Of course, I said yes when Anyes asked me to write a guest post for her. How could I not? She’s been a faithful and supportive friend of mine for years, reacting with empathy and understanding to every event, great or terrible, I went through.
I asked her if she had any topics for me in mind, and she essentially told me to write about whatever I wanted, though she was hoping for a story about either my journey with writing or my journey with mental health.
Both are important to me. One is significantly more interesting than the other. I waffled for a few days, trying to decide what would be worth writing about.
But here’s the thing: my writing and my mental health are inextricably linked. Neither journey would have evolved on its own without the other.
My writing started with journaling, simply jotting down all the rambling, weird, nonsensical thoughts a seven-year-old might have. Mostly, I wrote about the family cat. With absolutely no coincidence whatsoever, at the same age, I became severely depressed and began to retreat from reality into the safety of my mind.
My mother noticed a natural talent in me and fostered the creativity by giving me a topic and having me write a paragraph. Maybe she was trying to connect with me. Maybe she was trying to pull me back to reality. Maybe she was trying to educate me. Maybe she was trying to make me feel better. Whatever her reason for these practices, she set me down the path to writerhood. Despite her best efforts, though, I remained withdrawn and apathetic.
I was ten when the depression finally began to clear, and shortly afterward I discovered free-form poetry to be an easy and eloquent way to express what I observed in the world around me, a world I had previously abandoned. I could let loose with synonyms and syllables, tweak cadences to change the tune, and had a fantastic time playing with rhyming schemes.
Not everything rhymed. Not everything was good. But I was having fun, and that’s all that mattered.
Poetry stayed with me through most of my preteen years. At age twelve, one of my poems made it into an anthology collection; I had to lie on the submission form and claim I was eighteen. It was a simple little thing about rivers. Not long after that, I discovered I had stories to tell, and so stories I wrote. Instead of expressing what I had observed, I began integrating the safety of fantasy with the brutality of reality.
By the time I was a teenager, I was once again firmly in the clutches of depression, though now its friends’ anxiety and complex post-traumatic stress disorder were in the mix as well. My stories became shorter, typically under 300 words, and were less traditional stories and more simple snapshots in time: a moment I wanted or wanted to remember. Or wanted to forget.
In 2012 I opened a blog, posted three things, and left it alone. A year later, I was in a godawful marriage, suicidal, and on the other side of the country from any of my family and friends.
I reopened my blog.
Short stories were heavily featured, usually heartbreaking vignettes. Good god, I wanted so badly to die. Pain is what I was feeling, so pain is what I wrote. It never made me feel better, but it was like taking the lid off a pot that was about to boil over — it made the pain manageable.
But in times of tragedy, we learn who our people are, and I found a warm and empathetic online community. In between brief tales of woe, I began to share little snapshots of my life (carefully edited, of course; nobody was to know about what I was living through). My small wins were celebrated, my losses were mourned, and my creativity was encouraged by total strangers I became to consider some of my closest friends.
That’s how I survived the marriage.
I had to stop blogging for a while after my now-ex-husband used my blogs as a way to stalk and harass me (he still does occasionally, but I’m not afraid of him anymore). In the months following the divorce, I — newly single, freshly traumatized, and still trying to find one damn reason to get out of bed in the morning — tried to write.
Tried, and failed.
The stories I wanted to tell ended up triggering me so badly I had to stop after a couple of pages, because all the characters I wrote were my ex-husband, whether I intended them to be or not. Trauma has an interesting way of reorganizing the brain, and my mind was no longer the safe retreat it once was. On every page were the hells I had lived through, and I couldn’t deal with it.
I stopped writing.
It didn’t last long.
Cyclically, as time and distance began to improve my mental health, I began to write poetry again. Freeform little things, heavily featuring alliteration, to describe what I was experiencing. Then, short stories. A little tale about a spider and a lesson in irony here, a ghost’s point of view there. Strange, often melancholic things, but I was having fun with writing again.
Shortly after my twenty-fourth birthday, I had an idea for a full-length novel. A deeply existential thing, slightly comedic, and an exploration of what it means to be alive, this was no easy undertaking. I was exercising constantly, and my anxiety, depression, and PTSD were at manageable levels — not quite gone, but the quietest they had been in a very long time. As such, the characters I wrote remained themselves, and not the devils that haunted me.
Here we are now, almost three years later. I have the first draft of a novel that I haven’t taken the time to look at since I finished it. My short stories are still my favorites and are getting longer. They’ve taken a turn for the fantastic again. I once more integrate my imagination with what I’m experiencing. This fall, I began blogging again, this time with a heavy focus on mental health.
Writing and mental illness have been with me for most of my life. Both have heavily impacted each other, and both will continue to play significant roles in my future. These opposing forces are my yin and yang, my darkness and light. As long as I can write, I can process; and as long as I can process, I can survive.