The Limitations of Translating Daydreams to Other Mediums

The other night at dinner, my wife and I were talking about doomsday prepping, and I joked that, if caught unprepared and possibly alone, my end of the world plan would be to go befriend the nearest preppers, go full Scheherazade, and become the group storyteller. They can’t just steal my supplies, they can’t really have me teach them my One Useful Skill and then kill me; I can’t be replaced by technology. I need to be alive and coherent, and the apocalypse is actually rather boring. And I have an endless well of material. Gonna go have a minor psychotic break. Be right back with new plotlines. 

Really, I think that is my grand backup plan in a lot of ways. No matter what happens in the real world, I have that endless well in my head to retreat to. I spent a decent amount of the height of quarantine staring into space while off in those worlds (and then books got published about them—after I went back on meds). Nothing can destroy that. Too much Seroquel can definitely diminish the extent to which it can replace reality, turn dissociative and maladaptive into creative and publishable, but a decent portion is just the writer in me, not psychosis. 

And let’s be real, where am I getting all this Seroquel after doomsday? 

A few days later, I was scrolling the app store. I’m a digital minimalist (and a minimalist, period), but I was pondering what to use the iPad I perpetually struggle to use or get rid of for, and I got it set up again. Then, I ended up browsing the app store after downloading my small handful of go tos, seeing what was new for iPads. I was reminded of Minecraft (which I played briefly in 2016 or so) and The Sims 4 (I was big into The Sims 2 and 3 as a kid; I downloaded The Sims 4 on sale several months back, but other than playing around with making a few characters and checking out changes, didn’t do much and uninstalled it before it became a distraction). I’m trying to remain a minimalist but be a little less neurotic, and considered giving one game or the other or both another go in my downtime. 

And I might. But at that moment, I remembered the limitations of the games I’d been not so much frustrated by, but bored with. By nature of being an app, there are limitations. It is an incredible amount of work if not impossible to recreate the detail of settings or characters in my head pixel by pixel, not to mention limited choices of actions, little real dialogue, and how many things are narration or feelings or inner monologue. It also lacks the touch, taste, smell, other sensory elements that I experience off in my head. Sometimes the limitations are a good creative challenge, a way to have to mix things up a little, get out of exactly the script I’m thinking of to see what might happen if something I’d taken for granted had to be tweaked. At other times, all I can think is: why would I use an app for something I can do better with my eyes closed?

As a kid, I liked The Sims, as mentioned. I usually filled in the rest of the details in my head, though, going for simple in the game. I also didn’t recreate my writing as much as you’d expect, choosing new characters, settings, and plotlines to play out that were better suited to the game’s strengths and weaknesses.

I looked back at my notebook. I thought of drawing, or writing. I can’t really draw much—I’ve spent time each day this year trying to learn, but it’s slow learning, and slow to create, for me. I do believe that anyone can learn to draw if they really set their mind to it, but I just don’t have the passion for it to do so, and I do have some serious spatial reasoning issues. And I still ultimately get stills that are limited by the tools I’m using. 

Writing, of course, my true creative love, is my medium of choice. But I thought more, and, really, that has its limits, too. It’s just the set of limits I’m most okay with. That I must use words to describe everything—I don’t have visuals or audio, powers of scent or taste or touch. That I only speak English fluently, that there isn’t a word for every incredibly specific thing, no matter what those fascinating words lists might have you think. I push at the limits of punctuation and grammar and word usage. There’s the fact that, in my head, my characters have specific voices, and I’m not going to redescribe—or manage to describe—exactly what they sound like every time they speak, nor exactly what they look like or are wearing, or that their skin is exactly this level of dry, or that they use exactly this imagined fruity scent of bath products, or that their favorite shirt has that soft texture of having gone through the wash a thousand times. 

There are also a lot of things that happen in my head that I can’t describe because it doesn’t actually work that way—my daydreams work more like dreams at times, not to mention being slightly beyond my control, and might not make sense according to laws of physics or reason. What shirt they’re wearing might flip flop in my mental vision based on the tone of the scene, but it’s unrealistic that they’re running in and out of the room to change their shirt based on the tone of conversation. A sequence might be perfect in my head, but when I try to write it out, I realize it might require someone to have their hands in three places at once, whether it’s combat or erotica. 

And I can’t capture everything perfectly every time, so I need to figure out what is important, what is good enough, this time. A literal bomb could be going off in the story, but the important detail might be that a character’s eyes flicked to the site of the explosion right before it happened, an implication that they knew it was coming. I need to pick that out from the mental vision, not a description of the explosion. It might be worthwhile to give an idea of a character’s general fashion sense or even what they’re wearing in a particular scene, but not to mention every time they change their socks, unless that’s something that really says something about them, because they’re always changing their socks, or they never change their socks, or they have a very distinct taste in socks. Even writing a novel still feels like creating an outline, in a way.

But, I find it a worthy challenge.

Being a Schizophrenic, Creative Type Dropout

There’s this memory that keeps coming to my mind recently.

I’m probably fifteen, and I’m sitting in my usual spot at the two lab tables pushed together, front and center, in my environmental science class, my program class/major.  We’ve just gotten our—I think—PSAT results, or some other big standardized test.  There are so many of them. My friends chatter somewhat nervously about their already high scores around me. 

I, sporting the ever present disheveled purple ponytail and bags under my eyes in the same color, the school fashion, am booting up my class notes on my school Google Drive account in one tab, and whatever writing project in the other. I usually work on both simultaneously, noting down the slide, then turning to my writing, evoking good natured teasing from our teacher as the others scramble to get the notes in. My overstuffed backpack beside me contains school supplies, several leisure books, a four hundred page binder printout of my latest NaNoWriMo novel, and Xanax. We’re all on Xanax. The class bearded dragon settles into the hood on my jacket. 

“Whatever, we all know Hannah did best,” my friend E says, of the scores. She’s the one not on Xanax; she’s on Adderall, and I hear any extras are a hot commodity. She snatches the oversized envelope out of where it still rests in my hand. She swears loudly, then snaps her gum, earning a halfhearted: 

“Hey,” from our teacher. 

Everyone peers at my results and makes similar remarks. J, not sharing her exact results, squirms; she doesn’t test well. I squeeze her shoulder. I’m kind of in love with her anyway. 

