They asked about my family, my kids reading my horror writing, why I would write if it didn’t make money, all the things I might write in the future.

After many sessions, I had kids come up and talk to me one-on-one. Some wanted to talk about their writing or being sent to the counseling center for it (been there!). Some wanted to talk about their favorite book franchise. Some just wanted to talk.

I think I got better and better with each delivery of the speech. I at least became less dependant on my notes. Though it was just utterly exhausting. By the last two periods, I was giving my speech while sitting on the steps to the stage. Maybe not very professional but it is what I needed. I do not know how teachers do it.

Overall, I think it went really well. I ended up enjoying the experience completely. The teachers were awesome to work with. The kids were fun to interact with. It was surreal to walk the halls and have them whisper about who I was as I passed. The pseudo celebrity experience is still just strange for me. Mostly fun though.

I think I started to forget that getting published really means something. It has been two years, nearly exactly, since Savages was released. It took me months to come to happy terms with the fact that it actually happened, that the dream had come true. Yet in those two years, I have become complacent with my new reality, writing and promoting every day, comparing myself to every blindingly successful author. This experience reminded me that it is something, that it does matter. Even if just to me, it matters.

It is also awkward for me to consider myself now a public speaker, talking to kids about anything. Part of me wonders if I have anything worthy to say to an audience, the same part of me that wonders if I have any writing worth publishing. Yet I keep writing, so I will keep doing this as well, as long as I am invited.

I have already been invited back to this school, and ultimately, if my silly little talk inspires one kid to write or deal better with being depressed or anything, I will happily continue to do it for free. And if it helps me sell books, all the better.

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

Earlier this week, I stood up in front of classes of 6-8th graders and talked about being a published horror author. The experience was pretty amazing, far more fun and impactful than I really expected.

The children were very excited to have me there and to broach the subject of horror in their classroom. I gave maybe a two minute introduction; then they asked me questions for an hour and a half. Hands still lingered in the air when the class ended.
davis-middle-school-classroom
I would have stayed and talked to them as long as they wanted.
They were hungry to talk about the darkness. We discussed the best zombie origin lore (they were thrilled I brought up The Walking Dead as inspiration). We talked about how often I kill my characters and why. We touched on depression in writing. They wanted to know about my process and inspirations and methods and future plans. I got a lot of “would you ever write about…” questions. They asked me pretty much everything.
When we were discussing my favoring of psychological horror, I told them I like to focus on the internal experience of my characters, their emotional journey. I told them I liked to torture my characters from the inside out. They asked me why and what scared me the most. I told them, my own mind.
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I stood in front of a class of 50 young strangers and told them I was bipolar. I never intended to go there, to bring up that part of my life, yet I said it just as naturally as I discussed my first writing unit in 4th grade.
And when they asked what I wanted to write about but was hesitant, I told them bipolar again.
I don’t love public speaking. Often when I stand up in front of a group to train them, my mind blanks out. I am always less eloquent standing in the front than I am on the page or even sitting within the group. Yet, this was easy. Everything about this interaction was simple and honest and comfortable.
As a bipolar person, you usually learn or are encouraged to keep your condition under wraps. Since mental issues are largely an invisible disability, you are supposed to play sane, medicate or hide your symptoms, and pretend you are just as well and normal as everyone around you. Especially when it comes to employers, as to avoid the possibility of discrimination.
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No one wants to be branded as crazy. Then treated that way.
I have failed at that approach the majority of my career. And I don’t regret it.
When I was in college, I did work study at the campus art gallery. Since art is a field where deviant minds are embraced if not celebrated, I was able to be honest with my boss, the gallery manager, about my condition. I was freshly diagnosed and in some of the most turbulent times of learning my disorder. It was formatively comforting to be able to struggle honestly and get support and understanding at work. When the gallery manager killed himself years later, a part of me died with him for all he had done for me at a time I really needed it.
However, when I joined the professional world, I tucked that away. I never really muted my behavior, just never volunteered the explanation. I let people think I was eccentric or volatile or emotional and just made sure it never interfered with the work.
There was no hiding in Iraq though. When I went to Iraq for three months for work, it was rough on me. As an unmedicated bipolar, I use routine to stabilize my cycles. Yet I had just moved across the country to a place I did not want to live; I was half the world away from my partner, who served greatly as a balancing influence for me; I was in a place that intimidated me in nearly every way possible. I was too busy trying to keep myself mentally afloat to even give half a care to what others could perceive.
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And more than just me, everyone seemed pretty raw over there. Aside from it being a warzone, many people elected to work there to avoid some sort of damage at home. And even for the most balanced individual, when you have no personal life and spend every hour with your coworkers, you can’t really hide much.
At least I couldn’t. Stateside management found my blog at the time and became concerned I was going to crack. My boss had to sit me down and assess my mental status. After nearly every single post went live. I chose to be honest with him and in him found another ally. He trusted me to be who I was and handle what I needed, and that faith was empowering.
After that, I did not care who knew or when.
I have been fortunate in my professional experience of my illness. I have been lucky enough to work for empathetic, equitable employers. I am also good enough at what I do that my work speaks louder than my other labels.
I blog under my real name now, linked very clearly to all my author activities. I talk about bipolar on the open internet and public profiles. In the end, being who I am and talking about it for other people in the same situation means more to me than the safety in secrecy. I have never done secrecy well in my life.
living-with-bipolar-disorder
I have been thinking about this a lot because of how it felt to have a conversation with these children and because of where my head has been the past week. I have been in a strange state the past few days, a mixed state. Mixed episodes, which for me is experiencing a blend of mania and depression simultaneously, are extremely rare. I think I may have had two other experiences in my life, both dating back to before my children.
It is hard for me to describe how the mixed state feels, which is saying something as I am a person who describes things for a living and a hobby. It just feels like EVERYTHING. I’m hyper sensitive, hyper aroused. Every sense is on full blast, cutting on edge. Colors are brighter; sounds are louder; my skin feels like it is going to vibrate off my bones. At first, it feels like amplified mania, but then there is the depression. I am perpetually on the edge. The pain is blended into all the highs. I feel amazing and horrible at the same time. I slam between elation and torture in milliseconds. Sensations and feelings fly around so fast I can’t even gauge them.
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The peak of this particular episode was pretty intense for me. I got to the point where I could not physically hold still. My thoughts were racing. I had a song stuck in my head, but it was playing at triple tempo.  My nerves were so sensitive I could barely be touched. And, if I am being completely honest with myself, I loved it as much as I feared and hated it. I knew it was temporary; I knew it was a cycle. I let myself truly experience the intensity. Yet that was the crescendo. Even in my flurried state, I managed to put myself to bed and wake up more balanced.
It was a beautiful kind of pain, a sublime kind of suffering. When it passed, it was a relief, yet it also left a void. Everything felt dulled and quiet and disappointing even.
So as the vivid extremes recede, I find myself just introspective, locked in the internal cycle of evaluating my own mind. And how, on most days, I love the horror of it.

