My greatest writing influencers...Marion Keyes, Emma Hannigan oh and better not forget good old depression!
I allow myself, with a certain amount of pride to feel good as I consider my writing influences. As it is only now when I truly think about it I realise, that among two particular great Irish women writers, I myself am one of my greatest influencers. No, I’m not egotistical. I’m not self-absorbed. In fact, I am the complete opposite. I have battled the demons of self-hatred, zero confidence, depression, anxiety, OCD and social phobia. They consumed me for all of my teenage years, they hung around in my twenties and tried their best to keep their dirty claws dug into my flesh in my thirties. But I eventually managed to get the upper hand. I still have depression and anxiety but now I manage them. OCD, self-harm and social phobia are long gone thank God. But I truly believe they were a by-product of my mounting depression. I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world however. I wouldn’t have swapped depression for anything else. Because at the end of the day, it became my greatest writing influence and for that I am thankful.
I first put pen to paper when I was seventeen. I was an emotional wreck, suffering from all of the illnesses mentioned already. I had no idea what I was thinking or what I was doing. My head was in a state of constant anguish and it’s only sense of government was that one cruel dictator. Depression. Though, through the dark tunnel there was indeed that often spoken about light. Depression may have done its absolute best to steer my life into hell, but somehow I managed to every now and then take hold of that wheel and swerve away from the darkness. I was one of the lucky ones.
I went on to study an Arts Degree in Maynooth. It looked perfect from the outside, yet the fact remained I still had no idea what I was doing. I was able to function as a ‘normal person’ most of the time but had no clue as to what the point to it all was. I really had no idea of the illnesses that gripped me. Yes I had been through the whole rigmarole. Psychiatrists, medication the lot. But I had no real idea of what was going on with my mind. I was told I suffered all these things and medication would help. But it didn’t. I am the kind of person that needs to know why, why, why.. Why was I depressed? Why couldn’t I feel better?
What I did know however, was that there was two forms of relief that worked for me. One, not so pretty, was blood. The blood that seeped so brightly from my self-inflicted wound. Normally created so self hatretedly by a razor blade or a piece of broken glass. The mental torment quickly lessoned as the physical sting and eventual pain took its place. One time, the cut was so deep my flesh hung from my very hand I type so eagerly with today. It was not an ideal source of relief but it worked. As soon as the physical pain kicked in the mental pain took a back seat. My focus switched. But of course ultimately, it brought more mental torment, shame and disgust for myself. So not a form of relief I recommend.
The second form of relief I highly recommend. It was by way of words. Beautiful words. On paper. So simple. Yet so satisfying. How easy it was to find relief at the nib of a pen. The words flowed so easily, they came from deep inside yet I had no knowledge of what the end result of my writing frenzies would be. Getting lost in the expression of my pain, of my fear and my loneliness was relief. More importantly it was safe. But of course I wasn’t thinking of safety back then. I was just trying to find relief.
Searching the soul and the inner most spaces of the mind for ways to express such strong emotions, such heightened feelings in a state of depression came easy with a pen in the hand. No, it may not have made much sense to those who have never experienced the same hell. But it didn’t matter. It was poetry. Poetry that had a hidden meaning and only experience of that same hell could unlock that meaning. For those who understood the emotion and the torment, the words were basic and familiar. It was like reading something that finally made sense.
My poetry became my refuge and my art. And it all came from my darkest moments in life. The most beautiful part of my poetry was the sense of pride I felt about it. Standing back and rereading the words wondering where it had come from. How did something so good come from me? I became so proud that I actually showed some trusted friends and ended up publishing some of it in the University magazine. I began writing lyrics then and again felt the same pride. It was so easy to write with such emotion bubbling inside me. I remember being encouraged to meet with one of the English professors at the time, showing him my lyrics and being told to bring them into one of the sound studios in Dublin. But of course, I was gripped by self-doubt and no confidence. So I never went in. The fear of my work being that good scared me. Surely I would not be good enough to make anything of writing. But I continued to write poetry, lots of poetry and much of it stayed hidden. For my eyes only.
