Tag Archives: mental illness

filling holes in the world

by Elizabeth Leggett

by Elizabeth Leggett

Today “Dispatches from a Hole in the World” – my story for Nightmare’s Queers Destroy Horror! issue – went live, so you can read it here. If you want. If you do, fair warning: it’s about suicide, so if that’s a trigger for you, proceed with caution. Mental illness is also in there.

I’ve been writing less in the way of short fiction recently – disappointing, a little, because I love the form – and I think there are a variety of reasons for that, but I think one of them is that the kind of short fiction I write has taken a darker turn, and it’s more difficult to stay in that place for any length of time. It’s more difficult to go there at all. A lot of my fiction has always been dark, but at some point, a little over a year ago and maybe more, I made the decision to finally turn inward and write things with material pulled from some of the rawest and most painful parts of my psyche. The first true result of that was “Singing With All My Skin and Bone”, also published in Nightmare. It was terrifying to write. It was incredibly cathartic. It came very quickly; I finished it in about an hour and it needed very little work afterward.

It was terrifying in part because it’s about dermatillomania, which is a disorder that isn’t much talked about and isn’t well understood – by people who don’t have it; the people who do understand it all too well. It’s an incredibly difficult kind of mental illness to talk about, because it involves compulsive behavior – which we also don’t understand very well – and because it involves self harm in a context we don’t usually see it. I hate and am not playing the Mental Illness Olympics game, but as a culture I think we have an easier time talking about self harm as a result of depression than self harm as a result of literally not being able to stop.

Enjoying it, even. As a kid I found it soothing. Painful but soothing. Still do.

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Words and scar tissue

IMG_0787This past Wednesday, my story “Singing With All My Skin and Bone” came out in this month’s issue of Nightmare. I’ve written before about the place out of which that story came – my experiences as a child with a mental illness that manifests in compulsive self-injury and the bullying that resulted from it. I’ve also written about the process of digging into that old pain and finding a way to turn it into a story, how one takes something so ugly and humiliating and shows it to the world.

A few people have told me that it resonated powerfully with them, that it touched a similar kind of pain in them. Which I’m… I don’t know that I want to say I’m happy, but there’s a part of me that’s glad, because you know you’ve written something true when people connect to it on a deeper level. And I know that reading something like that can make one feel less alone.

But I’ve been thinking about something else, in part in connection with an article my mother sent me a while ago about the fear inherent in putting your writing out into the world. It’s a generally accepted idea that the more personal the story, the more frightening it is to have it out in public.

And I didn’t feel that. Having it published wasn’t frightening for me. Submitting it to editors wasn’t even all that frightening. Once it was written, it was done, and in a lot of ways I didn’t think much about it anymore, except in as much as I took satisfaction in the feeling that I had written it well.

For me, the writing is the more frightening thing, in the fear of not doing something justice and – even more – in the fear of opening old wounds in the first place. We’re told we shouldn’t make ourselves vulnerable, and having such a personal story published is a kind of profound vulnerability, but for some reason, for me, the vulnerability of writing helped. It was a stretch. It made me more flexible, and it made stretching again less painful.

Brené Brown has a wonderful talk on the power and strength of vulnerability, how it has the ability to make one feel joy and peace and a deeper connection to others. To feel more of everything. I think that in order to write true things you have to find a way to feel things truly, and that can be terrifying and painful, but what you find under the terror and the pain is something that goes beyond writing a good story.

I’m happy with how my story turned out. I think it’s a good story. But ultimately, for me, the story is incidental. It was the process of writing it that was the most powerful.

I hope I can find a way to keep that process going.