I hang out with the somewhat nerdy kids, in an extremely selective magnet school, and they are wowed. Their scores are good.  They are by the time you take your actual SATs, your scores might get you into the Ivy League good.  Even J will go to a very nice college. M, currently muttering, “Jesus Christ, ninety-ninth percentile?” is a talented swimmer, always arriving to class dripping wet after waking well before dawn. Their percentiles are in the upper eighties, low nineties. 

But my scores are best, as E predicted. Because I’m Hannah, and I’m the smartest, and I’m ambitious, and I get all the plaudits, and I write books, and I’m going places, and I haven’t really slept in years. 

The funny thing about this memory is that I am, to my knowledge, the only one who doesn’t technically graduate. 

I effectively drop out just a few months later. 

… 

Here’s another memory.

Ultimately, after exploring options, I had opted to write my own curriculum plan and “homeschool” myself for a year (read: run around the arts district with the local NaNoWriMo group), then get my high school equivalency a year early. I’d already worn out public school, private school, magnet school, and online school. I’d now attempted a few community college classes, mostly online, without much enthusiasm or success. Depending on how I tell this story, I either had a psychotic break and dropped out of high school, graduated a year early after opting to be an autodidact homeschooler for a year, or I left to pursue my greater passions/”creative differences”. 

Now, though, aged nineteen, I was sitting in the hallway near my Anthropology class on a dreary morning in Cambridge, MA. I’d somehow gotten into a lovely, small, private liberal arts college with a very nice scholarship. It was a great school in a lot of ways, and I was in love with the greater Boston area (and maybe yet another girl).  But by October, I was in a seventy-two hour psych hold, and after almost going home to Vegas (recently rattled by the October 1 shooting), I had opted to stay.  Adjust my course load, work with the counseling center and disability office, change my meds, get myself together, and try again. 

As I sat in the hall, staring at my notebook, too drained to write, early to class simply because I had nowhere better to be, I dreaded going into the classroom. I dreaded sitting through the lesson. I dreaded sprinting to Arts and Social Justice on a different campus immediately after, and sitting through that. I dreaded the idea of going back to my tiny, sixth floor walkup dorm, and doing homework with my roommate.

I could not comprehend how badly I did not want to go to that class. 

And as I sat there, it dawned on me that I had never really wanted to go to that class, or to Arts and Social Justice, or to any other class. There were ones I liked better and worse, had more or less passion for the subject, and got on with the professor better or worse. But while I loved learning, the subjects in theory, I had never really wanted to go, never really wanted to do the homework. 

Why was I going to college? 

I just wanted to write, mostly. And what do you do with a degree in creative writing? Most of the courses I’d ever taken seemed to just be beating my will and creativity out of me. I had just dropped my planned second major, a self designed program in conlanging expressive arts therapy, realizing, after my psych ward stay—where I’d done the most productive writing since I’d arrived in Cambridge—that I could never work in mental health. I was thinking about doing the dual degree program, getting a Master’s because it sounded good, but why? I didn’t need a degree to write a book. I’d written several. This wasn’t actually any better than my community college classes online, and it cost a lot more: money, time, creative energy, sanity, being away from home. I hadn’t even wanted to finish high school.  

I… don’t want to be here. 

I had never really wanted to go to college, in reality. It just seemed like a thing to do. I wanted the experience. I liked sitting around with my favorite professors over lunch, discussing this book and that. I liked forming a schedule around interesting sounding subjects. I liked creating pretty study guides, and even studying them, not to test, but to learn. I liked the culture of study groups, of library and museum trips. I liked learning, I liked reading, I liked writing. But I had almost never… liked school. 

I didn’t walk into my Anthropology class. 

I stood, turned around, walked out of the building, and was at the airport less than eight hours later. 

After that, I started one more part time community college semester online just to appease those who asked, “But what are you doing with your life?” It got dropped when I became too ill with what turned out to be mold poisoning, and I didn’t look back. After sorting out the mold, getting a relevant surgery, so on, well, that was when Dad died. And suddenly I was making money, a landlord, and the fact that I spent all day writing and being a housewife (finally fell in love with the right girl who wanted what I did) suddenly seemed valid. 

So I felt like I could focus on that: being a housewife with my own projects. I published several books, and translated my nonfiction into becoming an alternative sexuality educator. I started taking a self paced online butler school course I was actually passionate about, couldn’t imagine dropping not matter how challenging it got. I talked about books with friends and did challenges together and journaled and volunteered at the library and learned and read and wrote. 

And, no real regrets. School wasn’t for me. It’s for some people. But not for me. I found enough happiness and health and success and knowledge elsewhere. 

I think a lot of people think of me as the academic, educated sort, using obscure vocabulary words and always having my face in a book or journal, teaching and learning. But really, I’m a high school dropout who hasn’t loved school since the fifth grade. 

And I’m more than okay with that. 

My Imaginary Dog Wants Me to Be Psychotic: The War Between Creativity and Functionality

I had a weird revelation the other day. 

During one of my typical late night rambles—when I’m up that late—I was talking about the way I visualize and compartmentalize parts of my mind. The filing cabinets of thoughts and library of memories. “And, of course, there’s Farrah’s Void.” 

I have long wondered why Farrah, the puppy hallucination, appears to me again and again, the one question mark amongst other recurring hallucinations clearly based in trauma or the obvious. 

Farrah often “appears” via somewhat mismatched visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations, and the sixth sense, for short spells of time. But there’s one other mode of really feeling like I’m interacting with her: going to her Void. 

It was more common when I first started hallucinating Farrah about a year and a half ago, around the one year anniversary of the event that gave me PTSD. I would dissociate, and rather than be in reality, or in one of my fictional worlds, or in a slightly alternate version of reality, I would “go to” Farrah’s Void, an endless white abyss containing basically me, the dog, and occasionally an object I imagined. It looked and functioned a lot like Janet’s Void from The Good Place, hence the nickname. It also got Farrah dubbed my schizophrenia tamagotchi, because it mimicked that pet-plus-blank-environment kind of game.

While I truly visit Farrah’s Void less now—sure, I can picture Farrah or her Void any time I want, but that’s not a true hallucination or dissociative experience—I feel like it’s there, like the thought filing cabinets and the memory library. I explained it as, “I almost have too much object permanence.” Dogs don’t just appear and disappear, after all. Surely, Farrah (who’s truly just a quirk of my brain chemicals) goes somewhere when she’s not with me, here meaning, projected onto the real world.

Sometimes I want Farrah to come out and visit, so to speak, and I try to tempt her with normal imagining of her that doesn’t stick like the hallucination, mental talk, C’mere, puppy…, and occasionally bribing her with a real piece of chicken or tennis ball, which I’m sure looks, y’know, totally sane to the outside observer. 

