When picking out a topic for this piece, I honestly did not want to pick a topic that related to writing in an English class because it is quite basic and boring. In general, I love to think outside the box, be creative, and do something different. I was considering discussing how lyrics from my favorite band positively impacted my mental health and changed my perspective on life. However, I realized that my impactful relationship with language began in my English class, and to me, how my relationship with language originally formed is most important. When beginning this inquiry, I took the advice from “Shitty First Drafts,” and I just wrote all of my thoughts and did not pay much attention to grammar or word choice. This was extremely helpful because instead of enduring the grueling process of perfecting each and every word in every sentence, I was able to simply let my ideas flow and put all my thoughts down on paper first. Next, I went back through the text and fixed the small grammatical errors and tried to make my word choice more descriptive and impactful. Then, I used the help of peer editing comments to fix big idea issues. The recurring themes in my peer editing comments were that I needed further clarification and description at various points throughout my story and more focus on the flow between paragraphs. For example, I went deeper into how writing became difficult for me, and I also added a few transitional sentences between paragraphs. Next, throughout the essay, I tried to use conversational language because, personally, I feel as if a story is more impactful if you can hear the voice of the writer in the piece because it feels like you are there with them. Finally, I chose to use an excerpt from one of my papers from my sophomore year English class because I believe it is the most personal and descriptive account I composed that year, which might help my readers to understand why writing impacted me so heavily.
In 2010, when I was 12 years old, my dad passed away after a second, year-long battle with leukemia. I kept everything, every traumatic event I witnessed and every obstacle I encountered, inside. Because I could not find the courage or the adequate words to talk to my family or friends, I had no way of alleviating the burden my father’s death left me. It may be hard to understand how the weight of my experiences crushed me and how the memories of my past deteriorated me from the inside out. Even I still have trouble grasping this. I developed severe trauma-induced OCD, depression, and anxiety. The death of my father also took a massive toll on my relationships with my family and friends, and my relationship with my mother became emotionally abusive while my relationship with boys became sexually abusive. My life was spiraling out of control, and I didn’t know who or what to turn to. I felt alone.
For about three years, I stayed quiet. I figured no one wanted to listen to the broken girl with a dead dad. No one really cared. No one actually wanted to know. And when I did finally meet a supportive, caring group of friends, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to them. It was partially because I had spent so many years burying my memories, and I didn’t know how to dig them up again. Another reason for my hesitation was that I couldn’t bear to make anyone feel the misery I had felt. Most of all, I didn’t want pity. I just wanted my past to disappear. I didn’t want to be the broken girl with the dead dad anymore. Soon, however, I discovered something I could turn to.
During my sophomore year of high school, I took an English class with a professor named TK. In my previous English classes, I analyzed poetry and characters from books, wrote persuasive and descriptive essays, and read endlessly. And concerning these topics, I was an excellent writer. I could and did produce top-quality essay after essay, sometimes in a night’s time. However, in this class, writing became an uphill battle. It was not because it was more difficult or because I was unprepared, but it was because he asked us to write about our life experiences. Sometimes we related it to the novels we read and sometimes we simply wrote a page or two about whatever we were feeling. I had pushed the memories of my past into a miniscule part of my brain, locked them up, threw away the key, and ignored them as best I could. But this class forced me, little by little, to pry open that box that I kept so tightly shut.
It wasn’t an easy, relaxing process at the end of which I felt relieved and enlightened. It was intensely painful to write about my past. At times, I spent hours writing a sentence and full nights writing a page. I was forced to claw my way into my brain and experience my horrific past, which I tried so tirelessly to ignore for years, all over again. And at the end, I felt uneasy, embarrassed, and anxious that someone else would have to listen to what I had been through. Little did I know, this would be the first step in my healing process.
In my very first paper of the year, which ended up being one and a half pages long and took me a full week to compose, I wrote:
I was overtaken with numbness when I saw his frail body on the sickeningly white hospital sheets. I looked into my dad’s weary eyes and, tears streaming down his face, he explained that it was his time to go without any exchange of words; for I had known his fate for weeks. After suffocating from helplessness and devastation for what seemed like an eternity, my dad whispered his final goodbyes, closed his eyes, and took his last breath. I held onto his hand—onto what little hope I had left—but soon I felt the warmth and life leave his body. (Mealy 1)
And for the first time, through this paper, I was able to share the excruciating details of the day my dad passed away. Instead of the memories eating away at my mind while looking for an escape, they were suddenly out in the world. My thoughts and experiences were finally in words that other people could comprehend, on paper, organized by paragraph.
The medium of writing, specifically, is what allowed me to open up. Confronting my past in the comfort of my own home, individually, allowed me to feel secure enough to be honest with myself and let my emotions go, whether I was crying or laughing or screaming. The process of writing itself, unlike oral storytelling, gave me the ability to choose my words perfectly so that I could accurately portray every emotion and event. It forced me to piece together a coherent story of my past and confront each and every detail, which I normally glossed over to avoid reality. For me, handing my paper to my teacher and walking out the door was symbolic of me letting go and moving on.
Before writing, I had not found a way to accurately express my experiences or make people understand what had happened in my past. To this day, I still believe that reading what I have written is the closest form of stepping into my shoes and reliving what I have experienced. In that class, I realized in order to be a successful writer, I had to pour my whole self into my writing. And for me, it was exhausting and painful. But at the time, writing was exactly what I needed. It took the weight of the world off my shoulders by allowing me to share the burden of my trauma with at least one other person and allowing me to be honest with myself. When I was writing I didn’t have to hide or censor my past like I usually did. On paper, I could tell my story unapologetically.