A novel by author Charlie Elliott
A Story of Panic Attacks and Love

Life Unbothered

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Life Unbothered - A novel by Charlie Elliott

"Life Unbothered is a humorous, heartbreaking look at love and life through the lens of anxiety. Anyone who has struggled with panic attacks or loves someone who has will find the story of Wade Hampton familiar and inspiring." 

"In Life Unbothered, Elliott captures the real and emotional complexities behind panic disorder and the tragedies associated with mental and physical illness. The narrative, which combines some dry humor sprinkled in amongst the anguish, holds the reader's attention with fluctuating emotions that run through the chapters."

the Story

With a broken off engagement from a high maintenance fiancée now official, Wade Hampton struggles to establish a peaceful life. However, there’s a problem… Wade suffers from panic disorder and agoraphobia, a condition that limits his ability to travel. When the pressures of everyday existence become too cumbersome, he faces a self-imposed extinction from society. 

As an intensification of Wade’s phobias almost renders him housebound, he decides to move from Phoenix to San Pedro, near his hometown in a suburb of Los Angeles. Terrified to go only a few miles from his home, Wade locates a shady unlicensed doctor to accompany him on the isolated drive across the desert. 

In California, Wade meets Sophia Syros, an unrefined raven-haired beauty from an economically challenged section of Los Angeles. He is immediately attracted to her, but a severe panic attack on their first date almost does Wade in. Her calmness and understated reaction to Wade’s attack soothes him in a way he had never experienced. He finds he can reveal his problems to her and not feel ashamed. A relationship forms between the two from opposite upbringings as Sophia agrees to help with his affliction. 

Their unlikely bond transforms abruptly to a future in doubt when Sophia is faced with a life-threatening crisis. With little support from her divided family, Wade has no choice but to tend to her. The struggle of coping with Sophia’s condition unintentionally helps Wade handle the psychological battles plaguing him. 

Life Unbothered was twice named a novel Finalist in the 2007 and 2009 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (2007 was under the title The Random Fraudulent Nature of Genes). 

 
 
 
The Writing Journey

The origins of the book started well over 20 years ago in late 1994 when a chance online encounter initiated the seed to write some novels. In the days before social media, there were bulletin boards categorized in files that covered every subject known--good and bad. Kind of like today, but in a very crude format and a lot fewer participants. What struck me is the hundreds of people, even back then, online discussing their situations with panic attacks, depression, and every medical ailment associated with the affliction. I was never one to think I was alone, but the scope of people discussing the subjects astounded me.

I went into an online anxiety bulletin board and befriended a girl who was a freshman at University of Texas in Austin. She was reaching out for guidance on severe panic disorder. Her brutally honest posts and cries for help moved me, and though I struggled a similar fate, she was at a level I had not experienced. We eventually broke off into our own little “room” (like the way direct messaging works today) and our conversations elevated to intricate and enjoyable. It didn’t drift to relationship or have any romantic overtones, it was more focused on how to cope. In today’s terms with all the wacky things occurring online, I wouldn’t know if she was actually real or not, but I surmised through our conversations that she would have to be real---or armed with quite a bit of knowledge. Either way, we helped each other. Though I was always a somewhat functional anxiety sufferer, she was sliding down the mental slope to lifelessness. She encouraged me to write a book, and so in the coming years, I did.

Months later, I moved from the Los Angeles area to Louisiana to be with my terminally ill dad. I was about 30, not married, no kids, so I had the freedom to pick-up from California and go spend time with him. I thought we’d have a couple of years together, but he passed away six months after my arrival. No one  knew how sick he was, but in retrospect, the preciousness of time unfolded before I realized. During those idle days sitting with my dad, I outlined a trilogy of books called, “The Panic Series” (which is now being used by another author, so I’ll have to rename it). This was a rough outline of chapters, dictations transferred to type, and notes from people I’ve met in my life.