But Farrah doesn’t respond to these, obviously. She primarily appears when I am upset. At first I thought this was based on being a certain level of upset, and felt invalidated when she didn’t appear at times/the right brain chemicals didn’t happen. I wondered if she was a kind of psychotic, automatic self soothing mechanism, the free dopamine of a free puppy—and I still do think she nudges me towards a form of self soothing. Then I started tying her to more of a certain kind of upset. It had to run deep, be based in trauma, grief, existential loneliness, and already be a little dissociative or psychotic. 

I humorously personified—puppy-ified?—her appearances to myself repeatedly, and in my ramble that night. Y’know, she has stuff to do in her Void, I guess. Balls to chase. Treats to eat. Five more minutes, Mom. She can’t eat a real piece of chicken, anyway. 

But trying to assign Farrah motives, the revelation hit me: 

You’re the part of my brain that wants to be psychotic and creative, and not sane/unimaginative. 

Now, there is a whole spectrum in between those things, and I am often battling with where on it I should be. I believe that psychosis enhances my creativity; but I need functionality to deliver that creative energy in a consumable medium to the world. 

Paranoia (as in, paranoid schizophrenia) keeps me on edge, reminds me that death comes for us all—not to mention the death trauma I hallucinate reliving over and over—and keeps me focused on the creative works that will outlive me… or hugging my knees and rocking in terror. Lack of connection to reality keeps me hyperfocused on both my fictional characters and on the big emotional rushes of publishing another book, and less interested in the minor rushes of board games and television shows and normal socialization, things I tend to write off as distractions… yet get you through the day and create friendships. My daydreams are dissociative, maladaptive, psychotic—my characters run free, in tighter and tighter spirals until something coherent and gripping happens to emerge without me, and then I rush for pen and paper… or remain trapped in a dissociative fugue on the floor. 

There’s a balance. 

I tend to place medical professionals and the people who love me mostly on one side: functionality and happiness. 

But that night, I realized who was on the other side: 

Farrah. 

Previous mentions of Farrah on this blog are kind of damning. Hallucinating her herding me towards my notebook, or being upset when I decided to go back on antipsychotics—mostly as a mirror of my own emotions.

Yikes? 

And yet I can’t really blame that adorable little face (yes, she does make hallucinating tempting) for favoring psychosis, because there are days I favor it, too, days I romanticize the dysfunctional, the creative, the obsessive. But… 

Okay, Farrah. I need my functionality; I need a touch of tortured artist syndrome. You don’t win, but maybe I can meet you somewhere in the middle. 

Wherever might be halfway between reality and your Void. 

Becoming Your Characters, For Better or Worse: A Schizophrenic Author and the Real World

I’ve encountered a lot of firsts while writing the I’ll Give You series, as it’s been my first fiction project of any length since I started working on the ever ongoing Contrivance in 2011. I’ve had a lot of fun getting to really know new characters for the first time in a long time, though I had kind of forgotten about their capacity to surprise me.

Over six months into writing the series, after having published the first book, one of the four main characters (and, mind you, there were only supposed to be two main characters at first, and this one wasn’t one of them) informed me, in the way that fictional characters do for me—a mix of the typical creative type and the schizophrenic—that she’d had an eating disorder this entire time. Was formerly anorexic/occasionally still struggled, specifically. 

I looked back over every instance in the series concerning this character and food. Yup. Body type: hmm. Looked at her risk factors: unprocessed trauma, a dancer in profession, a sometimes perfectionistic self destruction type… yeah, there it all was. 

Interestingly, it was one of the branches of disorder I had the least experience with and least knowledge about. And I usually stuck closer to writing what I knew in that regard. Still, I started research, the clinical I was largely unfamiliar with, but also finding some personal accounts of others. I took a few online eating disorder assessments to get a feel for the key symptoms and treatment process, but of course I had amply healthy, normal scores, no indicators.

I wove it quietly into the background of the story. Even when mental health got explored as a main theme, it tended to stay in the background, not the main issue we were dealing with and mostly… ish… a piece from backstory. 

Still, it informed a lot, lived in the background, and sometimes got brought up in companion pieces. Certainly it was in my head, even as research slowed. 

Almost another year later, I was still writing, publishing book two and starting book three, but also fielding a few concerns building in my head, noting developing obsessions and tendencies over the last year, on and off phases becoming more on than off. I took the assessments I’d taken early on in research a second time. This time, my scores had almost skyrocketed, all on the border or in the mild range of disordered eating. Specifically, I had key anorexia symptoms—religiously counting and often restricting calories, fasting entirely, constantly weighing myself, sometimes upping my daily exercise, even getting into a purging behavior or two—though my BMI still hovered in the low end of the healthy range. Picking up research again—more oriented towards virtual social spaces for those with eating disorders—I thought, Me, too, a lot, realizing I’d had a lot of the same disordered thoughts independently.

I couldn’t feel too surprised. I’d seen this one coming, a little. (Note: I know such online assessments are not all strictly scientific. I’m just throwing it out there as anecdotal evidence.) 

While stumbling through those assessment lists, I’d tried another one, this one for empathy. The score was out of a possible eighty, with scores below thirty indicating a lack of empathy common in people with autism. My wife did it, too, and scored a fifty-eight. I got fourteen

While I’d foreseen picking up the symptoms of a character struggling with the remnants of a disorder I don’t have, as a schizophrenic writer with a fine, fine line between character and self, often absorbing their traits, feelings, and symptoms, I remained a low empathy person in the real world, as noted on the paperwork when I was diagnosed with autism, and as shown by frustrated people in my life again and again. 

I’ve talked to other neurodivergent creative types about their lines between character and self in depth for years. Even then, I experience it differently than almost anyone else I’ve met, aligning much more closely with people who experience psychosis, where the line is… blurrier. Thinner. Flexible. 

I react more strongly to my characters’ emotions: laughing, crying, tensing, smiling, heart racing in real time on their behalf, sometimes cathartically when I can’t do it out of my own emotions. Yet I’m a poor mirror for other real people, slow to pick up on and respond to social cues, often read as a little flat and quiet, mostly by those who don’t know me well. 

I almost slowly become my characters, but fail to lean into the personalities of those around me as strongly. There’s the adage that you’re an average of the five people you’re closest to. I think the people I spend time with can tell you a whole lot about me, but I honestly feel at any time more like an average of the five characters I’ve spent the most time writing recently, their personalities, interests, quirks, struggles, than the five people I’ve spent the most time with. 