Christina Bergling

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Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

horror

When you tell people that you are an author, the inevitable first question is always, “Well, what do you write?” To which I nonchalantly answer, “horror.” I love seeing the reactions. Usually, it is either shock with an awkward stumbling or fascination. In any case, the reaction generally provides a pretty solid gauge on how the remainder of our interaction on the subject will play out.

morbidwriting

If the questioner remains interested, the follow up question is naturally, “Why horror?” Especially if we start discussing The Waning. Everyone seems to have a strong reaction to that book, one way or another. Most people can get behind zombies and the apocalypse like in Savages with how mainstream those themes have become. Not everyone can take captivity and seemingly endless (and some might say, pointless) torture, however. I have family members who could not even finish The Waning; it was too “dark.”

thewaning_swag

It is not an easy question to answer: why horror? With most things, you can get away with the canned response that you just like it. With horror, however, being so centered around darkness, pain, suffering, and all undesirable facets of life, people have a harder time understanding why someone would be drawn to it, would willing sign up to be disturbed. A common assumption is that you are damanged, broken in some way. Being not just a voyeur but a creator of such content makes you all the more suspect.

For multiple reasons, I have been ruminating on my own attraction to pain, damage, and even horror as well as introspecting on the patterns of my own mind. It is an easy assumption to correlate a comfort and enjoyment of negative things with damage or defect. Even just in my own personal instance, the preference seems innate rather than acquired. Cultivated, perhaps, yet it seems to have been a part of me as long as I can remember.

I have always felt the allure of horror. It resonated with my mind, spoke to something inside me. A darkness, maybe. Even in the youngest, happiest, most sheltered parts of my childhood, I found myself drawn to things like Halloween, fascinated by all the morbidity that surrounded them. Innocuous though the start, it grew into something else. A symptom of something deeper. I was always fixated and intrigued by pain, my own and that of others.

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As a young child, I remember feeling so much. It was a perpetual and unmanageable swell of emotions, constant and unrelenting. I experienced the most intense happiness and infatuations, yet more than that, I had a well of pain and unhappiness. I felt such strong dark and negative feelings without seeming cause. And, in an attempt to figure myself out, I remember trying to find excuses for how I felt, trying to classify my emotions into the boxes I understood. Boxes, I would learn, that would never fit me.

