This piece originally appeared at Lidia-Anain’s SexLoveJoy in June 2011.
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~E. L. Doctorow
Ever since I was a child I heard voices in my head. Sometimes the voices talked to each other, conversations I was privy to. Other times they would talk to me directly. Until I wrote their stories, conversations, poems down they would not stop. Most of my life, the same voices never returned once I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and hashed out their messages.
When I have writer’s block it’s not because the voices have fallen silent, it’s because their cacophony is so overwhelming I cannot pick out one voice to focus on, whose story I need to tell. If you are also a writer or creative type, I’m sure you’re nodding your head and smiling. This has happened to you too, hasn’t it?
Growing up with all these people walking around in my head was tough, especially since there were no other creative people in my immediate family. My mother did her best to encourage what she could not understand, but the rest of my family’s response was that I was crazy. To this day my father and sisters insist that I am someone who should be institutionalised or at least medicated.
To them, I’m not creative, I’m mad.
I know they aren’t the only ones. I’ve had boyfriends and fake friends who have used the disbeliever’s mantra of “You’re crazy” to tear down my self-esteem and self-worth, and it worked. For years I would look in the mirror and believe them. I would silence the voices, drown them out with whatever substance was at hand. I just wanted to be normal.
The more I suppressed the voices, a.k.a. the stories inside me that ached to be heard, the more emotionally unbalanced I became to the point where all those who had called me crazy were on the way to being right. In my search for love and acceptance I quashed the very thing that makes me who I was born to be.
As the voices went quiet, my own disquiet heightened.
Every so often the voices would revolt and I forced myself to write a short story just to get them to shut up.
I met a man, fell in love and got married, all in the span of three months. We barely knew each other and had no idea what we were getting into. Aside from our cultural differences (Third Culture Kid vs. American), we moved countries within 6 months of our marriage, and the first couple years were as hard as hard could be. I was still denying the voices their place in my life, although as I began relaxing into my partnership, I built them a little corner and gave them some of my time to actually listen and see where they fit in.
My husband was the first person to *not* call me crazy, even when I was in fact acting as such. I don’t even think he realised he was doing it, but on some level he was figuring me out. When is she calmest? After she’s written, or painted or made something with her hands.
Two years in, our third country and we finally started getting into a groove. I let him read the novel I had written ten years before and he started encouraging me to brush the dust off and get it out to a publisher.
“Really?” I thought, “He thinks I should publish this? He doesn’t think I’m insane? He doesn’t regret marrying me? What were all those people who called me crazy talking about?”
With his gentle and constant reminders I came to agree that it was a book that needed to be in the world, if for nothing else for me to finally finish it and put it behind me.
“In fact,” he said, “Why don’t you just work part-time so you can start writing other books.”
My mind reeled at the possibilities! This dream I had since I was a child, the one that had inspired such scorn and derision from so many people, the one I had buried away rose and took over.
So many of the voices in my head were the characters I created ten years before and they were the ones who had been bugging me all those years. I didn’t even recognise them! The original ending of the book was apocalyptic, reflecting a horrible trauma I had just been through when I wrote it. I changed the ending so that a number of characters survived.
I self-published the book for the simple fact of just getting it out there, a whole lot of work that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
And then, the most amazing thing happened:
That unfinished writing project closed a door and opened a floodgate. The voices, instead of fighting for my attention, got in line and waited their turn as I churned out stories, screenplays, political opinion, feminist theory, poetry, an anthology proposal, and the start of a series of sequels to my first novel – there are three in the works as of right now and counting.
Marriage agreed with me and my voices.
Unlike many of my other relationships, my husband did not abandon me when the going got rough. He figured out what I had repressed: that I need a creative outlet and I’m not healthy without it. He does not complain when we have to tighten our financial belt because we only have one and half incomes. In fact, he looks for options where he can make more money so I can write full-time.
Just the other day we were at a friend’s house, surrounded by a group of people who didn’t have a single successful marriage or partnership between them. As they wailed on about how relationships suck and yada yada yada, my husband and I turned to each other, kissed and vowed never to turn into such cliches. It seems that being happily married these days isn’t all that interesting to people, and instead it’s the drama of toxicity that gets people off.
I’m a strong woman, yes indeed, and a proud feminist. But I am made even stronger by my marriage. And a great deal of that I owe to the simple fact that my marriage is the first place I’ve ever fully been able to express all the facets of who I am.
There would be no portrait of this writer had I never become a wife.