January 9, 2023— In the recent days, the book world has been rocked by revelations of betrayal which has brought to light so many telling their story, their battle with depression and mental health.
Seeing so many that I care for desperate for a way out, I wanted to use this chance to kill several birds with one stone. I will always strive to be as transparent as possible with my struggles—mental, emotional and even physical, as I hope that one day my story can be a beacon of hope to others.
That being said, this post will focus on where the hell I've been, why I've been gone, and some nitty gritty truths about my mental health.
It has been two and a half years since Angel released. God, that doesn't even sound real to me. Two and a half years?! You're probably thinking, "Yeah, Ashley. Two and a half years, so where the hell is Demon?!"
Immediately following Angel's release in the summer of 2020, I knew that I needed to take a break to address my mental health. Because I was a stay at home mom (my youngest at the time being nearly 3) that meant that my days were filled with all things well, being a mom. Which meant that my nights were my work hours. After I had my kids in bed, spent time with my husband, cleaned (procrastinated) it was typically midnight or later when I finally managed to sit down at my computer to get my words in.
The first four books in the Heaven's Guardians series were written between the hours of midnight to four in the morning. I would lay down and sleep from four to seven before getting up and getting my oldest off to school and starting my day with my little guy. I kept these hours for months. And for months, my mental, emotional, and even physical health declined each and every day.
In a perfect world, I would have been able to push through and get Demon finished before my little hiatus, unfortunately the world is anything but perfect. I told myself that I would take some time, just a couple months to step away and heal my broken parts before jumping back into saddle. It didn't take long to realize that wouldn't be the case.
Countless times I've worked myself up, convinced myself that it was time and I was ready to start again. But each time, I would find myself staring at a blank screen wondering if I would ever again find the woman who started this journey. She was so distant in my memory I wasn't sure if she was real or if she too was a figment of my imagination like these characters we've fallen so in love with.
I have made no secret of my struggles with mental health. For too long I was taught that voicing my struggles meant I was needy—greedy and searching for attention when often times it was a desperate cry for help.
In 2013 I was diagnosed with Treatment Resistant Major Depressive Disorder. This diagnosis morphed from my original of postpartum depression in 2010. At this point (in 2013) I had been on over forty antidepressants in the last two years with no signs of improvement. My breaking point came the day I was prescribed Wellbutrin and I experienced an adverse reaction.
I can remember seeing commercials for antidepressants and being so cynical. "If your symptoms worsen," they would say and I would scoff. How could they worsen? How could anything possibly be worse than the hell I was already living with?
That night, as I sat in the corner of my bedroom telling my husband to hide all the knives...anything sharp from my view, I realized just how much worse it could get.
Before that moment, I had never wanted to take my own life.
Had I wanted to die? Absolutely. And it may make me a coward but I wanted it to be something that was out of my hands, if only I could die in a car wreck etc. I just wanted my pain to end... I wanted to not be a burden to my family. I wanted my son to grow up with a mom who was bright and full of love and light, not the poison that flowed freely inside me. I also did not want to cause them further pain and I ultimately knew that taking my own life would only bring more pain to those that I loved.
But despite it all, that night I was powerless...completely overcome and violated by thoughts and impulses to end my life and my suffering.
Voluntarily, I spent one week in an inpatient behavioral health facility. And although it was the scariest thing that I have ever done, I have no doubt that those seven days saved my life. With my new diagnosis (treatment resistant major depressive disorder) I was able to find a neurologist who thought he could help me. The first time I heard of a Vagus Nerve Stimulator I balked. They wanted to place an electrical device in my chest? And this device would shock a nerve that runs to my brain?! Uh, hell to the no.
But the more we dove into the diagnosis and what it meant for me, I realized I was down to two options. I could have an undetermined number of ECT's (Electroconvulsive therapy) or I could have the Vagus Nerve Stimulator.
A little more backstory on me and my childhood: depression runs in our family. My moms dad committed suicide when she was a baby. And unfortunately, when I was in the eighth grade, my mom attempted to take her own life as well and spent weeks in the same inpatient behavioral health facility that I would stay at years later.
During her time there, she was treated with ECT's and while we are extremely thankful that she had them and that they worked so well for her, the immediate repercussions of the procedures were heartbreaking for her loved ones. At thirteen/fourteen years old, I had to watch as my mom forgot all of my childhood memories. Things that I thought were ingrained in her, like how to eat or get dressed, they were gone. And I had to help alongside my dad as she learned how to do these things again.