Around the same time I was introduced to a book and an author who quickly became another major writing influence. ‘Here,’ my roommate said, ‘you have got to read this! It’s such a great read.’ I only ever had time for text books and it was hard enough to gather up the motivation to read them. So my thoughts were how on earth would reading a rubbish fictional book about a made up story be a good read? Surely it was a total waste of time. I hate wasted time. But then I sat down and read the first page. Wow. That was funny I thought. Really funny. So I read the second page, got lost in the third and couldn’t wait to read the fourth. All of a sudden I was hooked.
So it began. The escapism I felt every time I picked up that book. The giggling I couldn’t help control as I flicked through the pages. The feeling of something I had never really felt before…contentment! Just plain old normal contentment. How amazing a feeling that is. I sat back and read all about the escapades of the hilarious Walsh family and smiled. I’ll never forget it. Watermelon by the wonderful Marian Keyes. When I finished it, I rushed out to read her next book and her next and her next. She couldn’t write them fast enough. I realised that reading was the greatest way to spend time. It was more than that actually. It was a portal into a wonderful world of escapism. Marian opened it up for me and for so many people with her writing. I above all, loved her humour. It was me. I connected to it in an incredible way. This was no surprise really. Until my terrible depression set in, I was known so affectionately as ‘The Divil’ by my gorgeous Grandmother. The divil was her endearing way of saying I was humouors and fun. I had the ability to make her laugh. Then I lost it, I lost sight of what humour was. It was Marian Keyes and her writing that reawakened it.
Then it was only a few years later when I heard that Marian herself battled with depression! I was completely shocked! How could it be! She was the writer of such amazingly humurous fiction, she was glossy, shiny and bright and always smiling anytime I seen her on T.V being interviewed. How was it possible that such a strong incredible person could feel and experience the same hell I’d experienced? I was weak mentally and emotionally but she wasn’t! Was she? Then, I thought about it. She battled the cursed black dog himself and still managed to be the remarkable writer and person she is. I have no doubt she held the same emotions and fears I held. She felt the same torment. But she seemed to fight it. So maybe, I could fight the black dog too and maybe just maybe, I was not as weak as I believed myself to be. Needless to say, Marian became an inspiration to me for far more than her writing. She still is to this day a wonderful inspiration.
Years later my sister handed me another book written by my next greatest influence. Another wonderful woman who overcame so much in her life. Not only overcame it but wrote about it and wrote about it in such an incredible way. Talk to the Headscarf written by Emma Hannigan made me laugh and cry all at the same time. I have never been touched by cancer thank God but this book meant so much to me all the same. It made me rethink our fears in life and how we face them. And I believe her attitude could only serve to add as an extra healing property to anyone going through what she went through. She wrote so honestly and so openly but in a way it made people smile and fall in love with her writing. Her humour is also so infectious.
There is no denying that these two incredible women spurred on my love of reading and eventually my love of writing. I wanted to do the same. I wanted to play around with characters, plots, twists and turns. So I began to write a novel. But unfortunately I still did not have the confidence to take it seriously. But that was ok, as it became my hobby, my way of relieving stress. I believe anxiety needs the imagination to survive, so I harnessed that imagination for good. I fell into the world of my characters and their lives. Getting lost in writing was so exciting and so relaxing at the same time.
Throughout the years I raged war on my mental health, won some battles and lost some but learned so much about myself in the process. Although it took a while, I feel I finally learned how to manage it all. I’ve taken on board important tools and techniques to control as best I can my illnesses. I then went on to write a blog. I wanted to reach out to people who have felt hopeless at times also and of course to break the whole mental health taboo. Writing was the only way I felt I could. I’m so happy that my experiences in life have been worth something. That they have now put me in the position to tell others to ask for help. To even be able to say it’s ok, I know what you are going through. I have been there and this is what is was like for me.
So while my own experiences of depression may be at the heart of my writing influences, its Marian Keyes and Emma Hannigan who greatly influenced me to write write write. And to write in the way I want to write. So the blog is not all gloom and doom and serious, it’s humurous and funny. They gave me the courage to be me and to be honest. Their writing also gave me the passion to create my own stories. I’m working on that novel again now and this time I feel I have the self-belief to see it through.
The Write Life!
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