How Writing Saves My Life

First, let me be brutally honest. I’m a mess. There are other kinder and true things to say about myself, but it is equally true that I am a human mess. The cocktail of bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety I was provided at birth makes “functional” life pretty damn hard for me. I try really hard to be functional, and do succeed for short stretches, and then WHAM, I’m back in a depressed morass. I have an irrational singularity of thought which leaves me unable to feel the sense that today is just today, and that tomorrow could be better. Rationally and logically I know that a bad day is just a bad day. But the panicked emotional response is “what if this is the start of a bad week, a bad month, a bad year?”

I let myself be swallowed by those thoughts occasionally.  I can logically know that I’m not a terrible person, that I have mood swings, and that I struggle with pretty severe mental illness. I can logically provide both an explanation and solution for my depressive periods; the depression is biochemical, and the solution is to simply do the easy good things and ride it out because the pendulum will swing the other way, usually within a day or two. However, the emotional and irrational train of thought will say either “what if this one doesn’t end?” or “is life really worth living if you’re going to be this depressed almost every week?”

That last question gets to me. It’s a variation on an argument my brain sends my way pretty often, which boils down to “give me a good reason why your health and neurosis doesn’t justify wiping you off the face of the Earth?” This is the line of thinking, which coupled with the dysphoria I experienced for twenty years repressing my gender identity, drove me to multiple suicide attempts throughout my adolescence. I struggle to see a future worth living, and so I often give up hope. I no longer present a danger to myself because I’m aware of the trauma that any method of self-destruction would inflict on those who found me, as well as the pain I would inflict on my family, but that doesn’t mean I always want to live.

On the worst days, I day-dream about an atomic war with Russia, or some cosmic catastrophe- something that would wipe me off the face of the Earth without causing undue pain to anyone else. (Of course the absence of pain in those scenarios would be because pretty much everyone else would be joining me in death, so they’re obviously not ideal.) I really hate that these thoughts still dog me, usually in lonely evening hours or occasionally in the tedium of a fruitless afternoon.

However, there are two antidotes to such hopelessness and they are simply Connection and Purpose. Connection is vital for all human beings regardless of their mental state. We are social animals with an incredibly complex society that requires innumerable professional and personal connections to function. Most of our greatest joys come from connection with other people. This antidote I’ve become better at using over the years. I try to have a lot of friends and to stay very socially, because making connections brings me joy. It also provides me with alternatives to pondering suicide- I have many wonderful friends whom I’ve been able to reach out to in my darkest moments, to help talk me through the pain.

The real struggle for me is then the other antidote- Purpose. What motivates me, what rewards me, and what challenges me? Some people have an innate sense of drive and ambition that enables them to locate a Purpose and pursue it like a hound after a hare. I am not one of those people.

I at least know my Purpose. This, what I’m doing right now at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, is my proverbial calling. Writing is what consistently makes my life worth living. I love to learn and to experience life, and more than that I love to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. When someone reads my writing and is moved by it, entertained by it, or challenged by it, I feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. No other vocation or achievement can make me feel quite the way writing does. I love to cook and love when people enjoy my food, but even that happiness cannot lift my soul the same way as when someone says they learned something new from words that I wrote.

The trouble is in the pursuit of that purpose. I doubt myself endlessly because of my mental illnesses and frankly a wholesale dissociation during my adolescence. I doubt who I really am as a person in a world, and I frequently doubt my ability to write meaningful work at any kind of reasonable pace. It’s hard for me. It really is. But it’s getting better. Centimetre by centimetre, step by step. Writing is no longer the fantasy that I clung to for dear life through my adolescence. It is no longer just a dream, or a private comfort. It’s my reality.

If I’m lucky, others will read it. If I’m really lucky, I might get paid for it. Luckiest of all, someone will find in my words or my experiences something worthwhile. Something that makes them laugh, something that teaches them. The truth is I both live to write and write to live. I’m not here to be the twenty-first century’s F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway, I have no illusions about being a genius. Simply put:

I’m here to write, and by hell I’m going to write.

Me Writing

6 thoughts on “How Writing Saves My Life

  1. Cheers to connection and purpose. May you feel rich in both. Love you, beauty. I’m remembering sitting with you at Deena’s, seeing not only her deep appreciation of your writing and your gifts as a storyteller, but feeling that appreciation radiating from every person in that circle. I treasure you and I’m so glad you’re here and writing, Bea. Your voice matters.

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  2. You’ve got it, girl. Two thoughts: when I was suicidal, I realized that if I could kill myself, I could do just about anything else. That one thought was so freeing that it led me out of depression and back to myself. Second: my wish when I was in the throes of depression, was to be picked up by aliens. I needed to be out of the world, but still somehow helpful. I had decided that that I might be valuable to them — as I didn’t consider myself valuable to anyone else. This was all many many years ago. I worked through it as you are working through it… by writing honest, real words about yourself, the world, and how it all seems to work. Much love.

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  3. The feeling’s mutual. I know where you’re coming from. I have my struggles like you do. I think many writers and creative people tend to be plagued with self-doubt and to have many mental disabilities. I know I do. But writing saves us. That’s for sure. In a way, I think writers, artists, musicians, actors, and so forth are given a gift. It’s a gift most precious to elevate the mind’s of humanity, but such a gift comes with a heavy price. That price can be depression, anxiety, autism, adhd, schzinophrenia, etc, etc. Still, I wouldn’t trade my problems if it meant getting rid of my writing.

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  4. Raw and resonating with each of us. I have this vision that you should travel and share your journey with us. It would be fascinating to follow you in your journey

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