Now, this can be a two way street. Maybe as I shift in one direction or another, I relate more to one character or another, and spend more time writing them, though it often seems random. Maybe, a year ago, something in my brain was thinking a lot about neuroticism around weight loss, or food (some of which I’ve always had in sensory issues if nothing else) for me, and I projected it onto a character instead.

I might frequently project things onto characters before I realize, Oh, that thought was for me, absorbing the trait, emotion, interest, quirk, symptom, so on, myself, later, thinking that I first got it from that character I quickly assigned the initial thought to. All possible. Art imitates life; life imitates art. It is easier for me to reflect things already in my head in one way or another than reflect external, sentient people. Still, I really feel like the symptoms came later.

Regardless, I find it interesting. I’m mostly trying to consciously turn away from disordered eating/related behaviors, and not absorb that dangerous character element. I don’t think I’m physically at much risk, but I’ve been really struggling with this mentally for quite a while now, and am trying to recognize that for me, it might just be an effect of psychosis, and treat it as such.

Still. Things to think about. 

Person First Language: But Who Am I Without Schizophrenia?

The thing with mental illness is that it’s all in your head and it’s not who you are. And, well, yes, it is all in your head, but your head is a pretty important place, and if we scientifically consider the brain the center of who you are, then isn’t any long term major mental illness, you know, a part of who you are?

Person first language comes up a lot, the idea that you should say, as an example, a person with schizophrenia, not a schizophrenic (person), because they are first and foremost a person, not their disorder, disability, so on. I don’t like person first language for myself, because I think it misses the point for me. I am a schizophrenic, just as much as I am a daughter, a wife, a writer, so on. You wouldn’t use person first language to say I am a person who writes or a person who is a writer, would you? You’d just say a writer

So then you have to ask the question: when do you use first person language, and what does it imply? Separation of the descriptor and identity? I am a person who writes because I pick up a pen now and then, but I am a writer because I identify as one, spend a significant amount of time on it, care about it that much. Okay, but I identify as a schizophrenic, too. It’s a part of who I am just as much, if not more. So what does the assumption of using person first language for it really imply to me? That it’s something I shouldn’t identify with, that you assume I don’t want to identify with it. It’s just as much an assumption as saying a schizophrenic, and it tries to decide for me what my identity should be. 

I don’t speak for all schizophrenic people here, only for myself. I know some others do consider it solely a negative (and I still endorse seeking treatment to achieve your desired balance in any case), and it’s had much more devastating effects on their lives than it’s had on mine. Though, I will throw out there: so have a lot of identities. Should I stop saying I am a daughter because others might be the victims of child abuse? 

So if I identify as a schizophrenic, there’s the question of if there is a difference between my self and my schizophrenia. I don’t think there’s any more of a separation point there than between my self and my writing, and ultimately I believe that what deserves a place as part of one’s true identity (rather than a list of traits or roles they’ve ever exhibited) is something that’s up to the individual. There’s the whole keep your identity small concept. 

But let’s examine it for a minute. Who am I, without schizophrenia?

My personality definitely would change based on a lack of paranoia (being a paranoid schizophrenic). Even in periods between more complete delusion, there’s… traits. Without assuming negative intentions from others, I’d probably be more open minded and perhaps make more friends, and make fewer snap judgments (though, largely, my snap judgments are pretty good, so I don’t know if that part actually turns out any better for me). I’d probably then exhibit traits of the different pool of people I’d associate with over time, the whole you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with concept.

If I was less on edge, if I didn’t have the constant there’s someone behind me feeling and obsession with death, I’d presumably be more relaxed, but perhaps less productive. Quirks of mine around security might slip away, with or without consequence. 

If I didn’t have negative, insulting voices floating around my head now and then, I might develop higher self esteem and self sabotage less (though this isn’t too much of an issue currently).

If psychosis didn’t—shall we say enhance—my PTSD symptoms (flashbacks that are really hallucinations, hypervigilance plus paranoia) among others (the autism, the anxiety, and yes, those are part of my identity, too), those would probably drastically change, be less gripping. 

Without negative symptoms (loss of interest in everyday activities, social withdrawal), I would probably be less hyperfocused on the things that never lose my obsessive interest (say, writing), and more interested in the little dopamine boosts of playing a game or watching a movie together, which I usually lightly resist or at least don’t usually truly care for. This might be less productive, but a big mood changer, and, while I’m still an extrovert, it would have a huge impact on my ability to maintain acquaintances and turn them into friends, and engage in normal buffer activities, rather than my “converse for twelve straight hours, maybe over food or alternatively parallel play/work and almost nothing in between” approach.

Having a firmer relationship with reality would probably bring my daydreaming out of the maladaptive/dissociative category, as I believe those are highly connected for me, daydreams no longer taking over my reality and replacing it, just being something that still feels inside my head, or at least picture in picture style visualization. This would completely change my writing process as I know it, as it’s been observed that most of it is my characters running wild in my daydreams—controlling me far more than I control them, both in demanding my attention, and in the way I absorb their traits—until something coherent and gripping happens to emerge (largely beyond my conscious control). Then, it’s just a matter of getting paper and making some last minute adjustments. Removing schizophrenia also removes writing as I know it. 

Gee… does that all sound like a major personality/identity change to you guys, too? Even more than removing, say, my identity as a writer? 

So, yes, schizophrenia is also a part of my identity, I get to decide that, and I’ll also talk about it as such. 

Would I Cure Myself?

After the whole finding my father’s ten day old corpse thing, I didn’t really sleep for about a year, until I went back on meds.

I think that this was understandable. I think there are just some things it’s more dysfunctional to not be screwed up by for an extended period of time than it is to be super resilient about, and that’s just one of them. 

I don’t know what would’ve happened if I’d gone back on meds sooner. I put it off, not wanting to hop right back on chemicals when, for some amount of time, I was, simply, just going to be screwed up for a while. After about a year, though, I decided it was time. The level of functionality I wanted then, compared to what I’d wanted before, was just not going to be achieved without meds. 

In any case, the year of questionable sleep. 

At the time, I’d been prone to going to bed around nine or ten, staying up a few more hours on my computer or with a book or my notebook, then sleeping in until ten or eleven. (Now, I’m more of a morning person, with firmer schedules.) But post trauma, after going to sleep as normal, I’d wake up around one and be up until after four or five.

