Writing as Therapy
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We all have stories deep within us that are too painful to write about. It can sometimes take years, but memoirists tap into these stories as a way of healing. I’ve always been hesitant to do this, mostly because I’m a private person who is afraid of coming across as weak or damaged. But a few years ago I realized these hidden stories are the ones that resonate with young readers, particularly those in the teen category. And what better way to reach those readers than with authenticity?
I have one manuscript I’m still tinkering with that focuses on depression and teen suicide. And as I worked on a draft of a different YA novel during National Novel Writing Month last year, the topic of acquaintance stalking began to flow onto the pages. Strangely enough, it was only in the past year that I realized the behavior of an ex-boyfriend I had in my late teens could be construed as stalking (following me after the break up, leaving threatening notes on my car and at my home, hateful phone messages, vandalizing my house, sending friends into my place of employment to harass me, etc.) I guess it never dawned on me that while his behavior was appalling, it was also illegal. Eventually he lost interest and I was able to move on.
But I found myself in an even more disturbing situation a year later. I never dreamed that chatting with a guy in my academic department in college would teach me a valuable life lesson. I didn’t know telling him the apartment across from me had become vacant was a bad idea (he was in the market for a new place) or that I would never feel comfortable in my home (or alone for that matter, again) after he moved in. It was impossible to avoid him—he was in almost every single one of my classes. Some of those he transferred into on purpose.
There are behaviors I learned during that time that I still carry with me. I always have my keys in my hand before I walk to my car. I obsessively check the backseat of the car before I drive out of a parking lot. I lock my car doors immediately upon entering. I rarely venture out alone after dark, especially if the area is not well lit. I don’t answer my door when I’m home alone, and I had my home number unlisted for years.
This didn’t keep him from finding me on social media, and repeatedly sending me requests to “connect.” I’m still hesitant to talk about my experience online for obvious reasons.
I consider myself lucky. I survived my stalking experience with little more than psychological damage. But that can sometimes be just as painful as physical scars. But I think—I hope anyway—that living through it will help me shed light on the ways stalking can break a person down, and help teach some important lessons about situational awareness.
Do you have story that’s almost too painful to write about? Have you tapped into it for inspiration? How did it work for you?