Greetings from the Ether,
One of the strongest voices in Weird literature has had a tumultuous past year, and continues to face struggles as he looks to take control of his life and move forward into 2019 with a fresh and honest outlook. Christopher Ropes is an author that many of us have had the pleasure of reading and/or knowing, and his compassion towards others has never been in question. Recently, Christopher started a Gofundme in order to treat a medical condition he’s had since his childhood, and two charity anthologies have been released by Planet X Publications (which you can find here and here) in order to raise awareness of Christopher’s challenges. We are beyond honored to present this exclusive interview with Christopher, where he and I delve into the nature of what he has been going through, and the various reasons we need to be more open about our personal struggles, and why asking for help should never be frowned upon.
CP: This past year has been difficult for a lot people, but it seems for you especially to have been a year of challenges, battles, and a struggle for survival. Between your health issues, to the deeper psychological ones, I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through. It’s often frowned upon to discuss such topics as these, but as we conversed prior, I think it’s time to break these stigmas as people need to know it’s okay to be open about such experiences. You had many moments in 2018 where you openly considered not writing anymore and cited your own personal struggles as the source of reasoning for these potential decisions. What exactly did you experience, and most importantly, how did you overcome it?
CR: I suffer from a number of psychiatric and physical health issues: severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, possibly bipolar or schizoaffective disorder, terrible dental problems, and fibromyalgia. Writing is not easy for me to begin with because I dredge up all my own demons in my stories. When you have mental health issues, you have some pretty terrifying demons to encounter. I think we all face down those demons to some extent in our writing, even those writers who are writing more to entertain than to create an abiding sense of terror or awe. Human life is a process of coming to terms with those things that frighten and hurt us. I just go through that process in a very raw way that can sometimes actually damage me more in the process.
When you think about trigger warnings, for example, those are there to protect readers who may not be able to emotionally withstand what a story brings up inside them due to trauma. But what if the writer is the one who needs the trigger warning on their own work? That’s me. I go where it comes close to killing me to venture there and bring back what I find. So I go through quite frequent bouts of thinking I may never write again. 2018 was a particularly terrible year on a lot of fronts for me, and I couldn’t even bear to think of going on a dig into the depths of my soul just for a story or some poetry. I’ve written since then, but now I’m back to wondering if I can do it anymore. I feel like these fallow periods between creative outbursts are just part of my process.
CP: Health problems can, in a way, snowball other difficulties, especially where mental health is concerned. When you were faced with the dental dilemma, where exactly did this put you as far your mental space? Did it make matters even worse?
CR: It basically tore me apart. The physical pain is bad enough, but the psychological suffering caused by being unable to look in the mirror without seeing something hideous is even worse, I think. The kids in school bullied me mercilessly over my teeth and I still wake up from nightmares about it.
CP: Regarding the Gofundme, and the wonderful charity anthologies that Planet X Publications released, can you delve a little in to what aid contributions toward these causes will provide? What exactly was the diagnosis, for our readers who may not be aware?
CR: The disorder is ameleogenesis imperfecta which has caused both my baby and my adult teeth to be ruined. The wonderful Planet X folks heard about how much it was going to cost to fix them and immediately came up with the benefit anthologies idea. Basically, I need most of my teeth ripped out except for a few root canals and then a full upper denture and an extensive partial lower denture.
CP: Why do you think that our culture reacts to mental illness in a silencing manner, and what can we do to fix this? Do you have any specific words of guidance for people who may be suffering similar circumstances?
CR: Mental illness is easy to “Other.” The image of the mentally ill as violent comes more from popular entertainment than reality. Sure, there are instances of the mentally ill being violent and those incidents will increase the more our murderous “healthcare” industry makes getting treatment harder. But the far more likely outcome of mental illness is the individual self-harming in some fashion.
But those entertainment “psycho” villains and the lack of awareness of what causes mental illness and what the reality of it is like are contributing factors to not wanting to discuss it except in a Norman Bates kind of way. That’s where I feel like I come in. I write things like “Singing the Song of My Unmaking” in the first Vastarien to let people hear a voice from inside mental illness that refuses to be silenced by either the establishment or the illness itself.
I think the best way to fix it is for more people to speak up. When it is easy to find out what the inner experience of mental illness is like, when all you have to do is look at your best friend who has posted on Facebook about their own struggles with it, it’s easier to have empathy and realize that Norman Bates is not the poster child of mental illness. All of us suffering and trying to do our best to live life in an increasingly hostile world: that’s the face of mental illness.
The only words I’m going to permit myself to say to those currently suffering are: I see you, I hear your cries and, even if your feelings or experiences are not based in “reality,” what you are going through is valid. It is meaningful and real to you. And please, hold onto anything you’ve got, even if it seems stupid. If it’s a person, hold onto them. A pet, hold onto them. A damn comic book, hold onto it. Whatever keeps you here . . . hold on.
