HENDERSON, Ky. – Some days are just garbage. Henderson author and illustrator Hugh Alan Samples knows that as well as anyone.
Samples, a father of two and a suicide survivor, has struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life and has had more than his share of bad days. That is the inspiration for his latest project, titled “The Journal of Absolute Misery,” which has been named a “Project We Love” by crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Samples uses the pen name Hugh Alan in his writing and illustration work.
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“‘The Journal of Absolute Misery’ is all about having a place to write about your worst days — the ones without unicorns or rainbows,” the Kickstarter page reads. “Journaling can be a powerful tool for catharsis and a way of dealing with negative emotions like fear, sadness, and anger.”
Samples, now 48, was first diagnosed as bipolar in college, after several years of being misdiagnosed with clinical depression. Going through a divorce in 2005 triggered a suicide attempt. I have survived that, and for years experienced the cycles of ups and downs typical for those suffering from chronic mental illness.
“Especially with bipolar people, you can feel good and ‘get well’ for a length of time and start to think you don’t need the medication anymore,” he explained. “Eventually I realized, if I stop taking my meds things are always going to get bad again.”
Despite his challenges — and he admits, partly because of the manic bursts of creativity typical of his condition — Samples has carved out a busy and full life for himself. In addition to his creative efforts and day job at Gibbs Die Casting, he is also a martial arts instructor with an 8th degree black belt in Shaolin Kung-Fu and owns Nine Dragons Kung-Fu studio in Henderson.
Journaling has been an important tool for Samples in dealing with his condition. He has filled up piles of notebooks over the years and says he is “constantly writing,” so much so that he often finds himself surrounded by Post-It notes. He uses that writing as a way of gaining emotional perspective on those bad days and says it’s those bad days exactly which teach him life’s most important lessons.
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“Journaling helps me to put some order to all these chaotic thoughts I have,” he said. “It’s my way of not getting lost in my own head. When you’re dealing with all this extra emotion things can get so distorted. When you’re having a bad day it seems like the worst day you’ve ever had.
“Looking (at older entries) gives me perspective; I can go back and see that it wasn’t as bad as I thought back then, so I understand that whatever I’m going through in the present is probably not that bad either. ”
The journal’s gothic stylings are tempered with a sense of irony and whimsical illustrations (think Tim Burton), a trademark that can be seen in Sample’s other published works: “Wee William Witchling” which is a dark fantasy novel with an accompanying set of tarot cards ; and “Parliament of Rooks: 13 Tales of the Victorian Wyrd,” a collection of macabre short stories based in Victorian-era London.
Three characters aptly named Doom, Gloom and Kaboom are found throughout the journal’s pages, with an accompanying electronic storybook telling their stories in prose. Doom, a masked boy brought back from the dead, represents facing your fears. Gloom, a girl who inherits a position as cemetery groundskeeper when her father dies, represents dealing with sadness. Kaboom, an odd scarecrow-like creature created by Gloom’s magic de ella, represents channeling anger in a positive direction.
“It’s meant to be ironic and quirky… despite the title it’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “There is humor in these things.”
There are six pages for each journal entry, including sections for art, a system for “rating your day,” quotes from historically significant “miserable” people and a hindsight section for going back to revisit your day of misery and (hopefully) gain some useful perspective.
Samples said perhaps the most rewarding part of his creative endeavors has been the opportunity to make connections with other people who deal with mental health issues. It’s those connections, he believes, that are vital to maintaining an equilibrium in his own life and the lives of others who deal with mood disorders.
“Without those connections, the ideas in your head lose proportion,” he said. “I think we have a culture where it is easy for people to be disconnected from others; when you hear about mass shootings and things like that, it’s often the person that has become disconnected from others… I think that’s something we really need to start dealing with as a society.”
The Kickstarter campaign for “The Journal of Absolute Misery” runs through June 30.