Yet, as I grew older, it became more clear that the darkness was in me, not infecting from outside circumstance but inherent. The pain inflicted by external stimuli, though traumatic at times, never seemed to be as black or as consuming as the kind that blossomed from my center. Instead, I sought out excuses for how I felt; I manufactured circumstance to confirm what originated somewhere beneath and behind my consciousness. It took a lot of time and severing endless strings of denial to make peace with that part of me, to identify myself as the culprit under all the layers I created.

I lost my mind, dissolved into the darkness in my teenaged years. When I think back to the way the pain devoured and distorted my mind in those darkest days, I do not know how I made it to the other side. I do not know how I functioned. I do not know how I graduated high school early, how I held down jobs, how I kept my parents at bay, how I maintained any kind of interpersonal relationships, how I went to college. I cannot remember either. Every fragment and remnant of that period in my mind is a flicker in a blur of so many substances and unchecked moods.

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I was a mess. Yet, in that mess, I was pure. I was honest. I was unrefined. And because of that, I am still irresitably drawn to that darkness. And anything that speaks to that caged and sedated part of me.

Like horror.

I am not saying one needs to be damaged and defective to enjoy horror. Nor am I saying that is the reason I respond to it on such an instinctual level. Horror, for me, is an outlet to part of myself. It confronts realities in our world and in our culture (and myself) that may not be pleasant but remain just as real. Personally, I enjoy the experience of that confrontation.

I can write a version of myself on the page who does not have her shit together, who relents to her broken mind, who is so inescapably damaged. I can empathize with a character on the screen in their worst and most tormented hour. I can toy with the darkness inside of me, letting my fingers play in the edge of the flame, without burning down my entire life.

I enjoy the flirtation with the dangerous part of me, my undesirable yet pervasive center. It is like having an affair behind the back of my sanity. Exciting and wild.

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Horror speaks to me in the language my base self understands. I am attracted to the pain the same way I used to actively seek my own, whether through self-destructive behavior or abject self-mutilation. All that is still inside of me, and my indulgence of horror is my safe, neutered way to still interact with it.

Ultimately, despite all my therapy and self-examination and understanding, I do not know why the darkness comforts me, why the pain seems native. I do not like that I find a grotesque familiarity in suffering. Could it be the damage of deformed neurotransmitters? Could it be the absense of adequate neurochemicals? Is it some association forged in experience that tumbled out of my memory? Is it something wrong with me, or is it simply me?

I spend a disproportionate amount of my life in depression. Not because my life is unsatisfactory but because that is half of the symptomology of my brain. Perhaps my affinity for horror is merely an adaptation to this. It does substantially decrease the burden to feel at home in my own sadness; it does help to surrender and wrap myself up in the black rather than fight or resist it. Maybe it’s my survival mechanism that I never knew I would need until bipolar blossomed across the wrinkles of my mind.

Regardless of causality and circumstance, independant of reasoning, I accepted myself long ago. I have embraced and actively cultivate all of these tendancies and preferences bubbling inside my head. I find joy in the darkest places and experience the breadth of a full spectrum of emotions. I live in extremes, for the better and worse.

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I am not sure if this post is ultimately about horror or bipolar or just some rambling about weird musings I have had lately. I know I’ve written about my attraction to horror before and our cultural attraction to it. To keep the answer simple, I write horror to get it out of my brain. For whatever reason, it breeds between my cells, and I express it. I feel better letting it out and indulging in it. It is just who I am.

 

poeminblood

 

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

Depression Rising

Posted: April 27, 2016 in psychology, real life
Tags: , ,

I had felt it stalking me for days. Something dark on the edges of my mind. A weight steadily accumulating on my chest. The familiar sensation of my mind beginning to wobble and my emotions beginning to betray me.

On the yoga mat, in the space between my long breaths, on the massage table, in the silence beneath the pressure on my knotted muscles, my darkness swam up to run an icy touch along my surface. The depth of my mind plunged past my physical dimensions, and I got swallowed whole. And all I could feel is, it is coming.

I perched on the razor’s edge of a waning wellness, anticipant. I knew the trajectory ahead of me in its inevitability. I am familiar with my mind’s natural state; I am only permitted to vacation from it so long.

Then the large, black wave blotted out the sun, and I forgot there was a world beyond my flesh. I receded from my edges as my mind swelled with the poison. I heard it in my venomous thoughts, in each assault on myself. After the initial blindness passed and my pupil dilated to the dark veil, I saw only through distorted eyes; I felt only deformed and mutated feelings. I would say they did not match the external queues if I could have been trusted to perceive them. I let the darkness come; I knew it was pointless to fight.

