Writing As Therapy…A Beautiful (Obsessive) Mind

I'm one of those people who has an obsessive mind, which might explain how I'm able to write full novels in a short period of time. I focus on one thing really hard, and I have to get it done, resolved, or taken care of before my mind can rest. Once I fixate on something, it's pretty difficult to get anything else accomplished in my life until that whatever-it-is is off my plate. This goes for everything, not just writing projects: needs, wants, desires, tasks…you name it…once it's on my radar, it doesn't come off until I've dealt with it in one way or another.

Sometimes this obsessive personalty issue is a great thing (lots of books!), and sometimes it's a not-so-great thing. Recently, I realized just how bad it can get, to not be able to let something go from my head.

On March 23, 2017, my son's godmother and a dear friend of mine took her own life.

She was one year older than me at 49, and had three beautiful children, one of whom is named after me and another who was born a few days before my middle child. The day my friend called to tell me she was pregnant with her third child, I was dialing her number to tell her I was pregnant with my second.

Since I found out about her suicide, I have not been able to think of anything else. I can't work, I can't eat, I can't sleep. I cry randomly throughout the day. I'm up at 2 a.m. every morning feeling lost and confused, without purpose. I cannot even imagine how her children or husband are managing. We have so many questions, and the only person who can answer them is gone. This is not the same grief I suffered at my grandmother's passing in February. She was 96 and died of old age; she lived a long and adventurous life. But my friend cut her own life short when she was healthy and young, with so much to live for. It didn't make any sense.

Yesterday, one of her daughters asked me to tell her some stories about her mom, things I remembered about her, something she could share with her siblings. They want to know her as much as they can, since they will never have the opportunity to learn more about her firsthand. It broke my heart to think of my own children needing to go to near-strangers to know me. And it took over my brain. What could I tell them about their mom that they might not already know? That they would want to know? That they should know? And what should I keep from them…memories their mom might have preferred to keep to herself?

I'm in the unique position of having known their mom as a non-family friend in her younger years, when we were in our early 20s, before I had children and when her first two were very young. Her life was very different then. I was one of the few people outside her family circle who knew her well. Being a stay-at-home mom for most of her younger life, she didn't get to meet many ‘outsiders' and connect with them on a very personal level. I was definitely an outsider; I came from the other side of the country with a different mindset and attitude than she was used to. We bonded immediately when we met at a company training where we'd both been recently hired. We were kindred spirits.

I couldn't get her death–her choice to take her own life–out of my head. I couldn't get the conversations we'd had out of my head, the memories, visions of her face, her laughter. The reel of our friendship was a loop going round and round and round. I kept asking her spirit: why, why, why did you do this? How could you? What happened? But I didn't get any answers. I was hoping beyond hope and praying that her ghost would appear and tell me it was all going to be okay, to explain…but the only thing going on was that loop in my head…still going, going, going. My obsessive brain was functioning at full capacity. It was 2:30 a.m. and I was up again, my mind unsettled and my heart hurting. There was only one thing I knew how to do at that point, so I swung my legs off the bed and put my feet on the floor.

I'm a novelist, and since writing is what I do, I got up and walked into the next room to face a blank screen and a blinking cursor. It didn't take long before I started hammering away at the keyboard. After the first few words were put to screen, more came. Memories rolled out of the deep recesses of my mind covered in dust and grit. I remembered things long forgotten. A clearer picture of my friend began to appear, one that hadn't been there in the days since learning of her suicide.

Maybe it's natural to think of only the good things you miss about a woman and how kind and selfless she was when you hear of her death. You easily forget the more human side of her, the fallible side, the one that's not as shiny or perfect. My first thoughts of my friend created a one-dimensional view of her that made her passing that much more tragic in my heart. How could such a selfless, lively, beautiful person choose to end her life?

But as I wrote these things down, these events and conversations we shared, a slightly different picture of my friend emerged…she took on more dimension, more depth. For the first time, I saw more clearly the sadness she carried in her life, even all those years ago before we had wrinkles and sagging body parts. I saw the things I'd missed or dismissed as inconsequential details of a ‘normal' life because I'd been so wrapped up on my own little problems. I saw that my friend had been depressed for a really long time, that she'd put everyone else's happiness ahead of her own, but had cleverly covered up her pain with jokes, laughter, and casual comments meant to brush away concern.