CP: Your novelette “The Game We Used to Play” is slated for release in 2019 through our Tales From Gehenna series. I remember you mentioning this may have been your last publication at the time, as you discussed with me your possible departure from fiction. What all can you tell us about the crafting of this piece, and what changes happened between then and now regarding your work in fiction?
CR: Well, I was wrong. There is more fiction coming out from me. I need to stop making blanket statements regarding my writing career!
This piece has an interesting history. I wrote my story “Complicity” many years ago. Immediately following the writing of that story, I began writing a story called “The Game We Used to Play.” It was basically the idea that this version became but I abandoned it and lost all the work I’d done on it. In the decade or so since I first stalled on it, new motifs for it crept into my mind and I began writing it anew. Concurrently with the writing, my healthcare plan changed and I was forced to cold turkey off one of my psychiatric medications because I couldn’t afford it. That was a hellish experience. Don’t let anyone ever tell you psych meds don’t cause withdrawal. They cause worse withdrawal than a lot of hard drugs do. So I’m trying to write this story having a lot to do with suicide implications while struggling not to do myself in. Bad times. It took a month to write the story but I’m happy with how it turned out!
CP: You mentioned the withdrawals of psychiatric meds. I recently started weaning off Seroquel after being reevaluated for my own condition. Seroquel withdrawals can be so bad that patients often need to be hospitalized. This is a terrifying truth that so many people are unaware of. So, where do we go in spreading this information? How do we combat the systems in place that allow this to happen?
CR: I think the first thing that needs to happen is that doctors themselves need to start accepting that psychiatric medication withdrawal is not just real, it’s common and devastating. I’ve been told over and over that it was all in my head, that it was something other than withdrawal. They obviously know it’s real because they always say you have to taper off these meds and not quit them cold turkey. But then, in practice, if someone loses their insurance, no one in the medical community does anything to make sure they can pry their meds out of the hands of the extravagantly wealthy pharmaceutical companies.
So we need the medical community on board and I think the only way that’s going to happen is if patient advocacy groups like NAMI start to make it a priority to push for a safety net so that someone who loses their insurance won’t go without meds they need to, quite literally, keep themselves alive. The safety nets in place for someone who isn’t on Medicare or Medicaid are a joke with a lethal punchline.
CP: It’s wonderful to hear that you’re writing frequently again! Can you give us any information about your upcoming publications?
CR: I’ve been accepted into an upcoming Nightscape Press anthology called Nox Pareidolia, with my story “Her Eyes Are Winter.” And I’m working on a top secret group of occult poems that explore vital aspects of my spiritual path that I hope will see the light of day in 2019. Might not make that, however. And I’ll put out more in dribs and drabs as I always have! My process is slow and excruciating but people seem to like the results and I feel compelled to do it. I’ve seen a lot of people say that if you don’t “like” writing, don’t do it. Well, maybe that’s fine for some people, but for me it can be “write or end up in a body bag.” So even if the process is sheer murder, I’ve got to do it. I simply have to in order to survive.
CP: In closing, I want to thank you for partaking in this interview. I know it takes a lot of courage to discuss such things. I often feel that people who battle with depression and other psychological disorders are much more creatively inclined than those who do not. It’s almost like a demented trade-off the universe has established; a sick form of reciprocity that is in place. In a final few words, what would you tell those who are artists of any kind that are experiencing similar struggles? Do you think their work can, in a way, ease the symptoms and aid in their path to recovery?
CR: Don’t be afraid to go down those roads and express what’s truly there. The world needs that. It needs the reality of mental illness told by the mentally ill. Just like it needs the reality of race told by people of color. Anything that can Other a person needs to be explored and exposed and given representation by the people who are inside of the lived experience. I can write a black character and that kind of representation is really goddamn important, especially if I make use of black beta readers to make sure I wrote the character with compassion and depth and true humanity. But it’s nothing like the expression of a black character written by a black writer. Same goes for the mentally ill. We need to expose the world to what we go through and make that reality a reality for others, so maybe we find some allies and educate some people and work some change in the world.
And I definitely believe in the purgative powers of creating art from the heart of mental illness. Whether it is painting or drawing or music or writing or dance or anything else creative, if you put your pain into it, that’s a tiny bit less pain locked inside you.
Thank you so much for asking such deep and thoughtful questions. I hope this helps someone, anyone. Let me close by tying this into the last part of the final question. Possibly the best reason for creating art for mentally ill creators is that some other mentally ill person can look at, listen to, read, watch that art and say, “Someone out there sees me, hears me. I am not alone.” Never underestimate that power.
Thank you so much for stopping by. Please make sure to check out Christopher’s Gofundme and the two charity anthologies from Planet X Publications (here and here) in place to help Christopher with the funds for his medical needs.