My subconscious is a chasm filled with monsters who look like me and want to flay me apart slowly in tiny pieces. In the darkness, I felt the wall protecting me fall away; I felt them began to scratch over my mind, leaving slices in the matter and taking pieces as souvenirs. Yet the pain felt comforting in its familiarity. Somewhere I had been, somewhere I had lived, a place I knew in blind memorization.

I hurt, but I felt alive, more alive and infused with sensation than in any calm wellness or tingling mania. I was saturated by the pain, inflated by the emotion. My nerves were on edge and overstimulated, and my heart swelled up to meet my rib cage. I found my grimace inappropriately flirt with a smile. I felt suffering muddle against comfort.

And I waited.  I abandoned the world with my heavy muscles and paralyzed tongue. I let the darkness have me until I could sleep my way to more balanced brain chemistry.

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

I am a mother. Biologically and physically. Mentally and in practice. I cradle the deflated and distended flesh were my babes once grew. I bear the perpetual markings of crusted handprints on my pant legs and snot dried on my shoulder. I sacrifice for my children: sleep, time, my body, my space as my bank accounts bleed dry. I smile bigger than I knew I could. I weep out of joy and astonishment. I feel the love for them in my bone marrow.

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I am a lover, a life partner. I am the teenager he met at a keg party and the woman who birthed his children. I am beneath him saying “I love you” and beside him holding his hand at her funeral. I am rolling my eyes in rage as I throw out one more bicker; I am laughing uncontrollably as he pinches my hip bone. I am awash with gratitude as I watch him play with our children. I am lost without him and stronger because of him.

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I am a tormented writer, slave to the page, victim of the word. I have a million characters living and breathing inside of me, crowding my consciousness, fogging up my brain with their writhing heat. I dissolve and disappear into other worlds, vanish into stories untold and lives unlived. I belong to my twisted imagination, both persecuted and enlightened by its sharp edge. I carve out chunks of my soul and bind them in a file, tossing them out and asking strangers to buy and love them as I did.

Writing_Horror_Fiction

I am bipolar. I am the depression that makes me want to open a vein; I am the mania that makes me feel like an unchained heart. I am bliss and agony. I am the swirling dance between two minds, a refugee left traveling between two fleeting worlds. I am emotions amplified, perceptions distorted, self turned enemy. I am beautiful suffering and painful happiness. I am artfully crazy.

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I am a runner. I am the pavement beneath shoes. I am the panting breath and relentless sweat. I am the exertion of the body against the protest of the mind. I am the stubbornness to keep going, one more mile, one more stride. I am the float disconnecting brain from body. I am the endorphins to breed sanity. I am the trial, the accomplishment, the addiction.

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I am a dancer. I am the music in my hips, the melody manifest in my bones. I am sealed lips and active flesh. I am expression and freedom. I am confidence in a scandalous costume above of an audience. I am the ferocity to mangle choreography before a crowd, with a smile. I am lost in the beat. I am transient of the sound. I am reduced and concentrated down into movement.

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I am savage. I am the base and ugly core. I am the reality and the desperation. I am the decision between you and me, the line between us and them. I am fight and flight. I am selfish and self-serving. I am ultimate priority. I am survival at all costs.

I am the tattooed and pierced freak. I am the orange hair and the black clothes. I am a high school goth floundering through professional adulthood. I am my inner darkness on the outside. I am questing to show myself as different. I am the art on my body, the pieces of my mind drilled into the flesh. I am the socially condoned pain and body modification. I am the struggle to find the outside expression of the inside brain.

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I am an eating disorder. I am an obsession with food, a fixation on numbers. I am the weight on the scale, the inches on the tape measure, the calories in my last meal. I am the compulsive tracking of every workout. I am hours spent in the mirror poking at unsatisfactory skin. I am the demon in the back of my brain, never satisfied. I am the perception distortion in my eyes. I am the insecurity.

I am a dreamer. I am belief and possibility. I am ideal and ambition. I am the forecast of the mind, the silver lining in the pain. I am lost in the world at night, a prisoner of the subconscious musings of my sleep. I am reaching out past reality, stretching into the alternative. I am seeing something else.

I am a child. I am still that child and that teenager from decades ago. I am still small, overwhelmed and confused by the world. I still call out for my mother when I am sick, my father when something is broken. I long to find shelter under that wing of unconditional love. I finally see that I never knew anything all along as I shunned the older and wiser voices pleading advice to my closed ears. I now see that my parents knew everything and that I remain their ignorant child.

