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I'm Mentally Ill and a Published Author

Roughly 10 years ago, a family member whom I won’t name made the following statement when I told him I wanted to be a published author:

“You have a better chance of ending up in a mental hospital in Dartmouth than you do publishing a novel.”

I was hurt and I wanted to cry. The truth was I was struggling with mental illness. Something I’m not sure he knew at the time. His comment was about the odds of being published—which, to his credit, seemed abysmally low for a small-town Nova Scotian 16-year-old girl.

In the years since, I’ve learned that my “treatment resistant depression” was actually obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that was never properly diagnosed by a rural, understaffed and undereducated mental health system. I was lost in the shuffle. Psychiatrists tried SSRIs, but the dosage was never enough to scratch the surface. I spent 10 months sick from one SSRI, and the battle was uphill for years.

I also live with misophonia (where sounds cause a fight/flight/freeze reaction) and my life was turned upside down once more—I am an outlier not often mentioned in the small yet growing body of literature on misophonia (see the literature review), and my misophonia appeared when I was 19. I’ve often called this, “crawling out of one hole to trip into another.”

All this said, and with a bit of indignant reflection, my relative was probably right. I did have a better chance of ending up in a mental hospital than I did publishing a novel. I struggled for years, despite never actually being in an in-patient facility, I had a train of psychiatrists, psychologists and then GPs who tried blends of pills and therapies.

Despite these setbacks, I am today a published author. I have written both non-fiction and fiction, though fiction writing is held closer to my heart since my proclamation of “becoming an author” was always about storytelling and my passion for fiction. Last year I published my first novel, “Acceleration.” After 10 years of what feels like a mental-illness rock climbing event, I can say that I finally feel like maybe, just maybe, mental illness can’t rob me of my identity.

Most recently I published the hardest story I ever wrote, “How We Survive Ourselves: A story about Depression, Misophonia, and Dissociative Identity Disorder.” This book was challenging because it’s about mental illness—particularly with a borrowed history of my depression and misophonia (as well as a storyline on dissociative identity disorder). I learned that my mental illness was not a detriment to my writing – in fact, it was an enriched, lived experience that could help me to tell my story (and that of others) to the world. It can be difficult being mentally ill and watching films like “Glass” or other absurdities on mental illness that miss the mark.

Sharing our stories is one of our most powerful tools – whether you’re a filmmaker, writer, songwriter, composer, classical artist or any other type of creative. The way we express ourselves to the world—neurodiversity and all— is so important. I’m proud of myself because I did have a greater chance of ending up in a “mental hospital.” I’ve struggled. I’ve overcome. I published because my personality is not cancelled out by my mental illness, and in some ways at times, it can even be enhanced.

Don’t get me wrong—I would love to not struggle with depression, OCD and misophonia. Every day is a challenge. But, the moral of “How We Survive Ourselves,” and this article, is mental illness is not something that can be snuffed out. It is a daily part of our lives. The way through is by accepting this part of ourselves and understanding that perfection doesn’t exist. You can be mentally ill and a published writer.

Image via Pexels

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