If you’ve read any of my previous writing, you might find it hard to believe that English was always my most hated subject. Well, it was. Growing up, I was always more of a math and science kind of guy. Numbers were beautiful; they were clean, precise, and if you knew what you were doing, you could always get the right answer. English was the opposite of that. It was too free form, too abstract; it was supposedly open to an infinite amount of interpretation, but according to my English teachers, I usually still managed to get it wrong. Trying to string words together into something meaningful felt awkward and confusing, so for most of my life I avoided it at all costs.
A Change in Attitude
Sophomore year was the first time I actually liked writing. As I got older and my vocabulary and grammar skills improved, I got a lot better at getting my point across in just the right amount of words. My teacher took notice and showed some of my work (anonymously) to the class. I already had a reputation as the class nerd, so my classmates still knew it was me. Who else would be so complicated with their writing? (Leanne was in that class, but we weren’t dating yet. I’m pretty sure my writing skills made her fall in love with me though.)
I felt proud that my writing was worth showing to the class, and from then on I put more effort into my essays. I wanted my teacher to know that I could do even better if I tried. More often than not, the class would see fragments of my essays among the examples that she presented to the class, and for the first time, I really started to enjoy writing. It felt good to finally do well at something I had always struggled with. Still, writing was strictly school-related at that point. I liked it, but certainly not enough to waste my free time on it. Free time was for video games and running.
Junior year was when things hit the fan for me. The first semester went well, even though I had started to have occasional panic attacks or thoughts of suicide. I did extremely well in all my classes, and my relationship with Leanne was great. I really didn’t have much to complain about, so when I started to feel depressed more and more often, I grew increasingly frustrated. I couldn’t understand what was happening to my or why it was happening, but I hated it more and more with each passing day. Finally, around January, I was diagnosed with depression and put on Wellbutrin, but that only ended up helping me for a few weeks before I crashed again. After my stress over ruining the bumper on my truck (I hit a fence) drove me dangerously close to a suicide attempt, my parents and I agreed that it was time for me to visit a mental health center.
The few days I spent at Apalachee Center kept me safe, but they weren’t going to help me in the long run unless I found a way to manage my depression. I started meeting with one of their therapists, and he told me that I was suffering from PTSD from a car accident I had been in last September. I didn’t believe him since I never really thought about the accident or feared driving, but he seemed convinced that the wreck was the root of my problem. He suggested that I try habituation (repeatedly exposing myself to a stress-inducing stimulus – in my case, my memory of the car accident) in order gradually reduce the fear and other emotions I was experiencing. I didn’t have much faith that it would work, and it would be another two weeks before I really gave it a chance.
Two weeks later I was in another mental hospital, and this time my condition was a lot worse. I was having pseudo seizures as often as every few minutes, and I had taken up self-harm as a way to reduce the stress. That was a cycle I knew I couldn’t continue, so it didn’t surprise me when I ended up in the TMH Behavioral Health Clinic upon my parents insistence. My case seemed to be a unique one, and the doctors weren’t quite sure what to do. The psychiatrist tried putting me on a new anti-anxiety medicine, but the pseudo seizures almost laughed in response. I was ready to give up, but since the nurses certainly wouldn’t let me check out, I had no choice but to stay and fight.
I thought that the first day had been awful enough after having the nurses rush into my room multiple times, but I had yet to receive the best news: I was going to be staying awake all night so that the doctors could run a “sleep-deprived electroencephalogram (EEG)” to see what was going on with my brain. All the other kids went to sleep that night, but I was forced to stay awake with no one but the nurses to keep me company. Within the first three hours, I had already played through every video game and struggled with every puzzle that I could stomach, and I still had at least six hours to go. I was running out of options, but I needed to keep myself distracted if I was going to avoid having more pseudo seizures.
That was when I finally decided to give my therapist’s advice a chance. I asked the nurse for a pencil and some paper, and then I sat down to write. I started off by describing the car accident in as much detail as I could; the way it looked, the way the car spun across the intersection, the way I felt as I desperately called out to make sure that my family was still alive.
It felt good to put it all on paper like that. It was less awkward than talking to another person, but it was a lot easier than keeping my feelings bottled up inside. I decided to keep going, so I wrote on and on for hours, recording everything that had happened to me since that day. I only made it to about a week after the accident by the time the sun rose, but I felt amazing. I hadn’t realized how much I had been keeping locked up inside of me, but now I could feel how it had been weighing me down.
The EEG didn’t show anything interesting, so that was kind of pointless, but I was glad that staying up all night had given me plenty of time to write. I stayed at TMH for the rest of the week, and I spent every free second adding to my “book” that I was writing. The book was named “Fall Precautions”, after the sign on my door. It was meant to remind the nurses that I could fall and hit my head at any moment, but to me it was more of an ironic reminder that I always had to keep my emotions from falling. It seemed fitting for a book title.
Sticking With It
During the last quarter of my junior year, I balanced my time between school, work, and writing. My PlayStation 4 controllers collected dust on my dresser, and my running shoes sat under my bed for weeks, but I didn’t care. Writing was the only thing I wanted to do. I would sit on my bed and type thousands of words each night, pouring out the feelings I had kept locked up for so long. It was life changing. Eventually I realized that my “book” idea wasn’t so crazy, so I started sharing my writing with the people I was close with. My parents, Leanne, and my best friend Ashley all loved it, but the input from my English teacher, Mrs. McCarthy, was the most valuable. It felt a little strange at first to trust a teacher to read something so personal, but she had been so understanding about all of the school and assignments I had missed in the past few months, so I knew my writing would be safe. She would read my new edition every time I wrote a few thousand more words, and she would help me correct the parts that needed to be fixed. Thanks to Mrs. McCarthy, I never gave up on my book, and I’ve written over 40,000 words at this point.
Of course, I haven’t written too much of the book lately because I’ve spent so much time writing, researching, and promoting for this blog, but that hasn’t been a bad thing. I’ve found that I enjoy writing about all sorts of things, not just depression, and that I can really make a difference for people with my writing. I’ve had several people tell me that my articles helped them with their own mental illnesses, and I can’t express how grateful I am to have the ability to help others like that. I always write for fun, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to write with a purpose too.
Why I Write
I do need to be honest here; math is still my favorite subject, and science is a close second. So why do I spend my free time writing instead of doing math problems or performing experiments? Well, I write for selfish reasons I suppose. It helps me cope with my anxiety and depression. Writing is sort of like sculpting your feelings; you start out with a shapeless ball of emotion, but as you write, you form and shape those emotions into something amazing. You can create beauty out of confusion. Your thoughts are not controlling you; you are in control of your thoughts. That feeling of control is what helps me stay sane. I know that if I can write about my depression or my anxiety or anything else that is bothering me, I will always have command over my emotions. Months ago, I thought that cutting would offer me some sort of relief, but now I know better. For me, it turns out that the pen really is mightier than the sword.