I am horror. I am the darkness in us all, the hidden crimes, the primal undertones. I am the hairs rising on the back of your neck, the quickened pulse, the shallow breathing, the thin, cold layer of sweat, the blank mind. I am the fear rising up from behind your thoughts, whispering to you in a deeper, more persuasive tongue. I am the exquisite mingling of thrill and panic, the delicate line between entertainment and terror. I am the edge.

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dollyfreddyshower

I am everything.
I am nothing.

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

fear1

So many times I have watched a horror movie or read a horror book and said to myself (or my viewing partners) what I would have done better in the terrifying situation. Of course I would not run up the stairs with my oversized breasts bobbing in my face from the methodically slow-walking serial killer pursuing me. Of course I would not trip and fall at the most inopportune moment as I ran in a blind panic through the woods in the dark.

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From the comfort of my safe couch, of course I would not be scared stupid.

However, in reality, can I really say these things? Can I really forecast how my brain would operate when awash with fear and instinctual responses? Would I be any smarter than those horror characters who are written in just to populate the body count?

I would like to assume I would be smarter, that I would be final girl level intelligent and crafty. However, in honest and reality, I do not know. There is no way to predict your own fear response, no way to truly gauge what a situation will do to your mind and behavior.

I thought about this idea a lot while I was writing The Waning.

In The Waning, I put my protagonist in a cage. I created a strong, smart, independent, powerful, if not unsympathetic woman and had her locked up in a metal box for a long and painful time. I wanted my narrator to be fearless in her normal life because the story, to me, in an examination of what prolonged fear does to her.

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

As I was writing, I thought about all the things I would do. If a person locked me in a cage in the dark, would I scream? Would I fight? Would I cry? I tell myself I would fight. I would never stop fighting. I would fight until it freed or killed me. That is what I want to believe, and maybe under the right circumstances, it would be true.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I wrote the graphic scenes of captivity and torture, the more I started to doubt it. Humans, as a species, are conditioned by painful and negative stimuli. There are few things more painful or negative than torture, isolation, and captivity. How many punches in the face would I actually take before I stopped getting up? If I’m honest with myself, it could be as few as two.

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

On the other hand, perhaps one would gain a tolerance for pain and violence? That phenomena is just as psychologically valid as operant conditioning. Maybe if I spent months in a cage, the cage would not seem like torture any more. Maybe at a certain point, it would become familiar, comforting even. But at that point, would I have any fight in me, or would I have been changed by the pain and the fear?

I think it is easy to sit from the comfort and safety of my couch and forecast how I would behave under the worst of circumstances. We all do it. It is natural to imagine ourselves in the situations we see or hear or read about, and it natural to think the best of ourselves as we view with a cool head. Yet my own life experiences have shown me that I do not always exhibit final girl behavior. More often than not, I, like the many stupid characters I chastise, behave like serial killer bait.

Years ago, my boyfriend’s house was routinely burglarized. He traveled for work, and while he was away, I checked his mail, fed his fish, and so on. On more than one occasion, I arrived at the house after it had been broken into. Did I wait outside and call the police? Did I even hesitate, thinking the perpetrator might still be inside? No. I walked right in like a stupid white girl in a horror movie.

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More than once.

Then, while I was working as a contractor in Iraq, I got the slightest taste of war, or the peripherals thereof. My exposure was extremely minimal, as I deployed after contractors were regulated to the military bases. What was common place, though, were rocket attacks. In my first couple weeks, I was sitting in a DFAC (dining facility) with my coworkers. The rocket sirens started blaring. The TCNs (third country nationals) flew out from the kitchen; people started climbing under the tables. I stood somewhat shocked, somewhat confused, and looked to my coworkers for direction. One of them said to me, “If a rocket hits this place, a table isn’t going to save you.”

And we sat there and ate until the sirens stopped.

In both cases, my reactions were either not smart or not what I expected. I would have thought I was smart enough to not walk into a house where someone could be lurking. I would have thought rocket sirens would be me under the table. Neither were the case.

If I had to generalize, I would have to say my default fear response is hesitant observation. I try to evaluate the situation to make sure it is happening; I might be in denial. I try to think my way through panic or talk myself out of it. Yet that is not always the case, and I cannot say that I could guess at what I would do at the mercy of my own fear in different situations.

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And that is what I find fascinating. The unpredictability of human behavior in the face of fear. That is why I wrote an entire book about what fear and pain could do to a woman.

What do you do when you are scared? What does fear do to your behavior?

 

Christina Bergling

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facebook.com/chrstnabergling
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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning, coming July 2015

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com