I used this middle of the night time almost exclusively to write. Or, I might message with my best friend, who was working some late shifts at the time, mostly about writing. It wasn’t a time for house sorting, no lease drafting, no exhibits, no affidavits, no legal notices. 

Despite the constant exhaustion, I often find myself looking back on this time period strangely fondly. I was in a creative peak. I was making constant breakthroughs on a plot I’d been stuck on for years, and churning out huge amounts of words, but what I really remember was my suddenly infinite amount of emotional writing energy. 

I could write all the angst and fear and pain in the world, drawing from a seemingly bottomless well of inspiration, without emotional burnout. I didn’t tire of writing emotion, didn’t start staring at the page blankly after too many hours of creating deeply emotional content rife with tragedy. I was living buried so deeply in real trauma that fiction seemed infinitely cathartic, not burning through my usual well of emotions and then needing to be put down for a while. 

I spent the year or so mostly creating, but towards the one year mark, when I went back on meds, I also started posting fiction regularly online for the first time in a long time (and that had been mostly fan fiction; now, it was original work). I went back to writing mostly linearly and still prolifically, went back to doing more editing, formatting, advertising, all of those bits, the things that come with an Internet presence. 

Right around the one year mark, I started this blog. I think it was around when I started to see the light of seeking more treatment that I realized I had so much real darkness to talk about. 

After the one year mark, I started self publishing books, started teaching webinars, running a social group, going to butler school, and more. Left therapy, kept the meds.

Still, so much of what I’ve accomplished since that one year mark—the things that sound good on paper: posting, publication, teaching, earning income, the plaudits—was, creatively speaking, born of that sleepless, nightmare and flashback and hallucination and dissociation ridden year. Of course, the pandemic happened in the middle, too, along with my grandmother’s death, and other things to keep stocking that dark creative well. 

Meds, aided by time, gave me the mind to be outwardly productive, but it was that year just post trauma, still off meds, that truly offered the creative side.

Of course, I’m still creating. But sometimes it’s not the same. Before I adjusted to the meds, there was a brief time my daydreams weren’t as vivid, and I feared that. Considered going down a bit. There are a lot of times I wish Farrah, my puppy recurring hallucination, “appeared” to me more often, like a weird form of company. Even the nightmares and flashbacks, while unpleasant in the moment, stock something creative in my brain it’s hard to pin down and I wouldn’t want to do totally without. 

I honestly don’t aim for symptom free. I think psychosis and the rest of my mental health is a part of who I am to be balanced but not eliminated, just like any other. Imagine if someone offered you a magic pill to never feel, say, mildly depressed again. Would you take it? It’s likely you don’t want to be cripplingly depressed, you want the will to live and get out of bed in the morning, not to be a danger to yourself locked in a psych ward, but wouldn’t it be strange to never feel mildly depressed again? Do you know who you are and how your emotions work without it? 

So I don’t aim for symptom free but for balance. Anxiety can have me rocking in the fetal position on the floor fixated on death, or it can motivate me to do only my best work. The obsession with structure and routine I get from autism can make me resistant to positive changes and a nightmare to improvise with, or a productive, efficient person who’s hard to sidetrack for long. Maladaptive daydreaming can take over my life and have days pass where I externally mostly stare at the wall, or it can make me a creative, prolific writer. 

Some symptoms I could maybe do without. I’m not really sure what sensory overload/processing issues get me if I could isolate it, but also you can’t isolate it, and I’d keep the sensory seeking, I suppose. 

I err my balancing act on the side of healthy, happy, and functional, as logic tells me to do, but sometimes I kind of miss the other side. I don’t like to visit it for long, and the reality of it isn’t just the romanticized tortured artist but a lot of actual grief, fear, guilt, exhaustion, and loneliness. You probably wouldn’t want to live on a roller coaster, would you? Still, it gives that rush. It stocks the creative well. 

So I’ll take the Seroquel, but would I take the magic cure all pill? Not a chance. 

Just Another Day, Maybe

It’s been a long day. Hard to say why. 

Part of me wants to say it’s just physical health stuff, and I can’t tell if that’s strangely logical or minimizing my own feelings. It could be that my best friend, more like family, left for a job in another state today. It could just be a long day. 

I feel like I was unfocused a lot of this morning, though I also got some important things done, scheduling classes I’ll be teaching in the new year, and even almost winning a game of ping pong with my wife (getting close is an accomplishment for me and most people). 

But by late afternoon, I was wallowing in angsty daydreams. Making dinner went like this: put water on to boil. Set timer. Sit on couch, dissociate into my characters’ distress. Timer goes off. Stumble over and add pasta. Set timer. Sit on couch, return to daydream. Stare, sniffle a little. Timer goes off. Stir pasta, mind still half somewhere else. Set timer. Sit on couch— 

By the time I got dinner on the table, I was on the edge of tears. Over… nothing in particular, or maybe things that happened to my characters that were not even quite canonical in their universes, dramatized montages, and certainly fictional in ours. My wife prodded at it—asking about both of the potential reasons for a long day I started with—but I shrugged it off, wasn’t up for much conversation, and mostly wanted to be left alone to fully return to my other worlds. I asked about her day instead. 

Finishing up dinner, unable to control the tears, I sat on the floor in the bathroom with the door closed and let them fall. It’s hard to explain the kind of tears you don’t really want to be soothed out of, especially when you’re not sure they’re over anything in particular, whether real or fictional. It’s like reading a sad book, or watching a sad movie, that is sad, yes, but good, so you don’t want to be interrupted. But not like, the tragic ending, or an especially climactic character death. More like one of those sad establishing character montages, like the exposition behind Do You Want To Build a Snowman, or the notorious, silent first minutes of Up. 

But in any case, I wasn’t ready to be done wallowing, so I hid for a few minutes until they came back under control, and my wife had gone upstairs. 

Then I went and did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, did some other evening tasks, before retreating to my office, door shut, which isn’t super frequent and is usually for focus (really, to keep the cats out and not on top of my notebook or keyboard). And wallowed on the floor again. 

To complete the wallowing, I heard the vaguely sad piano music. This wasn’t so surprising, for a second, as in place of my usual rain sounds or Harry Potter themed ASMR, I’ve been using a calm piano Spotify playlist as my office background noise the last few days. Except I was ninety-nine percent sure that my phone wasn’t playing anything—I had just brought it up from downstairs with me, where I’d shut the music while using the phone as a timer. But there was the piano, clear, but soft, barely rising above the hum of the air conditioner. Not any tune I recognized, nor anything coherent. It would pause, then pick up with a different key or melody or volume, or I would just hear a random isolated note here or there for a minute. Finally, I threw myself up off the floor and checked the phone. Nothing. Not coming from the phone. Just me. 

