I’ve been thinking about something a lot recently. I know a lot of kind of crazy people. And until very recently I thought that I just attracted kind of crazy people–like they recognized a kindred spirit, or something. But a writing friend who I really like, and whose writing I have always admired posted something on Quirk and Quill, a wonderful craft blog by VCFA grads, about her experience with depression, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.
I had no idea that she struggled with depression at all, let alone that it was such a big part of her life journey. Another writing friend a few months ago let me know that she had struggled with strong Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies her whole life. Which was, again, a complete surprise to me. Another writing friend is a recovering alcoholic. I have another friend who loses (a LOT) of weight every time she is in a high-conflict situation or has to write a paper for school.
I know a woman who has been buying up and fixing property her entire adult life to make up for the home she never got out of the foster-care system growing up. Her adult daughter keeps bringing home homeless people to stay because of her guilt over having a house. Another friend, a physically powerful and gorgeous (even by society’s standards) woman, keeps going back to her drug-addicted, abusive, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) boyfriend.
And so gradually I’ve been looking around and realizing that there are a lot of us with wounds. There are a lot of us with mental tics, if you will. A lot of people who didn’t have ideal childhoods. A lot of people who are a little maladjusted. I guess I’m just realizing that the world isn’t quite so divided into those of us who are a little effed up vs. the “normal people” as I had assumed. And this has led me to a realization about myself and another realization about those of us who write, particularly for children.
Now, I don’t count myself as a particularly psychically “healthy” adult. Even after several years of therapy. There are still wide swaths of my childhood that I can’t remember. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. And when something really freaks me out, I do still occasionally have panic attacks. I will probably always bite my nails to the quick. And I am not very nice when someone scares me.
But taking stock of my life, there are a lot of things that I do that probably do at least in part stem from my childhood wounds and brokenness. And they just aren’t all bad things. For instance, as a child and adolescent I constantly immersed myself in fantasy worlds. It was definitely escapism, but now I write fantasy. And I am also an avid reader. I read EVERYTHING. I read fiction, non-fiction, Physics textbooks, philosophy, theology, memoir, poetry, graphic novels, fantasy, science fiction, actual “literature”, history, cookbooks. You name it, I pretty much read it. I know that I use books to create distance between me and the external world. But really, how problematic is that?
OK, also: I collect advanced degrees. Seriously. I have a BA in Physics from Wellesley College, an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, and I’m about to have an MA in the Liberal Arts (AKA, the Classics) from St. John’s College. And there is a good chance that I will get a PhD in Cognitive Science or Neuroscience or Philosophy after this. Now, school is a safe haven for me–it was always the place growing up where I felt safest. Now considering I also have HUGE Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), school hasn’t actually always been easy for me, but it is safe. And the fact is that I am and have always been intellectually curious. So is it a bad thing that I keep studying?
And I’m hypergraphiic. I write all over everything. I keep like 6 journals for different things at the same time. (Literally: dream journal, “journal” journal, song/poetry journal, writing journal (which is separate from poetry journal), class journal, I may even keep a “romance” journal, but I won’t admit to that, oh and there’s the journal that I sketch floorplans in (kind of a lot), and there’s the computerized writing-process journal that I keep on Scrivener.)
I’m sure all of this writing gets traced back to my brokenness somehow, but it’s definitely got its uses. Hell, I bet even the fact that I constantly walk around singing can be traced back to my brokenness somehow. (I’m singing as I write this, in fact.) And that I wear men’s clothing . . . I mean, it’s probably all got its roots back there somehow.
But there are worse things I could do to cope. I mean, it’s not drugs, it’s not alcohol, I’m not a sex-addict. Even my feeble adolescent suicide attempts never went beyond trying to throw myself out of a window that was only about six feet off the ground anyway. So I guess I count myself lucky on that score.
But the things that I do to make my life livable aren’t just not-that destructive. Some of them are downright good, I’d say. My writing, for instance. I wouldn’t keep this blog if I didn’t think that sharing my personal experiences struggling with all of this couldn’t be useful to other people and to the children we work with, ultimately. I wouldn’t write fiction (or non-fiction) at all if I didn’t have deep deep wounds that I’m trying to make sense of. And sometimes what I write is beautiful (usually probably not, but that’s OK).
And I think that that’s the case for a lot of people who create. A lot of you who read this blog. A lot of you who write. We have deep pain that we don’t often talk about, but it never really goes away. So we write or we sculpt because we keep trying to make sense of it, to try to tame it. To create something that will be a salve somehow. We do this because we are broken. But that’s OK, because it’s beautiful. And maybe that’s what it means to be strong in our broken places.