For women especially, this world can be really tough. We are trained from early on to sacrifice for husband and children, to put others' needs first, to suck it up buttercup and to not persist or resist. To not sacrifice means to risk social castigation and pariah status with family and friends. How many times have we heard these words attributed to women who prioritize themselves or stand up against poor treatment: selfish, bad mother, bossy, abrasive, slut, nag, aggressive, shrill, neglectful? There's a price we pay for playing along, because we are only human. No one can keep on taking hits to the chin and not eventually fall to the floor. And if you fall to the floor enough times, you might just choose to stay down. It's called survival.

I think my friend chose to stay down for years and years and years…and then couldn't get back up again, even with the help of religion, family, and friendship. Not that suicide ever makes sense…I don't want to say that…but after I wrote that three-page commentary on our friendship, I began to see how a person might become quite sad with her life, how she might look back after 49 years and feel a depression set in that no amount of love for children, God, or family could overcome. To lose oneself is the ultimate death. I believe my friend felt like she had already died somehow, that whatever life she had left in her wasn't worth anything anymore. She was wrong about that, but now I can imagine how she might have seen it that way.

I am left with a feeling of remorse so profound I cannot adequately express it in words. I grieve for my friend and the loneliness she endured, even while surrounded by loving family. I grieve for her children who will have to grow up and continue on without her, with questions that will always remain unanswered. I grieve for her husband and family members who will no doubt question whether they could have stopped this from happening. And I'm angry at myself for not being a better friend, for not reaching out more often, for not staying in touch with the wonderful person who I connected with so very long ago.

And yet, I have a greater understanding of her as a person and the choice she made, through my own writing. It's helped me to see why she might have chosen to walk away from the pain instead of continuing to fight against it. It doesn't make it less sad or less tragic, but it makes it easier for me to understand how a person who has so much, can sometimes feel they have so little. It's helped me sleep an extra hour tonight, and it's helped me to see my horses standing there with their kind eyes and heavenly smell, communicating to me that it's going to be okay…we are all going to move on eventually and that's okay. I couldn't see or hear them for days, the sadness I was feeling taking over every inch of my head and heart. But I hear them now. I see what they see. Life is so very temporary. I will be with my friend again, and when I am, I will envelope her in my love like I should have when she was here on Earth with me.

The pain that has come with the loss of my friend will never go away completely, but I feel my mind coming back to my family, to my writing, and to my life. Writing through my pain has helped me realize the valuable lesson my dear friend has taught me…about the importance of reaching out to people who seem unhappy and about the importance of maintaining connections with people we love. Life gets busy, but it should never be so much so that we ignore the needs of the special people around us. And if you're suffering, why not sit down with pen and paper or at the computer and giving writing a try?

REACH OUT

If someone you care about is depressed, please don't let them suffer in silence. Here is a great website with lots of information on what you can do to help your friend or family member: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-helping-someone-who-is-suicidal.htm

If you're thinking about taking your own life, of killing yourself, please take a moment read Suicide Help or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S.. To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit IASP or Suicide.org. There are people out there who can help you. All you have to do is reach out. And if you can't reach out to any of these places for whatever reason, reach out to me. My personal email is me@ellecasey.com. I care about you. You are important. The problems you are facing right now are temporary. You can do great things with your life. I suffered from depression when I was younger and after the birth of one of my children. I made it through and I have a beautiful life that I am so very grateful for. Please don't give up. Just reach out.

 

19 comments on “Writing As Therapy…A Beautiful (Obsessive) Mind

  1. ❤ What an Amazing way of expressing things. Depression is a never quiet mind. I read your blogs and for the last 2 years your life has thrown some great tragedy. You yourself have overcome so much. Your husbands accident, the loss of your horse, your Grandmother and now your friend. I’m thankful that you have a way to “work things out” in your head. To come through such things shows great strength., often a strength we don’t see or feel ourselves. Thank you for sharing things so personal, and showing through experience, that whilst it may at times Overcome every pore of our being, it is still temporary (whether a day, a week, a year) and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel called HOPE.

