I had planned to do two or three posts for this year’s Steampunk Hands Around the World. One was a photo montage of various steampunk outfits and events I’ve attended. The other was about my writing and steampunk books. But that isn’t my whole story.
I have a confession to make. I’m not the person I used to be. And this infuriates me. I used to be spontaneous, always the first to volunteer, to be out front and centre. I loved meeting new people and doing new things. I loved a challenge.
I used to love dressing up in costume, trying on a new persona, the more outrageous and gregarious the more fun I had.
I daydreamed. I laughed out loud at the ideas that popped into my head. I wrote. I drew. I created… stuff.
Then the Black Dog sniffed me out. His name was Anxiety. He whispered in my ear, destroying my confidence, crushing my creativity and stamping his mark on my soul.
It happened slowly; a toxic work environment and increasingly stressful situations piled on top of each other over several years. My health deteriorated. My smile faded. It was hard to get up in the morning. It was even harder to drag myself to work. My faith was my only armour, giving me hope to trudge onward.
And it was exhausting.
It wasn’t until a specific, and dramatic, attack at work that I realised I was no longer ‘me’.
That was 2012.
Two years later my world collapsed. While I struggled to find myself, to pull myself out of the sucking great hole that is anxiety, the work situation deteriorated. It was quit or sink. The black dog won this round.
My career was over.
It wasn’t until last year I had a name for the particular mongrel black dog who beat me. His name was PTSD.
‘What has this got to do with steampunk?’ you ask.
I know this sounds depressing, but I assure you there is a glimmer of light outside this particular kennel. Let me explain.
There’s a saying: It’s always darkest before the dawn. There’s also another saying: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. When I was a child, my grandma used to say this. And she was right – as usual. Sometimes it takes a kick in the guts to find out who you really are.
And this is my story.
Like many other steampunks, I always found the aesthetic intriguing. I’d seen movies (yes, I know, everyone always mentions ‘Wild, Wild West’), read books but it was years before I knew it was a ‘thing’ – and it had a name: steampunk.
But it wasn’t until 2006 that I delved into it seriously. The following year I had completed my first steampunk outfit. Then I discovered there were other people out there, in the wild, doing things! I’d found my tribe. There was an entire community – not just local, but worldwide!
Over the next several years my world slowly changed. I gradually retreated from my favourite pastimes. I didn’t know why. I just trudged along, wallowing deeper and deeper. Then 2012 happened. I retreated from the world to lick my wounds. When I ventured back in 2013, the world was a different place – or I thought it was.
I wrote steampunk stories in my lunchtimes to escape. I attended steampunk social gatherings, meeting the most amazing, creative people in a community which encourages individuality and imagination.
While I’d enjoyed twenty years plus of his historical re-enactment and re-creating garb, it now felt restrictive, claustrophobic. I didn’t just want to re-create history, I wanted to twist it, control it, shape it into something new.
I wanted to break the rules. I wanted to rebel. I wanted whimsy.
I’ve written about whimsy before (A Whimsical Notion ). What I’ve realised since then is, whimsy is my shield against the black dog. While my faith and hope always remained, what I’d lost – what Anxiety and PTSD had stolen from me – was whimsy.
And steampunk provided that whimsy.
So here I am. 2019: just over six years later. I now create my own steampunk worlds and have embarked on a new career – that of writing.
I still feel like a fractured mirror, each shard reflecting a different aspect of my soul. The black dogs of Anxiety and PTSD are still there, sniffing around my feet, trying to trip me up – and possibly always will be. They still leap up and drag me down – way too often.
But there always remains hope. Hope I can fight the black dog for as long as it takes. And to help fend it off is whimsy.
In the past several years I’ve often wanted to hide, to be someone else. In reality I was searching for the old me – the person before the black dog sunk his teeth into my soul, the person who daydreamed, who created, who laughed out loud.
Now I can hide behind my shield and just be me. I’ll never quite be the old me, but I can be the ‘new’ me.
The real me. And this is me.