Life sucks. If you don't agree with that statement, you might as well stop reading now. This isn't for you.

For the rest of us, yeah, life sucks. When you've been unhappy for the majority of your life, unhappiness becomes your status quo. The happy periods are the exceptions.

The only permanent solution to this problem is death 1. When you are dead, it is no longer any of your bother how crappy the world is. Don't let anyone tell you that death isn't an answer; that's bullshit.

So if dying is the only solution, why am I writing this? More to the point, why am I, and everyone like me, still here?

The answer is that you have to find yourself temporary solutions. A lot of them. And you can't ever stop. Watch a good movie and life won't suck so much for a couple of hours. Read a good book and you can keep yourself in the black for a day or two. A strong friendship or a loving relationship can make things rosy for months, or even years. Same with a great job. Whatever you can do to make things better, even just for a little while.

And yes, eventually life will start to suck again. You just have to keep finding yourself something to hold on to. There is always something.

And no, it's not the best system one could hope for. Even just being ok isn't easy. But it is definitely better than the alternative.

1Actually, death is more like a workaround. Poetic license, ok?

Friends. Movies. Sports. Discovery. Magick. Singing. Noding. Helping. Reading.

So many temporary solutions! If you got accustomed to them, it might even start to seem like THEY were the default, and grey misery was the temporary problem. Why should you take the unpleasant part as the ground state?

Well, there are good reasons. Say you feel terrible all the time. And you don't have the energy to go and do any of the above cheeriness. And people attempting to make you happy is infuriating. And you can't get your mind off the miserable aspects of your existence. Yes. The word has been abused and trivialized, but this is depression. Real, bleak, killing depression. Death is better.

BUT. Perhaps the good life is better than the good death. And perhaps you can reach it. Or maybe you can't. But maybe you can change into someone like you, someone who has the holy fire and the ability to love life. It's not easy. In fact, it's not even hard. It's scary. In a way, it's a death and a rebirth. But people change. Sometimes drastically. Drugs can do it, prescription or non-prescription. Cognitive Behavioral therapy works for some; mysticism for others; community for others. All are a lie, when all you want to do is lay down and decompose. But practice them long enough, and they become true... and the problem is solved by becoming someone who has the inner energy to seek solutions.

The solution is not to live in pain and seek diversion. The solution is to change. And if that seems impossible, it's not changing enough.
I walked through the sand dunes in southern Colorado once. Long, high, massive mounds of sand, in giant waves. If you hike in between two of them, all you can see if the patch of sky just above your head. From down in between them, it was easy to believe that the mountains no longer existed on one side, or the plains on the other. All I could see was sand on either side.

That's what depression is. The pit seems so deep that nothing is in front of you but an insurmountable wall. And behind you, past the edges, you can only see the tops of the good things in your past, they seem so small and insignificant. It's hard to realize that if you keep walking, you'll come on up the other side, and be able to see everything in perspective. It's so hard to realize that, that some people stop walking, and give up. Those people never climb out of the pit, because just laying at the bottom becomes easier after a while.

But there is a thought that always kept me from even thinking of suicide:

Being miserable is better than not being at all

Chance has it that this is the only life we will ever head (although your favorite religion may tell you otherwise). Couldn't it be that (let's not let that sound pathetic) even one good moment is worth it for not calling it off completely? Ever played some ball and quit after you thought you were going to lose anyway, and than sat at home and regreted that you hadn't given it another shot? I know how it is to be depressed, but really, being alive means being given a chance to be happy, because after your death, the linear function that is your mind will disintegrate and your personality and everything you are will be wiped out forever. Admit that this would be a loss.

About two months ago, we lost two wonderful writers in the space of mere days: Jack Cady and William Relling, Jr. Jack Cady died of cancer at the age of 71; Bill Relling was a suicide at age 50. To lose any writer of these men's quality is a tragedy at any age; to lose one to a death at his own hands makes the tragedy only more hurtful.

I met Bill Relling a couple of times at conventions -- mostly back in the 1980s when he was riding the "horror boom" with excellent novels like Brujo and Silent Moon. He and I once spent a terrific forty-five minutes sitting in a hotel bar talking about the work of one of our mutual writing gods, William Goldman. I found him to be an upbeat, intelligent, thoughtful, instantly likable man who treated me like I was an old friend. That someone whose writing I so admired treated me, a newcomer, like one of his comrades-in-arms, made my day.