  2. Elle,

    My uncle, and a close friend committed suicide within a year of each other. My friend left a note to his parents asking them to have me to do his funeral, as I have a degree in Christian ministry. That year over 10 people in my life passed away. It was by far the worst year of my life! However it was also a turning point in my life. I struggled with life and ultimately the only thing that kept me going was my faith. I realized that one day I will my family and friends who passed away again, in heaven. The last thing they would want me to do is be depressed and not live my life. Hope in the future kept me going. Life since then hasn’t been easy, but hope and my faith have kept NE going. I love what you wrote here! Reach out and help others not to follow in your friends footsteps. I’m so sorry about your friend Elle. I believe though that you will meet your friend again in heaven. Life is a journey, and eventually we all journey to the same place. I hope you can find some comfort in that. You are in my thoughts and prayers!

    John Piper

    • Thank you, John. I know I will see her bright spirit again and those who have passed and will pass before me. I’m not big on religion, but I am big on spirituality, and I know this planet and this lifetime is just a short stopping point in and endless journey full of learning, mistakes, and triumph. The main point is to love oneself and others. Everything else finds a way to work out, once you get that part right. I’m sorry to hear of your friend and uncle dying like that. It’s so much worse to me than a natural death because it is preventable. But sometimes you just have to accept you cannot do all that you wish you could, but you have to keep trying your best. That’s what I’m going to do. xoxo Elle

  3. You’re an eloquent author and a great friend Elle. I’m so sorry about your friend.
    Your blog put things in perspective for me as o have tried so many times to commit suicide in the past. At that dark moment I didn’t think about the pain my loved ones would go through. I was selfish and only thought about myself.
    Life is sometimes hard when you’re a woman because when you go through hardships you have to “suck it up”. Especially in my culture where your not supposed to “hang your dirty laundry in public”. You have to hold on and be strong.
    After failed numerous attempts to take my own life I resorted to writing reader’s letters to magazines and somehow it helped me heal. Lol and I earned some few bucks from that.
    Who knows, maybe some day I will hold the same creative profession as you.

    Much love all the way from South Africa
    Adeline Pulenyane

    • Adeline, your message made me cry. Please don’t end your life. I can tell just from this little bit of writing that you have so much talent. You could write things that change people’s lives for the better, and I promise you…if you do that…it will change yours for the better too. The world needs sensitive, kind, deep-thinking people like you in it. Whatever darkness you are suffering through right now is not going to be there forever. Hang on and when it gets hard, reach out to people who care about you and suicide prevention hotlines like the ones I mentioned in the post. Help is there for you whenever you need it, and there’s no shame in leaning on people.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am glad it helped you come back out of your head and perhaps ease some of the pain in your heart.

    I lost a beautiful cousin to suicide 11 years ago. It was a painful unreal time and I questioned myself, wondering what I could have done to help her see that she was loved and she mattered and deserved to be here. It has been that long and still not a day goes by that I don’t think about her.

    My beautiful daughter suffers from depression and anxiety. Last month, she tried to take her life. This is the second time she has tried in less than a year. Luckily I was there and knew immediately what she had done. I live in fear that she might try again and I won’t be there. She is only 23, but was in a damaging relationship that has wiped out her self worth. She feels she is a failure. I have told her so many times that I wish she could see herself through my eyes. Then she would see the precious, beautiful, loving, giving, kind hearted, intelligent, silly young woman that I see. I constantly remind her of all that she has accomplished and how proud I am of her. My husband and I remind her every day how much she is loved. She is surrounded by loving friends and family. She has been seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist for quite some time. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is. It is such a hard thing to fight. She has been in a better frame of mind since she got out of the hospital and she has been better about talking to me, but I still live in fear every day that we aren’t going to be able to help her. I love her with all my heart and wish I could take the pain from her. I would gladly bear all the pain she is feeling if it meant that my girl could be happy again.