After my dad’s passing in 1995, I had to figure out how to make a living in Lafayette, Louisiana, a smaller city dominated at the time by the oilfield industry and the lawyers who served it. I wasn’t experienced in the oilfield, and never passed a bar exam, so my options were limited to make a decent living. The Internet was in its infancy and offered wide open opportunities, so I went to work on a business model. The end result was an online franchise marketing business for franchisors to field potential new franchisees who wanted to go into business for themselves. After a couple of lean years, the business, along with the online marketing industry in general, took off and cash flow materialized. The marketing timeline was: 1995 - potential customer says, “Why do we need to advertise on the Internet?” Me: “You will have to someday, call me in a year or two.” 1996 - potential customer says, “We are building our own website, why would I need to advertise?” Me: “Call me next year.” 1997 - potential customer calls, and becomes a client. That’s about the way it happened in a very abridged version. I ended up owning and running over 300 segmented franchise marketing portals all feeding into one main site.

The long hours of running a business meant my novels would have to wait. I ended up selling the company and in 2005, I had time to sit at the computer and start writing the story in complete form. The final product of the first work, Life Unbothered, took about five weeks to write since I had done most of the outlining ten years prior and the words just flowed (with additional weeks added under the guidance of a very skilled professional editor). Upon completion, I didn’t know if I could even be considered a writer, if my words would resonate, so I started signing up for writers conferences in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida and elsewhere in the region to mingle with other authors. At a majority of these events I attended, my writing sample was chosen for reading. I thought this was odd and surmised only one or two people actually submitted work, that’s why I was chosen most of the time. I learned that was not necessarily the case, there were more than just a couple of submissions.

From these conferences, I learned the next step was to get an agent, so I armed myself with a list. I kept an Excel spreadsheet of all I queried, and noted the rejections that followed. After that, I went to publishers, and the spreadsheet got larger, so did the rejections. It became an ungainly-looking Excel file that scrolled down over 700 rows and the columns swiped right past the standard alphabet to the BB cell.  Concurrently, I entered writing contests to try to amass some self-esteem, because getting representation appeared to be a game I didn’t know how to play.

I had some success with winning some obscure contests, I don’t even remember what they were called: something like, Northwest Iowa Farmer’s Writing Contest, or East Panhandle of Texas Writer’s Conference contest. No offense to certain areas of Iowa and Texas, I love both of those states and that isn’t even what the contests were named, but they were probably ones with very few entries. At about the same time, I entered the William Faulkner, William Wisdom Writing Contest in New Orleans between 2006 and 2009. The first time I found out I was a finalist in the novel category I thought it was pretty cool and hoped it afforded me a bit of clout in the publishing world. After speaking with authors, they said that was quite an accomplishment due to the prestige of the competition and the fact that many winners/finalists are established authors. I ended up a finalist twice during that period.

In 2010 I was at a pitch session and a rep from one of the Big 5 publishing houses asked for the manuscript. Through subsequent correspondence, she said it was probably a “go” for one of their fiction imprints. Then I didn’t hear anything for about six weeks only to find the rep had left her job to work with another large publisher under a totally different imprint, and my book would not fit within this other company. So... I filed the story in a hard drive where it sat collecting dust for five more years.

By this time, self-publishing was a very well-established platform, but I knew I didn’t have any marketing or distribution power to sell a book on my own and opted not to do it. In 2016, instead of letting the story sit into oblivion, I broke down and decided to re-edit the story, update it, and prep it for possible self-publishing. It’s then that I happened to query a publisher in Texas at the same time and they accepted the manuscript -- a ten-year odyssey to get the finished book to market.

Oh, and the girl from the bulletin board all those years ago... I wish I had an intricate, interesting ending to tell. But she disappeared and went offline days before I was going to grit it out and make a drive to Austin from Louisiana to meet. I never knew her fate and hope she survived, but she gave me the inspiration during our conversations to not only write, but to share the stories.

on anxiety & other disorders

Life Unbothered is a work of fiction, no scenes in the chapters actually happened. Though the story is steeped in my personal struggle primarily with panic disorder and depression, especially the internalized feelings of the main character mingled among personal situations I faced, most notably, true loved ones who died in the prime of life, people who meant so much. In addition, there are other psychological subjects in the book such as agoraphobia and OCD, all conditions that can alter individuals beyond what a normal life should be.