This struck me as interesting. Previously, I wrote about going down on my medication and hallucinating the Evanescence song I’d had on repeat. I was—back on my regular med regimen—again hallucinating music, but it was a hodgepodge of the (sixteen hour) instrumental playlist I’d had on shuffle. I’d wondered before if I’d done something wrong with the Evanescence besides the med changes. If perhaps something in it emotionally was a trigger (some of the chorus lyrics included can you hear me, can you hear me, which was almost begging to be hallucinated), or if I just really needed to lay off the repeat button. But here I was again. 

Back on the floor, pondering that, finally distracted properly from the daydreams, I also noticed something else. I don’t remember where it began now—just a few hours later—but I had the thought, I’m still at the Marriott, and it was becoming more and more gripping. 

So, as context, in May, I used some of the extra Marriott rewards points my wife and I had sitting around from pre pandemic business travel, and had my own writer’s retreat/staycation at a nearby hotel. It was supposed to be three nights. I—and my wife—had anticipated that things might get a little weird. That I would stay up a bit late, have a snack instead of dinner, and get super absorbed in my fictional worlds, using the retreat to block out distracting reality for a few days. But things got a lot weird. 

I think because I underestimated the physical neglect. On my last full day, I realized I hadn’t brought any water, and had only had a mouthful of tap water to take my meds, and milk, since I arrived. I remedied this with a bottle of water and a Gatorade from the sundry store, but I mostly forgot about them after a few sips of each. I had neglected real food almost entirely, despite the fact I had taught a class about cooking on the road. When I did the pre pandemic business travel with my wife, I made us nice crock pot meals and simple side dishes in a hotel room with nothing more than an old microwave and leaking mini fridge. At home, I eat at least two scheduled meals a day with her. Yet, alone and lost in writing, I had stuck mostly to toast, fruit, cereal, and dessert. I also acquired a microwaveable mac and cheese cup as something closer to real food, but I later found it mysteriously still sitting in the microwave, filled with water to the right line, but uncooked and abandoned. 

I had stayed up almost all night the first night, despite my usual at home bedtime before ten o’clock, then dragged myself downstairs early to check out the continental breakfast. My sleep was weird the next night, too. By that last full day, I uncharacteristically impulsively took a caffeine pill (100mg) midday as someone sensitive to caffeine. I had, realizing how late I’d stayed up and that I didn’t want to be in a coma all day, not taken the full dose of my antipsychotic med at least one night, either. 

I became a total wreck, and failing to find anything better available, had started self harming with manicure scissors, for the first time in almost four years. I calmed down enough to throw on some antibiotic ointment and call my wife and tell her all this. She was calm, appropriately concerned but understanding, and asked if I wanted to come home. I wasn’t sure. I tried to write some more. But by midnight, I realized the words had stopped coming that morning. After another phone call, she picked me up and took me home. 

Anyway, you can see how this makes sense as a source of a delusion. There’s a lot of stuff already wrapped up in there. Lying on my office floor tonight, I felt myself sinking into the idea that I had never left that Marriott. That everything after was a hallucination, a dream, a… I wasn’t sure what. 

But we went to Tahoe, I thought, over and over, trying to counter the issue with more travel. In July, we took a trip with a friend and my Mom (a delayed Mother’s Day present for the busy schoolteacher) up to Lake Tahoe, got a beautiful Airbnb with gorgeous views and regular meals and sleep and meds. (Yet, it’s a picture of the Strip I took from my twenty-third floor Marriott room that lives on as my desktop background; I spent almost the whole time in front of that window, watching over the top of my notebook the flashing lights, the monorail passing by, the High Roller going around. The crazy city I’ve always called home.) It was like the never left the Marriott theory had come in a flash of enlightenment, but I was still thinking my way through it. But… Tahoe. And everything else. 

I also had a slight grip, in a way, on the fact that the never left the Marriott thing was the actual delusion, and I was trying to avoid sinking into it, but also desperately mentally countering it, as if it needed to be countered and not ignored. I felt a phantom burning in my wrists that is usually a you want to cut kind of physical manifestation, but I thought, Or I’m dreaming. And they would hurt in real life because of what I had done with the manicure scissors that afternoon. 

And then, strangely, lying on my office floor, it all kind of went away. The daydreams were a vague temptation, but had no strong, magnetic grip on me. The piano notes grew further and further apart, then quieted, and there was just the neighbors talking in their yard on the other side of the wall. The Marriott theory was like something I’d read in a book once—interesting, but not demanding. The phantom burning subsided as I eyed the long healed, faint marks. 

I took a swingset break, made us a light dessert and tried not to think about the calories, cleaned the kitchen again, checked the Internet, started writing this—the most I’ve written all day—and got ready for bed. 

Well, let this weird day be over, then, and we’ll see what tomorrow looks like. 

Images You Can’t Shake

I’m in a dream. There was a beginning, but now I’m rapidly pacing through the private school I attended so many years ago, turning the corner at the landing like it was yesterday. But this portion of the hallway isn’t quite right—there are doors, doors, doors, on one side, and I’m throwing them open as I go, getting flashes of what’s in the room. I know I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure what. Each room seems to get me closer. They become more and more disorderly, and more and more frequently feature a bed. Then a few things happen almost all at once:

I realize I’m dreaming. 

I realize what’s behind the last door.

I throw open the last door before I can stop myself anyway.

Dad, of course, dead for ten days, of course, in the dream and filling my vision as I bolt upright, gasping, a scream diffusing in my throat.

And, I’m pretty sure lastly, my morning alarm goes off. 

So, morning. I sleepily breeze through my morning checklists. Wash up, same clothes as always. One mile walk. Wave to the same group of retirees and dogs as usual. An hour of notebook drafting, my writing ritual right now. My daily housewife routine. Brunch, toast as almost always, at 9:30. Create stability where you can, y’know. And my autism loves routine. 

Still, my mind finds time to come back to the dream, writing about it, pondering sources—a visit at my mom’s house yesterday, rife with family pictures of those long gone, or maybe a recent pre Halloween Goosebumps story rewatch that featured decay—and putting on one of my favorite songs for one of those days, and generally wallowing. 

