Mental Health Matters: JR Handley

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Hello Space Cadets, how are you doing today?  Things are going well here, my recently published books, The Legion Awakes and Fortress Beta City, are hopefully entertaining those who were so kind as to give them a chance and the year is winding down.  I’m still in awe at well the books are doing, but it just goes to show what you can do when you have a strong support team on your side.  I’m pretty blunt in my about me section that my books are a team endeavor as we compensate for the residual complications from one too many blows to the head.

 

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With the passing of such a staunchly outspoken advocate for those suffering from mental illness, Carrie Fisher, I decided to do a series of interviews with other authors struggling with their own woes.  As I find candidates, I’ll send them the questions and post their replies.  Obviously, this won’t be a regularly scheduled event.  The first advocate for the mentally ill I’ll interview in this series is myself.  I use this term ‘advocate’ loosely, but I’ve also made no bones about the fact that I suffer from PTSD after my time spent in the Late Unpleasantness in Mesopotamia.  I’ve long admired people who were open about his struggles with their own issues, people who use their own personal example to show that you can adapt and overcome your inner demons.

 

Without Further Interruptions…

 

  1. I know you’ve been very open about your struggles with mental health, would you feel comfortable giving a brief overview?
    1. In a nutshell, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq from getting up close and personal with one too many IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Also, with exposure too one combat parties.  Apparently, it’s a tradition in some parts of the world to welcome unwanted guests with lead shot and shell?  Why wasn’t I given the memo, for crying out loud!  On a happy note, those demons pepper the pages of my novels.  See, sharing is caring!!  Now you can stay up at night with bad dreams!
  2. How have these issues affected your working life?
    1. The TBI requires me to write with a team and lots of lists. I forget a lot of stuff and a get my words mixed up.  My mother and wife go behind me, helping me get it into English the non-aphasia world can grasp.  I won’t bore you with the technical details of the diagnosis (Read: I forget those details too), but it has made the process infinitely more difficult.  However, through adversity comes triumph and every chapter finished becomes an even bigger reason to celebrate.  In a nutshell, wow I really like nuts, my issues mean I have to accept help and face the fact that I can no longer be an island.  Now my process involves a village.
  3. Have you had to adapt your writing style in any way to accommodate your mental health issues? If so, how?
    1. I’ve had to become anal about the use of outlines and detailed notes. I maintain a series bible that is almost a novel in its own right as well, my very own Human Legion Universe Encyclopedia.  For you younger ladies and gents, those are books where facts were listed and described.  They were basically the dictionary of life and history.  We had them in these buildings called libraries AND sometimes we bought them from poorly dressed door-to-door salespeople.  I’ve also had to constantly tweak my writing times, so I get my brain when it’s at its best.  I get about 5 good hours a day; the rest of the time things are too foggy to produce.  During the funky foggy time I tend to write my blogs and do my daily housewifery chores.  When my writing triggers my PTSD issues, I force myself to go for a walk and use my coping skills.  I’ve learned them at the VA hospitals, where they are hounded into you.  They’re viewed as the be-all, end-all to therapy by overworked doctors who would prefer to pump you full of pills and push you out the door.
  4. Have you made any mistakes along the way, and if so, what have you learned that you could share?
    1. I have, tons of them. If you ask my wife, MILLIONS of them!  I’ve learned not to push too hard and to pace myself.  A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’ve learned that if I get lax in my physical health, the mental health suffers which causes my writing to suffer.  Basically, I’ve come to realize I need to treat my body well so it can treat me in a hopefully reciprocal fashion.  Also, I’ve learned the value of schedules and just sitting down and working.  No magic muse comes down from the heavens and inspires you, you have to crack the whip and force that wench to work for her supper.
  5. What is your biggest continual daily struggle?
    1. My injured hands; one too many broken fingers paired with some muscle damage makes JR a slow typist. I’m forcing myself to cope with this by fitting the Dragon into my daily routine.  The second biggest struggle would be my memory.  It was caused by a combination of the severe, chronic combat related PTSD and the TBI and is a pain in the arse.  Note to readers, don’t get blown up in Mesopotamia.  The free t-shirt just isn’t worth the price of admission!
  6. What advice would you give other authors struggling with mental illness?
    1. Seek help, seriously it’ll save your life. Talk to someone; your priest, doctor, wife, ANYONE.  Don’t fight this battle alone, call in the heavy hitters to stand by your side.  And don’t be ashamed, there is nothing wrong with being human and struggling.  Then I say pour your demons onto the blank page, it helps to neuter them!
  7. What support system do you have to help you write through it?
    1. I have my wife and my mother who help do my first line editing or alpha reading. They also translate out the erroneously used words, missed descriptions and general shenanigans.  They help keep my universe consistent and help edit my blog posts.  You can’t see it, but my mom’s standing over my shoulder punching me and waving at you!!  Say hi to my mom!
  8. Do you find your writing to be therapeutic?
    1. I do! Writing as therapy was the very avenue I took onto the road that is authorship.  It works, whether you write in a journal, fiction or non-fiction.  Give it a shot!
  9. Since I’ve got you here…. Let’s talk books! What’s your current work in progress?
    1. I’m currently writing Operation Breakout, the third in the Sleeping Legion Series. I’m also working on two short stories and the beginning of a new series, The Odera Chronicles.  I’m making The Sleeping Legion Series my priority and the other stuff is going on in the background as secondary projects.
  10. If the readers are interested in finding out more, where can they find you?
    1. If you’re here, then you found me!! But I’ve an author page on GoodReads, Amazon and a Facebook page.  That’s it, I’m too much of a technological troglodyte to be anywhere else online.

 

I hope you find this post to be inspirational, but mostly if you struggle I hope you realize that you’re not alone.  At the end of this post, I’ll list some resources you can reach out to if you’re in need.  Be well, you got this!!  And if you have any other mental health resources I should link too, send me a note and I’ll add them!

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

 –> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section.

 

RESOURCES:

  1. NAMI
  2. Suicide Hotline
  3. VA Suicide Hotline
  4. Crisis Text Line
  5. UK Suicide Prevention
  6. Trauma Support Group

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