There are scores of great novels dealing with the subject and it’s fascinating that the symptom descriptions are somewhat similar throughout many of these stories--thus the classification of anxiety as a disease. What I found is that many of these books are based on females in their teens or twenties. Less plentiful are anxiety-based novels in which the protagonist and narrator is an adult male; this seems to be a rarer occurrence. Through my travels in the panic disorder underworld, males with panic attacks tend to fade away in a slow burn, become alcoholics/drug addicts, or just ramp down their lives to some lower form of existing---quite a few don’t survive. In a weekly anxiety group session I used to attend in Pasadena, there were a dozen people, I was one of two men in the group. Before a session one week, I struck up a conversation with the only other male participant. Besides the unusual darkness in his eyes, I didn’t notice any difference in his demeanor. He was in his thirties, had a nice job and a great wife. He ended up not attending that night and left the meeting before it started. I noticed he wasn’t there the next week and the doctor pulled me aside to let me know he didn’t survive... he killed himself.

The symptoms and struggles are alike no matter the gender. I suffered through the experience for 20 years (with a couple of bright spots along the way) and ceased all medication when I was in my early-thirties, resigned to live with the shadows of my affliction. Eventually at about age 40, I just grew out of anxiety... or something. I have no medical explanation, but I guess I survived long enough to the point where my brain just got tired of doing it---my existence outlasted the condition. I had built my adult life, my career, my relationships based on anxiety disorder. For the sufferers out there, if there were pills we could’ve taken that would have wiped it all away, then there would be no discussion. But like some physical diseases, there are remedies, but no sure-fire cures. So if you are having problems, ask the questions you need to ask, surround yourself with those who understand and can help. But most of all, believe in yourself and amass all the useful information available so you will know that it is not hopeless, it’s an interesting life and make the most of it.

Author

Charlie Elliott grew up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and attended the University of Arizona where he received ​​a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a degree in Marketing. Charlie has done many things in his career from being a commodities broker, to being broke, to being one of the earliest Internet leading marketers. As the founder of successful online business portals such as bison.com, Charlie is best known as an entrepreneur and businessperson. His passion has always been to work hard—while having fun.

LIFE UNBOTHERED was twice named a Finalist in the 2007 and 2009 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (2007 was under the title The Random Fraudulent Nature of Genes). In addition, adapted passages converted to short stories have received mentions in such publications as Writer’s Digest.

Charlie resides in Lafayette, Louisiana and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Feel free to follow the book on Twitter @Life_Unbothered and Facebook: www.facebook.com/LifeUnbothered 

 
 
connect

Although I'm on practically every social media site, I concentrate more on Twitter and Facebook for my posts. I enjoy connecting with people on social media. Please follow, like or message on Twitter @Life_Unbothered or Facebook.

 

Email: lifeunbothered (at) gmail.com

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Book Signing at 
The Little Book Store

Jul 3, 2023 at 7:00 pm

500 Terry Francois Street San Francisco, CA 94158

 
Sample

Life Unbothered

Chapter 1. A Fine Arizona Morning

What should have been a desolate drive had turned out to be a postcard-perfect April morning. The sun peered over the McDowell Mountains to the east, not yet ready to lift the cool blue shadows shrouding the inert desert paradise. Immersed in the landscape of shifting pastels and crisp, sage-scented air, I was periodically forced to remind myself of what I was looking for. I was looking for a place to kill myself.

     My BMW glided along a straight undulating road at eighty miles per hour, creating a roller-coaster effect as I headed north of Scottsdale, away from the greater Phoenix urban area. The intermittent sound of pebbles pelting the wheel wells began when I slowed the car and made a random turn down an unnamed, unpaved road.

     “Wade, where are we going?” Pamela Wains, my fiancée, asked in an annoying high-pitched tone.

     “I’m going to hell,” I muttered.

     “Wade, that’s not funny. Don’t be an asshole. We’re getting married in two weeks.”

