There’s no making sense of certain things unless you articulate them and record them in print.
What’s a story but a snapshot of the contents of our head and often heart at any given time? Whether poetry, fiction, or a personal essay, you generally have a better idea of what you’re thinking and where you stand after you’ve written it down.
While you might start out unsure of where you’re going, by the time the final full stop drops clarity has generally happened.
And sometimes, our own words surprise us.
I didn’t realize how angry I was about the commodification of everything in America until I set out to rebuild a life from scratch, word by word. I had no idea how thoroughly European I was until writing highlighted values so at odds with my adoptive country’s it’s no wonder alienation set in.
As American author and journalist Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
In my case, experiencing immigration as an organ transplant that didn’t take showed how deeply unhappy I was on this side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, tackling out loud the five years I lost to major depressive disorder helped me figure out what my heart yearned for.
And what was missing from my life.
Going from a five-year silence to making the insides of my head available to all was a strange move.
Then again, I needed to stretch my brain, my heart, and my wings to see if there was any chance I’d be able to figure out how to be a human in the world again.
And eventually take flight once more.
Absent therapy I could never afford, writing was the only way for me to do this while breaking through the isolation of depression. Although I refused to let stigma or my diagnosis define me, the only way to make this refusal clear was to make it public and out myself as mentally ill.
By showing how commonplace depression was even though my narrative wasn’t, I didn’t beg or ask for acceptance but set out to reclaim it, one story at a time.
Not just for myself but for anyone who might not yet enjoy the privilege of being able to share their own experience.
I’m lucky in so far as I had the tools with which to do it thanks to a journalism background and had nothing left to lose. A five-year hiatus killed everything including my career and the only way to get it back was to start again from scratch and do the unexpected.
So that’s what I’ve been working on since last July while trying to navigate a life that keeps imploding and going off script.
So whenever it does, I write about it, drawing up a makeshift map of my surroundings so I can get my bearings again.
No matter how painful, a feeling you manage to trap into language immediately stops being as crippling.
Take shame for example. If you’re able to get to its genesis and then consign the entire history of it to the page, it loses its power and loosens its grip on your psyche. Shame thrives in secret and silence but loathes exposure. While owning up to it is contingent on embracing vulnerability, it ceases to control you the minute you speak up.
This is why mental health and abuse narratives are so powerful. Hard though they might be to write, each story shared represents a personal breakthrough for the human who wrote it. Also, it can offer comfort and succor to those in a similar predicament by making them feel less alone.
The more we talk about what hurts, the less it does; writing can transform harrowing pain into a dull ache.
It’s something I have experienced many times.
Between being so lonely I didn’t want to live anymore and building bridges out of words toward fellow humans, there are exactly ten months. I neither recognize my life nor the person living it when compared to how airtight and impenetrable it and I were last July.
While I’ll never get the five years I lost back, I can document them so others know how to identify the signs of a complete mental breakdown.
To some of us, writing is an urge, a compulsion, and a vocation.
When my writing voice went AWOL for five years, I lost my raison d’être and my joie de vivre in one fell swoop. I was miserable, adrift, and desperately seeking solace in the words of others while unable to produce any of my own.
Crippled to my core, unable to do the very thing I had dedicated my entire life to, I was still convinced it could save me. And save me it does, but this didn’t start happening until I agreed to process major depressive disorder in print. As long as I avoided the topic or hid behind a phony pseudonym, nothing I wrote came out right and my voice didn’t sound like my own.
The moment I jettisoned all pretense, the words flowed. The deeper I dig, the easier it gets even when the topics I tackle are so painful I use tears as ink.
If you are on the fence about dipping your toes into the waters of confessional writing, please consider the relief your piece might offer to others. Not only will you unburden yourself, but your words will likely also allow fellow humans to do the same.
It is quite telling that the one piece that keeps resonating is about domestic abuse against children. I used my own experience to humanize a taboo topic that continues to blight humans well into adulthood and sometimes for the rest of our lives.
Words can free us from whatever is holding us back, from whatever is bothering us, from whatever is hurting us.
Leaving it on the page allows you to move on and grants readers permission to do the same.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.