Vaughn C. Hardacker here: As many readers of this blog know, I live further north than any other contributor to this blog. This can be a problem when you hate winter. All of my memories of growing up in Caribou, Maine seem to be winter memories–its almost as if there were no summers in my youth. Therefore the obvious question is: Why do you live there?
For more than thirty years I worked as a technical instructor in the hi-tech arena. I was living in southern New Hampshire when my wife, Connie, passed in 2006. In 2008 I was laid off (In the last nine years working I had seven jobs and I did not leave one voluntarily. In fact only one of the companies I worked for is still in business, Xerox. The names Wang Laboratories, Bay Networks, Nortel Networks–Nortel bought Bay and the company became Nortel Networks–or Lucent may sound familiar to you.) I was now in my mid-sixties and faced with another long period of unemployment. As much as I loved living in the southern part of New Hampshire and the Boston area, I knew I would not be able to continue living there. The periods of unemployment and Connie’s losing battle with cancer had decimated any thing we’d put away for retirement. I moved back to northern Maine. I still had family here and the cost of living was much lower (I was paying three times what I pay here for a mortgage for apartment rent in NH) and I could live on Social Security and write full time.
For years I have suffered from periodic down periods. Connie was always able to ride them out with me. I would become angry (and stay that way for weeks) and isolated myself from everyone. My alcohol consumption was way out of control and I blamed many of my problems on my battled chilhood growing up with a domineering, alcoholic mother. It wasn’t until I returned to Maine that a counselor at the Veteran’s Administration said to me: “How long have you been suffering with severe PTSD?” My answer was: “Hell if I know, I’ve always been a loner and in a continual state of anger and couldn’t understand why some people seemed to go through life easier than I did.” Her reply: “Were you like this before Vietnam?” I had no answer to that. She later told me that I was the hardest patient she’d had to deal with because every time she asked me a question that got close to one of of my issues, I’d deflect it by telling her a story. The problem, she said, was that the stories were usually interesting enough that she was deflected from the purpose of the question. She told me that it took her three times longer to complete the PTSD assessment on me than any other patient she’d dealt with.
By now you’re probably asking: “Okay. But what does this have to do with winter?” In winter my depression really kicks in. I’m actually amazed that I’m writing this. I have been battling writer’s block for a couple of months now. Where I usually have a thousand word a day goal, I don’t think I have written more than 1000 words during that time.Every time I’d sit at my desk, open a Word document, stare at it for several moments while I tried to get in touch with my muse (I think it goes to Arizona for the winter), and then close everything down and go lie down. Not that lying down helps. When I’m like this I can sleep eight hours, get up, have a cup of coffee, and then go take a nap. That, by the way, is a productive day. I usually don’t even turn on my computer. If it wasn’t for my iPhone I wouldn’t even check my email.
I was scheduled to write a blog on Monday, December 9th. After a couple of weeks in which I could not think of a single thing to blog about, I just ignored my responsibility (another symptom of PTSD) and didn’t write one. A few days ago I received an email from Kate Flora noting that I’d missed my day and there was an open date for today if I wanted it. Still dealing with my depression, I ignored her offer. I got another email from Kate asking if I was mad at her. That shook me up. I hadn’t realized that my isolation might be misunderstood (not surprising since I was isolating and nobody knew it–that’s the grandiosity of the disease; we think that we’re the only one going through this and don’t want to burden other people with our problems–besides, no one wants to hear me whine) and her email opened my eyes. I replied explaining some of what I was experiencing and she replied that I could blog about what I am dealing with. So, I’m doing just that.
During winter my body and brain crave sunlight and this far north in late November and early December the sun rises around seven in the morning and it’s dark between three-thirty and four. I was asked once what it was like to live through a winter like that I replied: “You become like a mushroom. In the dark and fed B.S.” To combat this the VA has provided me with what I call a mood light. It is a rectangular light with special bright bulbs and I was advised to use it for an hour each day. I still have it around here somewhere.
I know I’ll be all right. I have a mantra. Each and every day I look skyward and say: “I know, Lord–this too shall pass.” Then there is the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
A wise woman (my wife ) once told me that God speaks to us through other people. Now that I see the length of this blog I believe that my higher power spoke to me through Kate. I think I’ll go find my mood light, place it on my desk, and do some writing. I have to keep reminding myself: Your friends tell you what you need to hear; not what you want to hear.
Thanks Kate, you’re a mentor to all of us and if I’m half as smart as I think I am, I’ll keep listening to you.
Vaughan, I remember the depressive struggles of a Maine winter well, and I was only dealing with cold, snow and darkness, not PTSD. The college where I was working had a bank of those mood lights in the library, but I never used them. Too depressed, I guess. I coped by searching for new jobs. I excluded all locations where the sun went down early or where the average daytime winter temperature was below 40. One Maine winter was all I could take. The winter I became someone I hardly knew. I moved back to the South and then to my true home, New Mexico, where we have so much sunlight. Thank you for writing this.
Thanks for taking the risk to share. When we lived in the often sunless Pacific Northwest I knew several regular users of lights like yours. They worked.
Use the darned light, Vaughn. They really work. And thanks for your courage in sharing this. It’s hard to be the dark voice in the room in this season of “let’s be merry.” Brilliant idea to keep your light by your computer. The words will come.
Sounds like it’s time to go to a meeting. Most of my home group are veterans with PTSD Stay well.
Thank you for letting us know what a struggle it’s been, over time and especially these past few months. I am so sorry to hear about it. Depression is a bastard. Sending encouragement to keep writing, whatever and whenever you can. You matter to us.
Heartfelt and raw with emotion. Thanks for keeping it real.
Thank you all. The last couple of days have been better. Thanks are owed to Skipper and Ginger, out two Yorkies. I started walking them again. For some reason when I walk with them my mind seems to work. I usually come up with some fairly good plot ideas–at least they have enough potential for me to try developing them. Being notified that Encircle Publications wants to publish my latest novel, THE EXCHANGE, hasn’t hurt either.
Thank you and good wishes as well as thoughts of focus for plot ideas and clarity. I always found my “answers” on my walks.