     I started hyperventilating and pursed my lips to absorb the apprehension. I looked up nervously at the clear sky through my windshield and pondered events that brought me to this state. The insistent gravity of my thoughts seemed to press me deeper into the car seat.

     “So where are we going?” Pamela asked again.

     “I’m not quite sure. I’m looking for a place.”

     “We’re out in the middle of nowhere,” Pamela noted. “Are you taking me shopping or something?”

     “No shopping. Just looking for a place to rest.”

     “Are we going to a restaurant?”

     I exhaled and closed my eyes for a couple of seconds. “Pamela, do you see anything remotely resembling a restaurant out here? You’re the one who insisted on going with me. I didn’t even want you to come along.”

     “I just want to know where the hell we’re going,” Pamela screeched.  

     In an attempt to end the conversation immediately, I grasped both hands on the steering wheel and yanked it hard to the right. The car skidded sideways on the dry dirt until it left the road entirely and proceeded to execute a one-hundred-eighty-degree slide.  The tail end whipped around and clipped a large saguaro cactus. Still almost thirty miles outside of Scottsdale, the prickly giant was safe for at least a decade from the ever-encroaching metropolitan area. Unfortunately, the cactus as it existed still had to contend with crazed drivers and their personal problems.

     Dust engulfed me when I swung the door open and exited the car. As I perused the landscape through the floating haze, a mini-forest of mesquite trees rose above the outcroppings of brittlebush. A dotting of saguaro cacti stood proudly with upturned arms as if giving a greeting wave, welcoming me to my death place. I went to the back of the car to discover an eight-inch-deep gash in the cactus I hit during the uncontrolled turn. The bushwhacked green giant remained standing proud and still, seemingly content despite the fact my bumper had almost obliterated sixty years of undisturbed growth. My car appeared undamaged, but I didn’t care to check it thoroughly. 

     I crossed my arms and bowed my head after I scanned the scenery. I suddenly felt insecure, out in the open, self-conscious. Pamela bounded out of the car as I stared at a cluster of round pebbles dotting the sandy desert soil.

     “Wade, you almost killed me, you idiot,” she said. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

     Without responding, I opened the trunk to retrieve my loaded Beretta nine-millimeter pistol. Placing the gun in there the night before was the only prior planning I had done for the morning drive. I was too lazy to write a suicide note or even pay the current bills. My incomplete last will would take care of all the pesky details.

     The gun sat against the side of the trunk wedged behind the hose that delivered fuel to the gas tank. After freeing the weapon, I inspected the magazine. All ten rounds were intact, but I knew I only needed one, or possibly two if my aim was askew. I cast a stern look in Pamela’s direction, absently noting the ample makeup applied around her eyes gave her the look of a raccoon wearing false lashes.

     “You’re shittin’ me,” she said. “You took me out here to shoot your gun? I hate guns. If you’re not taking me somewhere I can enjoy, you’re just wasting my time, Wade.”

     I started walking away from my car, not sure which way to go. I was scouting for a place… an appropriate locale to do it. I walked through the low-lying desert scrub, leaving behind the narrow dirt road that had delivered us to this empty place. Out of the brush, a desert rat scurried across my path to safety. I had invaded its space, but planned to be a neighbor soon.

     I was astounded that Pamela actually followed me in silence while I walked with a gun in my hand. With every step, the friction created by her painted-on jeans made a faint whistling sound as her thighs rubbed together. The black plastic tassels strewn across her burnt orange shirt jostled from side to side casting irritating little tink tink noises that progressed with her strides. Her designer boots scraped patches of hardpan as she trailed a couple of steps behind.

     I stopped walking as a warm gentle breeze flowed around me and adrenaline clogged my ear canals. A couple of roadrunners bustled in the sagebrush a few feet off, but the beauty of the arid natural surroundings escaped me. What troubled me most was the uncertainty of not knowing whether my cerebral havoc would ever cease, and how I had come to be an embarrassment to myself and felt others around me shared the same viewpoint. Now that the decision was made to end it all, my family would no longer need to explain what I’m doing, where I’m working, or what woman I’m shacking up with. Pamela Wains could justify her cancelled wedding. 

