I met up with an old friend a few weeks ago. We chatted about a lot of things, reminiscing and swapping stories, and she mentioned she hadn’t seen any blog posts from me in a while. “Have you been too busy being happy?” she asked, smiling.
And I cried.
Because for seven months, that was the case. After years of loneliness and sadness and self-doubt, I had a boyfriend. A real, wonderful boyfriend who I adored. And that meant dates, doorstep kisses, tight embraces, in-jokes, late-night chats, hours and hours of eye contact, whispered promises, smiles, squeezed hands, ‘I love you’s, and a feeling of happiness and safety and worthiness I’d never, ever felt before.
And then he broke my heart.
Heartbreak. It’s such a simple, innocuous term for something so destructive, so devastating. It conjures up the image of a cartoon heart with a crack in it, when the reality is a raw, bloody organ riddled with barbed wire, where every heartbeat rips and tears and twists that flesh, more and more, with no way to make it stop. Constant. Unending. Inescapable.
I cried constantly. Couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t drag myself out of bed in the morning. And if I couldn’t do those basic human things, if I couldn’t even take care of myself, how was I supposed to write?
But weirdly and completely unexpectedly, writing was the one thing I could do.
Writers, just like all creatives, deal in emotion. I don’t believe that we’re all troubled souls or plagued by mental health issues, but there’s something about us that helps us see the world differently. Maybe we feel things more deeply, or maybe it’s just that we can put these thoughts into words or music or pictures better than most. Whatever it is, we have it. I have it. And a few weeks into the worst depression of my life, I found a way to use it.
During one of my many searches for heartbreak help and advice, I stumbled over a comment on Reddit that was exactly what I needed to hear. I’ll never be able to find the link, so I’ll have to paraphrase:
“You only experience heartbreak — real, deep, core-shattering heartbreak — a few times in your life. So let yourself feel it. It’s rare.”
In a sea of “everything happens for a reason” and “you deserve better”, this stood out to me. Because it wasn’t telling me to get over it or shrug it off. It wasn’t trying to placate or comfort me. It was honest. And as a writer, someone who hopes to move people with my words, it led to an epiphany — not just for me, but for everyone experiencing some kind of trauma.
Every negative moment in life is an emotional experience we can bank to use later on.
We’re used to imagining, to making things up. It’s what we do. But just like how it’s easier to describe a place we’ve visited before or a face we’ve studied up close, being able to recall a terrible, awful moment and the emotion that came with it will give depth and realism to our writing. Because it is real. Maybe not exactly how or why it happens in the book, but for you. The emotion is the same. And you only got there because you lived through it.
It’s a silver linings thing, I suppose. Grief, loss, death, regret, guilt, sadness, self-loathing, heartbreak — these are all absolutely horrific things. But we can’t skip them. Can’t get rid of them. So we may as well use them. And not just use them. Own them.
I absolutely hate the phrase “everything happens for a reason”. It’s corny. It’s empty. It’s an unsticky plaster meant to somehow fix a gaping wound. But as much as I hate it, there is a tiny bit of truth there — but you can only see it when you’re past it, or on the road to being past it. It’s something you have to embrace for yourself.
In a devastating way, having my heart broken is the best thing that ever happened to my book.
The story is a dark psychological thriller about a troubled young woman held hostage at home while trying to escape her own demons: heartbreak, rejection, loss. It’s always had a depressive edge to it, with several drafts opening with the main character attempting suicide — but it never sang. It never felt good enough. Somehow, it took me not feeling good enough as a person to perfect the voice, the tone, the opening of the novel. I had to become her, this rejected girl who feels worthless and used and hopelessly in love with someone who doesn’t care and never did, to understand her and the visceral pain within. And when that happened, I wrote the best words of my life.
Because they’re true.
I wish they weren’t. Don’t get me wrong. If the choice was between sad and inspired or happy and uninspired, I’d choose happy every single time. But that’s the thing: I don’t have that choice. It was made for me, suddenly and without warning or explanation. I cannot get that happiness back — but I can create my own. Stronger. Just for me. Finishing this book, getting it out there in the world — that would make me happy. But to do that, I have to embrace my sad.
Just for a little longer.
So when the worst happens — a loved one dies, you’re physically or mentally injured, you lose your confidence, or your job, or the one you really, really love — let yourself feel it. And write it down. Maybe not in your current work, but in a short story. Or just scribbled down in a notebook or on the back of a receipt. Where does the mental pain manifest physically? How does it change how you see the world? What are the things you will always remember about that moment?
From this experience, I have to say that writing is a kind of therapy. An act of catharsis. Sometimes it feels like the hurt and loss and self-hatred build and build in my veins, poisoning me from the inside — and I have to let it out. Talking to my family and friends helps, a lot, but writing… It’s an actual, physical act of taking those thoughts and putting them somewhere outside my body. They’re not gone, but in a way they cease to belong to me. They become Katy’s, the main character in my novel.
And I know she’s strong enough to overcome them, even if I can’t.
Time heals all wounds, except the ones you keep picking at.
I don’t know when I’ll stop being sad, or when I’ll be “healed”. I don’t know if today is the first in a long line of good, positive days or just a brief moment of sunshine during the storm. All I can do is keep moving forward, keep chugging through the days, and see where I end up.
So that’s my advice for anyone experiencing trauma, of any kind. Use it. Own it. Take advantage of it.
Then let it go.
That’s what I’m going to do. I can’t let my spirit stay broken. I’ll find a way to pull that barbed wire out of my heart.
However I feel in a few months’ time, I’ll come out of this with the best possible book I could have written. And even if I don’t feel like it, I’m going to try to reward myself, be proud of myself, and love myself for it.
Because I’ll know what I had to go through to get there.