I'm not going to pretend that he and I were friends, because I hardly knew the man, save for our appearing together in some anthologies and, of course, my learning of some part of him through his wonderful novels. But in the hours and days immediately following his death, there was much discussion on certain boards concerning the reasons why -- and this of course sparked controversy, especially when other writers who were his friends, who did know him well, and who had spoken with him as little as five days before his suicide, chimed in to try to say a few words about their fallen comrade. These fellow writers were in a great deal of pain, and trying hard not to let too much of it come through. They, like everyone else, couldn't figure out why he'd done it.

Then -- as more and more details about his suicide began to emerge -- these questions of "Why?" raised by everyone (both those who knew him and those who didn't) started turning into "How could he?" And, finally, at a message board that I will no longer frequent, one especially sensitive person, upon finding out that Relling left behind a family, made the following statement: "Well, I sure as hell won't be reading him anytime soon. I refuse to spend my money on books written by some coward who'd do that to his wife and children."

There is an unbelievable amount of arrogant ignorance in that statement, and that was not the only time the "cowardice" of suicide was brought up during the days immediately following Relling's death.

I would not purport to speak for the friends and family of Bill Relling, but as a horror writer who has struggled with depression since he was in high school, and who has thrice during his forty-three years on this earth attempted to keep an appointment in Sumarra, I would like to say a few words about the so-called "cowardice" of suicide.

Take this at face value: most of you (thank God) will never know what it's like to reach a point in your life when it feels like all you're doing is breathing air and taking up space, and even that hurts so goddamn much it's all you can do to lift your head off the pillow in the morning.

It doesn't matter if you've got a successful career, money in the bank, people who love you; it doesn't matter that, everywhere you look, there's irrefutable evidence of your life's worth -- a loving wife, kids who worship and respect you, life-long friends who've seen you through thick and thin, even readers who admire your work and flock to conventions in the hopes of getting your signature -- none of it means squat, even though you know it should mean the world, because all you know, all you feel, all you can think about is the gnawing, constant, insatiable ache that's taken up residence in the area where your heart used to be, and with every breath, every action, every thought and smile and kiss and laugh -- things that should make this ache go away -- you begin to lose even the most elementary sense of self, and the floodgates are opened wide for a torrent of memories, regrets, sadnesses, and fears that no drugs, no booze, no loving embraces or tender kisses or hands holding your own in the night can protect you from.

You become the ache, and despite all your efforts to do something to make it better, eventually the ache takes over your entire universe, and it never goes away, and you feel useless, worthless, a black hole, a drain and burden on everyone and everything around you and try as you might you can't see any way out of it except...


And if you're a horror writer, if your work involves your dwelling on the details of death and violence, the darknesses that come out of these floodgates can be crippling. I know what I'm saying here; I've been there, and hope I'll never have to face down that kind of darkness again.

When you reach the point of "except", there's isn't a question of cowardice; cowardice doesn't even enter the equation; to be in that kind of pain where only Death offers relief, and then choose to end your life...if this offends you, I'm sorry, but that takes the darkest form of courage there is.

I'm not defending Bill Relling's actions; I did not know the man. I have no idea how this has affected his family or his friends. What I do know is that I have been in that place he found himself that day he closed up the garage and started the car's engine, and insomuch as I can do while respecting the feelings of his friends and family, I wish him peace from whatever darkness followed him not-so-gently into that good night.

As to those folks out there who did not know Bill Relling and others like him and are still asking their questions, offering their theories, or scattering about moral declarations like handfuls of rice at a wedding, I've got your answer: It's none of our damned business.

The man is dead and no longer has any use for our uninformed theorizing. Be thankful that we who did not know him have the wonderful books and stories he left behind for us. If ever I do some day keep one of those appointments in Sumarra, my sincere hope is that people will remember me for being a writer who tried to make his fiction both entertaining and emotionally substantial.

For those of us who didn't know him, I'll bet -- or, rather, I hope Bill Relling feels the same way.

Rest in Peace, William Relling, Jr.; you were one of the good guys, and I'm grateful for the brief time I spent with you, and for the marvelous work you leave behind.

For the rest of each his darkness, in his own way, in his own time.

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