     With my back turned to her, I said, “Pamela, I’m going to kill myself.”

     “You’re going to kill yourself now? Two weeks before our wedding?”

     I turned to her and dropped my arm, letting the gun rest by my hip. “Pamela, is that your biggest concern at the moment? I don’t want to get married, I want to die. Can you comprehend that?”

     “You don’t want to get married?” Pamela’s voice hit an uncharted octave. “Seriously!” She kicked the dirt with her fancy boot and spun an angry circle before facing me again. Sudden tears cut black gutters through her thickly applied mascara. “Fuck you. We could’ve gotten married first and then you could kill yourself if you weren’t happy." She puffed out a forced breath. "I can’t believe you.”

     “Pamela, you want to be married to a guy who’s standing with a gun out in the middle of the desert about to off himself?”

     She kicked some more desert dirt around and creased her dark brown eyebrows. “That’s it! This is the last time I get involved with some spoiled psycho idiot. You’ve taken some of the best months of my life, Wade. I’m no longer going to be nice—so go ahead and do it. I’ll keep your car after you’re done here,” she paused and scanned the empty land that rolled out for miles, “wherever the shitstink we are.”

     Fighting a sudden urge to aim at Pamela and pull the trigger, I decided to spare her and get to the original business at hand. As I lifted the matte-black gun to the side of my head, I felt the hard mouth of the barrel press against my hair.

     A crackling crossfire of troubles wracked my mind as I tried to validate my decision. I started to think not of whom my suicide might affect and the pernicious repercussions, but about how I would look, all stupid and everything, dead in the middle of the desert. It would be embarrassing, all those strangers gawking at my debrided neck and head. And my clothes—wrinkled and soiled. I would come off as an idiot.

     I heard a faint shriek come from Pamela as she tried to reinforce her new tough self. “Go ahead Wade, just get your pathetic life over with.” She kicked the ground again. “‘Don’t want to get married.’ Shit.”

     Although I was able to ignore the hard-wired trepidation that comes along with contemplating the most unnatural act a sentient being can commit, I felt a little offended by Pamela’s half-hearted objections. The plan had played out so much easier in my mental skit the night before, but I hadn’t expected her to come along for the ride. Suicide was supposed to be a solo sport.

     I pulled the gun away from my scalp and felt a breeze soothe the now-sweaty circle where the end of the barrel had been. The cartoonish image of methodically working my way up my body before blowing my head off came to mind. Inch into the cold pool, don’t dive. I pointed the gun at my left knee and winced.

     Pamela belted out a nervous laugh. “Oh, that’s great, you’re going to shoot your knee now. That’s smart, Wade.”

     I looked up at Pamela from my awkward stance in sudden embarrassment. I couldn’t even kill myself the right way.

     “Just forget it,” I said. I pulled the gun away from my knee and straightened my posture. I cocked my right arm and heaved the gun. It twisted round and round through the air for about fifty feet until there was a brief muffled sound of crunching twigs—BANG! The gun discharged as it hit the ground, sending a bullet somewhere into the sky. Startled, I jumped about a foot into the air. Pamela’s fake blonde bangs jabbed her widened eyeballs as she looked skyward, her head turned as if she’d traced the bullet’s path.

     “You’re nuts,” Pamela shouted in disbelief.

     Having no interest in retrieving the gun, I started walking in the direction of my car, blindly backtracking the same pathless route. Pamela just stood in place, refusing to join me.

     I looked back at her while still walking. “Are you coming?”

     “You’re fucking nuts. I wouldn’t go anywhere with you.”

     I stopped for a moment. “You mean... you want me to leave you out here?”

     “I’m not going anywhere with you, you sick bastard.” Her shrill voice echoed to the hills.

     I shrugged my shoulders and continued back to the road.

     When I got to my car, I hesitated before opening the door and saw Pamela standing a couple hundred feet away and not moving any closer to the car. She was standing her ground and feverishly fingering her cell phone, probably letting the texts fly. I am a sick bastard, I mumbled as I got in the car to begin the drive home. Alone.

 

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Life Unbothered - A novel by Charlie Elliott