How Writing Saved My Life and Gave Me Hope in the Face of Mental Illness
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
My first memory of wanting to die is pretty vivid.
I was 8 years old. I was thinking about what it would be like to not exist. To my child self, the idea was soothing and did not scare me. I quite simply wanted the pain to stop. I was, at the time, being sexually abused by an older family member and was living with my father, who struggled with alcohol abuse. I saw no hope or light. As I grew up, my turbulent home life led to me to feel more suicidal and every day was spent trying to find reason to stay alive.
At 14 years old, my long-standing but hidden mental illnesses presented themselves to me. Like the abuse, I was now being forced to live with something no one else could see — something invisible, but gripping. I had no air. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was a multi-handed beast that sank its claws and teeth into me at every turn. Major depressive disorder (MDD) was a boat that was cast into a heavy storm every few months, forcing me to sink with it. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) was a thin sheet of ice that protected me from the world, but when that ice shattered, as it often did, it would leave me vulnerable and weakened. And lastly, my friend, my protector, depersonalization disorder — she was the balloon that lifted me up out of dark situations, allowing me to float away when I was too afraid. At first I liked her; she seemed helpful, but after a while, she taught me that I’m not strong enough, not ever. She made me feel dizzy and nauseous. She’d scatter fragments of my mind across the floor, and made me crawl around on my hands and knees, trying desperately hard to put myself back together.
At 19 years old, I was tired of sharing so much of my life with these illnesses. I needed to find a way out. That’s when my suicidal feelings resurfaced. From the ages 19 to 32, I found solace in the idea I could end my life at any moment. I was in control — or so I thought.
I attempted to end my life on a few different occasions. Each attempt was followed by guilt and despair. Feeling hopeful after a suicide attempt is hard because, while I might be alive, I knew with certainty that the suicidality would still be there, just waiting for me to feel it once again. It lingered like a ghost.
Last year, I worked hard to make positive steps towards changing my life. I started therapy and found out it wasn’t what I needed. I tried medication — a few different ones — until I found the right fit for me. I took up old hobbies again, such as photography and I even started my own literary journal, which I’ll get to in a moment.
This year, I restarted treatment with a new therapist who specializes in my type of OCD. I found him to be the perfect fit for me and that therapy is exactly what I need. After some really hard events at the beginning of the year, I learned that I will never be a perfect person and I need to stop trying to be. I learned that people change and grow apart.
The biggest lesson of all though has been to trust myself in what I want. I’ve learned I should not hold myself back, not ever, and I should stop chasing my dreams and instead start living them. I got in touch with my biggest dream of all, the one that has always been there, before the abuse, before the monsters showed up, before any of it. I started writing.
It wasn’t until I started writing that I asked myself the question: what if I didn’t have to end my life? What if I could instead take my life back from those monsters? It wouldn’t be easy, but nothing this consuming and life-altering ever is.
Since I have started writing, I get up early as opposed to staying in bed all day. I fight my monsters with a pen instead of a sword. I live my fears through my writing. I am a different person to who I was just four months ago. I am not healed or recovered and my monsters are still a part of my everyday life, but I am making them pay for all of years of torture they have inflicted upon me. Sometimes they sit down with me and read what I have to say in my writing; other days they have me screaming into a pillow or sobbing, begging them to leave me alone. But by taking medication, by starting therapy and by writing, I have become a stronger, more hopeful person who is now on an equal level with her monsters.
As I mentioned earlier, last year I set up my own literary journey which was an important step in my recovery, as it meant I was finally channeling some of my feelings of emptiness and despair into something positive. I made Inside The Bell Jar with the hope that it would help others know they are not alone, that there are people out there who live similar lives to them, who are unafraid to talk about the “darkness” in which they live. I was happy to learn that the journal has proved to be a welcome addition to the literary community, because it tackles themes which are often overlooked or dampened in fiction. Inside The Bell Jar is dedicated to giving both readers and writers an honest insight into the complexity of mental illness. We do not shy away from anything because we are determined to break the stigma and the silence surrounding mental illness.
Our greatest goal is to offer something real and raw to our readers. We know living with a mental illness is a frightening, often very lonely journey. We hope to help people through that journey by publishing poetry and prose people can relate to.
In the past year, we have published fiction and poetry on an array of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, BPD, OCD, anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia. We have worked closely with writers to publish pieces on suicide, self-harm, toxic relationships and broken homes and we are pleased to announce that as of this September, we will be moving from digital to print format, with the help of our Patreon campaign. By transitioning into print, we hope to get more stories out there into the public domain. We aim to open up the narrative of mental illness even more.
Furthermore, we hope that our print journals will become staple reading material for both schools and colleges, where education on mental health is severely limited.
For as long as I can remember, telling stories has been my biggest dream. Now, I want to open up that dream to everyone else. I want people living with mental illness to discover their creative side, to find their voice and learn of its strength.
Inside The Bell Jar is currently accepting submissions for its first print issue, though you can read past digital issues on the site itself.
If you have a poem or short story you’d like to submit for publication, please check out the rules and details here. If you want to get your hands on the very first printed edition of Inside The Bell Jar, please support us on Patreon, where you can sign up to get your copy before it hits the shelves.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Ondine32