I’m Still Breathing

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

I had the conversation several times this week with other writers about one of the dynamic tensions inherent to writing. The most resonate and authentic writing happens when we write our own truths. Writers want to be seen, we want to be heard, we want to be known. But . . . we don’t want our readers to see, hear or know too much.

It is both exhilarating and terrifying as a writer to put our words out into the world. There is inherent vulnerability to the act, even when our work is fiction. Some part of our deepest selves always emerges, is always present, when we write. It is also very liberating to tell our truth. So writers dwell at the crossroads of disclosure and withholding. We do this both for our own protection against the risk of vulnerability and to also to keep some part of ourselves just for ourselves.

This is a tension that we are particularly mindful of when we are writing about deeply personal and/or taboo subjects.  Anyone who has read my previous blog posts know that I am willing to go there.  There are few places I won’t venture- at least indirectly- with my writing. I always try to honor both the darkness and the light. I try to capture both the joy and the pain of being human. It is our complexity and fullness in our humanity that has always fascinated me.

Some of my writing is planned in advance, but the vast majority of it is not. I have been surprised myself how often I have sat down and thought that I was going to write about one thing and something else, something deeper, something unconscious, something I had not even acknowledged to myself yet emerges instead. I find that these are often my best pieces, when all my thoughts and feelings and impressions dump out onto a blank screen and something organic solidifies and rises to the surface.

My goal is always to make a reader first feel and then think. I always want my writing to resonate emotionally, to stir you in some way. Perhaps with a feeling of recognition, or if not, to give you that “aha” moment where someone else’s emotional truth reveals itself to you and you recognize their humanity. Sometimes I do this through poetry, sometimes I do this through fiction. This has been particularly true with my writing recently about aftermath of sexual trauma. I can write a very intellectual and clear essay about the issue but I also wanted, needed to tell these stories on a visceral level. Although the events that I depicted in these pieces were fiction, the lived experience is something I know well. Use of fiction and poetry allowed me to tell the stories in an urgent, visceral way while still allowing me some privacy and distance.

I have been writing a great deal about depression lately. I have been very transparent about my lifelong history with depression and it has felt important to tell my story about depression in a more direct way. There is nothing fictional about anything I have been writing about depression but depression is not a single feeling, it is not the same every day and every episode has its own personality. Depression and bipolar disorder are battles we fight against our own brains, where we often become our own worst enemy.  These battles can be long, drawn-out, brutal and come at a high cost.

I have become a big fan of Sia who has been very open about her struggle with bipolar disorder.  She is a writer who tells her truth in a particularly beautiful and haunting way.  When I am having a dark day—and recently there have been many– I think about her song Alive.  I remind myself that as long as I am still breathing, still alive that my words can resonate, that I can have an impact. I hope that in sharing of myself in this way I can help decrease the stigma surrounding depression and help lessen the isolation of those of you out there who have had episodes of depression or bipolar disorder. You may be struggling right now.  It sucks to be depressed over the holidays.

You are not alone. I see you. I know you. You are not broken. You are not weak. The sun will come out again.  Spring will come.

And I am so grateful that you are still here.

Alive- Sia

I was born in a thunderstorm
I grew up overnight
I played alone
I played on my own
I survived

Hey
I wanted everything I never had
Like the love that comes with light
I wore envy and I hated that
But I survived

I had a one-way ticket to a place where all the demons go
Where the wind don’t change
And nothing in the ground can ever grow
No hope, just lies
And you’re taught to cry in your pillow
But I survived

I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive

I found solace in the strangest place
Way in the back of my mind
I saw my life in a stranger’s face
And it was mine

I had a one-way ticket to a place where all the demons go
Where the wind don’t change
And nothing in the ground can ever grow
No hope, just lies
And you’re taught to cry in your pillow
But I survived

I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive

You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing
You took it all, but I’m still breathing

I had made every single mistake
That you could ever possibly make
I took and I took and I took what you gave
But you never noticed that I was in pain
I knew what I wanted, I went in and got it
Did all the things that you said that I wouldn’t
I told you that I would never be forgotten
And all in spite of you

10 thoughts on “I’m Still Breathing

  1. Lovely meditation on the creative process.

    I had an inspired moment recently while writing fiction. A character I invented completely surprised me. There is no doubt that these things are beyond us. These things we create with words. Such a difficult balance, to consider the reader and what we reveal. I really enjoyed your reflection. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a fascinating reflection about a writer’s mind and the conscious mind of the human beings letting the unconscious come out to the Surface. The conflicts related to depression and bipolar disorder are quite intriging and they are always attractive to read or be heard, especially when they are referred in a particularly beautiful and haunting way as Sia does. Thanks for being still breathing, Your words and Sia lyrics actually resonated in my head and made an impact on me

    Liked by 1 person

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