On writing and mental illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so in honor of that I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be a writer with a mental illness.

I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) almost five years ago. Now the way it was explained to me was that there are different stages ranked 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the worst.

1. This is the lightest stage, they will have recurring nightmares, but otherwise seem unaffected.

2. They have nightmares like in stage 1 but they also have flashbacks when triggers are hit.

3. This is where the illness takes a bigger tole on the person. They have nightmares, flashbacks when triggers are hit, they also gain some other traits that look like other mental illnesses, most specifically they will have heightened senses, especially when it comes to memory. Most people remember about 7-9 items stored in their short term memory, people with PTSD will store 15-30 items in their short term memory. As well as remember more in their long term memory and be able to pull it out at any moment. At this stage the person with PTSD will also show signs of Bi-Polar Disorder and Depression. However, they can still work and live a daily life, and with years of help from a professional will be able to live a normal life.

4. The person with PTSD gets worse, more signs of more mental illnesses (that they don’t have), however it is still treatable.

5. The patient can no longer function, and most of the time…they will commit suicide when they feel like they can no longer exist as everything will give them issues.

There’s a reason why I remember more of Stage 3 than any of the others, I was diagnosed with that stage. When I was sixteen I was put onto medication for Depression. That didn’t help, it only made it worse. I spent most of my time doing “research for a story” finding out the most painless way to die.

I never thought about going through with them, since I really hate pain. But when I was nineteen I decided that I was done with the world. I was never going to make it as a writer or as anything else. (I found out later that it was the medication I was taking) So I stood outside of a friend’s house with a knife in my hand and shouted up at the heavens, demanding why I was here! Nothing was good! Nothing was ever going to be good! That’s when I heard a voice in the back of my head say: I made you! And because of that things are going to get better.

At that point I stopped taking the medications for depression, after that I stopped having suicidal thoughts.

At the same time I was diagnosed with PTSD I was also diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), what most people know as having a split personality. Now I actually knew about this one. When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend who was real, but no one believed me. I’d talk to her and she’d respond back, in time I came to call her my twin Sarah, because she spoke like me, looked like me, but she was different. She had no fear, she was assertive, she was controlling, and she took no crap for no one.

When I was about thirteen I went looking through a book of baby names. That’s when my other personality chose her name. Alexandra Lee. But her nickname was Lex.

Now the only reason why I even knew I had this split personality was because I self diagnosed myself when I was thirteen. At the time I was having a LOT of blackouts, stress will do that to you. So I googled it and found out that everything I experienced whenever Lex was most present was signs of having DID.

I even lost a whole year of my life because of this illness. I cannot remember anything that happened when I was 8. except for one day, when my brother sliced my arm open and even that was fuzzy because I had a different memory of what happened. One that I remembered most clearly. When I brought that up to my psychiatrist she said that sometimes your other personality will create new memories for you when it’s something they can’t fully block from the main personality’s mind.

After a year of seeing my psychiatrist she was able to put the two personalities together so I am again one whole being. I still hear Lex in the back of my head anytime I let the world get to me due to PTSD. “What the hell are you doing!? Don’t be so hard on yourself! You’re better than this.” But that could just be my own brain telling me that we can kick Mental Illnesses butt.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, because of my two mental illnesses and seeing a psychiatrist I am now able write any character with those two illnesses..I am also able to provide help to a friend who is writing a character with PTSD.

However, writing is hard when sometimes what you write causes a trigger. Now I don’t get flashbacks as often, however I do get a mantra of evil every now and then. “You’re ugly, worthless, stupid, an idiot, a nerd. You are such a little witch! Why can’t you be like your brother? Why can’t you do anything right!?” That whole mantra goes on. And anytime someone hits something close to that or anytime that I end up hearing that I can’t do anything right the mantra starts going on in my head. And even writing in first person when my character gets told that she’s worthless it hits me…I’m working on trying to separate it. However, it is hard.

Now that all of this is said and done, does my Illness define me? Not at all. If you ask anyone that I know if I have a mental illness, they’ll tell you the same thing. I didn’t know until she told me. Or I didn’t know until she started crying because of something that was said to her.

Your Mental Illness doesn’t need to define who you are! I have been told so many times over the past few days that I have a big heart, that I’m amazing, and that I’m a great person. And anytime I hear that, a new Mantra starts up in my head: “You’re amazing! You have a good personality! You have a huge heart! You are loved! I love you when you are you!” And hopefully one day, that mantra will overcome the mantra of evil.

Keep on writing dudes! And don’t forget to be awesome!

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