Lessons learned: writing about trauma

“Just don’t stress yourself out again,” Pat said, after I told her I’m starting to blog again.

She was right. I pushed myself too hard, before. Driven by my inner humorless German. A genetic leftover from some immigrant. She’s a harsh taskmaster. Barking that nothing good happens without a lot of work (verk). I listened. Committing myself to a lot of work for a few years, after my day job, isolated in a dark room. With only a laptop and my twelve-pound gray cat, who constantly insisted that he, not my fingers, belonged on the warm keyboard. Writing about dark memories, specifically, the four years that I was stalked. A few projects spawned from that risk. (If you’re curious about them, click the Home link on the left.)

In short, me, a dark room and a laptop. For two years. Image by Federica Capace on Creative Commons.

In short, me, a dark room and a laptop. For two years.
Image by Federica Capace on Creative Commons.

Grueling. But worthwhile. Getting readers’ emails. Saying thus-and-so post nailed this-and-that experience. Handed over from one stranger to another. Rare moments of transparency, exposing dark-tales-turned-hidden-secrets, rarely discussed in casual company. How satisfying, knowing my cockamamie venture resonated. That my words gave strength and clarity to others’ dark nights of the soul. Helped with moving on. Those times, I felt pride in a job well done. I continued writing because of them.

Despite the good results, talking about my Dark Years was draining. I was constantly afraid that my stalker would find out. Remember that she hated me. Conclude that she hated me all the more for talking about her. Decide my stalking order was just a piece of paper.

Pay me a visit.

You’d think that after thwarting my stalker once (“remember Amy, remember? the stalking order? the arrest? remember that you’re a baddass?”) before, those fears wouldn’t touch me. But, my stalker knew the law, and how to manipulate it. She also was much bigger than me. Despite her heft, was freakishly fast and nimble. My mind replaying old fears of her rushing me. Overtaking me before I could dial the police.

Leading to a constant teeter tottering between adrenaline rushing and deep sinking pit in stomach, as I continued to write and talk about her. Using constant caution, while writing. Balancing personal ethics: how to talk openly and honestly without reawakening the beast?

There were other, constant upsets. Partly from darker reader responses. The stuff every blogger, at one point or another, gripes about in a blog post. Right after I launched my old blog about being stalked, gang-stalking “victims” became my primary readers. Folks who believed the government, English royalty and space aliens were watching them, and happily latched onto a new ally. The gang stalkers left link-backs—which I never released—to their own blogs. Detailing bizarre ailments. Inexplicable surgical scars. Frightening revenge plots. I regularly kicked them off my social media feeds.

Then, a Nova Scotian con man, posing as a stalking survivor, intercepted me. I was dumb enough to exchange a few emails with him, which quickly became him badgering me about my writing. Saying I wasn’t hitting the mark. I needed to take a new course “to really help the victims.” Then suggested topics.

I quickly became impatient with him. Nobody tells me how to write. Nobody. Unless I ask you for feedback, don’t tell me how to write.

Then his victims outed him on Twitter. A mix of corporations, religious organizations, and first-person singular accounts. Providing news articles and other facts detailing exactly how this man bilked them for incredible sums of money. Tagging people he connected to. What the Nova Scotian con man claimed was “surviving being stalked from a sick and twisted conspiracy” was actually the demands of many victims, for justice.

His badgering to change my writing was likely so that he learn about a true victim’s experience. Adding validity his lies. It was frightening, recognizing that predators can actively try to re-victimize a victim (me), because I'm vulnerable. Panic started rising: four months after starting to write, and only the worst of humanity found me. If my immediate reader base was so volatile, what would happen if I continued?

Was close to shutting down everything, but a friend talked me out of it. Don’t think I could’ve lived with myself, if I had made that decision. Knowing I gained skills and knowledge from surviving a crime that frequently ends in murder and/or seriously destroying your life, in general. Plus, my inner risk-taking thrill seeker constantly overrides any sort of logic. Despite the consequences.