While ECT's undoubtedly saved my moms life, I wasn't ready for them. I was only twenty three, hell my son was only four! If my mom lost all of my childhood memories what did that mean for me if I were to get the treatments? Would I even remember my son at all?! Although I was firmly against the procedure, I also knew that if I exhausted all other options, I would have to take the risk and make the sacrifice if it meant being free of the dark.
Vagal Nerve Stimulation or VNS for short, are most often used in the treatment of seizures. Although they are used (and very successful) for treatment resistant depression, the hoops you have to jump through with insurance are lengthy and trickier than getting approval for seizures. I spent an entire year with my neurologist building my case, getting countless tests run, making sure everything was in order and that we presented my insurance with a case they couldn't deny. It was the longest year of my life but it was worth every hopeless moment and tear shed when I found out I had been approved.
In January of 2015 at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, I had my VNS installed. During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in your left chest/shoulder area which will become a pocket to house your battery generator/device. They make a second incision at the base of your neck where a wire lead which is attached to the device is wrapped around the base of the vagus nerve which leads into your brain.
The device works by turning on every five minutes for thirty seconds, stimulating the vagus nerve at a voltage determined by your neurologist. The stimulation to the vagus nerve causes the brain to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine.
And for seven blissful years, my VNS gave me a second chance at life.
On October 15th, 2022, after months of feeling myself pull away from my closest friends and family and not knowing why, I took a moment to look deeper. Unfortunately at some point in the past few months, unbeknownst to me, the battery in my vagus nerve stimulator died. And the second my shields were down, depression wasted no time invading and infecting before it became all consuming.
After calling my neurologist and having the dead battery confirmed, we wasted no time getting the ball rolling on having a new generator installed. And on November 23, 2022, the day before Thanksgiving, I had my battery replaced.
Four days after my elbow surgery and twelve days after having my battery replaced, I was finally able to go in to see my neurologist to have my VNS turned back on.
Dosage increases are done in very small increments because the sensation can sometimes be unpleasant and require an adjustment period for the patient.
When my VNS died, I was at a dosage of 2.0 megahertz. A dosage that took me seven years to work up to.
When I originally had the generator/device replaced, the company rep told me I could be back to my normal settings in fourteen weeks.
Throughout all of the mental and emotional struggles, I had also been dealing with severe numbness and pain in my arm and fingers. Beginning in February and ending in October, I went through a series of testing and imaging to pinpoint the cause.
On December 1st, eight days after my VNS battery replacement, I underwent cubital tunnel release on my right elbow at Ortho Georgia Surgery Center.
Fourteen weeks?! Erm, no. That didn't work for me.
So from December 5th through December 16th, I saw my neurologist every other day so that we could push and have my dosage back where it needed to be.
It was fucking hard.
Regardless of the years experience I had with the stimulation, and even though I had seen each of these stimulation/shock settings before, it had been months since my throat had experienced any sort of stimulation. Those brief months when my battery was dead erased any tolerance my throat muscles and nerves had spend years building up.
Because we moved so quickly without giving my throat too much time to adjust, every five minutes for thirty seconds, I sound like a damn wookie when I talk. But hey, if sounding like I'm talking through a retro metal blade oscillating fan is a price I have to pay to live without the darkness in my head then so be it. It's a price I'll gladly pay.
Now for the part you've been waiting for: DEMON
Demon officially has a preorder on amazon. Before you run and panic, please note that the release date is set to January of 2024 BUT this is just to give myself time and allowance of life without pressure. My actual goal is to release him at the beginning of March, giving myself January and February to write and edit.
I had previously announced a new series called the Ragno Crime Family but I have made the decision for now not to pursue this series any further. I'm not closing the door on it forever, but my heart is longing for a different direction.
Following the release of Demon, I will begin working on the second generation of the Heaven's Guardians. It is currently called Devil's Duchess MC but will more than likely be revamped as I don't plan on making them a motorcycle club. They will always have the connection to their fathers, of course—but I'm ready for a new generation with new possibilities and I'm extremely excited about where their books will lead me.
As always, thank you so much for your continued patience with me these past few years.
I'm so damn excited to start the new year with a healed mind, body and soul, and I can't fucking wait to see what this year brings me.
P.S-If you or someone you love is struggling with treatment resistant depression, I urge you to look into your options. I am so thankful that we live in this age of groundbreaking medicine and procedures. If you have any questions about VNS please don't hesitate to reach out.
Feel free to comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Confiding in someone who has never experienced depression can often leave us feeling inconsequential and dejected. But there are people out there who have been where you are. Find them and lean on them when it's too hard to stand on your own.
This world needs you.