Author of My Lord, L. B. Shimaira, shares her experiences with therapy and PTSD in this article about what it means to her to be a Horror writer and how writing has helped her understand what she has been through. My Lord, her debut novel released on October 31st, features characters that have been through immense hardship, but who, in the end, eventually find some triumph over their experiences.
On writing horror & trauma
Writing is therapy—at least for me. I started writing for fun and because my classmates were doing it (hooray for fanfics!), but I was already writing my bad dreams and nightmares in a dream journal as a way to process them. The first short story I wrote was ‘They call him Lucius’ (now novel-length, but the original—Part 1: Blood—was just a novella) back in 2013. I had had multiple dreams featuring the same character, and it rather messed with my head, so I decided to write it down. It was already a pretty decent storyline, and it didn’t take much to string it all together into one coherent story.
I knew I had ‘issues’ and wrote my fair share of poetry when I was still struggling with depression as a teen and young adult, but for some reason, I didn’t think I was traumatised. Even after having a lot of chats with a friend about PTSD, I didn’t think I had it. Maybe it was denial, maybe it was imposter syndrome. (The hated ‘others have it so much worse’ notion—so let me remind you: your trauma is valid. Your feelings are valid.)
It wasn’t until I had an actual ‘trigger event’ during Christmas 2018 that I began to spiral, and by early 2019, I was unable to work. I got referred to therapy and a diagnosis for PTSD was added to my medical records. It was late spring/early summer when I started to slowly return to work. I still get triggered at times, but they aren’t as bad anymore and I’m able to bounce back much faster—all thanks to therapy.
After all this, I reread the novels I had written previously and was rather surprised to find that I had included PTSD and anxiety quite accurately without even realising. I finished ‘They call him Lucius’ after Christmas 2018, yet the things I wrote before that were dealing with what I now know as ‘the call of the void’. It was something I struggled with a lot in the months leading up to Christmas, so perhaps the PTSD hammer was already preparing to swing by that time.
Something my therapist said really stuck with me. She mused that it hit me now—years later—because I was finally in a good enough space, also emotionally, to finally start working through it. Considering all I’ve been writing, I’m pretty sure she was right.
Some of the other short stories I wrote over the years were also a way to help me deal with their ‘fucked-up-ness’ but sharing them as fiction does bring some anxiety. I’ve always been quite honest and would add at the end that it was inspired by, or a retelling of, a bad dream or nightmare. On Wattpad, some of my writing would get comments from readers who were rather… shocked by that revelation, but I would just laugh it off. (More denial?) Some even expressed concern and told me to seek therapy… Well, I did eventually, haha.
I enjoy writing darker stuff. I want to scare my readers. On my Wattpad profile, I added a quote from the song ‘Divide’ by Disturbed: “It’s your shock and then your horror on which I feed.” Because yes: I want people to be freaked out. Perhaps it is a way of feeling validated. Because if the people reading my stories have such a reaction, then my reaction is valid too.
Furthermore, writing about mental health issues—hopefully—helps to remove the stigma. One of my favourite books deals with mental health: ‘I never promised you a rose garden’ by Joanne Greenberg/Hannah Green. Yet even though I read that as a teen, I still didn’t learn from it and failed to acknowledge my own struggles properly. But then again, me not acknowledging my own needs was something I had to work on in therapy.
So, looking back on everything I’ve written so far, the common theme of trauma is there, but also: sexual abuse. One of my (now drafted for rewriting/edits) novels had quite a lot of that. I know not everyone wants to read about it. I know some even hate it when it’s used as a plot device or for character progression… But, to me, writing about that is therapeutic. I want to see my characters get broken down by horrible events—and then build themselves back up. I want to see them work through it all and come out at the end, still alive and kicking (ass). This applies to everything I put my characters through, if I am honest.
I want people to see the devastation of (any kind of) trauma, the working through it, the process of healing and fall-backs, and eventually the rising above it.
But also, I just want to show readers that this kind of stuff is real and not something that should be glorified or romanticised. Especially when it comes to sexual abuse, there are a lot of fictional stories out there that just… gloss over it. And I want to show the real horror of it—and that it’s possible to heal from it (even if it does leave scars). Maybe my stories are not for everyone because of this—as some people who have been through sexual abuse may find it triggering—but for some, it might actually help them feel seen. It might give them hope to see a character go through a hell they can relate to, and to see them survive and rise above it.
With that said, I’ll leave you with the biggest lesson I learned in therapy: be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to heal. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to be.