Writing About Mental Illness, Trauma, and Transcending Shame

Shame silences people.

That’s the theme I’m writing about as I move forward with Reinventing Hannah.

Hannah is a girl who is full of shame. She is ashamed of having been sexually assaulted and about having gone to the party where it happened at all — neither of which is something she deserves to feel shame for.

And she is also deeply ashamed of the fact that her mother suffers from bipolar disorder and once attempted suicide.

Writing about this is challenging for a lot of reasons.

For one thing, I want to make sure to get it right. There is too much media that adds to the lexicon of shame instead of reducing it by playing to stereotypes, implying that people who suffer from mental illness are all violent or dangerous or scary, or exaggerating symptoms for dramatic effect.

I want to be better than that, and that’s why in the coming weeks I am going to be talking to people who have struggled with situations similar to Hannah’s and her mother’s to make sure everything I write is true to life while still staying true to character.

I despise agenda-written stories. They’re never truthful and as a reader I can always tell when the writer’s trying to manipulate me, so I want to make sure that I’m telling a story first, not pushing a point of view.

The hardest part about writing about these shame-filled issues that shouldn’t be shame-filled is living in the headspace of someone who second guesses every step she takes and blames herself for all sorts of things that have been done to her and that were not her fault. Shame is so second nature to Hannah that she doesn’t even realize half the time that she feels it, but as the author who gets to look inside her head, I’m very aware, and it is intense.

It is worth it, though, because by writing a story about transcending shame, I get to eventually push through to the other side and experience her triumph and her newfound pride in herself.

As I said at the beginning, shame silences people. It makes them feel small and helpless and like their voice not only doesn’t matter, but that they don’t deserve to use it.

I hope that by writing this story I can help real people realize that there is no reason to be ashamed of the things that are done to them and that there is also no shame in having a mental illness or a relative with one, and most of all that there is nothing shameful about asking for help.

 

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