When I was fourteen years old, I started writing my first fantasy novel. It was just supposed to be for fun.
Around this time, darkness began to eclipse much of the light in my life, in ways it never had before. Days became heavier. I wrestled with monsters mired in my brain and writhing outside it. When you’re hit with enough pain, your body and mind find ways to break it into smaller pieces, the way a mother bird chews food for her young. To lighten the load. Still, these pieces branded every inch of my flesh, even in places I couldn’t reach, places I wouldn’t discover until years later. I felt sluggish, mucky, burdened. And afraid. Always afraid.
Throughout all this, I was writing my fantasy novel. My pain began to bleed into my writing without my knowledge. By accident. It was the happiest accident of my life.
Write, write, write. That was my answer to everything. In my fantasy realm, my parents’ divorce became two nations at war. Abusers became villains. A broken relationship became a fiery betrayal. Mental health issues I had no name for became, well, mental health issues my main character had no name for. She invented her own. So much of the time, even as I ventured into book two, and then book three, and then book four, I had no idea I was writing about myself.
I’m not sure how I would’ve made it through my teenage years without my words. Without these stories and these fictional people. In the real world, fear and trauma and misery lash out from the fog without warning or mercy. In my novels, I have some measure of control. By putting my characters in perilous situations—situations in which being afraid makes sense—my anxiety has someplace to go. I get to decide where to put it. I get to decide what words brand it. By digging into my characters’ distress and prying it open and describing what I find there, I get to say to my depression, This is what you are. This is what you look and feel and sound like. I bear witness to you, and my testimony is the greatest power I have.
I am now a twenty-five-year-old woman. That first step I took as a teen was formative. Tonight, I will continue work on book number six. Different world, different characters. Same method. Same dumping ground for my trauma. Same mode of survival. Maybe one day, my books will be published. Maybe not. As much as I hope for it, that’s not what truly matters here.
Every day, my expression rescues me, over and over again. I don’t know how else to live. It’s still something I struggle to be proud of. But it gives me hope.