The following is an excerpt from C.L. Werner’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.
When I was approached to write about the impact Robert E. Howard’s works have had on me it occurred to me I had perhaps a different angle to approach the subject from than the other authors who appear in this volume. I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to claim even a tenth of the talent Howard possessed or the deceptively simple skill he employed in writing his stories. His background and life are vastly different from my own, separated by vast gulfs of time and place. But there was one aspect in which I do feel a kinship to the man. For both of us had the black dog of depression nipping at our heels.
Depression is a word that’s often miss-used and misunderstood. It isn’t the same thing as simply feeling sad, which is how those who haven’t suffered the affliction often believe it to be. Depression is an all-consuming blight that settles upon a person, binding them in a mantle of gloom. At its most pernicious, it affects your physical health, making it easier for you to get sick and sapping your verve so that just getting out of bed becomes a feat of willpower. When its shadow persists long enough, the very concept of joy becomes a vague memory. People don’t like to believe that can be true, but I assure you it is. Things you once enjoyed become hollow and unfulfilling, foods you once savored lose their taste. Everything feels as though there’s a gray veil between it and yourself, draining its vibrancy until all that’s left is a mere echo of what it should be. The old distractions that used to provide solace become less and less potent, no longer providing an escape from the misery of your mental pain. To be sure, some things still manage to break through that barrier and they become the more precious for being able to do so. But by the same token, the more you seek release in such escape the less help they provide.
I’ve suffered depression since I was ten years old. I can only vaguely recall a time when its shadow wasn’t looming over me. To be certain there have been times when the shadow is less, perhaps only a faint blemish, but always and ever am I aware it is there. Every person, each individual, has what they deem the bare essentials to possess a quality of life. Without those, what you’re left with is merely existence. Some of us are unable to accept that, and so the black dog comes scratching at my door to remind me of the emptiness and loneliness. Yes, I think I recognize the demons that plagued Howard at the end.
I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong time. My sensibilities and standards are out of step with the world I was born in. Howard often expressed that same attitude, a longing for a time when things weren’t quite so codified as they were in the 20th century. He saw the strictures of civilization as something antithetical to the human spirit, perhaps best exemplified in a remark in one of his letters to H.P. Lovecraft when he likened the Roman Empire to an “iron spider.” This feeling of alienation likely fed into Howard’s depression. I certainly know it has mine. My family moved from upstate New York when I was very young, relocating on the other side of America in Southern California. I grew up in that environment in the 1980s, but very much feeling the outsider. An almost Victorian sense of courtesy and decorum didn’t mesh very well with skateboards, hair metal, and Miami Vice. A defensive sense of reserve kept my friends few and for the most part distant. The vile betrayal by the first friend I can remember making certainly had much to do with that. The younger the child, the more irrevocably a lesson is learned. People like to assure you you’re a survivor of abuse, but as long as the effects remain and mar your life you remain a victim. Platitudes and assurances don’t heal old wounds.
That volatile concoction of isolation, alienation, and depression led me to make three attempts at suicide before I was eighteen. There are now thirty years between then and as I write this. I’ve accomplished some things, even achieved some of the ambitions long cherished, but that emptiness remains. The day comes when it’s too late for dreams. That, too, is something I think I share with Howard.
C.L. Werner has written fantasy, science fiction, horror, and Western stories. He has written for WARHAMMER FANTASY, WARHAMMER 40,000, AGE OF SIGMAR, BEYOND THE GATES OF ANTARES, KEYFORGE, WILD WEST EXODUS, IRON KINGDOMS, KINGS OF WAR, and ROBERT E. HOWARD’S SOLOMAN KANE. His original fiction has appeared in anthologies and magazines from Snow Books, Goodman Games, Emby Press, Padwolf Publishing, The Bolthole, Chaosium, Ragnarok, and Rogue Blades Entertainment.