    Thank you for sharing and for caring so much.
    Sending love and hugs ❤

    • I really cannot comprehend the fear and pain you are suffering for your daughter. I have two of my own and I’ve put my heart and soul into raising them up. It seems sometimes that the world and some of the people in it are working directly against us by breaking our girls down and making them feel worthless, and then all those years we spent telling and showing them how wonderful they are seem to disappear from their minds. It’s tragic and unfair and awful and I wish I had the answers as to how to fix it for everyone. I don’t. All I do know is that you are doing the right thing. You are there for her. You are reminding her every day how important and lovable she is. You are getting her to professionals who can help her, if anyone can. I wish I could show all the people who feel like life will never be good again that the pain they are experiencing is only temporary. It feels permanent, but it’s not. That’s an illusion. Pain is an illusion. We give it power when we cease to fight against it. I wish you all the strength in the world for your journey with your daughter, and I pray that she finally sees herself the way you do so that she can realize how amazing she is. She must be, to have people care so deeply for her. Much love xoxo Elle

  5. Elle,
    I have a brother that did the same thing and I still can’t get over the guilt of not doing anything to try to help him. He threatened to do it for years until we all just started to ignore him. His situation was entirely different than your friends was but I would like to tell you your short story has helped me. Thank you for that awesome story and you and your friend will be in my prayers While I can’t help my brother anymore I can help others. What a remarkable set of words you put together to help those who might need it. You are truly awesome and I have never even read one of your books. Something made me stop to read this. Things happen for a reason. Thank you for that remarkable set of words.

    • Julie, first I’m so sorry to hear of your brother. I have 4 siblings and I know the loss of even one of them would be devastating to me. Second, I understand your guilt, but I also know that sometimes we have family or friends who seem to be perpetually sad and low, and it can be exhausting for the people who care about them. I think it’s a natural survival instinct, maybe even a healthy one, to feel repelled by people who carry darkness with them always. It’s a way of staying happy and healthy, to surround oneself with happy, positive people and avoid people who drag us down. Anyone who has done this shouldn’t feel guilty…it’s something operating on a subconscious level…basic self-preservation and survival. Talking about these things, though, helps us to see them and bring them out into the open where they can be examined and discussed, taken seriously and dealt with. We need to make conscious decisions about how we interact with people we love. Sad people need happy people to help them banish the dark thoughts. To give them hope. To show them that they don’t have to live with sadness all the time and let it rule their lives. You have lived through this, so yes, I believe you can help other people. And if you feel moved to do that, please do. The world needs more caring people in it who will make an effort to reach out and share love. xoxo Elle

  6. Elle,
    I am so sorry to hear of your friend’s tragic passing and feeling a lot selfish right now. I was looking at your site to see if you are working on any new books, because I can’t wait to read whatever it is. I wish I could offer you the escape that your books have offered me through some rough times. While my father was sick with cancer and my father-in-law was failing from a long-term illness, I often read to get away for a while. It sounds like you might need that. I know it sounds cliche, and it won’t take the pain away, but I do believe that time will help you all heal. You have been through a great trauma, give yourself time to mend. I will keep you in my thoughts.

    • Rachelle, your words are like a healing balm for my heart. Thank you for taking the time to write them down for me. Just a few days ago I got two really ugly emails from readers demanding I get off my lazy butt and deliver more books, so it’s great to know that there are readers out there like you who can appreciate the fact that I’m only human. 🙂 Sending you many hugs… xoxo Elle

  7. Thank you for sharing. I was so depressed as a young woman that I understand completely the desperate need for relief from that pain… so desperate that death can seem to be the only escape from it. Oblivion can be envisioned as a blissful place. I understand why a seemingly perfectly blessed person would seek that escape. Looking through the dark tunnel of 50 years of age can also be an important point, where one might look back and have thoughts that it’s over…. the regrets and feelings of having missed out on those things usually reserved for younger people can be overwhelming. Probably why so many of us spend so much time reading your great stories. 🙂

    • I get it, believe me. I was there too, once. If my stories can help people through those dark times, I consider myself very very lucky, to be able to participate in someone’s life that way. Regret is such a horrible thing. It should be fuel for change but often it just becomes a weight too heavy to bear. Such a shame. xoxo Elle

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your friends story and the impact it had on you and how you are working through it. I do firmly believe you will see her again. One of my favorite sayings is “We are not human beings going through a temporary spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience”. That thought helps me put things in perspective when my world gets turned upside down. Hang in there. You are a very loving friend to try to be there for your friends family and to give such careful thought about what she would want you to share.

    Teresa Schlobohm

    • Thank you so much, Teresa, for your kind words. I’ve never heard that expression before, but I love it! It so sums up what I believe to be true for our existence here on Earth. xoxo Elle

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