My inner thrillseeker gets these dumb ideas, tells me to go forward and that I'm also screwed. Image by Airik Lopez on Creative Commons.

My inner thrillseeker gets these dumb ideas, tells me to go forward and that I'm also screwed. Image by Airik Lopez on Creative Commons.

So, I continued. But that that irrational thrill-seeker side also contributed to the stress. No. It didn’t just contribute. It overwhelmed me. Thwarted the little fun remaining at sitting down at the keyboard. Dictated why my efforts were ass and needed better results. Whispered doubts about the quality of the March 29th post. Caused inner strength to plummet when Google Analytics showed that only trolling websites referred my work, and by the way, readership was down. Questioned why I decided to write about something so awful, so regularly, when the mommy blogs and kitty pictures were so much easier to digest.

That last part was actually valid. It is hard, and perhaps irrational, to write about personal trauma at the speed of light necessary to keep up with the internet. What a drain. Daily opening up trauma moments. Scrutinizing painful memories with the objectivity needed to write a good story. Overriding my screaming emotional responses.

A sane person would have used logic: bury events in the past, where they belong. Let wounds heal. Never speak of anything again.

That delicate balance between forgetting and remembering the past. Image by AndreasS on Creative Commons.

That delicate balance between forgetting and remembering the past. Image by AndreasS on Creative Commons.

But I don’t think I could have lived with myself, after making that decision. I learned a lot from the Dark Years, and have the ability to communicate it. What I solidly learned is that when you’re in trouble, needed information might be hard to get. I wanted to continue providing information that I couldn’t find.

Other friends who also wrote about The Worst Thing That Happened to Them have similar stories. About wanting to make a difference. Then, putting manuscripts aside for a spell, sometimes years, because the memories became overwhelming. Am now nodding in agreement, after writing solidly for about two years, then taking almost a year off. It was a smart move, regardless of everything I read about writer discipline and writing daily. Sometimes life thwarts art. In my case, after all the drama, my brain pleaded to be allowed to relax for a spell.

I listened. Although I wasn’t writing, I was still thinking. Processing what worked. Getting a strangle hold on the love-me-love-me-love-me irrational side. Adding restraints. Coming up with a better game plan for writing about the tough stuff. Circumventing another burnout point, forcing another year off.

Doesn't hurt to think for a spell before charging in where angels fear to tread. Image by Christian Weidinger on Creative Commons.

Doesn't hurt to think for a spell before charging in where angels fear to tread. Image by Christian Weidinger on Creative Commons.

Am compelled to share my going-forward plan. Mainly because when I told my good friend Carl that I was hitting the keyboard again, said “OK. Do it. You’re ready.” Then he paused cautiously and echoed Pat's words, “But just don’t stress yourself out again.”

So for the friends who witnessed me taking the past projects too seriously, here is the new plan. It is a series of dos and don’ts:

1.     Do not write about anything rough after a bad day at work.

2.     Do not continue writing if a PTSD-related response (racing heart, spiking anxiety, shaking) gets triggered.

3.     Do blog about more lighthearted stuff to keep self in practice of writing.

4.     Do exercise daily. Give adrenaline an escape rout. Especially after a PTSD-related response.

5.     Do not blog about deep, deep, dark, evil. Keep that crap in a separate manuscript, for a book, which allows movement and processing at a slower pace.

6.     Do eat well. A crappy diet makes any bad thing worse.

7.     Do not isolate self in dark room while writing about dark stuff. This also builds upon itself.

8.     Do set a timer for an hour while writing about anything icky. When the timer says stop, no matter how much of a roll I’m on, stop. (I might find myself dicking around less on the internet, if I hold myself to this.)

9.     Do tell my inner thrill seeker to not take myself so seriously. Google Analytics is just an app. Not my life.

10. Do remember what I forgot midst the stress: I enjoy writing. Always.