Nothing dramatic, but feeling, over two years later, still desperate to shake the one image I can’t get rid of, nightmare, flashback, hallucination, or otherwise. One of my characters said in a recent chapter, of her own trauma, “Of course I have to do it again. I do it again when I close my eyes. (…) I do it again when I zone out too hard. Don’t you get that?” 

I get that.

I knew when I found my father that I wasn’t going to be able to shake that image. It’s not really one of those visuals that you process in the moment. It’s one of those… we’ll need to keep coming back to this, do it again, and again, to process. 

I felt very calm in the moment in a way (returning to the car where my now-wife was waiting, she thought all was well based on my body language)—and very determined that no one else see that image who didn’t have to, swearing to myself as I walked back down my father’s stairs, professionals only, and very aware that I’d decided to get here before my mother’s planned check in later—perhaps dissociated, but despite my day to day anxiety, I’ve always been strangely good in an emergency—and also very aware that it was all going to hit me later. 

I just kind of figured, I’ll have PTSD now. That was a trauma angle I hadn’t really thought of before, researching and writing it in fiction: the awareness at the point of the trauma of the future effects. I still don’t think I processed it fully for some time. 

Now, I’m working on a backstory companion piece in which someone asks the same character mentioned above, very shortly post trauma, what it is she’s feeling. 

She responds that while she’s not sure, it feels like grief (though no one has died), and when asked for what, she says, For before

I know I felt grief both for my father’s actual death and for before. Before the trauma, before the PTSD, before the nightmares, the extra hypervigilance, the flashbacks, the ones that became hallucinations. For before that image. I grieved my father, but also something I had never defined enough to know I could lose. 

It wasn’t any traditional loss of innocence grief story, and I don’t really think of it that way—I was still an adult with an awareness of the world at the time, though I think I aged a lot in the months after, not only trauma but adulting logistics (probate court and beyond), the independence to pursue my own projects, whatnot—but some people certainly might see it that way.

… 

Maybe it’s masochistic, but in a way—simply as a longtime writer of trauma and PTSD and images characters can’t shake, and as a person who questioned my own resilience—I’m almost grateful for the experience. 

Maybe that’s screwed up, but it’s at least a better emotion than only sitting around going woe is me, and I certainly wouldn’t wish the experience on my mother or anyone else who might, in some parallel universe, have walked into the house that day, or, I guess, in the ten days before it. The house was up for sale. I’m not sure if the realtor had access to the house without being in touch with my father—we were, strangely, ultimately not in contact long—but some home buyers to be may have seriously dodged a bullet. And if my father had to die, then I can only suppose it was all the same post mortem to him, and it appeared he passed in his sleep, at home, which many people would consider—if you must die one way or another—basically ideal. 

I always wanted to do research via experience where I could, or utilize past experiences as research for fiction. I made trips to the archery range to try it out back when I was writing Hunger Games fan fiction; more recently, I responded to a reader’s comment of appreciation on a requested companion to one of my original fiction series: Someone should, I bought a damn shock collar to research this scene and yes it was set to 99. Thank you! (To be amply clear, this was an alternative sexuality erotica piece and the product was safely tested on myself in that context, not an animal.) 

And I’ve thought about doing more out there things in the name of research—if there’s value in recreating my characters’ specific traumas/if it could be safely done myself. Things like that. 

So sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing my real trauma through the lens of writing, research. There are novelty tees and mugs out there with a message like, Warning: I’m a writer. Anything you say or do may be used in a story. And that goes for me, too. A distressing symptom can still have me running for a pen. 

Or a blog post. 

Psychosis and Beyond as Self Soothing

Farrah, my recurring puppy hallucination, often appears when I’m in distress.

While I don’t qualify as something like schizoaffective, which is different anyway, the state of my emotions and the state of my psychosis usually line up in some way. Negative moods lead to more obvious psychotic symptoms than positive ones.

If Farrah appears without me being in distress, I frequently wonder if, subconsciously, I am. Sometimes the answer was yes all along. Sometimes I’m now so worried about finding the (perhaps nonexistent) source of the problem, or about the psychosis itself, that, in any case, I’m upset now. Sometimes, I accept the hallucination as random.

Still, I have often wondered, Why Farrah? She is my only specific recurring hallucination that I don’t understand the source of. The ones that are basically PTSD flashbacks gone wild—make sense. But why the dog?

Recently, feeling stressed and with no such appearance from Farrah, I realized that I kind of missed her, would have liked her there. Even if we want to label all psychosis as bad, she’s a free, ethical forever puppy that can’t really eat or poop, and who doesn’t want that?

I wondered if Farrah was a psychotic/automatic self soothing technique. I can’t control it, but maybe some dysfunctional chemicals somewhere in my brain are saying, “Hey; calm down. Here’s a puppy.” Or, Here’s some free dopamine.

I’d much rather the dog than the ringing phone that I heard most of that day, at least.

I had to think about other psychotic symptoms as forms of self soothing.

Dissociation is not usually defined as psychosis by itself, but I feel like it’s a key part of my psychosis experience, so to speak. My early psychotic episodes frequently involved dissociation that manifested as akinetic catatonia. Dissociation very commonly has origins in maladapted self soothing, mentally separating yourself from an upsetting or traumatic situation. Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) especially frequently has roots in traumatic stress early in life.

Dissociating was something I did frequently before I showed definitive signs of psychosis, mostly in the form of intense daydreams. Maladaptive daydreaming is also not technically seen as a form of psychosis (and is not widely recognized) due to the separation that remains between fantasy and reality—but my lines there do get very blurry due to other psychosis symptoms. 

In any case, these daydreams take over my head somewhat beyond my control when something in me wants to escape. They’re certainly addictive and can be a disabling distraction, but also feel crucial for me as a fiction writer who escapes to my stories’ worlds.

One of the first symptoms my parents reported to mental health professionals was my tendency to spend multiple hours per day swinging on the swingset in our backyard, listening to a song on repeat with headphones, totally spaced out. Daydreaming. How upset I got when this was not possible for one reason or another. This has followed me throughout my life. 

Even last summer, before my wife and I got a swingset in our new backyard, I walked to the park and back daily, sometimes multiple trips per day, to spend hours on the swings, with a song on repeat and my daydreams. It was about a mile walk each way and the temperature regularly approached 120*F. I was not deterred.

Some daydreams, the type I have on my office floor in dissociative states, tend to be cathartic wallowing on a character’s behalf. They don’t echo the situation I’m upset about exactly, but branch out from the specific core feeling I’m having. They won’t echo just sad nor exactly there is a pandemic and I can’t see my friends, but maybe lonely. Sometimes these daydreams allow me to cry or fully experience emotions that I hadn’t been able to release or wallow in initially.

I experience other types of dissociation, too. Some distressing. But frequently, there’s the blank dissociation where my mind seems to go nowhere or into the void or however one might phrase it. This might be the anywhere is better than here dissociation, where the daydreams are not coming (yet, anymore, or period) but I’m sure not ready to go back to reality. 

Other symptoms—delusion. Now, delusion in the colloquial sense is very often a form of self soothing, especially in the form of denial, which is also a stage of grief. But some delusions are distressing, especially the paranoid kind, and while that is true for me, others can, in a backwards way, be comforting. 

Reality breaks for me easily. The feeling some people get from watching things like The Matrix or Inception, times ten, is easy to induce in me. And when it happens, my brain needs an explanation, fast. There is no time for logic—that something was fiction, a joke, a lie, a coincidence—and so my brain grasps at straws to explain the thing away. While false and sometimes overly convoluted, the delusion fills that need—creating a “logical” if sometimes distressing reality—until the real world can set back in. 

Psychosis and other symptom sets are often not just a dysfunctional coping mechanism—and some of these automatic self soothing techniques only attempt to solve the problem another symptom created. But it’s still interesting to look at some incidents of symptoms in that light. 

On Developing PTSD… After Writing Characters With PTSD, as a Schizophrenic

There are a lot of complaints about how writers (and other creators) portray mental health, and perhaps one of the most mentioned issues is PTSD.

I’ve been writing characters with PTSD for about a decade. But I didn’t have PTSD of my own until just a few years ago.

Looking back over old works—while there are things I would do differently just because I’ve grown as a writer—I don’t find my portrayals of PTSD that inaccurate. My research was thorough, including the personal experiences of others. The insertion of fictionalized personal anecdotes of symptoms and some of the emotional charge, as in the after the fact pieces, is missing. But I don’t feel dissatisfied with a lot of it.

Shortly after the incident that gave me the PTSD, it took one pointed question from my therapist for me to literally say, “Yes, I’ve also read the PTSD diagnostic criteria.” I knew my stuff, and even while still standing there with my father’s ten day old corpse, I was very aware that it was the kind of thing that tends to leave you with long term effects. The question from my therapist came only a few weeks later, not long enough for a formal diagnosis—something else I knew from research—but I could see the road I was on.

The new symptoms felt strangely familiar. Hypervigilance was something I’d read about, wrote about, for so many years, that it didn’t feel new, especially as someone with pre existing sensory issues and anxiety. It was so tightly woven into characters’ lives that finding it in my own felt kind of like a fan of any work stepping into that world. Of course you’ve never gone to Hogwarts, Harry Potter fans, but you’d kind of know your way around, wouldn’t you? 

I did find it interesting that I developed the hypervigilance, since it would’ve done me no good in the traumatic incident. Nightmares, too, beyond what I’d developed as an anxious child with an overactive imagination, felt strangely… familiar. I’d spent enough restless nights writing about characters waking up in a cold sweat that waking up like that myself before turning to the notebook or laptop didn’t feel so new. Flashbacks, too.

But what really made trauma feel so familiar? Was it really just so many years of inflicting it on characters? Was it pre existing anxiety? 

But here was another complication, a major wrench to throw in any comorbid disorder group: the schizophrenia.

Over time, my flashbacks manifested a significant portion of the time as true hallucination, something that I was used to from schizophrenia. Now, here’s an almost funny thing: in fiction, one of the most critiqued techniques of portraying PTSD flashbacks and nightmares is in the vivid, clear, straightforward nature. Real PTSD can give you a flashback to one sense but not another, to something somehow connected to the trauma but not directly, show you a hazy overlay, or be an almost purely emotional rather than sensory response. Nightmares often mix up elements of trauma with random elements from your life, not just playing the trauma again and again. 

But that’s hard to portray in fiction, especially in visual media like movies, and especially when flashbacks and dreams are also used as narrative devices. Hence, you get those straightforward, easy to comprehend for the audience cutaway scenes.

But for me, schizophrenia mixing with PTSD did make daytime flashbacks manifest as clear cut hallucinations. There wasn’t just the sensory confusion or disconnected emotional responses; I’d be looking at/hallucinating my father’s corpse in the corner of the room, or in the bed—which became one of my biggest triggers—or perpetually behind me. The laughably oversimplified PTSD portrayal was, oddly, spot on for me much of the time. 

Now, I have to remember that in all cases, my PTSD is not my characters’ PTSD, and none of them have comorbid schizophrenia. But one reason trauma felt so familiar to me was that it was already a part of the characters already living in my head. And all of the research involved in making that feel real. Another, that the schizophrenia induced hallucinations and anxiety I’d already lived with went a lot like the way PTSD flashbacks eventually manifested for me. Perhaps the biggest complicating factor: my much thinner line between reality and fiction than most peoples’—if my characters experienced anything, it was much more like I was experiencing it than even most creative types would agree with—so maybe, in a way, I’d had a bit of self created trauma and PTSD all along. Or maybe it was just tortured artist syndrome. 

But again, I risk the horrifically oversimplified portrayal of PTSD trope in fiction even if I’m true to some of my experiences, because of what schizophrenia makes it like, an interesting conundrum, and without characters with comorbid schizophrenia, it remains inaccurate. 

After my traumatic incident, I wrote a lot of dark material for an already dark project, mostly in the middle phase of largely sleepless nights. I was especially unpacking a pre existing character’s trauma from both previous and new drafts, especially in the immediate fallout, a time period I’d seemed to drift away from before, with many characters’ primary traumas existing far into backstory, aggravated by a dark world. Was it my own recent trauma that drew me into that time period, or was it simply time for it anyway? Hard to tell. Likely at least a bit of both. 

Though, wallowing in horror, gore, and otherwise macabre genres is a common trauma trope in itself, something like self inflicted exposure therapy—though I stayed away from my exact triggers, decomposition and the like. But I’d almost always had that draw to dark fiction, pre trauma—again, why? My pre trauma mental health symptoms—schizophrenia, anxiety—did seem to draw me more deeply into those, much like PTSD symptoms do for many others. It’s almost like my mental health experience was always so close to PTSD, but with no real cause, a crucial part of it, before it developed. Some comorbidities are already more likely than others, too; maybe I was always all but doomed to develop PTSD at the slightest provocation, and I got a bit more than the slightest.

Things I think about. Plenty to unpack for myself and characters both.